Thursday, December 31, 2015


I just checked my email only to find a message titled "Worried Sick" from someone named "Heidi". I happen to know a Heidi, so I clicked on it immediately.

The message, it turns out, was not from my Heidi. Instead, it was a digital shake of the beggin' cup from the Republican leadership campaign of Ted Cruz, mailed out as sponsored SPAM from the conservative movementarian website The Daily Caller, and ostensibly penned by Ted's wife, the Heidi in question.

The main thrust of this missive is that the Cruz campaign needs to raise over a quarter million dollars before midnight tonight, on this final day of 2015, or else the Good Lord is going to call Ted home, or something.

No, wait! I'm getting my right-wing crackpots mixed up. That was some other guy, Oral Roberts I think, back in the 1980's. At the time, he claimed he was given this fundraising ultimatum by a towering, 900-foot-tall Jesus whilst meditating in the desert.

Heidi's message doesn't contain anything quite so Southern Gothic; but there is a certain something about it... a certain frantic edge, a tone of barely concealed dread while hinting at potentially damaging revelations to come, leaving the reader with the distinct impression that the good ship Cruz may be hitting some choppy waters in the days ahead. 

Check out the text of Heidi's appeal for yourself. Here it is, with all misspellings and typographical errors left intact, as I believe these add a certain Elmer Gantry, Face in the Crowd touch of paradoxically authentic phoniness. 
Ted needs your help. 
Ted is under an all-out assault on his campaign, his values, and even him personally. Attacks are coming from all sides -- Republican and Democrat -- and of course the liberal media. 
Ted won't tell you this but I will -- please stop what you are doing and read below.
Here is the situation, and it worries me: 
1) We just received inside information that Iowa Super PACs -- funded by Republicans -- are planning to spend millions attacking Ted's policy and character. 
2) Hillary is personally attacking Ted's strong stand for American families. She openly speaks of her distain for Ted's values and is attacking him in front of millions online. 
3) The media is getting personal. The Washington Post published a despicable attack on my children. Both Ted and I are determined to protect our children from their shameless attacks. 
4) We now have only 18 hours left before the media starts their full scale "exploration" into our campaign finances. Thumbing through thousands of financial papers to find any weakness and mislead Americans. 
Friend, I don’t know any other man who is prepared to fight these political assaults, stand up to the personal attacks, and still provide a positive vision for America.
I admit I'm biased, but Ted is the man we need to restore America. 
One more thing: every dollar, every prayer and word of encouragement means the world to Ted and me. 
Today is the final day of 2015, and Ted could sure use your support right now more than ever. 
Click Here: 2015 STOP-GAP DONATION >>> 
You see, he's confided in me that he must raise another $349,394 dollars beforemidnight tonight -- less than 18 hours from now. 
That is a big shortfall. 
I know there is no way you -- or any one person -- can cover that entire balance, but if you could just make one last 2015 Stop-Gap donation, both Ted and I would be in your debt. 
If we close the books and Ted is still short, it could mean the difference between winning and losing this campaign. 
Click Here: 2015 STOP-GAP DONATION >>> 
I know it's a lot to ask, but can Ted and I count on you one last time in 2015? 
Heidi Cruz
Pretty weird, right?  I mean, on one level, it's a pretty typical example of conservative movement playbook propaganda: demonizing the so-called liberal media, whining about how any criticism of one's policies amounts to an "assault" on one's "values", forever playing the victim, using one's family as human shields... nothing new about all that.

But then there's that bit about an upcoming "full scale exploration" of the Cruz campaign's finances, and an immediate warning about how those who will be conducting this exploration are sure to try and "mislead Americans" in some way.

So, what do you think? Doth the lady protest too much? Is the Cruz campaign trying to get ahead of a scandal that they know is going to break at any moment? And are they trying to confuse, misdirect, or cushion the blow with this limited hangout foreshadowing statement?

If so, what kind of scandal is it going to be this time?  Yet another perverted Republican sex scandal? As if we haven't had enough of those in recent years. I guess it could be some sort of financial crime, but seeing as the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision four years ago has basically decriminalized bribery, any fiscal mischief would have to be something pretty freaking massive to qualify as an actual scandal.

So what do you think? Either leave your guesses in the comments section below, or drop me a line at the usual place. Until next time, keep your eyes on this space!

yer old pal Jerky

PS - Just in case you need a reminder of just exactly who (and what) it is I'm writing about, above, then take the time to watch this series of outtakes from a Ted Cruz campaign commercial shot this year, featuring his entire family, including his wife, kids (he's got a lot of them!), his mom, and his dad.  You get a tiny glimpse of the man's full measure. It certainly isn't anything upon which anyone should base their entire opinion of him. But it is enough to give us an inkling that, to put it as delicately as I can... something about Ted Cruz is just plain off.


In the summer of 1993, after graduating from Mount Allison University in Canada's Maritimes, three friends and I (with a little help from a few other fine folks) set out on a bold adventure when we decided to publish a literary and general interest magazine, and charge absolutely nothing for it.

In other words, we were doing the VICE Magazine thing a full year before that current global media empire's humble beginnings as the free Voice of Montreal (before Gavin and crew discovered the ambition-boosting power of pharmaceutical grade cocaine).

Peter, Erica, Nick and I gave our humble mag the fitting name of FREE Magazine, and set about writing, selling ads, illustrating, conducting interviews, editing, calling in favors, assembling, accounting, printing, mailing out subscription copies, and even physically delivering bundles to distrubutors all over New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Over the span of that summer, we worked our butts off. Unfortunately, in the end, we just couldn't make the math work out for us, and after putting out four issues that I, for one, thought we could be proud of, we decided to pack it in and go our separate ways.

In the years since, the Internet happened, and I guess I'd always assumed that one of us would eventually migrate our work over to an online archive of some sort. That never happened, so now, after more than 20 years, I've decided to be the one to do it. So keep your eyes on this space for full scans of every issue, starting with the first one this week, in all its primitive, low-resolution, PageMaker 2.0-style glory! I also hope that my compatriots Nick Lenco, Erica Butler, and Peter Morrison will chime in with remembrances of their own (fingers crossed).

As a bit of a teaser-taster to whet your appetite for this time traveller's treat, here is a covers gallery for you. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 27, 2015


Part of this blog involves keeping former Daily Dirt readers abreast of their old pal Jerky's latest endeavors. Therefore, I am pleased to announce that I have recently completed a series of seven black and white illustrations, commissioned by one of the authors of an upcoming non-fiction book, the specific subject of which I've been asked to keep secret until the publication date is finalized.

As a bibliophile, I am particularly pleased that this is going to be a bona fide, paper and ink, physical BOOK, rather than a website or an ebook or a blog post or that sort of digital ephemera, and that I'm going to receive a proper cover credit for my contribution.

Needless to say, as soon as I possibly can, I will be updating the DDD with information about the title, the subject matter, perhaps a sample chapter, and a list of realworld and online retail outlets where one can purchase a copy or three. In the meantime, however, please enjoy the above bouquet of illustrations; the end result of hours of research, sketching, penciling and inking.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


While scanning Facebook just over two years ago, I came across an update by comics industry legend Stephen Bissette that stopped me in my tracks. It was an eye-popping image of a hulking, helmeted barbarian wielding multiple bladed weapons with which he was expertly vivisecting a gnarly horde of subhuman riff-raff. A scantily clad vixen, wide-eyed and terrified, surveyed the carnage.

It was love at first sight. I needed to know more.

It only took a few clicks to get the basics. The artist was Jason Karns, who’s been self-publishing his unique brand of balls-to-the-wall, blood-dripping-from-the-ceiling comic books for over a decade. After putting out a number of one-off stories in a wide range of genres, he recently decided to publish his work under a single brand name; a title that he felt best expressed his artwork and storytelling: FUKITOR.

Nazi scientists unleashing genetically modified gorilla shock troops on unsuspecting G.I. Joes; cannibal Satanists and zombie royalty sharing a feast of wriggling female flesh; a psychotic, trigger-happy detective leaving bloody piles of collateral damage in his wake; butt-raping Bat-Apes from Pluto… It’s all FUKITOR. And it’s fucking glorious.

Karns is a one-man show. He is FUKITOR’s sole creator, hand-crafting every issue, from the initial plotting all the way down to the trimming and stapling. And he does it all from his small hometown in Illinois, where he daylights as a barkeep. He has toiled anonymously for years, designing the occasional t-shirt, or gig posters for local rock bands, honing his skills and producing beautiful work of rare quality and power, quite content to remain an unknown quantity, obscure even by the dim lights of independent comics publishing… until recently.


Monday, November 30, 2015


Alright folks, I'm sure you all know the Jerky Reads It For You drill by now. If not, you can go back and check out a previous installment... like this one. If you're already all clued in, then all that's left for you to do is read, clip, save, and enjoy!


Sparks fly in this issue’s letters pages, as Citigroup’s Executive Vice President for Global Public Affairs Ed Skyler writes in to berate both Harper’s and Andrew Cockburn, author of April’s report “Saving the Whale Again”, about how mean and nasty and unfair their portrayal of Citibank/Ctigroup was. Cockburn responds witheringly. Not so effective is the doleful Rebecca Solnit, who’s April Easy Chair moan, titled “Abolish High School”, led to two replies calling her out for writing a “demeaning” and “pedestrian” essay. Her self-defense, in which she accuses one of her critics of spouting “the hallucinatory stuff of men’s-rights-movement rants”, was almost as lackluster.


Oh boy... "Shooting Down Man the Hunter"? This one is by Solnit again, and again we get a shrill, sour, sanctimonious and intellectually crippled polemic from a writer who isn’t as smart as she thinks she is, scolding a readership that is far more mature, thoughtful and discriminating than she presumes. Oh, and she also manages to dig up “a perfect specimen of a men’s-rights ranter” from (ahem) “social media”. With her career at Harper’s so far marked by bitter whining, a love of straw man arguments, and a near total lack of wit, I suppose it should come as no surprise that she once again ends up embarrassing herself rather badly. The sooner Harper’s drops or demotes her, the better.


