The lifespan of a falsehood... is apparently less than nine months?

>> Sunday, December 30, 2012

Well this is damned odd.

This morning, lying awake in the predawn hours--the ScatterKat has given me some foul virus she picked up, probably from the ScatterKat's adorable but germy toddler niece--I had one of those epiphanies you have when you're tossing and turning and it's too late to really get back to sleep and too early to get up.

It concerned one of the abysmal drafts I've been working on of late.  A short story that may not have a story, I'm sort of afraid; it concerns, anyway, this bank robber getting shot up in front of a bank and not going down easily, and perhaps supernatural awfulness that comes drifting out in the course of an investigation; well, you know, all I really have is that this guy gets shot up coming out of a bank.

But this epiphany I had: maybe, instead of writing it as a short story, I ought to write it as a true-crime piece.  The sort of thing that might show up under Skip Hollandsworth's byline over at Texas Monthly, f'r'instance.  The idea that came to me was that the piece could be sort of like some of Lovecraft's better efforts, where the whole thing is unspooled as an absolutely true tale with little implications of horribleness creeping in from the edges, more imagined than explicit, etc.  Old technique, but it spares you from having to have something unreasonably obvious and laid out on the table (or even of knowing everything about your plot, frankly), and, besides, it might be a fun thing to write, a challenge.

But by Crom, I feel terrible today.  I thought I could get a few words down, but I barely feel like moving my fingers.

But what I decided I could at least do was re-read some old Skip Hollandsworth pieces, try to get a feel for what kinds of things he puts into one of his stories, which really are well-written yarns.

Old readers may vaguely remember me mentioning Hollandsworth here.  Regrettably, it wasn't exactly flattering: back in March, I wrote about how I'd accidentally discovered that a fine piece of writing Hollandsworth had done about convicted killer Charles Albright, "See No Evil", used a bogus, invented detail to pump up the story's impact.  Specifically, Hollandsworth's angle was that the victims' eyes had been stolen from the corpses, and Albright allegedly had an obsession with eyes.  And this obsession went so far as these chilling closing paragraphs in Hollandsworth's article:

"Oh, really, I have never touched an eyeball," Albright declared again, for the first time becoming indignant with me. "I truly think--and this may sound farfetched--that the boys in the forensics lab cut out those eyes. I think the police said, 'We want some sort of mutilation.'" Almost cheered by his reasoning, he returned to his psychologically impenetrable self. Whatever secrets he had would remain with him forever.

Weeks after that conversation, I remember Albright’s comment about wanting the first issue of Omni magazine. Intrigued, I went to look for it at the library. I opened a bound volume to the cover of the first issue, which was published in October 1978. There, staring out from the center of a dark page, was a solitary human eye, unmoored, as if floating in space. The eyelid slid down just to the top of the eyeball; the eyeball was lightly shaded; the eyelashes were curved like half-moons.

It was, I thought, exactly the kind of eye Charles Albright would wish he had painted.
The problem, I discovered, was that the cover of the October, 1978 Omni featured no such illo; the cover of the issue in question depicted a car's tail lights glowing red in the near distance, adjacent to a wall or fence running from the infinite away towards the viewer.  Nor were there any issues of Omni from the time period that matched Hollandsworth's description; several issues of Omni over the years did feature eyes and faces, but none of them quite matched Hollandsworth's description, either.

This depressed me.

Because Hollandsworth is really, really good.  He's a helluva good nonfiction writer, and I admire his work, and discovering that detail at the end of the story was bullshit was a lot like discovering your favorite athlete was doped up on steroids during his golden years or your favorite singer's star performance was entirely the result of studio magic, or some other letdown you might pick.  I like Hollandsworth's work.  I still like Hollandsworth's work.  I didn't want to read everything he writes wondering what he might have fudged.

And it was a regrettably timely discovery, seeing as how "nonfiction" writers playing loose with the truth was a subject du jour around the time, a book about fact-checking having recently made the rounds and some controversy attending several writers who'd been accused of fastness and looseness.   So I wrote a piece about it in March, and had a nice dialogue with some readers, and went on with my life.

And then, today, nine months after writing that piece, I was filled with the urge to re-read some Hollandsworth, comfort food for the virally afflicted and "research" after a fashion if I start reworking this fictional "true crime" story as more of a first-person-fictional-journalist thing and less of a traditional third-person-omniscient thing.  Spent most of the afternoon reading and re-reading various pieces and enjoying them.  And "See No Evil" was the first tab I opened and last tab I closed on the Galaxy Tab, because that kind of story--back-and-forth past-to-present, historical reconstruction, the journalist as implied character, etc.--was exactly what I think I might do with this accounting of a bank robber who dies in a fundamentally wrong way, plus "See No Evil" is simply a chilling, gruesome tale.  And if there was a factual inaccuracy, that didn't matter, because what I was looking for was the kind of things Hollandsworth attends to in his writing; I don't plan on making my thing a pastiche, but I want his influence in the story's DNA somewhere.

So I re-read "See No Evil".  And something was wrong.  I remembered my dismay at the Omni thing (partly because of a coincidence: a friend recently asked me on Facebook if I was looking for the issue, which she'd stumbled across while housecleaning; it may be that's why Hollandsworth was on my mind this morning in the first place; "With one breath / With one blow", etc.).  But Omni wasn't mentioned in "See No Evil".  Not at all.

