Flamed by Metafilterians

Yikes:  my earlier post on Abed's epic speech from last week's Community has proven very, very unpopular.  If we lived in a world where electro-thumbs up/thumbs-down justice had any real impact beyond the self-satisfaction of mouse-clicking, I'd be a dead man right now.

One interesting thing about the state of Net discourse these days: the time-honored practice of "flaming" has apparently been displaced to other sites.  In other words, though more people read this particular post in one day than typically read this sleepy little blog in a month, most decided to exercise their hard-fought right to call me a dick elsewhere in cyberland.  And for this I suppose I should be grateful.

The post seems to be particularly unpopular among members of a gated Net community who call themselves the Metafiltered.  A quick trip to the Wiki Gods tells me Metafilter is a long-standing, relatively exclusive, and self-policed community blog where people gather to discuss stuff they find elsewhere online.  They have some excellent flamers over there at Metafilter, so I thought I might reproduce some of their work below to instruct others in the art of electro-spleen venting.  To make this exercise even more instructive, I have taken the liberty of annotating certain key points in these responses. 

Example 1.   "I may just be underthinking this, but I'm pretty sure that most of the author's descriptions of Community fans is really just projecting.

What he's really trying to say is that he loves the show, for all of those reasons, but he hates himself for it because he's a pretentious hipster prick."

Though somewhat overly aggressive, I think this flamer is on to something here.  In short, s/he is at the threshold of recognizing that our perceptions of any and all social groups are, in the final analysis, a "projection."  As Raymond Williams reminds us, there are no masses, only representations of the masses.

As for being a "pretentious hipster prick," I will go the author one better by taking ownership of being an "aging pretentious hipster prick," an even more virulent instantiation of prickdom predisposed to hating all the shitty music, loud movies, and funny hairstyles you kids keep leaving on my digital lawn. 

As for "hating myself for loving the show."  Absolutely.  I thought everyone was familiar with that experience.  
Example 2.  Alright. So sweet mushroom gravy, there's turgid writing, and then there's pop commentary, and then there's like the full text of your mobile phone contract, and then there's metatextual pop commentary by academics posting oversight-free to their blogs.

This flame gets off to a good start before taking a rather chilling turn toward the end.  Through a classic strategy of escalation, the author positions my blog as even more boring than a "mobile phone contract." And let's face it, those are so damn boring that none of us ever take the time to read them, am I right?  But then comes a rather Stalin-esque complaint over academics having the freedom to speak/write without any "oversight."  Gulp.  Just who will be in charge of making sure those involved in blogging, academics or otherwise, are writing "correctly?"  So sweet mushroom gravy, it's not like anyone forced you to read this blog...I beg of you not to notify NBC's branch of the NSA and rat me out.

This particular respondent goes to perform a close reading of the sentence describing Southpark's attack on Family Guy from a few seasons back. 

I think the only more lifeless way to describe that (superlative) South Park scene would be to actually go back in time and shoot Trey and Matt dead. With lead slugs dug out of an ancient grave. While reciting the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Backed by a Grateful Dead medley. On the shores of the Dead Sea.  
I’m not sure of the exact nature of the critique here.  Is the idea that my recounting of the scene in question is not nearly as awesomely hilarious as it actually was on South Park?  If so, guilty as charged, my turgidity can in no way compete with the entertainment value of colorful cardboard cut-outs frolicking to music and sound effects.  That this respondent refers to "Trey and Matt" by their first names is particularly poignant, I think, in that it speaks so directly to my point about the "false familiarity" encouraged by social media in relation to cultural producers.  

Example 3.  I have to admit, the next "flame" broke my heart a little. 

Oh my god, did I just flashback to my semiotics in cinema class? Congratulations Jeffrey Sconce, you have bored me to tears in your self absorbed "essay" about a clever self aware TV show.

This hurts, you see, because I often do teach semiotics in a cinema class.  That's actually my job.  And here we have proof of what everyone in higher education dreads--no sooner are students out the door than they've hit the purge button.  All that shit I just learned...useless!  Making it even more cruel, s/he uses the semiotic of the "scare quote" to question whether my essay is in fact an essay at all, making it feel abandoned, insignificant, and forlorn.   I do appreciate, however, the courtesy of using my name.  Most responders simply referred to me as "that guy," "this guy," or, as we saw above, the "pretentious hipster prick."  

We continue: 

Maybe you need to get a life. One that does not involve parsing a COMMUNITY episode as if it were the lost testament of Judas. 

There could be a good discussion about how Community has bent the rules of sitcoms over the last few years, but this isn't it.

Here I must strongly disagree: I think it much, much more important to debate the form, aesthetics, and implications of Community than it is to analyze the lost testament of Judas, which I must confess I have never heard of, but based on this description appears to be “lost” and thus unavailable for analysis anyway. 

To reiterate:  I actually like Community, I really really do.  I just think it occasionally has a "tone" to it that can be a bit "precious," and that can be irritating.  I think the characters and character-relations are actually strong enough to sustain themselves without all the cutesy movie templates.  And finally, I still think Abed's speech is a singularly magnificent statement about the oddly over-personalized fantasy life so many now have with television programs and the television industry.  Okay, maybe the show isn't attacking its own fans (who are all so super smart, after all, and don't deserve such mistreatment)---rather it's a statement about just how impoverished real social relations and "communities" have become when so many are so intensely invested in TV shows and the lives of those who make TV shows.  

Does the rest of the cast like Chevy Chase?  Jesus, it's like being back in high school, a high school populated by those you don't know, have never known, and will never know.  Who cares? 

Okay, I'm done.  And I promise if I ever write about this show again, or indeed anything on NBC Thursday night, I will do so in very short sentences, or perhaps with a series of animated grunts and gesticulations. 

The Incredible Two-Headed Chihuahua

Housewife Hookers (1973)

Barbara Lane
(as "exposed" by Stephen Lewis)
Ace Books

As we open, Suzanne and her husband Doug are in court finalizing their divorce.  This all seems a bit suspicious in that the proceedings involve two lawyers squaring off Perry Mason-style in front of a judge.  Suddenly, the husband's lawyer produces a 16mm film projector and screens a stag film...starring Suzanne!  Case closed.

Leaving court, Suzanne ponders what led her from a comfortable middle-class life in Valley Stream, New York to turning tricks in Manhattan.  Boredom, mostly.  She and Doug were once truly in love, but eventually Doug cared more about his career than her "needs."  After a particularly nasty fight one evening, Suzanne drives into Manhattan and parks on West 52nd Street to clear her head. Unbeknownst to her, at least at this point, is that W. 52nd St. is the city's premiere destination for picking up hookers parked in cars.  Before you know it, Suzanne scores her first John...and she likes it!

Great reading for any man of the era who wanted to believe that hoards of Long Island housewives were in fact thrilled to commute on the L.I.E. every day to have anonymous sex with midtown businessmen.

Community to Fans: Get a "Meta" Life

NBC’s Community remains an enigma to me.  I know I should like it better than I do.  I keep watching it thinking I will end up really, really liking it, but that never seems to happen.  And the more I read about why other people passionately love the series, the more I realize this enthusiasm centers on the very thing that often makes the show off-putting to me.  Community is very clever and self-aware, especially about television.  And it knows it, too.   

As someone produced within and still orbiting the institution of film studies, I feel that I and my kind are somewhat to blame for this.  Starting in the mid-1970s or so, the idea that movies sometimes reference other movies became, for some reason, a vitally important issue.  Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973) seemed incredibly important for no other reason than it “de-mystified” how movies were made.  Watching one of the Marxist revolutionaries in Godard’s Weekend (1968) radio to another fighter as “Johnny Guitar,” film scholars of the era tingled with a sense of excitement that both the cinema and having knowledge about the cinema were at the vanguard of an aesthetic/cultural revolution.  To be literate in film was to be part of a popular elite, to “get” what other multiplex suckers did not.  This mania was so intense in the era that it even allowed for the critical recuperation of Star Wars, not as an embarrassingly slavish adaptation of Joseph Campbell’s ahistorical humanism, but as a sly “wink” to The Searchers and the regressive pleasures of the matinee serial.  Film brats, they were eventually called, a school of filmmaking echoed in parts of the academy by film brat studies—more a taste formation, really, than a coherent intellectual project (although I remain open to the possibility that any and all intellectual projects are products of variously exclusive taste formations—Zizek has just joined forces with Lady Gaga, after all). 

