Enzo Titolo

Politics, Paranoispiricies, neologisms, diary, creative, ruminations

Monday, March 28, 2005

Say NO to DEBIT cards

Debit Cards are banking's latest scam. Banks push them to circumvent the $50 liability limit on fraudulant credit card purchases. Now the onus is on the consumer to prove that we are the victims of theft, to prevent crimes against us after they started occuring, and to cover the loss until the weeks it takes for it to *maybe* get our losses recovered.

The banks use Debit cards to outsource their risk and uncertainty and liabilites to their customers, us, under the guise of 'convenience.'

The good thing about being robbed, is that at least you *know* you were robbed. With debit cards you find out later with a shock that the crime has been and still maybe occuring. Good luck with your debit cards.

I say no to Debit Cards and take every chance to denigrate them for the scam that they are.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Senator will propose end of Electoral College

Senator will propose end of Electoral College

by Edward Epstein
Sen. Dianne Feinstein said this past week that when Congress returns in January, she will propose a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College and replace it with a one-person, one-vote system for electing the nation's president and vice president.

In introducing the amendment, the Democrat from San Francisco is joining Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who last month introduced a similar proposal in the House, which she said she would reintroduce in the 109th Congress that convenes on Jan. 3.

The two California lawmakers say the current system makes most Americans election bystanders, pointing toward the recent campaign in which President Bush and his Democratic rival, Sen. John Kerry, focused almost all their time, energy and campaign funds on a handful of undecided states in search of their electoral votes.

"The Electoral College is an anachronism, and the time has come to bring our democracy into the 21st century," Feinstein said in a statement. "During the founding years of the republic, the Electoral College may have been a suitable system, but today it is flawed and amounts to national elections being decided in several battleground states."

Despite popular appeal, the proposal faces a difficult road to passage. It takes a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress followed by ratification by 38 states for a constitutional amendment to become law.
Feinstein's staff pointed out Wednesday that 25 years ago, the Senate voted 51-48 for a proposal to abolish the Electoral College, a majority but far short of the two-thirds needed. About 10 years before that, the House voted 338-70 for abolishment, but the Senate didn't act that year.

Feinstein, who has the support of Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., as a co-sponsor, said the Electoral College, which awards each state and the District of Columbia a minimum of three votes, is unfair to states such as California because it takes far more popular votes to win even one of California's 55 electoral votes.

Chimpanzee Attack Doesn't Surprise Experts

Chimpanzee Attack Doesn't Surprise Experts

Chimpanzees come across to the public as little darlings, often in diapers and always willing to hold hands. But they're really aggressors, primate experts say, more than capable of carrying out attacks as violent as one that left a man fighting for his life. Generally weighing between 120 and 150 pounds with strength much greater than man, chimps in the wild are known to kill chimps from neighboring groups, hunt other primates and even attack humans. "Male chimps are intensely territorial. They defend their territory against any perceived threat," said Craig Stanford, a professor at the University of Southern California who studies primate behavior. "Chimps can be violent at times just as humans can be."

On Friday, authorities continued to investigate how two chimps at an animal sanctuary escaped from their cage and mauled St. James Davis, 62. They were shot to death during Thursday's attack by the son-in-law of the sanctuary's owners, Virginia and Ralph Brauer. Animal Haven Ranch, about 30 miles east of Bakersfield, has held state permits to shelter exotic animals since 1985. It is allowed to house up to nine primates at one time and is home to one spider monkey and six chimpanzees."A big part of the investigation will be figuring out whether the owners were in compliance with regulations," Sheriff's Cmdr. Hal Chealander said. State wildlife and county health authorities were testing the chimps for rabies and other diseases that could affect the victims' health, Chealander said.Davis, 62, and his wife, LaDonna Davis, 64, were visiting the sanctuary to celebrate the birthday of a 39-year-old chimpanzee, Moe, who was taken from their home in 1999 after biting off part of a woman's finger.

The couple had brought Moe a cake and were standing outside his cage when the two young male chimps, Ollie and Buddy, attacked the man. Two other chimps, females named Susie and Bones, also escaped from the cage. They were recovered outside the sanctuary five hours later. Susie and Bones could have played a role in the attack, primate experts said. "We know that one of the most reliable predictors of increased male aggression is the presence of sexually receptive females," said Jeffrey French, a psychobiologist who studies primate behavior at the University of Nebraska, Omaha.The chimps chewed off most of Davis' face, tore off his foot and attacked his limbs and genitals. Davis was transported to Loma Linda University Medical Center, where he had surgery late Thursday night."