I reread the end of Hollandsworth's article again:

But then I’d lock on the image of an eyeless young woman lying faceup on a neighborhood street. Why would such a kindly, lighthearted man want to cut out a prostitute’s eyes? Why was he so plagued by eyes, that potent and universal symbol, the windows to the soul? In the ancient myth, Oedipus tore out his own eyes after committing the transgression of sleeping with his mother. Did Charles Albright, a perverted Oedipus, tear out the eyes of women for committing the transgression of sleeping with men? Perhaps he removed their eyes out of some sudden need to show the world he could have been a great surgeon. Maybe he dumped that third body in front of the school to show his frustration over never having become a biology teacher. Or maybe a private demon had been lurking since his childhood, when the eyes were left off his little stuffed birds. Just as he long ago wanted to have a bagful of taxidermist’s eyes, maybe he decided to collect human eyes for himself.

“Oh, really, I have never touched an eyeball,” Albright declared again, for the first time becoming indignant with me. “I truly think – and this may sound farfetched – that the boys in the forensics lab cut out those eyes. I think the police said, ‘We want some sort of mutilation.’” Almost cheered by his reasoning, he returned to his psychologically impenetrable self. Whatever secrets he had would remain with him forever.
The end.  Copyright info.  Limited license.  Print and close links.  Whaa?

So I thought to myself, "Self, maybe that's just an artifact of your reading this on a tablet."  And I went over to the computer and found the article.  And that's how it ends.  Now.  And then I thought, "Self, maybe that's because this is print view", and I went and told Texas Monthly where I lived and how old I was and how they could e-mail me, wondering deep down if I was going to find myself visited by an angry, eyeball-collecting publisher or journalist (hey, my sole published story is about a couple using zombi powder to take turns practicing necrophilia--I'm prone to thinking deranged and disturbed shit that doesn't make any logical sense, okay?  I thought you knew that about me by now).  And the official version up at Texas Monthly ends the same way (registration required).

They've edited it.  I'll be damned.  They edited it.

I'm not complaining.  Not in the least.  The bit about Omni, too good to be true and turns out it wasn't, shouldn't have been in there in the first place.  Power to them for making the change, though I can't help thinking maybe there should have been some kind of editor's note at the end, however benign.

Indeed, I'd love to think Skip Hollandsworth called up Texas Monthly and said, "Goddammit, you can't leave this up like this," and I can polish the smudge right off the imaginary statuette of Mr. H. on the little shrine in my head.

But I also can't help wondering....

You know what I'm wondering.  The ego thing.  Did somebody see my piece here at Giant Midgets back in March and say to themselves, "Gahddammit"?  Some editor?  Maybe Mr. Hollandsworth his esteemed self?  Some notes checked, a little bit of work on Google?  And now this nobody blogger, yours truly, has pushed a tiny thing in a tiny way so it hangs a little straighter on the wall, and it's a tiny thing, but damned if it don't make the house a little nicer, somehow?

I guess that's another secret forever.


Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, "We No Who U R"

>> Friday, December 21, 2012

Oh hell yeah, I meant to mention this some days ago--new Nick Cave is coming (an album, due out in February), new Nick Cave is here ("We No Who U R", the lead single).

It would be redundant to mention it's awesome--Nick almost always is, even when he apparently text-messaged the title to himself.


The Rolling Stones with Bruce Springsteen, "Tumbling Dice"

>> Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My personal favorite bit: the way Ronnie Wood, a legend in his own right multiple times over, looks like Christmas came early because The Boss showed up.  (Springsteen, of course, looks utterly delighted, too.  Which he should be, jamming with the Stones, only you have to realize one of the cool things about Springsteen is the way he always looks delighted to be jamming with other musicians, whether he's a host or a guest.)

No, I mean, everyone seems to be having a grand time up there, even Keef towards the end, there.  But Ronnie?  The only way Ronnie's expression could get any brighter would be if he was hanging out with Bruce Springsteen while watching Rod Stewart getting punched in the nuts.  That's how much fun Ronnie Wood is having, and Ron Wood is a veritable rock and roll god.  (Goddamn, I might need to pull some Faces clips when I get home, or see if the ScatterKat and I have anything on the MP3rolla; I'm thinking the CD collection may be a little remiss, embarrassed to admit.)

This is, anyway, what those folks on The Daily Show would call a moment of Zen.  Enjoy.


The sole Biblical tale I'd consider believing...

>> Tuesday, December 18, 2012

And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness:
and the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.
Then said the LORD unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no.
- Exodus 16:2-4

That's it.  The only part of the Bible I'd consider believing.  At all.

And here's why: I have a cat.

Never a bad time to re-run a pic of this handsome feller.
And this cat goes around in the mornings and evenings, a-moaning and a-groaning, supplicating and appealing.  And lo! his prayers and protestations are answered, for here, from above, comes deliciousness from heaven!  The holy vessel, mysterious, hermetically sealed, inviolable no matter how fat kitty paws pad at it and no matter how naked bone-colored claws scratch at it, opens with a sudden hiss and pop.  And there, at the designated spot, a small pile of succulent, nutritious meat appears to be devoured by the faithful Chosen.

And then he'll start complaining again, of course.  Because he gets a can in the morning and a can in the evening, like the vet ordered.

This leads to a theory I'd consider believing in were I the least bit prone to religion.  I think it explains a great deal and wraps up a theological conundrum.

