26 November 2007

A repost of a repost of a riposte: BigMuscle.com 6

I no longer feel the need to introduce this series. If you want to read the others, click the Bigmuscle bigtab.

11 June 2003

Where do we begin, and where does the other leave off? Can we answer this question, or do we sometimes feel like love is joining flesh into seamless flesh at points of contact like joined twins? In the beginning, this union is exhilarating. Later it's stifling as you find yourself trapped in another's skin, in another's desires, inside another's flesh and expectations, and the only way to escape is to chop off the other like you would your own arm. (The metaphor extends: later after the amputation of the other, the remainder can feel less like the phantom itch on the hand that no longer exists than the urge to reach or gesture with a limb that isn't there, that is no longer attached, no longer a part but apart.)

But this metaphor covers over another: the union of the dyad is how it feels to the organism, on the other hand how the relation functions is another matter entirely. What is this metaphor that gets lost under the satisfactions and frustrations and loathings and self-loathings of loving and hating? The metaphor is one of reflection. We see ourselves in the mirror of the other without recognizing who we are looking at--and that indeterminate who is left open, because the me or I we misrecognize covers over the other's "me," and we never see him because we see what we want to see, which is further complicated by the fact that we almost never have conscious awareness of what we want to see in an other in the first place. This is best illustrated in the way we loathe another person because he has traits that we loathe in ourselves, yet we never recognize him as being like us, as being akin; as we do when we see ourselves in a mirror looking unflattering, we turn away with a pained look of disgust. We turn away from ourselves. And so we never see. This dynamic lays bare the dynamic of Love.

25 September 2007

On Celebrity

And how fucking dare anyone out there make fun of Britney after all she's been through! She lost her aunt. She went through a divorce-uh. She has two fucking kids. Her husband turned out to be a user, a cheater, and now she's going through a custody battle. All you people care about is readers and making money off of her.

She's a HUMAN!!! What you don't realize is that Britney's making you all this money, and all you do is write a bunch of crap about her. She hasn't performed onstage in years. Her song is called "Gimme More" for a reason—because all you people want is more, more, more, more, MORE!

Leave her alone! You're lucky she even performed for you bastards! Leave Britney alone. Please.


[Pause. Composing himself.]

Perez Hilton talked about professionalism. And said if Britney was a professional she would have pulled it off no matter what. Speaking of professionalism, when is it “professional” to publicly bash someone who's going through a HARD TIME? Leave Britney alone! Pleeease. [beat]


Leave. Britney. Spears. Alone. Right. Now. I mean it. Anyone who has a problem with her, you deal with me, because she's not well, right now.

[Quiet sobs, then loud sobs, some choking.]

[Pleadingly] Leave her alone.


I almost always listen to music when I write. Tonight’s selection, for a variety of reasons, is Sufjan Stevens, and my least-listened to disc of his, The Avalanche. Remixes, failed attempts, favorite non-releases, and would-be B-sides. Check it out.

Chris Crocker. How is one to speak of him without resorting to phobia or condescension? Or perhaps affection? What I would like to do with this post is attempt a critique of something I believe he represents that does not have recourse to those other things. This offers a fairly fine line, between fire and tears, let us say; it is a finite walk, a balancing act. It is a highwire act, and it is up to whomever is reading to determine when and if I fall.

In all honesty, my initial reaction to the Leave Britney Alone video was a certain kind of boredom. It was my first exposure to Chris Crocker, and I fully recognize why it fascinates and could imagine how this boy has become such a phenomenon on the internet, even before his exposure reached me, the least exposed to this world except through friend and boyfriend. The intensity, the personality, the personal nature of it, which is to say the intimacy of it, is captivating. This video has the sort of thing that makes good porn captivating—the idea that you are getting a peek into something sincere and unguarded. Good porn feels like a true voyeurism, which is to say a perspective that is supposedly hidden from the object on view. As in this situation, porn is never the case of unknowing spectacle. As much as a performer "forgets" the camera, the camera's presence and its recording function is reliable precisely because this recording is intentional. Someone wants you—yes, you—to see this footage, so it is always shaped to some to degree, and this is another way of saying that there is an aesthetic involved, and that there is a desire, and this is a self-conscious desire. And there is therefore an audience—an audience of which the subject is aware. The implication of an audience means the awareness of an other watching in this case—isn’t that funny that the awareness of the self is contingent on an other watching? Yet, not so much. It is not so surprising that the circle that encloses the observing other encloses the self. Self awareness is a mirror and the mirror is the other, or, as we say, the audience. And within this doubly enclosed circle we have performance.

As in the tradition of a Shirley Bassey concert, Chris Crocker begins his Britney monologue at the level of 11, and he sustains that level throughout with occasional spikes to 12 and sometimes even 13. Just when you think he can’t take it up a notch, he does so, and then goes up another notch. But without the artistry of someone like Dame Bassey—and how should he have this power at such a young age when she has had a long lifetime to learn how to overwhelm us so completely?—Mr. Crocker can only hover like a hummingbird or an insect around the same high pitch. Though his attack is sustained and intense, it is this deadly consistency that is the hobgoblin of his speech, and the thing that makes it boring. But that which makes the monologue boring is, of course, the thing the makes it funny. On the level of a temper tantrum, which can only be the first way anyone apprehends this clip, it is hilarious. And I think this aspect is what accounts for a good portion of its popularity.

For me, close on the heels of the amusement, is the urge to reach into the screen and smack some sense into this kid. It is difficult to tease out the differences among the utterly vapid subject matter, the grandiose self-involvement, the chip on his shoulder, and in-your-face femininity. I’d like to say that this final factor lacks power for me, but I can’t, and that shames me. The moment that comes to mind, strangely, is from the movie Carrie—not the adaptation of the Dreiser novel starring Laurence Olivier and Jennifer Jones, but the movie version of the Stephen King book—in which the gym teacher played by Betty Buckley saves Sissy Spacek’s Carrie from the humiliating, locker room maxi-pad attack by Carrie’s schoolmates and in the next scene confesses that she wanted to smack Carrie too. It is this annihilating, knee-jerk demand for normalcy of which I am so ashamed. But one doesn’t have to honor that demand any more than to recognize that it is there and to therefore resist it. This is instructive. Your fears and repulsions needn’t be something from which to—or with which you—recoil, but they can teach you; they can remind you that what we learn to react to with irritation or revulsion can tell you who you are by reminding you who you would like not to be, and therefore remind you of how brave those people are who reflect these parts of yourself back at you.

