::Literate Blather::
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Robert Cormier and the Radicalization of YA Fiction

“I woke up one day to find out I was a young adult author and a controversial one.”

Author Robert Cormier was a radical.

Who could have predicted that? Certainly not Robert. By the time I met him in the mid-1990s he was already an old man, yet still writing novels (he was in the process of writing one of his best works “Frenchtown Summer,” a book-length piece of free verse poetry).

He was a slight, delicate man with a gnomish face, white hair, and thick eyeglasses. Mornings he haunted the Leominster, Massachusetts public library (sometimes with a hint of booze on his breath). Afternoons were spent at his typewriter – click clacking away. He was a soft-spoken man – gentle, articulate, and unfailingly polite.

Yet this was the man who tore up the rule book for young adult (YA) fiction. He did it with the 1974 publication of the “The Chocolate War” – a novel that was so radical for its time that Booklist ran an unprecedented critical review surrounded by a black border. The magazine accused Cormier of corrupting the youth of America.

Cormier’s crime? Realism.

“The Chocolate War,” which still sells tens of thousands of copies every year, featured stark language, sexual references, and a sad, discouraging ending. The novel is about teenager Jerry Renault who refuses to take part in his school’s annual chocolate sale. It’s a powerful take on conformity and moral failings. It ends with Renault taking a terrible beating from his fellow students and these chilling words:
“They tell you to do your thing but they don’t mean it. They don’t want you to do your thing, not unless it happens to be their thing, too. It’s a laugh… a fake. Don’t disturb the universe… no matter what the posters say.”
At the time, it was as if Cormier had arrived at a society garden party in his underwear, promptly kicked over the tea servings, urinated in the hydrangea bushes, and then mooned the hostess on his way out. Cormier had shattered convention at time when young adult (YA) novels were paint-by-the-numbers stories about romance, sports, and dating. And the strongest component of the YA formula was the happy ending.

Even new authors like S.E. Hinton and Paul Zindell, who were breaking new ground in the genre at the time, didn’t mess with the happy ending.

Cormier did; which is why “The Chocolate War” was number 5 on the list of the 50 most banned books in America through the 1990s.

“The Chocolate War” and Cormier’s two follow-ups, “I am the Cheese” and “After the First Death” are considered YA classics. This, despite the fact, that Cormier never had any intention of writing for teenagers.

His first book, called “Now and At the Hour,” a fictionalize account of his father’s death from cancer, was written for adults and published in 1960 to rave reviews – but the book sold poorly. His publisher tried to push him into writing an epic French-Canadian novel, but Cormier didn’t bite. Instead, he wrote “A Little Raw on Monday Mornings,” a novel about a Catholic woman debating whether to have an abortion.

Cormier had discovered that he liked small stories – rather than big ones. His next book was about an old man in a nursing home called “Take Me Where the Good Times Are.” The second and third books also didn’t sell.

For awhile, no one would touch him. Two other novels were rejected.

Then Cormier wrote “The Chocolate War.”

“I was bothered at first that it was going to be a YA novel,” Cormier told me in 1997. “I didn’t consider it a book for kids, but I trusted my agent and the publisher. I woke up one day to find out I was a young adult author and a controversial one.”

Cormier single-handedly changed YA fiction. An entire movement of realistic youth literature surged to the bookshelves – led by a man who was rejected from fighting in World War II because he was so delicate. He was a newspaperman who worked and lived in his hometown for his whole life (and even published his home phone number in one of his books).

Robert Cormier died in 2000. He was 75 years old.

Yet even six years after his death, Cormier still hasn’t received the recognition that he deserves. In fact, his work has begun a slow downward spiral into obscurity. The YA label has hurt Cormier and doomed his books to the teenage section of bookstores (in the same section as the Hardy Boys). As a result, he gets a cold shoulder from critics and literature pundits.

“The Chocolate War” deserves to be elevated up with other classics focused on coming of age – books that avoided the YA label simply because the genre didn’t exist when they were published -- such as “Catcher in the Rye,” “A Separate Peace” and even “Lord of the Flies.”

It’s time for literary circles to honor Cormier as a daring writer – a trailblazer and a man who changed an entire genre – for the better.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006
5 Questions About: Ironic Times
(DaRK PaRTY is addicted to Ironic Times – one the funniest fake news sites on the Web. Ironic Times displays headlines of the day and then deadpans with a snide aside as commentary. You get gut-busting humor like: BUSH SAYS IRAQ STRAINING NATION'S PSYCHE (Also, his limited ability to absorb facts) or BUSH POLL RATINGS SOAR AMONG EVANGELICALS (Over 75% approve of how he's leading us toward Armageddon). Ironic Times is the brainchild of three LA-based comedy writers: Larry Arnstein, Matt Neuman and Lane Sarasohn. Matt was kind enough to take time out of his busy day of ridiculing the status quo to answer questions for DaRK PaRTY).

DaRK PaRTY: Ironic Times is one of those rare internet gems -- a site that makes you blow cola out of your mouth because you're laughing so damn hard that your co-workers think you've finally blown a gasket and oh, shit, here comes the boss better minimize the window so only those boring ass spread sheets are on the screen. For those DaRK PaRTY readers unfamiliar with that sensation can you give them a brief origin story?

Matt Neuman: Thanks for the kind words. Ironic Times is really an outgrowth of our previous work and a desire to keep doing what we've done for an awfully long time. To carbon date us, Lane was one of the minds behind Channel One (a video theater presentation he wrote and produced with Ken Shapiro - featuring Chevy Chase - in the sixties!) and the resultant movie, The Groove Tube. Larry and I have worked on a number of comedy shows, including Saturday Night Live. All three of us worked together on Not Necessarily the News on HBO. We've written for a variety of media, but mostly TV, and mostly satire. We've each won numerous Writers Guild awards, been nominated for multiple Emmys, and in 1975 I won an Alan King Comedy Award, the only year it was ever given out. I'm thinking Antiques Road Show.

DP: What do you, Larry and Lane do for day jobs? Do your co-workers read the Ironic Times and how does that go over?

Matt: Sadly, as writers, our day jobs are our night jobs. Writing is too lonely to have co-workers, outside of family, and they don't seem to mind. In fact, Larry's written a couple of very funny books with his son Zack, and they're working on another one. (They're available at the Ironic Times store.)

DP: How does the creative process work at the Ironic Times? Can you give us some insight into how an issue is written, edited and put together?

Matt: We comb the news all week, submit our jokes to each other, exchange notes -- all by email. Lane, the web designer among us, assembles a beta version Sunday and, after tweaking, preening and spell-checking, by Sunday night we've got an issue. We work on the principle that if a joke gets three 'yes' votes it's in. But majority rules in other cases. Consensus works when you trust your partners' instincts. The key to good collaboration is brutal honesty. Anything less allows mediocrity to creep in.

DP: What is irony? And why do Republicans seem to have so much of it?

Matt: I define it as a humorous way of illuminating the hypocrisy and stupidity around us. Republicans seem to have so much because they're in power. But they don't have a monopoly.

