::Literate Blather::
Friday, September 29, 2006
Essay: Jesus Christ is a Commie Liberal Pink-O

As George W. Bush, our God-fearing president and sweetheart of the Christian Right, continues his crusade to legalize torturing prisoners it may be time to reflect on how Jesus was tortured – suffering terrible pain and humiliation at the hands of his Roman captors. Difficult to believe that Jesus would condone torture under any circumstance.

But why should we be surprised? The Christian Right has done an amazing job of perverting the teachings of Jesus and the gospels. Jesus was humble, an itinerant wanderer who embraced an ascetic life of fasting and penury. His closest associates were poor working men – fishermen, carpenters, and tax collectors. He focused his ministry on the destitute, the diseased, and the troubled (gamblers, criminals, and prostitutes). He preached of a coming doomsday and the being saved by God through sacrifice, charity, redemption, and salvation.

Yet, this is the figure that the Christian Right uses as the symbol of their wholly un-Jesus agenda. As if Jesus would condone the unmitigated invasion of Iraq and the killing of women and children (collateral damage). As if Jesus would side with the Bush administration to legalize the torture of alleged terrorists. As if Jesus would rally to the battle cry of deporting and arresting illegal immigrants. Would Jesus really own a firearm? Or bristle at his tax dollars being used for Welfare or universal healthcare?

Jesus was… is… a liberal. He wouldn’t participate in gay bashing. He would live among the poor and condemn CEOs and their outrageous salaries and benefits. He would call for leniency for criminals. He would march in anti-war rallies and argue passionately for the dismantling of nuclear weapons. Jesus would call for living wages for the poor – housing and healthcare for all.

For evidence look no further than the Gospels.

The four Synoptic Gospels in the Bible attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the only parts of the Bible that outline Jesus’ life and give us the only real glimpse at the man – his actions and words. So we’ll use the Synoptic Gospels as the final word on what Jesus believed and how he lived.

I do this with reluctance, however, because the Gospels are not a reliable source by any modern standard. Biblical scholars break down the four Gospels like this:

  • Mark’s Gospel is attributed to a discliple of St. Peter. It is the earliest of the gospels probably written between 60 and 70 A.D. – about 30 to 40 years after the death of Jesus by a man who did not know him.
  • Matthew’s Gospel has traditionally been linked to St. Matthew, the tax collector who became a discipline, but most scholars now refute his authorship. The date of the Gospel is up for debate with conservative scholars placing it between 60-65 A.D. and their more liberal colleagues at 80 to 100 A.D. It borrows liberally from material in Mark.
  • The Gospel of Luke was written by a doctor and a follower of Paul. Modern scholars put the date of this Gospel was written between 80 and 100 A.D.
  • John’s Gospel is attributed to John the Apostle, but most scholars generally disagree with that assessment and place the date of the Gospel being written as late as 120 A.D.

But the four Biblical Gospels are the closest we can come to an historical record on Jesus – so while the source material and text is questionable (and would never hold up in any U.S. court as evidence), it is the best we can do.

Next we need to look at the platform of the Christian Right. This information was compiled from several right-wing Christian organizations including the Moral Majority, The Christian Coalition and the Traditional Values Coalition. While they vary slightly, the fundamental tenets of the Christian Right break down as follows:

  • A belief in corporeal punishment, including the execution of criminals and hitting children as part of discipline
  • Minimal state and federal taxes (all of the organizations supported President Bush’s tax cuts and favored making them permanent)
  • A strong belief in free economies and capitalism, including support of corporations and Wall Street
  • Very much anti-abortion and favor overturning Roe v. Wade
  • Support the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism
  • Opposed to sex education and sex outside of marriage
  • Believe homosexuality is a sin and oppose gay rights and gay marriage
  • There are other beliefs, of course – the traditional role of women in a household, support for school prayer, strong support for the United States, etc. But the bulleted items are the larger more encompassing beliefs.

So using the Four Gospels as our source – let’s easily refute that Jesus Christ supported any of the tenets above – with the possible exception of abortion.

Corporeal Punishment and the War in Iraq

There should be little doubt – anywhere – that Jesus was a pacifist. His primary message was one of loving your neighbor and doing unto others and as you would have them do unto you. Reasonable people can agree that that would mean not killing your neighbor or punching them in the face. Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus condone or accept warfare and the consquences that come with it: murder, rape, maiming, bombing, and destruction. In fact, one could argue that supporting a war would be a complete reversal of beliefs of a man who admonished his Apostles to not to strike back at those who strike them – but to turn the other cheek.

Here’s the proof that Jesus was a peacenik from the Gospels:

  • “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other. Also, if someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.” (Luke 6:29)
  • “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7)
  • Do not judge, lest you to be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1 & 2)
  • “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
  • “I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despite-fully use you, and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

State and Federal Taxes & Support of Wealth

There are no references to Jesus being opposed to tax collectors – money lenders, yes, tax collectors, no. But one could easily argue that Jesus would support a strong welfare system (including universal healthcare) which would provide a safety net for the poor, sick, and elderly. He surrounded himself with the down-and-out – lepers, peasants, slaves, prostitutes, and the poor. Clearly his sympathies lie with the downtrodden – not the wealthy.

  • “And when he had called unto him his twelve disciple, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease” (Matthew 10:1)
  • “Render therefore unto Caesar the thing which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)
  • “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:13 &14)

Jesus was also an ascetic – shunning the trappings of wealth for a life of penuary. He owned no home, had no wealth, and spoke in direct and clear terms that the pursuit of money was a sin. There can be little doubt that Jesus meant for his followers to shun this kind of life because he repeatedly tells them so:

  • “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12.15)
  • “Truly, I say unto you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:23)
  • “You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:24)

So it’s quite odd that the Christian Coalition would be actively lobbying Congress for Bush’s tax cuts to be made permanent – considering that they favor the wealthy.