They are not brave because they show you who you are, but because they are unafraid or unashamed to do precisely what society would prefer they not do. We constantly torture the feminine out of little, queer boys, and the kid who resists this is to be admired. Anyone who resists this is to be admired regardless of his or her age. This accounts for precisely why—and I don’t know if this applies to Chris Crocker, nor do I think it matters one bit if it does or doesn’t—this phobic encounter accounts, however, precisely for why the rights of the transgendered matter so deeply to the politics surrounding same-sex desire. This is not my point with this piece, but it is worth mentioning that there are gay and lesbian folks who find insult in being grouped with those who wish to become the other sex. But if you find femmey guys and butch girls offensive, is it because you were one at one point that person, and don’t you wish someone stood up for you instead of making fun of you, ostracizing you, or kicking your ass? And even if you never had this experience, how could it be any clearer that wanting to become the other sex isn’t that different, to the straightest of the world, from having a hint of the other sex in you? Since there is only one relationship that is recognized—between a man and a woman—do you really think, as a man, that you’re earning points by playing rugby and following the Yankees? You only invoke a playground pecking order by rejecting the transgendered in this way—even if you never had any interest in liquid eyeliner (or for you lipstick ladies out there, even if you did). Seeming straight will never protect you from the people who want to hurt you because you’re not straight. Just ask Senator Craig.

Part of what, I think, makes Chris Crocker so fascinating to so many is his lack of composure. Whether his tearful or defiant face is a purposeful performance or not—and I cannot tell if it is or not and is therefore a composure of its own or not—Crocker’s temper tantrum is the very representative of a lack of composure. On its face, Leave Britney Alone is an uncensored display. Within a culture that is obsessed with composure, with being what you seem, with a self-identical clarity, with a hygienic fear of infection by terrorism or an untoward desire, where our politicians are supposed to be appear to say the correct things and toe a certain line, there is an exhilaration in the exhibition of someone ranting with a complete lack of composure. It matters not at all that it is about Britney Spears, in fact the serious investment in something so trivial makes it that much more delicious, that much more personal, and that much more pornographic.

The political creature in our Land is the paradigm case of this composure of which we are so tired that we turn to a screaming child on YouTube to find something—anything—that feels different from the calculated sincerity that assaults us every day on our national media. Senator Craig shows us all what it’s like to inhabit that suffocating demand to embody the joyless place of expectation that only finds its relief in an airport men’s room stall. No one can withstand that demand to please. American politics has become so willing to please on the surface—and only on its face—to maintain its place, that it has lost sight entirely of what it means to care for, to husband, to uphold, the public interest. The public interest is not what the public finds interesting, which is the domain of the celebrity, but that which is actually for the public good, what is sustaining for society, both now and in the future. I speak of civic duty, which is a grave duty, and one that has been traded for the triviality of a popularity contest, for likeability, for respectability, for a composition. We live in a nation where a politician would willingly promote laws that would punish him for his own desire only to maintain his power. This is not just a betrayal of the self, but it is the betrayal of the public trust on the most egregious level. Yet, we forgive, because we understand pressure, pressure to conform, to compose, to seem and not be, and not to lead. We forgive because this is a collective arrangement, and we understand how the collective can force the hand, force it into a handshake, a handshake deal, how it can force the face into a shape: a ghastly blissful smile.

That last line is a reference that will pass over the heads of many readers, which is a pity because it comes from a Brecht poem, which only survives in English, which Bertolt Brecht wrote about the actor, Peter Lorre, and his experience in Hollywood. I quote it now, only because our politicians are indistinguishable from our celebrities, to our great national detriment:

The Swamp

I saw many friends
And the friend I loved most
Among them helplessly sunk
Into the swamp.
I pass by daily.
And a drowning was not over
in a single morning.
This made it more terrible.
And the memory of our long talks about the swamp,
Which already held so many powerless.
Now I watched him leaning back
Covered with leeches in the shimmering,
Softly moving slime,
Upon his sinking face
A ghastly blissful smile.

Smile for the camera, Senator—Senator Craig, Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, Senator Spears, Senator Crocker. Do you vote for the world your grandchildren will live in or do you vote for the person with whom you’d most rather enjoy a beer? Smile. Smiles everyone. Smile. Smile for the camera.

We might now, after such a long excursis, return to what should by now be the obvious topic of this post, which is clearly Chris Crocker’s deathless outpost, Leave Britney Alone.

We are, or I should say, I am, presented with a number of problems, or shall I call them, opportunities, to end this post. But instead I will invoke anger. Rage, O Goddess, sing of the rage of Chris Crocker.

When I happened upon Leave Britney Alone, I had never heard of Chris Crocker, or rather I had never heard of the videos and the phenomenon that travels under that signature. Though his name is a pseudonym, Chris Crocker is not, or does not appear to be, a fiction in the order of a J.T. LeRoy or Anthony Godby Johnson, though he bears the markers of a similar fascination. It is really in the order of an insult to invoke the names of these great fakes of the internet and the publishing world in the same paragraph mentioning Chris Crocker because 1) “Crocker” does not lay claim to any of the spectacular hardships of those ersatz Lost Boys and 2) it is the video transparency of Chris Crocker, and his meetability, that exempt him from such a distasteful hoax, or, at any rate, lends him some much-needed credence. Yet there is a striking similarity in the collective taste for such a creature. This similarity is not his fault, yet the desire for the sexually-transgressive/sexually ambiguous, uncensored child remains. The appetite for this strange configuration remains so powerful that no one has mentioned it thus far to my knowledge. Except me.

But let us speak of rage. According to an article on thestranger, Chris Crocker is a boy, somewhere in the South of our Nation, and he is supposed to be who he says he is. I am circumspect in the way I present these facts because I have been taught to not trust the media. I don’t know why I feel this way but it probably has to do with the utter inability—or perhaps lack of interest—that the media has shown of late in reporting what happens in the world. I don’t blame my circumspection. Yet, here we are, and we have this piece, and we have “Chris Crocker”’s video posts, which are no more or less real than these words you are reading now on your screen.

I did some research on the C.C. phenomenon—only a little, I promise you, because, Gentle Reader, I wanted to honor, a little, the context, or truly the contextlessness of the Leave Britney Alone experience as I first found it. You see, this single video has far surpassed any of C.C.’s previous video-posts. In fact, the last time I checked on YouTube, Leave Britney Alone has had more viewings—well over seven million—than the original cause: Spears’ appearance on the MTV music awards (which had a reported viewing audience of seven million—this number, as with all other reports, is subject to question, yet this is what I read). Try to imagine seven million. That is only a million less than what is supposed to be the population of New York City (according to the US Census Bureau). Okay, try to imagine a million people. Have you met a million people? Do a million people know who you are? (Is this circle getting smaller?) Now, are you nineteen-years-old? And are you being home-schooled by your grandmother because it is feared you’re too femmey to literally survive public high school? Is your first boyfriend someone you’ve never met in person but is—like almost all the other intimate relationships you have ever had—relegated to the internet and the telephone? Now, assuming all these factors are “true,” let’s go back to seven million people knowing who you are. Who are you now?

“Chris Crocker” is a resistance to some boy’s situation, which is to say his environment. In thestranger article he says he has always been femmey, he looks up to women, not men, not gay men, but women, specifically. He puts on eyeliner (beautifully) and posts videos titled Bitch, Please, wherein he enumerates the various useful ways of saying “Bitch, please…” (though I felt he missed a few good iterations as his performance escalated) or This and That wherein he responds to people, real and internet, who have attacked him. This appears, on the face, to be the reaction of an embattled person, a person who must resort to the internet to be credible, or at least heard. This is a person who describes the people who “friend” him on MySpace as “fans.” Fans. This is a person who believes himself—whether its true or not, according to this thestranger piece—to have fans. Do you have fans? Does he have fans? Or does he have people who watch him to see what he’ll do next? And what is the difference between having fans and being a freak show and being Edie Sedgwick?

