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Steve Grant
On those long coast-to-coast runs, Captain Dan has had some time to think about his frame of reference.



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Captain Dan has a case of the summer twilights

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Hillary won West Virginia yesterday. It doesn’t mean a thing for the nomination, the mathematical stakes were settled long ago, what even the narrative crafted by the press. It doesn’t mean a thing for the general election, Obama has plenty of suction in swing states all across the country. The win only has significance for a single constituency, and yesterday they lost a very important fight – the people of the Appalachians lost yet another chance to join contemporary American, to participate in the wave of modernity that passed over progressive states like Iowa a century ago. The only losers yesterday were the Appalachians, the Scots-Irish, the hillbillies, the forgotten rednecks of every remote draw, valley and hollow back in the Appalachians. Up along Hell-for-Certain branch and all the other tiny green places of the oldest mountains the descendants of King James’s army sent the twenty-first century a message:

Fuck you.

I am a Southerner by birth, and the older I get, and the longer I live in California I grow prouder and prouder of that fact. But (and listen for my Granny spinning in her grave) I am an Appalachian first. And stupidly proud of that fact. Like all of us mountain people are stupidly proud of our stubbornness. When you are stubborn, when stubbornness is all you have left, you are either proud of it or you lay down and die. And the people of Appalachia are not big in the lay-down-and-die department. They are more members of the “Live free or die” school. They are more of the “Why don’t you go fuck yourself?” school. The “You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead hands” school.

Why did they vote of Hillary? Undoubtedly because she is white. Hillary was able dig into her back of southern affects and find an appropriate twang. She talked a lot about giving people money. I can say with the contempt born of familiarity that the folks left in West Virginia are big on taking government money. Senator Byrd if very good at prying it loose from the feds – he gets back $2.45 for every dollar the state pays in. If you had any get-up-and-go in West Virginia then you’ve been leaving for the last 60 years, from the moment they put in enough roads that people could finally leave. People like my father and his PhD. Or my uncle and his medical technology start-up. They weren’t born into coal money – far from it. They are from a little down in central West Virginia, Weston. Once they got educated they did the only thing anyone with sense would do, they left for greener pastures.

So why did the people left in West Virginia vote so overwhelmingly for Hillary? Because they are among some of the proudest, most stubborn and willfully ignorant people on the planet. They could climb into their Chevy and drive to DC, Chicago, California. They could start a new life where there are jobs and education and opportunity, but they don’t want to. They don’t like the 21st century. Hell, they didn’t like the 20th very much. They don’t know why exactly, but you can’t make them. There isn’t enough dynamite in West Virginia to move these people.

In nothing else, Obama is a man of the 21st century. Racially mixed, progressively educated, he just looks *new*. He looks now. Obama believes in people organizing and helping themselves – something that you think would resonate in pro-labor West Virginia. But Obama is nothing but the shock of modernity in a good suit, the threat of how different the twenty-first century is going to be. Even if they can’t articulate it, break it down into an anatomy of change, they know in their heart of hearts that Obama represents the future, the need to adapt, to embrace the new. That he has the balls to show them this in the light of day, the audacity to suggest that the 21st century is coming, whether they like it or not.
They didn’t vote for Hillary. They voted for the past. Obama just kept saying, “Change is coming.” The people of the Appalachians have a one size fits all answer for outsiders who think they know what’s good for everyone:

Fuck you.

Fuck you, 21st century.

Fuck you for not getting us ready. All you did was keep cutting down our trees and mining our coal.

Fuck you for not bringing in new blood.

Fuck you for not educating us, or creating opportunity here in these hills.

Fuck you with your globalization and wage slave jobs.

Fuck you with your “difference” that doesn’t seem to have any room for us.

Fuck you for making us the last acceptable racist joke of the 21st century.

Fuck you for leaving us behind, like you’ve been doing for 200 years.

For leaving us with nothing but our pride.

Our pride. You can have that when you pry it from our cold, dead hands, you high-hat motherfuckers.

Because that we will not abide, 21st century.

Fuck you.

crossposted to appliedsemiotics.com
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The Clocktower Project
a blueprint for the open-source assassination of Ralph Nader

I watched Meet The Press this Sunday, like I do every Sunday. And what I saw scared the hell out of me. Ralph Nader - back from the oceanic trench where he sleeps & speaking nightmare words, "I am running for President."