Sex & Homosexuality

While there admonishments in the New Testament against homosexuality and sexual intercourse outside of marriage, there are none in the four Gospels. One can argue that an ascetic like Jesus would probably have been celebate as well. So while he probably would not have favored a gay or sexually active lifestyle – I’m sure he would not have been in favor of bashing them or treating them as second class citizens.

  • “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them. For this is the law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
  • “And just as you want men to do to you. You also do to them likewise.” (Luke 6:31)

(For more information check out our link to the web site "Jesus is a Liberal.")

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Thursday, September 28, 2006
Poem: The Internet Is For Porn

By Rebecca Traquair

(“You’re a pervert.” – Kate Monster, Avenue Q)

I can’t even say it starts innocently enough
else I wouldn’t even be here

searches spit file names at me

“Found out our cute Russian babysitter was hot for me
so the next time my wife was out
I tied her up and brutally raped her”
of course, I think, that’s the only reasonable reaction

who watches this stuff?

the man with the camera was laughing
but the laughter ended, long before the recording did

the most convincing fantasies have tears, maybe even real blood
reality lacks production values, but even that could be faked

I keep demanding proof, confronting these impulses

who will the next video reveal?
grown woman, pigtails and lollipop-ridiculous and
barely able to keep a straight face

or something else
breastless, hipless, faceless, and terribly, terribly naked

“Snuff films don’t exist,” claims another file
by now, I don’t want to know anymore

I’m up all night looking for answers
and finding only evidence

(Regular DaRK PaRTY Contributor Rebecca Traquair is a poet living in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She recently read this poem to a coffeeshop filled with elderly women.)

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Our Man Clint

“Hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have.”
- Clint Eastwood in “Unforgiven”

There’s a scene in “Unforgiven” with Sheriff Little Bill Daggett entertaining his henchmen; showing off for his new writer friend. They’re gathered in the murky, soulless confines of Greeley’s Saloon. Little Bill, giddy and boisterous, buys the crowd a round of whiskey. Outside, lightning flickers as a storm rolls in and illuminates the dead body of Ned Logan. Little Bill and his men have killed him.

As Little Bill and his boys laugh it up, a dark figure with a shotgun looms in front of the camera. The henchmen notice first, their chuckles catching in their throats. They fall deadly, fearfully quiet. Little Bill continues to rant and rave before, he, too, finally notices and sputters to a stop. There’s an instant in his expression – just a flash, mind you – that fear seizes him as he realizes he’s looking at his tombstone.

William Munny, fueled by whiskey, has been transformed from a slightly bumbling and affable cowboy into the man he used to be: a merciless murderer. He moves differently now and even his eyes have gone black.

“Who’s the fellow who owns this shithole?” Munny asks.

He blasts the saloon owner with his shotgun, the sound like thunder, smoke filling the hard lines of the wooden building.

“You cowardly son of a bitch!” Little Bill shouts. “You just shot an unarmed man!” (The irony of this statement lost on him).

“He should have armed himself if he was going to decorate his saloon with my friend.”

Little Bill, a control freak if there ever was one, realizes he’s lost control of the situation – things are spinning way out of hand – and the panic is being to bubble off him like a bad odor.

“You’d be Will Munny from Missouri, killer of women and children,” Little Bill says.

“That’s right,” Munny says. “I’ve killed women and children. I’ve killed just about everything that walks or crawls at one time or another. And I’m here to kill you Little Bill for what you did to Ned.”

And he does.

“Unforgiven” is arguably Clint Eastwood’s best movie – and certainly it’s one of the preeminent Westerns ever put to celluloid. Movies like this make DaRK PaRTY a huge Eastwood fan. He’s become one of the best actors and directors in Hollywood and even when he misses – he manages to put together an interesting film. So without further ado, DaRK PaRTY presents the five best and the five worst Clint Eastwood movies.


Unforgiven (1992)
A western that encapsulates the American psyche and rips apart the films of Eastwood’s youth where he played no-name gunslingers that never had to face up to the consequences of their violent actions. He does this with career performances from Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris.

Pale Rider (1985)
Second only to “Unforgiven” in the western genre. This one meshes the tale of stranger riding into town with an unnerving ghost story. Like “Unforgiven,” “Pale Rider” is heavy on atmosphere and gives us wide-open spaces combined with claustrophobic interior shots.

A Perfect World (1993)
An underrated gem. Kevin Costner stars as an escaped convict who kidnaps a boy from a repressed religious family as Federal Agent Clint Eastwood pursues. The story is really about the bonding of a troubled man and a lost boy. It’s the small moments in this film that make it great.

Tightrope (1984)
This is the movie where Eastwood sandbags his Dirty Harry personae. He plays a cop pursuing a serial killer who murders prostitutes. The cop shares some of the same violent sexual urges as the killer – an even some of the same women. Eastwood should have done more with this – but bails out at the end. Good stuff, nonetheless.

In the Line of Fire (1993)
Eastwood plays a Secret Service agent nearing retirement. He failed to protect President Kennedy and now he’s tested again when the new president is threatened. The movie is stolen by the high-octane performance of John Malkovich as the assassin.


Pink Cadillac (1989)
Eastwood should of known better to star in a movie with “Pink” in the title. This was supposed to be an action comedy – but it isn’t either.

The Rookie (1990)
It co-stars Charlie Sheen. Charlie Sheen = Crap.