See, if we take the Old Testament at face value, Yahweh is constantly around, having conversations with the Children Of Abraham, whooshing around as a pillar of fire, announcing himself out of the bushes, telling people what he's about to do to the unrighteous world and making deals to save them or their families or their 17.4 million pets, making bets with Satan re: how miserable they'll get before they get upset, etc., etc.  And then Yahweh bails.  Just gets gone a couple thousand years ago, unless you're a Christian and buy into the whole giving up His only son to the mob to die for man's sins bit; and, not to be disrespectful while being irreverent kind of thing, but you have to admit the bit where He parted the Red Sea was a helluva lot more impressive on a whole Michael Bayean level than knocking up some chick he met in Palestine and letting his kid get nailed to some boards, even if we're told the kid walked it off three days later.

But here's what I was thinking, thinking in terms of my cat.  See, a lot of people--and I don't like or approve of this, it's just something I know happens--a lot of people will get a baby pet, I mean a puppy or a kitten (usually), especially around this time of year, because baby mammals are almost invariably cute and cuddly and so, so, so precious when they're stumbling around or rehearsing grown-animal behaviors that might be menacing if their armament was fully developed (e.g. kittens are so cute chewing on a hand while rabbit-kicking the wrist that it's hard to remember not to encourage them because cats doing the same thing will draw an awful lot of blood).

I happen to like adult animals, too; but lots of people don't, is the thing.  So they adopt these precious little infant whatevers, not even thinking about whether they'll want an adult animal around the home in a year or two.  This gets especially bad when you're talking about a puppy that might be no bigger than a gerbil and appears to be all head when it's just opened its eyes and ends up being a hundred pounds of fighting dog post-puberty and now appears to be all jaws and shoulder.  And a lot of people adopt a wee animal who aren't up for the tasks of coping with a well-behaved adult, and the really bad thing here is that these are usually the same people who don't have the wherewithal to train an animal to be well-behaved adult, so the problem ends up raised exponentially; they can't understand why their cute little puppy or kitten grew up to destroy every article of furniture or clothing in sight and then they inadvertently do all the wrong things that lead to a slightly-feral, mildly insane ravager of personal property.

They shouldn't be allowed to have pets, but what are you going to do to stop them?  You can't, except to maybe get word out and remind everyone that little animals grow up to be big animals.  And here's a Christmastime message for you, which is that pets make lousy gifts, okay?

But you're wondering what this has to do with manna, etc., right?  Or you've already figured it out.

Here's my theory, which I don't really believe because I'm an atheist, but it's hella fun to think about: God's one of those shitty pet owners I was just talking about.

So He gets us when we're little and cute, right?  And maybe you're thinking the barbaric, warlike ancient Israelites were hardly what we'd call "cute"--well, sure, but what do we know?  We're not thinking about it from the God POV, and anyway we ought to assume that if cats and dogs had the necessary self-consciousness to be as embarrassed by their awkward childhoods as humans are, they would be.

Like I was saying, He got us while we were young and cute.  Fed us, watered us, took us for forty-day walks through the desert.  Now and again he'd get mad and hit Sodom and Gomorrah with rolled-up newspapers or fire and brimstone or whatever.  And everything is grand for a coupla thousand years or whatever.

Only, y'know, we grow up.

And, like one of those adorable puppies that somehow makes an ugly dog, we're not so cute anymore.

Or maybe it's not even quite just that, but that He finds us a horrible pain in the ass as we get bigger and more demanding.  We're tearing up the furniture more and more.  We bark all night.  We bite strangers.  We shit on His nice things.  We require more attention and He has less time to give it in.

So, y'know, finally, one day, He takes us to a park, takes us off the leash, and manages to wander away while we're sniffing things.  And we've never seen Him since.

This doesn't have to be a strictly theological scenario, of course.  I mean, maybe this version of God isn't exactly a quote-unquote "divine" being as He is one of those godlike beings Captain Kirk was always outsmarting on Star Trek back in the day.  He's an extraterrestrial, extradimensional, so-advanced-His-tech-looks-like-magic creature.  He's Yog-Sothoth with a soft spot for lesser species.  He's a higher-dimensioned intelligence cross-sectioning a lower-dimensional universe, his four or five or nineteen dimensions appearing as a three-dimensional fire-tower emanating from nowhere when it intersects our spherical plane.

Or maybe He's just from outer space, that simple. 

I mean, think about my cat again (or your own pet): I pick Elvis up, carry him across the room and put him down on top of something--booyah!  Magic teleport!  Flight!  How did I do that? he's thinking.  I open a bag of kitty treats--Elvis has no thumbs, the ziploc bag is an eternal enigma to him, but I produced something from nothing.

God is good.
Here's YHWH opening a crumfoddle of Zwiggliziggles for Moses, and Moses is in awe because he can't open crumfoddlia because he doesn't have vergolmoggles on the ends of his porcodornms; much less can Moses comprehend that you can get Zwiggliziggles for vlermfoodles at any neighborhood xerxiblumble, six for the Vlitz on special this quiggle only.  Moses knows as much about that as my cat knows his Fancy Feast is sixty cents a can and all you have to do is pop the lid with the ring tab.

No, I'm not getting all deistic of a sudden.  It's just a fun thing to think about, and I (sort of) regret any offense I might have caused, but the idea that the truth behind the driving monotheistic mythology of our era is that God is a really crappy pet owner who misguidedly brought us home and then was too irresponsible to take care of us and decided we were ugly and gross and why couldn't we have stayed adorable Bronze Age savages forever? is something that makes me giggle.  And if you'd like to focus on the serious bit in the middle there and pretend this never happened, fine: no pets for Christmas, they're critters, not presents.  And if you just have to give someone an animal for a special occasion, Heifer is a gift that will keep on giving to people who'll appreciate and need it.