But our topic is rage. Where is this rage? The Muse of Epics—who is even less truthful, who is much more enamored of effect, than the Muse of History—knows because in Bitch, Please, This and That, and Leave Britney Alone that rage is on view for all to see, in Epic display. What disarms these pieces—what takes them away from self-conscious, calculated performance, or in fact, what arms them entirely—is, for example, is the imperious gaze that Mr. Crocker gives the camera—his camera, his eye to the world—at the end of Bitch, Please, or his, as he states on YouTube, entirely seriously tearful defense of Britney Spears in Leave Britney Alone? The world he speaks to is so much larger and therefore so much entirely smaller and specific than his viewers might believe. The pain he imputes to Britney Spears is his pain, it seems. How else to understand the emotional level to which he rises in this defense of a celebrity he can only know through the news or what he reads and believes? He tells us that if we have a problem with Britney that we should come to him. He tells us that we should leave Britney Spears alone, and that he means it. He speaks to us as though he knew her personally; he speaks to us as though he knew us personally. Chris Crocker defends Britney Spears as though she were himself, and I have little doubt that—if this is a sincere display, as I think it probably is as much as it can be—that this is the case. Replace “Britney Spears” with “Chris Crocker” and you have the real message to the world. Seth Green hit the nail in the head far more accurately than he might have intended in a celebrity-parody of an internet-celebrity defending a pop-music-celebrity. To this imaginary personality, even to himself, called “Chris Crocker,” an attack on a celebrity like Spears is an attack on himself. In his mind, he is her equal; he is capable of accepting the blows thrown at her, in her stead. Though he is a kid in the South who refuses to reveal his real name or location—for obvious reasons—he feels capable to speak to us so easily, as though his internet fame is on the same level of the manufactured fame of a Britney Spears who has had corporations and smart managers-since-fired behind her. Mr. Crocker not only takes on the machine that produced Britney Spears, that has turned on her, but the audience that consumed her, and that now consumes him as an object of derision. His rage is a delicious internet treat that we chew on as a zero-calorie moment, which we discuss for a week or two until the flavor is gone. Then we spit it out and forget it. The joke we call History will remember Monica Lewinsky, Anna Nicole Smith, and Britney Spears longer than Chris Crocker and his undisguised tantrum about himself. It is being forgotten even as I type this. Even as he signs the contract to his reality series.

But now that we have put his rage for recognition to the side, finally, I can get to the purpose of this post, and by that I mean the title of this post, which is the nature of celebrity.

About three decades ago, Andy Warhol declared, presciently that everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes. When I think of statements like this, I usually think of the Frankfurt School and Walter Benjamin and wonder what they would think of the world today, because the stuff they wrote about--what Adorno called the Culture Industry--and the way media affects the populace haunts me to this day, every day. I think they would commit suicide rather than live in a world of reality television and the blogosphere. Similarly, I imagine that the men who wrote the American Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, if they came in a time machine to the Twenty-First Century, would be appalled by the state of the Nation, despite, or, really, probably because of, their patrician sensibilities.

We live in a time when everyone believes in the necessity of their own celebrity. The person we call “Chris Crocker” is young enough to believe that this is the way the world is supposed to be. Celebrity is now available to everyone, for a time, as Warhol said. The larger question is: do we want it? And within that question is why do we want it? It seems that in this version of reality we are stuck with is the question of if we are only real if we are on television--and that being on television has become coterminous with being on a screen, any screen, even a computer monitor. Somehow, now, being famous—which is being known—is the same thing as being real. For politicians this may be one thing—which is awful enough—but for you and me, this is something else entirely. We have entered into a time when Warhol’s whimsical prediction has taken on the quality of a curse.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

We close, appropriately, with the delicate Sufjan Stevens song playing as I write these words. In my mind, in my mind, this song is titled, "I made a lot of mistakes."

I fell in love again
all things go, all things go
drove to Chicago
all things know, all things know
we sold our clothes to the state
I don't mind, I don't mind
I made a lot of mistakes
in my mind, in my mind

I drove to New York
in a van, with my friend
we slept in parking lots
I don't mind, I don't mind
I was in love with the place
in my mind, in my mind
I made a lot of mistakes
in my mind, in my mind

you came to take us
all things go, all things go
to recreate us
all things grow, all things grow
we had our mindset
all things know, all things know
you had to find it
all things go, all things go

if I was crying
in the van, with my friend
it was for freedom
from myself and from the land
I made a lot of mistakes
I made a lot of mistakes
I made a lot of mistakes
I made a lot of mistakes

you came to take us
all things go, all things go
to recreate us
all things grow, all things grow
we had our mindset
I made a lot of mistakes
all things know, all things know
I made a lot of mistakes
you had to find it
I made a lot of mistakes
all things go, all things go
I made a lot of mistakes

"Chicago (Adult Contemporary Easy Listening Version)," music and lyrics by Sufjan Stevens on The Avalanche, 2006.

14 August 2007

A repost of a repost of a riposte: BigMuscle.com 5

To see the other BigMuscle.com meditative reposts, you can start at the beginning or go to the last one. I suggest the former, but you are, of course, allowed to do whatever the hell you want. It is the Internets, after all. This is the fifth in the series.

11 June 2003

Where do we begin, and where does the other leave off? Can we answer this question, or do we sometimes feel like love is joining flesh into seamless flesh at points of contact like joined twins? In the beginning, this union is exhilarating. Later it may be stifling as you find yourself trapped in another's skin, in another's desires, inside another's flesh and expectations, and the only way to escape is to chop off the other like you would your own arm. (The metaphor extends: later after the amputation of the other, the remainder can feel less like the phantom itch on the hand that no longer exists than the urge to reach or gesture with a limb that isn't there, that is no long attached, no longer a part but apart.)

But this metaphor covers over another: the union of the dyad is how it feels to the organism, on the other hand how the relation functions is another matter entirely. What is this metaphor that gets lost under those satisfactions and frustrations and loathings and self-loathings of loving and hating? The metaphor is one of reflection. We see ourselves in the mirror of the other without recognizing who we are looking at--and that indeterminate who is left open, because the me we misrecognize covers over the other's "me" (or "I"), and we never see him because we see what we want to see, which is further complicated by the fact that we almost never have conscious awareness of what we want to see in an other in the first place. This is best illustrated in the way we loathe another person because he has traits that we loathe in ourselves, yet we never recognize him as being like us, as being akin; much as we do when we see ourselves in a mirror looking unflattering; we turn away with a pained look of disgust. We turn away from ourselves. And so we never see. This dynamic lays bare the dynamic of Love.