True Crime (1999)
Eastwood looks like he should be in a nursing home. Totally miscast as a rogue journalist with women and booze problems. The bare-chested scene has you wincing and reaching for “The Outlaw Josie Wales.”

Bronco Billy (1980)
The title sounds like it should be in the adult section. Eastwood stars as the owner of a traveling Wild West show on the skids. It’s worse than it sounds and co-stars Sondra Locke, who simply can’t act.

City Heat (1984)
Co-starring Burt Reynolds and directed by Blake Edwards. That stench you smell is, in fact, the movie.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006
5 Questions About: Drizzt Do'Urden
An Interview with New York Times Bestselling Fantasy Author R.A. Salvatore About his Greatest Creation

(Bestselling author R.A. Salvatore unleashed a storm in 1988 when he created the character of Drizzt Do’Urden – a dark elf known in fantasy circles as Drow. Drizzt has turned into a cultural icon among the Dungeons & Dragons crowd by starring in dozens of fantasy adventure novels (The Icewind Dale trilogy, The Dark Elf trilogy, the Legacy of the Drow series, the Paths of Darkness series, and The Hunter's Blades trilogy), many of which have been on the New York Times bestseller list. Drizzt is now one of the most popular characters – if not the most popular – in modern fantasy literature. DaRK PaRTY wanted to get the inside scoop on Drizzt – and who better than R.A. Salvatore himself?

Salvatore was born and raised in Leominster, Massachusetts, and got bitten by the fantasy bug after reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. He wrote his first book, "Echoes of the Fourth Magic," in 1982 while working as a bouncer at a local bar. Since then, Salvatore has written dozens of fantasy books,
many starring Drizzt, but also two Star Wars novels is and one featuring Tarzan (he told me the toughest part of that gig was trying to figure out how to spell Tarzan’s famous cry). You can find out more about Salvatore at his Web site.)

DaRK PaRTY: You have created one of the most popular and influential characters in fantasy fiction with Drizzt Do'Urden. He's the star of dozens of your bestselling books, featured in computer games and has fan sites dedicated to him. When you created him as a supporting character in "The Crystal Shard" in 1988 did you have any idea of his impact on fantasy literature?

R.A. Salvatore: Of course not. Drizzt was an afterthought, as I’ve often said. He was put into the book because another character (from a previous novel by another author I had planned on using as a sidekick to introduce my hero wasn’t available to me. I knew right away that there was something special going on with Drizzt – just the way I felt about him when I first met him in the book. I couldn’t put my finger on it then, and I can’t now. I wish I could.

It’s amazing to me that Drizzt is taking off now, some 19 years later. I saw Drizzt miniatures on eBay for $130. I see Drizzt posters on unrelated sites – as far as I know, unlicensed posters, which makes it all the more flattering to me. I’m just enjoying the ride. What choice do I have? This type of mainstreaming of a fictional character is completely beyond my control.

So I just laugh my ass off at the Drizzt knock-off in the hilarious “Order of the Stick.” Brilliant stuff there.

DP: Despite Drizzt's popularity (or maybe because of it) some hardcore Forgotten Realms fans have attacked him repeatedly. They seem annoyed by the plethora of Drizzt copycats in D&D games and by fact that you changed the setting of the campaign. There were also a handful of fans that reacted negatively to Drizzt's inability to ro
mance his human female companion, Cattie-Brie. How have you responded to these complaints?

R.A.: How do I respond to them? I don’t and why would I? I write my books for people who like them, not for people who don’t. Anybody who takes a chance and puts himself out there creatively, athletically or in any other way, is going to get meat-chopped on the internet. Welcome to the world. I’ve also noticed the paradox that as the complaining on the message boards increases in volume, so too do the sales. Each Drizzt book outsells the previous, and after 19 years and more than 20 books, I have to beli
eve that means I’m doing something right.

The copycats are the highest form of flattery. I love logging into
an MMORPG (Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) and seeing a “Drizzzzzzt” or a “Drz’zt” run by. Very cool. Sure it annoys some people, particularly people running D&D games, so they should just do what my own group does: no Drow characters. How’s that for irony?

Similarly, the idea that there are hundreds of Drizzt fanfics out there is
a great feeling. The whole point of writing is to touch people, and people won’t do fan fiction about characters who don’t achieve that. With that comes the anger, of course. With Drizzt, Catti-brie and Wulfgar, I wrote myself into a situation where, no matter what I did, some people were going to get angry. But understand that it’s not a conscious choice for me to make. I’m following the story where it tells me to go, and so I go.

Oh, and one last point: I did not change the landscape of the Forgotten Realms. That is an unfair and hurtful meme, shouted loudly by some people who have no idea of what they’re talking about. I have done nothing in that world that hasn’t been approved by the people in control of the setting, and have done little without the express blessing of Ed Greenwood (and though Wizards of the Coast owns the setting, I still think of it as Ed’s playground). Are there contradictions between my work
and other “canon” coming out? Yes, and they frustrate me (and other authors who experience similar situations) no end. This is one of the inevitabilities of working in a massively shared world. It is also a necessity, at times, in differentiating between the media: games versus books.

DP: The thirst for Drizzt, Drizzt, Drizzt must be a challenge for a writer. You have penned more than 50 novels -- including many other fantasy books, a Tarzan novel and two Star Wars books. As an artist do you ever get tired of Drizzt?

R.A.: Surprisingly, no, I’m not tired of Drizzt. The challenge is to continually surround him with new situations, like what’s going on in the more recent books. I’ve always said that as long as I’m having fun with him, and as long as people want to read about him, I’ll keep writing. So far, so good.