I don't know how much ill-will this will generate, and frankly I don't care. If I had a time-machine, the first thing I would do buy a glass-bedded Weatherby V in a flat-shooting showstopper, something like 7mm or 300 Winchester. Then I would set the dial to January of 1999, zoom back to the east coast and drill Ralph Nader.

Imagine an America where Gore wins in 2000. 8 years of a balanced budgets. 8 years of improved CAFE standards. 8 years of a green energy Apollo project that would create thousands (if not millions) of jobs, while cutting off the flow of dollars to petroauthoritarians like the House of Saud or Hugo Chavez. Imagine an America where maybe we got OBL before he got us, and if not, at least we would have gotten him after the fact. Imagine Afghanistan with the 101st and 82nd on the ground, the 10th Mountain, the 3rd and 4th Infantry, and every swinging dick in the SPECWAR command - it's an Afghanistan where moderate Islam has a fighting chance and nuclear Pakistan is stabilized.

We didn't get to live in that America. In the big picture, it was due to the gullibility of the American people and the foibles of the Electoral College system. America gets to carry that particular burden of stupidity forward into history. Collectively we all share the blame for that. But if want to narrow the list a bit, if you want to lay the blame at the feet of two men, that list is easy: Bill Clinton and Ralph Nader. Bill Clinton knew he was the focus of the vast right-wing hate machine and yet couldn't keep is dick in his pants. Ralph Nader knew the criticality of the election to come and still decided that it was time for him to run, because of his apparently biological inability to see past his own ego. It must be something akin to organic brain damage.

Nader can't be allow to affect this election. Clearly he is insane and cannot be reasoned with. If it turns out that he's utterly irrelevant, great. I am happy to see him spared. He wasn't always a self-interested asshole. But if it appears that he's getting any kind of traction with the electorate, if his presence imperils the Democratic party retaking the presidency, then somebody is going to need to blow some daylight through Mr. Nader's brainpan. In right-wing circles this is called clocktower voting, and if the Right can use it to blot out the bright lights of humanity like JFK and Martin Luther King, then maybe its time the sane & clear-eyed took a page from their playbook and started playing this game like it counts.

Does this sound like radical right-wing hate speech? Wrong. It is assuredly hate speech, but it is radical left wing hate speech. I am not going to let this egomaniacal boomer asshat destroy my country again. Somebody has to do something about this motherfucker, and if necessary, do something to him. Unfortunately, I cannot hop in a time machine and pull a Skynet on Nader for the 2000 loss. However, if it looks like he's got a shot of being the GOP's best friend for a second time running I have a plan.

What I am proposing is an open-source, anonymous donation-driven plot to assassinate Ralph Nader. I don't have it all worked out, but this is where the open-source part comes in. I am sure that there enough outraged people on the left that we can fund, ideate, plan, staff and actualize a workable plan to eliminate Nader and save the Union.


The Clocktower Project has 5 major phases. It works something like a 527 issues advocacy organization, something like software development groupware, something like a futures market, except that it creates a group structure for political assassination. In this instance, the assassination of Ralph Nader.

An offshore account is set up that can accept credit card donations. Donors can make a cash purchase of "burner" debit cards at 7-11 or another major retail outlet. They can then use what is effectively anonymous electronic cash to make a donation to The Clocktower Project.

If that's too brazen, we start an online casino where people can play to lose against the house. The distribution of this knowledge can be carried out by word of mouth, providing plausible deniability to everyone who donates to the project. Under this model, we basically use a tripartite structure - the Clocktower Casino functions as the funding arm. The Clocktower Project website is the intellectual and political center-of-gravity. Then a leaderless cell structure communicating through hard encryption and codenames actually carries out the operations.

This is the explicitly open source part of the project. Ideas about how to assassinate Nader are disseminated here. Intelligence as to his whereabouts & schedule are posted. When a team has a good idea, they create a project ( for example: "Miami Car Bomb"). If they need help, they can put out a call to the network. Expertise could then be shared among the teams, pertinent intelligence added, etc. This is basically a commons-based knowledge system like the ones Yochai Benkler discusses in Wealth of Networks. The merits and actionability of these plans are then peer-reviewed in the Bid phase.  Maybe you are good at planning, but never went to sniper school? Disgruntled Iraq War vet with some awesome demolition skills, but no idea of how to launder money? It's ok! This is where the miracle of findability and disintermediation that is the internwebs comes into its own. Its an applied social network. Biz school kids without the guts to pull the trigger can link up with people with more... concrete skills. It's like the netroots of the Obama campaign, but just more... applied.

