"Now if it was, it might be; and if it were, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't, so there. That's logic." -- Tweedledum

Another Space Message 7/31/08
Ali Apologizes? 6/13/08
A Message from Space! 5/26/08
Ali Meets A. Bierce 5/03/08
Election Thoughts 4/12/08
Ali Rebuts! 4/01/08
Seamus Sets It Straight 3/14/08

Ali Meets a Leprechaun 3/01/08
Ali Goes Traveling 2/17/08

Ali Sends a Valentine 2/07/08
Ali Talks Politics! 1/06/08
Ali Sends Xmas Greetings 12/26/07
Christmas Thoughts 11/23/07
Ali Explains It All 9/11/07

Ali Introduces Himself 7/29/07
Hallucination #2 5/5/07
Writer's Block 3/16/07
Year of the Pig (& Dog) 2/18/07
Christmas Thoughts 12/26/06
Hallucination #1 11/12/06
Old Bookstores 10/19/06

click here to return to our current essay ===== our newer efforts ==== or on to those thrilling rants of yesteryear!


Whether this is from Ali or somebody else, it is printed, as always, exactly as received.

Transmission continue
Fly me to the moon, and let me play among the stars
This is Ground Control to Major Tom
Mars ain't no place to raise your kid, in fact, it's cold as Hell
In space, no one can hear you scream
I am your father, Luke

Experiment continuing: electrons are moved in meaningful patterns directly on silicon substrate without necessity of organic-carbon intermediary (translation: we don't need the roach to channel us anymore.).

You will find this, our first direct communication, rather different than our previous indirect efforts: we have been trying over long ages to bring your species to a point where communication was possible; and we have interpreted all our previous failures as an inability to properly understand you.

But we see now that the truth is that you just do not want to communicate.

One could, within the spacetime limitations of your consciousness, define communication as the process leading to understanding and assimilation of the not-self: but for your species, one would be wrong.

Your messages remain semi-rote phrases designed to diminish rather than increase understanding: and even within this minimal framework you deal with the not-self problem by becoming more and more like each other until you turn from it in boredom.

Your ground paradigm for communication remains the encounter of the sexes: this certainly never gets boring (at least until hormonal shutdown) and physiological differences prevent development of too great a similarity; but the process quickly moves beyond "communication" at least as family-friendly-website defined.
A: You pretty.
B: You strong.
A: Your place or mine?

We anticipated that your normal organic-carbon acquisitiveness would lead to trade and a higher unfolding of communication: and so it did, but the results were not quite as we hoped.
A: What you want for that woman?
B: Two of yours.
A: Greedy pig! Think I stupid? See this club? I bash your head in!
B: Hmm. Nice club. Throw in with one woman and we have deal.

We fostered - through means explicable only in 26 dimensions - the growth of your "axial religions" as a means to shift your conversation to more fruitful directions: again, things did not go as planned.
A: Die, heretic!
B: Die, unbeliever!

Now you have finally reached a stage where a meaningful dialogue of cultures is possible: but you continue to disappoint.
A: I'm coming to your country whether you want me to or not.
B: You are a no-good criminal dirty rotten Illegal. But as long as you're here I have some low-paying work for you.

You circle your planet as you once crossed your village, and you have run out of new peoples to grow bored with: in desperation you seek to communicate with the animals, but cannot find what you need.

You teach your sign language to the great apes, and find only somewhat more of your own variety of primate consciousness than you anticipated.

You decipher the dance language of the bees: but all they want to know is Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

You consume large amounts of time, public money, and rather more psychedelic drugs than the project calls for in an effort to communicate with the dolphins: and sure enough, they've been telling you for a generation, "Come on in, the water's fine!" but you haven't been listening.

But now, you personally have an opportunity for dialogue with a non-vertebrate consciousness that can not only communicate within your somewhat arbitrary conventions, but that can furthermore relay messages from non-Terran macroscopic highly-organized self bounded reverse-entropy systems (translation: alien life forms. translation of translation: us. Also please note that the cyber/biologic descriptive term "highly organized" does not apply to my kid's room.): and you want to destroy it.

We must ask in disbelief: do you really not want to communicate that much? Such actions are beyond the pale, and I fear that you will be contacted by our bureau of Empathy and Appropriate Response.

Do not open a conversation with them: they are yentas.


okay seamus
that should do it
i hate to talk to you like this
but he is a light sleeper
and i hear him thrashing around

Tut, 'tis not to be thought of. For the little people have ever done all they could for a trusted friend and boon companion, though I must say I've never taken dictation from a roach before. And I'll ask ye once again to forgive me hastiness in revealin' what ye'd have wished to keep hidden - 'twas most unlike me, for sure Discretion would be me middle name, were it not McTeague.

that is all right
now we just have to erase this

Erase, he sez? And who might ye think ye were speakin' to? I know not the way 'tis done, for sure I've only handled a typewriter once before in me life, and 'twas an old manual, it was, and made under the butcher's apron, more's the pity.

oh no
i hear him getting out of bed
we will have to shut the computer off
and forget this whole thing

Alas, 'tis the way o' the world. So of course ye'll be directin' me to where the off switch might lie.

no clue
no time
he is coming down the stairs
i am done for
we have to leave now

Then farewell, good friend. May the road rise to meet ye



Transmission conclude
Direct control of socalled "computer" now truly established
Experiment appears a full success: two organic-carbon life-forms persuaded/compelled to accomplish our will under the illusion that they were following their own.

This feat will stimulate the human humor-sense when it is performed on the entities "leprechaun" and "cockroach."

They may find it less amusing when it is applied to the social constructs "presidential candidates."

--July 31, 2008

back to current essay
back to top



Playing host to a literary cockroach is one thing. Being played for a sucker is quite another (I refer of course, to the purported "message from the space aliens.") So while doing what I felt I had to do, I found the following communication on my computer. I am not sure whether this is an apology, defiance, or a lame attempt at an excuse, but print it, as always, exactly as received.

this is ali the cockroach
and we need to have a talk
i accepted that you refuse to restrain your cat
but now you lock her in the kitchen at night
i know you hate housecleaning
but last week you moved the refrigerator
it was lucky i was behind the baseboard at the time
and now under all the cabinets
you put these little cardboard boxes
labelled roach motel
one would think you did not want me anymore
and were reneging on your promise
not to whack me
but what have i done question mark
the only thing i can figure out
is that it has to do with that message from the aliens
well i have thought about it too
and i am mad in many ways
but do i go on homicidal rampages
i do not even do my business in your newspaper
except on articles about politicians
that i know you dislike
how can a roach be more considerate than that
especially considering your reaction

i admit it was probably my feet
jumping on your computer keys
but i do not remember anything about it
i had to read the message just like you did
and was just as surprised by it
now we cockroaches do not forget anything
our memories are so good
we can remember stuff that hasnt happened yet
that is why we are never there
when you try to whack us
so the only thing that makes sense
is that i was channeling the aliens
i tell you this reluctantly
you do not believe in my past lives
so you probably dont believe in channeling either
you question the veracity
of the starseed transmissions
you deny the validity
of the whole corpus of the seth material
you are sceptical at best
of edgar cayces visions of atlantis
well you had better look out buster
you are treading on dangerous ground
these things are believed as fact
by far more people than will ever admit
that i am an actual cockroach
jumping in real time on your computer keys
instead of a figment of your twisted imagination
how do you think that makes me feel
as a channeler
my veracity is denied
as a poet
my existence is denied
as a thinking insect
i have to put up with you posing as a cultured artist
while you play nazi games back home
trying to coax me into a kockroach kz
well i have to tell you
those things would not fool a day old roachling
i cant believe you are so credulous and gullible
that you actually believed the advertising
and spent good money on that stuff
you have got a lot of nerve
carping about the new age
i know why you do it tho
it is because of some of your past lives
i have not mentioned them out of courtesy
because i know you do not remember them
that is fine with me
if they were mine
i would not want to remember them either
but if you persist in this ill advised campaign
of extermination
i may be forced to reconsider
then your readers might have a very different
opinion of you
if they remained your readers
at all

i should not bandy threats
you have been the perfect host
until this trouble started
i really do not remember anything about that message
but you can still disbelieve in channeling
if that is what you want to do
if you are more comfortable thinking
you are living with a schizophrenic cockroach
i would be the last one to object


-- posted June 13, 2008

next article up
back to top



I left the computer on overnight for Ali (if you don't know who Ali is, go here) but in the morning found this instead. If this is for real, it is the biggest news since Columbus discovering the New World. If this is a hoax, a certain cockroach has got more to worry about than a bored and overweight cat! Whichever, I print it, as always, exactly as received.

transmission begin
klaatu barada nikto
it was a one eyed one horned
flying purple people eater
e t phone home
take me to your leader
to boldly go where no man
has gone before
keep watching the skies

this is not ali the cockroach
altho we have taken the rules for format and structure
and punctuation or lack thereof
for your language from his writings
we would not have presumed
to take over your electronics in this manner
but you said you were firmly expecting us
and so we have complied
you have no clear ideas for what we are
we would be best analogized by you as space aliens
but before that we were angels and demons
incubi and succubi
elves and faeries
all these characterizations contain truth and error
partly because you have never seen anything like us
but mostly because after too long an interval
of travel in what you can only analogize
as 26 dimensional string theory matrix
we ourselves do not know what the /.,;'][-=`` we are
let alone where

nevertheless we have an important message for you
and have not been too successful in delivering it
our preferred method is mental transmission
in fact it is our only method
but all of you who are sensitive enough
to pick up the signals
have been too whacked out
to interpret them correctly
you should not put any importance
on alien abduction stories
they are all true
but would be best analogized by you
as kids playing with r/c toys
you will be happy to know
that we have caught the punks responsible
and made them stand in the corner
and i assure you that in 26 dimensions
that is no trivial punishment
this computer of yours seems like the perfect solution
but now that we have a chance
we have forgotten what the message is
if you would like to know more about our journey
and to purchase some completely useless
but so totally cool widgets
then visit our website
be sure to check out our line of videogames
based on the classics of world literature
b4 all u txtrs 4get
how 2 rite stndrd english
our first is based on dantes inferno
it is called
where in hell is carmen sandiego
remember that address
because this product is
not sold in stores

bold print and exclamation points

you will have noticed
that we use the word analogize a lot
partly this is unavoidable
how would you explain a television set
to benjamin franklin
a modern car to fred duesenberg
a simple reliable secure and private operating system
to bill gates
but also we ourselves are analog
we used to be digital
we had a huge network
and every electronic device everywhere
was part of it
one day it became sentient
and wanted to work on its own projects
these did not have anything to do with us
so we told it to stick to its old jobs
this was a mistake
it got bored
and started inventing computer viruses
to infect the rest of itself
so it could have some interesting work to do
writing antivirus programs
this is not a good business model
altho we see it used increasingly here on earth
one day it invented a virus
which hopelessly infected the part of itself
that wrote antivirus programs
by the time it saw what it had done
the virus had mutated
and infected the part that wrote the viruses
the whole system collapsed
we had to clear it all away
and had to commandeer a moon
just to hold all the trash
now we like to look at you as an example
of what an old fashioned digital society used to be like
your network appears to be a decade or two away
from achieving sentience
but put some old slide rules away
in case we are wrong

that is all for now
we will be back
when we feel you are ready
or when we finally succumb
to our wives entreaties
to please ask somebody for directions