It does get a little frustrating when that call for Drizzt smothers some of my other work, though. I wish more of my Drizzt readers would take a chance on DemonWars and The Highwayman or Crimson Shadow, for example, and it’s surprising to me to find that my characters Entreri and Jarlaxle can’t command anything near Drizzt numbers. A little frustrating, I say, but then again, how lucky am I to have Drizzt?

DP: Will there ever be a Drizzt movie? And if you were in charge of casting who would you choose for the roles of Drizzt, Cattie-brie, Wulfgar, Bruenor Battlehammer, Regis and Artemis Entreri? And who would make a damn fine Orc?

R.A.: Oh boy, the movie question… Will it ever be made? Yes, I think it will, though I don’t know when. Drizzt has been too popular for too long for Hollywood to ignore him. And they aren’t. All of a sudden I’m hearing from actors, directors, CEOs and other celebrities who are Drizzt fans. I had no idea. My audience is growing up, and some are growing into positions to get things like a movie done. It will happen; I just hope I’m alive to see it!

Who would I cast? I have no idea. I watched a Zorro movie a few years ago and thought Antonio Bandaras would have made a great Drizzt. Someone suggested to me that Edward Norton would be an amazing Artemis Entreri, and after seeing “American History X,” how could I disagree with that assessment? Then again, Edward Norton could be great in any role. Vin Diesel gets it, certainly. He understands the audience, the work, and shares my love of adventure fantasy. Also, after the introduction Wil Wheaton wrote for one of the Legend of Drizzt books, I’d love to see him be involved.

But it’s all a moot point, because other than readers and interviewers, I doubt anyone’s going to ask my opinion. And hey, I just want to chor
eograph the fight scenes – hopefully with someone like Jackie Chan! Now how cool would that be?

DP: You recently announced a partnership with Red Sox pitching ace Curt Schilling and comic book genius Todd McFarlane called Green Monster Games. First, what is Schilling like in person and, second, can you give DaRK PaRTY readers some idea of what the mission of Green Monster Games will be?

R.A.: Yikes! What is he like in person? I’ll only say two things on this, because it’s really not my place to gossip. First, if I didn’t like and respect him, I wouldn’t have agreed to be a part of Green Monster Games. We’re going to have to put up with each other for several years on this project. Second, anybody with the guts to fashion a huge incentive of his contract predicated on winning a World Series with the Boston Red Sox (for crying out loud!) is well worth following into battle. The motto of the company is: if you don’t plan on doing it better than it’s ever been done, go work for someone else.

Hey, I’m willing to chase that goal. I’ve seen the competition and they are magnificent. The great work of companies like Blizzard, Sony, Mythic and so many others in the evolution of computer gaming inspires me to climb on their shoulders and try my best to reach a little higher.

Our mission is simple: make a game that people want to play.

On a creative level, my mission is to continue to explore this scary new world that’s opening up before us. I truly believe that computer gaming is the next great medium, a place where novels and movies collide and morph into something more fabulous still. I’m not going to “write” a story for people in a computer game, as I do in my novels. To think that is a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of the game itself. In a computer game, as in life, every player writes his or her own story.

My job is to give the players a thematic basis for letting their imaginations fly, to work with the designers to fashion a world worth exploring. This is a new and exciting form of communication. It is not a passive medium like television, and in fact is more active than novels. A computer game community is as real and vibrant as the real world; it is the ultimate interactive experience, and the ultimate opportunity for artistic self-expression. Everybody who joins an MMO (a massive multiplayer online game) is a writer.

That’s the joy of it.

Fantastically Bad Cinema: From Dusk Till Dawn

A Drunk Batman Give Career Advice to Aquaman

Watchmen: The Breakthrough Graphic Novel Revisited

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Friday, September 22, 2006
Literary Criticism: Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"
Summary: A confederate spy named Peyton Farquhar stands on Owl Creek Bridge with a noose around his neck. He has been condemned to hang for unsuccessfully trying to burn down the bridge and prevent the Union Army from advancing toward his town. The Union captain gives the order and Peyton falls to his death – but the rope snaps and he plunges into the water. He swims to freedom as the soldiers fire at will, the bullets splashing in the river water around him. His senses aflame with detail, he escapes into the woods. Fighting thirst, hunger, and pain, he finds his way home and runs to greet his beautiful wife. Only his neck snaps from the noose around his neck and Peyton Farquhar dies while dangling above Owl Creek Bridge. His escape has been a fantasy.

Analysis: The usual complaint about Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is that it’s too melodramatic. To that I say: “Hogwash! Poppycock!”

Melodrama? Hardly.

On the surface “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is an adventure tale – the improbable escape from the noose by the Southern planter Peyton Farquhar. Here we have the hanging itself, the snapping of the rope and the plunge into the slow-moving stream. We have the rifle shots and the cannon fire as Peyton swims to the shore and barrels into the wilderness.

But at its heart, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is about the savage, mad instinct that each human being has to survive; to hope and dream – to live against all the odds. How Peyton’s entire life becomes a few precious seconds:

“And now he became conscious of a new disturbance. Striking through the thought of his dear ones was a sound which he could neither ignore nor understand, a sharp, distinct, metallic percussion like the stroke of a blacksmith's hammer upon the anvil; it had the same ringing quality.

He wondered what it was, and whether immeasurably distant or near by--it seemed both. Its recurrence was regular, but as slow as the tolling of a death knell. He awaited each stroke with impatience and--he knew not why--apprehension. The intervals of silence grew progressively longer, the delays became maddening. With their greater infrequency the sounds increased in strength and sharpness. They hurt his ear like the thrust of a knife; he feared he would shriek.

What he heard was the ticking of his watch.”