DP: The Ironic Times is based in LA. Will there be a movie? What will the cast look like and will there be snakes involved?

Matt: There will be a movie, but we're looking for someone to replace Tom Cruise (who we just brought in to replace Mel Gibson!) as the lead. We think we're set with Courtney Love in the female lead. And no, based on a poll of the ten million most visited blogs, we will not feature snakes.

Read our parody "When Children's Books Go Bad" here

Read 12 Valuable Lessons from Hollywood here

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Monday, August 28, 2006
Essay: Ayuh, Wicked Hot Up Herah!

The alarming statistics in Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” readily provide some insight into the effects of global warming:
  • The number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has almost doubled in the last 30 years
  • Malaria has spread to higher altitudes in places like the Colombian Andes (7,000 feet above sea level)
  • The flow of ice from glaciers in Greenland has more than doubled over the past decade
  • At least 279 species of plants and animals are already responding to global warming, moving closer to the poles

But you don’t have to watch Gore’s documentary or head to North Pole to see melting glaciers to know that global warming is real.

All you have to do is vacation in Maine.

My family has owned a small pine cabin nestled in a hemlock forest on the shore of a small lake in Maine since 1978. The joke used to be that Maine had two seasons: Winter and the Fourth of July. That’s because Maine is a cold state – vicious, snowy winters that begin in October and stretch out until late April. It’s a rugged state Maine – rocky, moss-laden terrain, jagged hills, thick dark forests, and a coastline battered by a cold ocean.

It used to be that Maine never really shook winter. Its icy grip clutched to summer through the fireworks on Independence Day and the dog days of August. An average summer day had temperatures in the high 70s and early 80s with a drop of a few degrees when you wandered into the shade. At night going to the drive-in required long pants, a sweatshirt, and socks to keep away the chill. Stargazing was best done under a blanket. And then there were those cloudy days when the temperature fell into the 50s (the average low in July and August in Portland, Maine is 56 degrees).

And, of course, the lake never lost the cold – especially when you dove down a few feet and the icy water bit your skin.

Packing for vacation was always difficult – because you needed to be prepared for two seasons – daytime at the beach and night time everywhere else. But this was the beauty of a vacation in Maine. Vacationers got relief from the heat and pollution of the city for the crisp, clean air of northern New England.

Not anymore.

Summer in Maine has shaken off the bully winter. In fact, summer has knocked off winter’s hat and pushed it into a mud puddle. Summer has taken lessons from Charles Atlas and is now the one kicking sand. My suitcase for my weeklong vacation this year didn’t include any long pants, only running socks, and one sweatshirt (which I never used). It’s was warm enough to keep the windows open and on two nights it was uncomfortably humid.

Some of the changes are manmade. Our cabin shares a windy, tar roadway with 20 other cabins – but most of these cabins have been upgraded by the owners. New floors and additions have been added, foundations built and garages and bunkhouses constructed. As a result, many (too many) conifers have been cut down to make room for this “progress.” This has caused an increase in sunlight – which used to be blocked by the thick pine canopy.

As a result – our specific area is hotter because there’s not as much shade. Amazingly, some of the new owners have installed central air conditioning and my nights on the screened porch, which used to be filled with the peaceful sound of crickets and the haunting cries of loons, are now interrupted by the drone of air conditioners. These owners, who have cabins just a few feet from the lake, now sit in their temperature-controlled cabins with every window and door sealed tight. They might as well live in a plastic sandwich bag.

But the removal of the trees and the resulting increase of open space is only part of the story. The lake temperature has spiked considerably. The water can feel like a bathtub and even diving deep gets you only a minor difference in temperature. The day time temperatures are regularly in the high 80s and even the 90s. At night, you don't need the extra layers.

It’s hot.

And that may be why Gore’s movie was such a success this summer. Global warming can no longer be ignored . People, regular folks, are beginning to experience its effects first hand. You don’t need to be a scientist to realize that you used to have to wear a jacket to the drive-in when you were 13 and now your only need a t-shirt and shorts. You don’t have to be a climate control specialist to notice the temperature is consistently creeping up to the 90s. You don't need to be an environmentalist to realize that the water is warmer.

All you have to do is summer in Maine.

Read our essay on slowing down

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Saturday, August 26, 2006
Mother Goose Fairy Tales for Unpublished Writers, Drug Addicts and Danish Pornographers

Humpty the Editor

Humpty the Editor opened his mail,
The SASE exploded and pieces did sail;
All the publisher’s interns, and all
the salesmen
Could not put Humpty together

Mary Had Little Crack

Mary had a little crack,
Its sheen was white as snow.
And everywhere that Mary went
The crack was sure to flow.

She smoked it on her way to school one day –
That was against the rule.
It made the children laugh and play
To spark a pipe at school.

Banbury Cross

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady ride a white
Rings through her nipples, and a bell on
her butt,
She shall have music whenever she’s
a slut.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Poems: Haiku by Beki Reese

7 Haikus
By: Beki Reese

For Caleb

silent monitor-

every unbreath whispers
"he is gone"


in my neighbor's window
-strawberry moon


down a gravel road
my shadow and myself
exchange greetings


morning cloud cover
filters sunlight into gray
- even birds are still.


Wild geese flying south;
shadows that cross the moonlight
cross the water, too.


Deep ocean silence:
black sea and starless sky
become one.


In Memory of Emperor Hirohito

Outside the palace,
in a sea of umbrellas,
one hatless mourner.

(Beki Reese is an administrator and moderator of the Haiku Forum at the ArcanumCafe and other poetry sites. She has been writing poetry since she was 10 years old and currently works in the California Public Library system as a Circulation Supervisor in a county library . Her work has appeared in print publications such as: Brussel Sprouts, Cicada, Broken Streets, Dragonfly, Silverwings, and in many online magazines including poetrymagazine.com
, A Room Without Walls, Carnelian, Poetic Voices, Passions In Poetry, and Snakeskin. She lives in Newport Beach, California and includes Sara Teasdale, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Basho, Issa, Buson, WS Merwin, and William Stafford, and her friends Mike Rehling and Robert Wilson among her favorite poets. This is her first contribution to DaRK PaRTY)

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Monday, August 21, 2006
The Horror, The Horror

There is a five minute stretch in the 2006 remake of the “The Hills Have Eyes” where it was difficult to look at the screen. Then again it was also hard to tear your eyes away from the carnage unfolding before you as two hideous mutants (one with a harelip the size of Kansas) rape a teenage girl and then breast feed from a new mom as her infant daughter gurgles in the bassinet next to her. Then we have the head of a parakeet plucked off and blood wrung from its body, the burning death of a man, the new mom being shot in the head (the blood splattering on the previously mentioned bassinet), the baby kidnapped, and an older woman shot gunned in the belly.

“My God, w
hat are you watching?” my wife said as she walked into the living room and caught sight of one of the mutants squirting the bird’s blood down his gullet. “That’s disgusting!”

She gave me one of those looks and left before I could defend myself. I felt like I had been caught doing something…
depraved. And maybe I had been because “The Hills Have Eyes” was one disturbing movie – even by the standards of closet horror movie freak like me.