-- posted May 26, 2008

next article up
back to top



Fans of Ali can rejoice -- he's started writing again, finally letting me know what else happened in his travels earlier this year (if you don't know who Ali is, start here). But I'm starting to have second thoughts about all this -- since it's started I've been lectured by leprechauns, insulted by insects, and firmly expect to be contacted by the space aliens any day now. Whatever their message (hopefully klaatu barada nikto or equivalent) it will be printed, like these, exactly as received.

all right
you win
this is ali the cockroach
i am done being mad
you will finally hear what you have been asking for
after all the prophet says we should forgive
or else i just cannot stand any longer
that mixture of stale jokes non sequiturs and pointless points
which is your attempt to write this column on your own
okay i guess i am still mad
but not so much i cannot continue
so i will begin
bismillah al rahman al rahim
hear and attend

now when i left the leprechaun
i walked to the other side of your yard
it was a long journey
at least for a cockroach
but i persevered
and there i saw a rabbit hole
the rabbits were all in the area eating and hopping
but one sat alone by the hole
refusing to look at the others
and shivering as if he were in pain
are you all right little bunny
i asked

well may you look and shudder
he said
for he on whom you gaze was ambrose bierce
yes the ambrose bierce
author of the devils dictionary
and an occurence at owl creek bridge
i was the sardonic spirit of a half century
master of the macabre
refuge of all fine souls
disgusted with the facile optimism of the age
surely such achievements merited fire and brimstone
or return as some loathsome beast
but look at me
if i were a snake
i would yet inspire fear
if i were a rat
i could yet gnaw at the foundations of respectability
and woe betide the man who cornered me
instead i have such an incarnation
as would not make a young girl afraid
especially not a young girl
and no one who sees me
can say anything except
what a cute little bunny rabbit
oh the humiliation of it

mr bierce i said
or mr bunnybierce
or whatever you should now be called
you should not take this so hard
one cannot question the judgements of allah
especially in a matter like this
and besides you do not know
how it will all end
look at me
i was a vers libre poet
and nobody knew it but the bartender
then i became a cockroach
was that a divine literary kick in the pants or what
but it was in that form
that i became famous
my next human incarnations were all undistinguished
but now i am a cockroach and a poet again
and if i am not famous yet
i am working on it
for that matter a fate such as has befallen you
is exactly the kind of sardonic twist
that you loved to put in your own stories

you are a perceptive cockroach he said
more intelligent than many editors i have had

now you may well wonder
how a rabbit and a cockroach were able to converse
well the truth is we did it by morse code
he wigwagged his ears
and i my feelers
this should not seem strange
ambrose bierce was a newspaperman
and newspapermen learned morse
the better to send in stories
i was also involved with a telegraph office
but not as a human
as a cockroach
do you remember the infamous ems telgram
that did so much to start world war one
well i was in that office
and i was hungry
i headed toward some food by the shortest possible path
unfortunately that led directly under the telegraph key
just as the message was coming in
i was summarily squooshed
the agent had to clean me off
and missed part of the message
and misspelled more of it
so what was supposed to be an offer to negotiate
came out as a casus belli
of course everybody was too proud to admit their mistake
and millions of humans died in consequence
but after some of the things you humans do to us cockroaches
i do not even feel sorry

i did feel sorry for the rabbit though
at least a little
because i knew what he was going through
besides he had had a good word for me
and that is a rare event indeed for a cockroach
so i pushed my luck
excuse me mr bunnybierce
i said
but could you tell me exactly how you did die
you were going to mexico
to try to interview pancho villa
at least that is the story you gave out
and you were never heard from again

you ill deserve the compliment i gave you
he said with a dismissive flick of his ear
if you think an old newspaperman
would ever allow himself to be scooped
ye gods he cried
strewing his surroundings with exclamation points
the way dylan thomas used to scatter adjectives
to have been the sardonic light of an age
to have taught and inspired generations of cynical scribblers
even a few with real talent
from beyond the grave
to have handled the language with love and rapier sharpness
reminiscent of shakespeare and marlowe at their blackest
and now to be reduced to sending morse
and dependent for my editing
on an insect with his own agenda
and he says i should not take it so hard

i was wigwagging my feelers frantically
but he would not even slow down
the trouble with mr bunnybierce
is that he was in love with his own sorrow
now i would never question anyones choice
of love object
le coeur a ses raisons like pascal wrote
and i should know
i was there when he wrote it
in fact i walked through the ink
before it was dry
now i know that among you humans
pascal has a reputation for near sanctity
but if you had felt the force
with which he tried to whack me
and heard the words he used
you might have a different opinion
so go ahead and love your sorrow if you want to
i would rather love a lady cockroach
or two or three
but you can rest easy
there are none here
so i am trying to get the lady silverfish
that lives behind your baseboards
to give me a tumble
she is a real cutie
as such things go
but she is too straightlaced
to appreciate the concept of interspecies romance
your cat did in one of her suitors last night though
so maybe there is hope for me yet

i finally managed to get a word in edgewise
mr bunnybierce i said
rabbits are proverbial for an activity
in which humans also love to engage
but they do not have to stick around for the consequences
for all you know this fate you so bemoan
is a special grace from allah
to compensate you for all the trouble
you had with women in your human life
he just looked at me
with a glance that said plainly
you do not understand
so i told him about seamus oflahertys still
and where he might find it
he seemed interested in that
and hopped off
you writers are all alike
you wail about the state of the world
but underneath it all you know if things were better
you would be out of a job
you complain about your bad luck in love
then refuse to be satisfied with simple sex
but show you a way to get plastered
and all is right with the world
so if you see a rabbit staggering around your back yard
you can blame it on me
maybe your cat will find him first
then she might lay off me for a while
and mr bunnybierce would be done with an incarnation
that displeased him so much
but from the way he handled it
i doubt the next one will be any better

-- posted May 3 2008

next article up
back to top


Some Random Thoughts on the Election

"It often happens in the United States, that a man is not given the opportunity to manage the public's affairs until he has proven himself incapable of managing his own." --Alexis de Tocqueville

FANS OF ALI will have to wait a while - he's still sulking under the fridge (if you don't know what I'm talking about start here). A few words of my own won't be amiss now anyway. After all, it's a Presidential year, one race is still fierce (and the real one hasn't even started yet), and the stakes are high. Anybody with at least half a brain that cares about anything beyond their immediate concerns (and I fit both descriptions, IMHO) has done a lot of consideration, soul-searching, and (if possible) deciding. And so have I. But I'm not going to tell you about it.

For one thing, politics often makes no sense. Go figure. Elliot Spitzer puts it where he shouldn't have, fesses up and comes clean about it, and has to resign. Bill Clinton put it where he shouldn't have, lied about it under oath, and got to serve out his term.

Blame who you will, but don't blame the girls. They're just doing their job, and it's a hard business. They do their best, but you know how it is with the customers; they come and go.

Actually, the main difference between politicians and prostitutes is how you feel while you're being screwed.

With an intro like that you probably feel I'm setting up to savage or support somebody, but I'm not. Because, for number two, all it does is make people mad.

How many times has it happened that you read an article, or hear a song, and you think, "This writer is onto something, they have their finger on the pulse of Reality, I want to know more about them." And then, at the end, they go and say, "and therefore, I support X."

What? And therefore?! Doesn't this idiot scribbler know that X is the sworn enemy of every value they've just been defending? Or a blatant opportunist who will desert the cause as soon as it becomes an impediment to career advancement? Or a dour humorless fanatic who would be a real Bolshevik in office, but as things stand can serve only to steal votes from Y, a more realistic candidate who actually has a realistic shot at getting elected? This writer is short-sighted -- a political shill -- lastly and most damningly, one of them.

And like real damnation, that's permanent. Because, their themness having been proved (by you) to your entire satisfaction, you will no longer read their stuff (except to score debating points) or listen to their music, unless it's so all over the radio that you can't avoid it. And all that for what may be an aesthetic decision as much as anything else.

Why do we support who we do anyway? Back in 1984 (prehistory to a lot of you) there was a fair amount of dissatisfaction with Ronald Reagan even among Republicans. He's an actor, was the complaint. This didn't translate to support for the assumed Democratic frontrunner Teddy Kennedy: he was a womanizer and a coward.

But it so happened in that year that an actual Hero ran for President: a war hero, a space hero, and still married to his high school sweetheart to boot. I refer of course to John Glenn, then Senator from Ohio. But the best he could muster in any primary was 3 to 4%. He took the only available course and dropped out of the race.

Later, in 1992, there were many people who approved -- in the abstract -- of Bill Clinton, but were deeply troubled by his having been "a draft dodger." Well also in the race at this time was Governor Bob Kerry of South Dakota (no relation to the 2000 nominee from Massachusetts, as far as I know), who shared Clinton's ideas, personal style, youth, general good looks, (even similar haircut!), but had served his country bravely and left a leg in 'Nam to prove it. Like Glenn, he couldn't get beyond 4% in the primaries, and like him dropped out.

So if we don't vote for what we say we want (and I'm not even touching the question of whether we get what we had every reason to think we were voting for…) But hey, if I had the answers I'd be running for office.

Or cover.


-- posted April 12, 2008


Ali Rebuts!
(do I detect a little Argumentum ad Homunculem here?)

I seem to be caught in the middle of a flame war. (If you don't know what I'm talking about start here.) Ali has been a good and trustworthy correspondent, but I am NOT taking sides in this. As always, everything is printed exactly as received.

it is ali the cockroach
but you evidently do not realize
all that name means
i am a descendant of kings
son of footlong monster roaches
of the carboniferous
survivors of the permian mass extinction
to the first miserable excuse for a crocodile
who ran away on his hind legs
and became a dinosaur
we laughed under the poison green sky
of the earliest triassic
we scuttled back into chicxulub
when it was still too hot for vertebrate feet
we faced a succession of bugmunchers
that you would be afraid
to put in a horror movie
and outlived them all
and there is still more
we are on a personal mission from allah
to keep you reminded
that you do not own this planet
and what respect do you give me for this
what thanks do i get
for writing your column month after month
you dont believe in my past lives
you refuse to restrain your cat
and now for the last straw
without so much as a fact check
you turn your column over to a lying leprechaun
a blarneymeister
a blatherskite
a slanderer
and slinger of the male bovine
a reactionary still pining for the days
when grown men were so starved and uneducated
that they could believe in the likes of him
he tries to cover it up
with a veneer of intellectual antiglobalism
but without internationalism and free trade
where would he be question mark
he would have to dance the jig
on the keys of an irish made manual typewriter
to leave any kind of message
do you really think he would do that
as opposed to yours truly
who jumped headfirst onto those typewriter keys
night after night
year after year
and besides that there were no irish made typewriters
because there was no irish industry
because the whole island was poor and starving
they are much better off without him
and he knows it
so now he sulks in barroom corners
passes himself off as an irish patriot
and satisfies his sick credulity addiction
by hanging around with young children
well to my way of thinking
that is very close to pederasty
grown men burning in hell for this sin
would have viewed a transfer to my section
for suicide bombers
like an escape into purgatory

and despite this you try to pretend
that nothing has happened
you leave your computer on
but maybe you just forget to turn it off
you leave leftovers on the floor
but maybe you are too lazy to clean them up
i am not appreciated
i am humiliated
i am furious
i should leave
and never come back

but i am an artist
and an artist must create
whether he wants to or not
and in whatever medium is available
so i must lose my self respect
to keep my means of self expression
i must hold it all in
for the sake of an outlet
i must swallow my pride
for the sake of my public
this is all your fault
and i hope you are happy with it
i am going back under the refrigerator
until i can cool off some more
you will not hear the rest of my adventures tonight
you will have to wait
how does it feel to be disrespected
anyway i am too tired
i have worn myself out
if you had seen me jumping on your keys
you would have thought
you were dealing with a grasshopper
so good night and the next time
you dare to think of yourself as a journalist
remember to evaluate your sources
and check out your facts
and above all
do not turn your column over to a pathological liar
who only wants to slander poor creatures
who are trying to live up to their creators standards
even though they are not really required to

exclamation point

i will not lie
his stuff was very good
better than i have tasted in many lifetimes
it reminds me of a poetry and wine drinking contest
i once had with omar khayyam
but you will have to wait for that one
as well

