Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Of course it's always the season these days around the world, and especially in Gaza and the West Bank of occupied Palestine. Two-thousand idealists sit helpless at the gates as  they and their humanitarian aid are blocked by the US, Israel, and Egypt while 1.5 million Gazans starve and freeze inside their open-air, sewage-bathed prison, and US military engineers help Egypt sink a steel wall under ground so even the few supplies that make it through the tunnels will not be able to get in.  Some might call it genocide. As a Jew, I am mighty ashamed. As a human too.That's right. 'Tis the season. Check the bible.  Matthew 2: 16-18.

I wrote some about the pathology of thinking one belongs to a, no, THE Chosen People in my novel, Golem Song, and about the consequences of golemization -- building a world of self-destructive self-protection. It's my Israel/Palestine novel without being about Israel or Palestine, which, per se, enter only once, in a dinner-table conversation between Alan Krieger (who lives on hot dogs and Wing-Dings) and one of his girlfriends, a German psychiatrist of more sophisticated tastes.

The scene is too long for an FP post, but you can download it from my public folder at . It's funny -- comic funny, but also peculiar.

I was actually taken to this restaurant as a high-school student by my more sophisticated girlfriend. She ordered snails for me, and I thought I had never eaten anything more delicious. Actually, it was just that I had never eaten garlic before. I've been a garlic-head since.

Golem Song exists as a recorded book which can be downloaded from I'll put the restaurant chapter (with me reading) in my public folder (above), in case you want to listen, hands-free, in your car. Warning: although amusing enough to have attracted two interesting women (he'll lose them both), Alan is also a racist, male-chauvinist pig.

Friday, December 25, 2009


The recent theft of the iconic sign over the entrance to Auschwitz is so rich in ironies that -- well, you just can't make these things up.

The Polish thieves were caught, and the sign found -- cut in three pieces, separating  work from freedom so the heist would fit in the car. Apparently not neo-Nazis, they stole to sell, such work, no doubt, promising them Freiheit in the form of cash. We don't know much about them, except that they all had previous arrests for theft. Given that record, it is unlikely they were patriots taking belated revenge on their occupiers. More likely workers trying to make work work. But they drove a sports car. Hmmm.

The Nazi use of the sign was complex. As with the overall psy-ops used to control panic, Auschwitz greeted the prisoners -- and the world -- as a work camp. That the work was extermination was kept secret as long as possible, right up to the end with the German attempt to destroy incriminating evidence.

But clearly those in the know, those giving the orders to build the sign, must have gotten a sadistic, sardonic chuckle about the offer for freedom, the freedom of smoke, possibly in the next world.

Painfully related -- if to a lesser degree -- is the hypocrisy of political and cultural cant about work here in depression America. "Get a job!" drive-bys occasionally yell at us at our nightly anti-war vigil. As if there were jobs to be had. "Welfare queens" cheating good, hard-working Americans of their hard-earned wages.  "Illegals" taki
ng jobs. If not for the poor, work would make us free. The myth.

One of the ironies, both here, and in Poland is that work (no longer available) might actually make some of us free to do something other than join the military out of desperation. It might, that is, if government bailout funds were used to create jobs, not to pay CEOs huge salaries. Or if banks actually used the money they've stolen from taxpayers to make loans to small employers. Or if larger employers didn't lower wages and benefits, or ship jobs overseas to maximize profit. Work separated from freedom -- our unstated M.O.

But given the goals our profits-above-all system pursues, administration in and administration out, work is not likely to make us free, and the sign above America has much the same truth-value as the sign stolen from Oświęcim.

When I visited the camp back in '73, I did notice a peculiarity in the famous sign. The "B" is upside down. Perhaps not.  German design at the time was quite visionary. Nevertheless, were the B to be flipped, its horizonal would match the "E" that follows it, and place the bulk more stably below. But I think it's in there wrong way up.

I wrote a poem about it at the time:


And so it does.
Even the mad, ironic gate to Auschwitz
proclaims the possibility of freedom.

Some Jewish slave, no doubt
at work constructing self-destruction,
but defiant, free until the last,
has turned the B in Arbeit
bottom-up --
a statement well past the ken of smoke-filled eyes
and uncorrected since.

Look deeply at this gate.
When all has come undone
what does it show?

The last will always, finally, be first,
the low, at last, inevitably, be high.

The worst may be the prelude to the best.
The earth is ever nuzzled by the sky.

And so we continue with our little gestures of defiance until the Great Power trips and falls.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Oslo? Copenhagen? Health Care? Patriot Act? Afghanistan? Bank Bailout? Here's a, well, at least a partial solution. OK, very partial. Minute. Infinitesimal. Personal.

Recipe for Buyer's Remorse Bumper Sticker Removal:

1 plastic squeeze bottle, 3" tall -- 69¢
Stock bottle of commercial (like Goo-gone) or home-made sticker/goo removers. For the latter, see
1 Envelope of 12 cotton balls, one for each of the days of $mas.
1 label, illustrated above, or of your own creation. I allow free use of name and concept.

