Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A war against time

Sorry about the sensational title, but what I'm doing is a sort of war against time.  As will be recounted in the next installment, I defied the Time Artists who control history.  Maybe control is too strong a word for what they do. They tweak events here and there in pursuit of how they want things to turn out, though according to Arthur, my contact among the Time Artists, they don't care how things turn out so much as they care about style.  They believe, as Churchill said, that "the pudding should have a theme." You might say they are not postmodern; they like a beginning, middle and end, a plot and story.

That part is not what has put me in opposition to the Time Artists.  I want a story too, but with a happy ending, that being, in my story, a human race that overcomes the disadvantages of its birth to figure itself out.  That sure would make me happy.  The Time Artists, sad to say, do not appear to consider humans a priority. Should they?  I'm not even sure what the Time Artists are, or what they look like.  Arthur appears as a wise and kindly wizard, but he may just have picked-up on my fascination with Gandalf. Arthur in fact may look like a crazed amoeba with strobe lights for eyes.

Watching the Time Artists peck away at the edges of the current preliminaries to World War III, it has become clear to your correspondent that they are doing little or nothing to increase human awareness of the war preparations, allowing us, without self-knowledge, to will the war into existence ourselves.  My happy ending, however, requires awareness.

So against Arthur's wishes I read Secretary of State John Kerry's and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's minds during their meeting last week and observed the cynical thinking involved in what the network news blithely called "diplomacy," in the twenty seconds it devoted to the story- twenty seconds for the story of our being led up the chute to slaughter.  The Time Artists were not even thinking about the war that day; they were busy arguing about the Rio Olympics.  So I acted.

Arthur's response was swift and brutal.  As soon as I posted the story he grabbed me, like in our first encounter when I flew out the bedroom window to meet him in the Devil's Punchbowl, though this time instead of arriving in a euphoric dream I found myself suspended over a vat of molten lead, held up only by Arthur's hand around my left ankle.

"You have caused us more trouble than you're worth, you little turd!" Arthur hissed, has face red and strained, all Gandalfian benevolence gone.

My soul wet its pants, but from some quarter I found courage.  I've wondered what that corner was.  Was it the racial memory of our species, which for so long has considered itself either a free agent or potentially free? Arthur's was the face of negation, of an inevitable cul de sac awaiting the hopeful.  I think the sense that there was nothing to lose is what empowered me.  That and the hope that the molten lead would kill me so fast I wouldn't feel pain.

I looked up at Arthur and shouted, "Whatever you are, you are false! Humans are livestock to you, interesting specimens. Go ahead, drop me in!  I want nothing to do with your 'history'!"

There followed a pause which could only be described as interminable, though it did terminate- with a deep sigh from Arthur- followed by another interminable pause, followed by Arthur's voice, now quieted and mournful: "Thank you, Harry, for presenting yourself to me in this honest fashion.  That's what we respect.  I'd like to make you a deal."

"Huh?...Ok....," I stammered through the fumes and heat, suddenly wondering where I'd got the idea that sinking in molten lead wouldn't hurt.

Noticing my discomfiture, Arthur gently spun me into the dark void- the blazing vat gone.  After a pleasant few moments of cosmic massage, I landed softly in a big stuffed chair, a snifter of brandy by my side, a fire roaring in a huge stone hearth, galaxies swirling around where there should have been a room and Arthur sitting across from me in full Gandalfian persona.

"It's difficult to be a Time Artist, Harry," Arthur began, "so many things happen everywhere every moment, so many forms, antithetical yet synonymous, discordant yet harmonized, sane yet insane. We're not that powerful, you know."

"You could have fooled me," I said as I sipped the brandy and felt an immediate warmth right down to my molecules.

"We appear powerful to humans because we can change things, but we're only allowed to change certain things.  We're not supposed to be after what you're after."

"What am I after?"

"You are a special interest, Harry, a faction, one in an infinity of other factions.  Sometimes against high odds a faction gets through to the Time Artists.  All it takes is for someone to actually talk to us. That's all it ever takes."

There was silence in the room.  The brandy or whatever it was engendered a grand and only slightly false sense of euphoria.  I stared at Arthur dumbly, happily.

"The Time Artists, after discussion and debate lasting months...."

"What, I've been away for months?"