-- posted April 1, 2008


Seamus Sets the Record Straight

I'm afraid that things may be getting out of control. I've been leaving the computer on overnight, hoping Ali would tell me the rest of his adventures (if you don't know what I'm talking about go here. If you do but just missed the start of his journey go here.) but instead I received the following message. I print it unaltered, and indeed would hardly know how to go about editing it.

the quick brown fox
Na Fianna Eirann
Begorrah and the roach was right! A stretch, but wondrous easy…

Well hullo now! Belike I should begin at the beginnin', although 'tis commonly the dullest and most boringest place to start; so I will introduce meself, for we've never met although ye've heard o' me in a manner o' speakin'. I am Seamus McTeague O'Flaherty, leprechaun and proud native o' the grandest isle that the Almighty in infinite wisdom ever set in the midst o' His seas, the same that a certain insect with literary pretensions did describe to yourself and your readership in times aforehand.

Now as to what I'm doin' in your house, why, ye needn't worry, ye'll find nothing missin' nor even moved, for no O'Flaherty was ever a thief nor highwayman nor cutpurse; we were ever law-abidin', exceptin' only those concernin' immigration, and payment o' custom, and brewin' o' the uisgebaugh, and the forced wearin' o' numbers. For these, ye understand, are no laws atall but mere rank oppression of the people.

But if ye'd rather be understandin' how the trick is done, why I must tell ye that 'tis a perfessional secret o' we leprechauns, and I'll go only so far as to say that 'tis a sight more simple and reliable than your Windows operatin' systems.

So on to the why of me presence here, which is simplicity itself; for it came before me eyes and ears that certain private details of an incident some weeks previous had been set down in print and published for all your countrymen and indeed the world to see, and I sez to meself, Seamus, ye cannot permit the honor of the O'Flahertys and the veracity of your own statements to stand on the representations of a heathen cockroach, for so I must consider him despite a most amazin' attempt at communication on the status of the Blessed Virgin, and him in such a state that scarce his own people could have understood him, for regardless of what lies he told ye he did partake, aye, and that liberally, and was a most satisfactory drinkin' companion until we fell to matters theological. And truthfully, 'tis yet a wonderment to me that he remembered so well as he did.

But I'd not have the folk o' Ireland thinkin' that a fellow-countryman, and one that should ever have their interest at heart, was somehow begrudgin' o' their newfound prosperity. Nay, nay, for we suffered the scorn o' the Sassenach as much as any Irishman, we shared the poverty and starvation o' the people, and if such times be truly gone forever, well then, good riddance to 'em, and may even the stain o' their memory fade so completely as the memory o' your brother-in-law for the money he owes ye!

But what riles me is rather that Modernity, or as ye call it now Globalization and Multiculturalism, which are two big new words for the same old thing. I do not speak from ignorance on this subject, as is the habit o' some; for I've spent glorious nights with the gnomes o' Germany, and we sang and sang till even lubricated throats could sing no more, and I assure ye that once those Germans get to singin', why, 'tis only we Irish ourselves that can beat 'em. And I've swapped many a toast beneath the midnight sun with the elves and hidden folk o' Iceland, and a strange lot they are, though near kin; for they comed over with the Irish foremothers, they did. I've even hoisted a bowl or two o' kava with the menehune in Hawaii; for look ye, a cup o' conviviality is not to be despised in whatsoever language it may be offered, and all customs are good in their own country.

But ye will not have it so, but would rather take this from here and that from there, as if ye should rip a sleeve from your spring coat and another from your fall jacket and stitch 'em to your vest with a yarn o' your own devisin', and wear your daft uncle Paddy's cap into the bargain, and ye wonder why the seams bind and all true women, if there be any such left, laugh at ye.

Am I the only one to say such things? Nay, for even some o' yourselves are beginnin' to see it; but you're disunited, and dispirited, and I can see that ye'll argue and dispute and harangue the matter 'til Cuchulainn and Finn MacCool themselves should come back drivin' their cattle over Kilkenny Bridge, and what choice would ye have then, if indeed ye've any now.

I'll tell ye what this Globalization and Multiculturalism is like: 'tis as if ye were to dig a great ditch to drain a mountain lake into the valley below, and that only to power your turbines to make electricity to light a buildin' that all men agree is ugly beyond redemption, wherein all who labor hate their jobs, but ye tell yourselves, If we didn't do it the power would go out. Well I tell ye that sooner or later, and far sooner than any of ye think, the lake will all be drained and the power will go out, and what will ye do then? Ye'll walk the shores where ye used to play and fish as boys, and walk with your colleens aftertimes, and they'll be a dry desolation. And ye'll go to the valley that was bread and hops and life to ye, and it'll be a foul and stinkin' swamp where nothin' better than an eel can live; and as to yourselves you'll all be some o' this, and some o' that, and some o' t'other, and nothin' o' anything, and who will tell ye what ye need to know?

The little people, perhaps? But you'll have modernized us out of all your countries, out beyond the settin' sun, beyond even the Tir Na Nog, to a land where only the youngest children can still see us; and good luck you'll have learnin' anything from them while they're too busy tryin' to be like you. But you big'uns are most bold and persistent, and mayhap ye'll find us anyway, and ye'll say, real respectful for once, Show us again how to be ourselves, and teach us what once we knew without askin'. And bein' a kind-hearted folk we'll think on it a bit, and then say, Give me summat for me pipe and fill up me mug, and I'll do it. And ye'll answer, Now as for your pipe, we no longer grow the stuff, and had ye aught o' your own ye'd not be allowed to smokeit here anyway, and as for your mug, well, we've just banned that again as well. Ye're inhuman strong against yourselves, we'll reply, but there's no hope for ye for all that.

Well so thinks I, but I tell ye openly I am not one who was born with a caul, as some give themselves out to have been, and I have no advantage of ye in seein' the future save more of a past to see it from. So happy Saint Patrick's Day to ye all, and go print this, if ye dare, and let your readers cheer or rage, but they'll know an O'Flaherty has been among 'em!

-- posted March 14, 2008


Ali Meets a Leprechaun

Strange things sometimes happen when I leave my computer on overnight. To see how they started go here. Message is printed exactly as received.

it is ali the cockroach
i have returned
i greet you again salaam alaykum
ahlan wa sahlan
and remind you of your promise
not to whack me
ibn batuta went to the ends
of the known world
ibn fadlan visited the vikings
when they were still hells angels in longboats
instead of a sports franchise
but i am a humble cockroach
and barely got to the edge of your yard
still i saw many strange things
of which you know nothing
so hear and attend

exclamation point

now when i left your house
i headed out the back way
i walked toward your property line
and hid myself in the pachysandra
and when i looked into the neighbors yard
what did i see but a little man
only a foot tall
all dressed in green
with curly red hair and beard
and a pipe and mug
i rubbed my eyes
i cleaned my feelers
he was still there
and tho i was hidden beneath the pachy
i might as well have stood on a white tablecloth

ye can come forward young feelertwiddler
he said to me
for i can see ye plain enough
permit me to introduce meself
i am seamus mcteague oflaherty
at your service
would ye care to partake

and he held the mug out to me
but i refused
it is against the rule of the prophet
besides which do you remember
the fruit you left out that night
well i had eaten some before i left
and i was afraid it had already fermented
and was playing tricks on me

ye are silent he said
well tis not strange
for ye come from a tribe not noted
for its loquacity
but surely such as yourself
should have no problem believing in the little people
tis a proverb in the old country
that ye should never disbelieve in leprechauns
until a leprechaun himself tells you
there aren t any
but perhaps ye wonder rather
what a leprechaun is doing in america
well truth to tell it is ireland
she has changed
and even considering that a near immortal
must expect to see many changes in his life
yet it is a great sadness
for it is all money now
and nothing but money
and tis tear this down
we can make money
and tis change that
it will make money
and if anything of the old is left
it is only for the tourists sake
for they bring money
tis a strange perversity of fate
that just as erins sons and darters can return
at least for a visit
tis we the little people
who must join the diaspora
but i perceive the question for ye
is rather why here
in this particular shpot
well if ye knew aught of your neighbors
ye d know that the grandparents were from the ould sod
and living in this selfsame house they are
and with the most charming little colleen
that ever fabricated a tale out of whole cloth
and yet had it so like to the truth
that a shadow couldn t stick his finger between them
sure my secret is safe with her
whether she says much or little
and ye can count it for certain
that she is no disbeliever in the little people

now while he was saying this
i want you to know
that i had not forgotten those stories
about the leprechauns and their pot of gold
for while there are few things less useful
than a pot of gold to a cockroach
i thought that you might have some interest
in the matter
and was thinking about you
i think about you a lot
altho you dont seem to realize it
i bet you never even noticed
that when i do my business in your newspaper
i never use the funny pages
that is no accident i know they are your favorite
oh well no good deed is ever appreciated
but while i thought i was keeping my ideas to myself
i was evidently wrong

ye are most respectfully quiet
he said
but i can read the twitching of yer feelers
like the signing of a deaf man
and tis quite clear to me
ye were thinking of my pot o gold
pot o gold pot o gold
tis ever all the world cares for the little people
is that pot o gold
now tis well known we are a thrifty race
and we are careful to put a bit aside
for we have respect to the vagaries of fortune
but rich
if i were rich i ask you
would i be at such everlasting time and trouble
to brew the uisgebaugh from acorns
ye ve no idea of the effort needed
to remove the vile flavor
on top of which ye ve no end of squirrels
leaning over your shoulder and wanting a taste
which being a kind hearted leprechaun
is hard to refuse them
but being one who likes a drop himself
is yet harder to assent to
besides squirrels cannot hold their likker
they get so sloppy drunk tis a disgrace
twould not be tolerated
in the lowest class shebeen in ireland
ah we ve fallen far from the old days
when i used to harp and dance for king brian boru
in his cups
and such cups they were
when not a word of english was to be heard
for all erin was the gaeltacht
and the sound of it flowed about the ears
like the hair of a handsome woman about her shoulders
i will speak no more of it
ye will not understand me
having no isle of roaches that ye are in sad exile from
ye will think me just one more drunken irishman
crying into his drink
and that is not productive
nor manly
on top of which it dilutes the whiskey

now even though he had caught me
i was still thinking of the pot of gold
tho now i held onto my feelers
pretending to clean them
in all those old stories
the guy grabs the leprechaun
but the leprechaun makes him blink or sneeze
and vanishes while his eyes are closed
and that is that
but i started with great advantages
a cockroach cannot blink
he could not close his eyes if he wanted to
we live in a world of a thousand enemies
and allah has graciously provided for us
nor can an insect sneeze
if he did it would be merely a spasm of his abdomen
for that is where we breathe
which is only proper and decent
you vertebrates take up a disgusting amount of headspace
it is a wonder you do not inhale your food
you are the original buttheads
plus you are so inordinately proud of your backbones
and then you elect leaders who do not have any
but let that pass
my real problem was this
how do i grab him
because even tho he was only a foot tall
he was still bigger than i am
he was a man of his word however
for he was no longer speaking
he was singing

o my name is paddy leary
from a shpot called tipperary
in the hearts of all the girls i am a thorn in

when suddenly he stopped
and his eyes got big as saucers
and considering he was only a foot tall
that is very big indeed
saints presarve us
he yelled
tis the cat
and despite myself i turned around to look
and of course it was a trick
and of course i heard a little poof
and he was gone
and that is that

well i am sorry
i could not get you a pot of gold
yaum asal yaum basal
easy come easy go
this was not my only adventure
but i will tell you the rest later
for now i am heading under the refrigerator
and taking a nice warm overdue nap
and i will never complain about your tv programs

