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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Rock Music's Finest Hour

Rock Music’s Finest Hour

It was 49 years ago today that the Grateful Dead took the stage at the Fillmore West and delivered a musical performance that is arguably rock’s finest hour.

The iconic version of Dark Star was performed in what was then its typical sequence: followed by Saint Stephen, into The Eleven and ending with Turn On Your Love Light (though just as often terminating with Death Don’t Have No Mercy).

The set was immortalized on the band’s fourth album: “Live Dead.” Unbeknownst for many years, the quartet of tunes was actually a graft of two concerts. The Eleven and Love Light were from the Avalon Ballroom a month earlier, but the collating was seamlessly engineered and thousands of listeners remained none the wiser.

"Live Dead" by the Grateful Dead

The improvisational tour-de-force that is Dark Star evolved over the years. Various themes came and went, but it was this period, early 1969, that will forever represent the canonical form—because of the impeccable version performed on this night.

Those unfamiliar with the early years of the band might think it laughable to laud Jerry Garcia’s guitar playing, as it decayed so rapidly, first into a “delicate doodling” and then, after discovering heroin, into a putrid pantomime of hard rock.

But here’s what Phil Lesh had to say of the band’s improvisations at the time:

“We orbit around a common center that is impossible to define but it has something to do with making good music of any kind.”

And more often than not, in those early years, it was the winding fluid runs of Garcia that surged from that center, tugging the other musicians along a spiraling accretion disc of musical exuberance.

The 2-27-69 performance of Dark Star ranges from the exquisitely sublime to the ecstatically euphoric. The band is fully 100 percent in the moment. This is the essence of ensemble improvisation. No rock band before or since comes close. Though the various sections/themes that they run through are standard for the period, there are moments of inspiration where Garcia finds notes he never played before and never did since.

It was said that the Dead could make time stand still. Many are the Dead Freaks who “blew their minds” listening to this performance on acid. 

On the album, the tune appears to slowly emerge out of an ambiguous musical ether. But the actual 2-27-69 performance is a set of six consecutive tunes that begins with the jug-band rag Dupree’s Diamond Blues, which then flows into the ballad Mountains of the Moon. Both of these are played acoustically (though Phil is playing his electric bass), and Mountains ends with a little jam, during which the boys discard their acoustics and uncork their electrics. It is this moment that the Dark Star track on “Live Dead” picks up the performance. A minute or two of teasing then lands with stately confidence into the belly of Dark Star proper.

And thus it begins. Twenty-one minutes of musical majesty. Forty-nine years ago today.

# # #

Friday, February 16, 2018

Racial Politics and "Black Panther"

Stan Lee should've done the "white" thing and skipped the obligatory cameo in Black Panther. Whites not intruding into black spaces, such as remaining silent until all people-of-color have had their say in a race-related discussion, is a theme that is reinforced several times in the movie. Whites are referred to as “colonizers,” and the only main white actor other than the (first) villain is played by beta male hobbit Bilbo Baggins: Martin Freeman. And it's probably no coincidence that Lee's cameo has him appropriating casino winnings that weren't his. A sly jab at his penchant for appropriating credit for creating the Marvel Universe from Jack Kirby perhaps—or just a play on the movie's underlying subtext of white colonization?
As a white man, of course I’m supposed to ignore slights like this and just take it like a (privileged) man, despite the fact that as a boy I was a Marvel comics fanatic and was there at the time with my 12 cents when Fantastic Four #52 came out in 1966.
But the truth of it is, unless I want to live as a hermit and forego the opportunity to see the comics that I loved as a kid brought to life on the silver screen, I have no choice but to take it. Sad.

Despite my objections to the identity politics rampant in Black Panther, Marvel Studios have made a terrific movie.
In my opinion the best of the Marvel movies have been the “origin” movies. And that’s not a coincidence. For those that may not know, most of the major players in the “Marvel Universe” were created largely from the fertile imagination of Jack Kirby when he collaborated with Stan Lee in the early-and-mid sixties. To get a handle on the scope of Kirby’s contribution, it’s easier to name the few superheroes who weren’t a product of his imagination. It’s a short list: Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Doctor Strange. (And there’s actually a connection to Kirby for those characters, too—but to fully explain that would take a digression that would only be appreciated by true comic nerds...).  It’s no coincidence that the first Thor, Captain America and Iron Man movies are three of the best in the portfolio. Add Black Panther to that list.
Specifically, the Black Panther was introduced in the pages of Fantastic Four in the year-plus span of issues that ran as a continuing arc of stories from 1965 to 1966. This celebrated run, which many comic book aficionados (me included) claim to be the pinnacle of the medium over its entire history, culminated with the introduction of the Black Panther and began with the introduction of a nemesis team, the Frightful Four. A two-issue battle with their enduring arch-enemy Doctor Doom followed, after the heroes had lost their powers and were aided by Daredevil. 