Bob Geldof and Johnny Fingers, "I Don't Like Mondays"

>> Monday, December 17, 2012

A lot of talk this week about how the real issue we need to be discussing re: the Newtown murders is the mental health crisis in America.  Or maybe our cultural decadence and degradation, all our video games and movies and the kids with their rap music.  Or something.  Because, you know, nothing else would have anything to do with anything, least of all crazy people having easy access to firearms instead of having to use sticks and stones.

But I said I wasn't going to argue anymore, and I'm not going to.

I just had to post the Boomtown Rats song here after leaving a link at Brother Steve's blog because it seemed important to remind everybody that we're now having the same fucking conversation people were having when somebody shot up an elementary school in 1979.  Not the one about why somebody with obvious mental problems gets a gun and five hundred rounds of ammo for Christmas, or why some paranoiac stocks up for an improbable apocalypse with a troubled young man under her roof; no, we'll have the conversation about motive, when the truth is that Daddy can't understand it, he always said she was good as gold; when the truth is that you can see no reasons because there are no reasons, what reasons do you need to be shown?

What motive could possibly make sense even if it was as straightforward as it "livens up the day"?

They say that doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result, is a hallmark of insanity.  What does it say about a country that asks the same inane fucking questions every time someone else goes on a spree with a machine designed for the express purpose of killing things, and the questions don't even matter?  I'll answer my own question: we've all lost our fucking minds and I don't know why I should see any hope of us ever coming to our senses.

But this is how I tackle with the problems of the hows and whys.


Mavis Staples, Jeff Tweedy, Sean Lennon, and The Harlem Gospel Choir - "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"

>> Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mavis, Jeff and Sean and a gospel choir performing a John Lennon classic.  It doesn't get a lot more sublime than this.

"If you want it"--I'm just not sure I have much faith anymore that we do.  But maybe this is where I just sit back and hit replay.



The guns of December

>> Friday, December 14, 2012

And I'm still burned out and angry.

And I was thinking about all this on the drive home.  And I realized that, as I said in January 2011, I still don't care in that weird, opposite way that you can only not care when you are angry and bitter and defeated.  Maybe it's a childish way, maybe it isn't.

But I could give a rat's ass about any so-called "dialogues" or "conversations" about gun control.  Fuck that.  Fuck all of that.

Look, we live in a democratic republic.  And the House Of Representatives--the most democratic branch of government, put to the national referendum every two years at what is almost the smallest and most direct discrete representative bloc practicable--is comprised of a majority that is opposed to gun control; the Senate--less democratic, put to the public approval less frequently--is probably comprised the same way in spite of being narrowly controlled by a political party that is at least responsive in principle to the idea of gun control, but not the least bit in practice.  Speaking of which, although the President (a position that's ironically atop the second least democratic branch of government) is also a (big-D) Democrat, he ain't gonna touch the issue more than the occasional vaguely supportive noise--he knows as well as anyone that his reelection spurred mobs of ignoramuses and morons who have no idea how treaty ratification and the Constitution actually work to purchase shittons of ammunition to horde away based upon a rumor that he'd somehow use a United Nations resolution to steal everybody's guns in the night.

And then there's the Supreme Court.  I read and write English--I'd like to think reasonably well--and I studied History (majored in it, matter-of-fact), and I'm pretty goddamned satisfied that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution protects state militias and doesn't bar reasonable regulations of firearm ownership and usage, including the ones that were part of various state laws at the time the Second Amendment was ratified.  But the United States Supreme Court has said that the plain language there doesn't mean what the plain language might cause you to think it meant, nor what the historical context might cause you to think it meant, nor what a reasonable application of custom and technological context to the archaic text might cause you to think it ought to mean.  And I also studied law and know that what the Supreme Court says the Constitution means is what it really means, regardless of what you think it means.  And the Supreme Court says the Constitution protects an individual, uninhibited right to own a firearm.  So I guess it does.

So this is the majority.  And here's what the majority has conclusively said with their votes, their money, their lobbying, their silence and fear in the face of opposition when they're actually in the proper position to do something other than fulminate impotently: they've said it's okay if a bunch of innocent people die, because that's the fair market price of a right to bear arms.  Just like the price of the freedom of speech is that you sometimes have to put up with assholes, or the price of the right to be secure from searches of your home might be that someone literally gets away with murder.  Nothing's free, and the dead are what Messrs. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young might have called "the price of freedom buried in the ground".

In the past three years we've had a crazy Army psychiatrist walking around a military base shooting people.  We've had a crazy community college dropout walking around a U.S. Congresswoman's civic meet-and-greet shooting people.  We've had a crazy Ph.D. candidate dropout walking around a movie theatre shooting people. We've had a probably crazy ex-caterer walking around an immigration aid center shooting people (I missed this one when it happened: if you did, too, here).  And I'm probably forgetting one or several.  And after every one of these, the usual suspects make the usual noises, and I have no reason whatsoever to think that someone (who we'll no doubt find out was crazy in the upcoming days, as if his actions don't speak for themselves) walking around shooting little kids at an elementary school is going to lead to a qualitatively different conversation, or notably different results.  I'd love to be wrong, but if you want to bet, who's going to take the side of thinking this makes an airplane vomit bag's worth of difference this time?

There's nothing to talk about.  The conversation's done.  You can shut up now.

