::Literate Blather::
Thursday, November 30, 2006
5 Questions About: The Bush Administration

(Glenn Greenwald is an unlikely political pundit. He was a dedicated constitutional law attorney in New York and then 9/11 happened. The terrorist attack galvanized him to action and he started a political blog called "Unclaimed Territory." At first, Glenn was a supporter of the policies of the Bush administration, but that soon changed as he watched the President’s administration begin to undermine the U.S. Constitution.

Glenn’s blog, one of the most read in the world, lead to a book called “How Would a Patriot Act?” released in May, 2006. Glenn has written for American Conservative magazine and appeared on a variety of television and radio programs, including C-Span's "Washington Journal," Air America's "Majority Report" and Public Radio International's "To the Point." His reporting and analysis have been credited in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, Salon, Slate and a variety of other print and online publications.

DaRK PaRTY caught up with Glenn shortly after the mid-term elections to discuss the last six years of the Bush administration, 9/11, and the war in Iraq.)

DaRK PaRTY: After 9/11 you were a big supporter of President Bush and the War on Terror, including the invasion of Afghanistan. But since then you have become one of the administration's harshest critics. What happened to cause such a turn around?

Glenn: The first event which caused me to begin seriously questioning the administration's wisdom and motives was the lawless detention of Jose Padilla, the U.S. citizen arrested on U.S. soil and then imprisoned incommunicado, with no charges being brought, for the next 3 1/2 years. When the administration argued that it had the power to detain U.S. citizens indefinitely without even so much as charging them with a crime, it was obvious that this administration was quite radical and seeking to expand its powers in unprecedented ways.

The invasion of Iraq, particularly when it turned out that the WMDs were entirely nonexistent, underscored not just the administration's insincerity but also its ineptitude. Its ongoing insistence that things were going well there when it was glaringly obvious that the opposite was true made me conclude that they had no regard for the truth and no connection to reality. And the revelation that they were breaking the law by eavesdropping on Americans with no warrants, followed by the President's insistence that he would continue to do so because he has the power to act outside of the law, led me to conclude that the administration simply does not believe in the founding principles of our country and poses a grave threat to those principles..

DP: The invasion of Iraq went from being a populous war to one that may cause the downfall of the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress. You supported the war at first, but have since become very critical of the decision. Why did you support the war early on and what do you think the solution in Iraq is at this point?

Glenn: It is not accurate to say that I supported the war at first. Howard Dean was the first political candidate to whom I ever donated money and that was in 2002 and the beginning of 2003, when he was, far and away, the most vocal and aggressive advocate against the invasion.

I was ambivalent about the war, but ultimately accepted the administration's claims that there was no doubt that (a) Saddam had chemical and biological weaopns and (b) had an active nuclear program. I gave them the benefit of the doubt, believing that such a massive fraud -- they were so categorical that he possessed WMDs -- was beyond their capacity to perpetrate.

I lived in New York for 15 years beginning in 1991 and was in Manhattan on 9/11 and was sympathetic to the idea that a more proactive, anti-Islamic-extremist foreign policy was needed. But I also thought it was clear that there were serious risks to the invasion that were being obscured and that the administration, aided by the media, had created a climate where real dissent and the scrutiny that it entails were precluded. That is why I donated to and supported Dean's candidacy, because I thought it was vital that there be a real adversarial force to the administration's arguments in favor of the war.

DP: As a lawyer, you have great insight and respect for the rule of law. In your book "How Would a Patriot Act?" you eloquently argue that the Bush administration has violated the tenets of the Constitution. What do you think have been the administration's biggest abuses?

Glenn: The detention of U.S. citizens (not just Padilla, but also Yaser Esam Hamdi) with no trial, combined with the administration's claim (which they still maintain) that they have the power, is probably the single most severe betrayal of our country's principles that one can fathom. That is a power which not even the British King possessed, at least not since the Magna Carta.

But the greatest abuse is the administration's general theory of executive power -- that the President has the unilateral and unconstrained power to act in all areas relating to defense of the country, which includes both foreign and U.S. soil, against both foreign nationals and U.S. citizens, and that nothing -- not the American people through their Congress nor the courts applying the law -- can constrain him in any way. That is the defining power of a King. It is what the founders waged war and created a Constitution in order to prevent. And it is the power that this administration not only argues it possesses, but has exercised aggressively and enthusiastically in numerous ways.

DP: What do you think it says about the character of the United States that its citizens have let their civil liberties to be eroded without much of a fight?

Glenn: I don't think Americans are particularly aware of the true nature of the administration's conduct, in large part because the media has so profoundly failed in its role to inform them.

The NSA wiretapping scandal was never presented as what it was -- a law-breaking scandal, a scandal about whether the President has the power to act outside of the law -- but rather as a scandal about whether the President should be able to eavesdrop on terrorists without court approval. The Padilla case was barely talked about at all; I guarantee most Americans are unaware that the Bush administration has imprisoned U.S. citizens on U.S. soil for years without giving them a trial, charging them with a crime, or even allowing them to talk to anyone on the outside, even including a lawyer.

The founders envisioned that citizens would stay informed about what their government was doing by an adversarial media, which would expose governmental deceit and inform citizens if things were going awry with their government. For numerous reasons, many systematic, the media simply do not do that and, as a result, Americans are largely uninformed about the truly radical nature of this administration. Nonetheless, Americans have come to the conclusion on their own that the President is dishonest and corrupt, and that is why his popularity has collapsed and, with this last election, so, too, has his presidency.