Donors then bid on the plans they like - in a process that works basically like a futures market. If donor's like a plan, they can donate in its favor. If they dislike a plan, they can donate against it. This creates an over all "win pot" for the plan that does succeed. Donors can make votes to release funds to a promising project if it meets certain benchmarks.

All of this provides a feedback mechanism to weed out bad plans that are too risky or generate too great a capacity for collateral damage - for instance, people would be unlikely to vote for crashing a passenger jet into a lecture hall crowded with well-intentioned hippies listening to Nader's megalomaniacal rantings. However, a workable agenda around precision rifle fire or a Hellfire missile strike on his motorcade should attract lots of support with the right backgrounding and planning. Basically, this is something like the Iowa Electronic Markets, but tied to plans of action.

This is it. Somebody gets Nader. Maybe its an automobile accident. Maybe somebody paints him with a headshot. The tricky part is to video the kill and capture a public encryption key as a contiguous part of the action. Better yet, sharpie the public key into a wall and then videotape the key as part of your "gun camera" footage from the hit.

The key then becomes part of the public record, and gives Clocktower Project cadre a mechanism by which the payout can be arranged.

How do you untraceably email someone a public key encrypted message? I don't know. This is why its an open-source project. I'm sure somebody does. Maybe it can use an anonymizing resource like TOR.

The actor or team of actors is paid for their efforts on the behalf of the project.
If they want to do it just as a non-profit venture, they can just use the cash to offset their expenses. In fact, another bid could go out to a courier to set up a numbered account in the Caymans or Switzerland. The entire operation can be Nth blinded, anonymized in nested operational cells.

It's can be done people! Drill Nader in 08!

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My brothers and I are very political - if sort of heterodox and roll-your-own in our political positions. But with my brother dave's background as an activist, my brother John's work as a political analyist and campaign manager for the NRDC and my own background in strategic planning, it all makes for some pretty awesome (and awesomely informed) political conversations. Sometimes i wish the Grant brothers had a left wing talk radio show, if only because what passes for politically left radio in the US right now is just knee-jerk pablum.

Johnny fired off the following conversation starter in an email his morning regarding the Potomac wins for Obama yesterday. I was happy enough with what I wrote to slap it up here.

1) Was last night the tipping point for Obama? He's won 8 in a row!


1) I think that last night will be remembered as the moment people began recognizing as the tipping point. The real corner was turned back on Super Tuesday. It was supposed to be the knockout blow, and HRC spent her war chest accordingly. When Obama fought her to a standstill on ST, his fund raising went into hyperspace. His ability to accelerate his operational tempo coming out of that race, surging onto prepared ground, marked the beginning of the end. However, John, you have good point in this - I think that if HRC could have taken VA, it would have let all the air out of the BHO "groundswell" narrative. Now she HAS to take Wisconsin, or at least blunt his margins. Anything that burns some of the luster off this grassroots-underdog-latter day JFK story is good for her. Which is of course a shit position to be in, pissing on "hope". Just ask the bush administration how fighting an idea works out.... And ask any media planner how fun it is to make last minute buys. Getting into the message-space in WI will be expensive, and with a $2+ to $1 fund raising advantage, it is an expense HRC can ill afford, especially going into expensive markets like Dallas, Houston and Cleveland.

The marketer in me wanted to see the segmentation out of last night's contests. I figured that if he was able to eat into her core demos, then that was some very serious, transformative shit. And that corrosion/co-option was evidenced in spades - he grabbed white women in MD, he grabbed Latinos in VA, he grabbed blue collar voters in MD and VA. Meanwhile, his conversions on AA's and white dudes (???!!? wow! the Gibson/Glover effect rolls on!) continue to power into unprecedented internet-fueled hyperspace. As the idea of not having to listen to the Clintons for the next 4-8 years while simultaneously beating the tar out of the GOP begins to become a reality, look to white men to defect asymptotically. Even Texas is not impossible if this tectonic restructuring continues.

Her last minute re-entry into WI plus staff reshuffle seems to indicate that its FINALLY dawning on them - this is the end of the Clintons & the DLC's centrality inside the DNC power structure. To date, they have played the Terry McAuliffe game, speaking to base in tested, program-framed phraseology while simultaneously ignoring "unwinnable" territory. It's a strangely corporate, marketing fueled strategy and Obama's rise to prominence has been a stinging repudiation of it, if nothing else. If they lose to Obama, that's it, they are cast into the outer darkness.

If he blows her out in WI and fights her to a standstill in TX and OH, its all over but the crying.