"No, we slip in and out of time, remember?  You'll go back to the same moment you left.  Anyway, we've decided to let you try your hand at creating something, in this case a reason why your species should be saved after the wretched mess it's made of its own home and the mess it threatens to make beyond earth.  Harry, listen to me.  You have to do more than impress yourself.  That's easy.  The hard part will be to impress the Time Artists, who now see your species precisely as you see captive chimpanzees throwing shit at each other.  We will let you try, on a limited, case by case basis.  When you return, read some minds in the news and post your scoop. We'll evaluate the results.  If we see something hopeful, a bit of mind to counter the trending mindlessness, we'll recommend revision to the higher-ups."

"The higher-ups?"

"You don't want to know."

"Why not, are they terrible?"

"I don't mean that.  I mean, literally, you don't want to know."

"I don't?"

"No, or you would.  The truth is right in front of you."

And on that ambiguous or perfectly clear note, depending on your perspective, the room dissolved and I sat at my linoleum kitchen table in Pearblossom, the evening news on the TV.  The lead story was Donald Trump's meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico City.

I rummaged around quickly for a Sweet 'n Salty bar, found a stale half and chomped it down, then put everything I had into the TV set.  Here's what I got.  If readers react to this, I'll try to argue my case with the Time Artists. If not, well, maybe we're not supposed to be sentient.

Thoughts of Presidents Trump and Nieto:

Trump: What a putz!  How easy was it to get this guy to do my bidding!  It's like, I have to be respectful to a CEO, but I can dominate any head of state. It's almost spooky.

Nieto: God damn this miserable boor for setting me up like this!  He's making me look like I respond to brute political force rather than to what's right.  I hate looking like that.

Trump: Jesus, this is the leader of a narco-state?  He's like a reflection, an actor in a movie.  If I were the head of a narco-state, I would look like one!

I got a bit restless at these thoughts because I'm mainly interested in the war.  The Sweet 'n Salty bar kicked in and I dug aggressively into the two men's minds, where I found not a thought about Syria or the world war by proxy fought there.  They didn't particularly care about it.

Later in the evening Trump told an audience in Arizona, who had been led to expect a "softening" of his mass deportation idea, that he advocates priority deportations for undocumented felons, with everyone else coming later, thus dodging the logistics angle.  Fishing in Trump's mind I found random inner thoughts (e.g.,  Like taking candy from a baby!) but, again, no thoughts about the war.

For purposes of balance, I checked Trump's opponent Hillary Clinton and found her similarly without care regarding the war.  In her case, she did not care because the only person calling her out for her support of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq (at the conclusion of which, it turns out, U.S. policy did create ISIS) is Trump, but he delivered the ISIS charge so crudely, without corroborative information, that no one paid any attention.

Note to Time Artists: This post is not particularly revelatory of war machinations, but it does represent to people that the major candidates for U.S. president are as irrelevant to the coming war as the Cialis ads on the evening news.  People long for leadership. They will not like knowing that there is no leadership.  This knowledge will cause them to question their fatalism, an important first step.

Monday, August 22, 2016

In the cave

Harry the Human, whose work I edit, has been a bit on the emotional side lately.  He asked to borrow my car and last week drove nine hours straight up the California coast to Mendocino, an isolated peninsula of western/gothic structures that juts into the cold and stormy Pacific.  On his way up Harry texted me a series of agitated messages like, "Thank God I'm on my way!  Humanity is too much!," or, "If I have to hear one more human thinking something I'm going to go insane!"

After a day in Mendocino he calmed down: "No one is playing the news on radio, TV, anything.  They seem dedicated to healing my soul!"

Meanwhile, Harry asked me to share some video clips from Mendocino (see links below).  D.L.

Harry's Mendocino vacation:

Mendocino moment:

I find a cave in Mendocino:

Thursday, August 18, 2016

We need a good story

While I negotiate my freedom of speech and mentality with Arthur the Time Artist (see "A peek at Infinity" below) I'll be posting essays I wrote in recent years that may be relevant today.  This piece was written shortly after the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011.

Harry the Human

What do people demand from government?  Jobs?  Prosperity?  Those come to mind, but during the early post World War II years there were jobs and prosperity and discontent was rampant.  Did people want something else then?  When the Boomers came of age in the 60’s, the country’s prosperity seemed to heighten their discontent.  What were so many Boomers mad about?   I believe we were mad because there was no strong national story that pertained to our generation.

In addition to clamoring today for jobs and a return to prosperity, the Boomers and succeeding generations have continued to yearn for a good national story.  Now we have the makings of the sort of compelling story we lacked before, though stories can be too satisfying for our own good.