Gee, I wonder whether Solnit had anything to do with these vital, righteous entries:
- Percentage of women’s college-sports teams that had female coaches in 1972: 90
- That do today: 43
- Amount by which the average annual salary of a male nurse exceeds that of a female nurse in the USA: $5,100.


[Essay] Loitering With Intent
by William M. Arkin, from his upcoming book, “Unmanned: Drones, Data, and the Illusion of Perfect Warfare”.

In this excerpt, Arkin describes the “exponential increase in the use of unmanned vehicles over the past decade” almost as if this was due to some kind of adoption of new policy, instead of the REAL reason, that being the fact that drone technology is a very recent innovation. Therefore, saying that Obama’s administration uses drones “100 times more” than the Bush administration is worse than saying nothing at all. It’s useless knowledge, akin to saying “more photographs were taken after the invention of photography than before”. It’s a virtual tautology. At one point, he writes: “Advances in information technology, nanotechnology, and even genetics, together with the continued miniaturization of nearly everything, are propelling an astonishing acceleration of drone capabilities.” Really? Genetics? He doesn’t elaborate, which leads me to believe that he wouldn’t be able to if he tried. He’s just jumbled some high-tech sounding words together.

Speaking of new words: “Before the military started using the buzzwords “persistent surveillance” and “perch and stare” to describe this mode of intelligence gathering, they used the word “loiter”, a word that said far more than it was supposed to let on.”

Arkin explains:
Loitering, according to John Brennan, the director of the CIA and architect of America’s drone wars, provides “a clearer picture of the target and its surroundings, including the presence of civilians.”
The problem, Arkin sees, is this tactic’s aimlessness, its propensity towards collecting pure, raw data sets. However, turning away from these technologies might have horrible consequences. Arkin describes the argument against the argument against thusly:
But to many military and intelligence officers, the public’s misgivings verge on the hypocritical. Sure, everyone wants less wait, but do they really want more risk? Do drone critics really desire less precision, or decisions made with inferior intelligence, or the greater destruction that would come if somehow the world returned to grinding industrial warfare of the 20th century? ... Talk of unmanned warfare ignores the hundreds of thousands of scientists and analysts and technicians who are involved in the process. We have extended the battlefield to every corner of the globe and expanded our target lists beyond the terrorists. Loitering facilitates and even encourages this expansion. ... Keyboard warfare suits the young people who joined the military after 9/11 and supplanted the brick-and-mortar warriors of the previous era. Almost every aspect of modern military recruitment and training--even the manner in which operations are carried out--caters to the expectations of these digitally addicted multitaskers. ... As the civilian melds with the military, naturally the number of civilians int he fight also increases. ... Warfare has not yet completely transformed into an endeavor in which everyone on the battlefield is there only to justify being on the battlefield, but the ratio of people actually fighting to those processing the information and operating the machines has reached a historical extreme. Ammunition makes up only 1.6 percent of the supplies shipped to combat areas; repair parts make up less than 1 percent. Fuel, on the other hand, constitutes 39 percent; water, food, clothing, and personal items make up another 55.4 percent.
And yet, the constant failures accrue, because the size of the Data Machine “reflects its immaturity more than its omniscience.” All of which leads to the distressing conclusion: “A government effort costing hundreds of billions of dollars, and comprising tens of thousands of sensors and hundreds of thousands of human operators and analysts, is barely able to keep up with the task of finding and monitoring a few thousand people.”

[Scholarship] Bot for Teacher

Excerpts from computer science papers published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and retracted after it was discovered that they were written by software that generates fake papers (proving that STEM fields aren’t as immune to trickery as they so arrogantly believed). Some of my favorite titles:
- “Flexible, Wearable Algorithms for Web Services Investigation on E-Commerce Based on Suffix Trees and Moore’s Law” 
- “The Effect of Pervasive Algorithms on Artificial Intelligence” 
- “The Synthesizing Write-Back Caches Based on Metamorphic Methodologies”
[Correspondence] Friends Like These

Excerpts from emails between every liberal’s favorite easy target, Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps (PBUH), and a group of honest-to-Godzilla Nazis who wanted to help Fred stage one of his notorious public anti-gay protests. Well, old Fred was having none of it. At one point, he sent those Nazis an email that reads as follows:
“We are not associated with the National Socialist Party in any way, shape, or form. We preach the gospel found in the scriptures--we do not add to or take away from it. Many of our members are attorneys by trade, and we spent many years protecting civil rights for minorities in the state of Kansas.”
Way to go, Fred! Whoa... Hold on a second...

[Inventory] Written Off

From a list of gifts rejected by organizations since 2010.
- Haitian farmers burned 60,000 sacks of seeds donated by Monsanto after the 2010 earthquake. 
- Pnina Tamano-Shata, a member of the Israeli Knesset, was not allowed to donate to a blood bank because she had a “special kind of Jewish-Ethiopian blood” banned by the Health Ministry.
[Propositions] Making Amends

John Edgar Wideman, a Harper’s contributing editor, wrote this odd bit of polemic in which he seems to take the position of God (or is it Death?), holding a press conference to explain his inaction in the face of all those unarmed Black people (and only Black people) being killed by police in the United States of America. Personally, I think it’s unfortunate that the very real and very serious problems of over-policing and police militarization have been all wrapped up with the race issue (thereby insuring there will NEVER be consensus on a course of action) but hey... That’s just me.

[Clarification] While You Were Sleeping

In which Brian Greene, a state representative for Utah, makes an ass of himself by asking if the legislature is certain that it wants to set the dangerous precedent (House bill 74) of making it illegal for the state’s husbands to make love to their wives while the latter are either asleep or unconscious because, hey, who doesn’t like a little knock-out nookie every once in a while, right? Fucking ridiculous.

[Copy] Product Placement

From a description of the “Vajankle”, a silicone foot produced by Sinthetics, an intimate doll manufacturer. “It has a usable vagina in the top of the ankle.” Hilarious.

[Fiction] Lip Service
By Wolfgang Hilbig, excerpted from his 1993 novel “I”. It’s about mouths and throats and a job or something. I didn’t much care for it.

[Poem] Lines
By Lukasz Jarosz, from The Nature of Things, a collection of poems soon to be published. As usual with the poems selected by Harper’s, I’m not a fan.

By David Brommwich

I think the best part about this cover story--which itself is part of the long tradition of anti-Obama sentiment from insufferable, annoying super-Leftists--is how, seemingly within days of the issue hitting the newsstands, President Obama kicked off a months-long string of political home runs that might put Sammy Sosa to shame. One could almost imagine Brommwich sitting at home, suffering terribly as he watched the Supreme Court legitimize “Obamacare” (which itself has lead to the biggest drop in uninsured Americans in history) and recognized same sex marriage across the entire nation (which Obama had been pushing hard for), as he unfroze relations with Cuba, got the GOP to grant him fast track negotiating authority on the TPP, pushed his Iran deal through Congress, shepherded an ongoing economic rebound, etc. Hardly the stuff of a “lame duck” President. And yet there was June’s issue of Harper’s, sitting forlorn on the shelves, with a defeated looking Obama on the cover beneath the headline blaring: “WHAT WENT WRONG”. No question mark. Brommwich wasn’t asking. He was telling. And he begins his telling with an incredibly pompous epigram from Kierkegaard’s The Present Age:
“A political virtuoso... Might write a manifesto suggesting a general assembly at which people should decide upon a rebellion, and it would be so carefully worded that even the censor would let it pass. At the meeting itself he would be able to create the impression that his audience had rebelled, after which they would all go quietly home--having spent a very pleasant evening.”
Oh boy. Why not Yeats’ "Second Coming"? Too on the nose?

Anyway, let’s see what this Brommwich guy has to say about Obama’s “legacy”. The first paragraph bares repeating, I suppose, for context:
Any summing-up of the Obama presidency is sure to find a major obstacle in the elusiveness of the man. He has spoken more words, perhaps, than any other president; but to an unusual extent, his words and actions float free of each other. He talks with unnerving ease on both sides of an issue: about the desirability, for example, of continuing large-scale investment in fossil fuels. Anyone who voted twice for Obama and was baffled by what followed--there must be millions of us--will feel that this president deserves a kind of criticism he has seldom received. Yet we are held back by an admonitory intuition. His predecessor was worse, and his successor most likely will also be worse.
First of all, I find it kind of telling that he only brings up one, rather minor example for his reasons to label Obama as two-faced. If it is indeed true that Obama is two-faced--or at least more two-faced than any politician in the modern world needs to be in order to survive--than surely Brommwich should be able to find a more damning example than this silly nothingness about fossil fuel policy. And to say that Obama “campaigned better than he has governed”, that to me seems more damning to his political adversaries than it is to the President. At the end of the day, the president is not a dictator. Any politician campaigns not on promises, but on goals and ideals, informing the electorate of the direction in which he intends to shift the body politic. Wholesale remakings of the Republic of the nature that Brommwich and others seem to be calling for are neither possible, nor desirable.

Later in his essay, Brommwich discusses an interview in which Obama concedes that, in his efforts to close down Guantanamo Bay, the fight got so nasty and partisan that he decided that pushing the issue wasn’t worth the political fallout. About this, Brommwich writes:
In March 2015, in the seventh year of his presidency, Barack Obama was presenting himself as a politician who followed the path of least resistance. This is a disturbing confession. It is one thing to know about yourself that in the gravest matters you follow the path of least resistance. It is another thing to say so in public. Obama was affirming that for him there could not possibly be a question of following the path of courageous resistance. He might regret it six years later, but politics set in, and he had to eave Guantanamo open--a symbol of oppression that (by his own account) tarnished the fame of America in the eyes of the world.
To me, he seems to be faulting the president for being candid. I can’t help but wonder what Brommwich would have had Obama do. Does he think he is better equipped to decide what goals are worth what price than the president is? If so, I imagine he’s mistaken.