And now I'd like to take the briefest of moments to explain the white dude love for Obama, a phenomenon that seems to be building across every socio-economic strata. At first, it was predominantly professional white men, but the results out of the Commonwealth of Virginia show that even blue-collar white Dem dudes were going for Mr. O in a big way. Why? Let me speak of the two creatures that nobody in the Democratic Partly likes to speak of, except in the glowing, sunshine-filled politically correct rhetoric of ten thousand singing tomorrows. Those creatures are gender and race. These factors aren't at work in an explicitly negative way, but they are at work. There are generational and cultural dynamics in play, but it all basically cooks down to two simple axioms, which I will unpack:

1) Gen X white guys are now grown men, and thoroughly sick of being preached to by their Boomer Moms.

2) Gen X white dudes feel that black dudes are fundamentally cooler than they are, and have secretly wanted a black friend since boyhood.

Point One – Shut up, Mom.
Am I projecting here? Sure I am. But I cannot be alone in this feeling – Gen X men, despite the legendary protraction of our adolescences, have come of age. We are all grown men now. We have moved out of our folks basements, finished up our degrees, gotten traction in our careers, even become fathers. In all of these things, across every income and education level, we are united in one simple fact: WE ARE TOTALLY FUCKING SICK OF LISTENING TO BOOMER BULLSHIT. The moralizing, the empty sanctimony, the hippy-haze that right or left they all seem lost in. Their idealism has brought the US to its current, tragically-fucked state.

So it is really galling to listen to Hillary’s moralizing – after her triangulating, boomerish support of the war in Iraq. After her husband’s proclivities destroyed Gore’s chances by galvanizing 3rd party wingnuts like Nader & harpooned us with 8 years of GWB. Yet I am still talking history & policy here.

The truth is that when Hillary starts talking, all I can hear is my mother, at her worst. Nagging, wagging her finger, getting up into my process. It’s not a rational thing. There is something about the pitch of her voice, her tired face and kicky haircut. I just can’t stand it. Some nasty well of deep adolescent resentment in me geysers to the surface, it alloys with the fact that in the full bloom of my manhood I don’t have to put up with this shit. Basically, hell would have to freeze over before I would vote for a Republican (unless I could travel back in time and vote for TR), so I find my eyes searching the horizon for someone, anyone else to vote for. And I know that I cannot be alone in this. This a generational style issue meeting up with a lifecycle dynamic – Gen X has arrived at adulthood. All of which sets up Point 2.

Point 2 – Hey Mom, this is Barack, my new friend.

And I want the rest of you cowboys to know something, there's a new sheriff in town. And his name is Reggie Hammond. So y’all be cool. Right on.
Eddie Murphy, 48 Hours

There was a new cultural phenomenon in the 80’s, the buddy picture. Now, there have been buddy pictures for a long time, but they arrived at their full cultural weight in the 80s. These buddy pics were aimed at a young male audience, and they featured something new – a black man and a white man working together as equals. Usually the black guy was the comic relief, but he was almost always cooler than the white guy. And this was part of the appeal - despite some of the fucked up gender politics and their overall reactionary rhetoric, action movies of the 80’s almost universally offered this axiom: black dudes were equal to whites, and the racial frission made for a cool movie.

The value proposition was the same: the black dude was respected as an equal, the white dude earned the cultural capital of not being a total redneck fucknut. Was it jacked up that the white guy was the dispenser of respect in this scenario? Sure, but that was exactly the fucked situation the films & TV shows sought to explore and correct. 48 hours, Lethal weapon, Miami Vice, Magnum PI – Gen X guys, both black and white, secretly wanted this cross racial partnership in their own life.

Then along come Obama. At just the time that Hillary is antagonizing them, here comes BHO. He’s just plain cool. Witness the shit-eating grin on Tim Kaine’s face as Obama laid a very cool quasi-dap handshake on him at the Jefferson Jackson dinner in Virginia. Tim Kaine is a great governor, a great leader, but he isn’t cool. But Obama is, and Obama is his friend. There is a kind of reflected coolness that comes from the association.

The coolness gap is real, despite the fact that nobody knows how to talk about it. But Obama knows how to use it, and has used it to get to white men. It taps into a powerful cultural archetype that was laid down 2 decades ago. As insufferable as supporting Hillary is, it is equally gratifying to support Obama. It’s a difficult, potentially impossible generational dynamic for Hillary to overcome.

Obama / Nolte 2008!