For purposes here I'm revising our concept that a story is either fiction or nonfiction.  The words “history” and “story” share the same root.  This is not to say that stories and history are equally non-fictional- they may be equally fictional.  Their truth or falsity is beside the point.  We eagerly adopt stories of either kind to underwrite our lives.

Hitler is relevant to this discussion as he was the most strident and successful storyteller of the generations just before the Boomers.  He told different stories to different people, and everyone believed him.  He told Germans that Jews and much of the rest of the world had conspired to thwart the destiny of the German people.  This story was a bestseller, so to speak.  Great swaths of German society devoured it as precious mental nourishment, because it made them feel good, made them feel part of something important and justified, the way a good story should.  Then he told the rest of the world that he was a ferocious megalomaniac, poised to take over and punish all states and societies that were not in his thrall.  That story too was a great hit, in the sense that people followed it and adopted it as their story.  The story told by Roosevelt and Churchill was predicated on Hitler’s story: We were the defenders against Hitler, the homicidal maniac.  Of course Hitler was a homicidal maniac, but as I say my use of “story” connotes neither fiction nor non-fiction.   It was Hitler’s storytelling capability that put him on the map.  

Mental wards are full of crazed megalomaniacs whose stories are listened to by no one but bored staff.  Hitler might well have been one of these isolated souls, but as a powerful storyteller who landed in the appropriate crack of time, his story was adopted and became "real."

Then what was wrong with post-war America’s story?  First, the triumphal war story that our parents lived was not available for Boomers to identify with because the war had not happened on our soil, and because the '50's and '60's were so prosperous and definitively post-war.   Nor could we derive self-esteem from the earlier Depression, with its tales of injustice and endurance, awash as we were in surplus.  For our coming of age rituals we had, not challenge and heroism, but endless exhortations conveyed via the new wonder, TV, to spend our parents' money on keys to popularity like Brylcream (A little dab'll do ya!).   In our story we were consumers of the accoutrements of life.  Nothing more.  I think I sensed even then the potential for Tom Brokaw to slander my entire generation as the Not Greatest.

When we entered the hormone driven mania of adolescence we had no state-sanctioned relief, no righteous cause leading to carnal fulfillment and medals of honor.  Marijuana, which had been confined to marginalized Hispanic and Black cultures, was suddenly accepted by middle-class whites to assuage their stifled impulses, and the government, though it benefited from youth's distracted state, kept marijuana illegal to engender in us a feeling of revolution, of a sort of war which we could think we were part of, and this became, on the government's side, the fantasy “War on Drugs.”

The government detected, as governments do, the people’s unsettled need for actual struggle, and it had a military establishment to keep busy, so it (along with other governments facing the same problem) gave us a series of wars.  The Korean War was the first, but the Boomers were not old enough to understand it.  Too bad, because since it involved a Chinese invasion of Korea there was at least a credible foe. 

Not so the Vietnam War.  The Chinese, conniving to wreck our story (playing chess to our poker), cleverly did not invade Vietnam, leaving us with a highly questionable story in which we attack a peasant nation that has not attacked us and poses no obvious threat, and that ends up beating us.  I marched carrying signs proclaiming lofty ideals, but looking back my sign should simply have read, “Give us a good story!”

As the Vietnam War was developing we also had the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  No one will claim the Bay of Pigs was a good story.  One could make an exception for the Cuban Missile Crisis, which had enough substance for a decent movie, but it was over quickly with no real action.

Our interventions in the Gulf might have provided fulfilling stories had they been better told, particularly the only potentially effective one, involving Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, with its promise of a heroic U.S. response to the plight of dispossessed Kuwaitis taking refuge in European nightclubs, but, as with most of our Mideast adventures, we ruined the narrative with our inability to acknowledge the importance of oil.  Because the American creation myth involves so much human virtue, we feel everything we do must shine with righteousness (the British in building their empire had no such problem), but leaving out so obvious a motivator as oil sends all our Mideast war stories into hopeless spirals of cognitive dissonance.

Things changed with 9/11, a compelling and defining story- the first since World War II.  So timely (coming at the end of the Cold War) was this story that its appearance spawned a world of conspiracy theories.  I’m going to stay away from these, however, as they do not pertain to my thesis, that people need stories.  Whether those stories are essentially true or concocted in a shadowland where truth and fiction intertwine will not be determined until a hypothetical future when the public has access to the relevant information (don't hold your breath).

What we do know is that since 2001 we have been run by the story of 9/11.  It is now our central myth, re-confirming our belief in the military as the essential element of the American character and uniting us as a coherent nation. 