Later, this basic mechanism of modern literary production found a new iteration in the lexicon of “postmodernism.”  Over time, postmodern theory’s more complex meditations on the relationship of subjectivity, capitalism, and cultural production collapsed into a critique and then, tellingly, a celebration of “pastiche” and rampant “intertextuality.”  Once an esoteric marker of high modernism, intertextuality quickly became the engine of “smart” television and popular culture, marking products as formally sophisticated and critically appreciated precisely because they understood the otherwise crappy components from which they were constructed.  Now, of course, seemingly all of television is ultimately a quotation of or a response to other forms of television—especially television comedies, and now most especially Community.

I sense that some fans believe Community’s pop-cult obsessions are significant because they are done with more “wit” and “complexity” than, say, Family Guy’s open taunting of Renee Zellweger or its “gratuitous” shout-outs to long lost dreck like ThunderCats.   The difference, again, is one of taste, and I suppose Community is considered the more sophisticated show because its intertextual citations are staged in such a way that they flatter viewers into thinking they have done actual critical work by deciphering them.  Repeatedly invoking the “Kool-Aid” pitcher as a running gag, a la Family Guy, is a bit “on the nose,” a reference made for the sake of making a reference and one that is impossible to mistake (and a habit/technique that seems to have particularly angered Southpark’s arbiters of “proper” satire, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who in their own bit of comedy-war intertextuality, attributed the writing of Family Guy to listless manatees randomly assembling Proppian gag balls in a swimming pool).  Community’s recent “Fat Neil” episode, on the other hand, is a 22-minute excursion through the psychopathology of Dungeons and Dragons/LOTR that also ends up telling us something “meaningful” about one of the central characters.   It is thus “complex,” artful, and, yes, clever-- in short, all of the things that so often conspire to make television insufferable.  Worse yet, it ultimately subordinates all this clever textual play to the bane of almost all popular narrative since the late nineteenth-century: relatable, “realistic” characters who learn lessons and “grow” over the course of the series. 

For me, Community works best when it is centered unreflexively on the very architecture its title invokes—a community of television characters living, for the most part obliviously, in the limbo world of a sitcom.  The more Community becomes “Community,” on the other hand, a show that gazes deep into its own navel about the conventions of television and other popular forms, the more it begins to make my skin crawl.  Even more so when I imagine the legions of “pop connoisseurs” who watch the show and think they are especially clever in that they and they alone have somehow miraculously come to understand how television “really works.”   As with irony in general, I think Community appeals primarily to those who fantasize there are other people out there who do not “get” the references, or who might think the show is “too weird” and “quirky” because they simply don’t understand how it’s playing with the conventions of the form (a stock character I like to call the “hypothetical idiot”--and yes, I am aware that my own image of Community's audience replicates this strategy once again).  It’s the same type of contempt film snobs (myself included) used to have for people who thought Sirk films were racist or sexist—the poor, poor ignorant fools.

And yet despite all the irritation, I don’t give up on Community.  The writing is consistently excellent, the performances are really good, and it certainly beats watching The Big Bang Theory over on CBS. Joel McHale remains the most fair, talented, and humane practitioner of "snark," a skill cultivated over the years at The Soup (although I’m surprised more fans of Community are not put-off by the rather patronizing premise of the series: the cool, handsome adult in charge of paternalistically healing all his less fortunate and damaged children.  It’s like The Andy Griffith Show for hipsters).

And then came last week’s episode—appearing under the media-professor-catnip title, “Critical Films Studies.”  Depending on one’s perspective, this episode either consolidated the program’s worst habits or, perhaps more provocatively, suggested the writers are themselves getting tired of the fan-flattering hall-of-mirrors they themselves have created.

The episode opens with narrative focalizer Jeff Winger (McHale) meeting resident Aspergian, Abed (Danny Pudi), for dinner at a swanky restaurant.  Jeff’s voiceover tells us he is there to escort Abed to a Pulp Fiction themed surprise birthday party with the gang.  True to the “difference within repetition” imperative of series television, Abed is at the beginning of this particular episode uncharacteristically animated—“smooth” and “adult” in a way that completely contradicts his typical character function on the show as uber-geek pop chorus.   This leads to dinner conversation and a major confession on Abed’s part, a bit of TV writing/performance that, as it was unfolding, seemed both revelatory and even a bit dangerous.

Abed begins his story by reminding Jeff of his immense love of ABC’s Cougar Town.  That’s funny in and of itself, of course, but it’s only the beginning of a longer Cougar Town story, one that gradually bears down on the very constituency so vocal in promoting the excellence of Community.   Abed continues, “I even started a Cougar Town fan club on Facebook, not to accomplish anything mind you, but simply to express my love for the show.”  Wait, I thought, could Community at last be calling out its own core audience of pop literati, the ones who actually believe that using social media like Facebook, twitter, blogs, etc. somehow make them a part of show business?  The people who are convinced that producers, writers, and the newest Gods of the entertainment universe, show-runners, actually pay close attention to fan sites, message boards, and hashtags so as to collaborate with fans in the creative process?  Is Community really going to bite the admittedly tiny hand that feeds them, those who feel they have “accomplished” something by using Facebook to create new marketing vectors for a corporate franchise?  Needless to say, having thought much about these issues in the past, I was on the edge of my seat.

Abed continues.  The people at Cougar Town indeed fulfilled his greatest fantasy—they notice him!  He gets a call thanking him for his support of the show and an invitation to visit the set in Los Angeles.   “I sold a few of my action figures and bought a round trip ticket to Los Angeles,” he tells Jeff (apparently the producers of Cougar Town appreciate Abed’s support, but not enough to spring for air fare).  Holy shit, I thought, they are going there.   We’ve moved into fan fantasy II:  my childhood acquisition of ancillary merchandise will somehow prove a wise investment in adulthood, when I will convert the knowledge/appreciation these figurines represent as fan capital into something more worthwhile.  As is said in Corinthians 13:11 -- “When I was a fan, I talked like a fan, I thought like a fan, I reasoned like a fan. When I became a man, I put fannish ways behind me and fantasized instead that I was a part of the media industry itself.
Abed arrives in L.A. and finds that the people of Cougar Town “were wonderful, not just the actors, but the crew, everyone.”  Fan fantasy III:  In a world that seemingly has no place for anyone anymore, and where increasing portions of our psychic life are devoted to consuming entertainment media as the west’s last viable arena of productive activity, the only realistic fantasy to have is that of finding a “home” in the glamorous world of media production itself. (Abed goes on to describe Cougar Town as a “village” wherein each person has his or her own individual function but where all are dedicated to a common vision—Cougar Town.  It echoes Marx’s utopian sentiment: “from each according to his ability to each according to his need…in the service of generating products for television.”     

But the fantasy goes even further.  The director asks Abed to do a “walk-on” during a Cougar Town scene, an honor that pushes Abed to the point of existential crisis—“How could I be a person who watches Cougar Town and be in Cougar Town?”  To resolve this dilemma, Abed imagines himself as someone who is from the actual town of Cougar Town, a born and bred citizen that Abed decides to call “Chad.”  In the brief act of walking across the set, Abed elaborates an entire history of “fake” real experiences for his fake “real” Chad.  Fantasy IV:  I would really, really like to live in the world of television series “X,” a “community” (if you will) that seems so much more welcoming and exciting than the drudgery of everyday life.