Next the Frightful Four returned for another round, which took three issues to complete (41-43)—but this time with the Thing converted to their side by way of a machine that exposed and magnified the dark part of his nature.  
Medusa, the Frightful Four’s female counterpart to Sue Storm, evolved into a member of the Inhumans, a brilliant collection of characters. The ending of the colorful Inhumans saga culminated in Fantastic Four #48, which is spoken of in reverential terms by comic fans because it was in this same issue that the Silver Surfer and Galactus made their first appearances. "King" Kirby now in full sci-fi mode, the so-called Galactus trilogy ended in issue 50, after which Kirby took a breather and put out a relatively down-to-earth story, “This Man... This Monster,” that is celebrated for its human dimension—specifically, the redemption of the story’s one-fer villain.

It was following this issue that Black Panther made his debut. If you’re counting, that’s #52. It was concluded in the next issue, 53.

The whole run started in #38.  That’s sixteen  consecutive issues of continuing story arcs, with one break between 43 and 44 for the publication in the summer of 1965 of the Annual that featured the wedding of Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) to Sue Storm (the Invisible Girl).

* * *
There’s been a fair amount of discussion regarding the claim that Black Panther is ground-breaking because it features the first black superhero in film.
That’s not true, as many have pointed out. There’s Wesley Snipes’ Blade series as well as a bunch of movies starring Will Smith.  However, the accolade is not misplaced. Black Panther was the first black superhero to appear in comics—and even more importantly, he was created by Jack Kirby during his creative peak.
But Black Panther is a groundbreaking movie. It’s not just a movie with a black star and cast; this is a movie set in a wholly black environment—Africa. It celebrates a fictional African nation and its people and culture. The credit doesn’t go to an inclusive, politically correct contemporary comic book company, willingly pandering to the identity politics grievance community. It goes to Jack Kirby, who created this world from whole cloth in a 1966 comic book. It was 52 years ago that (coincidentally) Fantastic Four 52 hit the newsstands. It pre-dated (by just a few months) the creation of the militant “black power” Black Panthers organization in Oakland, California.

In 1966, a black superhero bursting into the lily-white world of comic books—from Africa no less!—that was truly revolutionary.

So, to make a long story short, what we have is a superhero with a great origin story who happens to be black. Everything Kirby touched at that time turned to gold, and the Black Panther was no exception. But it was novel, because it was not euro-centric. Kirby created an ideal world in Africa where the people of Wakanda, ruled by their hereditary Black Panther kings, created a technologically advanced civilization while still maintaining their African cultural identity. African-American comic book fans have testified how significant the appearance of Black Panther in Marvel comics was for them. And I don’t think it takes someone to be black to appreciate the honesty and integrity of that sentiment.

But this idealization of a highly advanced African nation is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it instills racial pride in the descendants of the African diaspora—but on the other hand it is an absurdity, and the pride it instills has no basis in reality. Africa is the poorest and most backward of the great continents. It is the only place where slavery still exists! Under the growing influence of Islam, female genital mutilation, flogging of women for Sharia Law infractions and other barbaric practices are rampant. Forgotten is what Mohammed Ali said upon returning from a trip to the “homeland”: “Thank God my granddaddy got on that boat!”

Besides Black Lives Matter ideologues, the people most likely to embrace the Wakanda fantasy are liberal whites. I can envision scores of lesbian New England college professors with heretofore zero interest in comic book superheroes going to see Black Panther to commune in this historic cultural phenomenon. Again, the anti-white subtext figures into the political fallout. The movie reinforces the notion of black victimization—specifically, that the dire conditions in which so many urban blacks live is not their fault, but due to institutional racism and the legacies of colonialism and slavery. Liberal whites can wallow in their self-loathing; blacks can reassure themselves of the futility of working hard to claw oneself up the ladder of middle class success.
* * *
There’s an ongoing controversy in the comic book community over so-called “white-washing” of characters. This refers to changing the race of established characters. The most notorious example is Nick Fury, whose character is now owned by Samuel L.Jackson after appearances in multiple Marvel films. Nick Fury was first incarnated as a grizzled WW2 army sergeant in Marvel’s entry into the “war comic” category. His character was very well-defined, and many fans resented the change of race in the movies. It’s one thing to change the race of a minor character, such as the Thing’s girlfriend Alicia Masters, but a whole different kettle of fish to change the race, and thus the fundamental identity, of a major character such as Nick Fury.
Black Panther was, obviously, black from the start. He was embraced by all Marvel’s readers, because he was yet another great product of the “House of Ideas;” and because of his race and African origin: exotic to boot.
Marvel has been roundly criticized for promulgating an orgy of political correctness and identity politics in their comics, typified by the white-washing of their established heroes, and even “man-washing” many of them—including the God of Thunder himself, Thor, who is now female!
It’s believed that the social justice warriors who now run Marvel realize that the future of the company is in the movie franchises and the merchandise that spins off of it, and that the printed comics business is not long for this world anyway. And so they don’t care if their radical re-imagining of their heroes in the comics is bad for business. The movie revenues bail them out.