Test whatever remover you have chosen on a small part of your own bumper. (Recommended by Responsible Radicals Assn.)
Fill small bottles from stock, and attach label with rubber cement.

For a printable file of the right-size version, contact me at, or download it from my public folder at

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Today (12/16) is the first of them, tomorrow the next. As Amadeus in Insect Dreams says, "Extraordinary people do extraordinary things." That's the good news.

The bad news is that the master decided to replace the heartbreakingly gorgeous last movement of his ninth symphony with some bombastic choral agit-prop. Granted -- this being late Beethoven -- there are extraordinary events in there, but like Chaplin's speech at the end of The Great Dictator, or the psychiatrist's lecture at the end of Psycho, one must ask, "Was this the right decision?"

"Beethoven's Ninth?  Oh yeah -- Da da da da Da da da da..." And you starts to sing the Ode to Joy, with whatever words you learned around campfires or in church.  Back in 1893, George Bernard Shaw ridiculed a listener who knew only the Ninth's last movement, and came to hear it only for that.  He writes about him sitting there "bothered and exhausted, wondering how soon the choir will begin to sing those verses which are the only part of the program of which he can make head or tail, and hardly able to believe that the conductor  can be serious in keeping the band noodling on for forty-five mortal minutes before the singers get to business."

This is a problem.  For the Ninth is a work which aspires to tell the largest of all stories, one with a beginning and a middle, and hopefully an end -- an end which is the most questionable section, especially out of context.  It was questionable to Beethoven, who, even after it was conceived, was writing default sketches for an instrumental movement of entirely different character, and who, some years after it was finished, remarked to friends that the choral finale was a mistake. And it has been questionable down through the years, to musicians of Beethoven's generation and beyond,

The fourth movement is, in my opinion, so monstrous and tasteless and, in its grasp of Schiller's Ode, so trivial that I cannot understand how a genius like Beethoven could have written it. (Ludwig Spohr)

and to the singers of today who struggle with its bizarre and outrageous demands. 

The work is a musical icon, always a special occasion to hear and to perform. Still, the question exists: Should the last movement of the Ninth BE the last movement of the Ninth -- or was Beethoven caught up in some extra-musical utopian thought which, combined with his total deafness, personal isolation and urgent need for community, has left us with a flawed and freakish masterpiece?  You will be able to decide for yourself this week.  To help you with this, in fact, momentous decision, let me sketch out the big story of all the movements, and the personal and historical background out of which they grew. 

By 1824, Beethoven had been deaf for two decades, and stone deaf for the last five or six years.  There is a moving story of his "conducting" the premiere of the symphony (the chorus and orchestra having been instructed to ignore him and follow the concertmaster), beating time and turning the pages of his score even after the work was over.  A soloist had to turn him around to face his cheering audience.  Beethoven was a passionate man, whose years of isolating deafness had kept him from personal intimacy.  His reaching out had become idiosyncratic, sometimes destructive, leaving him with "theoretical" relationships, with only the visionary goals of brotherhood and civilization. 

The Ninth has become a model of such Enlightenment culture in which all conflicts are dissolved in brotherhood, love, and reconciliation, goals so archetypal that Adrian Leverkuhn, Thomas Mann's dying, devil-afflicted composer, announced that these goals, precisely, were not to be.  "The good and noble, what we call human...What human beings have fought for and stormed citadels, what the ecstatics exultantly announced -- that is not to be.  It will be taken back.  I will take it back."  Take back what? he is asked. "The Ninth Symphony."

Lacking a happy story of his own, Beethoven was forced into the wider world of cosmos and myth, beginning with Chaos, the formless void of primordial matter, and obeying heavenly laws, evolving into the octave of humanity.  To express that coming-round, his lifelong love of Schiller's "Ode to Joy" came into play, and his creation grew into a projection of the end of history, of universal life become elysian civilization.  "Where are we going, then?" asked the poet Novalis: "Always homeward."  The Ninth was Beethoven's map leading to the home he always wanted but never achieved.  His was not a simple, cheerful optimism, some flabby notion that things would come out all right in the end, but rather a tragic optimism, like Gramsci's "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will", an optimism of "volition inspired by imagination." (Schweitzer).  Maybe that's why it's so hard to sing.

Deaf, isolated, some would say mad, "late period" Beethoven explores a world completely removed from ordinary thought and experience. His technique over the years had evolved beyond the bounds of anything known, before or since, both utilizing and disrupting all elements of classical design.  He threw everything he had into the Ninth, "harmonic and rhythmic motion slowed to the edge of motionlessness, clouded harmonic progressions, passages in indeterminate keys, nebulous and nocturnal effects, multivalent tonal trajectories, enormously extended time spans, highly idiosyncratic fugue styles, and a supremely ornamented variation style that implies the infinite possibilities latent in even the simplest musical materials." (Solomon, Beethoven Essays).