What I have realized is that I just don't care what my fellow liberals have to say about the subject at all.  I've heard it already.  I don't care what I have to say about it--I've already heard that, too.  We can all just shut up now.

But there is this--not a dialogue, but a monologue.  What I do want.

I want to hear from the other side.  I want to hear someone--preferably a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association--tell me, preferably to my face, not that they want dead children (because that would be a bit much and we all know that isn't true), but they're okay with them.  That they understand that's the price of their convenient access to easy, deregulated weaponry and they're willing to keep paying it.  Keep in mind: I already know this to be true, I just want to fucking hear them telling me the fucking truth for a change.  I want to hear the words slip softly over their lips that they know what they're paying and they're settled with that, their souls rest easy in the hollow basins in their skulls.  That they sleep at night with this because they can.

And if I'm wrong, if that isn't the truth of where we stand, I'd like to hear what they're willing to give up in trade for those dead kids, for those dead moviegoers, for dead Federal judges and dead community volunteers and dead soldiers.  What liberties--or mere conveniences, even--they're willing to part with, to sacrifice to the better good.  I've advocated and solicited and proposed, and I am done.  And I've heard all sorts of suggestions and statutes from my fellow travelers, and I'm done with their bad ideas and brilliant inspirations alike.  I want to hear from the gunners.

I want to hear what you're going to do about your little lobbying group that has the legislators of America tied up like Christmas lights in the bottom of a box, what you're willing to go through to keep America's best and brightest paranoid schizophrenics from picking up a perfectly legal gun and hunting down the innocents.  Or I want you to tell me the tree of liberty is watered with the blood of kindergartners.

The rest of you can keep your goddamned mouths closed.  If I wanted our opinion, I'd ask for it.  Nobody cares what we think.


From the (new) desk of Stuart Gulliver...

HSBC Holdings PLC
8 Canada Square
London E14 5HQ

December 14, 2012

To Investors, Shareholders, Stakeholders and other concerned parties:

By now you've probably heard about our nearly-two-billion dollar settlement for alleged money laundering on behalf of Mexican drug cartels, alleged terrorist groups, and blacklisted nations like Iran.  And you're probably wondering how this will affect your investment with HSBC and its myriad international affiliates.  Will the stock value drop?  Will this impact any dividends you might be entitled to?  What does this do to your investment portfolio?

Stop being so small about this.

Read that article again.  Or just the first sentence: State and federal authorities decided against indicting HSBC in a money-laundering case over concerns that criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks and ultimately destabilize the global financial system."

They're afraid of us.  The government of the United States Of America is afraid of us.

Or afraid, at least, that prosecuting us could result in another crippling financial crisis.

This is awesome.  With a side-helping of awesomesauce.

There is no limit to where we can go with this.  Investors, brokers, accountants et al. concerned by the impact this has on HSBC Holdings' value are missing the big picture here, which is that HSBC is not just too big to fail, but too big to be prosecuted for criminal wrongdoing.

Indeed, my only regret is that by failing to foresee this development, HSBC's American affiliates have failed in their ambition and imagination.  Money laundering?  Money laundering is for pimps.  I must apologize to investors and make this promise today: HSBC will never overlook the missed opportunities afforded by our superlegal status ever again.

Just to cite one minor example for the benefit of those wondering how HSBC will capitalize on this new regime: I am pleased to announce that, as of this morning, HSBC has launched an ambitious new program to acquire thermonuclear weapons and an intercontinental ballistic delivery system capable of conveying a nuclear device from our North American offices in New York City, New York, to any other point in the world in under forty-five minutes.  Why?  Because we can.  Because, frankly, I'm tired of putting up with tripe and nonsense from bedraggled hippies disgruntled by the fact they're too young to protest the Vietnam war and drop LSD with the Maharishi or whatever they would have done if Sir Paul McCartney wasn't old enough to be the whole lot's grandfather, and if they want to Occupy Oakland or wherever, HSBC won't have any problem, shall we say, Deoccupying everything within a ten kilometre radius of whatever park they happen to be shitting up.

Why?  Because we can.  Why the hell not?  What are the authorities going to do about it?  Fine us?

(I only wish you could hear my monomaniacal laughter.)

This is just one example.  We have more exciting opportunities in the works here at HSBC.  I don't want to say too much.  Well, maybe a few hints won't hurt.  Lasers.  Satellites.  Diamond mines.  Weather control.  International blackmail.

The beauty of HSBC's new position in the world is this simple: even if James Bond were a real spy and not a grumpy, well-cut, middle-aged man played by Daniel Craig, he wouldn't be able to do a goddamn thing about us.  Because we are just.  Too.  Big.  What would Mr. Bond do?  Destroy the international financial markets to save them?  Please.  We are secure.  We're not even going to be discreet about it--I ran over a man breaking through the front gate to get here and punched whom I think might be an important public official coming into this office just now (I'm not certain, but I think I've seen him on the telly), and I had to walk over to where he was cowering in a corner just to do it.

The finest part was when all the Secret Service men ran in and Mr. Obama started shouting, "Don't shoot!  Don't shoot!"

Yes, ladies and gentlemen: I am typing this little missive at the desk of the second-most important leader of the free world.  While he's obviously impatient to have his desk back, I really am wondering if I'm going to smoke a cigar first and ask him to start returning Colonies to Her Majesty or just go upstairs to take a leak on whichever bed Abraham Washington or whatever his name was slept in.

Because these cousins of ours know who's boss, but I like reminding them anyway.