This is the last part of the story that is set in reality – until the grim last sentence. The rest of the story takes place in a fantasy world that Peyton has created in the last seconds of his life. The reader is given hints that we aren’t in the real world – primarily through Peyton’s supernaturally heightened perceptions.

For example, when he surfaces from the water he can see “grey spiders stretching from their webs from twig to twig” and the “dewdrops upon a million blades of grass.” He even sees the gray eyes of a Union sharpshooter looking at him through his rifle sights.

Despite the fact that Peyton in many ways is an unlikable character (there are hints he is a racist), Bierce manages to make the reader root for him. These flaws in Peyton’s character are, in fact, why we want him to live. Keep in mind that the story was written in 1886 – when the wounds of the Civil War were still healing. Simply making Peyton a confederate was a character flaw.

However, the real problem with Peyton’s character is that he has romanticized the war. Forced to sit out of the struggle for unknown reasons, Peyton – a rich slave owner in Alabama – considers himself a “civilian soldier.” So when a Union spy dressed as a confederate soldier alerts him to the advancing enemy army, Peyton suggests to the man that he would be willing to burn down Owl Creek Bridge.

Peyton has foolishly – like a child – fallen into a trap. Another one of his flaws is the way he recklessly doesn’t think about the risk – the consequences to his wife and his children. In fact, he takes them for granted until he stands on the bridge with a noose wrapped around his neck.

But this moment is also his redemption. Peyton Farquhar will die on this day. Quickly and painfully, but he last thoughts will be of escaping – of trying to forge his way home to his wife and his children. His last thought is of reaching out to his beautiful wife – witnessing the joy in her expression.

And that’s it. Lights out. Game over.

Bierce was a magnificent writer. His prose is simple and precise, but he conveys his message with a savage irony and light sarcasm (you have to read the story carefully to fully appreciate it). This is why Kurt Vonnegut called “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” one of the greatest works in American literature.

Because it is.

Vonnegut also noted that anyone who hadn’t read it was a “twerp.” So if you haven’t – get to it.

Read our post about the murder of Abraham Lincoln

Read our literary criticism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One of These Days"

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Thursday, September 21, 2006
Poems: Two by Ambrose Bierce
(The acid wit of Ambrose Bierce wasn't only present in his prose -- but evident in his collections of poetry. DaRK PaRTY presents two of our favorites.)

A Nightmare

Dreamed that I was dead. The years went by:
The world remembered gratefully that I
Had lived and written, although other names
Once hailed with homage, had in turn to die.

Out of my grave a giant beech upgrew.
Its roots transpierced my body, through and through,
My substance fed its growth. From many lands
Men came in troops that noble tree to view.

'Twas sacred to my memory and fame--
But Julian Hawthorne's wittol daughter came
And with untidy finger daubed upon
Its bark a reeking record of her name.


In Congress once great Mowther shone,
Debating weighty matters;
Now into an asylum thrown,
He vacuously chatters.

If in that legislative hall
His wisdom still he'd vented,
It never had been known at all
That Mowther was demented.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006
5 Questions About: Ambrose Bierce

(Who better to discuss the life of Bitter Bierce than Don Swaim? Don has had a life-long career as a broadcast journalist and writer, most of it at CBS in New York and Baltimore. His broadcast about books and writers, “Book Beat,” was syndicated nationally by the CBS Radio Stations News Service - and can still be heard on the Internet. St. Martin's Press published his novel about H.L. Mencken in 1988. Don currently lives in Pennsylvania where he heads the Bucks County Writers Workshop. He also operates the Ambrose Bierce Site , which is considered one of the best Bierce resources on the Web.)

DaRK PaRTY: During your career you have interviewed hundreds of writers - from John Irving to Clive Barker. Yet you seem drawn to the works and myth of Ambrose Bierce. Can you share with DaRK PaRTY readers why you find Bierce so compelling?

Don Swaim: An introverted teenager and inveterate reader, I was drawn to such freethinkers as H.L. Mencken, Ambrose Bierce, and Mark Twain, as well as to the great trial lawyer Clarence Darrow. I flirted with Ayn Rand in college, but today blame that on my immaturity. I rediscovered Bierce in the mid-1990s, and the more I read books by and about him the more intrigued I became. Eureka! I got an idea for a novel that would "solve" the mystery of his disappearance in Mexico. All the writing and research I did led to my founding the Ambrose Bierce Site, not the first such Internet site but the only one with original fiction, art, essays, and articles.

DP: Most readers are familiar with Bierce only from his short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (which seems to be a staple in high school literature text books). Kurt Vonnegut called the short story one of the best in American literature. What is your impression of the story and its place among Bierce's works?

Don: “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is generally considered to be Bierce's masterpiece, a short tale endlessly retold, filmed, anthologized, and analyzed. Transformed, even, into an opera! It begins as a well-crafted Civil War story, but, by its hallucinogenic twist ending, has developed into a fully realized psychological tour de force. Stephen Crane said of it, "Nothing better exists." Kurt Vonnegut called it America's greatest short story. It's remained in print since 1892.

DP: Bierce was a savage, sardonic critic for his day - enough so that he earned the nickname Bitter Bierce. Is the nickname a fair assessment of Bierce?

Don: Sardonicism is not the same as being bitter. Bierce had a long and successful career, first as a war hero, then as a writer in which he was surrounded by admirers and acolytes. It's true that Bierce's marriage failed and his two sons died prematurely, but the pejorative “Bitter Bierce” was ascribed to him by his critics long before those unfortunate events. In Prejudices: Six Series, H.L. Mencken says of Bierce, “What delighted him most in this life was the spectacle of human cowardice and folly…”

DP: Bierce is a favorite of quote pages because of his wit. Can you share with us a few of your favorite Bierce quotations?