All this, you will hear, beginning at the beginning...


...the very beginning, before there is a world.  We hear the tremelo of the universal frame, the vastness of cosmic Chaos, gestating.  E, A, open strings, open fifths, outlining, but not defining, a riddle of what's to come.  Beethoven here begins the utmost three movement exploration of the fundamental components of music: interval/harmony, rhythm, and melody.  In the beginning was the open fifth, uncommitted to major or minor emotion, beyond them, primeval, inhuman.  At the thirteenth measure, the dark theme emerges from darkness, a falling, dotted D minor, uncomfortable enough with itself to squirm out of key, then falling back, abandoned, committed.  This is a theme which brings up memories of Beethoven's earlier struggles with "Fate", but here evoking a fate beyond personification, beyond defiance, a truly universal destiny affecting the human world, but not part of it.  We are present at the creation, and we find it nothing benevolent, but rather crushing and dissipating, an inhuman beginning to the story that will end (at least tonight) with the brotherhood of Man.  The scale, the range, the proportions are gigantic, the potential cataclysmic.  In case we, in our current familiarity with the piece, are tempted to try to cuddle up against it, we are brutally dismissed by the grinding despair of the funeral march which marks the very end.  "Beware," it says, "this could go anywhere."


Rhythm here, a demonic dance of obsessive, rhythm-dominated thrust.  In case you doubt the plot, note that this movement is the only second movement scherzo in all the symphonies, thriving still on the trans-personal energy of the first, with its impersonal power.  The strings do fortissimo D octaves.  Silence.  Then A octaves.  Silence.  Then the tympani, in surprising solo, whacks out a F -- thus defining, yes, again, D minor.  The orchestra takes off in a molto vivace uprising of blind energy, four hundred measures of hang on to your hat.

And then something very strange happens.  Formally, a scherzo requires a contrasting trio before returning to its original intent.  That happens, yes.  But not very strange.  What IS strange is that the trio is a human one, the sound, perhaps, of a peasants at a dance, an invasion of universe, of scale, a hint of benevolence, a time-leap into Mahlerian sensibility and pastiche.  And if you listen carefully, you will hear in the trio theme the outline of what will become the Ode to Joy, a wonderful, gratuitous kindness after all the flinging.  But it is not time yet for humanity.  Rhythm (for all its beating of drums) cannot be its essential mode: the scherzo returns, chaotic and hostile as ever.  The trio gives one last little try in the winds, but is beaten down by the full orchestra crashing emphatically on an open D chord, neither major nor minor.  Case closed -- but open.


Melody, the human mode.  I am not the only kvetcher who thinks the symphony culminates, and should have ended with the Adagio/Andante, that it is the work's true finale.. Such would not have been alien to Beethoven's late sensibility: of the last three late piano sonatas, two (op. 109 and 111) end with astounding slow movements. Thomas Mann has his stuttering pianist, Wendell Kretschmar give a lecture/performance (in Dr. Faustus) concerning why Beethoven had not written a normal, fast, last movement to Op.111, but had ended with a slow one.

A new approach?  A return after this parting -- impossible!  It had happened that the sonata had come, in the second, enormous movement, to an end, an end without any return.  And when he said "the sonata," he meant not only this one in C minor, but the sonata in general, as a species, as traditional art form; it itself was here at an end, brought to its end, it had fulfilled its destiny, reached its goal, beyond which there was no going....

Schiller himself had written, "To arrive at a solution even in the political problem, the road of aesthetics must be pursued, because it is through beauty that we arrive at freedom."  Beauty.  The beauty of the third movement.  No one has ever contended the last choral movement was beautiful.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, Beethoven didn't agree.  "This is too tender," he remarked of the third movement.  His contemporary, the poet Auguste Platen, had written

He whose eyes have gazed upon beauty,
Is already delivered over to death.

and it seemed that Beethoven agreed.  He needed to escape the imagined trap of passivity, of a beauty too sublime for action.  The world, his world, needed changing, and neither Sirens nor lotus blossoms would suffice.  And so we leave this gorgeous, inward, mystical contemplation, this  rich, flowering serenity, these slow, deeply human, personal, miracles, timeless, beyond decay...


-- to be blasted away by the most gargantuan Fart in music, the chord which begins what Wagner called a Schreckenfanfare (terrifying!), blowing off not only the sublimity of the previous movement, but all that came before it.  The basses and celli start literally talking --but they have no words -- we don't understand what they say.  Then -- are we hearing right? -- the symphony starts over again from the beginning: tremelo, E-A, A-E, E-A, only to be cut off, dismissed by the basses.  Next, the scherzo gives it a try, again to be dissed, and finally, the slow movement, to be more gently tossed.  What is it the basses want?  After a pause, they tell us.