Later still, he seems to criticize Obama on what I would label style issues. He scorns Obama’s love of “words”, claiming the president sees them as “a substitute for action”, thus failing to understand that, when it comes to the presidency of the United States, words often do have the force of action. And when he offers Obama backhanded compliments about his employing “a correct and literate diction”, labeling him “a polite and careful talker” who is “uncomfortable and seldom better than competent in the absence of a script”, Brommwich seems to be echoing some of the uglier (and, from this observer’s point of view, erroneous) bleating of the racialist, retarded Right. And the kicker? Brommwich tries to insult Obama by saying that he “resembles Ronald Reagan”... the third most beloved president of the 20th century. Some insult!

Next up, Brommwich attempts to make the ridiculous argument that having to clean up the mess left after eight years of psychotic misrule by the Bush-Cheney administration actually made things easier for Obama. Could Brommwich really be ignorant of the fact that a large part of the Bush-Cheney cabal’s crimes included sinister tinkering with government structures and institutions in such a way as to cause them to be compromised, not only for the duration of their terms, but for as long as possible, up to and including until the ultimate collapse of the federal government? Come on, Brommwich! Wake up and smell the arson! Considering what came before, and considering what he stood against, that Obama has been as successful as he has is nothing short of a miracle.

Which brings us to Obama’s foreign policy, which of course Brommwich sees as filled with failure... And one of Obama’s biggest failures, according to Brommwich, was (hold on to your hats) the decision to kill Osama bin Laden! Yes, that’s right, “this operation was the president’s own decision, according to the available accounts, and it must be said that many things about the killing were dubious. It gambled a further erosion of trust with Pakistan, and looked to give a merely symbolic lift to the American mood, since bin Laden was no longer of much importance in the running of Al Qaeda.” Un-fucking-believable...

The rest of Brommwich’s article goes on pretty much in this fashion, blaming Obama for his political adversaries’ attacks, tactics and successes (of which they will inevitably have some). He blames Obama for the 2010 midterm election rout of Democrats, even though if Obama had pursued the kind of agenda Brommwich wishes for, that electoral backlash would almost certainly have been worse. He blames Obama for the creation of the Tea Party, and then for not campaigning harder against them (as if this wouldn’t have merely strengthened their resolve and movement). After offering weak acknowledgment that the Affordable Care Act was a great leap forward, he gets in his digs by blaming Obama for the existence of the legislation’s opposition! He blames Obama for Bush-Cheney creating a class of “unreleaseable” War on Terror prisoner, and continuing the long-in-the-making trend of the military employing mercenaries to keep much of the war off the public books. After once again offering weak praise for Obama making waterboarding and other forms of enhanced interrogation illegal (“this is an achievement to which no minus sign can be attached”) he goes on to attack Obama for ordering 456 drone attacks versus the Bush admin’s 52, as if that had nothing to do with the fact that drones (as previously noted in Readings, above) are a relatively new technology.

Which brings Brommwich to Obama’s Middle East policy, the area with which perhaps he and I will most agree. Brommwich points out that Obama’s two key Mideast policy goals were 1) ensuring that the USA didn’t appear to be at war with all of Islam and 2) securing a Palestinian homeland. Considering the current state of the leadership in Israel, #2 was just never gonna fly, and #1... Well, let’s just say that such a thing is easier said than done. 

Possibly the best line of Brommwich’s article is the following: “The scale of the Libyan disaster was already known when the same advisers and opinion makers knocked on Obama’s door for the intervention in Syria.” Thankfully, for the time being, it appears that Obama’s own instincts have finally kicked in, and overthrowing the Assad regime is no longer on the menu. But it sure took long enough for him to come to that realization.  Brommwich writes: 
In both Syria and Iraq, a necessary ally in the fight against Sunni fanatics (including the recent incorporation that calls itself the Islamic State) has been the Shiite regime in Iran. Yet Obama has been hampered from explaining this necessity by his extreme and programmatic reticence on the subject of Iran generally. About the time the last sentence was written, President Obama announced the framework of a nuclear deal between the P5+1 powers and Iran. If he can clear the treaty with Congress and end the state of all but military hostility that has prevailed for nearly four decades between the United States and Iran, the result will stand beside health care as a second major achievement.
I am happy to report, Mister Brommwich, that he did... And it does.

Which brings Brommwich (and us) to Russia, Putin and the Ukraine, about which he writes that “President Obama does not seem to control his foreign policy.” Remember assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs Victoria Nuland? She who boasted in December 2013 that the US had spent $5 billion since 1991 to peel the Ukraine away from its natural symbiotic relationship with Russia, including untold millions spent to denounce and defame Vladimir Putin in various media, both locally and around the world? Smooth move, that. So smooth, in fact, that it ultimately led to an actual, hot, bullets flying and bombs dropping civil fucking war. “Was he remotely aware of the implications of the crisis--a crisis that plunged Ukraine into a civil war and splintered US diplomacy with Russia in a way that nothing in Obama’s history could lead one to think he wished for? His subsequent statements on the matter have all been delivered in a sedative nudge-language that speaks of measures to change the behavior of a greedy rival power. As in Libya, the evasion of responsibility has been hard to explain. It almost looks as if a cell of the State Department assumed the management of Ukraine policy and the president was helpless to alter their design.”

And here’s where Brommwich’s essay becomes interesting. I excerpt at length:
Suppose something of this sort in fact occurred. How new a development would that be? Five months into Obama’s first term, a coup was effected in Honduras, with American approval. A lawyer for the businessmen who engineered the coup was the former Clinton special counsel Lanny Davis. Did Obama know about the Honduras coup and endorse it? The answer can only be that he should have known; and yet (as with Ukraine) it seems strange to imagine that he actually approved. It is possible that an echo of both Honduras and Ukraine may be discerned in a recent White House statement enforcing sanctions against certain citizens of Venezuela. The complaint, bizarre on the face of it, is that Venezuela has become an “unusual and extraordinary threat: to the national security of the United States. These latest sanctions look like a correction of the president’s independent success at rapprochement with Cuba--a correction administered by forces inside the government itself that are hostile to the White House’s change of course. Could it be that the coup in Ukraine, on the same pattern, served as a rebuke to Obama’s inaction in Syria? Any progress toward peaceful relations, and away from aggrandizement and hostilities, seems to be countered by a reverse movement, often in the same region, sometimes in the same country. Yet both movements are eventually backed by the president. The situation is obscure. Obama’s diffidence in the fact of actions by the State Department (of which he seems half-aware, or to learn of only after the fact) may suggest that we are seeing again the syndrome that led to the National Archives speech and the decision to escalate the Afghanistan war. Edward Snowden, in an interview published in The Nation in November 2014, seems to have identified the pattern. “The Obama Administration,” he said, “almost appears as though it is afraid of the intelligence community. They’re afraid of death by a thousand cuts ... Leaks and things like that.” ... However one reads the evidence, there can be no doubt that Obama’s stance toward the NSA, the CIA and the intelligence community at large has been the most feckless and unaccountable element of his presidency.”
Personally, I think Brommwich would have been better off writing an entire, fully researched and in-depth article about the above issues (State Department and intelligence agencies going rogue) than having such an important and potentially explosive topic be relegated to such a small part part in a wrong-headed essay about Obama’s “failed presidency”. But again... That’s just me.

In summation, then:
Nobody bent on mere manipulation would so often utter a wish for things he could not carry out. ... Much as one would like to admire a leader so good at showing that he means well, and so earnest in projecting the good intentions of his country as the equivalent of his own, it would be a false consolation to pretend that the years of the Obama presidency have not been a large lost chance.
Obviously, while agreeing with Brommwich in parts, I disagree with him on the whole. I hope I’ve made the reasons why at least somewhat clear in my exegesis of his text. Now let’s move on.

Following the trail of BP’s oil in teh Gulf of Mexico
By Antonia Juhasz

In March of 2014, the author set out from Gulfport, Mississippi on a three week mission aboard the US Navy research ship, Atlantis, equipped with the federal government’s only manned research submarine, named Alvin. “Their goal was to determine how BP’s oil spill had affected the ocean’s ecosystem from the sea-bed up.” The author got to ride in the sub all the way down to the Macondo well-head, getting closer than anyone had gone since the blowout that spewed 134 million gallons of crude into the sea. The report’s title refers to the 30 million gallons that biogeochemist Samantha Joye estimates remains trapped on the ocean floor, sitting under the sediment, fouling the waters and ecology. “If you short circuit the bottom” she says, “you threaten the entire cycle. Without a healthy ocean, we’ll all be dead.” No shit. The whole article is a depressing trotting out of distressing statistics and facts: gallons and percentages and levels of threat and fragility (the Gulf’s vital coral reef environment is on a precipice now), loss of biodiversity (in one of the formerly most biodiverse places on the planet), loss of income for those depending on the Gulf’s previously generous waters. “By May 2011, BP’s oil had sickened or killed more than 100,000 Gulf animals: 28,500 sea turtles, 82,000 birds, and more than 26,000 marine mammals, including several sperm whales. Too small or too numerous to count were the vast numbers of dead fish, crustaceans, insects and plants that washed up on shore. Most of the other organisms initially killed by the spill died at sea and were never seen.”

Juhasz describes her dive to the bottom in exciting terms: “Our dive brought us within two nautical miles of the wellhead. Any nearer and we would have risked getting caught in the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon.” Very Jules Verne! But it wasn’t all fun and games. The research Joye was involved in showed that the sea bottom hadn’t healed in the years since the spill. It’s also revealed that the use of Corexit, the chemical dispersant that was supposed to help stop oil from drifting ashore, only made things worse... Far worse. Google “Corexit” for some handy-dandy nightmare fuel. And guess what? Scientist Joe Montoya’s research on phytoplankton has “uncovered clear evidence that oil and gas carbon are moving through the food web. Ultimately, these contaminants, in potentially harmful concentrations, could reach things like big fish that people are commercially interested in.” He says: “When people say that the oil spill is over, they aren’t realizing that the full impacts are on a very long timescale of decades or more.”

