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Thursday, October 24, 2013

NEACHY and PIETZSCHE SHARE LAST WORDS

Pietzsche and Neachy, two middle-aged philosophers, are preparing for a duel with side arms. They are sipping strong tea beforehand. They chat. 

Pietzsche: I was talking to this pleasant fellow today. I've never even met him--it was a phone call--and out of nowhere he started quoting from the New Testament.

Neachy: I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity, the one great instinct for revenge for which no expedient is sufficiently poisonous.

Pietzsche: Yeah, well, I didn't expect you to be overjoyed. But in any case, I'm passingly familiar with the basic plot, so when he launched into Mark 11, I was mouthing the words right along. He said--this was right after Jesus drove the money lenders and salespeople out of the temple--he said, "And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses." That's verses 24 and 25. That's significant, I think, not only because of the sentiment, but also because of the juxtaposition of the events. Jesus pistol whips some thieving scoundrels and turns right around and recommends a contemplative life surrounded by forgiveness. There's a duality, not only of mankind, but of the more cosmic personages, too.

Neachy: What an effeminate religion. A woman may very well form a friendship with a man, but for this to endure, it must be assisted by a little physical antipathy.

Pietzsche: Nice point--and a clever way of changing the subject. Look, I used to be very much like you in my thinking about virtue. I thought all that hippy-dippy love child stuff was a load of crap, right? But I keep coming back to Plato--of all people--

Neachy: Plato was a bore.

Pietzsche: I didn't know you'd met. Anyway, the question about, you know, what kind of world do you want to live in and why don't you become that world? Well, that's where I think I am now.

Neachy: Sometimes in the course of conversation the sound of our own voice disconcerts us and misleads us into making assertions which in no way correspond to our opinions.

Pietzsche: Right, right. I'm just delusional. Fine. And you probably really are the true father of psychoanalysis, the progenitor of Sigmund himself. But I'm also serious about this. God, man, I've been living most of my life as if the only purpose I had was to ride into town like some idiotic knight on a tin pony, saving damsels whether they wanted to be saved or not, railing against the mythological bad guys. I've been an idiot.

Neachy: Memory says, "I did that." Pride replies, "I could not have done that." Eventually, memory yields.

Pietzsche: Now, see, that one I like. Most of us probably live out our lives under the happy delusion that we're basically good people. In other words, that we've replicated in our own behavior the type of world we would personally crave.

Neachy: Genghis Khan wanted a world in which he was the cruel slave-master. To make your argument, to achieve that goal, he would have had to become exactly what he became. It's tautological. You're an idiot. Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.

Pietzsche: Fine. Have it your way. I'm still going to be a nicer and more forgiving kind of person. Not because I expect God to look favorably upon my actions--which would be kind of cheating, I think--but rather because it's the right way to be.

Neachy: Please, not that Kantian categorical imperative nonsense again. "If everyone behaved as I behave, would the result be good or bad?" Sissified sophomore! If everyone behaved as I behave, I'd be a happy delinquent. One is best punished for one's virtues.

Pietzsche: Sure, sure. You know, I'm getting the sense that there's a trick to all your clever aphorisms. And make no mistake, Neachy, some of them are very bright. But there's a trick and I think I know it.

Neachy: You don't even know your name.

Pietzsche: Pretty sure I do. I may be spelling it wrong. Anyway, correct me if I'm in error, but the trick is to take some universal subject, such as guilt, let's say, and just spin some tinsel around it. So, for instance. . . Guilt: that infernal pleasure that permits us to persecute with impunity. That could be you, Neachy. And I just made it up! 

Neachy: I believe I have decided to bitch slap you, Pietzsche. And hard. Reminds me of that great Bill Hicks joke, where he says he's coming out of a club after his performance and some redneck crackers call out after him. "Hey, Hicks! We're Christians and we don't like what you said in there!" And Hicks says, "Forgive me?"

Pietzsche: Anger: that real emotion that disembowels the artifice of love--yet gives it value. Whoo hoo! I'm getting this shit down!

Neachy: In individuals, insanity is rare. You, however, are quickly becoming an exception.

Pietzsche: Okay, okay. I'm not looking for a fight. That would be against my new way.

Neachy: Talking much about oneself can also be a means to conceal oneself.

Pietzsche: Darrr! You've found me out.

Neachy: When you look long into an abyss, the abyss looks into you. So keep your eyes to yourself, pilgrim. That which does not kill you makes you stronger. Therefore, you must die.

Pietzsche: Ciao!

Neachy: Au revoir, you pretentious bastard.

Invisible bullets fly. No one gets hurt. Both men shudder and exit to different wings of the nonexistent stage.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

DISTINGUISHED PETS

Clerk: Hello! Greetings! Good afternoon! Welcome to Distinguished Pets, Supplies & Disturbances. What can I help you with today?

Customer: I am in the market for a raccoon.

Clerk: You're very much in luck, then, sir. Here at Distinguished Pets, Supplies & Disturbances, we carry quite a variety.

Customer: Indeed?

Clerk: Oh, yes sir, we do. Would you prefer one spelled with two c's or one?

Customer: I'm sorry. I didn't know that really mattered.

Clerk: But it does, sir. It certainly does. Here at Distinguished Pets, Supplies and Rockateers Emporium, we think spelling is highly vital in today's world of pets. One c or two?

Customer: Oh, I suspect two would be standard.

Clerk: Two c's. Very good. You'll be wanting one with a mask, I suppose?

Customer: I don't reckon it would be much of a raccoon without one.

Clerk: Actually, that depends upon whether you want one of the extinct or non-extinct subspecies.

Customer: Well, I--

Clerk: Here at Distinguished Pets, Supplies and Removable Engine Parts, we offer the world's greatest variety.

Customer: I'm certain you do. It's just that one might expect you to be running a tad low on the extinct variety, wouldn't it?

Clerk: Only if you insist upon the creature being sold to you in a living state of being.

Customer: What kind of a pet would it be if it were dead? Not much, I reckon.

Clerk: We aim to please. So that would be a living raccoon, two c's, with a mask. Now here at Distinguished Pets, Supplies and Exploding Headwear, we provide not only the North American variety of raccoon, but also--

Customer: Please stop doing that.

Clerk: Oh. You noticed, did you?

Customer: The name of your shop. Yes. Stop changing the name.

Clerk: Variety, they say, sir, is the spice of life.

Customer: Very well. So, yes, a North American raccoon will be just fine. You keep them here in the shop, do you?

Clerk: In the back, yes, sir. Okay. So. . .you want yours to be an omnivore?

Customer: Yes.

Clerk: With glandular secretions?