In closing, shareholders who see this as an opportunity to divest themselves of HSBC stock merely because they are concerned about lost value or find our recent associations unsavory had best remember which side their proverbial bread is proverbially buttered upon, and that we can do anything.  Anything at all.  Maybe we'll be nice and pay up our little fines and say we're behaving ourselves, or maybe I'll stop petting Mr. Kitty long enough to text a launch code from my BlackBerry.  You just don't know, and I would hate seeing anything happen to our fine friends and partners--or perhaps I wouldn't.  And if you think you have recourse to the law, well, we basically own that now, for all intents and purposes.

Of course, you don't make trouble and stay along for the ride, and behave as amicably as Mr. Obama did when I had him kneel in front of me and call me "Zod" (I've always wanted to do that, and it turned out the American President had a sense of humour about the whole thing--he didn't enjoy doing it, but he saw the joke), we'll all be fine and you will find your coffers filling with gold, diamonds, and the vital wealth of any nation that knows its own best interests.  No boat-rocking, and you will find this a valuable partnership and that HSBC looks out for its own.

Stuart Gulliver,  Executive Director and Group Chief Executive
Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion
(Formerly known as HSBC Holdings, PLC)


Clearly has no problem with straw men, long as their haystacks aren't touching...

>> Tuesday, December 11, 2012

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Monday found himself defending his legal writings that some find offensive and anti-gay.

Speaking at Princeton University, Scalia was asked by a gay student why he equates laws banning sodomy with those barring bestiality and murder.

"I don't think it's necessary, but I think it's effective," Scalia said, adding that legislative bodies can ban what they believe to be immoral.


"It's a form of argument that I thought you would have known, which is called the 'reduction to the absurd,'" Scalia told Hosie of San Francisco during the question-and-answer period. "If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?"

Scalia said he is not equating sodomy with murder but drawing a parallel between the bans on both.
- Geoff Mulvihill, "Scalia Quizzed at NJ's Princeton on Gay Issue",
Associated Press, December 11th, 2012.

The learned jurist.
There was a time I regarded Justice Scalia as a guy who was intellectually honest although I disagreed with him, a reasonable mind I could differ with.  Was.  It's a long time gone.  These days, with what I do to earn my bread, it's hard not to find Scalia convenient--his Eighteenth Century attitude towards search-and-seizure issues makes him a helpful idiot to people charged with drug offenses after the police have burgled their homes, f'r'instance--but I can't say I have any real respect for the man anymore.

That portion of the AP article up there's a pretty good example of why.  Maybe Scalia was intellectually honest twenty years ago or maybe I was just so naïve, but you can't accuse him of intellectual honesty these days, and the quotes above almost imply Scalia can't accuse himself of having any integrity.  Scalia pretty clearly has a straw man argument confused with reductio ad absurdum, and he almost knows it himself: "I don't think it's necessary, but I think it's effective," i.e. he knows it's a bullshit argument but since it yanks people's chains, he'll go on making it.

I mean, he has everything all over the map.  F'r'instance, of course he's equating sodomy and murder, because that's the only way his argument that moral feelings against item one and moral feelings against item two have any relevance to each other at all.  Possessing moral feelings against murder doesn't mean one possesses moral feelings against every act between two people, else we might as well have moral feelings against heteronormative marriages between men and women (that, by the way, is an actual reductio ad absurdum argument).  And he's begging a pretty obvious question, which is that whether one has moral feelings about an issue is a separate question from whether those moral feelings merit legislation; I know plenty of people who have perfectly justifiable moral feelings against eating meat, but if they all somehow ended up in a state legislature together, I think we might reasonably take issue with their banning it; for that matter, I know people who have moral feelings against particular expressions of speech or the practice of religion that we'd all agree they can't legislate under our current form of government.

I myself have moral objections to Scalia's church's practice of covering up pedophiliac criminal acts of their priests, but I wouldn't presume to legislate his faith away, though it would be a fairly straightforward (albeit drastic) solution to the problem.  And I note that my first, biggest objection to such legislation wouldn't even be Constitutional: as morally despicable as I find decisions made by the Catholic hierarchy to cover up criminal acts and despite being an atheist who doesn't have much use for religion generally, I nevertheless passionately subscribe to Thomas Jefferson's maxim that it shouldn't matter to me what another believes if it doesn't break my leg or pick my purse (or, we might add, if it doesn't molest a kid and send the molester packing away to another jurisdiction before the crime can be prosecuted).  That is, even if I have moral issues with the Catholic Church and philosophical issues with the Catholic Church, I wouldn't favor abolishing it even if the First Amendment were repealed and government had the power to do so, see what I'm getting at?

This is one of the core problems with Scalia's bullshit: of course he can have moral feelings against homosexuality if he wants to (I mean, sure, it's bigoted and stupid, but that isn't the point)--that doesn't mean he ought to legislate them.

And it also has to be pointed out in this context, I think, that Scalia's straw man doesn't even survive much scrutiny on its own terms.  Murder gets trotted out a lot whenever someone thinks they can score an easy point this way: "Well, if we allow _____, next we'll have to allow murder!"