Why one of Asia’s most open societies keeps turning to military rule
By Ian Buruma

Let me excerpt the first paragraphs:

As military coups go, Thailand’s putsch on May 22, 2014, was rather polite--no mass imprisonments, no stadiums full of students tortured and shot. The toppled prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was detained for only three days. Before the coup, there had been months of street clashes between loyalist “red shirts” and opposition “yellow shirts”, and now General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s junta promised to “restore happiness to the people.” 
There have since been some public protests against martial law. Students were arrested in Bangkok for flashing a three-finger salute copied from The Hunger Games, the novel and attendant movie about a rebellion against a fictional dictatorship. Modest three-finger student demonstrations have also taken place in Khon Kaen, a city in the rural northeast that is considered the main red-shirt stronghold. The salute is now banned in Thailand, as is public reading of George Orwell’s 1984. But so far, opposition to the junta has not found a popular voice--no great demonstrations, no acts of violence. 
It is easy, under such relatively tranquil conditions, not to take Thailand and its coups entirely seriously. Military takeovers occur with some regularity there.
This is a somewhat intriguing article, especially if you know people from, or have an interest in, Thailand. There is also some great photography. Unfortunately, the article eventually comes around to discussing Thailand’s monarchy... which is something I have learned NEVER TO DISCUSS ONLINE, after a semi-terrifying incident when I was writing the Daily Dirt back in the day. If you’re curious as to what happened... Email me and I’ll fill you in.

Anyway, if you’re interested in this article, it’s offered for free on Harper’s website (unlike most of their content, which is subscribers-only).

Providing sanitation for the world’s poor
By Sallie Tisdale

This info-graphic is the exact type of article that makes me appreciate Harper’s so much. Its graphic layout is beautiful and elegantly simplistic, and it’s jam-packed with interesting factoids and ideas. In this particular article, you get so much information about the act of defecation that you can practically smell poop by the time you’re done reading it. By the way, did you know that more people in sub-Saharan Africa own cell phones than toilets? “One reason so many Africans have cell phones is that no infrastructure for land lines has ever been built--that technological step was skipped. Sanitation activists now hope that they can skip expensive, inefficient sewer systems as well.” The answer to this problem, not to mention the problems of overburdened sewer systems in the FIRST World, may just be the Blue Diversion Toilet, developed by the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology. “The Blue Division is a dry toilet that requires no piped water or wired-in electricity. It also has an additional benefit: it’s beautiful. Google “Blue Division toilet” for more information on this shitty modern marvel.

The medical ordeal no one wants to talk about
By Vanessa Gregory

You want depressing? Try reading this memoir of one woman’s painful, failed, ectopic pregnancy, her embryo caught in one of her Fallopian tubes. Learning about the procedure used to handle such a medical emergency had me cringing and wincing in empathetic reflex. And the worst part of it is? Approximately one in fifty pregnancies in the USA is ectopic, which can very easily be deadly for the mother. And, of course, some right-wing retards are trying to outlaw the medicine that terminates such pregnancies, even though they’re 100 percent non-viable, and even though carrying such pregnancies too far almost invariably leads to the death of the mother. Thanks again, Mississippi morons!

By Adam Johnson

Interesting fact: This long-ass fictional story really kind of sucks the big one.

The discreet charm of movies we cannot see
By David Thomson

Up front admission: I am no fan of David Thomson, mostly because he is no fan of my own favorite filmmaker, Stanley Kubrick. That alone shouldn’t be enough to make me dislike Thomson, of course... But it’s the ways in which he disses Kubrick that stick in my craw; his dunderheaded, blinkered contrariness and somewhat obvious “who does Mr Kubrick think he is” style petulant taking-down-a-peg nattering. THAT’s what I object to. Now, having said that, this short essay is somewhat interesting, if also a bit obvious. Of course we lovers of cinema are intrigued by “lost” films! But when he imagines a future symposium in which Seth Rogen and James Franco “rhapsodize over the chimerical Interview as if it were Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons”... I have to admit to giggling. As for the rest of this essay, it’s an absorbing and sometimes distressing account detailing the challenges facing those who wish to preserve our cinematic legacy, whether they be economic, temporal, or chemical, and the stories behind works by Hitchcock, von Stroheim, and, or course, Welles. After detailing recent developments in the possible completion and release of Welles’ infamous final project, The Other Side of the Wind, Thomson asks: “Could it be that the best way to preserve film culture is to make sure that at least a few great movies stay on the other side of the wind?” Maybe so, maybe no. Good essay, though.

By Joshua Cohen

What an odd, idiosyncratic review. In critiquing Richard Bradford’s Literary Rivals, Feuds and Antagonisms in the World of Books ($24.95), Cohen begins: “You never step in the same river twice, but a rival you step on constantly. Everything flows--including anger and resentment. According to Socrates, according to Plato, the original Greek of Heraclitus’ fragment was Panta Rhei, the verb of which streamed into the Latin rivus, meaning rivulet or brook. A derevied term (derivare: to draw off water) was rivalis, meaning a person with whom you share a river. And so we have rival: a person who fishes the same waters as you--a person who, if wishes were fishes, would drown.” Hey now. 

Stylistic gymnastics aside, Cohen lists a great many of the rivalries from Bradford’s book, amusingly writing: “Sinclair Lewis accused Theodore Dreiser of plagiarizing his wife; Dreiser responded that he’d done more than plagiarize her--though cuckolding Lewis was no compensation for missing out on the Nobel.” Yowza!

The second book reviewed by Cohen is I Greet You At the Beginning of a Great Career ($26.95, City Lights), collecting correspondence between Beat era superstars Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, often in the form of editorial advice from the latter to the former. Seems like a must-have for all Beat fans.

The third and final book reviewed by Cohen, here, is The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings ($30), by Philip and Carol Zaleski, which once again covers writers, this time in the form of J.R.R. Tolkien (Catholic), C.S. Lewis (Anglican), Owen Barfield (Anthroposophist) and Charles Williams (S&M enthusiast), who met weekly to read their works in progress. Seeing as so much is known of the first two, Cohen sees it as a virtue of this book that it goes into such great detail on the last two, who are quite interesting fellows in their own right. The authors also cover some of the Inklings’ less public members, many of whom were quite influential in their own fields, such as the Chaucer scholar Nevill Coghill, the Victorianist David Cecil, Shakespeare authority Henry “Hugo” Dyson, and the group’s founder, Edward Tangye Lean, who served as direct of external broadcasting for the BBC during WWII.

By Rivka Galchen

Reviewed in this essay is Tina Fey’s Netflix sitcom Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, starring Ellie Kemper as Kimmy, one of four “mole girls” saved from an Apocalyptic cult leader’s basement. Apparently, it’s pretty good. I haven’t seen it, but Galchen digs it, writing effusively about it. So much so, in fact, that I think I’ll go download the first season and binge-watch it. I’ll let you know what I think, later.

Karl Taro Greenfeld and the novel of inequality
By Jonathan Dee

Discussed in this essay: The Subprimes, by Karl Taro Greenfeld ($25.99). “It is hard for a fiction writer” this review begins “to know how to engage the present american moment head-on.” Indeed. Dee describes today’s America as a powder keg culture, more precarious--the state itself less legitimate--than it’s been since the Great Depression. I’m not quite sure why Dee starts off his review like this, considering Greenfeld’s book is a near future dystopian work of speculative fiction. And oh what a future he describes. It literally seems like Hell as imagined by liberals as imagined by conservatives (if you know what I mean). “The public defender’s office is operated by Uber Justice. ... The minimum wage has been abolished by the National Right to Work Act, teachers’ collective bargaining rights have been outlawed by the Right to Learn Act, and unemployment insurance, via the American Empowerment Act, has been reduced to a $250 voucher valid only at fast-food restaurants.” Cementing the impression that this novel is meant to be the masturbation fantasy of the average DemocraticUnderground or DailyKos reader, “a third, even more privileged character is known as Pastor Roger, an ultraconservative preacher whose megachurch is housed in the former Texas Stadium.” This is the kind of character that the author has interpreting the fact that whales beaching themselves on the east coast as a sign that “the government is overregulating the offshore drilling industry.” Again, as far as satire goes, this isn’t exactly subtle, nor is it particularly enlightening. And yet Dee goes on and on about it, comparing The Subprimes to Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, at length. It’s clear from this review that Dee believes we are all, collectively, hovering at the edge of something big. He can feel it in his bones... and he’s itching to be a part of it... to take part in some kind of violent action in that big something’s behalf. The revolution is just around the corner. I hope that, when he’s let down, it won’t be from too high; otherwise he might hurt himself.

Mark Grief’s intellectual excavations
By William Deresiewicz

Discussed in this essay: The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933-1973, by Mark Grief ($29.95). The first hunk of this rather massive review (of a book about which I’ve heard nothing but raves from those in the know) is given over to praising the dickens out of the relatively new (since 2004) literary journal/website N+1 and its associated enterprises. Deresiewicz is obviously a fan, both of N+1 and of Grief (whose writing he describes at one point as “really fucking smart”). Basically, it looks like Mark Grief is to N+1 what Thomas Frank was to The Baffler, another “ideas journal” and “leader of” that so many contributors at Harper’s fell head over heels for not so long ago (remember when they let Frank replace the out-going and sadly missed Lewis Lapham?). In any case, Deresiewicz’ “review” ends up being a six page encomium (or is it merely the declaration of a literary crush?) that I’m relatively certain will make Grief cringe uncomfortably upon reading. Regardless, this review is the rave that has pushed me over the edge. I’ve gone ahead and added The Age of the Crisis of Man to my Amazon shopping cart. Expect my own review in a few months (or years, depending).