The Ode to Joy tune, for all the various sketches which preceded it, has about the attractiveness of a beer hall song.  But if one wonders, with Spohr, that a genius such as Beethoven could come up with something like it, one's cynicism is dissolved as the master begins spinning out an increasingly complex set of songful variations, growing his sound through strings and winds, and finally punctuating it with brass when, lo, the Schreckenfanfare returns, and a solo bass -- the first voice ever heard in a symphony -- translates for us what the basses were trying earlier to say: "O friends, not these sounds.  Let us rather strike up something more pleasant and joyful." 

What is he talking about -- "these sounds"?  A little ambiguous.  For it is not merely the first three movements that are being dismissed, but the very Ode to Joy theme, which has just received such gorgeous orchestral treatment.  It must be non-vocal symphonic music itself Beethoven means, thus calling for the end of yet another genre, as insufficient to attain his demands on the future. 

The first response of the human voice is "Freude!" -- joy -- , and the chorus basses begin to sing the words to the first Schiller verse.  All begins at a natural, human scale, but with each successive development, the music separates itself further and further from normal song, and begins engaging other, less definable levels of experience.  The text takes a surreal leap from the pleasures of the worm to the seraphic joy of angels, and we are translated into a new world, in a new, surprising key.  We are directed to be as heros, joyfully racing through the heavens to victory, and the orchestra breaks into an enormous fugue with the rhythmic drive of the discarded scherzo, ending in a four part choral version of the Joy theme, its definitive statement from the billion-voiced throat of humanity.  All together, now.  The prisoners are free, the slaves are slaves no more.

But now things get really strange.  We are exhorted to the world's largest group hug.  Why?  Because a loving father must be there up above the starry canopy.  Not IS there, mind you, but by deduction or intuition, MUST be.  On your knees!  Don't you sense the Creator?  Look up there.  He must be there -- above the stars.  The music goes anti-gravitational. 

So we look and listen.  And what do we hear?  The most bizarre double fugue in the history of music with lines quite unsingable, making little individual sense, but -- as if proving something about community -- evoking an undeniable, powerful, visionary gestalt.  The energy gathers itself, and the work literally sprints to the finish line, prestissimo, and is over.

Is that it?  Is that the legitimate successor to the unearthly, yet human heights of the slow movement?  Thrilling, yes, but do you want to live there?  Where is the vision of God?  Not a suspicion that he must be out there, but some even secondary or tertiary vibration, as in Mahler?  We've survived the cold vastness, the kinetic shoving, the opiate beauty of the first three movements.  And now?

Beethoven wanted to express some exalted idea of human brotherhood in a new life sprung from the cosmic view of the three preceding movements.  But I, for one, have always felt disappointed, even tricked.  For all the phenomenal musical events in the last movement, theologically, it feels more like some non-denominational Sunday sermon by a hot preacher.  OK, OK, this is music, not theology.  But is the music of the last moment the fulfillment of the path set up by the first three?  Or did Beethoven opt to use his unmatched skill and energy, in the service of an urgent, but non-musical exhortation?

He had more to say after the Ninth.  Was he so convinced of the need for human voice, or its success in the symphony that, like Schoenberg, he introduced vocal song into the late quartets?  No.  Five staggering, metaphysical quartets were content with strings alone, one of them (0p. 132) ending with the very theme sketched for the instrumental finale to the Ninth. 

There is no QED here.  Tovey insists that, like it or not, we MUST listen to the Ninth as if the chorale finale were correct.  Still, one wonders.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Oslo City Hall

You better watch out.

Ever in the face of those with the temerity to hold up their heads, Obama stepped to the lectern in Oslo to sing his shameless, nuanced version of "Give War a Chance".

Here is the speech, if you can stomach it.

Full text of Obama's Nobel Peace Prize speech:

Here are a few choice stingers fired at the peace prizing audience:

"A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaida's leaders to lay down their arms."

"The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.... We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest."

"I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds... That is why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace."

“The instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace.”

True, each of his bellicose pronouncements were prefaced by some deep thought indicating the opposite, as in "No matter how justified, war promises human tragedy" -- but always trumped by the underlying message: "The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it."

"We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations - acting individually or in concert - will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified."

''For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world...

"Some will kill. Some will be killed....

"I - like any head of state - reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation."

Hmmm. Where have I heard all this before, if not so "eloquently" stated?

The Prince of Peace buzzed into town to pick up his prize, flaunting normal protocol by cancelling lunch with the king and queen, dinner with the Norwegian Nobel committee, a press conference, a television interview, appearances at a children's event promoting peace and a music concert, as well as a visit to an exhibition in his honour at the Nobel peace centre. Too busy making peace around the world, was he, or attempting to avoid embarrassing questions about exit strategies and drone attacks?

He left behind him an embarrassed, insulted, and often furious population in Oslo, as Copenhagen goes into preventive detention and virtual lockdown, with a thousand already imprisoned -- awaiting his visit.