Customer: Glandular--Yes, I suppose, if that keeps them healthy.

Clerk: You understand, of course, that those secretions are typically from the anal glands?

Customer: Do you have anything. . . else?

Clerk: We have one model you might like. Secretes from his front right paw. But I have to admit, that particular raccoon does not sing.

Customer: That--Doesn't sing? You mean the others do?

Clerk: The others? What? Sing? Certainly not. I just wanted you to understand that the one that secretes from its front right paw likewise does not sing. At least not on key. 

Customer: How much is this animal?

Clerk: The procyonid in question is $24.95. That includes a lovely carrying crate.

Customer: If you don't mind me saying, my good fellow, that rings a bit low. What's wrong with the creature?

Clerk: Wrong? What do you mean?

Customer: Mean? Well, it's just that I've priced several others before stopping in here and most of them go from upwards of $200. One gets what one pays for generally. Does it limp or something?

Clerk: Sir! All of our distinguished pets--as well as their supplies and rectal suppositories--are in tip top shape. 

Customer: Sorry, no offense.

Clerk: Offense taken. Really. You offer someone a perfectly healthy, fertile, mature raccoon at a highly reasonable price and just because that bunch of greedy flesh-peddling barbarians out there over charge by a multiple of ten, suddenly I'm the one who draws suspicion. Indeed, sir, offense taken.

Customer: Look, I'm terribly sorry. If that's your price, then that's your price. Do you think I could see the raccoon?

Clerk: Of course. Ginny? Could you bring out T6RAA007, please?

Ginny: Yes, Mr. Distinguished. Here he is.

Customer: My, that is a nice looking specimen, isn't it? And you say the crate comes with it?

Ginny: Crate comes with it.

Clerk: Thank you, Ginny, that will be good.

Ginny: Anything you say, Mr. Toilet Fixtures on the Roof. See ya later.

Clerk: Well, then, there you have him. Will that be cash, charge, or word of honor?

Customer: Ahem. Are you suggesting that you accept people's word of honor to pay you for your animals?

Clerk: Pets, sir. We think of them as pets. And yes we do. As long as you agree to care for him as the lovable mammal he is, we extend that courtesy, certainly.

Customer: My goodness. Well, I'll pay cash, if that's acceptable.

Clerk: Something wrong with simply making a promise?

Customer: Not at all. I tend to be. . .forgetful, so I prefer to pay as I go, that's all.

Clerk: Takes all kinds, I suppose. Fine. $24.95 then.

Customer: Will you take a check?

Clerk: No checks. Sorry.

Customer: Perhaps a credit card?

Clerk: Never use them.

Customer: Yet a promise is fine?

Clerk: Very much so. Will that be all, then?

Customer: I think I have the cash here. Let me see. . . Yes. Here we are. You do accept cash, don't you?

Clerk: Not as a rule, but I suppose that here at Distinguished Pets, Supplies and Hallucinatory Vibrating Eggs we can make an exception.

Customer: Thank you.

Clerk: Thank you. And don't forget your racoon.

Customer: Wait! I thought you said this one was with two c's?

Clerk: Ginny!



Monday, October 21, 2013

THE LAST NEWS CONFERENCE OF LEE HARVEY OSWALD

   Lee Harvey Oswald is standing in front of a room full of reporters. To either side of him are a number of Dallas policemen, along with members of the Sheriff's Office and several Deputy District Attorneys.

1st Reporter: Did you shoot the President?

Oswald: No, I have not been charged with that. In fact, nobody has said that to me yet. The first thing I heard about was when the newspaper reporters in the hall asked me that question.

2nd Reporter: You have been so charged.

Oswald: Come again?

2nd Reporter: You have been charged.

Oswald: Fer crying out loud. Will you guys think for just a minute.

3rd Reporter: What do you mean? Are you protesting your innocence?

Oswald: I am. I--Hey! There's Jack, way in the back of the room. Jack! Jack Ruby! How's it hangin', slick? He could probably tell you something about these charges.

1st Reporter: So you maintain that these charges are false?

Oswald: No, the charges are real. They are just applied to the wrong man. Look, let me hip you to what's been going on. I think you should hear it from me because--and I think Jack back there can verify this--I don't have all the time in the world.

District Attorney Henry Wade (a future defendant in the landmark case Roe v. Wade): All right, gentlemen. That's it.

2nd Reporter: Shit, let him talk, Hank.

Oswald: I used to be a Marine. I was a radar operator out of Atsugi, Japan. I monitored U-2 flights. Gary Powers. That kind of thing. I was approached early on to take Russian language classes. Caught the clap from an Indonesian chick who was a mole for the guys who were gonna overthrow that government. Anyway, I was recruited by a General's staff member. They said to request a hardship discharge from the Marines, then go to Helsinki, slip into the USSR, pretend to defect. Infiltrate Minsk factories. Find out what they know. That kinda bull.

Wade: Listen, Alec, or Lee, whatever--

Oswald: Bite me, baldy. I hooked up with Marina. She was only indirectly connected with Russian intelligence. Her father was military intel. We came back home. Got a call from DeMohrenschildt. Strictly white Russian. Ties all the way back to the Woodrow Wilson administration. Anyway--

Ruby: Henry! Can you shut this down?

Oswald: Shut up, ya pimp! Now, where was I?

2nd Reporter: Who's this DeMohrenschildt?

Oswald: George DeMohrenschildt. Pantepec Oil, Venezuela. Expendable. He helped Marina and me meet up with Ruth Paine. She and her husband pretend to be Quakers. My guess is she'll make me out to look guilty. Her husband's connected to Bell Helicopter. Defense contracts.

3rd Reporter: Did you shoot the president?

Oswald: No, sir. I'm just a patsy. I was supposed to meet Jack back there in the Texas Theater if anything went wrong. I guess it did.

1st Reporter: What went wrong?

Oswald: I was supposed to prevent the--

Ruby: Oswald!

Shots ring out. Wade falls. Two Stetson-wearing police fall. A newsman standing next to Ruby cold-cocks the shooter. Ruby falls down, unconscious. 

Oswald: May I continue?

2nd Reporter: By all means.

Oswald: Okay. So, my job was to get people to think of me as pro-Communist. It was strictly superficial. Fair Play for Cuba in New Orleans only had one member: me. Guy Banister was my handler. He was a mean drunk. Hooked me up with a small cadre of the homosexual community in New Orleans. Dave Ferrie, Clay Shaw, Perry Russo. The idea was that if they couldn't blame it on the Russians or Cubans, they could blame it on the homosexuals. 

3rd Reporter: Who? Who wanted to blame them?