Among the most amusing of this month’s findings is that birds may possess self-consciousness, recipients of the Earned Income Tax Credit spend only 11 percent on “treats”, and all ticks who afflict the nostrils of Malagasy diademed sifakas are male (whatever that means).


And that’s it for the June edition of Harper’s Magazine (I swear I’m trying to keep up, but I’ve had some illustration gigs to do, so...). Join us again soon for the July edition rundown, which hopefully will contain a little bit less Solnit per column inch than this one.  Cheers! 

Monday, November 23, 2015


1. Thanks to my friend and creative partner Marc Roussel (hang in there, bud!) for sending me a link to this pretty nifty webcomic by a couple of artists who go by the name Lunatik. They describe their work as: "our little throwback to 1940's Sci Fi comics with a touch of David Cronenberg illustrated by our friend José Cobá. David and I are very excited for you guys to see what we have in store for next year (hint: you can see a preview at the very end), so please join us in 2016, we promise we will have fun together." As you can probably tell from the image above, the comic has a touch of Kirby as well as a soupcon of Steranko. I thought it was pretty nifty, and am therefore pleased to share it with y'all.

2. And here's another nifty webcomic, this one an ongoing tumblr titled "The Hairs on the Back of Your Neck", featuring animated gifs derived from spine-chilling single-sentence horror stories. The artwork is exquisite, which is a very frou-frou word, but it happens to fit perfectly in this case. I mean, take a gander at that gorgeous piece of illustration, above!

3. And finally for today, a stunning new music video from one of the century's most important popular artists: "Blackstar", by the one and only David Bowie. The song is apparently going to serve as the theme for an upcoming British crime drama called The Last Panthers (about Eastern bloc jewel thieves), but the video gives precious little indication of that. What it does give us, however, is a vast array of references to everything from the heaviest of heavy-duty Modern masterpieces to the lightest of pop entertainments. In coming days, I'll be attempting to catalog these references right here on the Daily Dirt Diaspora blog. So keep your eyes peeled!

Sunday, November 15, 2015


As someone whose spirit brims with unconditional love for the hand-crafted mid-western cow-town science-fiction puppet-show that is Mystery Science Theater 3000, I have often despaired that I may never find a way to properly thank the show's creator -- Minnesota's own Joel Hodgson -- for the countless hours of laughter, joy, education and enlightenment that his creation has given me over the years. Furthermore, I suspect that there are quite a few others out there among my readership who feel roughly the same way as I do. I am happy to report to you all that now, over a decade and a half after the show aired its final episode... THERE IS A WAY. Please watch the embedded video and take any and all appropriate measures to make this particular crowd-funding effort into the kind of runaway success that it so totally deserves to be.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


As you may have heard, Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi is urging fans of weird fiction to boycott the World Fantasy Awards over their decision to cave into the demands of politically correct Social Justice Whiners who believe Lovecraft was too racist to deserve being the subject of a bust representative of their annual award. I urge any of my friends who feel similarly about this subject to join me in joining him in his efforts.

Here's part of what Joshi wrote at his blog:

It has come to my attention that the World Fantasy Convention has decided to replace the bust of H. P. Lovecraft that constitutes the World Fantasy Award with some other figure. Evidently this move was meant to placate the shrill whining of a handful of social justice warriors who believe that a “vicious racist” like Lovecraft has no business being honoured by such an award. (Let it pass that analogous accusations could be made about Bram Stoker and John W. Campbell, Jr., who also have awards named after them. These figures do not seem to elicit the outrage of the SJWs.) Accordingly, I have returned my two World Fantasy Awards to the co-chairman of the WFC board, David G. Hartwell. 
You can read the rest, including Joshi's letter to Hartwell, at the link above.

Monday, November 9, 2015



BONE TOMOHAWK is a gift of a film; a master-class in stylistic blending that deftly combines the best of what frontier westerns and the cannibal horror genre have to offer. Despite a deliberate, careful pacing, momentum never lags as each passing moment is chock-a-block with wonderful, infinitely quotable dialogue and some truly fine performances by the uniformly superlative cast of veteran character actors.

Kurt Russell is at his best here as the dogged, stalwart Sheriff Franklin Hunt, of the tiny, isolated town of Bright Hope, which itself is populated by a collection of the usual suspects, including an ageing but resourceful deputy, a prideful, upper-class veteran of the Indian Wars, a timid barkeep, some hard-working, hard-drinking frontiersmen, their dutiful, inordinately attractive wives, and a colorful bad man or two. Sid Haig and David Arquette are particularly excellent in the opening scenes.

Fair warning: BONE TOMAHAWK starts off in a relatively conventional manner that gives precious little warning before erupting into a grim, horrific, gore-drenched struggle for survival. Featuring one of the most gruesome on-screen killings in recent memory, BONE TOMAHAWK is not for every taste. It is, however, destined to become a cherished and beloved cult classic for as long as people watch, and love, bold and innovative genre motion pictures.

As is often the case with films that cater to a particular element of contemporary fandom*, there are many cliches that apply to the Soska Sisters' aesthetically ambitious and ethically ambiguous sophomore effort, AMERICAN MARY.  Its reach exceeds its grasp, for one. However, if you have no problem suspending your disbelief for 90 minutes - and if you're either a member or curious observer of the "body modification" subculture - then perhaps this cinematic exercise in feminist revenge fantasy is just the thing to spice up your Sunday evening at home with the better half.

AMERICAN MARY tells the story of Mary Mason (portrayed by Katherine Isabelle), a promising and attractive young medical student from Seattle whose money woes force her to consider moonlighting as a stripper. After giving Billy (the bar's sleazy owner) the world's most unenthusiastic massage, a situation arises that leads to Mary being offered $5,000 cash if she can save the life of a double-crossing gangster, whom Billy's associates have been torturing in the basement. Mary's reluctant agreement to do this, and her success in the deed, are what lead to her subsequent decision to enter into the wonderful, whimsical, oh-so-90's-retro world of body modification.

For a movie that is a self-described reaction to the recent wave of cinematic "extremism" in both Europe (think MARTYRS) and Japan (think Takeshi Miike), I found AMERICAN MARY to be more silly than disturbing. A list of every character, line of dialogue, location, motivation, or decision made in this film that could fairly be described as "ridiculous" would stretch quite a long way, indeed. A few key examples should be enough to give you a general idea of what I'm referring to...

First and foremost, there's the film's oddly childish Riot-Grrrl-meets-torture-porn weltanschaung. You get the feeling that the Soska Sisters really believe that shit can go down the way they portray it going down in this movie, particularly at the 100% male-run "surgery school" that Mary attends... up until the moment when the professors all gather to assist the vilest among them - a character who's been twirling his mustache since we first laid eyes on him - to drug and rape Mary (and film it!) in order to ensure that the world of surgical practice remains an elitist, patriarchal cis-pit of unchecked male privilege... or something.

There are other, more basic believability issues here, too. Like, for instance, if her money troubles are so bad, why doesn't Mary just move out of that massive, cathedral-sized apartment of hers, and into a place more befitting her status as a student? And don't get me started on the idea of complex operations being performed successfully, solo, without any preparation whatsoever. Apparently, all it takes to make it big in the lucrative world of plastic surgery is a surgical mask, some gloves, a bag full of sharp blades, and raw surgical talent! No wonder the Old Boy's Club is trying to fortify that Glass Ceiling of theirs; if the truth ever got out about how easy their job is, it would totally derail their Gravy Train!

From the arguably objectionable to the merely annoying, we have Billy's weird, unrequited crush on Mary, which goes nowhere, story-wise. The character of Lance, one of Billy's hired thugs, is another annoyance; what is it with tough guys in Canadian movies all having long, greasy hair, wearing sunglasses, leather jackets and gloves, and secretly being soulful, supportive gentlemen? And then there's the Soskas' infamous Hitchcock moment, wherein they appear as the Demon Twins of Berlin, stereotypically "shocking", pseudo-incestuous Goth sisters who prattle away in ersatz German accents and wish to feel "more connected" by exchanging left arms with one another. Just like the detective who occasionally pops by to briefly question Mary about her instructor's mysterious disappearance, they come and go with neither consequence nor raison d'etre.

So... is AMERICAN MARY completely worthless? Not at all. At times it's enjoyable in an early Rob Zombie kind of way; like flipping through back issues of Fangoria Magazine while listening to Alice in Chains on an old CD Walkman. The practical effects are convincing, and the film looks pretty good, with a dark, rich color palate and some interesting shot compositions. There are also a couple of particularly enjoyable performances.

Katherine Isabelle has been Canada's best Scream Queen since her star-making turn in the excellent feminist werewolf movie GINGER SNAPS, and she does her best to make Mary into a believable, complex, and sympathetic character... no mean feat, considering some of the nasty business she gets up to. That Isabelle brings so much to the character that isn't, strictly speaking, "on the page" shouldn't come as a surprise, seeing as the Soskas wrote the screenplay with her in mind. The other notable performance in this film is Tristan Risk as the strange but compelling character of Beatress. Performing through an impressive latex approximation of Betty Boop, Risk conveys a paradoxically jaded innocence that stayed with me for days.

Of course, while good performances and decent cinematography can go a long way, they don't, in and of themselves, make for a successful film; especially one with the issues I've described. So, ultimately, I'd describe AMERICAN MARY as a failure... but an ambitious and intriguing one. And seeing as it's still early in the Soskas' film-making career, I will definitely continue to check out their work.

* AMERICAN MARY is literally dedicated to Eli Roth!