I get tingling at the thought of watching a horror movie – even the cheesy ones. There’s something primal in fear, but it goes beyond the thrill. A good horror flick is a subversive form of entertainment. Taboos are broken. Hidden fears exposed. A good horror movie says something about where we are. I don’t
want to intellectualize it too much because “House of Wax” ain’t Shakespeare – but horror films often reflect society. They’re a barometer for our times. They tell us what we’re afraid of.

I don’t mind gore – in fact, it often adds to the horror experience. However, there’s a difference between a genuine scary movie and a bucket of blood. A good horror movie needs to wiggle under your skin, pop goosebumps along your arms, and make you check to see if the front door is locked when you finally head up to bed.

The original “Te
xas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974) is a perfect example. There’s no doubt that Tobe Hooper invested heavily in red dye, but the movie spends time a lot of time introducing the viewer to the characters. Hooper also infuses the film with a sense of dread and that uneasiness builds until the dramatic entrance of Leatherface – the silence of that classic scene shattered by the crash of a metal door and Leatherface pouncing on his victim.

Christ, just thinking about it gives me a chill.

Too many of the new breed horror movies give us characters from central casting and a swimming pool full of blood – but no scares. “Hostel” (2005), by the completely overrated Eli Roth, falls into this category. The characters are obnoxious, flat, and unlikable and when they start to die, well, who really cares? But even worse is that Roth gives us a horror movie completely devoid of eeriness. That’s a crime.

Unfortunately, “
The Hills Have Eyes,” which started with promise, degenerated into a gore fest and abandoned any pretense of being a horror movie by the end. In fact, it turned into a revenge movie closer to “Road Warrior” than to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

For all of you ho
rror film aficionados, DaRK PaRTY serves up our top 5 favorite scary movies since 2000.

Wolf Creek (2005)

The slow build-up to this harrowing Australian movie by Greg McLean could be a case study on how to create tension. The first half plays like a road movie with three young people (a guy and two women) traveling in a rented station wagon from the west coast of Australia to Sydney. McLean expels a lot of energy on creating believable and likable characters – so much so that when the movie finally shifts
into horror mode, the viewer genuinely feel empathy for the characters.

The terror begins in the desolate Outback when the three travelers meet up with Mick Taylor, a seemingly harmless “Crocod
ile Dundee” bloke. But alas, Mick, ain’t what he appears to be. At one point, he utters the savagely good line: “I'm going to do something now they used to do in Vietnam. It's called making a head on a stick.”

McLean also does an excellent job of shifting the point of view among the three main characters, keeping viewers from settling on just one of them and leaving it up in the air on exactly which one will survive.

Frailty (2001)

This disturbing little gem of a horror film was directed by actor Pill Paxton, who also stars in it. There are so many creepy twists to keep viewers off balance. The movie is told in flashbacks when Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey) tells the story of his deranged childhood to an FBI agent.

Fenton’s father, Dad Meiks (Paxton), is a widowed auto mechanic with two sons. He’s a simple Christian man who claims to have suddenly received a gift from God – the ability to see demons that live among us. Using his two sons as helpers, Dad begins to lure the “demons” into his house where is murders them with an axe and buries them in his dirt basement.

The acting is top-notch and the writing superb. The film also has the second best ending among the films on the DaRK PaRTY list.

28 Days Later (2002)

I’ve got a jones about zombie flicks. I blame George Romero and “Dawn of the Dead.” But, and let’s face the facts here, good zombie movies are hard to find (see “Resident Evil” for proof of that). But the new king of the undead heap is “28 Days Later.”

The magnificence of this movie doesn’t come from the plot – basically a virus called Rage infecting the population and turning people into flesh-eating zombies leaving only a handful of disease-free resident fighting for their lives. No, the beauty is the world created by director Danny Boyle. When our protagonist, Jim, awakens from a coma after the disease has killed most of humanity, the viewer is treated to an abandoned London so empty that you can hear a pin drop. This quiet feels right so when the zombies start to attack and things get loud – well, you feel like running right along with Jim.

Boyle’s film is all about setting and mood – we get dark, creepy, and biting social commentary. T
his movie moves fast and yet is so well-plotted that the speed seems natural. Move over Romero.

The Others (2001)

It doesn’t seem possible that Nicole Kidman heads the cast of a horror movie. Yet she’s at the helm of director Alejandro Amenábar’s quiet masterpiece. Forget loud and fast. This film echoes Henry James’ “Turn of the Screw” and takes its time in unraveling its subtle and complex plot. Nothing is wasted here – we get a finely tuned movie that carefully brings viewers to the mammoth revelation of the final act (the best ending of the movies on our list).

Kidman plays a fastidious young housewife waiting for her husband to return from World War II. She and her two children live in a Gothic mansion on a
seemingly always dark and foggy spit of land. Kidman brings tension to this role and we get to watch this woman slowly come to pieces as she begins to realize that her house may be haunted.

You have to be patient with “The Others” and you’ll be glad you watched. Think of it as a film novel rather than one of the “Scream” movies and you’ll do fine.

The Ring (2002)

This may be the worst named movie of all time. Never mind the fact that it came out during the height of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and that there isn’t a “ring” in the movie. The title simply misses the point.

Regardless, this remake of a Japanese horror film by director Gore Verbinski is a genuine scare. Naomi Watts plays an intrepid reporter trying to figure out how her niece died – and comes into possession of a videotape that kills everyone who watches it after seven days. Watts immediately goes on the hunt and the mystery that unfolds is complex and frightening to behold.

The strength of “The Ring” is that it wisely focuses on spooky and creepy rather than bloody and violent. This is an old fashioned horror movie with a fast, yet satisfying pace. This one will definitely have you checking the locks.

Read about 10 Bizarre Serial Killers in History here

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Friday, August 18, 2006
5 Questions About: Artist Johniene Papandreas
(DaRK PaRTY recently visited the rustic Deertrees Theater in Harrison, Maine. The theater’s art gallery was displaying the works of Artist Johniene Papandreas of Provincetown, Massachusetts. Papandreas’s exhibit, called “Voyeur” were huge canvases depicting extreme close-ups of women caught in private moments of passion, fury or contemplation. Wandering through the gallery, the energy emanating from the portraits seemed to radiate through the whole theater. DaRK PaRTY caught up with Johniene at her gallery on Cape Cod (http://www.voy-art.com/) to get more insight on her exhibit and her art.)

DaRK PaRTY: Your current exhibit "Voyeur" is close-ups of women caught in private moments of intense emotion. Walking through your gallery of portraits was a powerful experience and I can image many people have a visceral reaction to the subject. Can you tell DaRK PaRTY readers why this subject matter was so fascinating for you?

Johniene Papandreas: I have a fascination with subtext, with reading between the lines, tuning in to the unspoken. Mine are portraits of imagined selves, damaged and passionate and lost selves. They capture expressions from a moment thought private, unobserved… when the guard is down... a glimpse of the genuine, before the retreat… before the walls go back up.