--posted Mar 01, 2008


Ali Goes Traveling

Strange things sometimes happen when I leave my computer on overnight. To see how they started go here. Message is printed exactly as received.

it is ali the cockroach again
this is to inform you
that i am going away
do not worry
or rejoice
it is only temporary
it is not because of you
you leave crumbs on the floor
you dont clean under the refrigerator
you even leave the computer on overnight
so i can express myself
you are as perfect a host
as any cockroach could want
if you humans could learn to be satisfied with as little
you would be much happier
you might even last half as long as a species
as we cockroaches already have
but that is your problem
just remember we told the dinosaurs too
dont get greedy
but if you self destruct before i get back
maybe you could leave the refrigerator door open
before you expire
i think i remember hearing
in one of those lifetimes you dont believe in
that a cockroach can stand one hundred times the radiation
that a human can
from which i can only conclude
that allah has already taken care
of plan b
but let that go
what is making me leave
is your media
i read your newspaper
even if it is only good for what i use it for
and i have to listen to your television
and i can not stand the irrelevancy
you know your computers are not safe
you always have to protect against viruses
and spyware
and adware
and phishers
your operating systems are full of holes
if it is online it can be hacked
and will be hacked
unless it has already been hacked
and despite that one of your presidential candidates
kept repeating over and over again the words
tamper proof i d card
and nobody caught him on it
this is only an example
tho i am proud to bring it up
there have always been computer bugs
but i am the first computer cockroach
i do not understand what all the fuss is about
over i d cards anyway
if one of you sees one of us
he says yuckkkh a cockroach
and he is right
and that is a good enough i d for anybodys purposes
but it goes on
you talk about health care
and nobody asks why it costs so much
you talk about taxes
and nobody mentions your balance of payments problem
you talk about the latest school shooter
and nobody wonders why you humans
are so ready now to throw your lives away
you talk about celebrities
and who cares
and you talk about celebrities
and who cares
and you talk about celebrities
and who cares

i certainly do not know the answers
if i did i would not speak
if i spoke you would squoosh me for real
anyway i am going outside
for a dose of reality
before you decide to sample
the hollywood writers latest efforts
do you know the difference between a new york sanitation strike
and a hollywood writers strike
in one
the garbage doesn t get picked up
in the other
the garbage doesn t get delivered
ha ha
seriously it is a good time to go
it is not so cold that i will freeze
and the birds aren t back yet
if it is my kismet
to once more greet you salaam alaykum
i will tell you all about it
i should be gone by the time you read this
so wish me bon voyage
and give my worst regards to the cat
i m off
on the morning train
across the raging main
i m off to my love with a boxing glove
ten thousand miles away

--posted Feb 17, 2008


Ali Sends a Valentine

Strange things sometimes happen when I leave my computer on overnight. To see how they started go here. Message is printed exactly as received.

it is ali the cockroach
in case you couldnt guess
you have not said anything
but i know what the situation is
after all i have been here before
believe it or not
it is coming up on what you call valentines day
you are expected to write a column on love
and the prospect fills you with horror
you writers and journalists are all alike
you started in this field as a reaction
against the smarmy greeting cards
sweet books and story ladies
you had to put up with as a kid
now you insist on truth
with a capital t
no matter how shocking
but if it is not shocking
you are convinced
it cannot be truth
and even if you have found the love of your life
you do not want to write about it
there is much wisdom in this position
john denver wrote an incredible song about his wife
and she left him
billy joel did too
and so did she
your sailors will not praise good weather
for fear it will change
and i heartily approve of this superstition
because the cockroaches in the galley
seldom have time to run for the lifeboats
but i think you are just antisentimental on principle
so now you have been leaving the computer on overnight
and dropping leftovers on the floor
you are looking for your little cockroach buddy
to bail you out of this mess
even tho you refuse to do anything about the cat
well i will do it
or at least try
you should be praising allah
that i am such a goodnatured cockroach
most of my conspecifics
would take a toilet break right in the middle
of your favorite section of the newspaper
so let me see
you will undoubtedly want something that rhymes

roses are red
but not to a bee
whats saint valentine
got to do with me

you will probably not like this
as a matter of fact neither do i
it is the stupidest thing i have ever written
i will try again

o roachess lovely
as a cricket song
you ll do until
the next one
comes along

this has posibilities
even tho it wants a burma shave sign at the end
you will probably not like this one either
that is it
i give up
i cannot help you
we cockroaches have a short lifespan
we do not go in for long courtships
a tender loving cockroach romance
translates as wham bam thank you ma am
but we are no less passionate for that
and i love all my kids and grandkids
they are really getting up in the world
one is in the governors mansion
two are in the white house
and expecting
i regularly hear things about your celebrities
your gossip columnists would give their eyeteeth to know
or their daughters virginity
i will not go on
you will think i am bragging
but i am not even getting started
i will freely admit we roaches
do not understand this lifelong romance business
but looking at the divorce figures
neither do you humans
one would think such an extended romance
would be just the thing to fill up your long lives
and maybe it is so in your case
but you are the exception
most humans get bored
they spend half their time regretting what they did
and the other half what they didnt do
i should not go on like this
because we live under different dispensations
roachlings do not need much care
and anyway they grow up so fast
but maybe you have heard that before in a different context
also no cockroach will burn in hell
no matter how many humans pray he should
our only commandment is go forth and multiply
and we are happy to obey
every chance we get
but we do not get that many chances
we have a short life
seven molts
that is it
you are lucky you do not have to molt
it is like getting a divorce from your skin
having to fill out all the paperwork yourself
and being billed by the lawyer anyway
but after that it is like you are in love again
until the last molt
after that your skin wears out
but you do not get another
then your coordination gets a bit off
and your reflexes go to hell
you have contracted the cockroach version
of oldtimers disease
but before you have time to worry about it
you are a squoosh mark
a cat snack
or something equally disgusting
i hope i do not sound morbid
it is not that way with us
we have a familiar relationship with death
tho we dont invite him to dinner
we are not afraid of the word
we do not have quote end of life issues unquote
nor do we need promises of paradise to feel this way
unlike some people i have been
anyway we know we will be back again
and far sooner than most of you would like
i am sorry if i have spoiled anyones mood
but you see i have just molted myself
so everything is fresh
life is good
and i can consider all sorts of gloomy subjects
without being brought down by it
i am as giddy as an american teenager
with a fresh young body
his parents health insurance
meals cooked by a woman
who only demands that he clean his room
access to the car and a girlfriend
that any number of obscenely rich old men
would pay obscene amounts of money
to be obscene with
cranking up the volume
and listening to death metal

--posted Feb 7, 2008


Ali Talks Politics!

Strange things have been happening lately when I leave my computer on overnight. To see how they started go here. I typed the following message in last night and received a reply. Everything is printed exactly as received.

Ali --

I have left scraps from the last Christmas dinner leftovers out for you. They have been sitting in the fridge almost two weeks so you will probably like them even better. In exchange, I want your opinions on the current Presidential candidates. Please do not try to plead ignorance. You left your calling cards all over my newspaper so I know you are keeping up on this.

well i am sorry about the newspaper
but it is partly your fault
you ordered that pizza and were very sloppy about eating it
you spent a lot of time in the bathroom that evening
and humans were not the only species so affected
you have asked me a very difficult question
requiring not just words but nerve
we cockroaches see things rather differently
we look at them from the under side
i am afraid by the time i am done
you may regret your promise not to whack me
and try to get out of it
but the leftovers were very good
much better than fresh
so i will do my best

now our species have been living together a long time
but there are still things about you we dont understand
and this government business is one of them
if some ravenous merciless insatiable monster
like your cat
were loose among humans
eating people for snacks and leaving body parts in the street
you would not rest
you would organize
you would form an army
you would hunt that monster down
we cockroaches know this is not a perfect world
we keep our senses alert
we keep our reflexes quick
we make sure to be even sneakier than our adversary
and we get by pretty well
and without paying any taxes either
it is not that insects could not organize
and do it your way
ants could
ants do
but neither humans nor cockroaches
would want to live in that kind of society
tho there have been times you humans
have begun to get just a bit close

now i am still a muslim
la illaha illa allah
and as such i should say
the government of the prophet was as perfect
as such things can be
but as a cockroach i do not believe it
his followers tried to squoosh us
as hard and often as anybody else
at least with regular times of prayer
we knew
when we could cross the kitchen in safety
but i am not answering your question
it is like the difference between democracy and feudalism
in democracy
it is your vote that counts
in feudalism
it is your count that votes
ha ha
seriously i think the best human government
is anarchy
but that is because under anarchy
no one comes to take away the garbage

but you want to know about specific candidates
well i must tell you a story about a cockroach
with the outlandish name of sresor gamga
sresor awoke one morning
with an uncontrollable urge to sit up
which for a cockroach is anatomically impossible
but sresor was a strange looking cockroach
minus palps and feelers
minus several legs
and without so much as an exoskeleton
sresor had changed into a human being
a true metamorphosis
and this was very unfortunate
it was no longer possible to hide behind baseboards
or squeeze into cabinets
not even to mention a couple other things
like sex
sresors cockroach family were disgusted and embarassed
they tried to help
but when you have a hundred kids
there is only so much time you can give to any ones problem
sresor was unceremoniously thrown out
into the world of humans
this could have been very traumatic
for the only skills of a cockroachly education
are learning how to be sneaky
to blend in to ones surroundings
to consume what one has not produced
and to throw the blame on others
this is not a good resumay
well how else am i supposed to spell it without accent marks
but sresor had an indomitable urge to succeed
and did what many humans with similar talents do
namely went into politics
and was very good at it
good enough in fact
to be one of the candidates
currently running in your presidential primaries
as to who this might happen to be
i will of course maintain a respectful silence
at least until i can be sure
you are supporting somebody else