DP: You write one of the most read political blogs in the country "Unclaimed Territory." What drew you to the Internet and blogging in the first place and what role do you think blogs played in turning public opinion against Bush policies and the war in Iraq?

Glenn: I began reading blogs during the run-up to the war, in 2002, and found that the blogosphere was the only place where truly critical thinking and informative analysis could be found. Most of the mainstream media was enthralled to the President and his chest-beating war rhetoric. It made them feel strong and safe and powerful, and in exchange, they sacrificed their critical faculties in order to be accepted by this war movement.

The blogosphere was borne out of dissatisfaction with media punditry, and so bloggers were, by definition, more forceful and critical thinkers. The highest level political debates were unquestionably taking place in the blogosphere, and I began my blog in order to participate in those discussions. It is hard to quantify the influence of blogs in turning the public against the war, but blogs clearly play a significant role in keeping the media honest, in forcing them to be critical of government claims and not mindlessly convey information given to them from their favorite sources in the government. More critical reporting by the media of the war effort -- "critical" in both senses of the word - is, more than anything, what led Americans to realize just how duped they were and just how destructive this invasion and occupation has been.

Read our essay on the Iraq War here

Read our essay on the Bush Administration here

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Fiction: Piper

At 16, Piper was a cheerleader; a perky, blond girl full of jittery, giggling energy. She was so much in love with being young and popular. Her bed at home was covered with a collection of stuffed monkeys—Brownie, Bongo, Bingo, Chimpy, and Alexander. But her real love was John Travolta and the Bee Gees, who were always playing on her record player.

Gray couldn’t be bothered. He was different; a circumspect boy of seventeen. He played mid-field on the varsity soccer team and was the fastest sprinter on the track team. Yet despite his athletic achievements, Gray had few friends. His sister adored him, but mostly he ignored her.

The trouble started when Piper started dating Jimmy Yates, a star linebacker on the varsity football team. A man among boys; Jimmy was already shaving, surly in the way of popular jocks in high school. Jimmy stood six feet three inches tall and weighed 240 pounds.

Piper came home from a party one October Saturday with a bruise on her cheek. She joked about bumping into the car door and then went into her room sooner than she usually did. No Saturday Night Live. The wall dividing their bedrooms was thin and he heard one distinct sob before she buried her face in her stuffed monkeys.

The following weekend, she came home from the movies with a split lip. Silly me, she said, I’m so clumsy! All smiles. But Gray knew it then, and felt something stir loose within him.

The next day, Sunday, he rode his bike to the Yates house. Jimmy was raking leaves with his father. A pile was burning behind them, the brownish, white smoke swirling up through the naked tree branches. Father and son stopped working and leaned on their rakes when Gray dropped his bike at the curb.

He crossed the lawn, his sneakers crunching on the leaves, and walked right up to Jimmy Yates. Just looked at him; saw the guilt in Jimmy’s fidgety eyes. The shame of it twitching his eyeballs.

“Who’s this?” the father said, lighting a cigarette. He was big; bigger than Jimmy, but fat and soft.

“What’d you want?” Jimmy asked.

“Stay away from my sister,” Gray said.

The father snorted; laughed. “Look at this,” the father said to Jimmy. “Can you believe this shit?”

Jimmy nodded, feeling bold. “Yeah,” he said and then looked at Gray. “Fuck you.”

The father hooted.

Gray snatched the rake from Jimmy, spun it, and snapped it in half over his knee.

“Hey!” the father shouted.

Gray used the severed end on Jimmy. He lost count of the blows at four, maybe five. Jimmy’s wrist broke and then his jaw. Gray left him lying in a heap; not moving. The father never moved: cigarette hanging from his lower lip.

The police arrested Gray at his house an hour later. He kept his mouth shut. He didn’t want to admit it to anyone—not even to himself—how much he enjoyed it.


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Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Literary Criticism: Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"

Summary: While talking a stroll about London, Mr. Utterson and his cousin happen upon a dreary section of the city mired in penury. The location was the site of a recent controversy that Mr. Utterson’s cousin relates. An ugly, dwarfish man named Mr. Hyde trampled over and severely injured a young girl. Confronted by a mob lead by the girl’s family, Mr. Hyde makes restitution in the form of a check from Dr. Jekyll – a friend of Mr. Utterson’s. Mr. Utterson, concerned for his friend’s well-being, visits Jekyll, who assures him all is well. Deciding to investigate, Mr. Utterson later meets Mr. Hyde and is struck by the evil he senses in the man. One dark night, Mr. Hyde is witnessed murdering a respected gentleman with his cane. Mr. Utterson protects Jekyll’s association with Hyde, but urges him to cut all ties. Jekyll promises to do so. But Jekyll’s experiments with chemicals have unlocked his evil nature by transforming him into Mr. Hyde. He can no longer control the transformations and Mr. Hyde takes over. In the end, confronted by his friends, Jekyll in the form of Mr. Hyde ends up committing suicide.

Analysis: Poor Robert Louis Stevenson.

He’s often dismissed as a second-rate scribbler of horror stories and adventure tales for children. He suffered greatly under the withering gaze of literary icon Virginia Woolf – who publicly disparaged his works during the height of her fame.

But there’s been a reconsideration of Stevenson as a master of the neo-romanticism movement that sprung up in London during the 1880s. This revisionist take on Stevenson is primarily driven by “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” which is a classic of the style and established Stevenson as a best-selling author in Britain and in the United States after its publication in 1886 (and many believe it was responsible for the wide-spread panic that ensued during the Jack the Ripper murders in 1888).