And then the kicker.  There is only one “take” of the scene (“Courtney nailed it,” Abed notes with the embarrassing false intimacy that characterizes so much contemporary fan discourse).  With all of Abed’s fan fantasies at last fulfilled, he nevertheless feels hollow inside:  “Chad had lived, Jeff, Chad had lived more than Abed,” he laments.  Confronted with the horrifying realization that he has annexed his life to fantasy worlds produced by others, and weirder yet, to the fantasy lives of those who produce these fantasy worlds, Abed has only one option: 

“I pooped my pants,” he tells Jeff. 

Unbelievable.  Did they really just call out their fans as delusional stalkers so enthralled by the hocus-pocus of the entertainment industry that they would literally shit their pants if put in actual proximity of the Warner Brothers lot?   

Of course, Community wants to stay on the air, and so Abed’s sobering epiphany was quickly subsumed by yet more of the very same intertextual shenanigans that reward the “skill set” Abed’s Cougar Town story had just critiqued.   The anticipated “Pulp Fiction” episode instead becomes a “My Dinner with Andre” episode.  Those who have seen both movies get to celebrate their critical acumen, as well as thrill to the basic plot mechanics of a temporary “misdirect.”   Yay for us. 

Still, I was curious as to how Abed’s speech might be received by the Community community.  Would they take offense at such a direct assault on their dreams, habits, and continence?  Incredibly, from my admittedly limited survey of various TV recap sites, the major questions occupying the show’s fans in the wake of this episode are as follows:

Was Abed’s speech meant to be a dig on how much Cougar Town sucks?
Do you think the people who make Community really hate Cougar Town?
Do you think the people at Cougar Town knew this was coming?
Will Cougar Town respond and mention Community on a future episode?

Various aspiring “insiders” were quick to supply the important answers, assuring other posters that the producers and writers for both shows are all “twitter buddies” and have immense respect for each other (and as I “follow” all of them myself, continues this insider logic, I too am a part of this Cougar Community fraternity).   Moreover, the producer of Cougar Town definitely knew this was coming and thinks it’s great, and in fact they are going to respond in kind in a later episode of their own show! No one, it seems, could imagine in a million years that the writers might have been oh-so-discreetly ridiculing the very audience base that makes their show possible; instead, Abed’s rather undisplaced saga of the pooped pants has apparently only led to more and more fantasizing about the relationships of those involved in making the show itself; in other words, a doubling down on the faux “first-name” familiarity and public performance of privileged backstage information that constitutes contemporary critical insight.

It's enough to make you ask: what is the point of insulting someone if they don’t even know they're being insulted?


Click here for an exciting and timely update.

Signs Portending Your Participation in a Devil Movie

You attend a candlelit party with many elderly eccentrics and large brandy snifters.


It's 1972, and your host is a man wearing black velvet with a lace collar.

You find yourself making eye-line match cuts with angry dogs.

Later, that same dog attends a costume party wearing a human mask.

Your host wears a lion's head while playing Liszt.

You see your host French-kissing his daughter.

Sinister looking drugged weirdos are on the staircase.


 Transvestites are also on the staircase, reaching out to you in a "fish-eye" POV shot.

You find yourself underlit in a blood-red room full of weird objects.

You see a stuffed bat on a bookcase.

A woman in a black turtleneck who makes terrifying sculptures wants to cast your face in plaster.


All shots from The Mephisto Waltz (1971)

Seven Wives and Seven Prisons Or Experiences in the Life of a Matrimonial Maniac. A True Story. (1870)

L.A. Abbott
Public Domain

Young lad in the early 19th century gets married, has a couple of kids, discovers his wife is having an affair, dumps her, doesn't sign necessary paperwork for divorce, falls for new new girl, parents object, elopes, sires son #2, arrested, jailed, convicted, escapes, tries to kidnap wife 2, has to flee, falls for new woman, etc., etc.

The book does not lie.  The self-proclaimed "matrimonial maniac" gets married to seven different women--the middle five of whom are all "illegal" in that he never secured an official divorce from wife #1 (my "worst wife," as he calls her).  In between the author spends a lot of time in jail awaiting various bigamy trials, escapes numerous times from jails large and small, does 3 years of hard time in Vermont, sets up about 15 medical practices, tours the countryside selling patent medicines, hires himself out to accompany "insane" patients in extended traveling cures, goes to New Orleans just before the Civil War, and tries to kidnap one of his kids.  Eventually comes to the realization that he is indeed "monomaniacal" when it comes to marriage (perhaps after one "wife" claims they are married when one night, while drunk, they fill out a marriage license as "a joke").  Wife number 7 seems to take, however, and we end with our author wealthy, contented, and still hitched.

Generally comic in tone, despite the fact that the author spends some 30 years of his life paying for the lazy bureaucratic oversight of not officially divorcing "worst wife."  Interesting too for its portrait of 19th century "courtship" practices: predatory widows, packs of brothers standing guard over a lovestruck sister, lovers masquerading as cousins so as to stay in the same hotel.  At one point, the author decides to go to Maine for no other reason than it was the one state in New England wherein he had never been "arrested or married." 

Miscalculated Risk (1972)

Jinny McDonnell
Whitman  Books

Given the immense popularity of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, publishers understandably spent much of the 20th century searching for new teenage mystery franchises.  Miscalculated Risk is the first of four books from the early 1970s featuring the adventures of Kim Aldrich.  Whereas most of the previous girl sleuths had been in high-school, Kim is a career girl, of sorts, working as a secretary for the World at Large Insurance Company (WALCO).  Incredibly, in her first adventure, Kim dedicates herself to solving a case of insurance fraud.  Yes little girls, insurance fraud.  A mayor refuses to settle a case involving a little boy injured by falling off some rocks at the beach.  A sign clearly warns people to stay off the rocks, says the mayor, so he will not settle the claim.  But Kim figures out that the sign went up only after the little kid fell down and paralyzed himself.  Fraud! 

If exposing everyday cases of municipal malfeasance are the kind of adventures you imagined having as a 13 year old girl, Miscalculated Risk is the book for you.  Given the strange premise of this series, one has to wonder if Kim was in fact a subtle conservative response to the demands of second-wave feminism sweeping the nation at the time.  See girls, you too can having exciting adventures...as a secretary at an insurance company! 

Conquest of Earth (1957)

Manly Banister
Airmont Books

Another saga of underground resistance to intergalactic colonization and more evidence that The Turner Diaries is essentially a science-fiction novel.  Here we have a superhuman in training for a secret brotherhood--capable of time stasis and astral projection--who helps rally a dying earth against an invisible race of resource-sucking aliens known as the Trisz.  As it seems truly depressing that more than one person should have to summarize this book, I will defer to a much more detailed account provided here.

More interesting is author Manly Banister himself.  Manly Banister.  At first it seems this would have to be a pseudonym--but it would be such an outrageous pseudonym that I think we have to accept it as his actual name.  Manly Banister.

Apparently Mr. Banister is somewhat of an enigma in sci-fi circles.  One site notes that he started as a devoted fan of the genre in the early 1950s, even publishing his own fanzine, Nekromantikon!  Realizing the line between amateur and professional in 50s pulp was pretty thin, Banister soon became a frequent contributor to the various sci-fi serials of the era.  Conquest of Earth appears to have been his only novel. Oddly enough, however, his biggest selling book is The Craft of Bookbinding, still in print through Dover as of 1994.