Oswald: Lansdale. General Edward Lansdale. From the Saigon Military Mission--and other things. But it wasn't him specifically. He just set the plan in motion.

2rd Reporter: What's that name again?

Oswald: Lansdale. He was CIA. Before that he was OSS.

Lansdale: Oswald!

Shots ring out. Same reporter who knocked out Ruby punches out Lansdale, who crumbles to the floor.

Oswald: Anyway, you can't hang the whole thing on him because he was just following orders.

3rd Reporter: Overseas order?

Oswald: Ridiculous. There's no such thing as country, pal. There's businesses. Corporations. You know what the real countries of the world are? This is 1963. The countries are IBM, ITT, Standard Oil, ATT, Gulf Oil, Phillips Petroleum, Bell Helicopter, General Dynamics, Pepsi-Co. You're either for 'em or against 'em. Some people figured the president was against them. The oil depletion allowance was torn down. Some guys didn't want to have to hire Negroes. And of course there was the war.

2nd Reporter: What war is that?

Oswald: The Vietnam War. 

4th Reporter: What is that?

Oswald: The first of this month, just 21 days ago, President Diem and his brother were murdered as the result of a coup arranged by that man, Lansdale. With Kennedy gone, there's not much doubt the USA will get involved in the quagmire. 

Madame Nhu: You must all die!

Same reporter punches her out.

Oswald: Getting hot in here. Well, my job was to draw attention towards myself so that the conspirators would screw up. I joined the group--part of it, anyway--but I guess I was being set up all along.

4th Reporter: Did you tell a car dealer that you wanted to buy a bunch of cars for an invasion of Cuba?

Oswald: Cars? I can't even drive.

3rd Reporter: Did you not tell a used car salesman that you'd have to go back to Russia to be able to afford to buy a car?

Oswald: No, sir. That's just a distraction. Again, I don't even know how to drive.

2nd Reporter: Why was Officer Tippitt murdered?

Oswald: I can only guess. My guess is that he was supposed to be the guy who arrested me. Something must have gone wrong. They set him up, too. When I got the signal outside from rooming house--

1st Reporter: The car horn?

Oswald: Right. When That happened, I knew I was supposed to meet up with Jack Ruby. The signal was Hosty's idea. 

2nd Reporter: James Hosty with the FBI?

Oswald: The same. I warned him about the plot. Well, I left him a message to leave my wife alone and that if he wanted information about the plot, he should talk to me. He was my federal contact. 

Hosty: That note you're talking about--I was ordered to flush that. 

Reporter laughs in Hosty's face. Hosty falls, unconscious.

Oswald: As you can see, this is quite the kerfuffle. 

E. Howard Hunt: Why don't you go eat some chicken?

Oswald: Howard! Gee, everyone's here today. Frank! Is that you?

Frank Sturgis: You just couldn't wait to talk, could you?

Oswald: What you gonna do, Frank? Shoot me?

Frank Sturgis takes a gun handed to him by Hunt. He aims, fires. Oswald dies.

Walter Cronkite: Confessed assassin Lee Harvey Oswald admits to shooting the president. He dies at the hands of two men who asserted their patriotism. And that's the way it is, November 22nd, 1963.



I know that some people visit this site for "research purposes," a fact that pleases me. The above piece, however, should not be construed as factual insomuch as 99% of it never occurred, at least not in a press conference featuring Lee Harvey Oswald. However, it is true that Jack Ruby appeared at at least one press spectacle featuring Oswald. Some of the dialog offered above is verbatim from old newsreels. and there certainly has been considerable speculation over the years as to the culpability of Lansdale, Hunt, Stugis, Hosty, etc. The author has no first hand information to dispute the findings of either The Warren Commission or the House Select Committee on Assassinations. There does, however, remain (fifty years hence) the fact that Oswald did have training in the Russian language, that he was a radar operator at Atsugo, that he did contract gonorrhea "in the line of duty," that he did "defect" to the USSR in 1959 without officially renouncing his American citizenship, that he did meet up with George DeMohrenschildt (who was far beyond Oswald's economic class), that President Diem was assassinated twenty-one days before the same thing happened to John Kennedy, and so on. While the above conversations may never have actually happened, anyone with even a passing familiarity with the investigation would, I suspect, be intrigued with the possibilities this piece implies. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