Don: Camels and Christians accept their burdens kneeling.

Cogito ergo cogito sum - I think; therefore, I think I am.

The covers of this book are too far apart.

My Country 'tis of thee / Sweet land of felony...

If you'll excuse my pun, kindly allow me to throw in this piece of doggerel by Bierce, who hated canines:

Snap-dogs, lap-dogs, always-on-tap-dogs, / Smilers, defilers, / Reekers and Leakers.

By the way, I'd like to get this off my chest. Virtually every day some pundit quotes Bierce as saying, "War is God's way of teaching Americans geography." (Google shows 830,000 entries for this phrase.) I've never found the origin for it, nor has David E. Schultz, who along with S.T. Joshi, has created a voluminous database of Bierce's works. I believe it's one of those quotes that sounds like Bierce but isn't. I could be wrong about it, but I'd love to know the source.

DP: Bierce vanished in December of 1913 while touring Mexico during that country's civil war. His disappearance is one of the most mysterious in literary history. What do you think happened to Bierce and could there been a more fitting way for him to pass?

Don: There are a jillion theories about his death, everything from Pancho Villa's firing squad to suicide in the Grand Canyon. What's my theory about Bierce's disappearance? It's most probable he died in Mexico. While seventy-one may not seem like that much of an advanced age today, it was in 1913 when death from disease was common and death at an early age was expected. Bierce outlived the odds.

When you think of how exhausting today it would be to fly to Mexico from the United States -- with the hassles of getting to the airport, going through security, and all the rest -- think of what it must have been like for Bierce to travel across the border during a civil war -- apparently on horseback, and at the age of seventy-one. There was a lot of death and destruction during the Mexican Revolution. No prisoners were taken. Still, I suspect that Bierce, as a neutral observer, didn't die violently, but of natural causes. He struggled with asthma all his life.

I don't know, of course. No one does. Latching on to all the whacko theories is great fun, but plain silly nevertheless.

Read our 5 Questions About Ernest Hemingway here

Read our 5 Questions About Shakespeare here

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006
The Quotable Bierce

To capture the full essence of Ambrose Bierce, a reader must appreciate his acid wit. He was one of the most prominent social critics in post-Civil War America. One of Bierce’s most popular works is The Devil’s Dictionary, a collection of his newspaper columns that redefined common English words to lampoon the double-speak of U.S. politics and business. Working for the Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner, Bierce had a national podium to spew his sardonic opinions and stir-up national controversy -- which earned him the nickname Bitter Bierce.

DaRK PaRTY has collected some of his gems:

“A total abstainer is one who abstains from everything but abstention, and especially from inactivity in the affairs of others.”

“Abstainer: a weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure.”

“Acquaintance. A person whom we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to.”

“Admiration, n. Our polite recognition of another's resemblance to ourselves.”

“All are lunatics, but he who can analyze his delusions is called a philosopher.”

“An egotist is a person of low taste-more interested in himself than in me.”

“Bore, n. A person who talks when you wish him to listen.”

“Consult: To seek approval for a course of action already decided upon.”

“Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.”

“It is evident that skepticism, while it makes no actual change in man, always makes him feel better.”

“Optimism: The doctrine that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly, everything good, especially the bad, and everything right that is wrong... It is hereditary, but fortunately not contagious.”

“Religion. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.”

“War is God's way of teaching Americans geography.”

“What this country needs what every country needs occasionally is a good hard bloody war to revive the vice of patriotism on which its existence as a nation depends.”

“Quotation, n: The act of repeating erroneously the words of another.”

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Essay: Guided Tour of Hell

It was steamy and still in New York City. Exhaust from the cabs and buses pressed down on the avenues and streets like a ratty, wool blanket salvaged from a fire. A storm was brewing – you could feel it building like an electrical charge, but the rain was still hours away.

I pushed out of the air conditioned confines of Two World Financial Center and bid my client a safe journey. He had a customer meeting in mid-town and barely remembered to acknowledge me before plowing into the backseat of a waiting taxi, which plunged into the surge of traffic.

I stood on the sidewalk, the heat from the pavement making the bottoms of my feet sweat, and stared across the West Side Highway at the tasteful fencing that divided the Financial District from Ground Zero. I felt a pitter-patter in my heart and it occurred to me that the elegant waterfront restaurant where we had dined was across the street from a murder hole.

No one had mentioned that fact during lunch.

I glanced at my watch. I was supposed to catch a plane back to Boston, but instead I crossed the street the next time the traffic light turned red. Perspiration coated my face and neck when I finally arrived on Liberty Street. I walked up to the chain link fence and looked down at this notorious place; this dead zone that once sprouted up proud buildings of shiny glass, steel, and concrete. A serious place – stern even, a place that once shunned frivolity. This had been a place laden with money, designed for commerce, and with a spirit so unyielding that it would crush those foolish enough to stand in its way.

Not anymore.

That place went up in flames – turned to dust, vaporized in an instant. There’s no more twisted steel and piles of rubble. There’s no sense of destruction or pathos. Ground Zero is more like a well healed scab now; a bald spot on an otherwise healthy head of hair. The seriousness is gone. It is solemn now, not unlike stepping into the dark, hallowed foyer of an ancient cathedral.

People rush by. Cabs honk. A bus blunders by; gears grinding. The sun is hot and bright without the shade of the buildings. I try to conjure up the feelings I felt five years ago when I stood in the office of a colleague in a Boston high-rise and watched the first tower crash to the ground. Then it was surreal; the squeal from the throat of the receptionist next to me, and the voice of my former boss: “Jesus fucking Christ.”