Monday, October 26, 2015


A Graphic Novel by Derf Backderf

Jeffrey Dahmer has always struck me as an outlier among the grisly menagerie of celebrity serial killers that bubbled up from North America's subconscious and into the world of tabloid television back in the Reagan/Bush era. Ted Bundy, Henry Lee Lucas, Richard Ramirez and John Wayne Gacy all seemed unambiguously evil.

There was something different about Dahmer. His obvious relief at being apprehended and his apparently sincere remorse - he had no reason to lie, as he was going to be spending the rest of his life behind bars no matter what - stood in sharp contrast to his aforementioned cohorts, most of whom basked in the Satanic afterglow of their despicable deeds, courting media attention and reveling in their hard earned notoriety.

Enter John “Derf” Backderf, whose semi-autobiographical work has extensively chronicled the middle-American punk rock experience, and whose long-running comic strip “The City” has been a mainstay of metropolitan alt.weeklies for years. Derf’s unique visual flair, his familiarity with the milieu, and his solid storytelling chops would, in and of themselves, be enough to make him a good choice to bring the story of Jeffrey Dahmer’s formative years to the printed page. Add to this the fact that he was there, that he witnessed these events with his own two eyes, and that makes him uniquely suited to the task.

You see, the title of his book isn’t just some writerly conceit, a flourish of artistic licence. Backderf really was there, in the woody suburbs of Bath, Ohio, as one of the small group of people who counted themselves among Jeffrey Dahmer's "friends". And his wonderful book helps to explain, without ever excusing, how a damaged young boy could turn into a truly tragic monster.

Even the most ardent of serial killer aficionados is bound to find something new, here; some tantalizing new bit of trivia, or insight into the origins of Dahmer’s malfunction. I won’t do potential future readers the disservice of spoiling any of these. Instead, I will simply offer this endorsement: My Friend Dahmer is a worthy addition to the genre of serial killer lit, and as a graphic novel, it is a major milestone, perhaps one of the decade’s finest.


by Robert Crumb and David Zane Mairowitz

Anyone wishing to learn about the life and writing of the massively influential Modernist writer Franz Kafka will find a wonderful guide in this beautifully illustrated, very well researched and engagingly written biography.

Crumb is the undisputed master of the form, and it’s clear that he enjoyed his subject here. He is equally adept at portraying (relatively) mundane incidents from Kafka’s day-to-day routine as he is at vividly bringing to life many of the horrid images from Kafka’s most important works, many of which Mairowitz aptly describes in brief but illuminating capsule summaries.

This is one of those rare works that should appeal to serious Kafka scholars, students looking to bone up on the subject, and newbies who want to get acquainted with the author before delving into his work. 


By Tom Neely and Friends

This second collection of stories about the fictional relationship between hardcore punk/metal icons Glenn Danzig and Henry Rollins may be an extended, inside joke, but it’s a great joke, well told - both narratively and visually - in an intriguing variety of ways.

Bringing together all of the second wave of Henry & Glenn Forever mini-comics, the book also features a full color gallery of cover art all done in instantly recognizable comic book styles, and more than half the book is made up of previously unpublished material.

The quality of the artwork varies, of course, but some of the work on display here is truly exceptional. One particularly excellent tale (my favorite in the collection) involves a mythical re-imagining of Danzig’s infamous backstage encounter with an overweight roadie who, after being viciously shoved by Danzig for making an “impertinent” request, knocks the diminutive rocker unconscious with a single punch. This graphic version of that oft-viewed encounter had me laughing so hard I had to put the book down and take a brief break, making it worth the price of admission all on its own.

Not that there aren’t any other good stories here - there are plenty. In fact, the second half of this weighty collection (over 250 pages) is, if anything, superior to the first half; so if you find your interest waning on first read, stick with it. Or hell, just jump right to the stories in the second half if you want; it's not like this is a chronological collection.

Bottom line, if you’re a fan of either Danzig or Rollins, you’ll find plenty here to appreciate, and you’ll be fending off your buddies’ attempts to “borrow” (i.e. steal) the damned thing.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Well, I screwed THAT pooch pretty badly.

Just over half a year ago, I inaugurated a new section of this blog, which I christened “Jerky Reads It For You”, in which I proposed to break down each month’s issue of Harper’s Magazine (among other publications) into a kind of literary distilate, presenting all the most important insights, factoids, and revelations in easy-to-use bite-size form.

And then, after kicking things off with the March issue... silence.

I did get around to reading the April edition, and made extensive notes in the margins... but then I gave that issue away to my friend Mel, known to regular readers of the Daily Dirt (1999-2006) as the inventor of the multi-track video fireplace DVD.

Then I managed to destroy my freaking back somehow.

Then I got serious about working on an very promising film project, about which I hope to be able to reveal more in the coming months.

With all that going on, the issues of Harper’s - to which I subscribed pretty much exclusively for blogging purposes - accumulated, unread, in a sad, sprawling pile next to my bed.

Until now!

Yes, that’s right! You read right! “Jerky Reads It For You” is back with a vengeance, and in the spirit of completism, I’m going back and reading all those passed-over issues, beginning with the May 2015 edition of this storied and erstwhile publication! I’m sorry about the April issue, but I contacted Mel, and after six months, he no longer has any idea where it it might be.

As I’ve stated before, Harper’s isn’t perfect. However, I believe that it’s currently the only American general interest monthly worth reading regularly. In fact, I think it’s so good that these relatively recent back issues are just as worthy subjects as the freshest editions.

I hope that reading the following précis will give you ALL the vital information contained in this particular issue of Harper’s Magazine, thus saving you the trouble of having to read it, much less purchase it. So go ahead! Clip! Save! Enjoy!


Jim Tucker, University of Virginia professor and subject of a March edition profile about his work with children who exhibit shockingly detailed memories of past lives, writes in to argue that it is TOO possible, you guys!

The rest of the letters mostly refer to an excellent March edition cover story (The Spy Who Fired Me) about how advanced worker “supervision” software is taking a serious physical and mental toll on workers’ lives and livelihoods, specifically at UPS. The letter-writers chime in to say “Me too! My job sucks too!”, claiming that the same Panopticon-Lite philosophy is being applied to retail, manufacturing, and even academia... the poor darlings.


John Crowley takes the Easy Chair slot this month, presenting us with a playful meditation on his early self’s ambition to create a kind of “dream atlas”, mapping out the boundaries of the territories he explores during sleepy-time in a semi-scientific way, only to be simultaneously dejected and intrigued to find out that he’d been beaten to the post by others with the same idea... And that they’ve done a pretty good job of it. If you’re interested in the topic, check out the index of dream motifs put together by Calvin Hall and Robert Van de Castle, a taxonomic system devised in the 60’s and continuously revised up until the present day.


My favorite entries this month include the following juxtaposition:
- Number of yeas in the past decade in which the violent crime rate in the USA has dropped: 8
- In which the majority of Americans have believed that crime is on the rise: 10


[Speculation] Black Hat, White Hat 
A disturbing look at the myriad mysteries and suspicious shenanigans surrounding the lead up to, and aftermath of, the 2013 Boston Marathon terrorist bombing by the Tsarnaev brothers. Masha Gessen looks at some of the dangerous conclusion-jumping engaged in by online vigilante sleuths and the so-called “alternative” media figures like Alex Jones and Glenn Beck who cheered them on.
Not that Gessen doesn’t find grounds for considering conspiracy. “The FBI,” she writes, “was less forthcoming about its own relationship with Tamerlan, which began in March 2011, when the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) alerted the agency to the existence of a Chechen from Dagestan living in the Boston area... who had been radicalized.”
And then there’s this:
In 2014, Human Rights watch released a report that analyzed many of those cases and concluded that “all of the high-profile domestic terrorism plots of the last decade, with four exceptions, were actually FBI sting operations--plots conducted with the direct involvement of law-enforcement informants or agents, including plots that were proposed or fed by informants.” ... The rhetoric and actions of the US government and its agents, in their outsize response and their targeting of specific communities, have probably done as much to create an imagined worldwide community of jihadists as have the efforts of al Qaeda and its allies.
[Branding] First Responders
Presents a selection of shameless tweets by corporations in the wake of horrific events. For instance, the Gap, which tweeted: “All impacted by #Sandy, stay safe! We’ll be doing lots of shopping today. How about you?”

[poem] The Craft Talk
Rae Armantrout’s shitty poetry about writing poetry. Ugh.

[Exchange] The Torment And The Engine 
Portions of an interview with Italian novelist Elena Ferrante by The Paris Review. Not much of interest.

[Lore] Spirit Guide
A hilarious list of Thai ghosts and other supernatural creatures that deserve to be featured in a comic book of some sort. My favorite is the Phret, which is a ghost of a greedy glutton, and who therefore has a mouth so small not a single grain of rice can pass through.

[Revision] Copy Cats
Journalism professor Matthew Ehrlich presents an interesting look at how cats have been reported on in the “serious” media (with a special focus on the New York Times) over the past couple centuries.

[Reconstruction] Municipal Bonds
An incredibly depressing series of excerpts “from a class action lawsuit filed in February against the city of Ferguson, Missouri, for excessively fining and imprisoning residents for minor infractions. In March, the Department of Justice concluded that Ferguson relies on the enforcement of code provisions to generate a significant portion of revenue and that the police disproportionately target black residents. African Americans make up 67% of the population of Ferguson, but receive 90% of tickets and face 93% of arrests.” Statistics are one thing, but the Devil really is in the details, like the story of disabled vet Alfred Morris, who... Well, check it out for yourself.

[Chronicle] Family Tradition
A brief but bone-chilling excerpt from Lynching In America, a report published by the Equal Justice Initiative. An excellent appendix to the Ferguson piece, above.

[Metaphor] Lunar Phrases
A bunch of references to the moon in poems by Frank Stanford, for some reason. “The moon is your old shirt”, indeed.

[Fiction] From the Palo Alto Sessions
Excerpt from the novel Book of Numbers, by Joshua Cohen. There is nothing to recommend it.