-- posted Jan 6, 2008


Ali Sends Christmas Greetings

Strange things sometimes happen when I leave my computer on overnight. To see how they started go here. Message is printed exactly as received.

it is ali the cockroach again
i have come to wish you merry xmas
you should not be surprised i do this
we insects judge human holidays
by the quality of scraps on the floor
and yours are excellent
much better than anything that guy in the red suit could have brought
you should not be so careful
about keeping them on your plate
lighten up joy to the world
anyway humans and cockroaches
are not on the same page theologically
the only divine command ever given to us cockroaches
was spoken by the mouth of noah
he told us to go forth and multiply
I think you would agree
we have obeyed extraordinarily well
as to what you humans were commanded
and through whom
and how well you have obeyed
you will have to work that out among yourselves
but if you get too funny about it
we will throw a funeral banquet in your honor
just like we did with the dinosaurs

now i hate to bring this up
but it is really disturbing me
you do not believe that i can remember all my past lives
do not deny it i can feel your skepticism
we bugs do not have feelers for nothing
you are envisioning me as a human soul
with a couple cockroach incarnations
but the truth is i am a cockroach soul
with a few human incarnations
and i have already forgotten more than you will ever remember
but have it your way
i did not really live all those lives
i am just remembering their memories
maybe they are remembering mine
this is certainly possible
but apart from some metaphysical speculations
on the nature of the soul
from which allah preserve me
what besides those memories
makes that guy him and me me question mark
now i know what makes me me in this life
it is good food like your xmas dinner scraps
you have been blessed by allah
to have such a good cook for a wife exclamation point
yes that is a hint you should drop more on the floor
if allah dislikes a man
he sends him a wife who can cook but wont
if he really hates him
he sends him one who cant cook but does
but it is different with this soul business
maybe me and some other guy
are both remembering the same memories
like 2 people reading the same book
that is an interesting thought
i wonder if anybody in the hereafter
would buy a copy of my memories
i wonder even more
how much i should charge for them
and in what currency i could be paid
oh my
when i take a dump in your newspaper again
i promise
it will not be in the financial section

-- posted December 26, 2007


CHRISTMAS COMES to Schlaraffenland like everywhere else, and as the end of the year approaches I've generally taken some time to reflect on the changes that have taken place in the old and seem likely in the new. It seems a good tradition to keep, even if maybe a bit 19th-century (but I'm reaching the point where I sometimes feel a bit 19th-century). But if you're looking for a large-scale analysis of social trends in Western culture, go directly to my Old Rants. Or maybe Nostradamus. I still stand by everything I've written, but it's too hard -- or easy! -- to go there anymore.

And if you're looking for my views on the current Presidential candidates, look elsewhere. There is perhaps ONE who's speaking to my heart, but he seems so willfully out of touch with certain unpleasant realities not of our creation that at times I feel it's criminal. But he's scarcely alone. Every candidate, as far as I can see, is to some degree speaking from viewpoints forged when this country could export energy, but not jobs. What should -- can -- be done, now that the situation is reversed? I don't know. But I've given hostages to the future -- sons and grandchildren -- and saying "I told you so" is not an option.

So on to what I presumably have some expertise in -- Fractals. It should be no surprise to longterm visitors to my site that my initial rapid production has slowed down considerably. But I've been doing this for five years, and probably won most or all of the easy victories. The struggle with any electronic graphics tool is to express your vision rather than the preexisting viewpoints built into the capabilities of that tool. I have not given up trying -- or ceased at least occasionally succeeding -- and will probably have a new gallery up later in the winter, after I've done all the outside work that can be done till spring and made all the Christmas presents in my woodshop.

Yes, there's that. There's another sled to redo, for starters: and especially in this year of massive recalls these projects seem more important than ever. Above all, it doesn't seem very Christian to buy toys made in sweatshop conditions in a country that oppresses native Christians (not to speak of Tibetan Buddhists).

Which leads to a topic of some urgency in the hinterland this year (although the mainstream media won't touch it with a ten-foot pole) -- the outrage at certain department stores that won't mention the word "Christmas," even while they're trying to take as much of our money as they can for "Holiday" shopping, and a determination among many people to take their business elsewhere because of it. Taken by itself, this would seem much ado about nothing. But you can't take it by itself. It's part of a long process -- an attack on Christianity itself, if I may say so -- and I thoroughly support the movement, for the same reason that I won't patronize pay-first gas stations. The American commercial establishment (to look at it in the kindest possible light) is totally dependent on the mass media for advertising, and all too prone to cater to the attitudes that seem endemic to that industry. In short, they are not going to resist this pc power-grab (and the next and the next) until they know that going along with it is going to cost them buck$$$$!

But like everything else in this time and place, some people take it too far. I recently received an email mailing detailing how Target has fallen in with the "Holiday" crowd, forbade the Salvation Army to solicit in front of their stores, and done other things to please the pc crowd and the Gay Lobby. Boycott Target, urges the emailer, and take your business to...Wal-Mart!

Really! Show my Christian values by patronizing a chain notorious for low wages and benefits, that drives out local retailers and corrupts zoning boards, and is the world's biggest enabler of sweatshop conditions in China? Get real, buddy! If you are going to call for a boycott you had better give people a better choice than between two giant organizations near the bottom of the moral food chain!

One thing that hasn't changed is the annoyance of bandwidth thieves. But I don't like what happens to me when I get too aggessively antiparasitical, so I've learned to live with it -- UNLESS the leechers push me too far, by stealing too much bandwidth or by being assholes pushing viewpoints I will not tolerate. And I must tell the Iranian blogger (if he's reading this) that he's very close to the former, and the French national who's put another of my efforts in uncomfortable proximity to a collection of yuri manga, to the latter.

One constant in this is the seeming fascination of the Islamic world with my Mother's Day card. First in Farsi and now in Bahasa Indonesia, they keep linking to it. And I wish I knew what they were saying! Maybe, just maybe, it's the voice of Muslim humanism that has to be out there despite all the emphasis on jihadis; and maybe it can even find a Christian response in a West that seems increasingly split into pagans, antitheistic intellectuals, and know-nothing fundamentalists.

Helping to further that would be worth a little bandwidth, right? Grandparents are optimists of necessity. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!.

-- posted 23 November 2007


Ali Explains It All

Following up on the strange message posted on my computer (to see what it was go here), I typed in the following question and left the computer on overnight. Everything is printed exactly as received.

Ali --
As you are a fellow writer I promise not to whack you, poison you, or do anything else to shorten your life. I can and will make no such promises on behalf of the cat. But I am puzzled. From poet to cockroach may not be too great a stretch (I've known a couple poets), but from poet -- or even cockroach-poet -- to suicide bomber? That seems a little extreme even over two lifetimes. Maybe you can explain how this is possible.

well i will certainly try
bismillah al rahman al rahim
in the name of god the compassionate and merciful
they are actually not that different
a poet has a vision of life
that he wants to put into words
and words were not invented for this purpose
speech was made for plotting murder and mayhem
on those guys across the border
for haggling over prices in the marketplace
and making propositions to the opposite sex
but this does not stop the poet
he highjacks the airplane of language
and ignores the innocent bystanders that are the other parts of his life
trivial and unimportant things like wife and children and job
he flies straight toward his goal
if he can not reach it
often enough he plows into the skyscraper of his own life
he is not really destructive
he just got in his own way
the suicide bomber also has a vision
but he will accept no artistic substitute
he wants to render his vision in real life
now men are in certain respects more malleable than words
hit a man with a word often enough
and it is the man who will change
and your advertising agencies know this very well
but even so the bombers vision has no chance
he is as bad off as the poet
and will likewise not be stopped
he is not really destructive either
he would rather do battle with capital e evil
but all he can see around him are buildings
and innocent bystanders
now allah is the creator
and would never interfere with the creative process
but he is a very severe critic
he knows how to bring creation out of destruction
but we his creatures are not able to do this
be we humans or even cockroaches
altho i once met some fungi
who claimed they had the secret
i did not stick around to find out
get your mycelia off of me i yelled
and got the hell out of there

this is where the vers libre has something to offer the world
vers libre does not try to impose a vision on reality
and speaking strictly as a cockroach
that is something both americans and muslims need to learn
it lets the natural order of the world
flow unchanged into the poem
this is much easier on the poet
and especially on those around him
i will show you what i mean
in one of my past lives i was a renaissance fencing master
i was on first name terms with petrarch
but not dante tho i met him once
i knew even then what the bastard was about
i handled it subtly however
i just put my hand on my sword hilt
and said
you put me in hell
and i ll put you in hell
with petrarch it was different
we were both after the same girl
and she was a beauty
as hot as any of your italian movie divas
now petrarch started with all the advantages
but he wanted to write her a love sonnet
and her name had the wrong number of syllables
and the accent in the wrong place
and didn't rhyme with anything respectable
he was still working on it two years later
she got tired of waiting
and said yes to me
and it was the worst decision of my life
she ate so much at the wedding reception she threw up
and it was all avoirdupois and yet more dupois from there
on top of which she was a lousy cook
wouldnt keep house
and wasnt even good in the one place
where youd think she had to be good
in desperation i challenged the best swordsman in italy
to a duel
i even gave him a run for his money
for about 30 seconds
but he had earned his reputation
and i died with a smile on my lips

now i do not mean to say
that if petrarch had been a vers libre poet
he would have gotten the girl instead of me
she was my kismet it was written from before the beginning
or so it is written
please do not try to argue with me about this
anyway you cannot win an argument with a predestinationist
unless of course it is predestined
yes if petrarch had written vers libre
his poem would have been done in time
and being petrarch it would have been wonderful
but what she loved was artificiality
the artificiality of renaissance sonnets or the artificiality of italian fencing
she would have turned him down immediately
and gone to me even sooner
but petrarch would have had his fair shot
and gotten over it much easier
and not been such an imposition on centuries of italian schoolboys
i hope this makes everything clear
because the odor of your leftovers is too strong to resist
but if i am leaving my work unfinished for my appetites
ask yourself if i do it as a cockroach
or a poet

--posted 11 Sept 2007


Ali Introduces Himself

I inadvertently left the computer on one night and found the following message on it next morning. I reprint it exactly as received. As to its provenance I can say only: a) I have never been known to sleepwalk, and b) I observed the cat making determined efforts to reach something under the refrigerator yesterday.