WITHIN SECRETS

   If you are reading these words, then clearly you are living in the strangest of times. It was Dwight Eisenhower who is credited as having said, "Things are more the way they are now than at any other time." That observation was made by a tranquilized former military commander who found himself unwittingly behind the seal of the Presidency. What Eisenhower was too polished and polite to say was, "My God! This is really happening!" Nearly sixty years later, the sentiment might better be stated, "Things are less the way they are now than at any other time." Indeed. That, of course, is why these times of yours and mine are so infernally strange. A fair translation might read, "My God! I have no idea what is really happening!"
    Four years ago I was teaching a class in Critical Thinking at one of the local universities. I take an extemporaneous approach to such matters, meaning that the process somewhat resembles a stand-up comic engaged with the audience in total improvisation. In other words, I make a calculated point of not preparing for the classes. In any event, as this was the first session of what was to be an eight week course, I decided to provoke the biases of the twenty or so adult students in the class by telling each person to write the word FOR or AGAINST on a square of paper in response to the issue of nuclear power. Before taking this poll, I deliberately did not provide any information about the subject. A couple students protested that they did not know enough to have an opinion. In my best Stanley Milgram manner, I repeated that there were two choices and everyone needed to pick one. In fact, as I pronounced the two-word topic, I turned my back to the class so as not to let any of my facial nuances influence the students. The results of my straw poll were evenly divided between the two choices I had offered. I then spent the next two hours or so in detailed conversation with the students, operating largely as a facilitator of their own positions. Once the subject had fairly exhausted itself, I asked the students to again write their current position on a new square of paper. The choices were (again) FOR or AGAINST. This time, all but three of the students indicated they were against nuclear power. It being rather obvious from the tenor of the discussion who had voted which way, I then set out to attack what I defined as the suicidal impulses of the three pro-nuclear students. I immediately followed this by spinning around and hammering away at what I termed the arrogant stupidity of the anti-nuclear contingent. By this time, the entire room of students were either slapping themselves on the sides of their heads or threatening to take me out into the hall for some well-deserved retribution. Before they could lynch me for my actions, I scribbled a word on each of two squares of my own paper. I held up one that read COMMUNIST. The other I raised said FASCIST. "These are the only options you have. I am your teacher and I get to make that decision. So which are you?"
    And then, as I broke into a wide smile, a couple people near the back of the class room started to laugh. The laughter caught on. I indulged as well. Throwing the papers to the floor, I said, "When I asked you at the beginning of class to state your position, I gave you nothing upon which to base your conclusion. We spent the next two hours talking about the subject. There were a lot of personal anecdotes. There were some statistics bandied about without citations. But essentially all we did was talk. It probably felt as if we were learning something, but we were not. We were just talking. Because we were talking in an institution of higher learning that cost you or your parents a lot of money, you felt quite reasonable in assuming that you were getting an education. You were, of course; just not in the way you imagined."
    I was quite proud of my parting shot. I still am. I said, "If anyone tells you, implies or suggests to you, goads you into believing or coerces you under duress to believe that he or she presents the only options available to you, that person is a liar. His or her position of authority should not be respected. It should be suspected. And the more dichotomous the options, the more you should suspect them."
    I could never have come up with that little demonstration of applied critical thinking if I'd relied on my own ability to map it out in advance. I would love to be able to devise that kind of thing in a calculated manner. Instead, I am cursed with an improvisational gene that only operates well when I refuse to harness it with a leash of preparedness. 
    As I said, that was about four years ago. Even though I'm pretty sure my inspiration hit the bulls-eye that night, I did not know then just how prescient I inadvertently was. Without crawling back into the sterile womb of philosophical abstractions, I am left with the conviction that almost all of what we get right happens by accident. After all, a busted clock that is frozen at 3:15 is correct for two sixty-second intervals every day. Probably we would discard such a clock, or at least consider changing the batteries. Yet with the means of understanding what we think we know, we are often far less critical, much less outraged. All too often we embrace theory as fact, ideology as certainty, opinion as truth. Even more often, we are surrounded by tightening webs of lies, all sticking us with the fabric of deceit, leaving us little room to wiggle toward the discomfort--the hard work--of figuring things out. That is because we have been given a pie made of something we have never before seen, something that appears, smells and tastes alien to us. The man who baked the pie, the waiter who recommended the pie, the server who brought the pie to our table--they all declare it to be a new variety of pumpkin. The written words on the dessert menu even read A NEW VARIETY OF PUMPKIN PIE. We cover it with a dollop or two of whipped cream, smile at one another and eat it. "Delicious," we grin, unaware that we have just consumed a pie made of salamander shit. 
   We have also, perhaps, come full circle. 
   The reason that "Things are less the way they are now than at any other time" is because the truth may just only exist within secrets. And secrets, as any sneering five-year-old will happily tell you, are the purview of the powerful. 
    It may come as little surprise that all of this brings us to what I hope you will agree is the fascinating fact of that thing called WikiLeaks. Julian Assange, the forty-two-year-old former (?) hacker, serves as publisher, editor-in-chief, and official spokesperson for the organization whose stated goal is to simply "bring important news and information to the public." So far, I would imagine that also would be the stated motto of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The National Enquirer and Fox News. So what's the big deal? The big deal is that WikiLeaks also "publishes original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth."
   To quote our current Vice President, that, friends and neighbors, is a big fucking deal. By presenting the news article along with the actual source material, the reader--the thinker--is in a position to evaluate the validity of the article, as well as place the information within an historical context, something all too often excised from other media reportage. Here I must quote from WikiLeaks' ABOUT page.

We assess all news stories and test their veracity. . . Is it real? What elements prove it is real? Who would have the motive to fake such a document and why? . . . Typically we will do a forensic analysis of the document, determine the cost of forgery, means, motive, opportunity, the claims of the apparent authoring organisation, and answer a set of other detailed questions about the document. We may also seek external verification of the document. For example, for our release of the Collateral Murder video, we sent a team of journalists to Iraq to interview the victims and observers of the helicopter attack. The team obtained copies of hospital records, death certificates, eye witness statements and other corroborating evidence supporting the truth of the story.

   Do you imagine that anyone at any major U.S. news organization is vetting their stories this way? Or are they possibly just reciting press releases mixed in with a little so-called lively debate? 
    A few years back a rumor floated around suggesting that WikiLeaks was secretly a front for one or more intelligence agencies. Two things suggest otherwise. First, intelligence agencies usually find themselves reluctant to release information and when they do it is of the limited hangout variety, meaning that they release either information they suspect people already know or information that, while accurate, is leaked in such a manner as to curtail further questioning. WikiLeaks, by contrast, appears to disdain secrecy and evidently prides itself on full disclosure.
    The other logical inference that WikiLeaks is what it says it is lies in the fact that their sources, materials and disclosures are routinely revealed at the chagrin, embarrassment or mortification of the rich, powerful and dangerous, rather than, say, at the expense of exploiting the suicide of a bullied schoolgirl by running sensationalized "news stories" about how her tormentors bragged at having pushed her over the edge. If you're a decent human being, the story simply fuels your pre-existing outrage and disgust--and then you move on with your day. If you're the kind of earthling who finds such revelations amusing, you knock a cripple down a flight of stairs--and move on with your day. In neither case does anything of value get accomplished. Of course, the poor child's parents get to be constantly reminded that their opportunity for redress lies not with the court system (which might actually dole out a fitting punishment) but rather within the wicked glow of the local news reporter who feigns compassion while mentally preparing for the next segment about whether or not your dog is getting enough potassium. 
   WikiLeaks does not give a good God damn about your dog's nutritional requirements.
   Here, instead, are some of the stories the non-profit organization has broken:
  • A classified U.S. report into prison conditions in Fallujah.
  • Publication of more than 6500 classified Congressional Research Reports, worth more than a billion dollars in tax-funded research.
  • Illegal spying on German journalists.
  • The release of a CIA report about building Afghan War support in Western Europe.
  • Publication of a 32-page report from a U.S. Intelligence investigation into WikiLeaks itself.
  • Tax reports from the Church of Scientology.
      Winston Churchill said that "In wartime, the truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies." Today we are still at war against "the other guy," just as we always have been. The other guy changes masks occasionally, but he still looks the same. In fact, he's easy to recognize because he looks exactly like us. Or to switch to George Orwell for an inside joke of illumination, "Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia." 
   What separates the information world in which we live today from the world of 1984 is not so much WikiLeaks itself, or even Julian Assange in particular, even if (which I do not believe) he should turn out to be the Emmanuel Goldstein of the infamous Two-Minute Hate. Rather what separates us--thinly, very thinly--from that dystopia is our willingness, our commitment, our obsession to stick to the often insurmountably difficult task of applying reason and critical analysis, using those tools to work, not with messages sent by demagogues and spiritualists, but with cold and hot realities, things we can hold in our hands, smell, taste, hear and see. The virtual acceptance by many people of the presumed gift of handheld information technology often makes this insurmountable work even more exhausting, with millions of people walking this country and billions the world over who have never known a time when the media at least made some small effort to filter out the bloodcurdling bullshit of the stammering sociopaths of slander. 
    So I leave you now with some advice my father once gave me. I have never been certain if his suggestion was a dire warning or just his idea of a twisted joke. What he told me was "Look under every rock. There you will find yet another rock. On and on it will go. The thing to remember," he said, "is that every rock is a clue to the rock that covered it."
    Happy digging. And watch out for the pumpkin pie. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

ANOTHER WORD FOR RELEVANT CONTENT

 Dave the Dragon Man is lecturing a classroom of approximately fifteen young would-be web developers.