My Day at "Team Huck"

You may have noticed over the past week or so that former governor and future footnote Mike Huckabee has been in hot water for blowing the Obama “birther” dog-whistle a bit too loudly. Hoping to unite the scared and ignorant wings of his party, Huckabee used a radio interview to conveniently “misspeak” about the President having grown up in Kenya (“I meant to say Indonesia,” he later "clarified"). Any claim that this might truly have been an accident evaporates when you consider where Huckabee went with this premise. Because Obama grew up in Kenya, Huckabee noted, he would no doubt have a very different perspective on the MAU-MAU uprising than that of the British colonialists, a timely and completely relevant observation that allowed Huckleberry to say Obama and MAU-MAU about twenty times in a row (for those who do not share Huckabee’s age and sickness, “Mau-Mau” was for many years a racist epitaph in the U.S. While no longer in general circulation, this label would most certainly be well remembered by Huckabee’s base: elderly white people). Message received, formerly fat bastard.

I think this little escapade pissed me off more than the usual reactionary chicanery because--like many others over the past few years—I had been taken in by Huckabee’s impressive ability to seem somewhat reasonable on television. Even though you know he would probably have you locked up for your past history, current beliefs, and/or future possibilities, Huckabee has been able to project a certain optimistic pluralism that usually made his schtick less loathsome than the regressive paranoia typical of most social conservatives. He does well enough on The Daily Show, after all, and recently he even went so far as to say that the First Lady’s campaign to confront childhood obesity might not be such a bad idea, a position that, somewhat incredibly, had actually become controversial among the ultra-right, those who reserve the right to poison their children, not just with psychosexual shame and a continuing fear of a black planet, but also with copious amounts of lard and sugar.

Reading about Huckabee’s alleged “gaffe,” I decided through some dangerous combination of boredom and anger that I would log-in at his website to express my disappointment. Embarrassing, I know, to be caught in such an earnest act of political outrage—especially when knowing full-well that reasoned debate about any issue facing the country is now structurally impossible. Still, a quick venting seemed the only way to clear the afternoon for doing something more productive. 

I quickly found out that you can’t simply leave a comment at Huckabee’s site. After clicking through ads imploring you to buy his book and/or join him on an Alaskan cruise, you have to join “Team Huck” in order to leave feedback in his forum. So I did. As it so happened, I joined the Team just as a “birther” was in the midst of responding to Huckabee’s clarification about the whole Obama—Kenya—MAU MAU—Indonesia thing. Polishing off the portrait of Habermas that still hangs somewhere in the dusty recesses of my mind, I decided to engage Sir Birther in some good old-fashioned political dialog. Below is the transcript of my day at “Team Huck.” I am logging in as Eugene Debs (I know, hilarious, right?). With the exception of Huckabee’s own statement, the names of the other participants have been changed. I offer it as a record of just how profoundly delusional all political discourse has become in the early 21st century. Also, I reproduce it here because, after spending almost 8 hours trying to get kicked off their site, I figured I might as well get a blog entry out of it.

We begin with “Ace” offering Huckabee advice on how he can argue the birther position more forcibly the next time he is on television (even as Huckabee maintains he really believes Obama is actually an American).

ACE: Governor Huckabee, you might have viewed the controversial cable show, Hardball with Chris Matthews, today, where Matthews, as expected, trashed Mike Huckabee for implying that Barack Obama was raised up in Kenya. However, one key item that heavily implies that he was raised up in Kenya, is a you tube video of Michelle Obama, during a speech somewhere, said the following: "When Barack and I visited Barack's home country of Kenya...." If one visits the you tube website and from the website, searches "Michelle Obama Kenya" there is a video of her, wearing a yellow outfit, making a speech somewhere, some time ago, where she makes that assertion. It may well be worth viewing the video, to use as a defense in telling the truth about Obama being born and raised in the country of Kenya.

HUCKABEE (official statement on his “misspeaking”): On Monday, while on Steve Malzberg's radio show on New York's WOR Radio, I was asked about the President Obama's birth certificate issue. In my answer, I simply misspoke when I alluded to President Obama growing up in 'Kenya' and meant to say Indonesia. As I have stated on page 1 of my new book 'A Simple Government' and in numerous interviews with dozens of reporters - I don't believe there is an issue with Barack Obama's birth certificate. However, I do believe there are serious issues with the President's policies, and I have been openly opposed to the President's world view.

I'm not surprised the NY Times chose to sensationalize this story. In fact, the New York Times, the AP, and other news organizations ran with the "sensationalized story" despite being specifically told by Steve Malzberg himself that they were incorrect in their assessment of the sound bite. You just can't help but laugh when my simple slip of the tongue, becomes a huge story - and a certain Presidential candidate claiming to visit all 57 states, gets widely ignored.

ACE: I agree with that, Governor. It is amazing, the double standard the main stream media maintain, regarding this president. I can't say one way or the other about where he was born, although I am highly suspicious of him being born in Hawaii, since the only evidence he has offered to prove his natural born status, is the birth certificate he points to, that is posted on line, which is not the type of birth certificate the state of Hawaii was issuing in 1961. The main problem I have with him on that issue, is his failure to address the issue, forthwith, when the issue first came up during his '08 campaign. It was only after he returned to his campaign, after he visited his dying "typical white" grandmother, (his words not mine) in Hawaii, that a "birth certificate" of sorts, was posted on line. Upon his arrival in Hawaii, taking a few days off from the campaign to visit his grandmother, rather than to go directly to the hospital where she was, the media reported that he visited Hawaiian state officials first, then later, visited his grandmother. It was soon after that visit to Hawaiian state officials, that the "questionable" birth certificate appeared on the internet. Then soon afterwards, it was revealed that all his personal records were sealed and that he has refused to release them. We now learn that the Democrat Governor of Hawaii, who recently told the media, that he could not release any information on Obama's birth certificate, and (refused to confirm whether or not there was even a Barack Obama birth certificate on file in the state of Hawaii), was close friends with Obama's mother and father, which indicates to me that he probably would not have hesitated to do a tremendous favor for a family friend, who was running for president; a favor that could easily quell any pesky questions from the media and others, about Obama's place of natural birth.

EUGENE DEBS: Wouldn't it be amazing if the President really did pull off the most audacious hoax in the history of politics by successfully scheming to become the first foreign-born, fraudulent President ever? It sure would make the daily grind of watching all our wealth go up the Republican chain to banksters and oil companies easier to stomach. And it would be so exciting, just like reading the Da Vinci code!

ACE: You are using absurdity, in an effort not to be absurd. I believe it could happen and of course it would be the most profound case of outright, blatant fraud ever to exist in the White House.

ELLIE MAY: It’s well known Obama is paying millions of dollars to keep these documents secret.

MSTRUEAMERICAN: Mike is right. Obama WAS born in Kenya. There is video of Michelle Obama calling Kenya his “homeland.” Here is the link brother: (damning link provided)

EUGENE DEBS: So let me get this straight. Our current President knows he's not really an American, and even after teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago for a number of years, he thinks to himself: "well, I wasn't born here and any moron would know that means I can't be President, but I'm so evil and intent on giving health care to poor people that I'm just going to go for it! I'm sure no one will catch me, even in the glare of an intense campaign, and even though my chief opponent for the nomination will be a Yale educated lawyer named Hilary Clinton."

The document produced in Hawaii is what 90% of the country uses as their "birth certificate." I know I couldn't produce all the documents you want--I'm pretty sure the hospital I was born in back in Oklahoma burned down in the 70s. Does that mean I have to go back to my ancestral "homeland" of Scotland? And predictably, even when the President's birth document was produced, it was instantly denounced as a fake--as would ANY "proof" demanded by people who desperately want this folktale to be true.

Remember when Bush the Junior couldn't account for being AWOL from the Alabama National Guard for six months and the left demanded an accounting? This is your version of that, a story you want to be true (although in the case of "birther-ism," it's an even more ridiculous claim). Just look at the absurdity of the "grandmother" stuff--you mean the President of the United States actually had to do something with other government people before visiting his "typical white" grandmother in the hospital? That's a smoking gun for sure!