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crossposted from appliedsemiotics.com


I unsubscribed from MoveOn's email list today. For whatever reason, this last email was the one that broke the camel's back. I didn't even scan it for content. When I saw the message from "Nita Chaudhary" it offended me - as an interactive marketer.

MoveOn continuously generates these emails. My guess is that they think they are going to keep me "energized" as part of their "base." But what's happened is that they simply became background clutter in my inbox.

Then they took out the Petraeus ad in the NYT a couple of weeks ago, and I realized that my offense ran far deeper than professional disagreement.

When I clicked through to MO's subscription management page and started answering their "why are you leaving?" form, I realized how furious I was with these idiots. I have come to expect incompetence from the Bush administration. But the Left needs to remember that it was complacency, arrogance, and incompetence governance and campaigning that lost us the goverenment to begin with. The Republicans were once dedicated and competent campaigners, and those advisors and networks *haven't gone anywhere*.

When a marquee group like MoveOn pulls a bonehead move like this, they give the Right exactly what they need to terrify the moderates in this country: The Left is shrill, The Left are ideologues that will at without consideration for reality, The Left are anti-national security.

These statements are only true of the tiniest (but very vocal) minority of the Left in this country. But we have to take these traction points away from the Right, and rob the right of their perceived strengths on national security and counter-terror.

Was the Petraeus report a suspect act of political theater? Yes. No shit. You don't need a PhD in Political Science from John Hopkins to figure that out. Petreaus is Bush's last hope for something that doesn't look like abject failure in Iraq. What are Petreaus's motives? Anyone that looks over his CV will see an hyperambitious over-achiever that is playing to the audience of History. He sees himself as a U.S. Grant - a practical man who arrives at the Republic's darkest hour of hysteria to do the thing nobody thinks can be done.

I think Petraeus is a smart guy with a huge ego. The promise of the impossible is what drives him. Maybe his motives are less than pure. Ultimately, it doesn't matter what his motives are. Attacking his honesty and honor, while he's wearing that uniform, decked out in all his fruit salad - its just fucking stupid. Did the Left learn nothing from going after Ollie North?

When I buy stock in a company, I am expressing my trust and confidence that they are solvent and smart. I am placing a vote with my capital that they will make money in the market.

When I give a donation to a NGO or political action group, I am expressing my trust and confidence that they are ideologically grounded, and that they will provide with me actionable analysis and act as my proxy in the marketplace of ideas. I am making an investment in their message. I have to *trust* them.

They have lost my trust. Forever, I think.

Here's my letter to MoveOn

I don't know when MoveOn developed such a tin ear politically, but your ad in the NYT about the Petraeus testimony was a disaster. You immediately gave the Republicans the smoke screen they needed to dodge the vital issue at hand - the incompetent conduct of this unnecessary war.

Honestly, I was furious when I saw the ad, and with every passing day it remains a story in the news cycle, my anger only grows. I can't believe I ever gave you guys money. I think you provided the left great value when you were a lone voice in the wilderness against this administration. But you have become arrogant, self-righteous, and smug.

I am not telling you to compromise your principles, I am asking you to examine your methods. Who are you trying to connect with? Yes, the base needs energizing, always, but it is the center that decides elections in this country. Big, stupid, inflammatory ads are counterproductive. They give aid and comfort to the ideologues of the Right. The brazen incompetence of the bush administration gives you all the ammunition you need. NEVER attack the military and give the Right that stick to beat you with. Get on message and stay there: the brave men and women of our military are being held hostage by an incompetent and ideologically fanatical administration. The only thing that will end the war is a new president. Focus on that.

I also want to give you some advice on your direct campaigns. I do think you send too many emails. I work in the interactive industry, and there is such a thing as attention inflation. Your organization has diluted its impact by continually sending out these emails. You become part of the noise, not an answer to it. A political organization needs to provide actionable analysis to its members. Continually messaging them in one-way communications does not do that.


Steve Grant
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Just did a big post to "Slow Match" - a criticism blog that my buddy Kiki and I started a while back. I talk about my personal history with GR a bit.



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Five days in and feeling strong.

I've got to take a new picture of my book, because my tagging system is totally out of control. It's something that I developed when I started teaching at Iowa, using those little postit flags to mark my marginalia in the text. I would markup a book, and then arrive at the head of the classroom to find it almost impossible to relocate the passages i wanted to call attention to. The flags work miracles in this regard - so I'd like to make this shoutout to the good people of 3M for this awesome innovation.

I've been flagging a few things. The sad fact is that my system is evolving as I work my way into the text, so the color codes (almost wrote color coeds, which would be much more interesting. Grad school flashback?) are not totally consistent (what is with my parentheticals these days?).

