Friday, October 28, 2011


I took this picture of Vernazza while hiking in the Cinque Terre, and it must be one of the most beautiful views in the world. We were climbing on the celebrated trail that connects the "five lands," and we had just cleared the mountain from Monterosso and were heading down the narrow path to Vernazza. This magical town has lasted centuries clinging to the cliffs, surviving attacks from pirates and Saracens, wind storms and earthquakes. You would think it could last forever.

I was shocked to read that the Cinque Terre, especially Monterosso and Vernazza (pictured above), were nearly destroyed by flooding and mudslides. According to news reports, at least two of the five World Heritage-listed coastal villages have been all but wiped out. If you have never seen this magical spot it may be too late.

From today's Washington Post:

Flash floods and mudslides triggered by heavy rains earlier this week barreled through picturesque towns along the northwest coast, burying streets under mud, damaging homes, stores, churches and overturning vehicles.

At least nine people died. Among hard-hit towns are Monterosso and Vernazza, along the Cinque Terre hiking trail popular for its breathtaking views.

From The Telegraph (UK):

The worst affected region was Liguria, with at least two of the five World Heritage-listed 'Cinque Terre' coastal villages cut off as a result of roads being washed away.

The walking trails and picturesque fishing villages of the Cinque Terre attract hundreds of thousands of international tourists, but two of them – Vernazza and Monterosso – were severely affected as rivers of mud poured down from the hills behind them.

The mayor of Monterosso said the fishing village had all but been wiped out.

"Monterosso no longer exists," Angelo Betta told an Italian news agency.

Huge amounts of mud had swept through the tiny settlement, causing an "unimaginable disaster." The neighbouring village of Vernazza had to be evacuated by sea, with the Coast Guard rescuing stranded foreign tourists and locals.

A tourist filmed the devastation


Getting scared is good for you. A good horror movie offers catharsis, an experience of fear without risk, a way to confront ones innermost demons. Some people have nightmares, others quake in fear every waking moment, always imagining the worst, continually bracing for impact. Every creak of the old house is a monster coming to get them, every wrong number is a serial killer planning his moves, every black cat the embodiment of evil. You can't avoid fear, so why not face it head on and have some fun watching an old scary movie this Halloween?

Dr. Martin Grotjahn, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, suggests that a good horror flick--I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Blood of Dracula, etc.--can provide a means of "self-administered psychiatric therapy for America's adolescents." And not only adolescents. Dr. Grotjahn says horror films can provide a healthy catharsis for adults as well.

This Halloween, pick something scary from the video shelves or the Netflix queue. Go for an old classic or something cheesy like Kiss of the Vampire (the 1962 original, which scared the bejesus out of me one Saturday afternoon, eons ago) or watch a high quality, well made film like The Exorcist, Jaws, Alien, or The Shining. Make some popcorn and have a thrill. It's just what the doctor ordered.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


During Olbermann’s Monday appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman, the two discussed the “Occupy Wall Street" movement.

“I love this,” Letterman said. “I love people causing trouble. I love it when stuff doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to go. And largely, this is the only way we get change anymore in this country. As I’ve said a billion times now… some of the great cultural social issues in this country in the last 60, 70 years have begun via protest.”

All true, of course. Have we reached a crossroads? When a smarmy, sarcastic, millionaire talk show host famous for his ironic asides comes out in favor of street protest? Maybe so. Meanwhile, the Oakland police busted the OWS protest with tear gas, rubber bullets and nightsticks, cutting through the legal, peaceful protest like a chainsaw. Police harassment is a nationwide tactic, and we've seen official force visited upon citizens exercising their right to assemble peaceably, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances--rights guaranteed by the apparently out of fashion US Constitution. But people keep showing up. Here is a report on the Oakland hassle:

Letterman can be seen from the comfort of your cozy home, and so can Keith Olbermann, who is now on Current TV. (You can also watch him via the Nowhere Man channel on your Roku player.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


The Food Network's Rahm Fama heads to Pok Pok in Portland for the sticky, sweet, spicy Vietnamese chicken wings on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. I agree. I live in Seattle, but every time I drop down to Portland I'll head to Pok Pok for some spicy wings. Last weekend, for example, I was on a whirlwind tour of PDX to visit my parents, and we went directly from the train station. I agree with Rahm. The wings are sublime. I've rhapsodized about this popular little place before, and will continue to extoll its virtues. You can't talk about politics and art all the time, after all, so when I'm not making art or fomenting class war I'm eating delicious food and enjoying life. Won't you join me?


Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges shares his feelings on the Occupy movement.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Halloween is coming! I love Halloween. It's a magical scary night where ghouls and goblins rise from the mist and you eat way too much candy. The worst is candy corn, which is basically corn syrup mixed with wax. That will start backing up in your system until you need to call Roto Rooter. I knew a kid that happened to. Anyway, avoid the candy corn. Back when I was a kid Halloween was even more fun then it is today. Back then, before the Great Lockdown, kids were actually allowed to leave the house and go trick-or-treating without adult supervision. If you were born after 1990, let me explain: kids had dinner, dressed in flammable costumes with zero visibility, and hiked for miles in the darkness and rain to fill sacks with candy. Yes, you rang a total stranger's doorbell, and he would bring you some candy. I swear it's true! You could really rake it in. It might be one or two in the morning before you finally gave up and sat on some deserted street corner to swap bad candy (Smarties, Neccos, Lemonheads) for good candy (Snickers, Baby Ruths, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups) and then you proceeded to eat it until you got sick. The next day at school we were wired like crackheads (here I should mention the need to pay teachers a decent wage) and our lunchboxes were overflowing with candy booty. People got into Halloween back then, the whole society, not just the kids, and windows were full of glowing Jack-o-lanterns and black cats. People put some effort into it. Sometimes adults dressed up and met you at the door, which was kind of weird but okay if they had good candy (see above) and didn't try to touch you. There were just as many weirdos back then, I'm sure, and we were all warned with the apocryphal story of apples stuffed with razor blades, but we never saw that. Okay, one time we had trouble. My cousin Laura got a black crayon she thought was a piece of licorice, but she was always confusing one thing with another so that could have been just a simple misunderstanding. At any rate, we hobos and pirates prowled the mean streets on All Hallow's Eve, risking life and limb for the good candy and a good tale to tell. I hope I've succeeded. At any rate, stretch your feeble imaginations and have a great and scary Halloween this year. If you feel like scaring yourself a little, you can start the week by watching something scary like "The Thing" (the remake), "The Exorcist," "Alien," "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (the remake), or one of the Republican debates. You'll feel your skin scrawl and the hair rise on the back of your neck--especially when you think one of these monsters could be running the country! (reposted from last year, with minor revisions)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011



"Right Here All Over," a short film by Alex Mallis and Lily Henderson, documents the day-to-day reality of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Far from the superficial snap judgments of disinterested anchor men and armchair critics, this inside view of the occupation reveals the organizing behind this massive, ongoing demonstration--the General Assemblies, the Working Groups, the Comfort Station, and the logistics of running the Zucotti Park community. The film also shows the protesters as individuals, something rarely seen in the oversimplified mainstream news bytes which tend to focus on "newsworthy" conflict.

The official coverage has been disappointing--starting late and refusing to dig deeply. Corporate news could take a cue from these ground-level filmmakers and give the public more than the poorly researched stories that take the standard dismissive tone they use for anything outside their orderly world view. They should stop harping on the "lack of unity" among protesters, the weirdness of it all, and stop complimenting the police on exhibiting such remarkable restraint dealing with such a difficult situation. This last shopworn sentiment is supposed to show the even-handedness of the media, but it's a knee-jerk end to a story and another example of lazy news coverage. What about the remarkable restraint of the demonstrators, some of whom have been teargassed and pepper-sprayed? Paired with the restraint of the police, that would really be even-handed, but trained within the parameters of corporate news we can't even imagine such an unlikely perspective.

Don't get me wrong. Corporate news media might get it right, eventually, but only after they have exhausted the lazy, conventional coverage that springs from the default position of pandering to the public. News is a business, after all, and the newslingers want you to watch since that's how they sell ads and make their money; they take the cozy middle of the road position because they don't want to disturb you with unconventional views or opinions you might disagree with, lest you switch the channel. They want to be your pal, and you can hardly blame them, but sometimes--when something important is at stake, say, the future of the Republic--taking the default position is tantamount to cowardice. Remember the flaccid news coverage during the build-up to George W. Bush's invasion of the Middle East? The media later admitted they should have provided better coverage of the anti-war position, and later on they lamented loudly in print but of course their mea culpa was too little and too late. The damage had been done, and by the time their weak retractions were in circulation we were already entrenched in a bloody war that had begun under false pretenses, ineptitude, and quite possibly outright lies. Of course, they were sorry, and the alligator tears flowed, but attentive newshounds know they will make that mistake again and again, siding with this imagined Middle America and making retractions later, if necessary. The great newsmen and muckrakers and investigative journalists of the past are gone, it seems, and the watchdogs have become lapdogs.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