The medical center would not release any information about Davis' condition on Friday. Hospital spokeswoman Julie Smith said the family requested confidentiality.LaDonna Davis was bitten on the hand. She was released from the hospital Friday .The Brauers would not speak to reporters, but a family friend gave a statement to The Associated Press, which read, "All of us here at Animal Haven Ranch are praying for the recovery of St. James Davis and LaDonna Davis.""This is the only incident in 20 years of operation," the statement said.People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have called on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to ban private ownership of exotic animals in California, citing the increasing popularity of keeping such animals as pets. The group said there have been more than 90 reported dangerous incidents nationwide involving primates since 1990.---Kim Curtis reported from Havilah, and Terence Chea reported from San Francisco.

Sex As a Nutritive Function

In college, I was influenced a great deal by Aristotle's De Anima (as well as Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five (and the concept of Buddhist compassion)). Aristotle and Vonnegut stated that the self is really part of a greater self across our species now and is connected to the past and the future of our species.

That is, I'm an individual, but my soul or life force is connected to the life force that led to me and the life force that flows in me towards my individual future and the future of my progeny.

One of my favorite lines from De Anima is sex (reproduction) is a nutritive function. How is reproduction like eating? It doesn't make ME feel full but it allows my life force to continue into the future. Homo Sapiens’ reproductive sex for us as individual members of a species is nutritive, just as eating something allows ME individually to move into the future.

You are what you eat and whom you make love with. This is why I don't comment on what people or eating or fucking as long as it doesn't seem like it will do physical harm.

Since the modern era, sex and reproduction are not necessarily causally related due to technology like contraceptives, so need not be solely a merging of life forces, reproduction between two individuals, in concert with sex and love, which is holy.

Where, perhaps, I am perverted, is that I celebrate the contraceptive and its new freedoms. Reproduction is no longer causally related to sex. I believe that sexual couples should be prepared to communicate about sexual responsibilities since conception and birth is still a possibility, and since sex is personal, and since there are diseases related to sex. That is still a lot.

But now sex is liberated to be a nutritive function for me as an individual animal as well as a smart and compassionate person who wants to connect with others. That is my vision for ‘sex positive.’ I think it should be approached with responsibility, compassion, understanding, and communication -- that is with responsibility, but it can also be fun if there is trust.

This is a lot of work. A lot of people are not ready or prepared to do this work. And, even if they are, they might not be coupled with someone that wants to 'make love' with them. 'Good pornography'* can take some of the pressure off these folks.

It can also allow individuals and couples to explore fantasies that they can experiment with, think about or talk about. Sometimes people realize they are gay or kinky in some way, or not, after exploring pornography in a private, safe setting.

Sometimes couples find porn a good way to get into the mood or to see if a certain new fantasy spices up their sex and personal lives. I find that fantasy can take us out of ourselves so that we can know who we are more.** An analogy: we send probes to space and learn about the earth's present and origin by exploring the moon and the solar system and stars... I also find fantasy fun, like a break, but I think it teaches me something about myself, too, and how I relate to the world in ways that I didn't realize in my workaday routine.

*I define ‘good pornography’ as that which is produced without coercion in conditions of respect, free will, and good working and paying conditions.

**Something similar to this is the use of drugs as an exploration of the self, the world and society that takes us outside our normal perceptions.

About De Anima by Aristotle:

“The soul comprises several faculties: e.g., cognition, appetite….

Book II begins with an important formulation: the soul is the "form of the living body which potentially has life" (the organism's first actuality). Having a soul distinguishes living from inanimate objects. The soul's nutritive faculty is essential for all organisms, but animals have the faculty of sensation, separating them from plants. Thus begins a hierarchy of faculties from nutrition to intellect. In sensation, the sense organ and sense-object, like the soul and body, participate in the Form/Matter relationship. The sense organ receives the object's Form, not its matter, in Aristotle's words, "as the wax takes the sign from the ring without the iron and gold." He discusses each of the five senses, and makes a famous distinction among perceptual elements (special, common, incidental).

Aristotle concludes discussing sensation in Book III by proposing functions of the perceptive faculty that integrate individual senses. Imagination, a faculty producing imagery, mediates between sensation and intellect. Aristotle's remarks about intellect are among his most renowned, fecund, and difficult. He describes the intellectual faculty, which includes thinking and supposition, with the same physiological approach of his sensory theory. The organ of thought receives the Form of the thought-object to realize thinking. He calls the intellect a repository of Forms and distinguishes the active from the passive intellect, providing inspiration for Thomas Aquinas's psychology. Aristotle concludes with a discussion of motivation, i.e., what puts the organism into action.