[Supplication] My App Runneth Over
Hilarious posts made to Instapray, an app that allows users to post and request prayers. All of these prayers happen to be about people asking for prayers to help them overcome their addiction to the Internet and/or the Instapray app. Fish in a barrel? Sure, but tasty fish, regardless.

Ways of Being Silent, by Tillie Olsen
A partial reprint of a long essay about silence from 50 years ago. A nice preamble to the issue’s major essay...

Digging for dark matter in an abandoned mine
By Kent Meyers

An overlong, overly artful examination of one man’s obsessive quest to discover, then measure, dark matter, using a 100,000 gallon tank full of dry cleaning fluid located at the bottom of an 8,000 foot deep abandoned mine in South Dakota. You can look up Rick Gaitskell and K.C. Russell to learn more about his work in this field.

One thing I learned from this article is that, in the Standard Model, “baryonic matter” is cemented together by the Strong Force, and that this makes up the visible matter of the universe.

The Large Underground Xenon (LUX) Detector was designed to find “theoretical bits of dark matter known as WIMPS”. They love their acronyms!

A bit of background:
In the 1960’s around the time Davis was setting up his tank of dry-cleaning fluid, scientists noticed that stars at the edges of our galaxy seemed to be orbiting faster than they should be, given the galaxy’s measurable mass and gravitational energy. There was only one reasonable explanation: the galaxy had to be more massive than it appeared. Physicists called this unknown mass Dark Matter. ... The matter we can see--in stars, nebulae, and dust clouds--is only 4 to 5 percent of what the universe actually contains. ... The preponderance of evidence now supports the reality of Dark Matter. 
Gaitsell and Shutt speak of an altogether different kind of darkness: darkness as substance and presence, not absence. This darkness may turn out to be both far ore ad far less tangible--because it redefines tangibility--than any religion, myth, or comic book has imagined darkness to be. 
In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn says that science is a product of Ancient Greece. ... It doesn’t take a Kuhnian however to see that science is pinned to culture. ... On the one hand, science is not motivated by utilitarian concerns; on the other, science leads to utilitarian wonders we cannot predict. In either case, however, science unmoors us by its very nature, which demands that it leave its own past behind, mo matter how assured and comfortable, if new knowledge indicates it should so be left. 
After a bunch of tests, their device has yet to find Dark Matter. However, “there are scientific successes that can look like failures to nonscientists, and this was one of them. ... Though he hadn’t found what he was looking for, he had mapped an area where looking was useless--and so had narrowed the territory that remained.”

For now, LUX’s core remains :the quietest verifiable place in the universe. Not the world, the universe.

As this pretentious article winds down, the author, Meyer, declares “it’s this poetry I appreciate, the womb of the universe in its dark bigness, its amniotic sea of particles touching that smaller womb we have recognized our tiny Earth to be.”


A country strips 210,000 of citizenship
By Rachel Nolan

Have you heard about the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Tribunal, and the ramifications of the decision it came to in the case of Juliana Deguis Pierre?
On September 23, 2013, the tribunal handed down ruling TC/0168/13, “The Sentence”, as it became known around the world. The tribunal revoked Deguis’ citizenship, declaring that her undocumented parents were “in transit” when she was born (in D.R.). Oh, and they also said the Sentence applied to ALL Dominicans with undocumented foreign parents, most of whom, like Deguis, have no family in Haiti, speak little or no Creole, and are not eligible for Haitian citizenship. The decision was retroactive, affecting anyone born in 1929 or later (the affectados). Nearly a quarter million Dominicans now find themselves stateless.
Critics of The Sentence seized on comparisons to Nazi Germany not only to show they were appalled but also because there are so few historical precedents for mass statelessness.

Latin American intellectuals of every political stripe have reacted strongly against The Sentence. Conservative Latin American writer Cargas llosa wrote that the Sentene is “a juridical aberration and seems to be directly inspired by Hitler’s famous laws of the 30s handed down by German Nazi judges to strip German citizenship from Jews who had for many years (centuries!) been resident in that country and were a constructive part of its society.”
It can be a shock for Dominicans to move to the United States and find themselves on the other side of the color line. “Until I came to New York, I didn’t know I was black,” wrote the Dominican poet Chiqui Vicioso. Some of the sharpest criticism of the Sentence, and of Dominican treatment of Haitians dmore generally, has come from the 850,000 or so Dominicans living in the United States. Many see their situation... as parallel to that of the Haitians in D.R.
This report ends with a brief meditation on the ridiculous nature of the border between Haiti and D.R. on the island of Hispanola. It’s literally an imaginary stripe... And the divide couldn’t be more stark. On one side, a relatively prosperous tropical paradise. On the other? A kind of living Hell of poverty, misery and want.

Wilian Bratton and the new police state
By Petra Bartosiewicz
After years of paramilitary-style law enforcement, largely driven by urban rioting in the 60’s and 70’s and by the war on drugs in the 80’s, reformers sought to repair broken relationships between police forces and the citizens they were supposed to be serving. Instead of patrolling streets like an occupying army, police would maintain public safety by engaging with communities. In practice this meant increased foot patrols that brought beat cops into direct contact with residents, as well as working groups that fostered dialogue between police and the community. ... The approach gained so much political currency that the crime bill signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1994 created a federal Community Oriented Policing Services program, which allocated billions of dollars to hire 100,000 new officers, thereby sweetening the policy’s appeal to local law-enforcement departments that were hungry for manpower. When applied thoughtfully, community policing aims to increase the legitimacy of police in the public’s eyes. ... After 9/11, the model was seen as insufficient to meet hte challenges of domestic terrorism. ... So arrived a new policing paradigm ... Known in official parlance as ”intelligence-led policing” and referred to by critics as “speculative policing”. Its arsenal includes cell phone tracking towers, street-camera systems, GPS trackers, automatic license plate readers, and facial recognition software. ... Much of this equipment came to cities at no cost to the municipalities, paid for by federal counterterrorism dollars. 
Los Angeles’ LAPD, of course, is up to its elbows in this Orwellian mess, thanks in part to William Bratton, the former chief of the department who is currently in his second stint as commissioner of the New York City Police Department and is probably the nation’s most famous law-enforcement officer. Once a champion of community policing, Bratton is now the most vocal proponent of intelligence-led policing.

Police spying in Los Angeles goes back to the city’s Red Squads in the early 20th century, when powerful trade organizations, seeking to thwart unions. Over time, these programs evolved into surveillance and infiltration of groups described as subversive, radical, disloyal, anti-war, dissident, etc. Considering the long-standing corruption and blatant criminality of the LAPD itself over the years, this poses some obvious and glaring problems. And it’s spread all the way across the continent.
Both (New York mayor Rudi) Giuliani and Bratton had been enormously influenced by the Broken Windows theory of policing, which argues that petty disorderly behavior, left unchecked, can lead to an increase in serious crime, and should therefore be aggressively targeted. ... But the policing innovation for which Bratton has become most famous, which coupled zero tolerance with data-driven approach, was CompStat, a crime-tracking system that launched in 1995. CompStat uses data analysis to identify crime hot spots, on the premise that allowing police to focus manpower will reduce crime rates. ... In 1996, Amnesty International reported that police brutality and excessive use of force in New York City, in many cases involving bystanders or directed against suspects already in custody, had become a widespread problem that needed to be urgently addressed.
CompStat has lead to a new, future-leaning iteration called “predictive policing”, which aims to accumulate data points so that police could antiipate where future criminal activity was likely to occur... Say hello to PredPol! This, of course, involves massive surveillance on an unprecedented scale. Bretton’s take? “I don’t think the public is too concerned with us using technology to prevent crime. People don’t get upset when doctors use technolgy to prevent Alzheimer’s or caner.”
The article author found some people who had run ins with the police based on surveillance in public spaces. Photographers being roughed up by thuggish cops threatening to put them on permanent “No Fly” or flagging lists, which means they’d be stopped at airports and even bus terminals for the rest of their lives. And then there are the SARs... Suspicious Activity Reports, bankrolled by Homeland Security and the FBI. Nothing for anybody to abuse their authority with there, right? A selection of SARs showed a sad plethora of busybodies reporting seeing “Asians taking pictures of public spaces” and professionals reading “potential terrorist propaganda” (which apparently means anything written in Arabic).
Face to face citizen encounters with police surveillance are the most tangible proof of the watchful gaze of law enforcement, but they are far fro the only evidence. As the narratives in many of the SARs make clear, the officers who initiate the reports often make no contact with their subjects, which means that the subjects themselves do not know that they are being monitored. .... The rules governing the storage of intelligene data are confusing and contradictory. The LAPD for example retains all SARs, even those that prove unfounded, for at least one year, and shares them with the local fusion center, which keeps them for up to five more years. The FBI is allowed to keep this data for THREE DECADES.
The Urban Areas Security Initiative was put together by Homeland Security for the apparent purpose of doling out tons of cash to municipalities in order to get them to willingly put together mass surveillance infrastructure. And cities have been eating up those ooey-gooey UASI funds. For instance, “the Stingray can reveal the location of a suspect’s phone in real time, but it sucks up the data of other nearby phones as well, including those that have no connection to the investigation.”

In 2012, UASI money was used to cover the $1,000 entry fees of hundreds of law enforcement professionals to a private island retreat off the |California coast, near San Diego, where they were made to take part in a massive “zombie invasion” exercise. Mad, but true!
The Drug War was the catalyst for the militarization of local law enforcement, in direct contravention of the Posse Comitatus Act, which was relaxed by Congress, which allowed for a massive flow of tanks, helicopters, bomb sniffing robots and assault rifles to local police. This is when urban communities became occupied territories.
Though rationalized on a counter-terrorism basis, predictive policing and the array of technological surveillance tools that enable it are generally levied against the same categories of citizens who have always attracted the attention of the police: minorities, protesters, activists and the poor. In 2005, Bratton announced that a cutting-edge camera surveillance network would be installed in the Jordan Downs housing project, one of Los angeles; poorest communities. The equipment was donated by Motorola. The next year, Bratton was appointed to Motorola’s board. 
In 2007, the LAPD attempted to establish a “Muslim Mapping” program similar to one created by the NYPD to monitor the city's ethnic makeup and demographics. Activist Hamid Khan says “We’re in a very critical moment where policies of social control are being legitimized as part of a national-security infrastructure. We’re moving beyond Broken Windows. Now they can get you before the window is even broken.”