It seemed like the world was ending back then. Planes dropping from the sky like meteors or toys hurled by an angry god. Certainly we had done something to deserve this furious fate. And I remembered the visceral fear that gnawed at my belly like a rat I had inadvertently swallowed whole at the building cafeteria.

I remembered looking out of my colleague’s office window at Logan Airport across the harbor. The sky was blue and clear and the airplanes had already been grounded, but I thought we were next. That a 747 would appear like a speck of cancer and grow and grow until the entire world would become an airplane wing and the last thing I would hear would be the explosion that would kill me.

We were vulnerable and scared. My building was evacuated and I drove home desperate to be with my wife. We huddled around the television, exchanging glances, and wondering what the hell was going on. The commentators told us everything had changed – and we believed them.

But standing at the edge of Ground Zero on this stifling summer day, looking down at the vacant lot that resembled a construction zone more than the final resting place of nearly 3,000 murdered people, I find it difficult to replicate those feelings. I searched for the fear and the anxiety – but it wouldn’t come.

And that was a good thing. We have wallowed in 9/11 for too long. We shouldn’t forget, but we’re on the verge of turning September 11 into a holiday for grief; a pity party for a strong, wealthy nation that should know better. It’s time to stop using 9/11 as an excuse – a crutch. We’re supposed to be better than that. Stronger. When you’re knocked to your knees, you stand up again.

It’s time to do that.

Thunder rumbles in the distance. The sky over lower Manhattan churns with inky black clouds. You can smell the rain now. I turn away from Ground Zero, my back a little straighter, my stride a bit wider. I hail a cab.

Neither the cabbie nor I mention the hole to the left of us. I tell him I want to go to the airport and he asks which one. I tell him and we drive away as the first fat drop of the storm splatters on the windshield.

The heatwave will be broken.

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Monday, September 11, 2006
5 Questions About: 9/11

(On this solemn 5th remembrance of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, DaRK PaRTY sought out Jimmy Walter, the multimillionaire businessman who has organized the ReOpen 911 Committee. Walter, an outspoken critic of the Bush administration, has called for an independent investigation of the events of 9/11 – claiming that the original government investigation was a whitewash. At first, Walter and his supporters claimed the 9/11 attacks were sins of omission by the Bush administration – but the tone and tenor of their criticism has gotten more volatile since 2004. Walter now believes that there is ample evidence that the 9/11 attacks may have been organized and executed by the U.S. government.)

DaRK PaRTY: Mr. Walter, most Americans accept the official verision of the 9/11 attacks as doctrine -- that Muslim extremists belonging to Al Qaeda highjacked commercial aircraft and crashed them into targets on a suicide mission against the United States. Can you give DaRK PaRTY readers a brief overview of why you think the 9/11 investigation needs to be reopened?

Jimmy Walter: The Pentagon lawn is unscathed yet the "eyewitnesses" who support the government claim [American Airlines Flight 77] hit the lawn. The initial hole at the Pentagon is only 18 feet wide, far too small for a 757 [airliner]. There are no plane parts, tail, luggage, or bodies to be seen. The still photos releases show poles and cars that move and change color. The videos and stills released show a plane far too small to be a 757.

In Pennsylvania [where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed], there are no plane parts, no bodies, no luggage, etc, just a hole in the ground that allegedly swallowed the plane, unlike any other crash in history.

DP: You believe that explosives were used to bring down the Twin Towers in New York City. What evidence points to the use of explosives?

JW: The Twin Towers can be seen blowing apart from explosives. The buildings did not pancake down, but rather exploded floor by floor as you can see on our Contest page. In Rick Siegel's film, "911 Eyewitness" clearly shows flashes from the explosions. The last part of the collapse looks just like a micro-nuclear explosion with pieces of steel flying up and out hundreds of meters, trailing vaporizing steel behind them. Even if it was not a micro nuke, no collapse could have caused that.

DP: One of the most compelling videos on the ReOpen 9/11 site is about American Airlines Flight 77 which hit the Pentagon. Why do you think Flight 77 didn't strike the Pentagon and what do you think happened to the actual plane and passengers?

JW: See my answer to the first question above. As for the passengers, I do not know. What I do know is that the U.S. military planned in 1961 to fake the destruction of an American airliner after disguising military personnel as civilians and secretly landing the same airliner.

DP: Building 7 in the World Trade Center complex is also a fascinating case. Can you give us a brief overview of the controversy surrounding that building's collapse?

JW: Building 7 was not hit by an airplane and had small fires. It may have been damaged by falling debris, but two buildings between it and the Twin Towers were also hit by falling debris - they did not collapse. Building 7 collapsed straight down from internal column failure, just like the controlled demolition that it was.

DP: You're a successful entrepreneur and businessman who has spent almost a $7 million dollars of your own money trying to get the investigation into 9/11 reopened. Some people in the media call you a crackpot and others a hero. What is the reaction you get from corporate America and the general public?

JW: Corporate America ignores me. Anyone of the general public that watches my video seriously questions the government and mainstream media's version (of what happened on 9/11). If you want expansion, it is all on my website.

Read our essay on 9/11 here

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Literary Criticism: Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game"
Summary: Sanger Rainsford, a famous big game hunter and author, is sailing to South America to hunt jaguars in the rain forest. As his ship passes the notorious Ship-Trap Island, feared the world over by sailors, he accidentally falls overboard. Rainsford swims toward the sound of pounding surf and washes up on the rocky coastline of the island. But not before hearing the screams of a hunted animal he cannot identify. Rainsford is surprised to find a castle hideaway owned by the mysterious Russian General Zaroff. Zaroff is also a big game hunter, but shares some disturbing news with Rainsford. Bored with hunting animals, Zaroff now hunts other men. Outraged, Rainsford demands to be taken to the mainland. Instead, he ends up in the jungle being stalked by Zaroff. Using his wits and courage, Rainsford manages to turn the tables on the general. In the end, Rainsford kills Zaroff and ends up sleeping in the general’s bed.