Face it, if Obama wasn't bi-racial and a democrat, no one would even think to question his citizenship. And yes, you can now say you want a bill that requires "everyone" to produce citizenship proof before running for President--but the only reason you want this is because this particular President makes you suspicious. Or perhaps you are mad because, by being born in Hawaii only 4 years after it became a state, he isn't a REAL American in the same way that Whitey McWhittington born in wherever you live would be. You really, really want this story to be true because you really, really don't want him to be President. Period. Under any circumstances. If it wasn't the birther b.s., I'm sure someone on the right would have invented an imaginary "impeachable offense" by now to get him out. Do none of you have enough historical memory to remember how the Right pushed "Whitewater" for 7 years of the Clinton presidency, not because it amounted to anything, but rather because it was simply a convenient way to constantly hamstring a democratic administration with ridiculous claims? This is old-style politics 101. The amazing thing is you keep falling for it.

@ELLIE MAY: You "know" the President pays a lot of money to keep these documents secret. And just how do you "know" that? Read it on the Internet somewhere? Glen "the entire world is a conspiracy" Beck spell it out for you on his little kindergarten board? You know, I'm pretty sure I heard Sarah Palin once baked and ate a small child. Until she can provide documentation otherwise, I will consider her a child cannibal!!! And please buy my book to find out more!

And bless your heart mstrueamerican (you do know, by the way, that the idea of "ms" was invented by left-wing feminists in the 70s? Just checking), the first lady referring to Kenya as the President's homeland (the place of his father's birth) is no different than a Clinton, Reagen, or Kennedy referring to Ireland as their "homeland." Oh wait, it is different because regular white people come from Ireland and Kenya is full of black people.

There is now an entire industry selling books and ad time on Fox based on keeping you fearful and distracted from anything that actually matters. If you're looking for a crime to investigate, why don't you ask yourself where the middle-class went over the past 10 years? Or why we tried to fight two wars and cut taxes at the same time? Or how the banking system in this country destroyed millions of pension plans and no one was held accountable. Nope, nothing is more important than clinging to the stupid idea that a cabal of nefarious Lefties are hoodwinking the nation, led by that guy with the funny sounding name.

MSTRUEAMERICAN: I use ms because I am single and want to denote that I am a FEMALE conservative. No Obama was born in Kenya and Michelle is stating correctly. Eugene you need to get the HELL out of here because you are NO Tea Party Patriot. You are a TROLL. He is pulling a hoax and apparently you like believing that a lie is the truth. We do NOT. We KNOW this is a lie. We know he is spending MILLIONS to keep his real records sealed. I was contacted yesterday by a female assistant to Congressman Larry Kissel and I asked her about the REAL birth documents. She did NOT know that they were fakes and how much Obama was spending to keep them sealed. But she assured me she would tell the congressman about it. He is NOT naturalized. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger knows he cant run for the Oval Office and people have asked him to because he is a NATURALIZED and NOT NATIVE born. Get out of here your DAMN COMMUNIST TROLL!!

EUGENE DEBS: Yes, "MS" was introduced by feminists in the '70s as a way of denoting a feminine status other than married/not-married. Glad to see you've embraced it.

Does typing words in all capitals all the time help you believe more firmly in your positions? And you mean to tell me someone associated with Congressman Kissel doesn't know about all the fake documents? How could that happen when Obama's so obviously not an American...and she assured you she would tell the congressman about it...Yes, I'm sure she did that, right after she went to the water cooler rolling her eyes and thinking why does her party have to keep pandering to nut-jobs. Even Huckabee in the statement above has said he does not question the President's legitimacy. Why are you posting to a website for a potential candidate who is so obviously in on the conspiracy as well?

And yes, you have discovered my secret. My political beliefs are roughly the equivalent of Bob Dole's (which now makes me a commie), and I am in fact only 3.5 feet tall. Don't worry, I'm sure any record of my having visited this site will soon be expunged and you can go back to a delusional world where everyone agrees with you all the time. This encounter with reality will just seem like a bad dream.

MSTRUEAMERICAN: It denotes that I am PISSED OFF at commies like you. NO our world is NOT delusional. YOURS IS!! You did NOT read correctly. He is NOT in on the conspiracy at ALL or Chris Matthews wouldn't have been foaming at the bit over Huck's comments and Chris was when I had the unfortunate mishap of surfing by that COMMUNIST channel. Maybe she doesn't have the time or the ability to keep up with what is going on outside of the Beltway like we TRUE AMERICANS do. You Commies are the true NUT jobs. We see that from postings of the signs your ilk carried in Wisconsin.

MILLICENT of MIDLOATHIAN: Eugene Debs: This website is dedicated to the support of Gov. Huckabee. Why are you writing here? If you just want to argue, your issues are of little value. America has more serious problems than discussing the same old 60's hippies issues.

ACE: Eugene, it is everyone's right to believe what they want to believe. I am an optimist, however the big question remains, why doesn't Obama put it all to rest, by applying for a legitimate, certified copy of his birth certificate, rather than a certificate of live birth, posted on the internet, with numbers blacked out, which is a different document entirely. Once upon a time, when I was younger, I thought I had found my birth certificate in a box of documents that had belonged to my deceased mother, but when I attempted to get my passport with it, I was promptly informed that what I had presented was a certificate of live birth, not a birth certificate. I had to apply for a certified copy of my birth certificate, before I could get my passport. There is not enough room or time to respond to each rhetorical statement in your post, but just to give you an idea of how little you were paying attention to my post, that Obama had taken time off from his campaign to visit Hawaii, and he was not president at that time. Obviously, he was only a candidate. Your statement of - ("you mean the President of the United States actually had to do something with other government people before visiting his "typical white" grandmother in the hospital? That's a smoking gun for sure!") .. means you didn't notice that I was talking about Obama the candidate, not the President, which he was not at that time. You seem to assert that the "typical white grandmother" were my words. That was a statement made by Obama, not by me. ("My grandmother was a "typical white person"- Barack Obama). Obama himself, is the one who makes it difficult to believe he is a natural born citizen of the U.S.A. Why would his wife, Michelle Obama, make a statement, during her speech at a fundraiser to battle aids, like this- " When Barack and I visited Barack's home country of Kenya".... You can view the video on you tube. Michelle's words, not mine.

EUGENE DEBS: Excuse me, my fault: Why would the "future" President of the United States in the midst of a heated political campaign have business to conduct before visiting his grandmother?

Why are conservatives always so sensitive to the fact that the President at one point described his grandmother in rather benign terms as a "typical white person?" Could it be that it offers justification and cover for having said or thought the words "typical black person" in our own lives, something which I am rather ashamed to admit I've done in my own life a few times. Why do those three words even matter in this issue?

So the certificate on the Internet with all the mysterious blacked-out numbers:

1. You've already established that we're suffering from the most audacious fraud in the history of mankind....why would a collective of such brilliant, scheming people put up such an "obvious" forgery on the Internet? Wouldn't you think that such a supreme cult of stolen power would have the resources to pull off such a charade more persuasively? Maybe they'd at least check first to make sure there were no mysterious blacked-out numbers on it? This is precisely why the administration won't play your stupid game --anything they would offer as proof would instantly have some new equally stupid and equally distracting "enigma" to it. I'm sure many of you still think Hilary had Vince Foster killed. You do remember that one, don't you? Just want to make sure you are paying attention to your own proud history of conservative goose-chasing.

2. Please tell me we're not talking about one of the documents that Birther Supreme Orly Tainted had so crudely forged and tried to pass off as real a few months back, correct? The ones that were instantly identified as fabricated and proved an embarrassment to every Republican forced to discuss them?

As for the first lady saying we visited Barack's "home country of Kenya," yep, I guess you got her--It must be a tremendous burden for her knowing what she knows, I guess the pressure was too much for her and she slipped -- into using a common figure of speech. By this logic, every doofus on St. Patty's day wearing a "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" shirt needs to rounded up and deported.