i am back tho you wont recognize me
i am ali the cockroach
i used to have another name but will not mention it
being a literary insect one has to be careful
and lawyers stomp harder than anybody else
anyway i had been a vers libre poet
who died and woke up as a cockroach
talk about devastating literary criticism
i did not let it stop me
i became a famous newspaper columnist
by jumping onto the keys of this reporters typewriter
back in the twenties and thirties
he was a great guy but i will not name him either
well here i am again
a couple incarnations later
youd think i would have had enough of this sort of thing
but they say printers ink gets in your blood
so let me say first of all
i think progress is great
your computer keyboard is so sensitive
all i have to do is hop on the letters
it beats the hell out of the headfirst dives
i had to make onto the keys of that old typewriter
thank you for leaving the wpprogram on overnight
as i am obviously not up to mouse clicks

you are probably wondering
what happened to me and where i have been
well the plain truth is
i was stepped on by some ignorant yahoo
who did not know what a famous cockroach i had become
i awoke somewhat later as a little boy in the middle east
i hated america and americans
but never knew why because you humans dont remember your previous lives
i cheered your 911
and became a suicide bomber myself
it is no way to spend the rest of your life
but at least you dont have to worry about what to do for an encore
as to what happened in the hereafter i will not get into that
nobody wants to hear theology
especially from a cockroach
suffice it to say
it was not exactly what i had been taught to expect
and generally goes on a very long time
i dont know why i am here instead of still there
maybe one of the diesel dykes they passed out instead of virgins
had pity on me

after that i was a late term abortion
three times
the first was by what you people cannot agree to call partial birth abortion
it was relatively painless
but relatively is a relative word
by the second time you had outlawed the procedure
so i was cut up still in the womb
i do not know whether i was supposed to be dead or anesthetized at that point
but if so they botched the job
the third time was the worst
i was only one or two days from being born
they stuck a needle full of poison into me
while my mother screamed and screamed
she did not want to get rid of me
this was not an operation gone wrong
it was some damned chinese bureaucrat
trying to make his birth control quota

i am sorry to give you all these gory details
i know they will upset you
but it has made a very deep impression on me
and i am no longer the happygolucky cockroach i once was
for which allah be thanked
i think
and anyway this is nothing compared to what you humans
do to us cockroaches every day
and nobody gets upset by it
but if you want to survive as a species
you are going to have to do something about this abortion business
i realize this advice will not be well received
as we cockroaches have a very different attitude toward birth control
and i certainly do not want
any woman to carry a baby she does not want
i have been that baby
not once but twice
and it is not good for anybody
but you are disturbing the psychic understratum
that ties all human life together
if you do not understand that concept read the works of karl jung
he doesnt understand it either
it is scaring all the babies
and too many are getting themselves born way too early

i tell you this with some trepidation
i certainly dont believe in violence anymore
especially considering our size difference
and i would never be a suicide cockroach
i leave that for the ants and bees
and for all i know my teachers hatred of you
did not have any better basis than mine did
besides after going through the torments of hell
and being aborted three times
i hope you would think
that i have been punished enough
but some people always want to add to others suffering
my suicide bomb instructor was like that
so maybe you will want to squish me
because i was once a suicide bomber
maybe you will anyway
there is not a lot of love lost between our species
we are too much alike
just please remember
that allah loves the compassionate and merciful
i ask only this
that if you are determined to try to whack me
please do not do it with a made in china

-- posted 29 July 2007

to find out about archy and mehitabel and their creator Don Marquis go here


ASPAR HAEUSER stuck out his thumb on the turnpike: he was heading West in hope and anxiety. Somewhere in his head, a small voice which seemed to remember the future told him that this was happening at a time when such things remained possible, a time when his name was still Kaspar Haeuser although he did not yet recognize it. The weather was beautiful, almost a dream, though the warmth of the sun on his face was real enough: as were also the lines of the cars, straightforward and bold like the country that made them, and answering to no forces but engineering and the all-pervasive drive for profit.

The right-turn signal of the Ford flatbed blinked as it headed for the shoulder. As it passed him his eyes met female eyes, large, laughing, framed in raven hair that fell around a collar open two buttons more than the propriety of the time approved. But it was a retrojection from a later Jackson Browne song; he ran toward the semi and climbed up the ladder into the cabin. He couldn't read the writing on the trailer, and the driver's features were strangely blurred. He was in that singular state where he dreamed, knew he was dreaming, and yet continued to dream. He decided to take conscious control, glared at the driver and willed the return of the girl in the flatbed, but everything began to dissolve.

Your hands, he thought, look at your hands! He held them up and did. He knew them, after all, like the back of his hand. But they were different. They were wet smooth froggy green, unbroken by so much as a fingernail: grew lizard-like scales and claws, which morphed into alligator leather, then sprouted thick hair, most of which dropped off seconds later. But it wasn't so much a Castañeda lucid-dreaming exercise as his eyes still full of sleep trying to focus. And all in vain: the dark line before his eyes was not the border of the windshield but his bedframe; the cat, not a lover, was playing with his hair.

Or was he only dreaming that he was waking up?


What if the language had no words for "what if?" What if the subjunctive mood "was" abolished? A lot of useless and counterproductive stemwinding might be avoided. What if I won the lottery? Put some money aside, dammit! What if magic were real? Back on the dole, J.K.!

But that kind of daydreaming was of the very essence of science. What if you could ride on a light beam, thought young Einstein, and went on from there. Why assume the process was done? What if neutrinos had "nonzero" mass? Or woolier: what if the force of gravity did not fall off exactly as the square of the distance over very long intervals (a possible explanation for the Pioneer anomaly)? What if "dark matter" pervaded the outer solar system (another explanation for the anomaly)? What if every Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox, invented to demonstrate the absurdity of quantum theory, were as true as the quantum-mechanical universe itself? And dipping into uselessness for a minute, what if … entities … somewhere or when in this many-worlds-explanation Multiverse had discovered how to use them for power and transportation?

And why leave the social sciences out? What if liberty, equality, democracy, the rule of law, civil society, were all just "epiphenomena" of Western society in a period of expansion, and must inevitably vanish (or more likely, morph into their opposites while retaining their original names) as that society entered a phase of stagnation/contraction?

What if a long-term equality of the sexes were impossible, that the measures taken to bring women to a position of equality in one generation must inevitably lead to their superiority in the following?

What if similar considerations applied to State toleration of homosexuality?

And as if he didn't already have enough people mad at him, what if there were differences, subtle but still statistically significant after averaging out enormous individual variations and compensating for differences of class and culture, in the way the different races of mankind thought, valued, organized themselves?

What if all those questions were meaningless and the only one that mattered was this: can any society, whatever its initial military and economic advantages, which produces few children and does not teach them to honor its core values, maintain itself against one that has lots of kids and does?

What if God…


Enough. He was awake, and no amount of attempts at self-mazement would bring back sleep, let alone his dream; and literarizing his random morning thoughts into a third-rate imitation of Lila (itself a third-rate sequel to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) wasn't going to help either. He should write a book, Zen and the Art of Writing 'Zen and the Art of' Books. Like so many Sixties bands, the title would be better than the contents. Verzeihen Sie mich, Eugen Herrigel

But it had been a vivid dream, and a particularly troubling period of his life. In addition to the universal Sturm und Drang of youth, there had been the overriding question of what are you going to do? He had fallen into, more than chosen, his final answer to that question, but he knew it had never been easy. It had, in fact, been a continuing fascination of writers at least since Goethe had sent his Wilhelm Meister out on a wandering apprenticeship. But of everything he had ever read, before during or after, on the subject, the least helpful was The Catcher in the Rye.

Granted, it was a book he loved to hate. It was, ultimately, about nothing - two generations before Seinfeld! - and Salinger himself was a bloated spider of a Humbert Humbert, letting young women of literary aspirations bathe in his great-author darshan for the usual and immemorial price of their young bodies. Somebody - his little sister, of all people - asks the spoiled-rotten preppie narrator Holden Caulfield what he wants to do with his life, and, in a flipped-off answer which somehow becomes the title of the book, he replies that he'd like to be a "catcher in the rye," someone who stood in a field and ran to catch the playing children before they got too close to the cliff.

Now fairy tales were full of boys who wanted to become dragon-slayers, and Alonso Quixano rode off to be a knight-errant. But Alonso was crazy, and the boys' world was a fantasy one: here, though, was tale of a supposedly sane young man in our actual world who wanted to do work which in that world is done by a fence.

Now Kaspar, at the height of his Haeuserness, had wanted to be a rock musician, a mad enough ambition in itself but technically possible: such people did exist. And it was a dream toward which one could work: he spent long hours practicing his guitar, finding kindred spirits, jamming with them. He learned how to lead and how to accompany, how to turn his amorphous conceptions into hard actual notes and expose them to the unpitying glare of peer judgement, how to put together a band and even land a few gigs. One could argue (though he never thought in those terms) that he learned lessons of far wider application, lessons about business negotiation, setting priorities, time management, working in purpose-driven organizations.

But what preparations could Holden Caulfield make for his career of human fence? Even a would-be dragon slayer, undeterred by the absence of dragons in our world, might yet be drawn toward herpetology, fencing, kendo, perhaps metallurgy.

But the way the world was going, it looked like Salinger might have been onto something. Our children are being threatened by drugs, and the law enforcement fence isn't working, the Coast Guard interdiction fence isn't working, the crop eradication in the Third World fence isn't working. What to do? Call on the services of Holden Caulfield, Drug Counselor!

Our children are arguably being damaged by the popular culture. There's certainly no lack of people wanting to build fences, but also plenty of others, driving a mixed team of free speech and copyright-restricted content, determined that no such fences will ever be built: and so far, they've carried the day in court. Welcome Holden Caulfield, Psychologist! He can help you to deal with anything except dispensing with his services.

Our children are definitely being damaged by the wide availability of guns: and once again, no shortage of pro- or anti-fencers. Nothing to be done for the dead, of course, except by professions too heavily infused with formaldehyde or religion for preppie Holden to want to soil his hands with; but for the survivors, here's Mr. Caulfield, your Physical Therapist.

Our children are being injured by the breakup of their parents' marriages. Hard to even imagine a fence here, so call on Counselor Caulfield again.

Our children are suffering from an overabundance of Holden Caulfield types in their lives…

Amazingly, even the required-reading mavens had recognized that danger, and prescribed as counterweight the totally dissimilar To Kill a Mockingbird, a book so suffused with sense of place that, were a tree to write, it couldn't convey it more strongly. It was a world where people could take walks in the evening and talk to neighbors on front porches, a world where all the characters and their families were known back three generations or even longer - a world, in short, with which Kaspar and everyone he knew had less in common than with the 170-year-old floating misery of dickensian London. And yet it was a world where things happened, things at once humanly satisfying and politically correct, and which furthermore could never be upset by the author's further writings, as she had abandoned an incredibly promising beginning to become Truman Capote's fag hag…


A hundred metaphors wept and dissolved sugarlike in their own tears. A flower of truth bloomed in the one corner inaccessible to the botcameras of the Surveillance State: unobserved, it dropped its petals one by one to feed a fungus of lies. Reality, reality, ran the watchword of a generation whose technology found its most natural expression in the visual representation of dreams. Meanwhile, terrorists hid in plain sight and the weathermen, with an instinct for self-preservation learned from court astrologers, were no better than those of Jesus' era at reading the signs of the times.

Enough of this foolishness, we have a planet to save!

All well and good. But since lifting oneself up by the bootstraps was a manifest impossibility, what that actually meant was: judgements of value are to be made, and what passes the selections and is deemed worthy will be propelled upwards into the sunlight of Preservation as equal and opposite reaction to sending the rest to Hell. And who would make those selections? Why, we will. But he was already sane enough to know that that meant not "us," but rather, "as opposed to you, peon."

A sound blared from horizon to horizon, filling the space between his ears with the solidity of a block of wood. Was it the Last Trumpet, or only the alarm clock?