Dave: And now we come to the segment of the class that we call Bacteriological Mutation for HTML and Beyond Of Course Within The Bounds Of Relatively Reasonable Expectations And So On. Chet!

Chet: Yes, sir? 

Dave: What is it?

Chet: Sir, you called on me, sir.

Dave: Indeed. You may sit down now. As I was saying--

Chet: But sir, I am sitting down.

Dave: Not around here, you're not. On your feet.

Chet: Yes, sir!

Dave: Does anyone here know how to make a website go bacterial?

Jane: Oh, yes! Yes! I know! I know!

Dave: Anyone?

Jane: I'd like to answer, sir! Oh, truly, I have an informed opinion about that. Please call on me, sir!

Dave: Anyone at all?

Chet: Sir, I'm not completely certain, you understand, but I believe that Jane there may have an inkling. 

Dave: An inkling? Is that what you said? Inkling? In the website business, it takes a whole lot more than an inkling to--Oh, don't explode, young lady. Is there something you would like to say?

Jane: Oh, yes, sir. Very much so, sir.

Dave: Right. Now the next question.

Rodney: Hold on, there, Dave. You asked a question and it looks as if Jane there has an idea about it.

Dave: Very well. Jane? Jane? Oh, yes, there you are, jumping up and down on the desktop with your shoes on. Lovely. Well, go on ahead then, if you must.

Jane: Develop relevant content.

Dave: What do you mean by that?

Jane: Um, to get a lot of visits to your website, you first need relevant material to draw in a big crowd. Then you ask--

Dave: Relevant content? Is that the load of rubbish they're teaching you people nowadays? Unbelievable. 

Rodney: I dunno. Sounded like a good idea to me.

Dave: Relevant content? You're insane.

Rodney: Not really, sir. If you were to write content about how to disarm a bomb placed under the teacher's desk, I'll wager a certain instructor might find that very relevant, I'll say.

Dave: (Looking under desk while trying to appear disinterested): We are not discussing relevant content here. We are discussing Bacteriological Mutation for HTML and Beyond Of Course Within The Bounds Of Relatively Reasonable Expectations And So On. There's quite a difference.

Chet: I don't quite get that.

Dave: I hope you don't expect me to repeat the entire lecture.

Rodney: Repeat it? You haven't delivered it yet, so far as I can see.

Chet: I think he's right about that.

Jane: Right is what he is.

Dave: Settle down, you nitwits. Fine. Perhaps you'll all do me the honor of listening this time as I explain the intricacies of Bacteriological Mutation for HTML and Beyond Of Course Within The Bounds Of Relatively Reasonable Expectations And So On. Step one: Develop relevant content. Step two--

Jane: Then I was right!

Dave: Step two--

Chet: She was right, eh?

Rodney: You'll not get this guy to admit it. 

Dave: As I say, step two: get a lot of people to look at your website. Step three--

Rodney: How do we do that?

Dave: I just explained that to you.

Chet: You didn't, you know?

Jane: Whoo! Went right over my head!

Dave: Very well. If I have to connect all of the dots for you people, then I shall do so. You locate a telephone directory for all of the known telephone numbers in the world. You then dial up each and every one of those numbers. When someone answers, you shout out "Hey! Take a look at my website!" Then you tell the person what it is. Make him read it back to you. Probably a couple times. Then you go on to the next telephone number.

Chet: Doesn't that take an awful lot of time?

Rodney: Yes, it does sound rather consuming.

Dave: Of all the lazy bastards it's been my miserable experience to entertain. Of course it takes a little time. Now, if you are an advanced marketer, you can cut your time down considerably by calling the person up, making the same demand, and then, before you go, give that fellow the phone number of the next person on your list and tell him to call it for you as a favor.

Chet: A complete stranger?

Rodney: Daft beyond my kin to fathom.

Dave: Once you become extremely adept, you can even have the fellow call up the next two numbers. Very effective.

Jane: I have one little but important question, sir, if I may, sir?

Dave: Yes, Jane, if that is your name.

Jane: It is. What did you mean earlier when you said "relevant content"?

Dave: Oh bloody hell. Relevant content, you nervous little twit, is content that is, for lack of a better word, relevant. 

Jane: Is it gloomy?

Dave: Gloomy? I suppose it might be.

Jane: Pejorative?

Rodney: A bit critical of the status quo?

Dave: If that helps, of course. 

Jane: Perspicacious?

Dave: I've no idea.

Jane: Lucid?

Dave: Not a requirement.

Rodney: I have one. Expeditious?

Dave: Certainly not.

Chet: Wait! Wait! How about Mesopotamian? 

Rodney: Good one.

Jane: Yes, I like that.

Dave: No! No! Not perspicacious, not expeditious, and certainly and above all not Mesopotamian! And not all that damned gloomy either!

Chet: What about jocular?

Dave: Look.

Rodney: Chet, you mean like humorous?

Chet: I was thinking along those lines.

Jane: Plebeian?

Dave: Look.

Rodney: I don't go for that proletarian edge to content. Gauche, if you don't mind me saying.

Dave: Look! Just write a bunch of words, string them together into some kind of cogent format and hope for the best, you sociopathic, disrespectful, pseudo-educated imbeciles!

Jane: Ooooh. Imbecilic. That has merit.

Dave: No! No it does not! It's just a word. It doesn't draw people in!

Chet: I just realized something. Is this the Advanced Knitting Class?

Dave: What?!? No. No. No, this is the Bacteriological Mutation for HTML and Beyond Of Course Within The Bounds Of Relatively Reasonable Expectations And So On course, as I have said repeatedly.

Chet: That explains a lot.

Dave: Bunch of infidels.

Jane: Not at all, sir. We all really like you.

Rodney: There's no denying that.

Chet: I've a bit of a crush, if I may speak plain.

Dave: Right. Well, it looks as if the bell is going to sound any second, so please remember next week to bring in your macrame projects, as outlined in Chapter Seven. 

