by Chaz Bufe, publisher See Sharp Press

I’ve been putting off writing this post for some time, but last week a grotesque piece of political performance art jolted me into putting fingers to keyboard: Hillary Clinton declared herself part of the “resistance,” and announced the she was creating a PAC (!) to fund “resistance” groups she approves of (and that, presumably, approve of her).

Why is this grotesque? She’s the one-woman embodiment of the status quo, not “the resistance.”

Hillary Clinton and Henry Kissinger

Hillary Clinton with war criminal Henry Kissinger

She voted in favor of Bush’s catastrophic invasion of Iraq. She was the architect of the disastrous intervention in Libya (with no plan about what would follow Qaddafi’s overthrow). During the presidential debates, she even bragged about being friends with mass murderer Henry Kissinger.

And she takes money — lots of it — from the banks and corporations, including “pay” for three speeches to Goldman Sachs between 2013 and 2015 at $225,000 each, and another eight speeches to banks in the same period garnering her another $1.8 million.

Bill Clinton is no saint in this regard, either. In February 2016 CNN documented Bill and Hillary Clinton’s receiving, to that point, $153,000,000 in speaking fees. (Yes, $153 million.)

And like those of her husband, her campaigns (and PACs and SuperPACs supporting her) have been funded predominantly by the corporations, banks, and those who own them. One strongly suspects that the ultra-rich who fund Clinton aren’t doing so out of the goodness of their hearts.

It would be exceedingly difficult if not impossible to prove that her (and her husband’s) positions are payback for that funding, but consider this: During her career in politics, she, like her husband, never even proposed any measures that would threaten her backers financially.

To cite the most prominent example of that, she has consistently opposed a “Medicare for all” single-payer system (supported by approximately 60% of the public), and instead has opted for plans which leave our healthcare in the hands of the big pharma and insurance industry vampires, whose goal is to deliver the minimum amount of healthcare for the maximum amount of dollars.

Which brings us to her predecessor. Barack Obama ran on a platform of “hope and change.” And then he systematically betrayed those who voted for him. He continued, and in some ways intensified (drone assassinations of U.S. citizens), George W. Bush’s disastrous, interventionist, neo-con foreign policy. He kept the wars going, and kept up American support for authoritarian Islamist (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey) and military (Egypt) regimes.

He also promised the most open administration in history, and then delivered the most secretive, with mass surveillance of all of us, and the persecution of whistle blowers — at the same time that he completely let the banking criminals responsible for the financial crash completely off the hook.

Domestically, he proposed a stimulus big enough to keep the economy from collapsing (thus saving the banks) during the recession, but nowhere near big enough to put the 8.7 million who lost their jobs back to work. Nor did he do anything to help the 7 million who lost their homes.

What did he deliver? A singularly inadequate piece of healthcare legislation that protected big pharma and the insurance industry, and left tens of millions uninsured and tens of millions more underinsured. Obama also delivered, to some extent, on social issues that did not threaten his ultra-rich and corporate backers: gay rights and reproductive rights.

Richard Branson and Barack Obama on Branson's yacht

Richard Branson and Barack Obama on Branson’s yacht

Now that he’s left office, he’s been cashing in on his celebrity and connections — including being paid a $400,000 speaking fee by a Wall Street firm — and hanging out with his natural constituency, billionaires (Richard Branson and David Geffen).

Which brings us to the present, the “democratic wing of the Democratic Party” is currently trying to wrest control of it from the corporate lackeys personified by Obama and the Clintons (and Diane Feinstein, John Podesta, Chuck Schumer, Donna Brazile, Nancy Pelosi, et al.).

The corporatists recently won the first major battle, electing Obama’s Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez, as chairman of the Democratic National Committee over Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison.

(This on the heels of the DNC’s rigging the presidential primaries against Bernie Sanders and for Hillary Clinton — by among other things drastically restricting the number of debates and by scheduling them at times almost guaranteed to deliver low viewership, thus throwing away tens of millions of dollars of free air time.)

This does not portend well. It portends more of the same: no real attempt to address the gross economic inequality in this country, no attempt to institute universal healthcare, and instead a continued focus on social issues (that are no threat to the rich), all under the stirring battle cry, “We’re not as bad as the Republicans!”