RED - Started out as just a flag for swooping word acrobatics, but then I realized that I was mostly marking shit/decay/composting/palimpsest passages. So those are marking out that theme (almost wrote "making out" maybe "making out with colored coeds").

BLUE - Paranoia & "Deep Structure." The idea that there are agendas and forces at work larger than the supposed rationales for the war. The idea of the Firm, of opposites, of the space b/w One and Zero... the forces that are acting on the actors of the narrative. Beyond this, I'm looking for a basic schema that describes the centripetal and centrifugal forces acting on the narrative. Some of these forces, like death, are overdetermined, sometimes creating chaos and disorder, in other places enforcing an almost crystalline fascist hyperstructure.

GREEN - Capitalism. This is really a subset of the Blue schema hunt. But as readers of Against the Day will note, Pynchon has a particular axe to grind with the growth of transnational market forces as the primary organizing schema for the human enterprise in the 20th century. Its not a coincidence that he is beginning this interrogation at the parabolic height of the second world war, in particular fixating on the sort of systems logic creating a self-organizing ecosystem around the robot bomb of the V2.

ORANGE - Words I have never, never heard of. The winner this week? Ctenophile - a perverse lover of combs. Can't imagine why I hadn't run across that one before.

There is one more big idea I want to write about, something that I've been seeing with a formal clarity that I missed the first couple go-rounds i've had with GR. That idea is Free Indirect Discourse (or as our German brothers might say, "freie indirekte Gedankenwiedergabe." In fact, a more accurate description of this might be Floating Free Indirect Discourse.

Basically, yes, GR is narrated in the 3rd person voice. We have the solid anchor point of the authorial voice, that intellect that seems to be standing orthogonal to the history of the narrative "A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now." The ordering mind of GR is speaking these words, the same intellect that placed that Von Braun epigraph, "Nature does not know extinction..."

But intermixed with the oblate god (small g intended) of the narrator there are so many other voices. This is hell and hell is other people. Nature does not seem to know extinction, and yet it seems to be extinction approaching limit Zero, some killing force acting on everything it can find, touch, destroy. Again, the centrifugal and centripetal forces at work in the narrative.

And Pynchon enacts this pandemonium, as the voice of the book flutters and wows in and out of Pirate Prentice, Slothrop, Blicero, Katje.
Think about this passage on page 5-6:

Bloat is one of the co-tenants of the place, a maisonette erected last century, not far from the Chelsea Embankment, by Corydon Thrisp, an acquaintance of the Rossettis' who wore hair smocks and liked to cultivate pharmaceutical plants up on the roof (a tradition young Osbie Feel has lately revived), a few of them hardy enough to survive fogs and frosts, but most returning, as fragments of peculiar alkaloids, to rooftop earth, along with manure from a trio of prize Wessex Saddleback sows quartered there by Throsp's successor, and dead leaves off many decorative trees transplanted to the roof by later tenants, and the odd unstomachable meal thrown or vomited there by this or that sensitive epicurean all got scumbled together, eventually, by the knives of the seasons, to an impasto, feet thick, of unbelievable black topsoil in which anything could grow, not the least being bananas. Pirate, driven to despair by the wartime banana shortage, decided to build a glass hothouse on the roof, and persuade a friend who flew the Rio-to-Ascension-to-Fort-Lamy run to pinch him a sapling banana tree or two, in exchange for a German camera, should Pirate happen across one on his next mission by parachute.

This paragraph is the very scumble, the impasto that it contains the description of. And the narrative style of the book mirrors this. History is mixed in with psychonarration, only to slip out into a song, into an action sequence, into a sex scene. The only consistency is the psychosis, the interplay of pathology, and the larger meta-narrative of order and disorder at work on every level (a fractal enactment) of the text.

When I say fractal, I meant that this scramble also works in terms of narrative structure, the movement from viewpoint to viewpoint, story to story. It even works inside the paragraphs, the authorial voice mixed in with the character in the looseness of free indirect discourse (FID).

I think this is a very generative way to live with the book. What are the games that Pynchon is making with the scumble? What is he mixing? What is decaying, and what grows from the crazy compost to takes its place? Is History some larger block of free indirect discourse, mashed together bannana batter-like into some sort of order that makes sense to the chef, but very little to the pancake?


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So here we are, huddled in the shelter at page zero.

31 long days from now, will we be singing "happy birthday, motherfucker!" to each other, by candlelight?