Jane: Thank you, sir. We'll be here.

Chet: Can anyone give me a ride home?




Tuesday, October 15, 2013

TOIL AND TROUBLE

Lucy: (Yawn). Ho-um. Well. Erp. What a day. Okay. Let's get on with the explanation. The goal was to make them extraordinarily stupid.

Bea: The Americans?

Lucy: Correct. So we began emphasizing all sorts of rationalizations and diversions.

Bea: They weren't the same things?

Lucy: Oh hell--Sorry. Of course not. The rationalizations had to do with dance and exercise. Mostly the latter. As the transition between male dominance shifted to male servitude, there remained the issue of how to drain men of their economic hegemony while making it appear that this was all a matter of free will. So we sexified the news. 

Bea: Sounds simple enough. All men are idiots.

Lucy: Well said. We removed all the men from local and national news broadcasts under the rubric of equality.

Bea: That equality mantra sure does bring in the suckers.

Lucy: Almost as well as liberty.

Bea: Sing it, sister.

Lucy: Ha! Anyway, we threw the men a bone or two by giving them some sexy lesbians to read the news and called it art. They weren't actually lesbians, of course.

Bea: No kidding?

Lucy: Too intense. The men couldn't handle the real thing. 

Bea: What about keeping the National Parks open during the shutdown?

Lucy: Funniest thing in the world, right? Head Start, EPA, NRC--all completely wiped out and all those bozos can yak about is how they can't visit the Statue of Servitude. Have you ever--?

Bea: The Grand Canyon couldn't hold the vacuum of their brains.

Lucy: Nice. You may have a song title there.

Bea: Right. We'll throw in Bounce music influence, dress it up like one of the Justins, and get a retired Korean hustler to tube it out.

Lucy: Viral.

Bea: Oh, stop. What a stupid word.

Lucy: I was going to suggest the morons start calling something they like "tubercular" or "leukemic." 

Bea: Who was the last actual talent they produced?

Lucy: The Americans? Well, there was Randy Newman.

Bea: Not who I'm thinking of.

Lucy: Oh! I know. You're thinking of that guy Todd.

Bea: Right, right, right. Todd Rundgren. Last name very hard to spell.

Lucy: Very musical.

Bea: Sadie says he's the only true musical genius left from the Americas.

Sadie: Were you talking to me?

Lucy: Sorry.

Bea: Sorry.

Lucy: We were just trying to decide if anyone was dumber than our last experiment.

Sadie: God's still trying to clean up that mess, eh?


Flourish of wind and harp music.
God: Pardon?

Lucy: Awwwww. Party's over.

Bea: Just when the meeting was really getting somewhere.

Sadie: Wings, do your stuff.

God: Nobody move. I have a recruit here. Name of Stagger Lee.

Lucy: Hello?

Bea: Stagger Lee? That rings a bell.

Sadie: Yeah, a rusty bell with a bullet hole through the middle.

God: I need a bit of help rehabilitating him.

Lucy: He's a bit nasty, even for us.

God: This isn't a democracy.

Bea: Tell me about it. We put that one over on the Americans.

Sadie: Isn't there a song. . . ?

God: If it doesn't play harp, I can't be bothered with it.

Lucy: Always with the harp.

Bea: Always.

God: Silence, you vile fallen angels. Lucy, Bea, Sadie. Get busy with this troublesome fellow. Show him what happens when you shoot up a disgusting barroom over a Stetson hat.

Stagger Lee: Howdy, ladies.

Bea: Pleased to meet you.

Sadie: Hope you guessed my name.

Lucy: Whoot whoo.

Stagger Lee: Any you fine looking ladies know where a thirsty man might avail himself of some cool beverage?

Lucy: Oh, you are in for an education.

Stagger Lee: Like to meet up with a friend of mine. Guy owes me a little something. You probably know him. Guy named Billy the Lion.

God: He's on his way. 

Stagger Lee: That's good.

God: I know.


Flourish as God exits.
Lucy: You aren't going to hurt us, are you?

Stagger Lee: Aw, sister, naw. I been saving up my evil for Billy. Billy the Lion. 

Sadie: We tend to deal more in the cosmic matters. Freedom, war, global warming.

Stagger Lee: That just talk. 

Bea: Exactly what we want everyone to believe.

Stagger Lee: Where's my guitar?








Sunday, October 13, 2013

NINETY MINUTES

   

   When the Rat Pack minus Frank Sinatra makes a movie, it comes out Johnny Cool (1963). 
    That is not to say that the picture doesn't have its moments. But the over-all essence perhaps gets taken into question. Like f'instance? Allow me to explain.
   First, you get William Asher as director. Remember him? He was the guy behind "I Love Lucy," "Bewitched," and "Gidget." If that suggests to you a pleasant aroma, perhaps you've stumbled into the wrong text by mistake. 
    Second, the executive producer is Peter Lawford, one of the least offensive and humble, albeit untalented, members of the Pack. 
   Then we find the usual assortment of suspects, such as Sammy Cahn as composer, theme song performed by Sammy Davis Jr., and used car salesman acted by Joey Bishop. 
   On the upside, we get to see pretty Elizabeth Montgomery's bare back, which is everything I imagined. We get to see Telly Savalas machine-gunned through the stomach, which is also everything I imagined. 
    On the very upside, an actor named Hank Henry plays a bus driver, in the process doing the all-time best Rodney Dangerfield impression of all time. We are also treated to a young Henry Silva in the title role. And therein lies the rub. Johnny begins life in Italy--fascist Italy. He watches one of Mussolini's black-shirts blow away his mom and instantly joins the resistance as the youngest guerrilla fighter in the regimen. A few years later, he has turned into a Robin Hood type character. He is the king of a town, stealing from the barons, doling out the proceeds to the week and needy. In other words, he is patterned on Fidel. The writers take a young man who battled tyranny and attempt to paint him as a corrupt communist. Corrupt? Oh sure. The Mafioso shoot and kill a guy who looks like Johnny, tell the townsfolk the real McCoy is swimming with the fish bait, and strong arm Johnny into traveling to AmerEEKa to kill off the don's unfriendly competitors. 
   And kill Johnny does. 
   In the process he hooks up with Dare Guiness, the aforementioned bareback lady with the witchy eyes. In three grueling days, she falls for the assassin and he for her. Theirs is strictly a sexual arrangement, but it seems to work, at least until she gets a parking ticket outside a beauty salon. Ah, it is there that Dare realizes that there is perhaps a wee bit improper about throwing a suitcase bomb into a swimming pool filled with a philandering oil tycoon whose kids just happen to be watching. She sells him out to the G-Men, but they're too late to save Johnny Cool from the enemies he's made among the American mobsters. The bad guys capture him and sentence him to a foul interrogation followed by a slow and painful demise.
    This is one genuinely brutal film. The only light sequence is contained within a horribly tense episode where Johnny holds a gun to the temple of a craps player named Educated (Davis Jr), ordering the roller to roll a series of combinations. When Johnny says "Eleven," we're pretty sure Educated is going to bite it. His relief at succeeding is nearly hilarious. It's the only light moment in this otherwise serious and taut picture. Silva is incredible. Davis is great. Savalas is his usual nasty self. And Mort Sahl makes a cameo. A worthwhile ninety minutes.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

FUPPY AND LOU AT DINNER



Fuppy (m) and Lou (f) are sitting across a table in a romantic restaurant, dark setting, candles, violins, all the usual nonsense. A champagne bucket with ice stands next to the table. The bottle is nearly empty, as are the glasses.