No other work contains a psychological theory like that presented in De Anima, excepting Aquinas's derivative. Its resemblance to attribute (behaviorist) theories of the mind cannot obscure Aristotle's radically different foundation. His Form-Matter and Actuality-Potentiality concepts are not explanatory, only a framework for inquiry. Its relevance, as Lawson-Tancred notes, to modern psychology depends upon identifying an empirical approach to Aristotle's Form. Aristotle's proposal that life has, or is, a principle provides an alternative point of departure for scientists who find contemporary materialist dogma lacking direction. De Anima, one of the most important books ever written, and long neglected by scientific psychology, still puts life in an eternal debate.”
Joseph C. Hager, Ph.D.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Still more on the Gannon/Guckert scandals contrasted with Hunter Thompson

Daily Kos is rigorously pulling together a Gannon/Guckert timeline here


and it seems likely that he was the same Guckert who graduated college in 1980, joined a fraternity, and had some tax evasion troubles. His military record seems undocumented so far.

My take on the timeline is that:

*Guckert/Gannon was a male escort while working for the White House,

*he had connections with the White House for daily access (with no background check) and for ‘scoops,’

* including that the forged memos about Bush' actual abandonment of the National Guard (that did in CBS News and Dan Rather) came from the White House, or at least the source of the disinformation, since Gannon/Guckert debunked them to Hannity before they were even aired on CBS,

* and that Gannon/Guckert was used by the WhiteHouse to interview the hero Ambassador Joseph Wilson to spy on his intentions and next moves and perhaps as a gay honey-pot to try and entrap Wilson sexually for blackmail. The timing of the Gannon Wilson interview suggests that Gannon/Guckert may have been linked to the illegal outing of Wilson's CIA operative wife, since Gannon cited the classified information contemporaneously with its release.

Jeff Gannon cited Hunter Thompson in JeffGannon.com "Fear and Loathing in the Press Room" because Thompson pioneered personalized journalism that stressed intensity and urgency. Gannon confused his being outed as a homophobic homosexual prostitute and as a phony prostitute 'journalist,' a new breed of homosexual and a new breed of 'journalist,' which I’m sure has been a bad month for him, with Thompson's innovative and urgent personal journalism. Gannon is lucky to have done this after Hunter was dead or HST would have turned his words, lawyers, or bullets against Gannon.

Some people like bad things because they are bad. I think the circles that Gannon/Guckert run in like homosexuality partially because they think it is sinful, and if it were good, it wouldn’t be as fun for them. Twisted fun. This would be fine if it didn’t cause unnecessary shame or lack of insurance coverage for law abiding gay people without Whitehouse connections.

I think HST liked things that made him see the Truth in a new vivid way. He used substances to excess, but didn’t recommend it, nor decry it for others. All evidence was that he had high morality, patriotism, and was a good man working for the public good at some risk to himself.

Meanwhile, we are left with Gannon/Guckert who pillories gays while being a male prostitute and who uses the pose of journalist and victim to further his careers. God help us!

Neologism - Sononym

A word that sounds like a similar word used in the same way, kind of like an appropos malaprop, or homonym combined with a synonym.

For example, the Thompson family said of Hunter S. Thompson: "He Stomped Terra," which means 'He Stomped the Earth.' On the East Coast the sononym of Terra would be Terror. He Stomped Terror. Taking it further, perhaps, He Stomped Terrorism, or the War on Terror or the Terror that follows Tyranny. It is quite poetic, especially because He Stomped Terra is also his initials HST, but I think that that is an acronym.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Hunter's Last Pieces - a 9/11 link?

You may have heard by now that Hunter's suicide note was a one-worder on "Fourth Amendment Foundation" Letterhead with 'counselor' typed in the middle of the page. He died sitting on a stool opposite it.

The purpose of the foundation, which he co-founded, was to have a heavy hitting lawyer in each state to sue the government for damages against citizens who were wrongly treated by the government. As quoted in High Times, "[I] formed the Fourth Amendment Foundation. The purpose was to have a lawyer—a big one—available at all times in all fifty states...[The] purpose was to make it a fact in law that the state had to pay the legal expenses of anybody the state accused of a crime and failed to convict." The fourth amendment is against government search and seizure of private property and persons. His foundation's purpose is not one to win friends in high places.

I assume that in his last piece he was either addressing his counsel, as he did during Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, for some rights issue, or that he was addressing himself as counselor to our nation -- in which case his prognosis for our future is pretty scary, considering that he wasn't supposed to be in much pain from his 2001 accident.