Unfortunately the political correctness in Black Panther isn’t confined to fantasies of African technological superiority: Wakanda’s premier soldiers are all women. By now this sort of thing is to be expected. Nonetheless, I raise my objections, no matter how futile. And there is a saving grace to it in Black Panther’s manifestation: the bald, Grace Jones-like praetorian guard women do look really cool.

Marvel Studios have done a terrific job of translating those rather simple yet groundbreaking notions that Kirby and Lee put down in 1966.  I’m sure Kirby, if he were alive today, would be immeasurably proud of how his creation has been brought to mass audiences worldwide.
The movie incorporates the main story line of the Black Panther’s first comic book appearance, excluding, naturally, the Fantastic Four themselves. The villain in the first storyline of the movie (there are really two) is faithful to the comic book. Ulysses Claue (in the comic, he is named “Klaw”), wants to steal Wakanda’s prized natural resource, the mineral “vibranium.”
Once that conflict is resolved, a deeper storyline, and a more dangerous villain, emerges.  The plot lines are seamlessly weaved, and there is a clever recurrence of plot points, which altogether produces a well-constructed story.
The movie is visually stunning, with African vistas counterpoised with elaborate hi-tech motifs. It is sure to garner critical acclaim if for no other reason than it is Afro-centric and reinforces white self-othering. The movie’s main conflict emerges as whether or not Wakanda should drop its pretense as an African “nation of farmers” and share its advanced technology with the rest of the (inferior, white) world for the betterment of all mankind. Such a story line is irresistible... catnip for Hollywood liberals. But regardless, it is a very well made movie, a real escapist blockbuster. Another winner from Marvel Studios.

- Marcus Clintonius

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Most Dangerous Man in the World

Jordan Peterson just may be the most dangerous man in the world. Depending on your self-selected news media biases, you may not have heard of him. He is the psychology professor and clinical psychologist who challenged the new Canadian gender pronoun law. It added “gender expression” as a “protected class” to the Canadian Human Rights Act, and also amended the criminal code to make failure to comply criminally actionable. 
He first gained notoriety in 2016 facing down a mob of University of Toronto students who accosted him for voicing his opposition. This first act of defiance was met with letters of reprimand from the administration. The expected response is capitulation. One strongly worded letter is all that is usually required to whip a heretic free-thinker into compliance with academy groupthink.
But Peterson did the unthinkable—he fought back. He made a three-part series of video lectures, "Professor against political correctness,exposing the dangers of the social justice warriors’ newspeak. The three YouTube lectures led to the “The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast,” and eventually, his new 2018 book, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.”
Soon after his initial 15 minutes of fame, he appeared on a British news program. The aftermath guaranteed that his fame was destined to last considerably longer than the fabled “fifteen.”

Feminist journalist Cathy Newman, also a psychologist, interviewed Peterson for British Channel 4. She spent 30 minutes throwing every feminist trope at Peterson—all of which he confidently countered with air-tight logic and erudition. I counted over 10 million views of the interview on the first page of YouTube listings alone.