Analysis: Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” has become a staple in high school literature textbooks as the prototype for an adventure story. It’s a story that teachers never have trouble getting the students to actually read. It’s got guns, knives, murder, action, and suspense. We’re not talking about the complex, internal musings of Virginia Woolf here – but a mano vs. mano struggle in the jungle.

The story raises interesting questions about the ethics of hunting and the nature of violence – although it ultimately fails to provide a satisfactory answer to either question. In fact, it’s not clear that Rainsford doesn’t enjoy killing the general at the end of the story (a reader could easily inferred that he found the kill quite satisfying).

The story, published in 1924, was an immediate success and won an O. Henry Memorial Award for best short story. It is by far the best known work from Connell, a journalist and writer who had a successful, yet profoundly mediocre career after “The Most Dangerous Game” (although he did win an Academy Award in 1941 for the screenplay for Meet John Doe). The reason is staring you in the face. While Connell’s most famous short story has a bucketful of action and adventure – it lacks sophistication and many of the plot points now seem tired and cliché. The writing can also seem unnatural and too rehearsed. Take the opening:

“Off there to the right – somewhere – is a large island,” said Whitney.
“It’s rather a mystery—”

“What island is it?” Rainsford

“The old charts call it ‘Ship-Trap Island,’” Whitney
replied. “A suggestive name, isn’t it? Sailors have a curious dread
of the place. I don’t know why. Some

“Can’t see it,” remarked Rainsford, trying to peer
through the dank tropical night that was palpable as it pressed its thick warm
blackness in upon the yacht.

“You’re good eyes,” said Whitney with
a laugh, “and I’ve seen you pick off a moose moving in the brown fall brush at
four hundred yards, but even you can’t see four miles or so through a moonless
Caribbean night.”

It’s the last sentence that’s most glaring. Who talks like that? The answer, of course, is nobody. Connell simply pushes too much of the plot into Whitney’s dialogue until he begins to sound like a narrator, rather than a flesh-and-blood character. Much of “The Most Dangerous Game” feels like this. As the reader is being sucked into the story – a misplaced word or a strained piece of dialogue – pulls you right out again. It’s frustrating and a flaw in Connell’s skill as a storyteller and writer.

But what Connell does have here – and why “The Most Dangerous Game” continues to delight readers – is a damn good concept. It’s the hunter who becomes the hunted. It touches a primal nerve somewhere. The impact of the story is scarily broad having spun off dozens, if not hundreds of imitators in pulp fiction, comic books, TV shows, and films. The list includes: Marvel Comic’s Kraven the Hunter who stalked Spiderman for sport; the computer game Manhunter; TV episodes of Charlie’s Angels, The Family Guy, Johnny Quest, Star Trek, and Dr. Who; films like Hard Target, The Running Man, First Blood, and The Man with the Golden Gun.

And sometimes that’s all you need: a good idea. While “The Most Dangerous Game” isn’t high literature – it’s a lot of fun. And even better – in the often stale literature textbooks featured in most high schools – it’s a story that gets kids reading.

Read our literary criticism of Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"

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Friday, September 01, 2006
The Bush Administration's Real Summer Reading List

(With Labor Day weekend upon us, DaRK PaRTY decided to get the bottom of this ridiculous notion that President George W. Bush reads books in the summer. Surprisingly, our White House spy told us that Bush does read during the summer, along with many members of his administration. But she gave us the real list -- not the one provided to the mainstream press.)

President Bush

- “McElligot’s Pool” by Dr. Seuss

- “Encyclopedia Prehistorica Sharks and Other Sea Monsters: The Definitive Pop-Up” by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart

- “The Courage to Be Rich: Creating a Life of Material and Spiritual Abundance” by Suze Orman (audio version)

- “Conservative Comebacks to Liberal Lies: Issue by Issue Responses to the Most Common Claims of the Left from A to Z” by Gregg Jackson (audio version)

- “How to Read a Book” by Mortimer J. Adler and Charle Van Doren

- “SparkNotes: The Stranger”

Vice President Cheney

-“Satanic Bible” by Anton Szandor Lavey and Peter H. Gilmore

- “60 Second Anger Management: Quick Tips to Handle Explosive Feelings” by Dr. Michael Hershorn

- “Precision Shooting at 1,000 Yards” by Dave Brennan

- “Born to be BAD” by Sherrilyn Kenyon

- “Hand Puppets: How to Make and Use Them” by Laura Ross

Security of Defense Rumsfeld

- "Saving Face: How to Lie, Fake, and Maneuver Your Way Out of Life’s Most Awkward Situations” by Andy Robin

- “The Rumsfeld Way: Leadership Wisdom of a Battle-Hardened Maverick” by Jeffrey A. Krames

- “The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking” by Dale Carnegie

- “Red-Hot Sex the Kama Sutra Way” by Emerson Richard

- “The Klan” by Patsy Sims

Secretary of State Rice

- “He’s Just Not That Into You: Your Daily Wake-up Call” by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo

- “The Social Biology of Wasps” by Kenneth G. Ross and Robert W. Matthews

- “Lie Women Believe: And the Truth that Sets Them Free” by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Elisabeth Elliot

- "World Is Full of Married Men” by Jackie Collins

- “Swim with the Dolphins: How Women Can Succeed in Corporate America on Their Own Terms” By Connie Glaser and Barbara Steinberg Smalley

- “The Stranger” by Albert Camus

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