Only, see, there's a basic flaw in the argument, which is that "murder" has a pretty specific meaning in a legal context, and a pretty confused meaning in almost every other context.  In the legal context, "murder" is the unlawful killing of another human being with malice aforethought.  So if you say something like, "If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder?" and you mean murder in the legal sense, then your implied premise is that homosexuality is unlawful, which is really just begging the question since the whole issue to start with is whether homosexuality ought to be unlawful.  And what makes that question-begging even dumber in the legal context is that a general premise of anti-gay legislation, from Bowers v. Hardwick to DOMA, and a frequent premise of moral and religious anti-gay arguments have always been that you can't prohibit the status of being homosexual, only specific conduct.  Gay people can indulge in straight sex and marry opposite-sex partners, see, so they're not really being discriminated against, the line goes.  (Or, in the religious context, "hate the sin but love the sinner".)

And if you don't mean "murder" with its legal meaning, and what you really meant to say was "killing" or "homicide", of course it's worse, because we have all sorts of moral and legal exceptions, caveats, asterisks, parentheticals and amendments to the general badness of killing people.  It's wrong to kill someone by accidentally running them over at a crosswalk, but not as wrong as killing someone by waiting outside their house hiding in the bushes armed with a knife.  Killing someone for money is generally frowned upon unless you enlist in the armed services first and then only kill people the government tells you to, or unless you've been employed by the state to kill a specific person convicted of a capital crime.  You can kill your neighbor if he's breaking into your home and you have a reasonable apprehension for your life and property.  You can't kill your neighbor because a stray dog told you to, but if you were suffering from a defect of reason or disease of the mind and were therefore unable to understand the nature or quality of the act you were committing or, because of your defect or disease, couldn't tell right from wrong, we can't actually punish you for killing your neighbor because the stray said so (though we might be able to send you off to a mental hospital indefinitely; as for the dog, there's really nothing to be done there at all).

Looking For Mr. St. Augustine.
We have entire systems of law and philosophy dealing with when killing is moral or immoral, necessary or unjustified, legal or not; so far as I know, nobody's endeavored to come up with a similar system for homosexuality, though I can think of several conservative pastors and former Republican members of Congress who would probably be grateful for such a framework if anyone's interested in bothering.

So here's what you get: you can't make the "Well, if we allow _____, next we'll have to allow murder!" in a legal context, because if you allow murder, it's no longer murder ("unlawful" is part of the legal definition, remember); and you can't make the "Well, if we allow _____, next we'll have to allow murder!" in a generic context of "murder=homicide", because, as a matter of fact, we already allow homicides in a variety of situations.  So that kind of argument is stupid, and if you make it, you're stupid.

Or maybe dishonest.  I mean, here's part of the problem with Scalia (see, we were getting back to him eventually): I've read some of the guy's legal opinions, and I don't know that I can honestly call him stupid.  So if he says something stupid, you have to wonder if he is stupid or if he's just intellectually lazy and dishonest, willing to make any kind of shitty argument, willing to overlook contrary facts and arguments, willing to basically make stuff up if he has to, in order to get where he wants to go.  In this case, that Scalia wants to rationalize discrimination against people whose personal lives (which aren't really his business to start with) squick him out ("Oh noes, penises!"), but it could just as easily be the discovery that a paragraph specifically and literally about regulating state militias confers a personal right to possess and use firearms.

I think you can tell I'm inclined towards the latter view re: Mr. Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.  Which is a goddamned shame insofar as the right could use some intellectuals, and you don't get to be an intellectual if you're really just a trolling crank, which is where I think Scalia ends up landing himself.  If he were intellectually honest, he'd just acknowledge that homosexuality scares and confuses him and violates traditional norms he has a philosophical or emotional attachment to, but that he doesn't really have a rational leg to stand on.  Who knows: maybe he'd even see his way to deciding that there isn't a Constitutional interest in banning same sex marriages just because he has issues.

I won't be holding my breath.


Secret Santa

>> Thursday, December 06, 2012

It is very possible that the stress caused by The SANTA LIE causes a child to suffer POST TRAUMATIC STRESS SYNDROME and causes a wide range of serious mental illnesses for a child as they reach Adolecence from bed wetting, anxiety, OCD and bi-polar disorders to depression, hyperactivity, eating disorders, obesity, anti- social behavior and drug & alcohol abuse. NO ONE HAS EVEN STUDIED THE PSYCHOLOGICAL DAMAGE DONE BY THE SANTA LIE and I seriously doubt if anyone ever will.
I am confused and concerned, and I need your help, dear readers.

I went to the page that's linked above.  And I read the entire thing.  And it filled me with dread and concern.  The unnamed author of the page claims or implies that "The Santa Lie" leads to bed-wetting, obsessive-compulsive disorders, eating disorders, and drug abuse.


Prince Of Lies.
The author also calls someone who repeats "The Santa Lie" a "bonified liar".  Now, I initially assumed they meant a skeleton liar--you know, like the ones Sinbad fought in the Bible--but then I remembered that skeletons can't talk and so I went and looked up "bonify" and found out it means "To convert into, or make, good," which doesn't seem like it would be a bad thing at all.

Still.  The bed-wetting thing bothers me.  It's bad enough the cat sometimes throws up a hairball on the comforter.  ("Hairball" being a misnomer: it ought to be called a "clog of hair, partially digested kitty food and Satan juice"; but I digress.)

And so I went back through the webpage.  Several times.  And I looked for links.  And now I need your help.

Because, you see, unless I missed something, not once, not a single time did the author of the website say what "The Santa Lie" actually was!

This is terrifying, obviously.  What is Santa lying about?  What does he have to hide?