Fuppy: Been quite the evening.

Lou: It has been quite the day.

Fuppy: They have no idea, do they?

Lou: Who, dear?

Fuppy: The general public. No idea at all.

Lou: No idea about what?

Fuppy: The general public has no idea at all about how hard it is. You know, being a police officer.

Lou: No, I suppose they don't at that.

Fuppy: The grueling hours, the lousy pay, the danger.

Lou: Oh, especially the danger.

Fuppy: Frightful.

Lou: Do you know anyone. . . ?

Fuppy. No. Just woolgathering.

Lou: I hope the dogs are all right.

Fuppy: Again with the dogs!

Lou: Don't shout. You know I worry.

Fuppy: They won't fly out the windows, will they?

Lou: It's just--

Fuppy: They won't pick the locks and sell the furniture, will they?

Lou: It's just--

Fuppy: They won't bring out a pack of matches and get the sofa ablaze, right?

Lou: Actually. . . 

Fuppy: What?

Lou: I've been worried about Sarah.

Fuppy: Sarah! Always with the Sarah! What is it this time?

Lou: She's been hanging with a rough crowd.

Fuppy: Rough crowd? Who? With the parrots?

Lou: I'm serious. She's been in the company of a crowd of which I very much disapprove.

Fuppy: Always with the disapproval.

Lou: There's this pit-bull down the street. . .

Fuppy: Not that again.

Lou: Yes. The pit-bull named Stacey. 

Fuppy: Stacey? Sounds like no kind of menace at all.

Lou: You really don't listen at all, do you, Fuppy?

Fuppy: I've told you never to call me that in public.

Lou: It's your name, for God's sake. And Stacey is this pit-bull's name. I heard her and Sarah. . . talking.

Fuppy: Ohhhhh?

Lou: Stacey was going on and on about this new owner she has. She was bragging that it was a guy with a shaved head who chain smokes, has a tattoo on the back of his neck, who laughs--as she put it--out of context.

Fuppy: The dog said this? Lou, I think you've had enough champagne.

Lou: The parrots talk, don't they?

Fuppy: They make sounds. They mimic. It's not actual talking.

Lou: Doctor Kennell says our birds know exactly what they're saying. 

Fuppy: Always with the Doctor Kennell.

Lou: If the birds know, then why not the dogs?You yourself have said the dogs are ten times smarter than the stinking birds.

Fuppy: Okay. Great. So this Stacey dog, the pit-bull, talks. What, if anything, did Sarah say in return?

Lou: At first she just growled. Then after a while, she asked Stacey if there was any truth to the theory of feminizing pit-bulls?

Fuppy: Sarah said "feminizing"?

Lou: Clear as a bell. I'm surprised you haven't heard her. She talks about you all the time. I'm a little jealous.

Fuppy: What did she mean by "feminizing"?

Lou: I asked her that myself. She explained that there's a movement afoot to color the image of pit-bulls as sweet and charming little creatures who would never hurt anyone, so that total strangers can approach them, billow and coo and go on and on about what a sweet and precious little dog so-and-so is and presumably the pit-bull will just roll over on its back and beg for a tummy rub.

Fuppy: Balls! When you turn on the news and the story is about a pack of girls scouts being decapitated and eaten by a vicious dog, is it ever a Scotty?

Lou: Never. Not a beagle or basset or miniature poodle. Maybe a Rottweiler.

Fuppy: A Weimaraner. 

Lou: But usually?

Fuppy: Pit-bull. So what did Sarah supposedly say to all this?

Lou: She's pretty tight-lipped, our Sarah is.

Waiter: Excuse me, sir.

Fuppy: Yes, hello. I suppose we can take our check now, thank you.

Waiter: That is fine. No, what I wanted to say was I heard what you were saying about the pit-bulls.

Fuppy: Oh? And?

Waiter: My wife and I have a lovely pit-bull we call Gloria. She is loving and harmless.

Fuppy: I'm sure she is.

Waiter: Then you should be careful what you say about them.

Lou: Say! This is our table. If we want to say that pit-bulls strangle children in their cribs, then by God that's what we'll say! Jesus.

Waiter: No. Not at my table. You must leave now.

Fuppy: Who the hell are you?

Waiter: I am Jose. I own a pit-bull named Gloria. She is beautiful.

Fuppy: I have no doubt. Now--

Waiter: Besides, your name is Fuppy. That is ridiculous. We cannot have that here.

Lou: It's not his real name. His real name--

Waiter: You must go.

Fuppy: How much do we owe you?

Waiter: There is no charge to scoundrels. Take your bottle and leave, you swine.



Fuppy and Lou stand. He grabs the bottle, hands it to Lou, who finishes it off and sets it down. Three policemen approach to escort them out.

1st Policeman: Not going to give us any trouble, are you?

Fuppy: Of course not. We know what a hard job you fellows have.

2nd Policeman: Good. Let's get moving, then.

Lou: Do any of you officers happen to own a dog?

3rd Policeman: Right. I do. Mean-ass barking pit-bull, she is. Why?

Lou: Does she ever talk? I mean, in human words?

3rd: Who told you about that?