It’s difficult to read “Jekyll and Hyde” with a clean slate – the characters are so infused into modern society that a reader would have had to have grown up in a vacuum cleaner not to have formed some kind of impression of the characters (see: Legends of Literature Part 2).

But despite the movies, comic books, plays, parodies and TV melodramas (even the children’s show “Arthur” had an episode based on the story), the novella amazingly retains its freshness. Reading “Jekyll and Hyde” is like stepping through a looking glass and onto the gas-lit, cobblestoned byways of Victorian London. You can actually feel the chill of the fog and hear the click of walking sticks on the stones.

Stevenson is a beautiful writer – much to Woolf’s chagrin. He isn’t flowery, however, preferring a concise, direct style and relying on good old fashioned verbs and nouns to tell the story. The results, while too straight-forward for the esoteric Woolf, are vivid portraits and strong characterizations. Take this narrative from Mr. Enfield:

“Street after street, and all the folks asleep – street after street, all lighted up as if for a procession and all as empty as a church – till at last I got into that state of mind when a man listens and listens and begins to long for the sight of a policeman. All at once, I saw two figures: one little man who was stumping along eastward at a good walk, and the other a girl of maybe eight or ten who was running as hard as she was able down a cross street. Well, sire the two ran into one another naturally enough at the corner: and then cam the horrible part of the thing; for the man trampled calmly over the child’s body and left here screaming on the ground.”

This “little man,” of course, is Mr. Hyde. That may be the biggest surprise in the story: the crafty, evil doppelganger known as Mr. Hyde is a dwarf. A twisted and deformed dwarf, but nothing like the lurching giant that he is often portrayed as in film.

While disguised as a supernatural horror story, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is actually an indictment on Victorian morals. We told from the point of view of his close-friend, Mr. Utterson, that Dr. Jekyll is an intelligent, kind-hearted man who is well-respected as he moves into middle age. But in actuality, Dr. Jekyll is bored, frustrated, and exhausted by his propriety.

And that leads the good doctor to his basement laboratory to experiment with mind-altering chemicals, powders, and potions. There he discovers not only a way to unleash his primal urges, but in way that protects his reputation and identity. He has the perfect alibi because he has become another person – Mr. Hyde.

Stevenson, of course, was prevented from telling his readers in detail what Mr. Hyde did on his midnight excursions to the seedy parts of London – but one imagines lots of alcohol, opium, gambling, and sex with prostitutes. Dr. Jekyll is seduced by this lifestyle, until it overcomes him and his urges become so debased that he turns to brutality and murder.

The story is told from the point of view of the lawyer, Mr. Utterson, and then in letters from Dr. Jekyll’s medical school mate, Dr. Lanyon, and lastly in a written confession from Dr. Jekyll himself. Surprisingly, Jekyll’s confession may be the weakest part of the narrative. The quick and easy flow established by Mr. Utterson and Dr. Lanyon’s sections skids to a halt with more stilted and formal language. The change, however, isn’t enough to derail the story.

Stevenson’s truly a delight, but often overlooked by serious readers. “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is certainly worth the investment of time – because at about 75 pages it reads more like a short story than a novella. You’ve seen the movies, experienced the legend, so why not get the story from the original source? Especially when it’s so much fun.

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Monday, November 27, 2006
Poem: meanwhile i keep dancing

By: Kara Emily Krantz

i almost died the other day.

as i sat at my desk
i almost died.

my inner anguish choked me
as i thought of all the nights
without someone to hold
and the incessant pointlessness
of so many of the things we do.

i almost died
with the thought of having to live
the rest of my life.

i gazed at that closed door
and vaguely wondered
where the damn window of happiness was
then i looked towards the wall
and saw plastered concrete eggshell
covered with a single piece of art:

"I get up. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing."

i recall the falls
but for the life of me
couldn't remember the last time
i had truly danced

and with that thought
i almost died.

and as the squealing sound of tires
screeched from outside the building
i stared at that near-empty, windowless wall
and wondered who would die today
and when that crash
would come.

i waited for metal to meet metal
and for the morbid opportunity
to walk outside
and see the scene.

the wait was so long
i considered dying
to pass the time.

the tire squeals kept sounding
and the acceleration kept increasing
and i vaguely wondered
what the hell is going on...

then came the crash
and i thought 'yup, there it is'
as concrete blocks exploded
and bricks were thrown.
plaster dust covered the room
and the sound of my screams
surprised me.

i was anticipating the crash
yet not expecting the crash
to be me.

and amid all those thoughts of dying
i thanked god
i was alive.

(Kara Emily Krantz is a 22-year-old poet from Massachusetts. She is currently pursuing her Masters degree in counseling psychology, and wishes to infuse the field with more humanity through her words. Her inspirations are often very transient and personal, but she has long-adored Pablo Neruda, e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, and the silky secrets of romance. Her favorite novel is "The Spell of the Sensuous" by David Abram. She has written a handful of self-published poetry books, and a collection of some of her work can be found at www.writerscafe.org/profile.php?id=197)

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006
5 Questions About: Shakespeare

(It’s the characters that bring you back to Shakespeare: Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear, Othello, Juliet, and Falstaff. DaRK PaRTY felt extremely erudite and approached Professor Jennifer Formichelli at Boston University about the Bard. Professor Formichelli earned a BA in literary history from Boston University, and a PhD in English literature from the University of Cambridge, England, where she was awarded the Charles Oldham Shakespeare scholarship in 1998. Her research and writing interests are in English poetry and verse drama from the 16th--20th centuries, with particular emphasis on Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot. She currently teaches in the Core Curriculum at Boston University, and is working on a book on Shakespeare and lying.)