One exchange from the interview demonstrates why the Left is scared shitless of Peterson. (And if you doubt that they are, just google his name and see the plethora of anti-Peterson listings, many with the word “dangerous” in the title.)  
Newman hits Peterson with this:
Okay. You cited freedom of speech in that. Why should your right to freedom of speech trump a trans person’s right, not to be offended?
Now, before I give Peterson’s response, let me give what would be my response, that of someone with a quarter-century-plus of zero tolerance for victim-feminism, to contrast with Peterson’s so you can see why he is so dangerous (and I am not):
I find it hard to believe that you have actually asked that question. You are well-educated, a successful journalist, respected by your peers and I’m sure looked upon as an authority figure by thousands of viewers. Do you seriously need me to explain to you why freedom of speech has a higher priority than someone’s “right” to not be offended? Seriously?
Okay, first off, there is no “right” to not be offended. No establishment of a nation of laws could survive such an absurd proposition. Taking offense at what someone says is a subjective condition.  It cannot be disproved. To put such a beast in legal code is a recipe for infinite mischief. A long-standing example of this is the various “domestic abuse” statutes that allow a woman to emasculate a man, taking his children, property and income, simply by claiming to be afraid of him—a subjective condition, that to add insult to injury only requires the lowest evidentiary standard: preponderance of the “evidence.”
Freedom of speech, on the other hand, is an absolute imperative for a free society. The cornerstones of a free society. Giving someone a “right” to not be offended by what someone else says, and, as you suggest, that this “right” should actually trump the “offender’s” right to speak, makes me wonder why I am bothering to have this conversation with you. You are clearly a complete idiot, and in your capacity as a presumably influential media spokesperson, an outright menace to your country.
But this is Peterson’s rather more genteel response:
Because in order to be able to think, you have to risk being offensive! I mean, look at the conversation we’re having right now. You know, like you’re certainly willing to risk offending me in the pursuit of truth. Why should you have the right to do that? It’s been rather uncomfortable!
Newman responds: 
Well, I’m very glad I’ve put you on the spot! 
[laughing loudly] But you get my point! You get my point. Like, you’re... you’re doing what you should do, which is digging a bit to see what the hell’s going on. And that is what you should do. But you’re exercising your freedom of speech to certainly risk offending me! And that’s fine! I think more power to you, as far as I’m concerned!

Game. Set. Match.
Peterson’s videos, podcasts and book are phenomenally successful. “12 Rules...” is number one on Amazon in the U.S. and Canada, and number four in the U.K. The viewings of his videos are numbered in the millions. 
Unquestionably, a vacuum has been filled. Peterson’s message of outright rejection of the Left’s identity politics and tyrannical suppression of speech—especially at their source: the academy—has touched a raw nerve. More importantly, it has struck a chord in one particular segment of the population: young men.
No longer in that category, I’ve been watching the ruthless assault on masculinity and the growing criminalization of dissent for three decades. During that time, we’ve awaited the anointed one. Who is going to be able to reach the young men, so many raised fatherless, who have known nothing but anti-male feminist indoctrination throughout their lives?
Peterson may be that man. He claims no less than 25,000 young men contacted him after watching his videos, many claiming that he saved them from the abyss. These men have been denied an alternative view to that given by feminists who control the entire discourse on sex and “gender.” It is no wonder that these men are confused about their identities. It’s truly sad to see these feminized pajama boys with the last vestiges of masculinity wrung out of them, hanging on to their manhood by a thread.
Jordan Peterson is reaching these young men. Without their awakening, there is no hope for the future of western civilization. History is clear: matriarchal societies are an evolutionary dead-end. Witness Scandinavia where the immigration and integration policies of those feminist states are inevitably leading to the karmic “solution”: Islam, the ultimate patriarchal rejection of feminism.
Peterson’s ability to demolish feminist catechism with authority and grace is terrifying the cultural left. We know that this so-called “post-feminist” world, with its deranged step-child, the LBTGQ movement, is a house of cards built on a foundation of male-hatred, propaganda and the suppression of free speech. And we know that a strong dosage of truth serum is required to tear it down. Jordan Peterson is collecting acolytes by the hundred-thousands—and most of them are in that pivotal demographic, young men. They are finally waking up.
And that is why Jordan Peterson is the most dangerous man in the world. And that’s a very good thing.

— Marcus Clintonius

# # #

Friday, January 12, 2018

J.J. Abrams Force Awakens Diary

By Daryl Kane

Dear Diary, 

Kathleen Kennedy called me from over at Disney to let me know that they had selected me to write, direct and produce the new “Star Wars” movie. I told her I was really excited and would start rewatching the movies again for inspiration. May the force be with me! 


Dear Diary, 

So far I have had some really cool ideas. I was thinking that the main characters should be a girl and a black guy. Was also thinking that because most of the original heroes were white men it would be cool if the only new characters I wrote for white men were villains and then went out of my way to cast these roles with particularly pale/dweeby white guys. I wonder if Adam Driver and Domhnall Gleeson are available? 


Dear Diary,

Since Luke Skywalker isn’t going to be in the this movie to train the girl but I want her to be really powerful anyways I was thinking I could explain it by having a weird flashback sequence with her. I haven’t figured out or (really thought about) who her parents are yet so I think its good to put this scene in so the next director will remember to figure something out. Is she Luke’s daughter? Who knows, for all I know maybe her parents were a couple of losers who sold her for drinking money. I don’t really drink but I do like to smoke pot sometimes. Ok, I actually smoke pot allll the time. What was I doing? Oh yeah, I’m writing the New Stars movie!