A Rilke Post: The Lover

The Lover

That is my window. A moment ago
I woke up so softly.
I thought I would float.
To where does my life extend,
and where does the night begin?
I could think that everything
were still me all around;
translucent as a crystal's
depths, darkened, dumb.
I could also contain the stars
inside me still; so large
does my heart appear to me; so gladly
it released him away again
whom I began perhaps to love,
perhaps began to hold.
Strange, as something never-described
my fate looks at me.
For what am I laid under this
fragrant as a meadow,
moved here and there,
calling out at the same time and afraid
that someone will hear the call,
and determined to find my downfall
in another.

R. M. Rilke, Der neuen Gedichte anderer Teil [1908]
translation by L. Steve Schmersal, May 2003

Die Liebende

Das ist mein Fenster. Eben
bin ich so sanft erwacht.
Ich dachte, ich würde schweben.
Bis wohin reicht mein Leben,
und wo beginnt die Nacht?
Ich könnte meinen, alles
ware noch Ich ringsum;
durchsichtig wie eines Kristalles
Tiefe, verdunkelt, stumm.
Ich könnte noch auch die Sterne
fassen in mir; so groβ
scheint mir mein Herz; so gerne
lieβ es ihn wieder los
den ich vielleicht zu lieben,
vielleicht zu halten begann.
Fremd, wie nieberschrieben
sieht mich mein Schicksal an.
Was bin ich unter diese
Unendlichkeit gelegt,
duftend wie eine Wiese,
hin und her bewegt,
rufend zugleich und bange,
daβ einer den Ruf vernimmt,
und zum Untergange
in einem Andern bestimmt.

R. M. RilkeDer neuen Gedichte anderer Teil [1908]

07 August 2007

FAQ: The Bush Daughters

They are so mysterious. A classic from modernhumorist that I wish I'd written. But I didn't. The well isn't dry, only sandy, so I direct you to wetter places. From 2000.

The Bush children are so mysterious. No one seems to know anything about them. What can you tell me?
The President’s daughters, Jenna and Barbara, are fraternal twins. They are 19 years old and attend the University of Texas at Austin (Jenna) and Yale University (Barbara).

Q: What else?
Barbara is the dark-haired one; Jenna is blond.

Q: Oh, come on…what else?
Barbara was named for her maternal grandmother, Barbara Bush. She was her high school’s homecoming queen, loves sushi and she has been thrown into public life through no choice or desire of her own. Jenna was named for her paternal grandmother. Her favorite musician is Robert Earl Keen and, because of her father’s career, she will not be able to live a normal life.

Q: What else can you tell me about the Bush girls?
Barbara can produce a powerful magnetic field with her mind. She uses it not only to manipulate metal but, under certain rare circumstances, to alter the temporal stream and reverse the flow of time. Jenna has been described as the trendier twin, and wore a camel and bone cashmere ensemble to her father’s inauguration.

Q: What are their hobbies and accomplishments?
Jenna made a fortune in 1966 by inventing and patenting Wite-Out® brand correction fluid. She parlayed that money into a real estate empire that included a 200-acre manmade island off the coast of Baja California, where she established a utopian community. Barbara was born with the ability to summon and command the beasts of the forest and the birds of the air. A talented writer, she has authored 27 mystery novels under the pen name "Mary Higgins Clark."

Q: Does either of them have a boyfriend?
The girls prefer not to release any information about their personal lives. No doubt they have the normal social lives of any college students whose father is the President.

Q: What if one of them married Prince William of England?
In fact, it would be impossible for Prince William to marry one of the Bush girls because they are actually sixth cousins on their mother’s side!

Q: If they auditioned to be on MTV’s "The Real World," would they get in?
"Should Jenna or Barbara Bush want to try out for 'The Real World,' of course we would be delighted to consider them," said a fictional MTV spokesman who is completely made-up. "Of course, we would certainly take into account the security considerations, which might be a problem." The spokesman then added, "I’m not real, you know."

Q: What advice might other sons or daughters of presidents give Jenna and Barbara?
Chelsea Clinton’s brother Matthew had this to say: "The best thing to do is to remain completely unnoticed, so that no one even knows you exist. It’s not impossible."

09 July 2007

I Never Do This: Against Reproduction

I have had many, many, arguments with friends and relatives who have told me they want to have their own baby over the years. Not so astonishingly, no one wants to hear you suggest that adopting or just not having children is an option that helps the planet, or that not reproducing might be the correct ethical choice. Why do I think this?

Well, when I was a kid there were 4 billion people on the planet, and it was only a little while ago that the world population passed 6 billion. We live on a finite planet, each new person takes from every other person in terms of resources, plus we live in a terrible time where choosing to bring a new person into the world invokes a whole series of questions about why we might want to do this, plus there are already people here living in shitty conditions who would benefit from a nice parent who wants to care for them, and lastly, I never understood what was so special about anyone's specific DNA that forced them to reproduce that code.

In short, the magnamity that causes a person to want to have a child is somewhat called into question by their need to own that child, to be certain that it is their child. Raising a kid is a huge deal, but to disavow it unless it belongs to you genetically conjures notions of property and immortality that make me very uncomfortable. If you don't want to take care of a kid unless it's "yours," then by my lights, you probably shouldn't be having children. What's so damn special about your DNA anyway? All kids need a good parent, an education, food, and a home. If you can provide these things, why can't you take on someone who is already here?

Anyway, the GayProf says it better than I can and hence this post. Here is my favorite part:
In the seventies and eighties, the nation had explicit discussions about the notion of zero population growth and suggested that people needed to carefully consider the consequences of bringing new humans into an overpopulated world (This idea has seemingly become so unpopular in recent years that the organization Zero Population Growth changed its name in 2002 to “Population Connection”).

The earth, however, is still overpopulated. Since 1980, the earth’s population has grown 30 percent. More people mean more consumption and more waste. It means already exhausted urban structures are going to be pushed to the breaking point.

The United States, which accounts for just 5 percent of the world’s population, consumes 25 percent of the word’s resources and produces 25 percent of greenhouse gases. One new human born in the United States will consume 30 times more than a brand new human born in India and 20 times more than a new human in Africa. Much like the individual who imagines it’s not their SUV or giant pickup truck that is the problem, parents in the U.S. assume no accountability that their individual decisions to have children have broader environmental consequences. Actually, in many cases, children become a justification for a gas guzzling SUV.

No, I am not begrudging people in the U.S. who have children, nor am I interested in the government or anybody else meddling in people’s reproductive decisions. As a nation, though, we need to remember that having children is a choice. Nobody is required to have children. Nobody. End of story.

08 July 2007

A Brecht/Weill Post: on "Nannas Lied"

People like to say that Brecht is cold, but I believe he has a deeper game. When I read a piece like Nannas Lied, I can't help thinking that despite his political and sexual opportunism, he actually had a great deal of sympathy for women. I think this comes out in the poetry and the plays.

This is a song about a streetwalker making sense out of her world using a famous Villon refrain as her own. So what if Brecht plagiarized this line or meant it as an intertext, it's the overall effect that seems like it is most important, and in this case we find the delicate and the brutal coming together in an explication of what happens when a girl sells her body and feelings in the market of "love." And apparently, it's not so easy.

Nanna’s Song

Dear sirs, with seventeen years
I came to the market of love.
And I had been through a lot,
Bad stuff happens a lot,
Indeed, that’s the game.
But nevertheless, I have some of the blame.
(After all, I am a person too.)