DaRK PaRTY: First, let's talk about Shakespeare the man. Mark Twain once compared Shakespeare's biography to putting together a dinosaur from a few scraps of bone adhered together with plaster. What do we really know about the Bard?

Jennifer: Well, Schoenbaum has written an excellent biography, “Shakespeare's Lives,” which is put together with sound scholarship, and which does a fine job of knitting up the existing bones into a pleasant skeleton. We know that Shakespeare was a successful entrepreneur with some acting ability, who cared a good deal about property and money, and left his older wife his second-best bed (probably not a bad inheritance, however it sounds).

He had three pleasant years as a prosperous man in Stratford after the Globe burnt down, and died at a not very advanced age. He was survived at his death by his wife, daughter and son-in-law, so that his name was not carried on. He wrote 37 plays that were preserved – wonderfully -- by the publication of the First Folio in 1623. So, on the one hand, we don't know very much about Shakespeare's life, though at the same time we know all we need to know.

As T.S. Eliot remarked, if you look for Shakespeare, you will find him not in one of his characters, but in all of them. He is everywhere and nowhere.

DP: What do you think is the biggest misconception about Shakespeare?

Jennifer: In short, that he wasn't himself. I find these various theories, such as the idea that Marlowe was Shakespeare, or, on the other side, that Shakespeare was in fact the Earl of Oxford, or Francis Bacon, or whomever, silly and tiresome. The second biggest misconception -- though you didn't ask -- is that he didn't write any prose, when he was probably the finest prose writer in Renaissance England: for instance, much of “Henry IV” is prose, and “Hamlet,” like many of the plays, shifts between prose and verse in compelling ways, creating a perfect rhythm, a new sound.

DP: As an introduction to Shakespeare which play would you recommend first and why?

Jennifer: That's easy: “Hamlet,” because to my mind, it is not only the greatest play written in English, but the greatest play ever written. From a technical point of view, it also contains a mix of Shakespeare's old style and his new style, falling on the hinge of the 17th Century, and ushering in the wonderful tragedies. And also because you can't read it and help but want to read everything; it's the play that makes you understand, in a way, that, as Eliot put it, 'the whole of Shakespeare's work is one poem'.

DP: Yale professor and literary critic Harold Bloom is fond of saying that Shakespeare created characters more real than living human beings. Which three Shakespearean characters do you consider the most alive and why?

Jennifer: I admire Harold Bloom, and I understand the justness but not the justice of that comment. I would say that it lessens, in a way it oughtn't to, the accomplishment of creating characters as real as human beings, though perhaps inhabiting different realities. That being said, here you are:

Hotspur in “Henry IV,” that brave heart who, with his comedic, choleric temper and his disastrous disregard and dislike for flattery, is a worthy opponent to Hal, and who speaks so real one can hear him talking; Rosalind in “As You Like It,” because, in disguise, she gets to tell inconvenient truths, such as 'Men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love'; and Lance, that dog at all things from “Two Gentleman of Verona,” because his mutterings to himself, his clumsiness, and his love of his dog Crab show-- even at the early stages -- Shakespeare's unique ability in creating characters who are both ordinary and extraordinary.

That rich and strange combination is one of the lovely things, to my mind, about literature.

DP: Which three of Shakespeare's plays are your favorites and why?

Jennifer: It is hard for me to rank most of Shakespeare's plays, as I tend to think of them together (excepting “Titus Andronicus,” which has always seemed to me quite crude and which is also likely a collaboration). But to have a good-spirited go at favorites, I would say the following.

“Hamlet:” first for love of the thing; second for he ways in which it gives me pause every time I read or see it; third for its beautiful and generous displays of friendship; and fourth because it is a profound exploration of the many different kinds of realities one can countenance.

Next, “Measure for Measure” because it asks questions that it has the courage to not answer patly, and considers fair-mindedly beliefs with which it does not agree; and “Macbeth” for the astonishing versification and speed of the play, and for its candid and searching presentation of a man who, not unlike Othello, is destroyed by the very things that make him great, his sense of honor and his conscience.

Read our essay "The Undiscovered Country" here

Read our interview about Charles Dickens here

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Essay: The Long, Painful Suicide of Newspapers

Newspapers have responded poorly to the challenges of the Internet Age and 24-hour cable news stations. In fact, they remain in deep denial about the problem. Take this quote from a recent article in the Washington Post about industry problems.

“`Of all the things that have happened, [the change in telemarketing rules] had the single largest impact,’ said John Kimball, chief marketing officer for the Newspaper Association of America, an industry trade group.”

Kimball, the deluded sod, is blaming the federal “Do-Not-Call” legislation for circulation loss because, he argues, newspapers have lost the ability to cold call people with circulation offers.

That’s not the problem. The problem is that newspapers have been killing themselves for more than two decades.

I miss my daily newspaper. Oh, the Boston Globe is tossed onto my doorsteps every morning – as it has been for more than 20 years. But it’s an empty shell compared to 10 and 20 years ago.

Most of the effort at the Globe these days seems to go into “Sidekick,” a new tabloid section targeted at young people. Sidekick is “irreverent,” “edgy,” and “hip.” Every day Sidekick seems to feature another photograph of an actress in a low-cut top or a boy band trying to look tough.