@MILLICENT: I'm not sure exactly what hippie issue I brought up. Perhaps you're referring to providing historical context to the introduction of "Ms." in the 1970s. I do this as a public service for mstrueamerican who clearly has such hatred for all things progressive -- you don't want her embarrassing herself in front of her conservative friends by identifying with Gloria Steinham, do you?

As for "winning" this debate, on the contrary, I sincerely hope you bring it up at every possible opportunity. I hope you shout it as loudly as you can every moment of every day. Look at the top of this post--even Mike Huckabee has DISAVOWED you. HE AGREES WITH ME. Why are you on this site making trouble for me and my pal Mike who are in complete accord on this issue? Who's the delusional one in this scenario? Look again...let it soak in...absolutely no one with any real responsibility or ambition in your party wants to be associated with you.

Seriously, some of you seem more than capable of coherent thought and prose. Are you proud of what you're doing to people like mstrueamerican, who is clearly teetering on the precipice of a full-on psychotic episode? She seems to think that everyone in the world she disagrees with will simply vanish if SHE JUST TYPES LOUDLY ENOUGH AND USES THE WORD DAMN COMMIE TROLL ENOUGH TIMES.

And will you ever, ever wake up to the fact that all your politicians and media heroes consider you nothing more than a target market to exploit through fear and paranoia? By my count, here are all the people "out to get you:" gays, liberals, atheists, elitists, unions, teachers, intellectuals, communists, jihadists, muslims, yankees, socialists, death panels, birth forgers, hippies (hippies! priceless), "they're coming to take my guns! my bullets!," Mexicans, the "New Black Panthers,"....did I miss anyone? You live in an exquisite world of ceaseless paranoia. And Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, plus all the potential Presidential candidates working on Fox television to sell books...they are laughing all the way to the bank.

Country mice! Come to the city sometime and see how the rest of the world lives.


 MSTRUEAMERICAN: Excuse me but I was BORN AND RAISED in the city. My parents were raised in small town America. I am a NATIVE of the city you commies are coming to have your hoedown at next year.

EUGENE DEBS: commies! commies! commies everywhere! They're not "talking" to you, are they? I mean, you don't hear the "voices" of communists even when they're not in the room, right?.

At this point ACE complains to MSTRUEAMERICAN directly that he can’t figure out why EUGENE DEBS keeps appearing in their feed.

EUGENE DEBS: I know, like, it's so annoying to have someone around who doesn't agree with you! Especially when its so easy to call out your feeble arguments. MIKE HUCKABEE DOES NOT AGREE WITH YOU. TASTE IT. SMELL IT. BELIEVE IT.

 MILLICENT of MIDLOTHIAN: Presidential birth place: A homeland is usually considered a country of origin, this is true. My main concern is the fact that his formative years were spent in Indonesia. We have no information on these years. Obama was under the influence of his Mother who enjoyed a philosophy against the U.S. as many hippies did at that time. It does bother me that our President had such an unAmerican childhood and still idolizes his father whom he had no contact after two years of age. His policies are leading us to a government that was designed by radicals in the 60's, and we are paying a heavy price.

EUGENE DEBS: Where were YOU during those years, MILLICENT, and how can I know you are telling the truth? You know, I used to live in Dallas, and we always considered Midlothian to be a rather suspicious sounding name-- isn't that communist Ukranian or something?

Also, I would like to know exactly how your mother raised you and the influence it has had on your life. Clearly, a mother's beliefs determine forever the political agenda of the adult children, so it is absolutely crucial that we gather this information about every American.

Seriously, I'm going to lunch now. I sincerely hope over the next hour or so that one of you figures out how to exclude me from this site. It's just too much fun and too easy calling out the odd contradictions and faulty logic of your arguments. Admittedly, it is rather like the sadistic pleasure small boys take in pulling the wings off bugs, but it is very amusing and thus highly distracting. In case you do figure out how to kick me out (which seems a 50/50 chance at best), let me leave you with two thoughts:

1. Read "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" by Hofstader. Go on, I dare you.
2. Remember, Mike Huckabee agrees with ME, not YOU. And if he does "secretly" agree with YOU, he is thus lying to everyone else…and no one likes a liar, right? (honestly, why I'm doing Huckabee the favor of calling you people out is beyond me, but he does sometimes seem to be a decent enough guy. So, you're welcome, Mr. Huckabee!)

 An apparent ally joins me in the fight. Note the name.

 MASTERGEORGEPULLMAN: This Debs fella is obviously just a troublemaker, but it does seem like he's got a point about Huckabee. I mean, Mike's gotta know the truth. The question is why he's keeping it quiet? I figure he's waiting until he becomes president because he's afraid to tell the truth right now. But if he doesn't tell the truth now, maybe he'll never become president. I heard the other day from a very reliable source that there are some plans in DC to use all this violent activity in Egypt and Wisconsin to set up some kind of martial law arrangement and keep Obama in office indefinitely. And you know, there's just one word separating marshall law from scharia law. Keep that in mind Mike! Remember where your loyalties are. Speak the truth, and we'll be behind you! WHO'S WITH ME???

EUGENE DEBS: I'm certainly with you Master Pullman. I think every true American, if they really believe the President is "not one of us," should ask this question at every single appearance Mr. Huckabee makes on his book tour. And speak up loudly and clearly so that the cameras can record you -- we don't want the liberal media keeping your voice from being heard. And if Mr. Huckabee continues to lie to you about what he knows about this crucial issue, I implore you all to throw your support, heart and soul, behind a candidate who will give voice to your beliefs -- perhaps Michelle Bachmann, she seems very well informed on this issue. Just so that everyone can feel good about this, I'll even contribute $100 to any Republican candidate who will endorse the President is a Stealth Muslim Raised by Terrorists campaign theme. Convinced by your ironclad logic, I will stand with you in this noble fight.

 The site administrator (CLARA) intervenes and asks us to change the topic to something more productive.

 EUGENE DEBS: See everyone, even the administrator of this site does not want you wasting your time on this nonsense. Come into the light! Don't make us have to send a time machine back from the future to rescue all of you!

Clara, please please please remove me from this site....I simply can't handle the sad spectacle of willful delusion. And Clara, given that you are obviously intelligent enough to be the administrator of this site, how can you be complicit with all of this? You must know that the right exploits these people for votes and money and thinks they are all crazy. Come over to where the smart people are, I promise we will give you a fair listen - we might even agree with many of your ideas. You don't have to let scared, uneducated racists drag you down, Clara.

Ok, I'm done. Cheers!

Sadly, I wasn’t quite done at this point. In another attempt to change the subject from birtherism, Clara asked the group if any of us were keeping up with the events in Egypt, Libya, and Wisconsin. I wrote back with snottily precise summaries of the current situation in all three locations as further evidence that Clara should defect to the side of knowledge and rational debate. Shortly thereafter, I received the following message:

You have been suspended from Team Huck
Sorry, Eugene Debs, you can not access Team Huck as you have been suspended. If you think you've been suspended in error, you can contact the administrator.

I took advantage of the “contact the administrator” link to thank Clara for her patience, and to assure her there would always be a place for her among the non-psychotic should she reconsider where the Huckster was taking her. I’m not holding my breath.

Elitist: Condescending: Cruel: Mean: James O'Keefy-- Guilty as charged. But what can you do? Early on it was very exciting to taunt people so thoroughly immune to logic and completely oblivious to their own racism, but eventually the old Marxist super-ego crept in and I just felt sorry for these people. By the end of the day I realized I had become like the early psychiatrists described by Foucault in The History of Madness.  Confronted with a delusional patient convinced he was made of glass, these rationalists would attempt a cure by hitting the subject in the knee with a hammer.   “See, I just hit you in the knee with a hammer and you didn’t shatter, thus you are not made of glass.”  Of course the patient would simply find a new way to explain how he was both made of glass and immune to hammer blows. The cure rate was about 0%--roughly equivalent to the odds today that one person might change another's political viewpoint on any given issue. 