Encountering them can have a triggering effect on the viewer who cannot help but react genuinely, and viscerally, perhaps remembering their own encounter with the emotion emanating from the painting. We spend a great deal of energy fleeing circumstances that will cause us to experience, first hand, moments like the ones I depict. Who wants that much loss or terror or rage in their life? But somehow re-encountering them in this voyeuristic way it's bearable... cathartic, almost.

DP: Can you describe the process of creating the paintings? Did you use models? How did you get manage to capture such passion and pain in the expressions -- especially in the eyes?

Johniene: This particular series is inspired by the works of painters that have come before me, masters of the Italian Renaissance, French Romantic, and Pre-Raphaelite periods. I divine and isolate an area of, say, a Caravaggio, that I think contains a “charge,” either of mystery, sensuality, or emotion, reframing the area in a way that will focus the viewer on what I see, and then paint it on a large scale, which serves to further amplify the power in the painting. Through this evolution, the context of the original painting drops away and my painting becomes something new, distilled down to the charged essence.

What happens in the eyes is the result of my "communion" with the subject of my painting as I get to know them. In the time I spend with them, their lives take shape in the back of my head. By the time I get to the eyes (I always do the eyes last) who they are and what they've known just appears there. I listen carefully and let them guide me.

DP: You have said that you're inspired by the Masters of the Italian Renaissance, French Romantic and Pre-Raphaelite periods. Can you be more specific? What about those periods and those painters move you?

Johniene: They are painters of the dramatic and ecstatic, and are inspiring and fearless in their revelation of the human condition. I especially enjoy the great "religious" paintings and the intermingling of spirituality and eroticism. Though we, as 21st century viewers may be clueless as to the religious references and even the stories depicted in the paintings, we can connect with the emotion on the faces of the souls populating them. Those are the subjects I seek out as my models.

DP: You were trained in the theater and were a scenic designer in New York. Can you describe the experience and how that helped prepare you as an artist?

Johniene: Being in the theatre was one of the richest experiences in my life andreally connected me with the concept of subtext. No matter what is happening on stage, it's what's going on OFF stage, the back-story, as it were, that's driving everything. Theatre is all about things not being what they seem, a heightened existence, and charged moments.

DP: You live in Provincetown and own Gallery Voyeur on Commercial Street. Provincetown is one of the oldest artists communities in the United States and draws artists, writers, hipsters, and free spirits from around the globe. But the town -- at the tip of Cape Cod -- is also a fishing village with a large working-class Portuguese population. Can you give us an idea of what Provincetown is really like?

Johniene: There is definitely some kind of creative vortex here and people can be drawn in without really knowing why. Many artists came here for the quality of the light, others, because it used to be cheap and funky and full of like-minded free spirits. Kind of like the West Village with a beach. Sadly, it's almost too expensive now for transient artists to be able to remain here for long. The "season" brings in lots of traffic and money, but in the winter the pendulum swings the other way and the townies rule, though the diversity of our population is a constant, and not just a summer thing. It can be a bit desolate during those months, but that's great opportunity to be productive.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006
Literary Criticism: Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"
Summary: On the clear and sunny morning of June 27, the 300 residents of an unnamed New England village gather in the main square. The children arrive first, collecting and piling up stones, followed by the men folk, and then the women. Mr. Summers runs the lottery, but the tradition dates back hundreds of years. On this day, Mr. Summers sets up the black lottery box in the center of the square and calls for order. Each of the men representing their families pulls out a piece of paper from the black box: Anderson, Bentham, Dunbar, Delacroix, Hutchinson, Percy, and all the way to Zanini. The Hutchinson family is the “winner” on this day. The hushed crowd watches each member of the family, including little Davy Hutchinson, draws another slip of paper from the box. Mrs. Hutchinson gets the slip with a black mark on it. Shouting “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson is brutally murdered by her neighbors as they stone her to death.

Analysis: When Shirley Jackson’s story “The Lottery” was first published in the New Yorker in 1948 – post-war readers were horrified. Hundreds of them cancelled their subscriptions and dozens more wrote scathing letters of indictment to the editors.

Mild-mannered Shirley Jackson had just ripped through the veneer of Small Town, USA and exposed the maggot-laden underbelly. Here Jackson gives us a portrait of an America nobody in 1948 was willing to see – not after the ticker-tape parades celebrating the defeat of the Nazis and Japanese. We were the heroes, after all, the good guys.

Nobody wanted to look into the mirror and see the dull, narrow-minded conformity hiding in plain sight on Main Street. But such was the well-mannered terror of Jackson’s story. Jackson’s premise – that good, hard-working folks would murder a neighbor in a barbaric ritual -- was so horrifying that many readers simply couldn’t handle it.

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle a few months after "The Lottery" was published, Jackson said: “Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story's readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives.”

Jackson’s tale reads like a bland “day-in-the-life” story in a rather ordinary New England town. That’s because Jackson lulls the reader into believing that herein lies an innocent story and not something so horribly twisted they will be cringing by the time they read the last paragraph. Notice in the first paragraph how Jackson uses long sentences to help put the reader at easy and mimic the easy rambling style of an old Yankee narrator:

“The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flower were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o’clock; in some town there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to started on June 2nd, but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.”
The story follows this pattern to the end. The reader feels like they have stepped into a small village and this lottery they are talking about is something like the square dances and church suppers that are held every Saturday night at the town hall. There’s Old Man Warner complaining that the lottery “ain’t what it used to be!” Dabnabit!

Everyone is so damn polite. Mr. Summers himself, running a bit late, declares, “Little late today, folks!” There’s Mrs. Hutchinson so busy washing dishes that heck she completely forgot what day it was. “Thought my old man was out back stacking wood,” she tells Mrs. Delacroix. “And then I looked out the window and the kids was gone, and then I remembered it was the twenty-seventh and came a-running.”

She should have kept running.

There are sign posts along the way and it’s enough to infuse the reader with a growing sense of unease. There’s the boy, Bobby Martin, stuffing his pockets with stones and the other boys “selecting the smoothest and roundest stones.” There’s the dreaded black box Mr. Summers carries into the square that causes a murmur in the crowd. There’s the trepidation roiling through the crowd just before the drawing (strangely, the reader thinks, the prospect of winning this lottery doesn’t seem to make folks happy).

The reader’s hackles begin to rise when Mr. Adams and Old Man Warner begin to talk about other villages giving up the lottery. That nonsense gets Old Man Warner ranting about young folks and breaking tradition.

“`Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while. Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’ First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery,’ he added petulantly. ‘Bad enough to see young Joe Summers up there joking with everyone.’
`Some places have already quit lotteries,’ Mr. Adams said.
‘Nothing but trouble in that,’ Old Man Warner said stoutly. `Pack of young fools.’”
Now the reader knows something is wrong, but not how wrong.

By the time Mr. Summers calls for everyone to be quick about it and they gather up the stones – giving Mrs. Hutchinson’s toddler boy a rock to throw at his mother – and monstrously murdering her by stoning, the reader is slack jawed. You can feel the chill running down your spine – even after repeated readings.

That’s the power Jackson displays here. “The Lottery” is so good, so intensely disturbing that it still has the ability to shock even today.

Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game"

Autumn Wind at Twilight

An Interview with Mystery Novelist Ed Gorman

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Under God's Right Arm: Bringing Intelligence Back to Science

By: Rev. Colson Crosslick

It is truly tragic that the God-fearing electorate in Kansas allowed themselves to be duped by scientists with PhDs who convinced them to recently vote against two incumbent school board members who want to teach Intelligent Design in public schools. Many borderline communist publications have trumpeted this as a big win for science, but, in fact, the opposite holds true! School children in Kansas will be deprived of learning about the serious scientific flaws in the “theory” of evolution and about Intelligent Design, a Bible-backed science that stands Darwinian Theory on its ear.

For those of you unfamiliar with biology, chemistry, alchemy, geology, and astrology, allow me to provide you with a crash course in Darwinian Theory and Intelligent Design, so you can better understand the grave danger that teaching a single view of how the world was created undermines the fact that God produced every animal, plant, and human being in existence.

Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

Charles Darwin was a scientist born in the past. He wrote a book called “The Origin of Species” that many colleges and universities not affiliated with any religious organization now consider one of the pivotal works in science and the pre-eminent work in biology. Darwin tediously argues that organisms gradually evolve through a process called natural selection. Natural selection is the theory (a theory mind you!) that individual organisms struggle to survive and those with the best or most favorable characteristics will be more likely to survive. As a result, those favorable traits will be passed onto their offspring and become the dominant characteristics among organisms.

This is where Darwin gets the nutty idea that human beings were monkeys that “evolved” into humans (I’m sure Adam and Eve are chuckling about this up in heaven). Technically, through Darwin’s theory, one could argue that an oak tree could evolve into Boy George! Everyone knows that the only being powerful enough to turn a tree into a has-been British pop star is the Lord God. Darwinists also believe the world to be more than 4.5 billion years old – even though Biblical evidence clearly places the age of the earth at a few thousand years.

Yet despite holes in Darwin’s Theory large enough to drive a NASCAR speedster through, the anti-God scientific establishment continues to embrace the evidence of the chemical and biological origins of life to be beyond dispute. Clearly these scientists need a bit more education!

Intelligent Design

Some liberal troublemakers will likely call Intelligent Design a fancy way of saying creationism. This, of course, is nonsense! Creationism is the belief that God created the world in one week about 6,000 years ago – and rejects the idea that single cell creatures gradually evolved into eagles, bears, whales, and Nathan Lane over the course of millions of years. While creationism is indeed our most probable truth when it comes to explaining the origins of man and the universe, Intelligent Design does not get so specific and is flexible enough to embrace other religions into its doctrine.

Intelligent Design, which is championed by some of the brainiest scientists in the world working at the Discovery Institute, promotes the rational idea that Darwin’s evolution theory is simply too limited to explain the complexities of the origin of species. That it is only logical to assume that a “designer” (God, if you will) was involved in the process. Is that so radical a notion?

Not to most Americans! According to the good folks at Gallup, about 46 percent of Americans believe in strict creationism and 36 percent believe God was an active guide in the evolutionary process. That’s a whopping 82 percent of the American public who reject sound science in favor of Christian religious beliefs! So although the ideas presented in evolution are supported by a large body of scientific evidence that is widely accepted by the scientific establishment, most Americans won’t allow themselves to be brainwashed by these anti-Christian zealots. Good for them!

Clearly, the Darwinists want to censor rival scientific theories – even if they are believed by the majority of Americans. Talk about being anti-science! Despite the bombastic rheoric by Darwinists, Intelligent Design isn’t bad science, but a more compelling and rational science than evolution.

The misinformed citizens of Kansas may have rejected two Intelligent Design school board members, but it is only a minor setback. I’m confident that Intelligent Design will soon be the standard of teaching evolution in public schools and that the American people are smart enough to realize that everything you need to know about life can be found in the pages of the Holy Bible.

Now if only our scientific community was smart enough to realize that!

(The Rev. Colson Crosslick is pastor of the Pretty Good Shepherd Church in Ripsaw, Arkansas. In the past, he has called for a ban of the Darwin Awards. He also writes the regularly appearing column Under God's Right Arm for DaRK PaRTY.)

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Monday, August 14, 2006
Poetry on a Roof

It was the end of a long, August Sunday. The tree shadows had stretched to autumn lengths and there was a chill riding the breeze. We had just returned from a long car trip to the North Shore for the birthday party for a 4-year-old. Chaos reigned there – as do most parties for children under five.

The ride home was tumultuous with my daughters hungry and tired, complaining and crying most of the way. We prepared a rushed dinner and then came baths and bedtime routines.

I was exhausted. In the kitchen, the orange gloaming streaming in through the sheer curtains, I methodically prepared sauce for pasta. I was on auto pilot when the bark of voices from my backyard broke my reverie. I moved to the screen door and stared out at a group of college-age men sitting on the roof of my neighbor’s garage.

There were six of them. Four of them were on the top of the roof in t-shirts, shorts, and bare feet. One of the t-shirts was for the band Green Day. They were drinking cans of beer. The other two sat on my neighbor’s back deck in the shade of the garage looking up at their friends.

They were loud, boisterous. An occasional profanity surfaced.

I was instantly annoyed – protective of my peace and quiet. My first thought was for my daughters who had just drifted off to sleep. Now I had to deal with a group of immature boys sitting on a garage roof, being loud (in only the way young men can be loud) and laughing and swilling cheap beer.

I knew my neighbors – a quiet middle-aged couple – were on vacation, but I recognized their son among the young men. Great, I thought, just great. A party of drunken college kids right next door.

I had a sudden urge to whip open the screen door and start threatening police action if they didn’t shut-up. My blood was boiling and I was thinking about how inconsiderate they were being – how obnoxious to be climbing on garage roofs and telling off-color jokes and laughing like hyenas.

My hand gripped the door handle when the image of Carl Sandburg loomed in my mind’s eye. Suddenly, I was reciting his poem Happiness.

I asked professors who teach the meaning of life to tell me
what is happiness.

And I went to famous executives who boss the work of
thousands of men.

They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as thought I
was trying to fool with them.

And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along the
Desplaines river

And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with their
women and children and a keg of beer and an accordion.

My anger dissipated and guilt took its place. I stood there behind the screen door and watched and listened to these young men. Sandburg had captured the scene for me perfectly. These young men were so damn happy – so carefree and crackling in the electric glow of their friendship. The prospect of spending a night in each other’s company drinking beer and telling stories made them practically giddy.

Thoughts bombarded me then. I saw like aged young men fighting in Iraq and who probably wished they were straddling a garage roof on a beautiful August dusk in New England, clowning with friends and drinking cold beer. Why would I want to deprive these young men of this prospect? Did I really want to intrude and deflate this evening that had the makings of a wonderful memory for them? A night they might one day think back on when they were my age and having a stressful day?

I also thought about the curse of growing older. How the demands of career and family often destroy the ability to just be – to just live in the moment and do silly, irreverent things like climb up and sit on a garage roof. Shouldn’t we all do that once in a while? Throw convention to the wind and risk the scornful looks of our neighbors so we can climb up on a garage roof and drink a beer?