Dear Diary,

George called today to wish me luck and offer some pointers. I told him about my ideas about making it super diverse which he seemed cool with but then he asked me if I had any other ideas about the plot, character development etc. Honestly, I hadn’t gotten that far so I mentioned some ideas about how we could give the Empire a new name and basically just continue the whole “Rebel vs Empire thing.” He said that that didn’t make sense since Luke Skywalker and his friends had already destroyed the Empire 30 years ago and then it got weird so I ended the call.


Dear Diary,

Kathleen called me today and said that George had called her and seemed concerned that I didn’t know what I was doing. She said he thought it was important to plan out the whole trilogy now, to the best of our ability and clearly figure out where our characters came from and where they were going. I told her that my method of just making things up as I went along like I did with LOST was better and then told her my idea to have the main characters be a girl and black guy and she agreed that my plan was better.


Dear Diary,

Had been going back and forth about whether or not the girl or the black guy should be the one to use Luke’s old light saber to battle the new Darth Vader guy. Then I had an epiphany, they both will!


Dear Diary, 

I came up with this bad guy who is like a storm trooper captain or something and wrote her to be a woman but then I had second thoughts because she gets beat up by men. I called Kathy Kennedy to see what she thought and she said it was ok since the guy who beats her up is black (Still thinking of a name for him so far I’m leaning towards Bob or Zapp.)


Dear Diary, 

Mark (Hamill) called me, says he is really excited about everything and asked me if he’d had any thoughts for his character yet. I told him I had something really cool planned for Luke Skywalker but it was a surprise. *evil smirk*


Dear Diary,

George called me again and was trying to be nice but I could tell he was still pissed. He asked me if I had remembered that the movies were about the Skywalker family and told me it was important to remember to make at least one new character a Skywalker.


Dear Diary,

I realized that George did have a point about the whole Skywalker thing so I had the idea that I could make the guy who is like Darth Vader be Han Solo’s kid. Not really sure where I’m going with this but I have a feeling it will turn out good. This is how I came up with the story for LOST and no one seemed to mind how that turned out.


Dear Diary,

I just realized that I have to come up with some alien planets so I was thinking that the girl could come from a planet that looks like Tatooine but isn’t and then there could be some other planet that is basically Pennsylvania in the winter time. Then I’ll make everything else look like the first Death Star.


Dear Diary,

Harrison called me today to talk which was really cool since Han Solo was my favorite character growing up. Then he told me that he was basically sick of Star Wars and had wanted to get killed off in Return of the Jedi and asked me to kill Han Solo in this movie. That’s when it hit me. The Darth Vader guy who is his son could kill him. I’m pretty sure this will make George happy too since he’s always talking about how these movies are about family relationships.


Dear Diary,

After I had the idea of having the Darth Vader kid kill Han I realized that I should have an Emperor guy too. I tried to think about where this character might have come from but my kid started eating LEGOs so I had to stop for a while. I think Kathleen said if I got stuck they could hire some novelists to come up with some books to flesh this type of stuff out for the fans that care. Might take her up on that.


Dear Diary,

I realized that I forgot what happened to this pilot guy named Poe who disappears after the first 10 minutes so I decided to bring him back at the end and have him fly around in space. The actor I’m using sort’ve looks white so I called Kathy Kennedy since the went against the whole women/minorities good white men bad motif we were running with but she said it was ok since the actor’s first name is Oscar and was from Guatemala. We’re really picking up steam here.


Dear Diary,

I was thinking about this Emperor guy again and thought it would be cool if the Darth Vader guy had his own army of bad guys with light sabers but I couldn’t really find a place for them in the story so I decided to put a shot of them in the flashback scene. Can’t wait to see what the next director decides to do with them!


Dear Diary,

I was thinking I could have a Yoda type character but have it be a female alien, (for diversity.) Was also thinking I could introduce a new female droid like r2-d2 even though just beeps and doesn’t really have a gender. Ran both ideas by Kathy and she gave me the green light.


Dear Diary,

I was thinking that it would be cool for the fans if Han and Luke had a reunion on screen but then I realized that was impossible because I decided it would be best to basically keep Luke out of the movie entirely. I guess Disney is gonna have Rian Johnson write the next one so I was thinking I would send him an email suggesting he do a reunion scene in the next movie but then I remembered that that wouldn’t work either because Han Solo dies in this one. I hear Disney is going to do side movies so maybe they could do one where Han, Luke and Leia meet up again to help some younger characters, maybe their children or something. Or they can write books about it.