Sidekick’s graphic-heavy pages are crowded with Hollywood insider briefs, movie and TV snippets, reader commentary on topics like dating and fashion, music and DVD reviews, and excerpts from the blogs of Globe reporters and editors.

In other words, all the things the Web delivers better, easier, and faster. Yet the Globe continues to entice young Internet users back to the newspaper -- alienating their base of readers clamoring for news.

It might seem like I’m picking on the Globe, but unfortunately, every daily newspapers is facing the same challenges – and responding in the same futile manner. Because despite efforts like Sidekick, circulation for newspapers continues to plummet (newspaper circulation has decreased each year since 1984) and ad sales have been dropping like George W. Bush’s approval ratings.

Yet rather than fall back on their core competencies – reporting, analyzing, and breaking news – newspapers have responded by trying to duplicate TV and the Web. This has meant shorter stories, more photographs and charts, and pandering in young audiences with celebrity gossip and “arts” reporting. In other words, they respond with Sidekick sections.

The biggest problem with newspaper executives is that they think the product is the newspaper. It isn’t. The product is content. The “newspaper” is simply a delivery channel. One of many ways now available to bring content to consumers – such as the Web, RSS, blogs, podcasts, email, and video.

Yet despite having the most vibrant, up-to-date content – newspapers have watched content aggregators like Google and Yahoo make mincemeat out of them. In a time when content is king, newspapers have failed to capitalize on it.

Here are three solutions:

  • Readers rely on newspapers for news – the in-depth reporting and analysis still in its infancy at online news outlets. Newspapers need to reinvest in a reporting and editing to support quality content creation. Unfortunately, most newspapers have responded to circulation challenges by slashing news staff. That’s short-sighted and suicidal behavior. Readers buy newspapers for more local news, in-depth coverage of national and international issues, sports, and feature stories. Give it to them.
  • Come to terms with the fact that a newspaper is simply a vehicle. Consumers want the content – not the broad sheet. So provide the content in any way that the readers might want it – give analysis on blogs, break news online, use podcasts and dynamic video (news photographers are already on the scene – arm them with video!), push content via RSS to desktops. Newspapers need to invest in these new technologies. They should turn the "newspaper" into pure news -- local, international, editorial, etc... because that's what readers of their hard-copy editions want.
  • Stop with the post mortems (like the headline on this essay). Newspapers as a channel might be heading the way of the dinosaurs, but who cares? It’s not about the channel – it’s about the content. Newspapers need to fill in the moats that have dug around themselves and open up. Invite interaction with readers – provide forums, bulletin boards, and blogs for readers. Engage -- become a vibrant source once again.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006
The Legends of Literature Part 3

(Welcome to the third installment of literary characters who transcend the page to become true cultural icons. These are the characters that have infused themselves into the culture (music, movies, comic books, games, TV, etc.). They have integrated themselves so deeply into our society that many people have never even read the original books (or comic books) that made them famous -- but are intimately familiar with them anyway.

DaRK PaRTY presents the final part of "The Legends of Literature." Today we give you the characters from children's literature and comic books.)

Children’s Literature & Comic Books

Claim to fame: Tumbled down the rabbit hole and helped set the course for fantasy fiction and the 60s
Created by: Lewis Carroll (aka Rev. Charles L. Dodgson) Born: 1865 First appearance: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (novel) Appearance in a nutshell: A little blond girl in a blue and white dress Supporting players: The Hatter, The White Rabbit, The Caterpillar, The March Hare, The Cheshire Cat Enemy: The Queen of Hearts Quote: “A grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life!” Tidbit: The film “Resident Evil” features a protagonist named Alice who is forced into an underground bunker to battle a supercomputer named “The Red Queen.”

Dorothy Gale
Claim to fame: Whisked away by a tornado to become one of the most endeavoring characters in literature and film
Created by: L. Frank Baum
Born: 1900
First appearance: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (novel)
Appearance in a nutshell: A little girl in pigtails with a little dog
Supporting players: Toto, Uncle Henry, Aunt Emily, The Tin Man, The Lion, and The Scarecrow
Enemy: Wicked Witch of the East
Quote: “There’s no place like home!”
Tidbit: In 2000, a pair of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the movie “The Wizard of Oz” sold at an auction for $666,000.

Claim to fame: The Dark Knight who has become one of the most recognizable superheroes
Created by: Bob Kane and Bill Finger
Born: 1939
First appearance: Detective Comics #27 (comic book)
Appearance in a nutshell: Bat mask with a flowing black cape
Supporting players: Robin, Commissioner Gordon, Albert
Enemy: The Joker, Catwoman, Penguin, Two-Face and Riddler
Quote: “A bat! That’s it! It’s an omen. I shall become a bat!”
Tidbit: In the 1954, Psychologist Fredric Wertham asserted in his book “Seduction of the Innocent” that Batman and Robin were gay.

Peter Pan
Claim to fame: The boy who never wanted to grow up is now a disorder for single adult men who can’t grow up
Created by: J.M. Barrie
Born: 1911
First appearance: Peter Pan and Wendy (play)
Appearance in a nutshell: Green tights and a green cap
Supporting players: Wendy Darling, Tinker Bell
Enemy: Captain Hook
Quote: “I can fly!”
Tidbit: Michael Jackson, the self-proclaimed King of Pop, once said: “I am Peter Pan.”