“Neighbor,” one of the young men said.

They quieted immediately, all of their young faces looking warily at the stranger behind the screen door.

“Sorry,” my neighbor’s son said, “Are we being too loud?”

I smiled at them. “Not at all. Enjoy yourself.”

I went back to making my pasta sauce, but suddenly the day didn’t seem so long or so stressful anymore. I felt lighter, adrift on the orange light painting my kitchen, and thankful that the happiness from next door was kind enough to visit my home after a long, August Sunday.

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Friday, August 11, 2006
5 Questions About: Tintin

(DaRK PaRTY keeps a rumpled copy of Herge’s Land of Black Gold stuffed under our mattress. We recently wrote about Tintin here. So when we discovered a Web site called Tintinologist run by a group called the Cult of Tintin, well, we just had to find out what the hell was going on. So we contacted Irene Mar, the official ringleader of the Web site, the oldest running English language Tintin fan site in the world. Mar is a graduate of the University of Sydney in Australia. When not moderating and contributing to www.tintinologist.org, she works as a Web Developer.)

DaRK PaRTY: You run a Web site called Tintinologist (
www.tintinologist.org). Dedicated to the comic book character Tintin. But before we get into that tell DaRK PaRTY readers how you were first introduced to Tintin. Was it love at first read?

Irene Mar: It was love at first sight: my love affair with Tintin began when I was a school child living in Africa, back in the early 80s. At a garage sale one day, I spotted a copy of “Tintin in Congo”— in the original Dutch. The book was different from all the comic books I had been exposed to, namely pocket-size Japanese manga (comics) and American superhero comics in low quality newsprint; the full color, hardcover Tintin tome was --luxurious! My parents bought me the book. I could not read Dutch, but the pictures alone told the story well enough. I was hooked.

DP: Tintin is often called bland and the BBC once said Tintin is carried along by events rather than a real protagonist. Is this a fair assessment of Herge's cow-licked hero? What's your impression of Tintin's character?

Irene: I think Tintin’s character is as bland or as interesting as one’s imagination makes him. That Herge revealed little about Tintin as a person may or may not be a sign of weakness on his part as a writer (in that he had under-developed his characters) because, whether unwittingly or by design, Tintin’s lack of many defined characteristics has made it possible for his readers to use their imagination to give the cow-licked hero his personality.

Today, more than twenty years after Herge’s death, Tintin fans have not stopped sharing, debating their interpretations of Tintin as a person—his background, his name, his age, his religion, and so on. Had Herge pre-defined everything there was to know about his quiff-haired hero, Tintin might have turned out well-formed, but would he have been as popular, interesting and long-lived? For me, the characters have not been the main attraction of the Tintin series, but more so the art work and the thrilling adventures.

DP: The Tintin adventures are filled with colorful characters. Who is your favorite supporting character and why? Which character do you dislike and why?

Irene: I do not have a particular favorite supporting character, nor do I have a least favorite; each character, however minor, plays his part in adding substance to the stories--it is the overall work that I tend to focus on. Nevertheless, if I must pick a favorite from the supporting cast, I will pick the near-deaf Professor Calculus who reminds me of my late grandfather - another "old-school" scientist who lived in his own world.

As to a least favorite character, at the risk of being stoned by my fellow Tintin fans, I confess that I sometimes find Captain Haddock’s complaining and bumbling a little over the top – only sometimes! Perhaps the real reason for my "occasional" dislike for Haddock is that I see some of my own weaknesses in him.

DP: The last Tintin book was published in 1979 -- before there was any such thing as the Internet. Yet 30 years later, the Tintin books remain popular and you've help create a Web site about all things Tintin. How did you get involved in the site and what kind of people do you find there?

Irene: (The last Tintin album, Tintin and Alph-Art, was published in English, in 1990.) I was invited to co-manage The Cult of Tintin by the then Webmaster, Jesper Juehne, in 1998, along with Morten Christensen. The invitation came after Juehne had heard about my intention to start my own tribute to Herge. He felt it would make more sense to combine our efforts to produce one great Tintin community rather having two good competing communities.

By 2000, we had established ourselves as a major Tintin fan resource and community. But a cease and desist letter from Moulinsart (the owners of Tintin) came, which forced my partners and me to decide to take our project offline for re-development. A year later Juehne and Christensen decided to retire, and so I was handed the baton. It took me another a year to re-design the site to comply with Moulinsart’s strict requirements; it was also during this re-design phase I changed our domain name to avoid potential disputes.

Today I am assisted by a wonderful team of volunteers from Australia, Belgium, Holland, Sweden, and the UK; and Tintin fans outside the team have also been very generous with their time and knowledge. Through my involvement with the site and discussion lists, I have made contacts from all around the world – from Iceland to New Zealand – and from all walks of life; and over the years, some contacts have become good friends.

DP: If you had to choose one Tintin adventure to give to someone who has never read any of the books -- which one would you pick and why?

Irene: My choice would vary depending on the person I am considering giving the gift to, but my usual choice would be either The Calculus Affair or The Blue Lotus.

The Calculus Affair is, in my view, the work that consolidates all of Herge's skills in drawing and in story-telling. My other choice, The Blue Lotus, is commonly regarded Herge’s first masterpiece; and the story being based on actual events has extra educational merit.

Read our interview with Cartoonist Harry Bliss here

Read our interview about candy here

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Thursday, August 10, 2006
Lightning Strikes Neville Onions Again: Pony Book Stirs Debate in London

On July 13, DaRK PaRTY published exclusive excerpts from children’s author Neville Onions' forthcoming book Phylst the Pony. Here is the link: http://darkpartyreview.blogspot.com/2006/07/pony-tails-childrens-author-neville.html. The book is Onions first in more than 30 years despite the fact that he was a bestselling children’s writer in the United Kingdom in the late 60s and early 70s. Already, the book is under vicious attack by the London media.

Here is a wire service story on the developments:

(Reuters) LONDON __ Author Neville Onions, 63, is no stranger to controversy. Two of his children’s books published in 1973 were banned in the United Kingdom after Christian groups successfully argued that the books contained thinly veiled drug references to LSD, magic mushrooms, and marijuana.

The resulting scandal ruined Onions’ publishing career and led to the removal of the two books – Damon Trips Out and Falling Down the Rabbit Hole – from bookstore shelves. In July, after a 30 year hiatus from writing, Onions announced his return to children’s literature with the upcoming publication of Phlyst the Pony by noted children’s publishing house, Cranberry Peach Books. The book, which is about a pony and his friendship with a water fairy, is scheduled for mass distribution on September 18.

Yet already the book is causing controversy – and this time with book reviewers, who have questioned the sexual content of Phlyst the Pony. The reviewer for the London Daily Mail called the book “smut” and the literature editor at the London Evening Standard described the advance copy of book as “a twisted orgy of homosexual pornography.”

“I was deeply disturbed by the excerpts that I’ve read,” said Literature Professor William Straw of University College of London. “This is a book targeted at six, seven and eight year old children and it contains graphic and disturbing sexual imagery that you’d expect to find scrawled on a men’s room wall.”