Thank God, everything goes by so quickly,
Both the love and the even sorrow, as well.
Where are the tears of last evening?
Where is the snow of yesteryear?
Where are the tears of last evening?
Where is the snow of yesteryear?

Of course, as you go through the years,
The love market becomes easier,
And you embrace them by the score.
But your feelings
Grow oddly cool,
If they’re rationed far too little.
(After all, any supply has to come to an end.)

Thank God, everything goes by so quickly,
Both the love and the even sorrow, as well.
Where are the tears of last evening?
Where is the snow of yesteryear?
Where are the tears of last evening?
Where is the snow of yesteryear?

And also, if you have learned the trade well,
In the measuring of love:
To transform desire into small change,
Still is never easy.
Now, you’ll make it.
Meanwhile you become older.
(After all, you can’t stay seventeen forever.)

Thank God everything goes by so quickly,
Both the love and even the sorrow, as well.
Where are the tears of last evening?
Where is the snow of yesteryear?
Where are the tears of last evening?
Where is the snow of yesteryear?

Nannas Lied, Bertolt Brecht, 
English translation attributed to L. Steve Schmersal.
Music by Kurt Weill, 1929.

And now, auf Deutsch:

Nannas Lied

Meine Herren, mit siebzehn Jahren
Kam Ich auf den Liebesmarkt
Und Ich habe viel erfahren
Böses gab es viel
Doch das war das Spiel
Aber manches hab ich doch verargt.
(Schlieβlich bin ich ja auch ein Mensch.)

Gott sei Dank geht alles schnell vorüber
Auch die Liebe unde der Kummer sogar.
Wo sind die Tränen von gestern Abend?
Wo ist der Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr?
Wo sind die Tränen von gestern Abend?
Wo ist der Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr?

Freilich geht man mit den Jahren
Leichter auf den Liebesmarkt
Und umarmt sie dort in Scharen.
Aber das Gefühl
Bleibt erstaundlich kühl
Wenn man damit allzuwenig kargt.
(Schlieβlich geht ja jede Vorrat zu Ende.)

Gott sei Dank geht alles schnell vorüber
Auch die Liebe unde der Kummer sogar.
Wo sind die Tränen von gestern Abend?
Wo ist der Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr?
Wo sind die Tränen von gestern Abend?
Wo ist der Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr?

Und auch wenn man gut das Handeln
Lernte auf der Liebesmess’:
Lust in Kleingeld zu verwandeln
Ist doch niemals leicht.
Nun, es wird erreicht.
Doch man wird auch alter unterdes.
(Schlieβlich bleibt man ja nicht immer siebzehn.)

Gott sei Dank geht alles schnell vorüber
Auch die Liebe unde der Kummer sogar.
Wo sind die Tränen von gestern Abend?
Wo ist der Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr?
Wo sind die Tränen von gestern Abend?
Wo ist der Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr?

Nannas Lied, Bertolt Brecht.
Music by Kurt Weill, 1929.

And now for the song.

The incomparable Teresa Stratas singing Kurt Weill's setting of the poem that he wrote as a birthday gift for Lotte Lenya, after they'd moved to America, and married for the second time:

Ute Lemper singing the same:

28 June 2007

Get Home Safe

"Get Home Safe." I heard that phrase tonight. It’s something I often say, and now we enter again that domain in which I am most uncomfortable: the personal experience, Dear-Kitty-type essay. How I hate this form. I don’t mean to belittle those who pursue it, like one of my favorites—the Gay Prof—but it truly is not the sort of thing one should do on an anti-‘Blog, such as the one you are reading.

Anyway, I was on the subway tonight, and at the stop before mine, a man said to someone—I could not, and did not, see either of them—“Get home safe.”

Why do I say this often, O Reader? It is something people in my family often say, almost always say, really. I come from farm-stock, Midwestern people. Should I begin here? I find myself saying it to anyone, whether they are walking, taking a cab, driving, or flying in a plane. Is the farm somehow an important place to begin?

This command, this injunction, comes from a world when travel was dangerous. Anytime you put your fate in hands of a bus driver, a train conductor, or the wheel of your own car, was something that was not like the stillness, the safety, of home, of table, of bed. You can die out there, you know. You can die.

I was fortunate to move to a New York that was dangerous enough, or used to be, so that friends gave me a couple bucks if my wallet was empty, so that if I got mugged on my way home, I had some cash to give that angry, desperate other on the other end of a knife or gun. Get home safe.

This has, I think, to do with the history of the night. It has to do with that dark, unlit place, that time, when travel was uncertain—I mean a time, which is also a place that was mysterious, and unpredictable, before electric lighting, before everyone lived in cities. A time when we lived by the sun, a time when after the sun fell, we had a long night of moon, if we were lucky. Get home safe, we said, because in that darkness, in that confidence we put in the driver, the conductor, the pilot, there was a certain uncertainty that we might never arrive home.

I hate to share this, but, I recently had a disturbing death—two of them—in my extended family, where people headed home, did not get home safe. They were making their way in the most banal fashion, yet they did not get home. They died.

The people who died were sort of in-laws, the sibling and spouse of an in-law, and it made me think of how I would feel if one of my siblings had this fate right now. It was unthinkable. My mind literally could not go there, could not imagine this, this thing that happens to all living things.

Any unexpected death probably has a similar effect on the survivors of it. I am talking of people I knew so little, yet it needs must remind me of the preciousness of the people around me. Do they know I love them so much? Have I told them recently? Told them enough? How do we tell this to anyone? I expect that we do the best job we can, and yet it is probably never enough. Get home safe is always an I love you.

I am, frankly, very thankful that I have been instilled with this fear of the unpredictable night, the exigencies of travel. Life turns out to be always fragile. It is not a bad thing to be reminded of that that. Have I told you how much you mean to me?

Get home safe.

23 May 2007

This. That. No Other.: I Never Do This

As a fairly dyed-in-the-wool anti-metaphysician, this post by my pal, Brett, in Toronto--you know, the one in Canada--warmed the cockles of my tiny, cold, evil heart. I never make a post about someone else's post, but this one, this one is special. Thank you, Brett.

11 April 2007

I Post Song Lyrics Sometimes: Spring is Here

Spring isn’t here. Every morning I get up and it’s still colder than I think it should be by now. I mean, it’s April. Maybe global warming has “spoiled” us all as we ride the fast train to no ice caps and a higher sea level, but of course, more energy in the ecosystem doesn’t just mean overall rising temperatures, but more erratic weather, more cold snaps, and blizzards every four years between mild winters. We don’t just have more heat trapped in the atmosphere, that heat is energy and that energy can fuel cold fronts as well as hurricanes. As more energy floods the system, winter and summer become longer and spring and autumn, my two favorite seasons, become shorter.

So with this cheery news in mind, I bring you a lovely, melancholy song from a 1938 Rogers and Hart musical called I Married an Angel. The song, “Spring is Here,” captures my feelings this morning because not only are April, May, and June sadly out of tune, but the first line is a special delivery of the whole damn show.