A couple of wrinkles in the story include that the night before his death, Thompson called a Toronto Globe and Mail Journalist* who helped break the Falluja Massacre story, sounding scared, stating that he was working on a 9/11 expose in which he had evidence that the Twin Towers were felled by planted explosives.** He stated that he felt that someone wanted him not to publish this piece and might kill him to make it look like a suicide, which is a common covert murder tactic.

Something I would like more information on is Prince Bandar of the Saudi ruling family who lives in Aspen, and if the Prince or a close associate was in touch with Thompson that the Doctor mentioned in his ESPN.com columns. This is someone he described "a close relative of the Saudi Ambassador" with whom he had some high stakes betting. When we last hear of him in late 2001 the Saudis planted a spy, "The Princess" in his home for nearly two weeks under the guise of a gambling marker for a $40,000 who was so quiet that they didn't realize that she spoke perfect English, which he discovered as the police raided his house, since she was on a terror list.

Was Thompson's house really raided? Who is this Princess Omin? Did Thompson ply her brother with alcohol to get him to reveal something about a royal Saudi or even Bush Administration Connection to the plane bombings of Washington D.C. and the World Trade Center on 9/11/01? Did Thompson ever get paid? What happened to Omar and Omin? Was Hunter the fall guy to keep his family safe if his 9/11 conspiracy case was covered up?

http://espn.go.com/page2/s/thompson/011023.html :

"Last week was extremely busy. I spent most of it doing top-secret surveillance work on some of my neighbors who are obviously up to no good and need to be watched closely. I have always hated Evil-doers, and now that the President has given us a green light to crush them by any means necessary, I see my duty clearly. Dangerous creeps are everywhere, and our only hope is to neutralize them with extreme prejudice. These freaks have taken their shot(s), and now it is our turn.

Any Evil-doer with the brains to plot lethal damage against our national infrastructure will also be degenerate enough to protect his Evil cover by faking great enthusiasm for watching and gambling on American football games.

He will not want to talk about his job, but ask him anyway. "How is it going at work, Omar? Are you cool with it? Are you meeting enough girls? Are you a gambling man? Do you have any extra hashish? Why are you looking at me that way? What's eating you?" It is better to load him up with booze and goofy chatter than to make him suspicious by staring at his hands and constantly taking notes.

Whoops! I think I see him jogging out there on the road, right in from of my gate."


http://espn.go.com/page2/s/thompson/011112.html :

Hunter won a Saudi Princess as a marker for a big bet that took weeks to get paid off. Who was investigating whom?

""You fool!" he barked. "He left her deliberately. She's a human listening-device. One of these days you will wake up with a bomb in your mouth. You should call the police and have her locked up."

I stared at him, feeling a shudder in my spine. Ye gods! I thought. What if he's right? Is it possible that I am willfully harboring a Terrorist? Could this woman be making a jackass of me? ... "That's ridiculous," I said to Mr. Penn. "This is Princess Omin -- little sister to Omar, who owes me $40,000."

He sneered at me. "That's rich," he chuckled. "Isn't Omar that creep you've been investigating for war crimes?"
I said nothing, struggling to digest it all. The mere possibility that Omar had run a game down on me was repulsive. "What are you saying?" I demanded -- "that some foreign freak has bamboozled me?"

"Yes," he answered. "He has planted a Mole in your life. This bitch will destroy you!"

Just then the Coroner came into the room and laughed brazenly in my face. "You are too dumb to live," he cackled. "

When this stuff came out I thought it was some wierd parody on anti-arab hysteria, much like the common paranoia about communist infiltration in the 1950s and 1960s. The following week was the denouement of the Princess in the Attic series:

http://espn.go.com/page2/s/thompson/011120.html :
"Every time I pick up a newspaper, I see grim headlines about Bombs, Economic disasters and unknown foreigners being put on trial and even Executed by ad hoc Military Tribunals for secret reasons. The White House laughs it off, but we are creating what looks oddly like a police state. Secret trials with secret evidence are not what George Washington had in mind at Valley Forge.....
I'll tell you what happened with Princess Omin. It was just before halftime of the Indianapolis-New Orleans game on Sunday when Police invaded my house. I paid no attention to them, at first -- Peyton Manning was running for a touchdown with no time left on the clock, and people were getting excited -- but the cops refused to stop hammering on my door. "Get away!" I shouted. "We are asleep." It was a weak thing to say, but I needed a few seconds to sweep a pile of money off the table and hide the Jimson Weed.
I heard a jiggling noise in the lock. Whack! The door flew open, and they swarmed in. "Hello, Hunter," said Grady, who seemed to be in charge. "Don't worry, we're not after You this time -- but where is that woman you're hiding?"
....None of it made any sense -- the game or the invasion of my home..
The cop laughed. "She is on the White House list of suspected terrorists....
Yes, sir, and if I hadn't flipped out over Terrorism, I wouldn't be having these hideous problems that plague me today...It seems impossible, but it could happen to anybody. I was only trying to be a good citizen... "

After that November 2001 column, no mention of the Princess or the $40,000 owed to him was ever mentioned, although he was nervous in the following weeks about being down $75,000 to some Boston bookies.