I can think of things.  Some of them aren't the least bit sinister and I can't see why they would lead to permanent psychological damage.  Santa being gay, for instance: sure, it wasn't that long ago that a celebrity who works with kids might be concerned about his image and even go so far as having a sham marriage to cover up his preferences; but these days, you know, it's no big deal to be out of the closet and many famous actors and celebrities are totally open and out there--Tom Cruise and Albus Dumbledore both come right to mind.  It just seems like it's only fair to let Mrs. Claus know about it.

Or, for instance, maybe Santa Claus has a secret identity.  Maybe, for instance, Santa is really Batman, though that seems really improbable seeing as how Santa is a morbidly obese elderly male and Batman looks suspiciously like the guy who played the wife in Mr. Mom.  A more plausible hypothesis is that Santa is really the alter-ego of Superman, since Superman should have no problem constructing a special adamantium corset to hold that gut in.

Again, though, I can't see why this secret would be so soul-shattering.

Have you seen this man?
Which suggests more nefarious or awful possibilities.  For instance, maybe Santa once killed somebody.  Here's a scenario: what if Santa used to have a really bad drinking problem.  And one year, see, he's really hitting the bottle harder than ever because it's World War II and his lists are totally unmanageable--the "naughty" list for Nazi Germany alone is the size of a complete library of Encyclopedia Britannicas.  So he's really sloshed and decides he's going to head out a coupla weeks early and try to do some advance deliveries, at least get England off his to-do list, and somewhere over the English Channel--BLAM!--the sleigh hits something.  He doesn't know what it is, barely remembers it, but the next morning when he goes out to the stables he finds the sleigh has a huge ding in the side and a banged-up trombone he's never seen before in his life is wound round one of the runners like a pretzel.  And he turns to the reindeer, none of whom meet his eyes (except maybe insouciant Dancer) and says, "Any one of you even whispers a goddamn thing about this, even in one of your damn games, the whole herd of you are stew, hear?" and stalks back inside to nurse his hangover with a little brown jug.

Or what if Santa isn't really human?  I mean, okay, so, we know he isn't exactly human, being a million years old and all that.  He used to bring spearpoints and fire to all the good early hominid children and leave lumps of freshly-killed dinosaur for the naughty ones.  What I mean is, what if Santa is positively inhuman?  What if Santa is an alien from another planet, or, more likely, some kind of shambolic, non-Euclidean, eldritch horror from a dimension of pure nightmare beyond all earthly ken?  Think about it: the former tend to die from colds, but the latter only manifest themselves on our mortal plane "when the stars are right", implying some kind of periodic occurrence, e.g. the same date every year.  Maybe Santa isn't fat at all: maybe Santa's quivering gut, so reminiscent of a bowlful of jelly when concealed behind his bright red coat, is actually made up of tentacles and snot and eyeballs and stuff.  Or penises, if you go by that H.R. Giger's renditions of that kind of thing.  Santa's coat conceals lots and lots of penises.  With teeth.  And the teeth also have penises and some of the penises have vaginas.

Santa?! Why, Santa, why?!
But that doesn't make sense, either!  If "The Santa Lie" is that Santa Claus is really a terrifying creature from Beyond that can only manifest itself in our material universe when the Earth is on one side of the sun and one side of it points a particular way (because, I dunno, gravity and solar radiation and stuff), then I'd really rather not know.  It isn't the "Santa Lie" that's going to make me wet my bed and chant, "Ia!  Ia!  Yog-Sothoth!  Santa!  Fat Man of a thousand presents!  Clausthulhu fhtagn!"  No, that would be the truth that's going to drive me insane and cause me to pen an incredibly elaborate journal explaining everything I've discovered in increasingly lurid detail just before I stick my pen in my eye and set myself on fire.  (Carefully placing the journal out of harm's way where it's certain to be discovered and ruin someone else's Christmas.  And speaking of: why do people do that?  Write about their discoveries in cosmically vague terms that only get into specifics twenty pages later, I mean.  Wouldn't it be more useful to just make it a single page? "Pickman's not making this shit up, stay the fuck out of the subways."  "Winged-octopus-snot-monster in South Pacific, stay away from ugly islands with crazy-looking buildings."  "Goddamn rats and my grandparents made me eat a dude, sorry.")

So what is it?  Now I've worked myself up into such as state, I have to know.  I realize this truth may not set me free, that I may never look at Santa the same way again, may have to look at whether I can get the gas company to block my fireplace so he can't get in even if it means I never get another present again!  But I have to know, it nags at me like a hangnail, gnaws at my brain like a small animal that gnaws on brains (koala?)!

I call upon you, loyal readers: if you know what this "The Santa Lie" business is all about, explain it to me.  Whisper it in my ear, leave your comment in invisible pixels, something!

Let me know, let me know, let me know.

This is also as good an opportunity as any to mention there's a slight change in the comments policy: you'll now be required to have some kind of "registered user" account--a Google account or OpenID or whatever else Google will accept.  Now that I'm no longer updating Giant Midgets every day (part of my "write when you have something to say, don't-when-you-don't" experiment), I'm spending more time clearing out the spam and moderation queues than I am writing the blog.  Actually, Google's filters have become so useless, I was nearly doing that anyway even before I cut back on how much time I spend on the blog.  I doubt the change will have any effect other than inconveniencing Real Actual People, but I'm feeling a little desperate, and for all of Google's changes to Blogger in the past year or so, addressing the spam problem hasn't been one of them--the spam, in fact, has gotten a lot worse.  I don't even know if Google wants to fix the problem, but there it is.

My apologies if the policy change shuts anyone who isn't a spambot out.


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