It ain't Santa that's coming to town next week.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


So as to avoid further humiliating his Stockholm hosts, Obama might have waited till after picking up his Nobel Peace Prize before announcing his “surge” of 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan, or -- even more immoral and illegal -- this, his expansion of the CIA/Blackwater drone program in Pakistan whereby our good guys can play their video games from air-conditioned comfort while they take out the bad guys -- and anyone else in the vicinity -- of yet another country under US attack.

But no, in your face as ever, Obama continues chucking his terrorist bombs -- all bringing death to civilian populations -- three active wars, troops into Columbia, coups and threatened coups in Latin America, racheting up rhetoric against Iran, sequestering US jobs and public health care, and next week, squelching meaningful targets at Copenhagen -- all the while protecting his presidential power and secrecy, and those who have seized it before him.

Bad sentences -- too long. Nevertheless, our dear leader's actions do bring up, as ever, the intertwined issues of terrorism, and state and revolutionary violence.

December began with a trenchant and complex anniversary, the 150th hat-tip to the execution of John Brown,

whose body may lie moldering in the grave, but whose stench or sweet smell occasionally rises, usually twice at fifty year intervals. Rather than getting weaker, as does the smell of a dead mouse under the refrigerator, this year an evaluation of John Brown seems more relevant than ever.

As always, since those heady days at Harper's Ferry, there has been debate -- as demonstrated in these duelling articles, the NY Times celebrating, and attacking. The latter may seem surprising, but if you're anti-war, and would rather not have seen the Civil War happen, you might come down that way (if you ignore the preponderancy of historians who see the trigger as the election of Lincoln -- an "existential threat" to the slave-holding, agricultural south.) The story is worth reading and reflecting upon, and I can heartily recommend W.E.B. duBois's classic biography, John Brown, for some passionate history and classy writing.

John Brown made a surprise appearance in my recent novel, Skulk,

writing three letters from the grave to encourage our daredevil duo, Gronsky & Skulk, in their quest to create a post-9/11 teaching moment for America. Here is the end of his last:

My children, be not afraid. Whatever calamity beckons, we may feel quite cheerful in the assurance that God reigns and will overrule all for His glory and the best possible good. The angels of the Lord will bear us up, and the sufferings of men cannot imprison, chain or hang the soul. I cannot remember a night so dark as to have hindered the coming day, nor a storm so furious or dreadful as to prevent the return of warm sunshine and a cloudless sky.
Yours in faith,
John Brown

I cribbed much of the language from letters quoted in du Bois. God-driven, thus scary, but full of Gramsci's "optimism of the will" we need today if we are to continue trying to abolish our own and others' slavery.

These are issues which concern me in my writing and in my political life. While generally silly, the undertext of The Annotated Nose,

my last year's novel, bursts out toward the end as its hero, Alexei Pigov, takes on the task of becoming a plague doctor to fight "the contemporary plague", the lethal slavery of being forced to act out someone else's scripts (as we are now cast in Obama's dance of death). Toward the end of his stump sermon to his "Dearly Afflicted," he exhorts them to

“Leave your inner child behind, sucking its thumb and slurping its pap. Be not afraid of your anger, for anger can change the world when it is heard, understood, and expressed symbolically in ways that will endure. Remember the exalted words of T-Bone Slim: ‘Wherever you find injustice, (here, all chant together) the proper form of politeness is attack.’ When we are done with it, the entire developed world will understand every word of Heraclitus and Ecclesiastes.”
“I call then for mass resistance! Leave your private islands and sign up! Become a registered alien! Cultivate the Promethean gesture!”

Actually, not much different from John Brown. He dies of cancer of the throat, brought on no doubt by ineffective yelling.

My current novel, The Good Doctor Guillotin,

also addresses the question of terror from below vs. terror from above. Dr. Guillotin, progressive member of the National Assembly is playing a Mozart sonata with Tobias Schmidt, the German piano maker contracted to build the first "machine".

After a pause, Guillotine continued, “The tyranny of the small, yes, as always. But the machine will belong to the state.”
“And who will the state belong to, Doctor? Revolution will put the people in the place of the king, with the same absolute rule. And the people are simple, simple like violence, ruthless violence, radically simple, a simple, unifying law for society. Violence is like the law of gravity. They will love the machine, Doctor. The machine, that simple mechanism, a machine that might bear the legend ‘Humanity, Equality, Rationality’—a veritable icon of civilization. We may even see the king beheaded,” Schmidt whispered, subito piano—“if we still have our heads to see with. In a year or so children will be given toy machines. They can practice beheading sparrows.”
“The danger,” said Guillotin, putting his violin back into its case, “is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern. But liberty, equality, and fraternity are the only road to peace and harmony.”
Schmidt laughed sardonically. “The giant footprints of liberty may look awfully much like graves,” he said. “The people will ask for bread, and we’ll toss them severed heads. When they thirst, we’ll offer them the blood from the scaffold.”

I saw a photo of an Obama protestor's sign which said something like "THIS DEMONSTRATION IS NOT (YET) ARMED". The next few years may not look like a tea-party.