The following week he had a head injury, went to Honolulu with Sean Penn, went to the winter Olympics, and continued to excoriate Bush. However, he dropped mention of the Saudis and mostly stuck with Sports, the purpose of his column. Perhaps the Princess was just a dream and Hunter's ESPN editor had had enough. Perhaps Hunter had enough.

*I do find it strange that Paul William Roberts, who claims to have talked with Hunter the night before he died, does not take seriously Hunter's words that he was investigating a 9/11 inside job and that someone wanted to prevent him from publishing it and would make it look like a suicide.

His piece is pretty much a good writer's obituary:

Alexander Pope in a prose convertible
What mattered wasn't the 'gonzo' myth, writes PAUL WILLIAM ROBERTS, but Hunter S. Thompson's writing -- hilarious, honest and full of insight into power

Saturday, February 26, 2005 Updated at 10:51 PM EST

Hunter telephoned me on Feb. 19, the night before his death. He sounded scared. It wasn't always easy to understand what he said, particularly over the phone, he mumbled, yet when there was something he really wanted you to understand, you did. He'd been working on a story about the World Trade Center attacks and had stumbled across what he felt was hard evidence showing the towers had been brought down not by the airplanes that flew into them but by explosive charges set off in their foundations. Now he thought someone was out to stop him publishing it: "They're gonna make it look like suicide," he said. "I know how these bastards think . . ."

That's how I imagine a tribute to Hunter S. Thompson should begin. He was indeed working on such a story, but it wasn't what killed him. He exercised his own option to do that. As he said to more than one person, "I would feel real trapped in this life if I didn't know I could commit suicide at any time."

It is an ironic end for one who deplored above all things the media trend toward self-censorship, often citing Orwell on the subject. Now, he exists only in a dozen books and countless magazine and newspaper articles. Did the good doctor write himself into literary immortality? This is all that matters now.

I shared a dark suspicion that the life we were leading was a lost cause, that we were all actors, kidding ourselves along on a senseless odyssey. It was the tension between these two poles -- a restless idealism on the one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other -- that kept me going. -- Paul Kemp, in The Rum Diary, 1959 (published 1998)

These words, from Mr. Thompson's only novel, written when he was 22, are more than a prescient epitaph. They contain his own assessment of the qualities of character required of a great writer. The Hells Angels, in his first published book, put it differently:
"Well, we don't ask for nothin' but the truth. Like I say, there's not much good that you can write about us, but I don't see where that gives people the right to just make up stuff. . . . Ain't the truth bad enough for 'em?" -- Hells Angels, 1965

That tension between restless idealism and impending doom characterized the postwar generation in America, living in the shadow of nuclear apocalypse and the ignominy of the Vietnam War and Watergate, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.. It was during this era that the American Dream of a true republic came unravelled and it was briefly possible to see through its glittering façade to where the corporate éminences grises pressed buttons and pulled strings. The sight profoundly disturbed both those who saw it and those caught, as it were, in the act. The latter vowed such a thing would never occur again. The former, mostly, tried to forget what they had seen. Hunter Stockton Thompson never forgot what he had seen. It informed everything, and his addiction to honesty in the telling of it is what will grant his work timeless relevance. That we even know of his other addictions is merely an example of that honesty.

Too much is made of Mr. Thompson as the pioneer of "gonzo" journalism. The form -- the writer as a central character in what he writes about -- is as old as writing itself. Even the idea of writing through the prism of a psychotropic drug goes back to antiquity. Innovation matters little in literature -- indeed, it is ultimately a distraction. What counts is writing quality.