My edition, the Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century printing of 2000 is 776 pages long - that comes out to about 25 pages a day... but wait! we aren't all reading the same editions. The pagination could be different.

So here is a schedule, based on non-spoiler content benchmarks within the text.

By Monday 07 MAY - Day 7, we should be at page 180. This is the start of the second major book inside GR -  "Un Perm'  au Casino Hermann Goering" or about  23% of the way through the text.

By Friday 11 MAY - Day 11, we should have arrived around page 283, the start of Book 3 "In The Zone" - 36% completion

By Friday 18 May - Day 18 we should be in the middle of "the Zone," page 455. There will be a line of Pynchon Narrative Discontinuity Boxes (PNDBs), followed by the line, "When emptied of people, the interior is steel gray."

By Friday 25 MAY - Day 25, we start the home stretch at page 629, the start of Book 4 "The Counterforce" - 81%, a big jump.



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So, our own Mr. Hawkins was kind enough to send me my inaugural five questions. Since he is one of my best friends and I pathetically begged someone to ask me five questions, I will take time out of my busy schedule as a high-paid corporate operative to give these queries my best shot...

1. You've been given the opportunity to adapt any novel for the screen. The director for the film is Terrence Malick, you can not change the director. Which novel do you choose and why?

At first I had a bit of a mental seizure on this one - the selection of a particular director ads an interesting obscruction to this old reading person's favorite.

Mr Malick is one of my very favorite directors - right up there with Kubrick, Watkins, Peckinpah, Mann. What I love about Malick is the pure visual poetry of his work. His films pay an intense attention to what it means to live as a human. By turns he works as a landscape painter, portrait artist, and choreographer of balletic action. Once I had all that unpacked on the table, my choice was plain as day:

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy

Blood-soaked and nihilistic as Peckinpah on a bad day, Meridian is like a Spaghetti Western mashed up with the King James Bible, Moby Dick, and Huckleberry Finn. The long meditations on human suffering and violence, the lush word paintings in archaic language of the southwestern landscape... this is the stuff of Malick's project. It think it would be a fantastic, if unexpected fit.

2. If Alexander of Macedonia had not perished in 323 B.C. could he have held the empire he had built together with his forces spread so thinly? Or was Alexander the kind of campaigner who would have continued to expand until his demise regardless of the circumstances?

I think calling what Alexander built an empire is something of a misnomer. Impressive as it was, Alexander's "empire" was more of a cultural and military wave that passed ever outward from Macedonia. The whole enterprise was inherently trophic and expansionist in nature. The reason that Alexander wept when there were no more worlds left to conquer is that the gig was up... without expansion his model of empire was non-sustainable.

Maintaining a viable empire is really a broad collection of best practices along a variety of sectors of human enterprise - communications, agriculture, logistics, common markets of exchange. The Romans built these systems up over hundreds of years. As impressive as Alexander's conquests were, they just don't measure up to the economic and cultural sophistication of the Roman system of hegemony.

And all of this sounds really good until someone with a history degree in the ancient western world comes along and blows up my many many assumptions.

3. Was Goliath equipped with a computer system similar to K.I.T.T. that granted it sentience? Or was it simply a powerful tool at the hands of Garth Knight?

I think it was always implied, if not overtly discussed, that Goliath was another artificially intelligent vehicle, much like K.I.T.T. KITT had been loose in the natural world, exposed to Michael Knight's wit for all those many years - he had grown wily. This stands in stark contrast to Goliath. When you are a giant indestructible semi rig with integral rocket launchers, everything starts looking like an opportunity for a massive stunt and special effects extravaganza demonstrating your capacity for brute force. So, Goliath contains an intelligence, but a sort of brutal, knuckledragging smashmouth kind of intellect.

Now, according to wikipedia, Goliath had the same molecularly bonded shell as KITT, but did not have the AI system. But this is clearly bullshit.

4. Heinlein's Starship Troopers comes under a lot of fire for being fascist propaganda. Is Heinlein proposing a fascist government or a militant oligarchy? Or perhaps some other form of government? Do you believe the government discussed is fair, valid, or even practical?

I think calling Heinlein's government fascist is an oversimplification. At the same time, I don't think its possible to discuss Heinlein's vision of "democracy" without looking at it inside a fascist framework. In the most basic terms, H has developed a distributed model of Plato's benevolent dictatorship. Instead of a single philosopher-king, H has developed a ruling elite of soldier-citizens. Something a lot like Sparta, in fact. So, on paper its a democracy, but the franchise is tightly controlled by the military - - - if that's not fascism, nothing is.