It’s time for people to wake up and realize that the Democrats (at least the Clintons, Obama, and the rest of the corporatists) are not their friends.

Instead, they’re the “good cop” in America’s perennial good-cop / bad-cop political extortion routine.

The “good cop” is not your friend.

* * *

(Chaz Bufe is the author, co-author, or translator of 12 books. His latest work is The American Heretic’s Dictionary, which is the 21st century’s equivalent of Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary.)


American Heretic's Dictionary revised and expanded by Chaz Bufe, front cover


H Walked Among Us by Norman Spinrad front cover

(He Walked Among Us, by Norman Spinrad. Tor, 2009, 540 pp., $27.99)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

(This is an expanded and, we think, better review of this novel than the one we ran two years ago.)

For decades, Norman Spinrad has been one of the most prolific and under-appreciated science fiction writers. He’s written dozens of novels, some great, some not so great–which puts him in good company: almost all prolific authors are inconsistent. (Even Shakespeare on occasion could have used a good editor.) There are some real jewels among Spinrad’s works, notably The Iron Dream and Mindgame, but He Walked Among Us is arguably Spinrad’s best novel.

It concerns a Borscht Belt comedian, Ralf (no last name), who bills himself as a time-traveling “comedian from the future” from “Deathship Earth” in the 22nd century, where the few wretched survivors huddle inside abandoned shopping malls on a poisoned planet; Ralf’s shtick consists largely of mercilessly berating his audience, “monkey boys” and “monkey girls,” for their stupidity and environmental irresponsibility.

While performing one evening at Kapplemeyer’s, a dive Catskills resort, Ralf is discovered by the novel’s most entertaining character, Texas Jimmy Balaban, an agent for second-string comics, who drinks a lot, is very “Hollywood,” and isn’t above using his position to get laid, but is basically honest and has always “tried to be a mensch”–in other words, he’s about as good as it gets as far as agents go.

Spinrad describes Balaban’s reaction to the audience at Kappelmeyer’s:

It was an audience that Texas Jimmy wouldn’t have wished on Adolf Hitler and Auschwitz Boys, an audience that he wouldn’t even have wished on the acts actually condemned to face it.

Ralf is the final one of those acts.

Very shortly, Texas Jimmy takes Ralf to Hollywood and lands him a gig hosting a low-budget TV talk show, The Word According to Ralf,  on one of the minor TV networks. Ralf, who always remains in character, and insists that he actually is from the future, quickly runs out of steam with his gloom-doom-and-abuse routine.

At that point Texas Jimmy calls in new age acting coach Amanda Robbin and hard/social science fiction author and screenwriter Dexter Lampkin to recast Ralf and to save the show. Very shortly, Ralf becomes the prophet from “Starship Earth,” who’s here to save the planet, and the show begins to gain popularity due to its more upbeat tone and the conflict between the new age flakes Amanda books as guests and the nerd types Dexter books.

As part of the attempt to save the show, Dexter turns to a community about which he has very mixed feelings: sci-fi fandom, as witness the following excerpts told from Dexter’s point of view:

Oscar Karel was a familiar figure at science fiction conventions. With his massive paunch flowing seamlessly into his enormous ass without benefit of a waistline and his narrow shoulders and chicken-chest, Oscar Karel was shaped like a giant overweight penguin. At a science fiction convention, his physical appearance would have hardly been noticed, since this was a dominant fannish genotype . . .

Most of the hotel personnel would never have seen so many grossly overweight people together at the same time, and even if they had, certainly not wearing T-shirts and capris and jeans and harem costumes in such perfectly blithe disregard of the exceedingly unfortunate fashion statement.

Globuloids, Bob Silverberg called them.

There are a great many similarly funny, mostly less acerbic, passages scattered throughout the book.

Without giving too much away, the remainder of He Walked Among Us deals with the conflicts between Ralf, Balaban, Amanda, and Dexter, their efforts to save the show, and an emerging desire to actually save the Earth.