The Poisoned Ivy (1968)

William Surface
Coward McCann

Alarmist account of just how deeply pot and LSD have infiltrated America's "outstanding" universities, circa 1967.  Extremely "Dragnet" in tone as author Surface worries the nation's best and brightest will be lost to pot stupefaction and acid psychosis.   If you're looking for stories of boomer college kids getting busted, going insane, dropping out, etc, this is your book.  Those who attended an Ivy may also be interested in the slight differences between the schools in terms of their drug use.  Yale goes first, and then a chapter on Harvard--each section describing the various dorms and hangouts where pot use is most likely to be seen.  Cornell and Princeton each get chapters, but Dartmouth, Penn, and Columbia are lumped into one big chapter (mostly about Columbia's proximity to "Negro" hypes in Harlem).  Other diverting details: cops bust an art history professor at Yale hosting three male students all clad in leather; Princeton students prefer to smoke dope in a pipe rather than rolling reefers; chilling account of a Harvard senior, 3 months before graduation, who drops acid and decides college is wholly irrelevant--he drops out; extended discussion of "psychedelic sex," including the observation that sex on drugs just "seems" better because one can stare at another's genitals for an hour or more without making any further progress.

The Crack of Doom (1895)

Robert Cromie
Digby, Long and Company

While crossing the Atlantic, the narrator falls in with a strange young man and his beautiful sister.  Invited to join the crackpot's secret society, he is hesitant at first, but decides finally that membership would put him in closer proximity to the young lady.  He is further intrigued when the young woman and her lady friend insist on wearing pants as an expression of their rational, modern thinking.  Though he is embarrassed to be seen with them, even this is not a deal-killer and soon he agrees to join the brother's secret club.

No sooner is he inducted than he learns any revelation of the society's purpose will be punishable by death--a prohibition enforced by the oddball brother's ability to read minds from afar. At first our narrator believes he has stumbled into one of London's reputed "murder clubs" (a la Dickens), but the reality is far worse.  The crackpot brother has found a way to "etherize" matter--late 19th Century lingo for an atomic explosion.  His goal: to vaporize the earth and return it to the ether from which it came.  Why?  Below is the brother's manifesto, a truly great screed of unadulterated nihilism.  Short version--the world must be destroyed because the universe is little more than a ceaseless cycle of meaningless misery.  Read if you dare: 

 "The optimist notion...that Nature is an all-wise designer, in whose work order, system, wisdom, and beauty are prominent, does not fare well when placed under the microscope of scientific research.


"There is no order in Nature. Her armies are but seething mobs of rioters, destroying everything they can lay hands on.


"She has no system, unless it be a reductio ad absurdum, which only blunders on the right way after fruitlessly trying every other conceivable path. She is not wise. She never fills a pail but she spills a hogshead. All her works are not beautiful. She never makes a masterpiece but she smashes a million 'wasters' without a care. The theory of evolution—her gospel—reeks with ruffianism, nature-patented and promoted. The whole scheme of the universe, all material existence as it is popularly known, is founded upon and begotten of a system of everlasting suffering as hideous as the fantastic nightmares of religious maniacs. The Spanish Inquisitors have been regarded as the most unnatural monsters who ever disgraced the history of mankind. Yet the atrocities of the Inquisitors, like the battlefields of Napoleon and other heroes, were not only natural, but they have their prototypes in every cubic inch of stagnant water, or ounce of diseased tissue. And stagnant water is as natural as sterilised water; and diseased tissue is as natural as healthy tissue. Wholesale murder is Nature's first law. She creates only to kill, and applies the rule as remorselessly to the units in a star-drift as to the tadpoles in a horse-pond.

"It seems a far cry from a star-drift to a horse-pond. It is so in distance and magnitude. It is not in the matter of constituents. In ultimate composition they are identical. The great nebula in Andromeda is an aggregation of atoms, and so is the river Thames. The only difference between them is the difference in the arrangement and incidence of these atoms and in the molecular motion of which they are the first but not the final cause. In a pint of Thames water, we know that there is bound up a latent force beside which steam and electricity are powerless in comparison. To release that force it is only necessary to apply the sympathetic key; just as the heated point of a needle will explode a mine of gunpowder and lay a city in ashes. That force is asleep. The atoms which could give it reality are at rest, or, at least, in a condition of quasi-rest. But in the stupendous mass of incandescent gas which constitutes the nebula of Andromeda, every atom is madly seeking rest and finding none; whirling in raging haste, battling with every other atom in its field of motion, impinging upon others and influencing them, being impinged upon and influenced by them. That awful cauldron exemplifies admirably the method of progress stimulated by suffering. It is the embryo of a new Sun and his planets. After many million years of molecular agony, when his season of fission had come, he will rend huge fragments from his mass and hurl them helpless into space, there to grow into his satellites. In their turn they may reproduce themselves in like manner before their true planetary life begins, in which they shall revolve around their parent as solid spheres. Follow them further and learn how beneficent Nature deals with them.

"After the lapse of time-periods which man may calculate in figures, but of which his finite mind cannot form even a true symbolic conception, the outer skin of the planet cools—rests. Internal troubles prevail for longer periods still; and these, in their unsupportable agony, bend and burst the solid strata overlying; vomit fire through their self-made blow-holes, rear mountains from the depths of the sea, then dash them in pieces.

"Time strides on austere.

"The globe still cools. Life appears upon it. Then begins anew the old strife, but under conditions far more dreadful, for though it be founded on atomic consciousness, the central consciousness of the heterogeneous aggregation of atoms becomes immeasurably more sentient and susceptible with every step it takes from homogenesis. This internecine war must continue while any creature great or small shall remain alive upon the world that bore it.

"By slow degrees the mighty milestones in the protoplasmic march are passed. Plants and animals are now busy, murdering and devouring each other—the strong everywhere destroying the weak. New types appear. Old types disappear. Types possessing the greatest capacity for murder progress most rapidly, and those with the least recede and determine. The neolithic man succeeds the palæolithic man, and sharpens the stone axe. Then to increase their power for destruction, men find it better to hunt in packs. Communities appear. Soon each community discovers that its own advantage is furthered by confining its killing, in the main, to the members of neighbouring communities. Nations early make the same discovery. And at last, as with ourselves, there is established a race with conscience enough to know that it is vile, and intelligence enough to know that it is insignificant. But what profits this? In the fulness of its time the race shall die. Man will go down into the pit, and all his thoughts will perish. The uneasy consciousness which, in this obscure corner, has for a brief space broken the silence of the Universe, will be at rest. Matter will know itself no longer. Life and death and love, stronger than death, will be as though they never had been. Nor will anything that is be[90] better or be worse for all that the labour, genius, devotion, and suffering of man have striven through countless generations to effect.

"The roaring loom of Time weaves on. The globe cools out. Life mercifully ceases from upon its surface. The atmosphere and water disappear. It rests. It is dead.

"But for its vicarious service in influencing more youthful planets within its reach, that dead world might as well be loosed at once from its gravitation cable and be turned adrift into space. Its time has not yet come. It will not come until the great central sun of the system to which it belongs has passed laboriously through all his stages of stellar life and died out also. Then when that dead sun, according to the impact theory, blunders across the path of another sun, dead and blind like himself, its time will come. The result of that impact will be a new star nebula, with all its weary history before it; a history of suffering, in which a million years will not be long enough to write a single page.

"Here we have a scientific parallel to the hell of superstition which may account for the instinctive origin of the smoking flax and the fire which shall never be quenched. We know that the atoms of which the human body is built up are atoms of matter. It follows that every atom in every living body will be present in some form at that final impact in which the solar system will be ended in a blazing whirlwind which will melt the earth with its fervent heat. There is not a molecule or cell in any creature alive this day which will not in its ultimate constituents endure the long agony, lasting countless æons of centuries, wherein the solid mass of this great globe will be represented by a rush of incandescent gas, stupendous in itself, but trivial in comparison with the hurricane of flame in which it will be swallowed up and lost.