Doctor Dolittle
Claim to fame: He talks to the animals, of course
Created by: Hugh Lofting
Born: 1920
First appearance: The Story of Doctor Dolittle, Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts (novel)
Appearance in a nutshell: A chubby doctor with a top hat
Supporting players: Polynesia (parrot), Gub-Gub (pig), Jip (dog), Chee-Chee (monkey), Pushmi-Pullyu
Enemy: The African King
Quote: Ah, he talks to the animals
Tidbit: The most famous film adaptation of the book was a 1967 musical starring Rex Harrison as the good doctor

Claim to fame: The Man Steel who is one of the most famous comic book characters of all time
Created by: Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Born: 1932
First appearance: Action Comics #1 (comic book)
Appearance in a nutshell: Red cape with an “S” on his chest
Supporting players: Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White
Enemy: Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Doomsday
Quote: “Up, up and away!”
Tidbit: Comedian Jerry Seinfeld is a huge Superman fan and his long running series had several references to the Man of Steel.

Winnie the Pooh

Claim to fame: The lovable bear who may be the most famous bear in the world
Created by: A.A. Milne
Born: 1926
First appearance: Winnie-the-Pooh (novel)
Appearance in a nutshell: A gold bear in a red sweater
Supporting players: Tigger, Piglet, Owl, Rabbit, Eeyore, Christopher Robin
Enemy: None
Quote: “Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?”
Tidbit: Author Benjamin Hoff wrote two books about Taoism using the characters from Winnie the Pooh to explain the philosophy of the Eastern religion

Claim to fame: The most beloved superhero of the teen set
Created by: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Born: 1962
First appearance: Amazing Fantasy #15 (comic book)
Appearance in a nutshell: Red and blue costume with spider webs on it.
Supporting players: Aunt May, Gwen Stacy, J. Jonah Jameson, Mary Jane Watson, Harry Osborn
Enemy: Dr. Octopus, Green Goblin, Venom, Sandman
Quote: “Your friendly neighborhood Spiderman!”
Tidbit: The theme to the Spiderman Saturday morning cartoon has been covered by The Ramones, Aerosmith and Tenacious D


Claim to fame: A puppet that became a little boy
Created by: Carlo Collodi
Born: 1883
First appearance: The Adventures of Pinocchio (novel)
Appearance in a nutshell: A marionette of a boy with a long stick nose
Supporting players: Geppetto, Blue Fairy, Jiminy Cricket
Enemy: Society
Quote: “I’m a real boy!”
Tidbit: The Disney film adaptation (1940) has been deemed culturally significant by the Library of Congress

Nancy Drew
Claim to fame: The girl detective you helped usher in women’s liberation
Created by: Edward Stratemeyer
Born: 1930
First Appearance: The Secret of the Old Clock (novel)
Appearance in a nutshell: An independent 16-year-old girl
Supporting players: Mr. Drew, Hannah Gruen
Enemy: Various
Quote: “If worry were an effective weight-loss program, women would be invisible.
Tidbit: There are 56 books in the first and original Nancy Drew series

The Hulk
Claim to fame: The raging green monster and son of Edward Hyde
Created by: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Born: 1962
First Appearance: The Incredible Hulk #1 (comic book)
Appearance in a nutshell: Enormous, green, and muscle bound
Supporting players: Rick Jones, Doc Sampson, Betty Ross Banner
Enemy: The Abomination, Absorbing Man, The Leader, Major Glenn Talbot
Quote: “Don’t get me angry. You won’t like me angry.”
Tidbit: There is an Incredible Hulk roller coaster at Universal Studios Island of Adventure in Florida

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Friday, November 17, 2006
Too Many Martinis at Lunch, Old Man Potter, Unwisely Acting as His Own Attorney, Delivers His Closing Remarks to a Bedford Falls Jury
Members of the jury let me be clear: I didn’t steal the money.

I direct your attention to the front row of the courtroom. Take a good long look, my fellow citizens. Why I’m surprised the inebriated old fool remembered to stagger his way into this fine courthouse this morning. Are you going to take the drunken babblings of this doddering, old stooge, Uncle Billy, as gospel? And isn’t that what it comes down to? My word, as one of the most respected businessmen in Bedford Falls, against that of a notorious dipsomaniac? A man – mind you – who consorts with a pet squirrel!

Yes, yes, I know you heard testimony from Bert the Cop that he found the Bailey Building & Loan money locked in my desk. But I can look each and everyone of you in the eye and tell you that when I tucked that newspaper into my drawer, I had no idea that it contained the Building & Loan’s cash deposits.

How could I? Quite frankly, I was emotional distraught after the verbal assault Uncle Billy leveled at me as he barreled into my bank battering me about the face with the very same newspaper. He compared me – Me! The head of the draft board – to the Nazis and the Japs! I was speechless! Shocked and chagrinned!

So when I rolled into my office and tossed that old newspaper in my desk drawer, I had no idea it contained any money. I was as surprised as Bert the Cop when he pulled all that cash out from my desk. But not as surprised as when he violently grabbed me by the lapels and dragged me from my wheelchair to manacle my hands behind my back! Me! A cripple and a respected business leader – arrested like a common thief!

It was mortifying! Mortifying!

And do I really need to address the deceptions put forth by George Bailey? And under oath mind you! I have it under good authority that George Bailey actually profited from this whole experience when the discontented, lazy rabble he calls friends and customers emptied out their piggy banks for him. That braying, spoiled brat Sam Wainwright actually cabled Bailey $25,000! Harrumph!

I remain confounded by the loyalty this town gives to George Bailey, a frustrated, angry, and ungrateful young man.George Bailey hates Bedford Falls and has been trying to leave it ever since he was a boy. Why he’s been heard to say – and I quote -- that he wants to “shake the dust off this crummy little town and see the world!” This is how much he despises our beautiful, little metropolis and a town I’m proud to call my home.