Happy Deathday, JB.


Obama’s Escalate-Afghanistan speech turned, as did all of Bush’s, on the tired and depleted justification of “9/11”. "We did not ask for this fight," the president intoned. "On September 11, 2001, nineteen men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people. They struck at our military and economic nerve centers. They took the lives of innocent men, women and children without regard to their faith or race or station. Were it not for the heroic actions of the passengers on board one of those flights, they could have also struck at one of the great symbols of our democracy in Washington, and killed many more.” And so we need 100,000 soldiers plus 110 “contractors” to fight the “less than 100 operatives” (Gen. Jones) left in Afghanistan.

Aside from the absurdity of proportion, the demonstrated ineffectiveness of the approach, and the barbaric “collateral damage” always accompanying it, the entire package is based on a most problematic “fact” -- the official story of 9/11, 19 Arab hijackers with boxcutters, etc. Absolutely every one of the major and minor elements of this tale has been shown to be inconsistent with physical events and surrounded with suspicious behavior.

After eight years of study, thousands of serious researchers in many technical and response areas can confidently assert the complete falsity of the official story, along with slightly differing alternatives, diffuse along the edges, but solidly agreeing at the core. (Google “9/11 truth” for many professional websites devoted to exploration and discussion of details. This is not “crackpot” material.)

And yet the same, tired, much wounded story continues to justify the exercise of our killing machines, military and financial, around the globe -- including here at home where our own population is still starved of humane goods and services. The “war on terror” (by whatever Obama chooses to call it) remains the be all and end all of our existence -- all based on a set of demonstrated, manipulated falsities. The media has enshrined the official story; any challenge to it -- at least in this country -- is off the table of the mind.

I’ve tried to make an endrun around the general censorship by writing Skulk, a comic novel about 9/11. The characters are a bit silly, but the things they rant about are not. And the websites they mention in their “calls to the people” are real. I call this approach “Fighting Fiction with Fiction” -- an essay I appended to the back of the book. Here it is.

Marc Estrin

After seven years, the resistance to 9/11 truth studies continues to astound. Many very smart people, lefties, political activists, -- people who don’t believe one word of what anyone in the Bush administration says – for some reason believe every word of the preposterous official version of 9/11. Unlike any other blather from Washington, this seems to be the story they want to believe. In any case, when I’ve tried to raise the subject, they will “not go there”. “Not going there” always involves the same hand gestures – both arms raised from the elbows, palms out, slightly in front of the face, blocking passage to the ears.

What’s going on? It’s not as if these people have no political analysis, or hold worldviews which won’t tolerate 9/11 truth investigation. A standard explanation is that some truths are so destructive the most common defense is total denial. When I tried to bring up the subject, one woman actually said to me, “I don’t want to live in a world where such things could happen.” Well, if openness to thinking about 9/11 necessitates suicide, I can understand her reaction.

But there are many kinds of suicide. In my case, there is the suicide envisioned for me as an author by my usual publisher, and a possible secondary suicide of his publishing house for associating themselves with an author who might be perceived as a tin-hatted conspiracy wacko. In the case of normal, mainstream, journalism, it seems again to be the editor protecting the writer from suicide, and, more importantly, keeping the publication safe from assault -- as the owners protect the public from the need to think. In any case, fiction or nonfiction which explores alternative stories and explanations of 9/11 seems to be firmly censored in the womb with little protest from the pro-life crowd.

I first started thinking about 9/11 fiction after writing an early review of David Ray Griffin’s first book, The New Pearl Harbor. In 2004, there were still so many unanswered questions and so little evidence with which to construct answers. As in any investigation, the first step is speculation: who might have done it, how might it have happened? Forensic investigation is well left to experts, but speculation itself is often best done by creative writers. So while Griffin and other investigators pursued their work, why not ask my fellow fiction writers to think about clues?

I put out a call to the small circle of writers I happen to know, angling for 9/11 short stories for a possible anthology. I was surprised to see so few come in, and of those few there were even fewer that were likely to be publishable. So I abandoned the anthology project, and thought, “I’ll just do it myself.” Out came my novel, Skulk.

Skulk was a pleasure to write. It was fun actually having fun writing about 9/11! The book contained many of the playful/serious elements common in my writing:

-- inventing an Ann Coulter-ish heroine
-- a political attack on the concept of Santa Claus
-- the difficulties of making a quill pen in contemporary America
-- how to smuggle pot past Homeland Security
-- a short history of Bleeding Kansas
-- Jesus and political weirdness in Mullinville, KA
-- instructions on trailing, evading and bugging 101
-- a Kansan Indian anthropologist on PC towards Indians, Kansas Indians, and a Norwegian story of the devil
-- a middle-east address attacked by yarmulka-ed clowns, and descending into melee, with lab experiments in the latest methods of crowd control
-- some advanced writing on learning skydiving, based on AUTHOR EXPERIENCE!
-- flight training software from Sadosoft, a pedagogical breakthrough.