Battling Britain’s most destructive invasive plant
By Sara Knight

Man, this one was a tough read. One bad issue can fuck up one’s appreciation for a magazine. I think the editors of Harper’s should consider that, and maybe occasionally put out slimmer issues instead of stuffing them with sub-par content, such as this article about freaking weeds.
Since it breached the redbrick walls of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, in West London, at some point during the 1850s, Japanese knotweed has colonized pretty much every corner of the British Isles, but nowhere with more assiduity than the wet valles and clean towns of South Wales. 
The weed entered Britain in a box of forty Chinese and Japanese plants that was opened by the clerks at Kew Gardens on August 9, 1850. 
The weed now present in more than 70 percent of the 3,859 ten-cm recording squares of the British Isles is a single female clone.... Making it the largest female organism on the planet.  
Invasive species often inspoire wonder, at first. After observing fleas in the early 19th century, the people of Aituktaki, one of the Cook Islands in the South Pacific, concluded from their restless nature that they must be the souls of dead white men.  
Darwin theorized about the catalogue of effects - on invaders and invaded alike - that must have followed the disembarkation of the first colonists in the New World. He pictured European pets and farm animals, unchecked by enemies and masters, running amok in the vastness. “The common cat, altered into a large and fierce animal, inhabits rocky hills.”
To get rid of the knotweed, what you really need is patience.
It takes five years of repeated applications, in the spring and in the late summer, for the chemicals to go through the plant and kill the rhizomes. There are two ways to go about it: spray the leaves and canes, or inject the poison into the stems. Stem injection is better for targeted work, gives a higher dose to each cane, and sounds more efficacious. In truth, the two methods work equally well... Or poorly. In the UK, the only other technique, which is rarely used, is to dig out a plant completely. This means excavating to a depth of two meters and a radius of seven meters, and carting the resulting 308 cubic meters of earth to a specially designed landfill. The remaining soil must be lined with a copper membrane. 
Of course, Harper’s might lose their liberal credentials if they didn’t make a trite comparison between weeds and mankind. “There is no weedier or more invasive species than mankind.” Yawn.

“I could sum up the future in one word,” JG Ballard said in 1994, “and that word is boring. The future is going to be boring.”

Just like this article!

From the pawnshops of Portland to the con men of Craigslist
By Abe Streep

It turns out a lot of professional musicians - including classical musicians - have their instruments stolen... and they really, REALLY don’t like it when that happens. Bummer, man!
A few victimized musicians have attempted to take matters into their own hands. The guitar tech for Radiohead, who goes by Plank, ran a blog called Strings Reuinited, on which he posted notices about stolen instruments. In Santa Barbara, California, a marketing executive and part-time musician named Chris Stone runs a similar operation, called Screaming Stone, which has led to the return of over half a million dollars worth of equipment since its inception.
Abe ends the article thusly: “Still, in the afternoons, while playing in my back yard, I wonder where the Czech violin is. It could be on the floor of a pawnshop in one of the Vancouvers. More likely it’s in a dumpster or a ditch. But let;’s pretend, as I often do, that some kid has it. Maybe he’s a decent player, not good enough for a conservatory but a little bored with Bach and Brahms. Maybe he wants to figure out something a little more fun. I hope he learns to drop his elbow, lie back, and sit a few tunes out. I hope he chops on the two and hte four, and stays there, in the pocket. I hope he finds a good teacher, and that he follows only some of that teacher’s leads. I hope he spills a littel beer on the fiddle, and that he playus along to records. And i hope he never leaves it in the car.”

By Elmore Leonard

This story, about drunken men quick to anger and fight, a 30 30 rifle, two rednecks getting chloroformed and a gal named Julie, was written in the 50s. It feels very contemporary, with a fine cadence to the dialogue and the prose in general. Worth the ten minutes it takes to read.

By Christine Smallwood

This month’s reviewed books are Counternarratives: Stories and Novellas, by John Keene. Smallwood calls it “an extraordinary work of literature. Keene is a dense, intricate, and magnificent writer. He was an early member of the Dark Room Collective, which in the 80s and 90s incubated a significant group of African-American poets... Counternarratives is his first book of prose in 20 years. An encounter narrative is usually a letter or diary entry written by a colonizer about his so-called discover of native peoples, but Keene’s narratives meld fact and fiction, speculating about events that happened, or didn’t happen but could have... or should have.” The first and best section of Counternarratives contains psychosexually intense stories about colonization, slave rebellion, witchcraft and sorcery and Catholicism.

The combination photo collection, diary and creepy confessional that is French artist Sophie Calle’s Suite Venitienne (1983, re-released in a prestige edition) is probably going to give a few photographers some dangerous ideas of their own. See, Calle, who normally photographed strangers, made a project out of stalking an unsuspecting acquaintance, Henri B., during his vacation in Vienna.

Nell Zink’s new novel, Mislaid, is about a lesbian-packed all-girl college, and was previously featured in the Readings section of Harper’s. I didn’t care for what I saw.

By Terry Castle

In honor of the release of a new release by Incredible String Band member Robin Williamson - Trusting in the Rising Light, Castle writes:
Is there anything more shaming than doting on the electrified English folk-rock of the late sixties and early seventies? It’s taken me, I confess, a dreadfully long time to come to terms with it - to acknowledge that I adore, nay, have always adored, the whole tambourine-tapping, raggle-taggle mob of them: Pentangle, Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, John Renbourn, Shirley Collins, Bert Jansch, Martin Catthy, Steeleye Span, Maddy Prior, Richard and Linda Thomson, Lindisfarne. I still venerate Jethro Tull and its leader, the psychedelic flutist Ian Anderson, unforgettable for his dandified overcoat, harelike skittishness and giant comic aureole of red beard and frizy hair. 
I agree. I also like when he writes about his decades-long descent into musical pretentiousness:
Cage and Webern, Harry Partch, rediscovered Baroque opera played on period instruments, obscure blues vamps, Renaissance polyphony, historic recordings from the decaying urns of forgotten French record companies, Ligeti etudes, Pauline Oliveros, Captain Beefheart, and Moroccan gnawa music - these became preferred listening. Manfred Eicher’s muchplauded German boutique label, ECM, notorious for its cerebral emphasis on the more severe strains of avant-garde chamber music and stark, echt-minimalist jazz (mostly northern European) became a go-to source for hardcore experimental stuff.
And certain things are indubitably better when reexperienced. One of the unsung pleasures of encroaching senility, or so I’m finding, is how many things from the past suddenly reveal themselves as even more awesome than you thought they were the first time. The Four Tops, for example. Madame Bovary. Studebaker station wagons. Little baby rabbits. Schopenhauer. You’re not embarrassed by any of it anymore. The plastic seat covers. The pellets. The World as Will and Representation.
Bellow and the problems of literary biography
By Ruth Franklin

The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915-1964, by Zachary Leader, and There Is Simply Too Much to Think About: Collected Nonfiction by Saul Bellow are both examined in this in-depth essay. Bellow fans might find much to enjoy here, but they won’t learn anything new (Bellow was conflicted about his Jewishness?! Gee! You don’t say!). As for the rest of us, at least we learn that a superior (if less exhaustive) bio is James Atlas’ Bellow: A Biography (2000).

Can shame shape society?
By Laura Kipnis

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by John Ronson and Is Shame Necessary? by Jennifer Jacquet.
Say you tweet something you mean to be funny and edgy to your Twitter followers - all 170 of them - before boarding a plane to South Africa to visit relatives., something about hoping you don’t get AIDS in Africa, which of course you won’t, because you’re white. You can afford to be funny because you’re not racist - your relatives are ANC supporters, after all - you’re merely commenting on racially disproportionate AIDS statistics in Africa. Who would take you literally? Except that you wake up after an eleven hour flight to find almost a hundred thousand tweets calling you every vicious name imaginable. You’re one of the top worldwide trends on Twitter, the most hated racist on the planet. ... Welcome to modern shaming, where an ill-considered joke can ruin your life.
Neither book reviewed in this essay is all that curious about the psychology of shame. Their territory is the ethics of shaming. Ronson is prety much against the whole business, while Jacquet, in a surprise twist, is rather a fan. Her appreciation for shaming stems from political optimism: she believes in human improvability and thinks that shame could be what it takes to get people to shape up, especially those acting against the public good.

It’s an interesting essay, about two interesting books that both have something important to say, with messages worth hearing, even though they seemingly contradict. On the whole, I side with Ronson in that I feel that most online shamers do it for the LULZ, and not out of any sense that they may be making the world a better place. In many ways, however, these books actually compliment each other. Bottom line: If you’ve got (or ever plan on having) something to lose... Watch what you say.


Here's my favorite passage from this month's collection of scientific discoveries:
Psychoogists warned against treating autism with antifuntals, antivirals, bleach enemas, camel's milk, chelation, chiropractic, craniosacral therapy, dolphins, extended breast-feeding, Floortime, gluten-and casein-free diets, horses, hyperbaric oxygen, hypnotherapy, magnetic shoe inserts, marijuana, megavitamins, neurofeedback, nicotine patches, orthodox psychoanalysis, Pepcid, probiotics, rebirthing, secretin, sensory-motor integration, sheep stem cells, Son-Rise, testosterone, testosterone reducers, trampolines, vision therapy and weighted vests.