Onions denied the charges, but declined to comment for this story.

Terry Goodkind, president of Cranberry Peach Books, released this statement yesterday: “Cranberry Peach Books is dedicated to our audience of juvenile readers and we pride ourselves for publishing original, creative and wholesome children’s literature. We are in the process of reviewing the contents of Mr. Onions’ book and will make an official statement after a thorough investigation of the material.”

Prof. Straw provided Reuters with several examples of what he calls “severely unsettling” material from Phlyst the Pony:
• "O glorious day!" he thought. "Take me in thy arms and squeeze me like a sticky bath towel!"
• His heart grew and grew until he could stroke it with his sweaty hands. Here was a magnificent pony on who he could impale his never-ending love to!
• Puckerlip wrapped his skinny, pale arms around Phlyst's neck as his growing love was replaced by a mounting fear. His fear grew so large and bulging that he could no longer fit it in his mouth.
• Afterwards, they swam naked in the cold river to quench the fire of their passion.
DaRK PaRTY contacted Onions yesterday at his London flat. He called the controversy a “tempest in a tea pot” and vowed to fight the campaign mounting against him and his new book.

“These charges are completely unfounded and grossly misrepresent the innocent contents of Phlyst the Pony – a book about male friendship,” Onions said. “I will fight these charges with all of my pumping, engorged heart and make sure the children of the United Kingdom get to enjoy the adventures of Phlyst on September 18.”

DaRK PaRTY will continue to monitor this story.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006
I'll Be Back: Arnie's Greatest Hits

Before he became Herr Groper, governor of California, it was difficult not to hold some fondness for Arnold Schwarzenegger the actor. Much of that charm has disappeared from the political Arnie, who is beginning to resemble just another Republican pandering to his base. But looking back at Arnie’s movie career, which spanned more than 25 years, one can’t help but admire the dark humor Schwarzenegger infused into his cartoonish action adventure films.

While his accent often made him sound like Sgt. Schultz, Schwarzenegger showed a comfort level on screen that few actors manage to achieve. Dare we say it? Arnie had charisma. He’ll never be mistaken for Jimmy Stewart (or even the action hero's action hero – John Wayne), but Arnie managed to crank out some damn good movies – Raw Deal, Terminator (1 and 2), Total Recall, and Twins.

While calling his screen characters “characters” is stretching it – he was always Arnie in every movie he ever starred in (including the worst role of his life – Mr. Freezer in Batman & Robin, a movie that never should have been made), Arnie did manage to infuse his movie personae with off-beat humor – often at his own expense. A risky move for any actor. It was an ability that made his action flicks that much more enjoyable than those of the leadened Slyvester Stallone, the overly serious Steven Seagal, and the too-intense-for-words Wesley Snipes.

It got to the point where the best part of going to an Arnie movie was waiting for one of his throw-away lines. Those “witty” remarks that would have Arnie fans gasping for air because they would be laughing so hard.

So DaRK PaRTY now presents – The Best of Arnie:

From Commando (1985)

(Sticking a pipe through Bennett, the movie’s villian)
Arnie: Let off some steam, Bennett!

Arnie: Remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last?

Sully: That's right. You did.
Arnie: I lied!

(After killing a man on the airplane seat next to him)
Arnie: Don't disturb my friend, he's dead tired.

From Raw Deal (1986)

Arnie: You should not drink and bake.

Baker: Joseph P. Brenner... what's the P stand for?

Arnie: Pussy.

From Predator (1987)

Arnie: If it bleeds, we can kill it.

From Running Man (1988)

Arnie: Uplink underground, uplink underground. If you say that one more time, I'll uplink your ass, and you'll be underground.

(After Arnie slices the villain Buzzsaw in half with a chainsaw)
Amber: What happened to Buzzsaw?

Arnie: He had to split.

Arnie: Women. Can't live with them, can't live... with them.

From Red Heat (1988)

Art: About this pile-of-shit pimp in here. In this country, we try to protect the rights of individuals. It's called the Miranda Act, and it says that you can't even touch his ass.

Arnie: I do not want to touch his ass. I want to make him talk.

Arnie: Chinese find way. Right after revolution, they round up all drug dealers, all drug addicts, take them to public square, and shoot them in back of head.

Art: Ah, it'd never work here. Fucking politicians wouldn't go for it.
Arnie: Shoot them first.

From Total Recall (1990)

Lori: Doug. Honey... you wouldn't hurt me, would you, sweet heart? Sweet heart, be reasonable. After all, we're married!

(Lori grabs her pistol and Arnie blasts her)
Arnie: Consider that a divorce.

Melina: Hello, Hauser. Still bulging, I see.

(Melina strokes his arm and then grabs his crotch)
Melina: What you been feeding this thing?
Arnie: Blondes.
Melina: I think it's still hungry.

(Holding the severed arms of his enemy, Richter)
Arnie: See you at the party, Richter!

From Terminator 2 (1991)

Arnie: Hasta la vista, baby.

From The Last Action Hero (1993)

(A dead enemy falls out of the closet after Arnie fires his pistol at it without warning)

Danny: How'd you know someone was in there?
Arnie: There's always someone in there. It costs me a fortune in closet doors.

Danny: You think you are funny, don't you?

Arnie: I know I am. I'm the famous comedian Arnold Braunschweiger.
Danny: Schwarzenegger!
Arnie: Gesundheit.

(Arnie realizes that a nerve gas bomb is hidden in the body of Leo "the Fart”)

Arnie: Leo "the Fart" is going to pass gas one more time.

From True Lies (1994)

Helen: Have you ever killed anyone?

Arnie: Yeah, but they were all bad.

Arnie: Well, you see, this is the problem with terrorists. They're really inconsiderate when it comes to people's schedules.

From Eraser (1996)

(A car with the bad guys inside is smashed by a freight train)

Lee: What happened?
Arnie: They caught a train.

(Shoots an alligator in the head)
Arnie: You're luggage!

From End of Days (1999)

Arnie: Between your faith and my Glock nine millimeter, I'll take the Glock.

(After throwing Satan off a high building)
Arnie: Fuck you!

From 6th Day (2000)

Arnie: You should clone yourself while you're still alive.

Drucker: So I can get a perspective on your situation?
Arnie: No, so you can fuck yourself!

From Collateral Damage (2002)

Bradnt: You two make quite a team. A fireman and a refugee. Sounds like a TV show.

Arnie: Uh, huh, and you could play the asshole.

From Terminator 3 (2003)

Arnie: Katherine Brewster? Have you sustained injury?

Katherine: Drop dead you asshole.
Arnie: I am unable to comply.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Essay: Bringing Out Your Dead

Up the close and down the stair,
In the house with Burke and Hare.
Burke’s the butcher, Hare’s the thief,
Knox, the boy who buys the beef.

William Burke and William Hare were murderers and grave robbers in Edinburgh, England from 1827 to 1828. They sold the corpses of their 16 victims to Dr. Robert Knox, a medical doctor at the Edinburgh Medical College. The corpses were used by medical students for dissection. The case became known as the West Port Murders and led to the passage of the Anatomy Act of 1832 that expanded the legal supply of cadavers in England for medical research and education.