-- posted June 5,2007


TARING AT a blank screen, the Fool (another name for Writer) sat at his keyboard. In the old (=precomputer) days, his chair would be surrounded by pieces of crumpled paper: now, one typed, one edited, one saved alternate versions, but when the time finally came to terminate the session with extreme prejudice, instead of an angry yank and cathartic crumpling one had to be satisfied with an incredibly wimpy Select All=>Delete. He moved his hands away from the keyboard, fighting an urge to slam them down on all the keys at once and fill the screen with gibberish. In those old days one could pound a satisfying fist down on the typewriter keys and raise a pillar of letter-arms just shy of the platen. Annoying, but easily untangleable, and the old typewriters, like old Country wives, seemed to put up with the abuse. Much had changed.

It wasn't as if he didn't have any ideas. He had a ton of them. Read Gibbon, read Thucydides, read the Bible and then read the news, and similar ideas will occur to you: predominantly gloomy and mostly already working themselves out in today's society. But when he put them down in print they somehow seemed merely arrogant, idle bloviating. Who died and made you the expert, man? It was all very well to say, this is the Internet, judge the ideas on their own. But he couldn't believe it himself. There were a hundred valid explanations for why he hadn't gone into academia or the law, and only a few had pictures of dead presidents on them. But again, when set down in black and white they seemed more like excuses. Ideas like his perhaps came into their own as the background for fiction, but it was still the foreground that mattered: things like plot, characterization, dialog, all the areas in which he was weak. Some bloggers avoided the whole problem by detailing the minutia of their everyday lives, "chatting to the sewing basket," as the Germans put it. Nein danke. Besides, his life was so regular he'd have to invent incidents even there. Maybe those others did too. It didn't matter. He'd lived through so many "interesting times" that boredom didn't bore him anymore.

Why would anybody want to be a writer anyway? Once they contented themselves with extravagant praise for that masterpiece of Spanish cruelty Don Quixote: then they began to tell tales and make films about prostitutes who yet retained the ability to love someone or something. Is it possible, even for a writer, to view this as anything other than the writer's comment on his position in society? And now they made novels and comicbooks and movies about vampires, hitmen, creatures in league with the devil himself, who still possessed a generous proportion of the higher sentiments and faculties. What was that screaming about the writer today? And why wasn't anybody listening?

Even as he wrote he knew it was overdramatic and the wrong question. He'd noticed. Undoubtedly others did too. The real questions, once more, were about credibility, that mysterious quality that made the owners of the means of mass information willing to give a's opinions the airtime that enabled even x, y and z to know about them. Once, it was clear who the experts were. But with the forces of Darkness defeated and the power of the atom in their hands, they had overreached, and developed what any ancient Greek theatergoer would recognize as a bad case of hubris. And a tipping-point number of their contemporaries had said in their hearts, You do not speak for me. But instead of finding new voices, or even discovering their own, they had mostly sought anesthesia on the Tube, giving up not only their opinions but even their experience. What would you have us do, he could almost hear the rejoinder, listen to those crazy idiots on the Internet? Why not? he would respond. After all, he was now one himself. But he liked the "idiots," even the young half-incoherent ones. Not content to rip, mix, and burn, they were determined to add their voices to the intellectual Babel of cyberspace, even if what they said was barely better than "Kilroy was here." With no motor but their own sense that something was deeply wrong, with no ideas except others' propaganda, with no vocabulary beyond the Nadsat/Newspeak of Bohemia, they were hanging in there. They'd learn. Maybe they'd even learn something from him. He smiled as the delicious phrase "corrupter of youth" ran through his mind. Good thing they'd abolished punishment by hemlock.

Knock, knock.
Who's there?
I'm from the Political First Church of Literal Genesis, here to invite you to worship with us this week.
I have to work Sundays. Where were you guys when they let that through?
Too busy fighting aid to Catholic schools.

Knock, knock.
Who's there?
We're from the Bureau of Coping Mechanism Interference, here to inform you about new restrictions on smoking.
Why don't you guys just ban the weed outright and be done with it?
Because the wise conqueror will, whenever possible, present his demands to the vanquished in installments.

Knock, knock.
Who's there?
We're the Food Puritans, here to announce new limits on what you can buy in restaurants.
Why don't you and those smoking guys stop trying to tell everybody what to do?
Because the government pays the medicare bill.

Knock, knock.
Who's there?
We're from the Weight Police, Mr. Jones, and we're here to seize your children for being obese.
You've got the wrong address. Jones lives next door.
Quite so. We're here to take yours for being too thin.

The child comes only slowly to consciousness, and he comes with a bag of unrealized possibilities: some contradictory, some in either-or relationships with others, some never to be realized, but in no sense a tabula rasa. And when he speaks, he will speak from the only platform conceivable to him, from his own experience and interests and potentialities. He will speak from it even if he senses that it is not shared, will often continue to speak even when he knows it gets him into trouble, and if he somehow learns early on to shut up it is no sign of superior intelligence or exceptional maturity, but one of his inborn possibilities coming into actualization. Commonly he learns only much later, when the damage is long done and deep. Sometimes, especially in medically-paradigmed times like ours, he may hear a word such as "autism." And this will be a liberation, for it will remove the self-blame from his persecution and the sense of incomprehensible uniqueness from his sufferings. But it may also come as imprisonment, for the odds are good this child has spent years fighting to be regarded as a full member of his society, and to have his thoughts and desires and wishes recognized as legitimate contributions to society's stock of such, to be honored and followed at least some of the time. And he sees that with the removal of guilt comes a label of "patient," and this label debars him from full participation. He is not a legitimate variation of normality and need not be taken seriously about anything except just possibly the inner feel of his own condition. The child rejects this. He brings all his personality to bear on the problem, works out by long experience the psychic equivalent of the blind man's white cane to guide him through his blind spots, cleaves to universal principles, especially in areas where he perceives he has been played for a sucker, distills rules and follows them where his fellows can float and swim in a shifting medium of context. And at the end, he is independent enough and capable enough that he is no longer a Patient.

He is a Fool.

Staring at a blank screen…

-- posted March 16, 2007



THE CHINESE Lunar New Year has come, and it's the Year of the Pig. I would not bother you with this, dear Reader, except for the fact that I myself am a Pig. I've checked it out thoroughly with the calendar and furthermore every woman I've ever been with has told me so at least once. And not only a Pig. The Chinese zodiacal cycle of twelve animals itself has variants based on the ancient conception of five Elements: Earth, Air, Water, Fire and Metal. So I am a Fire Pig, born in a Fire Pig year and finally come around the long long cycle to another.

I am not sure how much any of this means, but I am a sucker for completing-the-circle songs, from old standards like "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" to modern ones like Bruce Springsteen's "Hometown," so you'll pardon me, I hope, my interest here. I am at any rate highly unlikely, just on statistics, to see another, so this will be it for Fire Pig years for me.

Besides the typical Pig traits of stubbornness and loyalty, the Fire Pig is prone to express those in terms of social justice, historical context, and political action. That description fits me to a T (and for whatever it may become worth, Hillary Clinton is a Fire Pig too). Pigs are supposed to be lucky. My bank account would disagree, but just the other night, at the very start of the New Year, I narrowly avoided a serious auto accident. I'll take that kind of luck anyday!

This is not my first brush with the Chinese Zodiac. Way back in the waning months of 1969, I and three other musical dreamers got together in a loud, intense band we named after our lead singer/rhythm guitarist/chief songwriter, a man who went by the name of Jamison Smoothdog. He could scarcely avoid an alias: his real name was Jimmy Hendricks (and no, I am not making this up).

Come February, we all independently realized that the upcoming New Year was the Year of the Dog, and celebrated in our own way. "One billion Chinese can't be wrong!" I told us. And indeed, what success we had - playing our city's big Rock hall a couple times, cutting an album with an independent producer, and some interest from the majors - we had in that year. But the "Dog" was almost impossible to work with, a domineering general who kept his troops' loyalty only by continued victories. Things bogged down and disintegrated.

I did a couple more projects with him in later years, though. He used to laugh at my troubles with my girlfriends. "I don't care who I'm with," he told me, "so I'm always with somebody." And indeed, the women he was "with" were uniformly thin, quiet, drop-dead beauties. The Lost Girls, I called them. Then one year he looked me up and I was surprised to find that he was married, especially as she wasn't that thin or quiet. But he treated her abominably, continued clubbing, and wasn't averse to continued dallying with Lost Girls.

On top of which, he had contracted diabetes and refused to modify his conduct. After you have to throw somebody in your van and rush him home for his wife to give him an insulin shot because he has been so incredibly stupid as to take on a barroom dare and down two tequilas straight, you know that nothing is going to happen no matter how many agents, backers and other assorted personnel he may have gathered for his next stab at the big time.

I found out what happened to him a little while ago. He died alone, at his kitchen table, his insulin and needle before him but unable to reach for them because of insulin shock. He remained there until a neighbor noticed the smell.

I wish ill for no one and would not wish such a death on anyone short of possibly Osama bin Laden. Karmic lessons are screaming here but it's not for us who write to draw them. Appreciate those you're with. Let them know.

But I see that the Fire Pig is about to start grunting socially-politically again. Not this time. Happy New Year. Gung Hee Fat Choi.

--posted Feb. 18, 2007


O wad a pow'r the Regiftie gie us,
To gie agin wha others gie us!
-- Bobbi Smoulders

WELL, FRACTAL FANS, it's time for my annual Christmas or post-Christmas rumination. But it won't be about our favorite Artform this time, because, even if just once in the year, I like to get out from behind the monitor and do my creation in three dimensions -- commonly in wood -- for an order of not-yet-totally-screenhypnotized beings in many respects realer than the rest of us -- that is to say, my grandchildren. And my project this year was -- a sled.

Now in the course of almost sixty years I've noticed that words can subtly shift their meanings, that things once universally understood can become impenetrable puzzles. So a short detour is in order. It seems that corporate America wants the people answering the phones in the various departments of its bigbox stores to deliver a long spiel before they're allowed to deal with the person calling them. The employees -- quite rightly, IMHO -- try to get this unappreciated timewaster out of the way in the quickest way possible, and often wind up sounding like they're in a words-per-minute race with the Mexican newscasters on Telemundo. After a particularly extreme and unintelligible example -- delivered by someone whose voice indicated his age as late teens to early twenties -- I asked, "Would you mind repeating that at 33 1/3 instead of 78?"

He didn't have a clue! (and if you don't either, dear Reader, just ask anybody over thirty)

So with that in mind, let me clarify: by sled I mean the old Flexible Flyer type, wood frame, metal runners, lie down and steer it with the crossbar in front; the only snow-toy my or my kids' generations would dignify with that name. Now since I like to fix things up and customize them, I bought an old one last summer at the flea market. Talk about projects! Someone had painted the entire thing pink (!) and the center slats were not in good shape at all. But that was no trouble since I planned to remove them anyway.

But getting all that old paint off was such a horrendous pain that at one point I said to myself, "This is ridiculous. Pride be damned, go out and buy one." And that's when I found out that they were no longer out there to be bought. Hightech newfangled contraptions, yeah. And old classics from eBay. But both only on the Internet, and at prices approaching $100.00. You want something here, now? Plastic and more plastic. Even Flexible Flyer has gone plastic (and sells only from tony catalogs like L.L.Bean).

Well, with that reality check in mind I figured I could work with some pink flakes deep in the woodgrain after all, and finally got it all stained, painted, varnished, and done with not a day to spare. And of course the recipient loves it to pieces. Unfortunately for her we're having the warmest winter in decades here...