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like, "I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive." And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: "Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?"
Then it was quiet again. My attorney had taken his shirt off and was pouring beer on his chest, to facilitate the tanning process. "What the hell are you yelling about?" he muttered, staring up at the sun with his eyes closed and covered with wraparound Spanish sunglasses. "Never mind," I said. "It's your turn to drive." I hit the brakes and aimed the Great Red Shark toward the shoulder of the highway. No point mentioning those bats, I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough. -- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1972

It is one of the great openings in literature, setting a tone and pace hard to follow, yet often exceeded by the rest of the book, which in reality is a novel, not journalism at all. What Mr. Thompson perceived in late-20th-century literature was an essential dishonesty, where authors wrote about themselves and their acquaintances without consequences If the narrator or main character is yourself, then why not give him your name?

In a book like Fear and Loathing, one finds all the great themes of postwar writing -- anomie, being and nothingness, existential terror. But Mr. Thompson supersedes authors like Kafka, Sartre and Camus by instinctively grasping that their themes are personal and subjective and thus more powerfully -- not to mention more honestly -- handled as subjective non-fiction. He was not alone among American writers in seeing this, but where people like Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe were writing subjective narratives from an almost genteel distance, Mr. Thompson flung himself on the page the way Jackson Pollock flung paint on canvas.

Finding this kind of writing not just accepted but keenly embraced was, in his words, "like being thrown down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool of mermaids." Like Chaucer discovering he didn't have to write in Latin and thus had a whole new language to himself, the effect on Mr. Thompson's work was liberating.

He was not a novelist masquerading as a journalist. Fear and Loathing is only a novel by virtue of the fact that its subject is itself -- unlike his other books, no event is covered and no one is interviewed. Privately, he could deplore this emptiness, and found it all but impossible to translate it into a screenplay. Yet when it was published, you could divide the world into those who could dig HST and those who couldn't.

No other writer is more emblematic of that period. Mr. Thompson wrote for Rolling Stone, which in those days was an indie paper devoted to the true voice of the Sixties, music. But having Mr. Thompson as a fellow traveller on music's tour bus helped a generation in danger of turning its back on mainstream politics to channel the disgust and disillusionment brought to a head by Watergate more productively.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas paved the way for what is probably Mr. Thompson's greatest work, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, in which he covered the 1972 presidential elections that saw Richard Nixon re-elected and the confidence of liberal America sapped in a way only matched by last year's election. Once you read the savage, unforgiving portrait of Mr. Nixon in Campaign Trail, he ceased to be an object of fear; it seemed in no time at all he was in tears apologizing for Watergate on TV. Before long, a genuinely decent human being was president -- Jimmy Carter.

The other hallmark of Mr. Thompson's work is humour. He can make you piss your pants, roll on the floor, choke -- he's that kind of funny. Where I come from, they used to say that the bogeyman will go away only when you can laugh at him. First and foremost, Mr. Thompson was a satirist. He was Lenny Bruce in print, Alexander Pope in a prose convertible. His political invective and over-the-top style were a central influence on what proved to be the golden age of American humour -- the period when it was actually funny. The political sketches on shows like Saturday Night Live were frequently lifted straight from his Rolling Stone pieces.

Yet his own interest in politics was more pragmatic than is immediately obvious. He knew that the person who occupies the White House is the one who wants it most and is willing to do anything to get there. Decent men rarely make it. So it is a citizen's duty to play close attention to those jockeying for the position of chief executive.

The blandness of political writing when Mr. Thompson first began to publish was, in his eyes, part of the problem. Its fake objectivity permitted the most diabolical deeds to be recounted without comment, as if the writer had no opinion -- so the reader need not have one either. This style is still pervasive, lulling voters into believing politicians were all honourable men with the country's best interests at heart, instead of grasping greedy thugs.

Mr. Thompson was among the first to realize that the same corporations that owned the media also bankrolled the politicians. He had been to Oz and seen the nervous little man who was its wizard, and he never ceased to see the skull beneath a politician's smooth tanned skin.

For all of this, however, his political ideas were more libertarian than liberal. He was a frontiersman, a cowboy, believing in an individual's right to live any way he wished as long as it didn't interfere with the rights of others. A government's job was to stay out of the way. Terms such as "right" and "left" meant little to him. As a consequence, he numbered among his friends as many conservatives as he did liberals, finding as much to like about, say, Pat Buchanan as he did about Allen Ginsberg, and even finding Richard Nixon preferable to Bill Clinton.

To my mind, it was a political stance firmly planted in the soil of the American Founding Fathers, and in common sense. As such, it is something we could do with a lot more of, both there and here.

Besides obvious exceptions such as P.J. O'Rourke, Mr. Thompson's influence is, I fear, doomed to be minimal, if only for the reason that, to editors, the term "gonzo" means outrageously inflated expense accounts and a piece they can't use. All the same, his work did help to loosen the moribund print medium's reliance on a spurious objectivity and its fears that subjective reporting meant fictionalizing. His accessibility to experience certainly emboldened people like myself.