…and I thought such a book might actually make an end run around the censorship on the topic.

I submitted it enthusiastically for publication and submitted it again, and again: no one would touch it except for John Leonard at Progressive Press (at the kind suggestion of Webster Tarpley). As John had not really worked with fiction before, and because the fiction market is quite different from his usual one, we decided it wasn’t a match. But after a year of further, unsuccessful submissions, I embarrassedly turned to him again, and we both decided to take the gamble together.

We shall see. There remains the question of how to reach beyond the initiates who are already looking for the kind of books Progressive Press put out. This is a general problem beyond that of publishing 9/11 fiction. As activists, we all have to spend time and find ways and to speak and educate beyond the choir. 9/11 truth? As Dick Cheney so pithily observed, “So?” So the government is tricking the people? What’s new? So the American government has murdered its own citizens in pursuit of its goal of world domination? “I don’t have a dog in that fight.”

As my publisher, John Leonard, sees it, It's the old problem of the Big Lie. They got plausible deniability by doing something so unbelievably outrageous that it really can't be believed by most people. But a lot of us who could see through it hitched our wagon to 9/11, figuring that it was dynamite, the highest-powered door-opener around. After seven years, it looks like it's no silver bullet after all. We have to start a bit further back with people -- maybe all the way back with learning how conditioning works? I'm reprinting one classic on that subject, but mainly I'm branching out from 9/11 and trying to cover the whole conspiracy, bit by bit, to build up the background information. Marc Estrin's approach is a very creative one on these lines -- to look for side doors that may be open, instead of trying to drive another truck through the front gate. Maybe that's why he called it 'Skulk' -- it's a stealth approach to 9/11 Truth."

The problem seems to be that so many of us – most of us – are “embedded.” We are embedded in a culture whose frame has expanded to include anything that happens. There is no longer anything “beyond the pale.” Everything is normal, bipartisan, omnipartisan, cloaked in the magic power of “whatever.”

I had thought that the one thing that the American public would not put up with would be the idea that it’s own government had attacked it on 9/11. That’s still probably the case. But between that idea and its consequences stands The Great Wall of Denial. It seems one cannot simply argue people beyond the wall, or hand them a factual triptych to get there. So in Skulk I have used another strategy: to simply assume the truths of 9/11 truth, and incorporate them, without argumentation, into the underlying structure of the novel. As the would-be activists, Gronsky & Skulk, pursue their goal – our goal – of public enlightenment, they are frustrated as we are. But the websites they publish in their Calls to the People are real: any reader who decides to check them – as many readers will now do, having grown used to hyperlinks -- will find him or herself bathing in the wealth of facts and ideas that real 9/11 researchers have come up. In this way, I hope to have brought the 9/11 material to a new cohort – that of readers of fiction who may not have otherwise come in contact with it.

Since September 13, 2001, I have been standing every weekday from 5-5:30 at a busy Burlington intersection with a group of vigilers, each with his or her own sign, protesting the many things there are to protest. I have thought it best to use my own signs to simply inject an idea into public discourse. For several years before the word became common, my sign simply said IMPEACH. Impeach who? That was up to the reader. Once the word “impeachment” became common in public discussion, I changed my sign to read “GOT FASCISM?”, a concept we are not yet commonly talking about. I often get questions from passersby – “what is that – fascism?” Sometime the pronunciation is comical. It amazes me, but there are many people who have forgotten – or never knew.

In the same way, I would like Skulk to simply put the materials of the 9/11 truth movement into circulation. Skulk does not argue, it does not prove, it assumes the reader knows all about it. And on some level, I do think that many denying Americans do know. It needs only to be brought into legitimate discussion. 9/11 fiction may be another, possibly successful, doorway to that discussion.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Although The Lamentations of Julius Marantz is fundamentally about rising and falling, physical gravity and religious gravitas, and its energy rides on a continuous chase, after reading the following recent articles

on Obama's predator drone strategy, and the general growth of techno-spying, I am reminded of my off-the-cuff, but premonitory, use of surveillance as GEKO tracks Julius for the kill.

I had a discussion with my editor about my setting of the story in the recent past rather than in the near future. It seems to me that both literally and metaphorically we are already living the nightmare of Faustian technomagia, with worse likely to come. Hence 2003, easily updated post-Obama.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Obama and Hiroshima

You may have noticed, as did I, that on his recent Asian trip, the president did not go to Hiroshima. What I didn't know, but discovered in a recent posting from Foreign Policy in Focus, was that he was specifically invited, but turned the invitation down.

FPIP notes that no US president has ever visited Hiroshima. It theorizes that like them, Obama may have wanted to avoid having to apologize, or make Americans feel guilty about the past.

Obama continues the great tradition of never having (or wanting) to say you're sorry, and stoking the American memory hole, the dustbin of history.