Dear Diary,

I had a mini panic attack last night thinking that maybe the original fans wouldn’t like the movie since A:) Han Solo’s death accomplishes nothing but prove that he was a lousy dad B:) Luke Skywalker isn’t even in the movie. But then I had the idea to make it up to them by having the Millennium Falcon flying around every 5 seconds and remembered that even if this movie ends up being god awful it is still projected to make approximately $97 billion USD.


Dear Diary,

Just got off the phone with Mark Hamill who flipped out after seeing the script. He didn’t understand why he wasn’t in the movie and I told him that if he was in it would only make sense to have him be the one to duel with his old lightsaber which wouldn’t work because I really wanted Rey and Finn (the girl and black guy) to use it instead. Maybe if I only had one of them use it I could have slipped him in but having all three take turns would have just been stupid. He asked me if I had talked to George or read any of his notes. Dude, chill out. I got this!!


Dear Diary,

Rian Johnson (episode 8 director) called me and said he had some questions about the direction of the story so that he could figure out what to do in the next movie. He was all freaking out like bro “who are Rey’s parents? whats up with her flashback? how does she know how to do everything already? how did Maz get Luke’s lightsaber? who is Snoke? who are the knights of Ren? why did Kylo Ren turn to the dark side? how come he killed his dad? were Han and Leia shitty parents?” and all sorts of stuff like that. Honestly I was too high to talk or listen to his shit so I just held my beard clipper up the phone, said “what? I’m losing you” a few times then hung up the phone. Not my problem bro!


Monday, December 25, 2017

Review: Sex, Not-Sex, and Love by Pierce Timberlake

Sex, Not-Sex, and Love is Pierce Timberlake’s exploration of that one subject we can’t resist obsessing over. The inexplicable thing that we nonetheless spend endless time and resources attempting to explain... to each other... to ourselves. Timberlake treats the subject with the perfect balance of serious investigation with what is always lurking beneath: amusement. The essay is leavened perfectly with a subtle humor that never speaks its name yet is always present, trolling just beneath the surface.

As the title’s punctuation suggests, the essay is sectioned into three parts. The first part deals with the nature of sexual attraction, the second—the most intriguing of the three, and what I comment on in this review—attempts to uncover the source of sexual repression inherent in all human societies, though mainly focusing on its manifestation and source in the U.S.  Lastly, Timberlake ruminates on how love relates to its spirit animal, sex.

The launching point for the essay is something Timberlake heard from a friend which he calls “Mark’s Axiom.” I have it on good authority that he mis-remembered the conversation slightly, and can confirm that it is actually Mark’s “Corollary”—to an axiom regarding male sexual behavior that has been stated in many forms. In fact, this axiom is the very same notion imparted by the senior doctor who castigated the junior one for not giving a pregnancy test to a particularly homely female ER patient. As Timberlake relates, it is standard procedure to test any female patient for pregnancy before any other work is done because of the injurious complications that may arise from a particular treatment or medication if she happens to be pregnant. In the book, Timberlake substantially softens the language, though, again, I have it on good authority that what the crude doctor actually said was this:

“She's ugly, she's fat, she's a pig.  And that's why you didn't order the pregnancy test.  Listen!  For every pig, there's a pig f*#ker!  Always order the pregnancy test!”

And this concept is what was related to Timberlake by his friend Mark as an axiom that he phrased thusly:

“Show me the ugliest woman in the world and I’ll show you a man who’ll f*#k her.”

And then Mark’s corollary is this:
“Show me the most beautiful woman in the world and I’ll show you a guy who’s tired of f*#king her.”

Rest assured that Timberlake thoroughly sanitizes both the axiom and the corollary ...but I just thought you should know...

Timberlake begins his exploration of our apparent need to repress our sexual passions (to an ever-diminishing degree, one might argue) just where you’d expect: the Puritans. He goes through the list of all the usual suspects: religion, society, Freud’s wacky death vs. sex theory, all in scholarly fashion (though always we sense that tongue firmly in cheek). Each is eventually found to be unsatisfactory, and Timberlake concludes by offering to replace Freud’s death impulse as the opposing force to sex with a “restraint instinct.”

I tend to think that unrestrained sexual behavior is simply incompatible with an organized, healthy society. The orderliness of our civilization is built upon the nuclear family unit. I cannot imagine a society maintaining order if people randomly engaged in sex like the infamous bonobo monkeys. Our religious strictures (attempt to) constrain sex within marriage not because “God” ordained it, but rather, because the survival and prosperity of human society requires it, our “Gods” then demand it.