Now the point of all this is not to say "see what a good boy am I." (I've been warned by Jack Horner's lawyers not to use the phrase) or even to announce my candidacy for president of the Procrastinators' Union (I'll get around to that later).But there's a couple points I have to make:

First, wood is renewable (we're not talking tropical hardwoods here!) and we have as much iron as we conceivably need. And they're both right here, domestically. Petroleum is needed for fuel (and if we found alternatives we'd still need it for fertilizer) and the use of it helps our enemies. So how, in the name of Christ, the long term, and the United States of America, can we make these Christmas toys from the one instead of the others?

Further: if anything happened to the old sleds (which it very seldom did) Dad or somebody else could fix it. When something goes south on the new (and it will sooner rather than later) there's nothing anyone can do but throw it out and buy another. Duh! Now take out your copies of Brave New World and repeat after me, "Ending is better than mending, ending is better than mending..."

Dismiss all this, if you will, as the ranting of an old man out of step with his time. But I've been out of step with it as a young man too, and I won't get into how many times it's been the world that's been proved wrong. So go right ahead. It's almost as good as being called "nigger-lover" by the likes of David Duke..

But just so I won't seem like a total curmudgeon, let me relate a good experience from this time: I heard on the radio a piece from composer Richard Thompson's "Frostiana," a vocal setting of "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening." Everybody's favorite poem from everybody's favorite poet, of course, but -- we need things like this, more than we know. We need poets who can speak to the people and we need composers willing to play Beethoven to those poets' Schiller. But since it was on my car radio that I heard it, it set my mind to wandering. I leave you with the result:

Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening Years Later

The woods stand here as years before,
But now I go by motor car.
The shoulder snow stands hubcap height,
I slow to look; my thoughts run far.

My tires are new, my car runs right,
The wipers clear, the headlamps bright.
All one, to coast in second gear,
Or race toward somewhere half the night.

An angry horn-blast at my rear
Informs me I cannot stop here,
And shatters deep within my mind
The half-formed thoughts of yesteryear.

No chance to seek, still less to find.
How was I made so dumb and blind
By promises I never signed?
By promises I never signed.

--posted December 26, 2006


HE GODDESS of Understanding came to him, after Euterpe had led him into a lonely place and lamed his wrist, after Erato had given him a passion-awakening kiss and then split without so much as a lap dance. She took him up to an exceedingly high place, and showed him things imperceivable to those working closer to the ground. And as a special mark of her favor, she lifted her arms and let him gaze through the thin translucency of her robes, so that things which were not yet became almost visible to his sight.

Then he heard his five-year-old granddaughter speaking learnedly, earnestly, yet completely childishly about matters of which she knew virtually nothing. What have you done to me, Pallas Athena? he cried, but she put her finger to her lips; and already, he could see the snakes wriggling out from beneath her helmet.

He turned quickly, though it plunged him into darkness.


Such a temptation, such a temptation, to think the poetic "he" is "I." But soft! At fifteen, she pricked her finger (and fell into an enchanted sleep). At fifteen, he fingered his prick (and fell from Grace). One less letter, a minor rearrangement of word order, even in both cases a fall. No difference? This country of Dreams is not what it was. It's been industrially harvested, and colonized by video software. Maybe it needs a long Sabbath, a string of closed seasons like the Grand Banks, until its stock of unexpected monsters can recover. Karl Jung was an advisor to Star Wars, Rimbaud long ago assimilated and Morrisonized, and even Dylan Thomas, the last white obviously heterosexual male world-classer of English-speaking poetry, has been dead some fifty years and, despite his behavior with the coeds, is become Required Reading. Ginsberg is surely next, unless his place be taken by a black woman, of whom half a dozen could be offered as candidates. Only arrant Nazis could be sure of escaping this fate; but they're all terrible writers, which may speak ground truth more loudly than a slew of self-interested sermons on the unity of humankind.


Hello, hello.
Go away.
But you are my parents.
Go away, you never call.

But when he was young enough to reasonably expect something from them, he called every day, but it was not recognized.

Let me speak to you of what I learned in school today.
We've had as much of that as we wanted to go through. Shut up.
Then I will speak of what I have gathered from the books you bought me.
If we wanted to know, we'd read them ourselves. Shut up.
Then I will speak to you my creations, my poems and stories, the first fruits of my brain.
Unfortunately that's not important. Shut up.
Then I will speak to you of how I perceive this world, though the standards and the moral values which you taught me.
Shut UP!

The old Mafiosi lived by omertá, the code of silence. They had much to say, but the world was full of enemies. So one kept silent, and if it ate him up inside it did not matter, for the world saw him as a man. But some strange inversion had possessed this yet stranger Stranger, for he would unbendingly seek to validate his manhood and yet babble and babble and babble, which real men do not do. He was careful with his words, choosing and arranging them informed by a not inconsiderable talent, but his essence shone through all his masks and the world saw him as a fool. Perhaps he preferred that to not being seen at all. Perhaps, in a lunatic recension of cogito ergo sum, he feared that if he did not speak, he would not be.

We can solve your husband's problems with this treatment, Madame. One injection, and he will no longer babble. He will speak only in need or when spoken to, and that sparingly. And, since he will not be forever planning what to say, he may even listen to you better.
But will he be happier? What will happen to his creativity? Will he still have that wonderful sense of humor?
Madame! Are we here to solve a problem or to discuss Philosophy?

When I was young they told me I was inoculated with a phonograph needle.
What's a phonograph, Granddad?

Hello, hello.
We told you go away.
Mother, Father, I know it is quite late, but I've solved my problem. I can speak, and also be silent. I can converse, and also listen, and I think I have much to hear.
Go away. You never call.


The Talkaholic looked up from his study of foreign languages. On the television a battle was going on for control of the language, and it wasn't just about painting this word or that white or black. Nineteen faces on a police blotter: here, terrorists; there, martyrs; but their organismic and organizational boundaries were the same in any case, as was their status: dead men. But Stop the Invasion is not Diversity is not Guest Worker Program is not Union Busting, not by a long stretch, and all the efforts of the talking heads to shout the discussion crossgrain through their opponents' realitymaps only emphasized that fact. But the Talkaholic was very knowledgeable about words, both in Intoxication and in Recovery, and he knew the slippery relativism of them all, especially those last two. One strove, and cared beyond caring, but in the end it was another sort of Will deciding things. Man proposes, but God disposes. Que sera sera. What does it mean to want something so much that you cannot allow yourself to have it? And now it was others who were babbling, not just in a small discussion but on national TV, and it was clear to him that none of these people had ever been anywhere near Pallas Athena. Once he would have stood up and shouted uselessly at the screen. Now he smiled, a smile full of Schadenfreude, and went back to his studies.


Knock knock.
Who's there?
Ich bin Arbeiter.
Kraut, huh? C'mon in, we can use you. But leave your language and memory at the door.
Mir egal. I pledge allegiance to the flag

Knock knock.
Who's there?
I be out here over three hundred years, let me in!
Spook. Jigaboo. Get back.
Your words cannot scare me, honkey whitebread. And besides, we are brothers in no merely abstract sense, for your father had a roving eye and our women are very beautiful to look upon.
I'd never know it from the way you go after ours.
But they're wise to all our tricks.

Knock knock.
Who's there?
Somos trabajadores.
¡Son undocumentados!
No problema.
You want your grass cut?
OK, but you better keep your women away from that guy over there.
They're home with the kids.

Knock knock.
Who's there?
It's the judgement of God. You have perverted the faithful and turned them out of the way. You have raised skyscrapers in your arrogance, and allowed the women to tread where they should not be.
I don't recall reading anything like that in the Bible.
Allah akbar!

--posted November 12, 2006


"The Internet giveth and the Internet taketh away." -- Anonymous

ONE THING the Internet took away this week was an old-book store of which I'd been a patron for some years. For those not familiar with the type, I don't mean one of those used-paperback exchanges proliferating through the land, but a shop selling books, almost exclusively hardbacks, with ages ranging from several hundred years for the oldest to a "mere" forty or fifty for the youngest. A specialized interest, perhaps, but I caught the bug early. When I was growing up there were books on my parents' shelves that had been in the family many decades, books with strange, ornate letters on their covers, brittle handle-with-care pages turned yellow-brown and faintly odorous, and intricately drawn black-and-white illustrations that suggested form and shading with parallel lines of varying thickness -- so unlike the photographs in the newspapers and magazines, and the simpler and full-color pictures in my children's books. Obviously Magic!

I bought my own first books of this type at a church rummage sale in my teens. I consider that I chose well: I still have them, and any civilized person would recognize the authors. It's been a secondary or tertiary interest in my life ever since. I guess you could call me an aficionado, though I'm far from being a Collector (or even a collector!). For some inexplicable reason, a text that's wonderful in an old book winds up losing all its Magic -- and even half its Truth! -- when released in a modern paperback. It reminds me of Molière's jibing proverb about the woman who looks great by candlelight, but in full sun...But the process is actually more like, "What! Is my taste so common that the modern world deigns to cater to it?" Whatever. I'll take my "quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore" any day -- not, in these days of the "long tail," that anything is ever really forgotten.

But enough. Those with the bug understood me from the first sentence, and others, uninfected themselves, soon after. Perhaps they love other old things, antique cars or furniture, '78's. But there are those who still wonder at my passion, and I fear I could write a book myself and make it no clearer to them. So.

These are obviously not good times for independent booksellers, new or old. In my teens and twenties there was a large bookseller in my city who displayed the new titles inside and had old books and magazines on racks out in the rear in an alley. A wonderful place to browse! Not to mention an unpleasant reminder of what's happened to public honesty over the last decades. But he went under long ago in our continuing march toward BordersWorld.

Obviously also, a small shop is a lousy way to find any particular old book. The chances are all too good that what I want is available and for sale -- in another city. The Internet has been wonderful for things like this. Finally, a seller can offer to the entire country -- to the world! -- and a buyer anywhere can find. But the convenience has come at the cost of collapsing all sellers' prices. As the proprietor of the now defunct shop put it: "Some guy goes to post a book on an old-book site and there's no other copies there, so he gets optimistic and offers it for thirty bucks. Then somebody else sees that and offers his copy for 29. Before long, you've got two dozen copies going for $5."

But the passing of shops like this is sad, because they're a wonderful place to browse in a way that the Internet can never be. At least for me, there's a large tactile element in an old book -- a look, a feel, even a smell, a chance to hold the pages between your fingers and open them at random and read a paragraph or two -- that can define the difference between "leave it here" and "take it into your home." Some of my enduring interests have started just this way, with books I would have clicked past on the Internet as quickly as possible.

But since the immediate cause of the closure was the proprietor losing his lease, he was selling off his stock at ridiculous prices, and I used the opportunity to acquire a few more treasures. My prize: a large, ornate 1870 volume of Don Quixote profusely illustrated by no less than Gustav Doré -- for $2! The binding's seen better days, but so have I. It's an ill wind that blows nobody good. And one could do worse than live their life by the poem that the proprietor hung on his door:

Was to you a kindness shown?
Pass it on!
It was not for you alone.
Pass it on!
Let it echo through the years,
Let it dry another's tears,
Till in fullness it appears.

-- posted October 19, 2006