This rotten old ward heeler obviously used his history books to crack walnuts--he sure didn't read them. Social movements change things, all right; they brought us the forty hour work week and the right to vote for women and blacks, they ensured environmental safeguards, civil liberties, workers' rights, and yes, they "shaped policy" and hastened the end of the war in Vietnam, a morally reprehensible quagmire that cost money and lives while good old boys like you played politics in smoke-filled rooms. The will of the people has it's place, Congressman--in fact, it's the cornerstone of democracy. At least pretend you understand that, since you're working for The People. And another thing. The right to peaceably assemble and redress grievances is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, an extremely important document you should probably familiarize yourself with. I'm sure one of your aides could run out and find you a copy.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


The mainstream media can ignore the Wall Street occupation, just as they ignored the anti-war demonstrations that filled the streets on the eve of the George W. Bush invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but fortunately the blackout is easily bypassed by the social media and the internet. Let the mainstream ignore the uprising, let them downplay the numbers, or question the sincerity and unity of the protesters. What would you expect? Totalitarian states simply pull the plug on the internet in such times of crisis (witness the recent uprisings in the middle east) but in a "democracy" there is too much paperwork. Besides, we have the ACLU.

For a political overview of the Wall Street occupation, check out "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938). In this class warfare classic, Errol Flynn stars as the rebel leader who robs from the rich and gives to the poor. It's all there, in lurid Technicolor--the insensitive aristocracy, the exploited poor, a rigged system that favors the greedy rich and ravages the rest. This is political science, pure and simple, and a veritable how-to book for the would-be occupier. We can learn a lot from Robin!

If the modern mainstream media had been there, Robin and his Merry Men would have been roundly ignored until it became impossible to do so--then their numbers would be minimized, their motives questioned, their eagerness to abandon the system in favor of civil disobedience would be criticized, and the gist of lazy journos throughout Nottingham would be faux sympathy on the surface while the subtext would lament a lack of unity among the naive rebels. "They don't seem to know why they're out there," might be the lead in the Loxley Times, bolstered with a few random pull quotes. "Unruly Mobs," might read the Sherwood Forest Evening Star, "Domestic Lawbreaking Continues." The newspapers and public criers, which survive on advertising from the feudal corporations and guilds, would continually manage to mangle the rebel message criticizing the greed and rapacity of feudal corporations and guilds.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


George Saunders writes short stories, essays, novellas and children's books. He is the author of an essay collection The Braindead Megaphone, and the short collections CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, Pastoralia and In Persusasion Nation. He teaches Creative Writing at Syracuse University.

He may be off the cultural main path, but serious readers and writers pass his books back and forth and talk about his work the way some people talk about "Everybody Loves Raymond." And I mean the people that like the show. His weirdly surreal "Pastoralia" was the first Saunders I read, and would serve as a good introduction to any new reader curious about his magical abilities. In a world of blowhards and gladhanders and loudmouths vying for our attention, George is a quiet, thoughtful man who uses his head. He doesn't write potboilers or pop fiction or books with embossed covers, doorstop novels sold at airports, historical sagas or romances or mysteries. Yet his work is truly mysterious--more mysterious than any formulaic whodunit--and he keeps the reader on her toes. You could do worse than read George Saunders.

"Home" by George Saunders.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Today is October 1st. This illustration by Arthur Rackham (19 September 1867 – 6 September 1939) captures the autumnal magic outside my window. No, even after all that Rye last night I don't see actual faeries chasing falling leaves but this is the general feeling this Saturday morning. This is October, no doubt about it, and there will be no more Indian Summer. The sky is the color of rice pudding. The weatherman predicts rain. Just over the fence, the pumpkins are bright orange. We haven't kicked on the furnace yet this season, but last night's chill has lingered and will require hot coffee immediately and perhaps more Rye by evening. Cheers!