But Hiroshima, or rather the Trinity test a few weeks before, was a hinge-point for the world. I tell the amazing story of the Manhattan Project in great detail in my Insect Dreams, the Half Life of Gregor Samsa.

Gregor, although a six-foot talking cockroach, is appointed by FDR to become the risk management consultant to the Project (after several hundred pages, you'll believe it), and at one point circulates a petition not to drop the bomb among the workers at Los Alamos. The chapter is called "Death by a Thousand Cuts", and lists the many responses of scientists and soldiers about why the bomb must be dropped even though the raison d'être had by then disappeared.

What is striking to me is how those same 1945 reasons resonate still, and are used on every occasion when historical truth is raised in the face of misinformation -- such as during the closing down of the historians' Enola Gay exhibit at the Smithsonian, or by those excusing Obama's snub of the mayor of Hiroshima.

Anyway, I think you'll find Insect Dreams interesting reading, and not just for its history of the Manhattan Project.

Sunday, November 15, 2009



In 1892, eight years before he was catapulted to fame by The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Lyman Frank Baum must surely have read this Preamble to the Populist Party Platform:

We meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot box, the legislatures, the congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench. The people are demoralized. The newspapers are subsidized or muzzled; public opinion silenced...and the land concentrated in the hands of capitalists.

Urban workmen are denied the right of organization for self-protection; imported pauperized labor beats down their wages; the fruit of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes. From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed two classes -- paupers and millionaires.

Sound familiar? Make you mad? It made him mad, too, and four years later, he marched in torchlight parades for William Jennings Bryan, the Populist candidate who lost to McKinley. "You shall not press down on the brow of labor this crown of thorns,” Bryan said, “You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold." The crowds cheered, and so did Baum.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a product of that man and his times, both an abiding fairy tale (the first crafted from American themes), and a clever, wry, ironic allegory of economic, social and political affairs in 1900 America. As readers or viewers a hundred years from now will have little understanding of “modified limited hangout” or “Monicagate”, so audiences today have little feel for the cultural context of Oz apparent both to Baum and his initial readers. What did they understand which we don’t, though the story still charms ?

Turn-of-the-century America was a land awash in conflict over race, class and money. Midwestern farmers were organizing to resist the aggressive capitalism of east coast financiers, a struggle symbolized in the 1890s by the Populists’ Free Silver Movement. Gold belonged to international bankers in the big cities; silver belonged to the folks out west, and expanded currency came to be seen as a symbol of economic justice for the masses of the American people.

Baum was most sympathetic to this agrarian world view, with its critique of the false and destructive values of international capital. Look at what happened to the Tin Man -- a worker turned from a human being into a heartless machine by the Wicked Witch of the East -- the dehumanizing effects of capital and industrialism. Dorothy’s journey reveals the dangers and promises facing the heartland from sectional powers. Oz is a confusing, alienating, and dangerous, if beautiful, world, not unlike our own.

With the establishment of the Federal Reserve System in 1910, the original monetary issues had so receded from public consciousness that the makers of the 1939 film felt free to change the most basic metaphor of the book: Baum’s silver shoes became the famous ruby slippers (better in technicolor!), while the Witch’s golden hat was replaced with a crystal ball. Still, the skeleton remains: Oz is the abbreviation for ounces -- the measure of silver and gold; the constraining, yet dangerous path that leads to the city of central power is made of yellow bricks; all the inhabitants of the capital wear glasses the color of greenbacks which colors their view; and finally, the leader is a fraud, his power a product of secrecy and spin.

Baum was of the school of thought of Louis Mayer (MGM): “If I want to send a message, I’ll use a telegram.” Consequently the political allegory is always secondary to the general story, and is readily abandoned whenever it might detract from “wholesome” teachings for children -- his stated goal. Thus, one might ponder the apparent contradiction: though the Wizard rules by fear and deceit, he is actually “a good man.” Is this just a little “nicey-nice”, or does it represent a deeper understanding of the struggle between humanity and power? Our current President offers us similar questions to ponder.

Certainly the Wizard is benevolent in recognizing the Scarecrow’s real intelligence, the Tin Man’s real capacity for feeling, and the Cowardly Lion’s real courage. In the Populist tradition, he empowers ordinary people with their own enduring values of common sense, compassion and courage. And so, each is able to achieve the master goal of the story: finding home. At the same time, Baum’s humane vision is achieved by shifting the focus away from systematic questions: why is the country divided into sections and warring races, why are good people ruled by evil rulers, why, even, is Kansas, the heartland, such a miserable place? Thus he anticipates postmodern political paralysis: just heal yourself, and everything will be all right. (And thus, the power structure endures.)

But I feel we must respect Baum’s instinct for this overwhelmingly successful work: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz should not be overweighted with such questions. There are many paths to existential, cultural or political home. Dorothy’s journey has moved people for a hundred years -- across class, race, sexual, educational and regional lines -- because it illustrates, simply and imaginatively, T.S. Eliot’s thought from “Little Gidding”:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Marc Estrin