Let me tell you about George Bailey. He’s an arrogant, rude man who once sat in my office, smoking my expensive cigars, and called me a “scurvy, little spider.” This from a man who stole his best friend’s girl! A man who used to regularly vandalize the home he now lives in! A man who consorts with people of low morale character!

Think about social circle George Bailey travels in. How about Mr. Martini? A garlic-eater and owner of a disreputable gin mill on the edge of town! Nick the bartender? A violent ruffian with a police record! And let’s talk about Mr. Sam Wainwright. Shall we? A philanderer who lives in New York City! And how about old man Gower? Why nothing more than a drunk and child beater!

But worst of all may be Violet Bick! An allegedly happily married man like George Bailey is often in the company of this woman of loose moral character! A man who once shouted throughout the town how he wanted to take her skinny dipping! A woman George Bailey is often seen giving large amounts of cash. She’s nothing more than a barroom whore!

Now, now, fair citizens, don’t gasp at me! Do you think George Bailey is the only man Violet hits up for money? That she hasn’t come crawling into my office on her hands and knees begging for my assistance? I may have two useless appendages, but my middle one works fine thank you very much!

What? What? Don’t look at me like that! You think your hero – your Mr. Building & Loan – isn’t getting down on that action? Just because I give the little blond a tap every now and then doesn’t make me a bad man. You think its easy being the town cripple? Huh? Putting up with all your shit? But I got my revenge! Oh, yes. I own this burg! You’re like my… my cattle! Bigger bitches than Violet!

Pottersville! That’s what we should call this shithole! Pottersville!

Unhand me, bailiff! Judge! Take your goddamn hands off me! Please! I didn’t do it! I’m innocent!

Wonderful life, my ass!

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Fiction: Susan Spelling B.

By: L. Kenyon

I hate Susan B. Spelling.

I hate her.

I hate the way she emphasizes her middle initial too: capital B period; let me tell you something, B stands for “bitch.”

So conceited, so untouchable: Susan. I hate her stupid popular friends, too, and the way they strut around the school together like they fucking own the place. I hate the way they laugh. But most of all, I just hate her.

Forty-five minutes a day I'm stuck in the same class with her - as if English didn't suck enough. She sits dead center up in the front row, so no matter where I look I see her - her stupid, wavy, blond hair - her stupid voice - her stupid, perfect smile – and her stupid pretty eyes.

I hate her.

In the spring, her dresses remind me of my grandmother's flowered wallpaper. My grandmother’s house always smelt like moth balls and licorice and I hated that, too.

So self-righteous, not a care in the world: Susan.

And in the winter her sweaters cling to those "please-look-but-don't-stare-at-me" big tits, and if you’re lucky, just lucky enough to get close to her, you can smell that waxy mint lip gloss she always wears - that shit makes me want to puke in my mouth.

Straight A's and always eager - hand always raised - always the teacher's pet - every boy’s fantasy: Susan.

I call her house. I'm not stupid about it; I block caller I.D. and if someone answers I always hang up. Except once when Susan answered and I didn't say anything right away so Miss Better Things to Do hung up on me.

I see her in the cafeteria at the "look-at-me-table" laughing; I see her in my dreams at the gates of hell, smirking. I've watched her at her field hockey practices - sticks and skirts will break and hurt.

I ride my bike to her house at night.

I hate her perfect family; no unsmiling faces on that mantle and I know because I know the inside of that house very well. I've even been inside her room. I know her stupid secrets. I know her stupid dreams. I hate her. I hate the way she floats like an angel down the hallways to be adored and cooed at by everyone.

I hate the way I love her.

But when attendance is called today, there will be no punctual Susan B. Spelling to smugly answer, "Present!" No more perfectly postured A-list flower to sit crossed-legged, twirling her hair and tapping her pencil on the side of her desk; I made sure of that. I put a stop to it. I've done the world a favor; she would’ve never had to work for anything in her whole life; getting by on her pretty smile. The world was hers to walk on and over and there would never have been a reason for her to be decent or caring or sweet; her world was going to be fucking bullshit. But not now, I made sure of that; I put a stop to it.

It wasn't hard to do, or particularly messy. In the end, it was too bad for her that her parents can actually afford seclusion. I didn't need to worry about being seen. She won't be found. I was careful. And then of course there’s Peter Buckwald, Susan's boyfriend. I almost forgot about him; ass kissing, jock douche bag. “Mr. Anderson this and Mr. Anderson that.” Won't he be so heart broken when Susan turns up missing. I bet you his little blue baseball cap will tumbled off his head – fucking pussy - I hate him too. And I know where he sleeps, and which window is his.

Although, things just might be looking up after all; at least I will never have to call on perfect Susan B. Spelling in my classroom ever again.

(“Susan Spelling B” is from a collection of dark tales entitled “Welcome to Dandy” - coming soon to discount stores and thrift shops all over America. L. Kenyon is from Vermont where trees grow. Now he lives on a concrete block in New York City with a pet television set.)

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006
The Yawn-Inducing Films of Stanley Kubrick

Let’s get this out of the way up front: Stanley Kubrick sucks.

I have nothing against the man personally, mind you, I’m sure he was a kind, if not timid, man. I just hate his movies. They are long, plodding affairs featuring unremarkable, one-dimensional characters, dialogue about as rich as your average bachelor party porno, and featuring a heavy-handed, process-oriented style that induces narcolepsy.