I couldn’t help but think of the West Port Murders, Dr. Knox in particular, when I heard about Body Worlds 2 – a traveling exhibit now at the Museum of Science in Boston. Body Worlds 2 displays more than 200 dissected human bodies manipulated into various poses – The Yoga Lady, The Ballet Dancer, The Skateboarder, and the Soccer Player are a few examples. The bodies of these dead men and women – real dead men and women mind you – are preserved in a patented plastic solution.

Body Worlds 2 and its predessor Body Worlds are the brainchild of Dr. Gunther von Hagens – an East German physician who bears more than a passing resemblence to Freddy Krueger. Unlike Burke and Hare, von Hagens hasn’t murdered anyone. The bodies he dissects and perserves are volunteers who have donated their cadavers to him.

On the surface, the exhibit seems to be reasonable. What better way to understand antomy than to see actual examples on the display? Don’t we all have an innate curiousity about the human form? Don’t we all want to get a peek below the surface of the skin to see how the human body looks and functions? That’s healthy and natural.

But there is something unsettling about a museum display of human corpses flayed, dissected, dipped into plastic, and posed jumping over hurtles or swinging a baseball bat. The Museum of Science is promoting the exhibit as educational, but we all know that it’s the sensationalism of seeing dead people that is drawing the crowds.

The good Dr. von Hagens is quite the gleeful self promoter and he dutifully signs each of the posed dead bodies as if he’s an artist – not a scientist. There’s also a good deal of promotion of his patented preservation process (which I will not name here) that von Hagens sells to medical schools carefully placed on many of the exhibits.

Von Hagens loves to compare himself to Leonardo Di Vinci. "He (Da Vinci) is for me and for so many scientists, a spiritual father. His way of looking at the world and everything in it, allowed him to ponder the unseen and bring it to life refracted through his own imagination," said Dr. von Hagens says in a statement on his web site.

But its another section of the web site where you get a real feeling for the doctor and his exhibits. It’s the “Store” section and there you can buy t-shirts, keychains, mousepads and magnets all adorned with dissected sections of antomy preserved forever in Dr. von Hagens’ solution.

There’s a concept known as honoring the dead. Paying tribute to ancestors and creating sacred resting places for those who came before us. That’s why people get horrified by graveyard vandals knocking over headstones or spray painting the names of rock bands on the sides of monuments. Wouldn’t we be horrified at the prospect of using the remains of 9/11 victims in any tribute or monument to them? Of course – the thought is grotesque and disturbing. So is the thought of a widow preserving her dead husband and posing him at the dinner table.

Von Hagens isn’t Burke and Hare, but he does conjure up comparisons with Dr. Knox – the man buying the beef. Knox was never prosecuted for his role in the West Port Murders – he was a man of science after all.

We can learn a lot from a dead body – and I’m not suggesting that scientists shouldn’t study corpses or use the remains of volunteers for research and study. But where do we as a society draw the line? Where does education stop and exploitation begin?

For me, that line is Body Worlds.

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Monday, August 07, 2006
Literary Criticism: Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s "Welcome to the Monkey House"

Summary: In the not-so-distant future, a criminal mastermind named Billy the Poet is on the loose and on his way to Cape Cod. His goal is to deflower one of the hostesses at the Ethical Suicide Parlor in Hyannis. The world government runs the parlors and urges people to commit suicide to help keep the population of 17 billion stable. The government also suppresses the population’s sexual desire with drugs that numb them from the waist down. Despite a sting by the authorities, Billy the Poet outwits them and kidnaps six-foot blond hostess, Nancy McLuhan. McLuhan vows to fight Billy to the very end, but the drugs wear off, and when she is deflowered by Billy, her mind opens as well. Billy convinces her that sex and death aren’t the answer – birth control pills are. In the end, Billy lets Nancy go, but she is forever a changed woman.

Analysis: “THIMK.”

This is one of the plaques on the desk of the World President in Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s short story “Welcome to the Monkey House.” What else is there really to say? That one word encapsulates the future world Vonnegut creates in this witty, clever satire that often makes you snicker out loud.

A couple of his gems:

- On the pills that keep your body numb from the waist down to suppress sexual longing: “The pills were so effective that you could blindfold a man who had taken one, tell him to recite the Gettysburg Address, kick him in the balls while he was doing it, and he wouldn’t miss a syllable.”

- On the one drug that would counteract the anti-sex pills: “Nancy went over in her mind all the terrible drugs she’d learned about in school, persuaded herself that the women had taken the worst one of all. That drug was so powerful, Nancy’s teachers had told her, that even a person numb from the waist down would copulate repeatedly and enthusiastically after just one glass. That had to be the answer: The women, and probably the men, too, had been drinking gin.”

The beauty of Vonnegut is that he disguises biting social commentary as mild parody. He rarely takes big, tasty bites out of his targets, but prefers to take small nips at them until their ideas have more holes than a spaghetti colander. His main victims here are the religious right and big government, but he also takes the time to skewer the UN, blonds, the pharmaceutical industry, and assisted suicide.

Vonnegut’s strengths in his short fiction are also his weaknesses. He tends to exaggerate his victim’s politics to such ridiculous ends that it’s easy to dismiss his barbs. It backfires in stories like “Harrison Bergeron” when he creates a society based on equality of everything – from IQ to physical gifts. But no supporter of equal rights advocates for that type of society. Vonnegut simply distorts their real philosophy for his story – but ends up undermining his own points. It never reaches this level in “Welcome to the Monkey House,” although he does resort to an unnecessary, overly preachy lecture at the conclusion.

What you do get with “Welcome to the Monkey House” are Vonnegut’s witty, telling observations about the future: ocean water replaced by blue concrete, the extinction of birds and bugs, rampart overpopulation, government ownership of everything, and a passive society kept happy by TV. Keep in mind that Vonnegut wrote this piece in 1968.

The best part of “Welcome to the Monkey House” is Vonnegut’s wicked snipe at the religious right – which makes the story so relevant 38 years later. The population has exploded (New York City has 63 million people) and the government requires all adults to take anti-sex pills. Because of the influence of religious conservatives, the government believes it would be immoral to use birth control, so the government instead uses the pills to remove all pleasure and desire for sex. Even so, the population continues to increase so the government opens suicide boutiques staffed by beautiful women in revealing outfits to attract volunteers to kill themselves (sex for death, but not for pleasure).

The creator of the pills, J. Edgar Nation (that name alone had me snickering), decided to invent the pills when, after church services one Easter, he takes his wife and 11 kids to the Grand Rapids zoo. Mr. Nation tells us: “There is nothing like an Easter morning to make a man feel clean and reborn and at one with God’s intentions.” But inside the monkey house, his family is shocked to discover a masturbating monkey. So Mr. Nation develops his pill to “Make monkeys in the springtime fit things for a Christian family to see.”

Ahem. “Welcome to the Monkey House,” indeed.

Read our literary criticism of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"

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