When you're within the events you describe, you cannot help but influence them. And if the subject is volatile, like the war in Iraq, no writer is going to be without a strong opinion about what he sees. It seems only natural to tell the story as it actually occurred, as I did when I wrote about getting caught up in looting in Baghdad during the invasion of Iraq. As I have always said to those who think I'm fictionalizing: Come along next time and see for yourself. Nothing can ever be stranger than the truth.

Mr. Thompson's unerring instinct for spotting political bullshit never left him. But disillusionment set in when Ronald Reagan was elected president. He had nothing but scorn for so-called Reaganomics: " 'Trickle-Down' means that when the pots of the rich are filled they'll overflow and the rest of us will be so hungry we'll be content to feed on their scraps . . ."

He could see the difference between faux conservatism and real conservatism, just as he was quick to disown liberals he believed phony, such as Mr. Clinton. In general, anyone intent on making more rules or increasing the sizes of bureaucracies, whether Democrat or Republican, was the Enemy. His fondness for guns and drugs -- exaggerated by himself as much as by others -- were really just emblems of his belief in his rights as a citizen -- rights that, some might say, he died defending.

In his later years, like many Americans, he found it hard to reconcile the fact that much of the country existed in all-but-feudal conditions of toil and ignorance with his own relative prosperity and enlightenment. A Southerner by birth and a gentleman at heart, Mr. Thompson believed above all else in the freedom of the individual. He just could not understand why that freedom was expended on voting for someone intent on ending it, nor how that freedom also translated into the right of big corporations to strangle politics.
We didn't vote for these cheap, greedy little killers who speak for America today -- and we will not vote for them again in 2002. Or 2004. Or ever. Who does vote for these dishonest shitheads? -- Kingdom of Fear, 2003

With the advent of George W. Bush, who brought with him the most reactionary elements from the Reagan administration, Mr. Thompson was all but lost for words. He was able to see the further betrayal of conservatism the new regime entailed, and bemoaned the fact of a prosperous peaceful country turned back into a debtor nation at war.

Yet his sense of fun had deserted him. He forgot his own maxim: "When things get weird, the weird turn pro." If Fear and Loathing, and the general sense of times being so out of joint you couldn't make it up, had effectively killed the American novel, then Mr. Thompson's reclusion and the sense of times getting too weird to be believed could have augured well for a new Thompson novel. It turned out to be a film he was trying to develop, Polo Is My Life. I don't think we'll miss it.

"I think Thompson has remained a writer of significance because, essentially a satirist, he displayed utter contempt for power -- political power, financial power, even showbiz juice," novelist Paul Theroux wrote in 2003. It is hard to imagine Mr. Thompson compromising that contempt by peddling a mediocre love-goes-sour story to Hollywood studios even more venal than Washington politicians.

Yet the fact that he knew he could no longer write about politics shows he still understood where he was at as a writer. He left this world with no illusions.

Goodbye, Doc. We'll not see your like again.

Paul William Roberts's latest book is A War Against Truth: An Intimate Account of the Invasion of Iraq.

© Copyright 2005 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc

** My first impression when the towers fell was that they were detonated. Perhaps the puffs of smoke as the building's floors pancaked were bolts popping, but it still resonates strangely for me for me to believe that the planes did it on their own.

Also, I could never understand how some nearby buildings stood, while WTC Tower 7 fell, too, even though it wasn't hit by a plane.

The lack of military response to defend the WTC and, especially, the Pentagon also seems strange, especially considering that the attacks lasted about 90 minutes. I can't imagine the US letting China attack Tokyo or Pyongyang attacking Seoul for that long without a US response. There were also three war games happening that day, including one that involved training military pilots to deal with a plane hijacking scenario. This was in the context of 52 FAA warnings for months about plane hijackings and intelligence reports about 'spectacular' domestic suicide plane attacks.

Finally, how was Mohammed Atta's passport found on top of the rubble, but the flight data recorders, 'black boxes,' were never officially recovered?