There is no doubt that Kubrick created some visually stunning films – that he broke new ground in both content and process. I understand his use of a non-linear narrative in “The Killing” (1956) was unheard of at the time. I know that his use of special effects in “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) was groundbreaking. I also appreciate the way he pioneered the use of music in film. I give him kudos for all of that achievement.

And on that level alone – one could argue that he’s a noteworthy and influential director.

But that’s not why I go to movies. I watch movies for the story. And Kubrick was a terrible storyteller.

2001: A Space Odyssey
Let’s consider the film most critics consider his classic: “2001.” I have forced myself to watch this yawn inspiring thud of a movie on three occasions. I appreciate the realistic space setting, the incredible special effects (still impressive even by today’s standards), and stunning cinematography. I even admire the way Kubrick’s film rightly predicts things like flat-screened computers, the use of credit cards, and portable mini TVs.

But the film sucks.

While I understand Kubrick’s goal in using limited dialogue is to illustrate space as a giant vacuum of silence – he failed to recognize that dialogue is crucial to creating character and propelling the plot (although there really isn’t
a plot in “2001” to propel). And that’s the great failing of “2001” – it delivers neither character nor plot. I didn't care about the people on the screen and the plot is simply a philosophical musing.

The action in the movie is primarily watch
ing a bunch of astronauts eat lunch, exercise, and play chess. Generally, at this point in the movie, you wish you had more popcorn and start to wonder if you might be able to catch a “Price is Right” rerun on the Game Show Network.

I’ve read the glowing reviews and critical analysis of “2001” where they throw around phrases like: “Its unrivaled integration of musical and visual composition, its daring paucity of dialogue and washes of silence, its astonishingly creative psychedelic sequence and its still-gorgeous pre-digital special effects.” (Salon.com) and “Part space opera, part cinematic symphony and part horror story, the film is a shape-shifting painting.” (Arizona Daily Star).

Blah, blah, blah.

Yet in Roger Ebert’s fawning review he actual writes (without irony, mind you): “This is the work of an artist so sublimely confident that he doesn't include a single shot simply to keep our attention.” Exactly! Perfectly and wonderfully put, Roger. However, you misinterpreted what that telling observation meant.

It meant the movie sucked.

A Clockwork Orange
This, unfortunately, was a pattern that plagued Kubrick’s films. Take another of his highly-reviewed films: “A Clockwork Orange” (1971), a film adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ novel of the same name.

During the first part of this movie, I thought (hoped?) Kubrick might finally be on to something – the visual style and envelope pushing content had me paying close attention. But per usual, Kubrick’s movie lapses into periods of incredible boredom, shaky narration, and a lack character development.

However, the real problem with “A Clockwork Orange” is the amazing lack of subtlety (and this from the guy who made “2001”).
How about the scene where Alex and his “droogs” murder a sex-obsessed, rich industrialist with a porcelain penis? How about the fact that Alex’s beloved Beethoven’s “Ninth” becomes linked to his cure and makes him violently ill? Oh, my!

The scenes of Alex’s therapy are so drawn out I felt like standing up, fist shaking, and shout: “For the love of God, let’s m
ove on!” The movie becomes so ham-fisted and preachy and my first reaction was one of profound disappointment.

The Shining
That’s the same emotion I experienced watching “The Shining” (1980). Stephen King’s novel was a chilling, look-behind-your-shoulder horror novel. The power of the book came from King’s ability to make you care about Jack Torrance, his wife, and young son. Jack is a flawed character battling alcoholism, but King brings you inside his struggle to be a good husband and father.

That success, however, isn’t mirrored in Kubrick’s film.
Here we get more plodding, unimaginative dialogue, and a portrait of Jack as edgier and surprisingly disconnected from his family. I just didn’t become emotionally involved with characters because Kubrick doesn’t spend anytime at all developing the relationships – except of the most superficial levels. The characters are tools to move around the screen and not the central part of the story.

The movie’s slow-rolling plot naturally becomes predictable – to the point where I was generally two steps ahead of Kubrick. Ultimately, the film is saved from complete disaster by the over-the-top performance by Jack Nicholson and the film sequences of the creepy woman in the bathtub and those disconcerting, ghostly twins (admittedly two of the creepiest, unnerving scenes ever put on screen).

Yet it’s not enough to safe the film and I was left with one lasting thought: this could have been so much better.

Full Metal Jacket
This brings us to “Full Metal Jacket” (1987). Here I ran into the same, old Kubrick problems – the characters are nearly indistinguishable and it’s difficult to keep track of who is who throughout the film. Even the protagonist, James T. Davis (wrongly nicknamed “Joker” despite being a morose extrovert with philosophical leanings) feels like part of the scenery.

Again there's
a lack of subtlety – how the U.S. Marine Corps transforms average young men into “killing machines.”

“Full Metal Jacket” plays like a series of vignettes about the Vietnam War rather than a feature film. For example, how does the boot camp sequence where the pushed-to-the-edge Private Lawrence murders his drill instructor connect to the end of the film? But even worse – I felt like I’ve seen this all before. The movie has a recycled quality to it.

But one set of kudos to Kubrick on this one – it’s not as boring as his other films.

“Full Metal Jacket” doesn’t come close to matching the emotional impact of “Platoon,” “Apocalypse Now,” or the “Deer Hunter” – all far superior movies about Vietnam.

That may be Kubrick’s greatest flaw. While he made visually stunning movies – the content and characters never lived up to their potential and you're left with a sense that the films could have been done better by someone else.

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