"And when from that hell a new star emerges, and new planets in their season are born of him, and he and they repeat, as they must repeat, the ceaseless, changeless, remorseless story of the universe, every atom in this earth will take its place, and fill again functions identical with those which it, or its fellow, fills now. Life will reappear, develop, determine, to be renewed again as before. And so on for ever.
"Nature has known no rest. From the beginning—which never was—she has been building up only to tear down again. She has been fabricating pretty toys and trinkets, that cost her many a thousand years to forge, only to break them in pieces for her sport. With infinite painstaking she has manufactured man only to torture him with mean miseries in the embryonic stages of his race, and in his higher development to madden him with intellectual puzzles. Thus it will be unto the end—which never shall be. For there is neither beginning nor end to her unvarying cycles. Whether the secular optimist be successful or unsuccessful in realising his paltry span of terrestrial paradise, whether the pæans he sings about it are prophetic dithyrambs or misleading myths, no Christian man need fear for his own immortality. That is well assured. In some form he will surely be raised from the dead. In some shape he will live again. But, Cui bono?"

Charlie's Downward Spiral

Several months ago, the capricious God of corporate mascots threw Charlie Cheetos out of branding heaven.  Landing on earth, Charlie has since wandered the landscape as an ambassador of petty dickery, inspiring otherwise regular people to grossly overreact to perceived slights and minor annoyances. 

A young woman is at a busy laundromat, apparently having allowed her clothes to languish after the dryer cycle has completed.  Another patron expresses irritation, "Other people need to do their laundry too, you know."  Miffed, our heroine ponders the horrors of degradation that have led her to such a sorry fate, fighting with the massholes for space at the Duds and Suds.  And then, in the corner, Charlie Cheetos materializes as a CGI angel of bad conscience. "Those are her whites, you know," he says cryptically.  A glimmer of recognition follows and a revenge plot is put into action, one that the psychologically well-adjusted would probably not allow to go beyond a fleeting moment of perverse fantasy.  Pushed "over the edge" by the intense high proffered by her profligate ingestion of orange-dyed "cheese-like" dust, our striped laundress places a handful of Cheetos in the woman's tumbling sheets and pillowcases.  The physics of heat and rotation insure a chemical hazard that will produce hundreds of dollars in damages, or at the very least more time at the dreaded laundromat.  The deed done, she looks back to her accomplice--but Charlie Cheetos is gone.  Was he ever there in the first place?  Perhaps she has taken her first step toward the thrill of self-empowerment that comes through snack-related vandalism.  Perhaps she has had her first hallucination.  It is difficult to say.

In other adventures, Charlie "appears" on an airplane encouraging an irritated passenger to stuff Cheetos into the nostrils of a man who, through no real fault of his own, has demonstrated the temerity to snore on a long flight.  Elsewhere, Charlie incites a young office droid to ruin the workspace of his fastidious and we must assume "uptight" co-worker by grinding Cheetos into his laptop, ear-buds, and business cards. When Jim from The Office does stuff like this, it's hilarious: here it just seems to be the work of a smug sociopath.   

No doubt about it--Charlie Cheetos is a dick, and you can be a bit more dickish by sampling his wares.  In fact, if you follow Charlie down this path, Frito-Lay will gladly embrace you as a  member of the "Orange Underground"--an exceedingly hip and exclusive movement that only those with 99 cents and enough arterial dilation to make it to the corner market are allowed to join. 

I suppose these ads excite Cheetos consumption in one of two ways: 1). It is a well-known fact in food merchandising that young men in particular enjoy consuming things that they fantasize might kill, injure, or at least offend those around them.  Del Taco's Macho Burrito.  The Big Carl.  Slim Jims. Variously  "exploding" candies and gums. Here Cheetos provides a somewhat more subtle variation on the obnoxious foodstuff theme, taking a couple of moments to create a villain who at least "deserves" some form of retribution, even if it the transgression is as seemingly slight as snoring, keeping the office clean, or observing that you have left your panties abandoned in the dryer long past the final cycle.  And really, in a world where the indignities of a failing empire make all of us increasingly petty and aggrieved, these assholes are lucky they didn't get shot or stabbed.  2). Related to proposition one, Charlie Cheetos' corporate puppet-masters are encouraging us to think of Cheetos as a refreshing "break" from the daily grind.  If Pepsi was the "pause that refreshes," Cheetos is apparently vying to become the "pause that avenges;" in fact, to marry these two aspects of the campaign, I hereby offer Cheetos the following bitchin' tag line: "Cheetos: Reap the Pawz of Vengeance."  As for typography, I'm imagining slashing, blood-red razor claw cuts outlined in the product's signature radioactive orange, somewhat akin to the chaotic lacerations of a crankhead attempting to rub crystal meth directly into his wounds.

Lately, however, Charlie the fallen feline angel of cheese-dust and batter blobs has seemingly been demoted.  In the first round of ads, he apparently retained the supernatural powers of Lucifer--magically appearing whenever he sensed a bag of Cheetos opened in anger.  Unimpeded by an angel of tofu or whole-grain Triscuits or some other more healthy snack entity, Charlie was free to goad his consumer target into transforming a passing moment of irritation into weeks of jail time.  But now Charlie himself appears to have been demoted into the mundane world of alienated daily labor.  In one spot, he and a bored co-worker at a bedding store temporarily exclude a third employee from their mattress fort.  Oddly, as in the laundry spot, there is a distinct contamination vibe as it appears inevitable that the two men and the powdered cheese-cougar will soil the mattresses with their slovenly snacking. Psychological research no doubt suggests this makes the Cheetos' consumer feel vaguely "naughty," as if he has regressed to earlier childhood transgressions but will now emerge victorious by eating what he wants when and where he pleases.

In a second spot, Charlie has apparently ridden the rails to another town and picked up work at a piano store.  Here he passes the interminable hours of boredom playing "Chopsticks" with another co-worker.  A third employee, driven to the point of madness by  the incessant repetition of this evil finger exercise, asks if they know how to play anything else.  It seems a reasonable request.  But Charlie and his partner live in the "Orange Underground" and thus play by a different set of rules.  They resume playing "Chopsticks" an octave higher than before, making it even more shrill and irritating.  What is particularly disturbing here is that the worker tormented by their playing is already eating a bag of Cheetos; he has in fact already acceded to the marketing demands of the Orange Underground, leaving us to ponder just what form of tribute Frito-Lay would actually find acceptable.  Perhaps he needs to dump the entire contents of a Cheetos' Flamin' Hot "Super-Grab" into their most expensive Steinway...only then will the Gods of dickery be appeased.

Charlie's recent demotion from magic trickster to itinerant strip-mall salesman is even more puzzling given that only a few months ago he was apparently the Head of R&D at some high-tech snack testing facility, working to find new and more diabolical ways to make Cheetos even "hotter," "crunchier," and more "obnoxious" than before.  What happened?  Did Charlie create a Cheeto so thoroughly devastating that it actually killed someone with its intense awesomeness? Did someone finally choke to death on one of those "Giant" Cheetos (aka: product that passed through the regular Cheetos cutting assembly unscathed)?   Or, like so many others, was Charlie simply laid off, searching now for whatever work he can find despite having advanced degrees in both chemical flavor engineering and outrageously cool attitude? 

The ad firm behind these various campaigns boasts they were charged with "re-branding" Cheetos--a perennial favorite of young children who also enjoy sticking carrots up their noses--for an "adult" market.  So remember the lesson well: Adult = being easily conned by artificial coloring, salt, and a hallucinatory cat into believing that Cheetos hold the key to regaining a rebellious "underground" attitude, one that embraces the discourteous, self-centered childish asshole within that you spent so many years attempting to outgrow in your quest for adulthood.  One Cheeto and you are right back on the playground, giving that kid you never liked a shove off the swing set.