Certainly, there is some room for more investigative reporting of what hapened on that day and leading up to it. Someone of HST's caliber of patriotism and skill at getting people to talk could have gotten some disturbing answers to some of these questions. Considering that the U.S. adminstration of Japan banned images of Hiroshima and Nagasacki years after World War II ended until the 1950s, and considering that the some Kennedy assassination files were sealed until 2013 because they were considered to damaging for the nation, and considering that forced or faked suicide is a common disposal method of 'inconvenient' people, perhaps HST's story was going further than some folks wanted him to go at this or any time.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

From Gonzo to Gannon/Guckert

Professor Cynthia Port called me on my borderline gay-baiting in my blog post on the morality of the Gannon/Guckert Scandal, which I regret. I fully support equal rights for gays, and think that gays have greatly benefitted every society they have been a part of. I also think that prostitution should not only be legalized but licensed so that violence and public health problems can be minimized.

That being said, I deplore hookers. The distinction between a hooker and a prostitute is that you know when you are dealing with a prostitute up front. Hookers tease you, and lead you on to think that you are attractive to an attractive woman, and then after a while they hook you: "A date with me will cost you $300..."

I don't think there is anything wrong with being gay or prostitution as a profession, only when people who use gays as political cannon fodder are actually gay themselves, like Gannon/Guckert and perhaps others in the Bush2 Administration, and only when prostitution and journalism cross over into each other's professions, like Gannon/Guckert and several other examples of how Bush2 ab/uses the news media. Journalists should be journalists and prostitutes should be prostitutes, and journalists who work for clients are no longer journalists but publicists or public relations professionals who write press releases. Gannon/Guckert and the Bush2 Administration are hookerizing the free press. We think we are getting real news and opinion, but it is being planted for pay into the media through shill press conference questions, fake news videos, and paid-off pundits.

The Daily Texan's Russell Cobb says it much better than I did in this article:

From gonzo journalism to bootlicking
By Russell Cobb

Hunter S. Thompson‚s suicide symbolizes the passing of an American cultural zeitgeist. He begins his tale of American excess and dementia, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," with a line today's smug journalists would never attempt: "We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold."Thompson was a creature of the '60s: He eschewed conformity and penetrated the heart of the American Dream - or nightmare, as he often saw it - all while amped up on every kind of illegal substance imaginable. He may not have been a role model for good behavior, but his writing excoriated mendaciousness in an age so maddening, the only option, as he saw it, was to live madly. The result was gonzo journalism - subjective musings on American decadence that questioned the foundations of objectivity. While covering Hubert Humphrey's failed presidential campaign in 1972, Thompson witnessed the candidate use pro-segregation rhetoric at one campaign stop, only to denounce his opponent as a racist at another. "There is no way to grasp what a shallow, contemptible and hopelessly dishonest old hack Hubert Humphrey is until you've followed him around for a while on the campaign trail. The double standard realities of campaign journalism, however, make it difficult for even the best of the 'straight/objective' reporters to write what they actually think/feel about a candidate."His reaction was a journalistic no-no - an ad hominem attack. Nevertheless, it had the virtue of exposing both the hypocrisy of politicians and the sycophant journalists who cover them. It was a trenchant observation that holds more true today than it did 30 years ago. Thompson and other New Journalists such as Tom Wolfe could be guilty of prima donna-like excess, but they changed the landscape of American letters. They also had a hell of a lot of fun doing it. The death of Thompson represents the passing from the Age of Gonzo to the Age of Gannon. Once again, scriveners are questioning our assumptions about truth and reality in journalism. Only this time, it's not so fun. The "journalists" currently subverting our dominant paradigms are no longer maverick geniuses like Thompson, but boot-licking pundits for Bush-administration policies. Whereas the New Journalists revealed - and reveled in - the surrealism of American politics through the lens of drug-induced literature, the new "new journalists" pimp (sometimes quite literarily) conservative ideology for payola. There have been at least four well-documented cases in the past two months of "journalists" receiving cash payments for promoting Bush-administration policy initiatives. In at least one case, a "reporter" named Karen Ryan tried to pass off as objective news a PR piece for Bush's Medicare reforms. The worst case is probably Armstrong Williams, who was paid $240,000 in taxpayer money by the Department of Education to promote Bush's "No Child Left Behind" policy. Equally repugnant, but less lucrative, were the cases of Maggie Gallagher and Michael McManus, two hacks the Department of Health and Human Services paid to drum up support for Bush's "marriage incentives."The most surreal, though, is the case of James Guckert, a.k.a Jeff Gannon, a former gay escort posing as a journalist at White House press conferences. Guckert worked for Talon News, the journalistic arm of GOPUSA.com, a clearinghouse for conservative screeds. Gannon asked Bush shortly after the election: "How are you going to work with people [Democrats] who seemed so divorced from reality?"Hunter S. Thompson made a career of exploring the weird divide between reality and fantasy in American life. Perhaps it got to be too much even for him.
- Cobb is a graduate student in comparative literature.

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