The waiter pushes all of them out the door.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

COOKIES

   Drama, according to my high school junior English teacher, is conflict. These days, of course, man against man is the most common type, although on occasion we encounter vampire against man, sinister outer space zombie strippers against man, and even the infrequent subhuman man against man. There are even the often tantalizing cases of inner man against outer man. In a Robert Altman movie experience, however, the nature of the conflict is often more linear, more multi-dimensional, perhaps even more cosmic. I suspect that must be one powerhouse reason why many viewers, including myself, are delighted to disregard the lesser Altman trademarks, such as the humor being cued by strands of music, or the invariable quiet weirdness of some of the more feminine characters, and instead we just lay back and allow our minds to groove on the strands of humanity amid the characterizations. Altman's genius (as tired and unworthy an appellation to burden a genius with as can be found) rests in large part upon his ability to get relatively large casts of characters to form an individuality within a collective sameness. In M*A*S*H we saw often outrageous--yet somehow appropriate--individuality within the framework of an Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. In Nashville, twenty-four characters traversed a series of stages, each of whom screaming--however quietly or shrilly--his or her own version of the year in which they lived within the framework of the title city's musical establishment. In The Player, the framework was a Hollywood movie studio, while the individuals staying alive within it were decision makers, writers, and an assortment of clerical and support staff.
    In Cookie's Fortune (1999), scenarist Anne Rapp and director Robert Altman venture into the micro-cosmic village of Holly Springs, Mississippi, a town with no particular central leadership, yet one populated with infinitely believable people who share connections often in spite of themselves. Jewel Mae "Cookie" Orcutt (Patricia Neal) lost her husband Buck two years prior and has never spent a day since without wishing he were still there with her in that big old house. She possesses considerable verbal skill, suggesting an education worthy of her presumed financial status. Camille Dixon (Glenn Close) is Cookie's sister, cousin, niece--it's often hard to be sure which, but that's part of the plot--something of a sympathetic yet hatefully disconnected case who dominates everyone merely because she intuits that the people she rules would run into stone walls without her constant guidance. Her sister (or daughter, or niece--again, it services the plot) Cora Duvall (Julianne Moore) remains Camille's puppet to the end, even when an ironic twist blows apart any hope Camille grasps of having the freedom she herself demands. In one especially humorous scene, Cora has been told to "tick a lock" by Camille and cannot even bring herself to open her mouth to speak when a Sheriff's Deputy tries to make small talk about the shooting death of Cookie.
    Most everybody in town liked Cookie very much. After all, she was old, a bit on the decrepit side, but not without charm. She smoked a series of lady's pipes, kept her late-husband's extensive gun collection in a cabinet that wouldn't quite close, and had one hell of a nice garden through which she kept an eye on the precocious neighbor boy who was always stealing her croquet balls.
   We know where we are throughout every instant of this movie, a fact that reinforces the often fictionalized feel of the small southern fishing town. From the first shots of the crumbled tin walls that house the local bar to the rapturous holiness of deputies talking about fishing, from the absurdity of the Church's Easter play being Salome (written, the marque informs us, by Oscar Wilde and Camille Dixon) to Manny (Lyle Lovett) with his outre creepy lust for Emma (Liv Tyler) (Cora's daughter, sister, niece, etc), and especially from Lester (Ned Beatty) second in command in the Sheriff's office and his peaceful relationship with Willis Richland (Charles S. Dutton). These two men amplify every scene they are in together, even when the presence of one is only referenced by the other, as when Willis finds himself charged with Cookie's murder and Lester states with calm certainty that he is innocent because "I've gone fishing with the man."
   Most of us--especially those who grew up in small towns and moved to bigger cities--want very much to believe that this is pretty much the way things play out in small towns with a major industry being the selling of catfish. The authenticity is not for one second in question here, even as we watch with mounting anger as Camille violates the sanctity of Cookie's suicide by poking her body with a jabbing finger, rearranging the death scene to look like a murder, and insisting that respectable people do not commit suicide. The irony of this and other magnificently staged scenes is so multi-tiered that it may take some serious afterthought to catch them all. Here's Camille, the most burlesque version of the southern belle since Scarlett O'Hare, attempting to redefine protocol into every place she marches her self-important bodice. If her own sense of propriety requires that Willis be charged with the murder of his friend (and possible relative), then so be it. If her version of comfort dictates that Emma has to go back to living in a van instead of in a big old roomy house, that must be God's will. And if Cookie's will needs to be destroyed to safeguard her own concept of an appropriate lifestyle denied her by her own mother, well then it might have behooved her to find that last will and testament in the cookie jar before the lawyer, Jack Palmer (Donald Moffat) beat her to it.
   It would be stupid to ignore the theme of miscegenation in this movie. Altman sets us up from the beginning to misinterpret the relationship Willis has with almost everyone, but especially with Cookie. When we meet him, he is tossing back shots of Wild Turkey in his friend's bar. We watch him apparently steal a bottle of hooch on his way out. From there he stops by Emma's van to tap on the glass. We surmise that the glass may not be the only thing he hopes to tap that Good Friday evening. We follow him to Cookie's home where he walks up to the gun case and begins to remove the valuable armaments. 
   Our evaluations in the above three scenes is by large part influenced by the fact of Willis being black. Surprise! Surprise! We may just have it wrong. It turns out that Willis was not so much stealing the whiskey as borrowing it. The next day he brings back a half bottle to replace the one he took, a common unspoken routine between the customer and his bartender. His stopping by Emma's van was merely to check in with the young lady to see if she would have Easter dinner with him and Cookie. And the reason he removed the guns from their display was because he had promised Cookie he would clean them as a favor to her before the night was over.
   This would be a very sub-O. Henry series of twists were it not for the fact of Willis's relationship to the town and particularly to Cookie and Emma. The latter asks him about his childhood and he talks about his grandfather who had thirty-four grandchildren. "Thirty-four!" she says, astonished. "How'd he tell you all apart?"
   "Well, eighteen of them were girls and sixteen boys, so that helped. And among us boys, some of them were white and some of us were black. I was the blackest of them all."
   A kind of meta-brilliance with Cookie's Fortune is the freedom Altman gives the support characters, a freedom which allows them to aid in the strength of the central actors. Courtney B. Vance as Inspector Otis Tucker is so free in this movie that we could never mistake him for the role he played in TV's "Law and Order: Criminal Intent." The normally cosmetic Chris Dutton as officer Jason Brown allows his character to be simultaneously bumbling yet identifiable because of the sheer enthusiasm he brings to his small town world. And Donald Moffat, not exactly the most household name in Hollywood (a fact that is Hollywood's loss and not ours), positively incinerates all levels of other people's pomposity with a richness of character that crumples every starched pleat in town. 
   About halfway through this movie, I thought to myself, "Hey, this is very nice. There'll be no need to watch it a second time, but it's still pleasant." By the end of the film, an extended moment that stretches for generations, I knew just how wrong I was to be so dismissive. This film contains a tangible holiness that an earlier Altman might have considered worth gently mocking. That his intent remains entirely respectful of good and bad folks alike remains the most cosmic irony of all. I wish my high school English teacher was around to give me an "amen."