And now for the song.

Once there was a thing called spring,
When the world was writing verses like yours and mine.
All the lads and girls would sing,
When we sat at little tables and drank May wine.
Now April, May, and June are sadly out of tune,
life has stuck a pin in the balloon.

Spring is here.
Why doesn't my heart go dancing?
Spring is here.
Why isn't the waltz entrancing?
No desire, no ambition leads me,
Maybe it's because nobody needs me?
Spring is here.
Why doesn't the breeze delight me?
Stars appear,
Why doesn't the night invite me?
Maybe it's because nobody loves me.
Spring is here, I hear.

[dance break with clarinet solo]

Why doesn't the breeze delight me?
Stars appear,
Why doesn't the night invite me?
Maybe it's because nobody loves me.
Spring is here, I hear.

“Spring Is Here” from I Married an Angel. Music by Richard Rogers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart, 1938.

29 March 2007

Blogger has let me down

I spent a few hours last night perfecting a post that will now be delayed a day or two while I try to reconstruct it. Blogger has let me down and has saved none of the many, extensive edits I performed into the wee hours. I hate you, Blogger.

15 February 2007

The Trouble with Smallville

Matthew Shepard by way of Pierre et Gilles? What will they think up next?

I am not a Smallville enthusiast, I am a Smallville stalker. It’s a shitty show, so I hang back in the sidelines, TiVO episodes, close my eyes or fastforward through the dull scenes (of which there are many), and try to catch a glimpse of what really gets me off.

It’s a shitty show, as I said. I was never offended by the Matthew Shepard ad campaign when the series first went on the air because those ads were erotic and squared neatly with the (possibility, anyway) of a queer take on the oppressed outsider. Let me explain (while I abhor the personal, this is relevant): when I was a kid, I always thought the hottest part of any Superman story was when he was rendered helpless by Kryptonite. The idea of this nigh omnipotent god rendered weak and defenseless held a clear sexual thrill for me (does this make me kinky? I sure hope so). Part of the story is that Superman always eventually triumphed—while he may momentarily be the plaything of whatever sadist of the moment had chained him, he always escaped and won in the end. Compare this with the original Superman movie when Luthor puts the Kryptonite soap-on-a-metal-rope on Superman, yet Miss Teschmacher kisses him and frees him. Hot. “Why is it I can never get it on with the good guys”? Honey, you just did.

Anyway, Smallville. The problem I have with this show is that when it’s good, it’s really good, and when it’s bad, it’s just plain, stultifyingly awful. I mean, a viewer suffers, and I mean that very literally, through many, many episodes of crap before hitting one that has decent writing and actually offers a payoff.

The most recent episode (tonight) explains what I mean: In the past couple years, the show has slowly—very slowly—become (slowly) populated by other known DC Comics characters: Kid Flash (Beaver on the far superior Veronica Mars), Aquaman (or should I say “boy”—a lovely specimen who couldn’t act his way out of a goldfish-containing-ziplock), a young Green Arrow (more or less [what does that mean?] the opposite number to Lex Luthor’s rich-boy-using-his-money-for-kicks act), and Cyborg (? again a question mark?) of the Teen Titans. When all these heroes team up, it’s a mini-Justice League, and a lesson to Clark that he doesn’t have to work alone (shades of “Buffy”). My friend, Josh, who is the only person ever to have his real name revealed on this blog, called this episode “Superhero Porn.” And so it was, Gentle Reader. But even this is not what this post is about.

No. This post is about a crappy show that occasionally rises above its sub-par status quo to really say something, or to finally show off its actors as being more than automatons. In this case we have both.

Kristin Kreuk may or may not be a capable actress—I will fault the material in her favor. For now. But she so often goes to the same three, or four (to be generous), places that she has become my most hated performer on the show. Finishing just behind her is Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor. I can’t tell if it’s an actorly choice or not, but every word that comes out of this motherfucker is a lie. You watch him lie on every episode—and it's totally unconvincing. This is either brilliant technique or stupid blundering, and the only—and I mean only—example of how Rosenbaum (who has clearly been shaving his head since 2001, which is similar to but not identical with James Marsters’ commitment to Spike on "Buffy") is making choices is last year’s Christmas episode a la It’s A Wonderful Life wherein the actor exhibited humor, charm, warmth, confusion, and irony. These are things he should exhibit, but never does, on a regular episode.

You see this is why I blame the show, and by that I mean the creators and writers, for making it so dreadfully dull. In someone like Rosenbaum, we occasionally, and by that I mean rarely (and by that I mean almost never), see the actual talent of the actor. And on this note I have to say that the greatest casualty, or rather the greatest success, is Annette O’Toole as Martha Kent, who spins dramatic shit into gold every week. Somehow, this woman finds a way to make sense out of every idiotic narratival maneuver and she does this effortlessly. I always wait to see Martha Kent on Smallville, because when it is bad, she’s the only good thing coming—and she’s really good. This is the test of an actor. She can turn what would be a “Your father’s right” on the Brady Bunch moment into a real dramatic event. Annette O’Toole rooles. Alas, though she was absent tonight, the episode stood on its own.

But let us return to the Trouble with Smallville. This is the problem: the writers write the same shit for nineteen episodes a year, but they reserve the right to write three episodes where something really happens. Tonight was one of those episodes. And Kristin Kreuk (Lana Lang) perked up and became more than a little interesting. The writers have been pushing her character a bit recently, and tonight she was fairly real as she tried to reconcile her suspicions about Clark and his strange ability to be always at the right place at the right time with Lex’s (her fiancé and father of her unborn child) ability to always be at the wrong place at the wrong time. As I said, I hate Kreuk as Lana. It may not be her fault and we can look to the writing for that, but Lana Lang became an interesting, truly conflicted character for me for the first time tonight. And now a brief excursion about lying.

Smallville is based entirely upon the question of lying and being an ethical person. What this means as a viewer is that this theme is present endlessly throughout the show, but in three episodes a season it receives a fair appraisal. Clark is, and has always been in love with Lana, and their relationship has constantly (and quite consistently, which is to say boringly) foundered upon his mysterious absences during miraculously averted crises. When they were together, the narrative thrust depended on him saving the day without her finding out and also her knowledge that something was “up.” This became (occasionally) an interesting meditation on the merits of the Lie and why good people might tell them. Clark dreamed of marrying Lana, but through all the (many, many) permutations of him trying to keep her safe by protecting his secret, he ruined the relationship and she turned to Lex Luthor for comfort, love, certainty, and became pregnant by him.

Now, we all watch as she discovers that Clark isn’t who he seems to be and that Lex isn’t either. The closer she gets to understanding that Clark Kent is “different,” the more she wants to protect him. This is good television! You have to understand this in the context of season after season of Lana knowing "something" and Clark denying it. We’re at an interesting juncture in this show where Lana, logically, should learn Clark’s secret, but where the writers will let us down by keeping it from her. Part of this is the continuity of the DC comics universe where Lana must be kept in the dark so that Lois can move into the frame, but it is strikingly unsatisfying. For this reason the series will always get it wrong when it is closet to getting it right. The love affair must always never actualize; Clark will never tell Lana the truth; and as interesting as she becomes, and as hard as Kreuk works, Lana will always end up on the trash heap of comics history, because this story was written before it ever aired.