One ingenious aspect of this novel is that while Ralf is the center of gravity around which all else revolves, he is not one of the point-of-view characters. Rather, the story is told from the point of view of other characters, including “Foxy Loxy,” a New York crack whore who, in an apparently separate story, descends into graphically described madness, degradation, and violence. The segments dealing with Foxy (aka “Rat Girl”) are riveting and all too easy to buy, but are unpleasant reading, made more so by the very close third-person narration in her segments. An example:

Practically at the the bottom of the fuckin’ can, there it was, half a Big Mac, meat an’ all, little green around th’ sesame seed bun maybe, not the kinda thing you wanted t’think about maybe with all th’ cockroaches come crawlin’ out of it when she snatches it, but she don’t have to, because Rat Thing don’t wanna waste the live protein, he has her shovin’ it in her mouth an’ chewin’ it down in three big mouthfuls before the last of the roaches can escape or she can even think about thinkin’ about it.

That passage isn’t much fun to read, but it must have been a hell of a lot of fun to write.

Through over 80% of He Walked Among Us, while dark suspicions grow, the reader is left wondering “How in hell will this tie in with the rest of the story?”

The other p.o.v. characters are Texas Jimmy, Dexter, and Amanda. Dexter, one strongly suspects, is modeled at least in part on Spinrad himself. (Spinrad intersperses a number of anecdotes about himself in Dexter’s sections.) Dexter is conflicted about his career, doing meaningless writing jobs simply to make ends meet, unhappy about sales of his sci-fi novels, and ambivalent about his fans, who he’s harnessing to promote Ralf and his and Amanda’s mutual save-the-Earth agenda.

Amanda is the least interesting of the main characters, though she, like the others is well drawn and believable–she reminds me of all too many new agers I’ve known over the years.

One weakness of the book is that He Walked Among Us is primarily a comic novel, and most of the sections involving Amanda are overly long and simply aren’t funny. The same could be said of a couple of the segments describing Ralf’s TV show.

Eventually, all the threads of the story converge, including the “Rat Girl” narrative, with all the dread it entails. How Spinrad resolves it is unexpected, but it works.

Until literally the final paragraph, I couldn’t figure out how Spinrad was going to end this book. But he does, and the ending is perfect.

Before ending, I’ll note that there is one curious thing about He Walked Among Us: based on its detailed descriptions of background, it seems almost certain that this book was written (at least in good part) well over a decade before it was published. For one thing, there are mentions in a few places of archaic day-to-day technologies (e.g., answering machines), but more telling is what isn’t there: neither cell phones nor the Internet are mentioned anywhere in this 540-page novel.

My hunch is that Spinrad started writing this book in the late ’80s or early ’90s, couldn’t figure out how to end it, set it aside, and finally finished it in the mid to late 2000s, at which point it would have required major revision — revision unnecessary to the plot — to accommodate those technologies.

It’s a testament to how well the book is written, though, that I didn’t even notice those missing technological elephants the first time I read the book. (This is very likely, at least in part, due to my having lived through the ’80s and early ’90s as an adult: the background seems entirely natural to me.)

In any event, I haven’t read a book in ages I’ve enjoyed as much as He Walked Among Us. It’s very, very funny, thought provoking, and in the end both touching and inspiring. In large part it’s a love letter to science fiction and its potential to inspire change.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

* * *

Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel and on an unrelated sci-fi novel.

Free Radicals front cover


“[T]here aren’t any ‘jobs’ left. Just financial engineering and politics. I’m not qualified for either. For one thing, I can’t say ‘meritocracy’ with a straight face. . . . It’s the height of self-serving circular bullshit, isn’t it? We’re the best people we know, we’re on top, therefore we have a meritocracy. How do we know we’re the best? Because we’re on top. QED? The most amazing thing about ‘meritocracy’ is that so many brilliant captains of industry haven’t noticed that it’s made of such radioactive bullshit that you could spot it in orbit.”

–“Hubert, etc.” in Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway

(review coming soon)


For once, a Trump Administration official has sad something that’s easy to believe, and that is backed by over a century of abundant evidence:

“Our values around freedom, human dignity, the way people are treated—those are our values. Those are not our policies.” 

–Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addressing State Department employees on 5-3-17


It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these posts, so there should be something here for everyone, crap in a wide variety of shades–a veritable rainbow of crap ranging from the merely interesting, to the revealing, to the mocking and amusing, to the grotesque and repugnant, and finally to crap in everyone’s favorite flavor: schadenfreude.

So, hang on to your 10-gallon Stetsons. Yeehaw!

Slim Pickins from Doctor Strangelove

  • Here’s one for those trying to make sense of the ongoing baboon infestation in the White House: “Making the man: To understand Trump look at his relationship with his dad.”
  • Given the attempts by the corporate Democrats and their allies in the media to induce amnesia in the public, Paul Street has provided a timely reminder that Barack Obama was a terrible president (not as bad as Bush the Lesser or as aberrant as Donald Drumpf, but terrible nonetheless): “We were warned about Barack Obama — by Obama himself.”
  • Priceonomics has provided a useful reminder that religion-induced nuttiness and prudishness were even worse in the 1950s than they are now: “The campaign to make ‘indecent’ animals wear clothing.”
  • The newfound popularity / surge in sales of 1984 since Trump took office, driven by the woefully uninformed — the book is a critique of Stalinism — is nicely dissected by Josephine Livingstone in a brief essay subtitled, “Why ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four is not the book we need in the Trump era.”
  • For those who have been living in a cave, and for those of us who live for schadenfreude, Erik Wemple does a fine job of stating the obvious about recently fired bloviator Bill O’Reilly, “An awful, awful man.”
  • Speaking of schadenfreude, if you want to wallow in it, luxuriate in it, consider the sad, sad tale of the suffering at the Fyre Fest, a “luxury” music festival in the Bahamas for entitled douchebags, where tickets started at a plebeian $1,000 and escalated to a $125,000 “package.” Needless to say — in a spectacle more entertaining than watching two scorpions in a locked-cage death match — the entitled douchebags who “suffered” are suing the entitled douchebags who created the event. Pop a cold one, sit back, read, and enjoy!
  • Returning to a slightly more innocent form of humor, Riverby Books, in Washington, DC, has produced an ad written in a variety of pidgin, an ad written entirely in Trumpese.
  • At long last there’s a rival for the title of All-Time Most Grotesque and Disturbing Internet News Item. The reigning champ is the 2004 piece, “480-Pound Woman Dies After Six Years On Couch,” about a morbidly obese woman who was “fused” to a couch after remaining on it for six years, not getting up even to defecate. (Why yes! You have guessed her state of residence.) And in this corner, from Confessions of a Funeral Director, the challenger, “Morbid Obesity + Cremation =?,” about a “grease fire” that destroyed a crematorium after it attempted to cremate a morbidly obese body.

 

Porky Pig

 

And th…, th…, th…, th…, th… that’s all, folks.

Pleasant dreams y’all.


Fr. Fish Donald Trump graphic

“Donald Trump is the face of our collective idiocy. He is what lies behind the mask of our professed civility and rationality—a sputtering, narcissistic, bloodthirsty megalomaniac. He wields armies and fleets against the wretched of the earth, blithely ignores the catastrophic human misery caused by global warming, pillages on behalf of global oligarchs and at night sits slack-jawed in front of a television set before opening his “beautiful” Twitter account. He is our version of the Roman emperor Nero . . .”

–Chris Hedges, “Reign of Idiots


Former Chicago Cubs manager Lee Elia

Today is the 34th anniversary of the day, April 29, 1983, that then-Chicago Cubs manager Lee Elia brought joy to the hearts of millions. On that day, Elia delivered, hands down, the greatest baseball rant ever recorded.

It never grows old. Here ’tis. Enjoy!

Lee Elia Rant

But why, you ask, does Lee Elia deserve his own national holiday?

There are two reasons: 1) He’s still alive, and would likely enjoy his well deserved acclaim; 2)  If Christopher Columbus, who brought death and misery to millions, deserves his own national holiday, isn’t Elia, who brought smiles and laughter to millions, more deserving?

Isn’t it time we started honoring those who made life just a little bit better rather than those who made it immeasurably worse?