I think Heinlein had some pretty misinformed what makes a democracy work. His notion surrounding military service suggests that because of their service, soldiers and sailors understand something fundamental about the civic sacrifices that makes possible a government that derives its just authority from the people. But what about policemen, paramedics, teachers? These are also crappy jobs that make a free society possible. What about entrepreneurs that work to create new services for self expression - like blogs, the infrastructures of free speech that make the flow of ideas and capital that possible, the very lifeblood of a free society. Admittedly, entrepreneurs do this for potential financial and social reward, but that doesn't makes their contribution to society, to democracy, any less valuable.

I am the last person to criticize the value of military service to a democracy. H was right, soldiers and servicepeople make a fundamental contribution to the existential possibility of democracy. But the strength of a democratic and free govenment is not its unity of vison. That's the mistake the fascists, totalitarians, and authoritarian fundamentalist of all stripes always make. It is the hererogeny of a democracy's citizens that make it strong. The very thing "they" think makes us weak, that Heinlein thought made us weak, is the thing that makes us indestructably strong. Democracy finds it's alloyed strength in the hybrid vigor born out of its crazy, unregulated foment of ideas, commerce, religion - a ragged and continuously changing yalp of human self-expression over the rooftops of the world.

Heinlein is preoccupied with the strength of the individual - not a bad thing to be preoccupied with. When individuals reach their maximum potential under a condition of liberty, living out the full multivariate, multi-axis glory of the bell curve, they are the raw material for a strong citizenry. Democracy does not need robots, it needs warriors of every stripe and kind. History proves the strength of this model - ask the Persians when the "decadent boy-lovers" of Athens handed them their ass, not the rock-hearted robots of Sparta. Dig Hitler out of the ash-heap of history and ask him how the weak-minded, undisciplined farmboys and factory workers of America did against his men of iron. We burned their cities, owned their skies, and crushed their armies in the field - and then rebuilt their country for them.

So they could be free, like us.

Heinlein's government might be possible. Some folks might even find it preferable. But for this Eagle Scout's money they can keep it. As fucked up as America is, it beats the alternatives.

5. Do you feel trapped by the responsibilities of your life? Your job, your family, your sense of obligation to others? Do these things make you feel like you've compromised your artistic goals?

There have been several times in my life that I've felt trapped by my responsiblites. However, age, my experiences at the Writer's Workshop, and my own studies of other artist's lives have brought me to the following position:

a) Feeling trapped by your responsibilites is largely a middle-class anxiety. From birth, the middle class has it hammered into their heads that the worst thing in the world is to wind up a "loser." That is to say, poor. And make no mistake, being poor sucks ass. There is a system of debts and responsibilites that exercise a powerful normalizing influence over working middle class, job, mortgage, car payment, shopping... The fact is that once you know in your heart that you can make money, and make enough of it, you need to stop worrying about this shit. Decide what you want to do, plan your work and work your plan. I know that sounds pretty self-help, but its the fucking truth.

b) Life is compromise. Everybody has to make a living. At least i'm sunk up to my knees in ox-shit farming rice in china. The Grants have been middle-class skilled labor and professionals since 1740. That basically makes me the lucky recipient of an unprecedented winning streak regarding the birth lottery. Don Delillo used to write advertising on Madison Avenue. Tom Pynchon wrote for the Boeing company magazine. Sam Clemens worked as a typesetter, steamboat pilot, and inventor. When I got the Writer's Workshop a few years ago, it slowly occured to me that most of my fellow grad students had either done nothing but read books and write. They did not know how to change a flat tire, do carpentry work, write a strategy brief, tie a taut-line hitch, work a political or bureaucratic system to engineer an outcome, or shoot and maintain a rifle. The crazy, wandering career path that I had taken in order to fulfill my obligations had taught me all these thing. Most importantly, it taught me that i was a talented generalist that could do just about anything that didn't involve calculus. I am thankful everyday for the life path that brought me these things... I have the rest of my life to read and write, but the skills and experiences that comprise my selfhood, that make me *me* - I would have never accomplished those things from a position of privilege where I was totally free from responsibility.

The trust fund kids I have met are for the most part hothouse plants - unstressed by their environment, they grow up without the experiences that create richness and strength in a persons life. They respond poorly to pressure, they don't accumulate the skills and *stories* that a writer needs to built the foundation of their work.

That being said, having enough money always makes thing easier and better. Anybody that says otherwise is a fucking idiot.


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