This is too bad, by the way, because the best episode of last year was about Lana finding out how super Clark is, and forgetting (shades of Superman II) and Pa Kent (the delicious John Schneider, oh daddy!) dying--but the viewer needs some sort of satisfaction. Endless denial is not really the coin to barter. After six years, it just becomes a big-ass drag. Even when it’s really good.

20 January 2007

God's comic: The Bible Code

No, not His comic book, or His comedian, or even His court jester or fool--something no ruler can afford to do without. What I mean here is that... God's a pretty funny Guy.

I started thinking about this because of the great comedian, Bill Hicks (dead, you know), who treated the conundrum of fundamentalist christian faith in the following monologue/hypothetical conversation:
Fundamentalist Christianity. Fascinating. These people actually believe the world is twelve thousand years old. Swear to God! "Based on what?" I asked them.
"Well, we looked at all the people in the Bible, and we added them up all the way back to Adam and Eve, their ages--twelve thousand years."
"Well, how fucking scientific! Okay. I didn't know that you'd gone to so much trouble, there. That's good. You believe the world's twelve thousand years old?"
"That's right."
"Okay, I got one word to ask you. A one word question. Ready?"

You know, the world's twelve thousand years old, and dinosaurs existed, they existed in that time, you'd think it would have been mentioned in the fucking Bible at some point. And lo, Jesus and the disciples walked to Nazareth, but the trail was blocked by a giant brontosaurus... with a splinter in his paw. And O the disciples did run a shriekin': "What a big fucking lizard, Lord!" But Jesus was unafraid and he took the splinter from the brontosaurus' paw, and the big lizard became his friend. And Jesus sent him to Scotland, where he lived in a loch for oh, so many years inviting thousands of American tourists to bring their fat, fucking families and their fat dollar bills, and, oh, Scotland did praise the Lord. Thank you, Lord, thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord."

But get this, I actually asked one of these guys, "OK, dinosaurs fossils--how does that fit into your scheme of life? Let me sit down and strap in." [mimes sitting down and strapping in]
He said, "Dinosaur fossils? God put those there to test our faith."
[contorting face in an almost simian manner as he attempts to understand] "Thank God I'm strapped in right now here, man. I think God put you here to test my faith, dude. You believe that?"

Does that trouble anyone here? The idea that God... might be... fuckin' with our heads? I have trouble sleeping with that knowledge. Some prankster God running around: "Hu hu ho ho. We will see who believes in me
now, ha ha." [mimes God burying fossils] "I am God. I am a prankster. I am killing Me. Hu hu ho ho."

You know, you die and go to St. Peter. "Did you believe in dinosaurs?"
"Well, yeah, there were fossils everywhe--" CRASH! [screams and mimes falling into Hell]
"You fucking idiot! Flying lizards? You're a moron! God was fucking with you!"
"It seemed so plausible.... AAAAAAAAH!"
"Enjoy the lake of fire, fucker."
Yes, who knew God was such a comedian! LOL!!!

Okay, I told you that story to tell you this one.

I recently caught a History Channel program devoted to a hypothesis called "The Bible Code," which claims that one can find the history of the world (important shit, like the Kennedy assassination and the leveling of the WTC) and perhaps even predict future events (like nuclear apocalypse) by way of a code hidden in the Bible. If you go check the Wikipedia link, it'll explain the ELS (Equidistant Letter Sequence) Bible-Code-Decoder technique better and faster than I can (and in a MUCH more nuanced way than the History Channel managed, I might add, and in just a couple paragraphs. I had to sit through an hour of typical History Channel sensational bullshit. With commercials. But more on that after your educational break).

Edited down (slightly) from Wikipedia:
Bible codes, also known as Torah codes, are words, phrases and clusters of words and phrases that some people believe are meaningful and exist intentionally in coded form in the text of the Bible. These codes were made famous by the book The Bible Code [by Michael Drosnin ~L.], which claims that these codes can predict the future.... [Emphasis added. ~L.]

The primary method by which purportedly meaningful messages have been extracted is the Equidistant Letter Sequence (ELS). To obtain an ELS from a text, choose a starting point (in principle, any letter) and a skip number, also freely and possibly negative [i.e. 3, 75, 1,776, -15, or any number. ~L.]. Then, beginning at the starting point, select letters from the text at equal spacing as given by the skip number. For example, the bold, red letters in this sentence form an ELS--the word SAFEST. (The skip is -4. Spaces and punctuation are ignored.)

[~L. note: Like this, though I'm actually fudging a little for clarity because the skip is -4:
t[skip 3 letters]his s[skip 3 letters]ente[skip 3 letters]nce f[skip 3 letters]orm a[skip 3 letters]n ELS
Now read the red letters backwards: TSEFAS = SAFEST. So, neat, right?]

Often more than one ELS related to some topic can be displayed simultaneously in an ELS letter array. This is produced by writing out the text in a regular grid, with exactly the same number of letters in each line, then cutting out a rectangle. In the example below, part of the King James Version of Genesis (26:5–10) is shown with 33 letters per line. ELSs for BIBLE and CODE are shown. Normally only a smaller rectangle would be displayed, such as the rectangle drawn in the figure. In that case there would be letters missing between adjacent lines in the picture, but it is essential that the number of missing letters be the same for each pair of adjacent lines.

Arrange the letters from Genesis 26:5–10 in a 33 column grid and you get a word
search with "Bible" and "code." Myriad other arrangements can yield other words.

Although the above examples are in English texts, Bible codes proponents usually use a Hebrew Bible text. For religious reasons, most Jewish proponents use only the Torah (Genesis–Deuteronomy).
As you can see, the technique allows you to form a rectangle of letters (sometimes in Hebrew and only using the Torah), in which you can find more words that relate to your original search term. In the age of computers, it is possible to plug a letter array. like ARMAGEDDON. into an ELS program, which will search the Bible until it finds that letter combination (remember, backwards or forwards) somewhere, no matter how many other letters come between the A, R, M, A, G, E, D, D, O, and N. Then you make a rectangle out of the whole text that comprises the word and then circle other words that appear in the rectangle, which sometimes seem to have a very queer, surprising relationship indeed to the original ELS search word. Yet, I had questions, even as I was watching this miracle unfold. I reveal them here:

1) Do other words show up that have nothing to do with your search? You know, you look up ABRAHAM LINCOLN and you find F-R-E-E-D and S-L-A-V-E-S in your rectangle--cool! Thank you, Lord, thank you!--but you also find T-A-M-P-A-X and C-H-E-E-S-E-W-H-I-Z. Your ways are mysterious, O Lord.