Of course, we have observed massive changes in our sexual mores in just the last few generations. It is not a stretch to say that the entire edifice of established norms of human relations has been flushed down the toilet, and if this is the case, we may be on the verge of finding out if human society can indeed survive if its sexual morals “progress” to those of the bonobos.

But of course, there is no real answer to be found to the mysteries of sex. The attraction between man and women ultimately defies explanation—as it should, in my opinion. I’ve spent my entire life trying to figure it out... to figure out women... and came to the conclusion that we are intended to be mysteries to one another. Ultimately, that’s what makes it work.

Sex, Not-Sex, and Love is an absolutely delightful read. I have now read all but one of Timberlake’s fine “meditations,”—as I refer to them. I found this one the most enjoyable of the lot.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

An Outsider’s Inside Look at Scientology

Marcus Clintonius

It was 1973. I was all of nineteen, definitely in what are called for some bizarre reason one’s “salad days.” In the past year I moved from home in Brooklyn first to Los Angeles to join some other ex-New Yorker compadres, and finally to San Francisco... by myself, with my life in one old suitcase.

I’d managed to get a job, under particularly seventies’ San Franciscan circumstances. I’d been approached by a gay man (practically a daily experience for me while living in the City at this time) in Union Square park who knew someone (of similar persuasion, it turns out) who worked at an employment agency. Following up on the lead I was able to secure an office job working for Union Oil.

The Union Oil tower was a famous landmark until it was torn down in 2005 to make way for two luxury condominium towers (Rincon Hill). It reigned over the at-the-time modest downtown skyline, and was a friendly sight greeting commuters as they embarked onto (or disembarked from) the Bay Bridge to or from homes in the East Bay. More than half of my working day was spent in that completely windowless tower, where old records were stored on tall dusty metal shelves. When records were needed to settle a customer’s dispute that went back beyond recent history, I was sent to find the necessary details.

Believe it or not, I had to pay a month’s salary to get this job. But that was standard practice for job seekers with no relevant local employment history — and especially for “transients.” When this was explained to me I had to admit that it made sense from the employer’s point-of-view. The previous decade had seen the “Summer of Love” migration of youths from all corners of the country... and some of them actually sought legitimate employment. They were called “transients” because that’s what they were. Finding a way to earn a living, some of them stayed. But most (probably) did not. I can sympathize with an employer having to pay for bringing a new hire up to speed only finding themselves in need of a replacement in six months. Still, I resented it. I was living pretty much hand-to-mouth.

As it turns out, I didn’t stay in that job very long either; but it wasn’t to continue my “transienting” ways — it was to get a better job.

My first residence in “the City” was a seedy hotel room in the Tenderloin district. I believe it was the cheapest digs listed in the classified ads of the SF Chronicle. (Was it really $60/week?) As soon as I saved enough bread from the Union Oil job I got my own apartment. I have very fond memories of that large studio apartment on Willard St. in Ashbury Heights. It was beautiful, and yes, with a (northward) view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

* * *

"The man who talks to plants"
During my first years in San Francisco I had many memorable experiences. I made some good friends, saw some great Grateful Dead concerts at Winterland, got laid a lot, even palled around with some hustlers and wannabe pimps; and hey — this was only my road game!

I also had a brief but fascinating experience with Scientology. It was during my first months there, when I was living in the seedy hotel on Post St. In the evening after work I would walk around the Union Square environs. At that time there was a Scientology church located nearby. They had their people on street corners inviting people to come in and “take a free personality test.”

Unlike most of the rubes that took the offer, I had heard about the infamous L Ron Hubbard (LRH) and Scientology. I even remembered seeing the front page of an English newspaper somewhere with a picture of a man holding a strange device with some wires connected to a plant. Headline: “The man who talks to plants.”

I don’t recall the precise provenance of my knowledge of Scientology — but I knew its nefarious nature. I knew that once you joined they never let you go. Specifically, that people who had some cursory involvement with it, no matter how brief, were relentlessly pursued; by phone, by mail, no matter which corner of the planet they traveled to.

So, I knew that one thing I would never do is give them a real name and address. And so, one evening, out of curiosity, I took up the offer, entered the Scientology sanctum, and took the “Personality Test.”

I should mention at this time — my “salad days,” remember — I was a pretty confident dude. Not only was I at the physical prime of life, I also count myself as blessed with a winning personality, above-average intelligence (isn’t everybody?), and in possession of a healthy emotional and psychological foundation due to being raised in a normal, functioning two-parent household by parents who loved me and taught me right from wrong.