Stories need reinforcement and updating, and even 9/11 can flag, its memory submerged in the daily aggravations of modern life.  Just imagine, only a few short weeks ago people in airports were complaining about having to stand in line, take off their shoes and present facsimiles of their naked torsos to federal agents.  More ominous still, much attention was being paid to the fact that the American public school system is collapsing in insolvency, along with the dream of owning a home. 

All that kvetching has faded now, however, because we’ve killed Osama bin Laden!  Who could have guessed that the next chapter of the story would be so compelling?  I’ve quite forgotten that the high school from which my youngest son is graduating in June is laying off a third of its teachers.   Really, who cares?  Bin Laden is dead!

I hasten to emphasize that I’m not knocking the role of stories in human society.  We need stories, whether personal or communal, because we need to be part of a meaningful narrative, with cause and effect and a plot, so we can be more than mere metabolizing blobs of protoplasm.   

But we should keep in mind that certain types of stories tend to have certain types of outcomes.  Hitler’s story not only destroyed countless lives around the world, it destroyed his own society and him as well.  

Maybe we should take a second look at the latest chapter in our story, the killing of bin Laden, in which we are victorious and morally great heroes, like Perseus striking down Medusa with one mighty blow of his divine sword.  It’s an enthralling image, but that’s the problem.  Our breast-beating and moralistic crowing will stimulate more story writing by the losers, so that when bin Laden is replaced, which is a certainty, his war will continue.  When Hitler was dead, he was really dead; we had won.  Bin Laden's summary execution is not the end of a war, but the beginning, and the narrow scope of the world-view we’re fed makes it more like the disingenuous War on Drugs- designed to drag on forever- than the more real War on Hitler.  The only obvious contribution of bin Laden's assassination is a momentary blip in the President's ratings.

Speaking of which, and to end on a sober note, there is over a year until the next presidential election, and the warm glow of Osama bin Laden’s death will not last that long.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A peek at Infinity, Chapter 18: Our beginning is our end

This chapter begins and ends my highly experimental and risk-taking eighteen chapter science fiction novel, A peek at infinity, which is designed to be read chronologically backwards, from here to the prologue, which is also the introduction.

People reading the other way, from the prologue to here, might be thinking: "He's got one chapter left to justify the cheesy title.  I haven't seen too many peeks at infinity in the story!"  Here's the justification: As the great mystics know, a peek at anything is a peek at infinity.

The real question is, what could possibly happen in this, the 18th and final chapter that would tie up all the questions about Gregory, whose teachings become the basis for post-WWIII political thought (Ch. 1), or Anthony and Rebecca, acolytes of Gregory who in 2044 oppose each other in a bitter race for President of the United States (Prologue)?  That seems too much story to end so quickly.

What happened is that the story got sidetracked by the Time Artist, Arthur, who realized there was no way to maintain a smooth flow in the time/history continuum while any of us knew the future.  That's right, in addition to the mind-wiping Gregory, Rebecca and Anthony underwent in previous chapters, now my mind is to be wiped as well, directly after I post this chapter.  This means that, although I will retain my knowledge concerning the ongoing manipulation of the American public into involvement in a Shia/Sunni civil war, I will no longer know anything about the future, and my collaboration with Gregory, Rebecca and Anthony will be suspended.  I will be permitted to retain my memory of the CIA's secret Telepathy Unit (TU) which attacked and tricked me and my partners several times (Chs. 15 and 16), if only for my own protection.

What if I read this book and it reminds me of everything I'm supposed to forget?  That won't happen because the book will not be released in all earth-centered dimensions (if you are reading it you are in a "safe zone," which I will not be).

You can imagine my upset when Arthur first described the deal.  He promised I would have no sense of loss after the amnesia, but he knew I would be uncomfortable at the thought of cutting my personality in half, so he told me that for one hour every evening he will restore my memory and talk to me about things to come.  After the hour I'll be wiped again, before I can write about anything and change something that isn't supposed to change.

Arthur told me that in my way I have been effective.  Although obviously I couldn't stop the war machine (as if anyone could) my novel, Arthur said, is planting seeds in people's minds.  

Arthur will permit my continued practice as a private telepath, but I expect to be monitored and probably censored.  The essays below, which Arthur has shown an interest in preserving (Time Artists walk a complex path in human affairs) may well be my last uncensored work.  Please help spread the word by passing this site along!  

Best, Harry