2) I started becoming suspicious when one of the amazing proofs featured on the History Channel show (which drew heavily on Michael Drosnin's book, The Bible Code) came from a search using MANONTHEMOON, and the result was--I will never forget it as long as I live--S-P-A-C-E-S-H-I-P. Spaceship? First of all, there's a Hebrew word for "spaceship"? Really? And even if I accept that, am I supposed to believe that the omniscient Creator of the Universe thinks of the lunar landing as involving a fucking spaceship? Doesn't He have a few other words above the third grade level that He could use to describe this technical and complex operation? It's like even God is impressed, "And then they made a spaceship. And it was good. And God clapped His hands together and said, 'YAY.'"

On a similar note: one of the famous claims of the Bible Code was that it had predicted the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. While some of the nearby terms that occurred in the ELS were thrillingly compelling [e.g. "AMIR" (the name of Rabin's killer) and "TELAVIV" (the location of the murder)] others were disappointingly, well, retarded--I just can't describe it any other way. I mean, ASSASSIN WHO WILL ASSASSINATE is an impressively long sentence for the Code, but that said, it's pretty damn lame. This is proof of a prophecy? I don't know, I guess I just expect better from God....

3) So, then I started thinking: couldn't someone try this technique with Ulysses or some other long novel--hey, maybe the phone book--and see what happens? Well, some doubters did me one better. According to Wikipedia, an Australian mathematician named Brendan McKay found ELS letter matrices related to the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabin in Moby Dick. In the Rabin word cluster, McKay discovered the killer's first and last name, the university he attended, and the purported motive, "Oslo," for the accords named after that city. But here is the absolute best part (also from the Wikipedia piece):
Other people, such as US physicist Dave Thomas, found other examples in many texts. In addition, Drosnin had used the flexibility of Hebrew orthography to his advantage, freely mixing classic (no vowels, Y and W strictly consonant) and modern (Y and W used to indicate i and u vowels) modes, as well as variances in spelling of K and T, to reach the desired meaning. In his television series John Safran vs God, Australian television personality John Safran worked successfully with McKay to look for evidence of the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York in the lyrics of Vanilla Ice's repertoire
Can you imagine anything more delicious? O Reader, how I laughed and laughed. But is it just me, but doesn't it seem almost like that fossil-faking, prankster God of ours is laughing too? In His way, I mean. If He is behind the Bible Codes--and indeed He is supposed to be behind all things, after all--if He is behind the Bible Codes, it can only be to fuck with our heads. If the childish blahblah-babble through which these "messages" arrive to us weren't enough to kill your willing suspension of disbelief, it doesn't strike me as very clever to discover part of the Lord's secret design using a letter-skip technique and a computer. I can only imagine the disgust with which Maimonides would have greeted the very idea of this magical Bible code. God's not that easy. So all this clearly means is that God's having a bit of fun at our expense. "Hu hu ho ho. I am killing Me!" Hey, it's His universe, right? We just live in it.

The image “http://www.research-systems.com/images/wtc-render-lowres.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
Incontrovertible proof! The WTC disaster turns up in the Bible Code! It's true, look!
Check out the huge size of this rectangle--someone needed a LOT of letters to get
this puppy to make sense. Um, and THIS is a convincing word cluster:

WORLD, MANHATTAN, CENTRE (spelled the British way),
What the hell is "vapour of smoke," anyway? And then there's
the mysterious letter E hanging there. It clearly can't be
anything but the 911 attacks!

I understand this sort of mania for meaningfulness. Honest. Suffering is the feature of mortality that draw us to religion as such. There must be a reason why this is happening to me, so if it can fit into a larger, even cosmic, meaning, if I can find personally relevant material in the Torah using the Bible code (and people have) or if the reality as I understand it is upheld by these telegraphic messages from the Torah using the same decoder ring, then there is meaning to existence. How can you argue with this hunger for meaningfulness that so readily accepts S-P-A-C-E-S-H-I-P and A-S-S-A-S-S-I-N-W-H-O-A-S-S-A-S-S-I-N-A-T-E-S as proof of a higher power, whose secret code we have cracked? You cannot. The most important feature of the ELS system is that it always knows what it's looking for when it makes its search. It's like a metaphysical game of Scrabble or Boggle: you begin with the knowledge that you're searching for a sense, a letter string or strings that make sense and that are similar to the term that prompted the search. This is why we never hear about C-H-E-E-S-E-W-H-I-Z in the result--it might be there, but since it doesn't fit the frame in question, the appearance of "cheese whiz" is omitted from the report.

Last April, I posted on something I consider similar to the phenomenon we see in the Bible code--the entry concerned the way numbers can line up in dates and time, for example on May 6th the date will be 05/06/07. When we notice this happening, there's often a tingle or a shiver that goes through us, like an unsettling order has been revealed. I like this comparison precisely because the meaning that shows up in a consecutive number sequence is minimal yet a recognition comes out of it, as I said, as though time were seeing you. The moment feels profound somehow, but it's just chance that you noticed the date.

The Wikipedia entry on the Bible Code also mentions this interesting tidbit: apparently "[t]he primary objection advanced against Bible codes of the Drosnin variety is that information theory does not prohibit noise from appearing to be sometimes meaningful." The difference between the "noise" of the time/date system that lines up numbers in a surprising (yet always inevitable) sequence and the noise of textual information that uses letters, is that letters form words and words signify better than numbers. Hence the very spooky phenomenon of the Bible code, but credulity is begged by the necessity of knowing what you're looking for, the silliness of some of the word results, and the rejection of results that do not match the desired result (CHEESEWHIZ).

And this brings us, of course, into the domain of psychoanalysis. Yes, I actually told you that story to tell you this one. And do not misunderstand, all roads do not lead to psychoanalysis by any means, but when a metaphor that does lead there presents itself, I'm getting on it to see where it goes. The Bible isn't a person, therefore it doesn't have an Unconscious, but the way words emerge from a letter sequence using the Bible code, is interestingly similar to the phenomenon that happens in analysis. The biggest difference is that if TAMPAX turns up, it is just as valid and valuable as ASSASSINWHOASSASSINATES. Humans can uncover Unconscious connections using free association, but the Bible code functions only by way of forced association; therefore, the results of the Bible code searches will always say more about the person running the search than it ever could about history, the future, God, or anything else. It's a ghost story, a parlor trick, a computerized Ouija board. Let it pass.

And now, something suggests itself: what if meaningfulness as such is noise in the information system? People are always reflexively searching for meaning and motivation, or at least expectant of it, and usually expectant of a certain meaning ("Why do I always date the same kind of GUY?!"). That doesn't mean there is a lack of meaning (there's always too much) or there isn't an ethics (these things can be agreed upon to some degree), but that we exist in a world made up of the history of a network of cultural codes wherein we swim as individuals, and we each have a subjectivity based on an Unconscious (our own) that is essentially a kind of non-sense, yet impels us toward certain directions, relationships, identities. This makes ignorance of the history of cultural codes and of the individual's unconscious drives two things we cannot afford to bear. That's really all I'm saying. Now compared to the Bible Scrabble game of the code--and make no mistake, it is a game--the concept of the mobile spark of meaningfulness, the noise of meaning and the meaning of noise seems a lot more intricate, subtle, interesting, and even haunting than finding a way to get your Bible to spell out "S-P-A-C-E-S-H-I-P."

See? I told you God was a funny Guy.