I don’t remember the test questions, but I do remember thinking that they were very canny. On some of them it wasn’t at all clear which of the multiple choices was the “correct” answer. However, nothing prepared me for the shock of the results when they were showed me by my Scientology handler. The results were on a graph. My handler pointed to the line of my responses and coolly said, “Man, you’re kissing the bottom.”

Indeed, according to the graph I must’ve been a real loser. The line corresponding to my responses did indeed hover very close to the horizontal line at the bottom of the scale. What ensued was several hours’ worth of browbeating and back-and-forth between us as he tried to convince me how much I needed to take the $25 Communications Course.

I had made up my mind before even entering the place that not only was I not going to give my real contact information, I was not going to pay anything to take any course. I was there to find out as much as I could about Scientology because — it fascinated me.

I remember that as his pitch rolled on, and he was getting nowhere with me, the effort began to take its toll. He was tiring. It took some time but I eventually got him to reveal some things about himself. He admitted that he had tried many things. I don’t recall what exactly — perhaps “born-again” Christianity, perhaps EST, or maybe LSD, perhaps Hare Krishna, perhaps “Nam myoho renge kyo” chanting (which was a thing at the time) — but it was some list of belief systems that promised results for those lost souls in need of “the answer.”

To make a long story short, I eventually left for home, and Scientology did not fill another seat for a Communications Course that evening. I should mention that besides the one-on-one personality evaluation/sales pitch I also recall a group presentation that used charts and props to describe some Scientology theory of human behavior, how we seek ”affinity” at several levels of social organization: friends and family, community, nation, species, etc. They also explained some things about personal relationships; I recall something they called the “reach and withdraw dynamic.”

It was all pretty reasonable. There was nothing obviously objectionable. All in all, it seemed like a perfectly rational theory of relationships and the human condition. A theory, I mused, of which a thousand others could just as easily be constructed. You have to get up pretty early in the morning to fool Mrs. C’s second-born son.

I also got a taste of auditing on that first night. If you don’t know what auditing is, Google it. I was hooked up to an e-meter and briefly audited. The auditer asked me to think about everything I had done since waking up that day. Earlier in the day I needed a phone number. Since I was living in a hotel room, the only recourse was a phone booth (remember them?).

So I am now reliving that memory. I am in a phone booth thumbing through the phone book until I find the number I need. I must have neglected to bring a pen or paper, so I found myself tearing out the page I needed. At the moment I had this thought the auditer spoke up. At that thought the meter’s needle had jumped. He explained what happened, and that was the end of the demonstration. It was sufficient to convince me that auditing is indeed valid. Here’s what happened according to Scientology theory. I felt guilt at tearing out the page of a public phone book. I had done a bad thing, and I felt guilty about it. That act, the memory of it, created an “engram” which then lodged into permanent residence in my “Reactive Mind.”

The Reactive Mind sounds a whole lot like the subconscious, but if you wish to know more about the comparison between the two you will have to do some more Googling. I carry it as a badge of pride that I got my bachelor’s degree taking only one behavioral science course: Sociology 101. And indeed, upon taking it my suspicions were confirmed, and my disdain for the so-called “behavioral sciences” reinforced. But I digress.

Back to the Reactive Mind. The “Bridge to Total Freedom” is crossed by eventually extinguishing all the engrams in the Reactive Mind. This is done through auditing. The auditing is delivered in all the various and sundry courses and trainings that lead up to the state of “Clear.” One of the stated objectives of Scientology is to “Clear the planet.” That means to literally Clear at least 50% of the world’s population, at which time the Earth would become an infinitely better place to live, as the Scientology Clear-ed majority of the population would be in a position to mitigate and control the bad behavior of the minority non-Scientologists — the rest of the Earth’s population that hadn’t yet seen the light.

* * *

That evening was my initial exposure to Scientology. I don’t recall the circumstances, but somehow I became friends with several members of the Church. Of particular relevance to this story are two female roommates whom I’ll call Carol and Lynn. They would’ve been my age or slightly older. They were relatively new converts — not Clears or OTs (Operating Thetan). It was from them that I first heard what’s in the OT-III level “revelation” — Xenu and the whole sci-fi bit.

In retrospect, after watching Leah Remini’s show (Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, on the A&E network) I’m surprised that Carol and Lynn told me about this. First of all, they weren’t supposed to know (yet). But I guess in the rarified air of the Church of Scientology, rules get broken and it’s hard to resist sharing this “hidden knowledge” with one’s friends. Here I’m not so much speaking about Carol and Lynn sharing this with me (Lynn: “Xenu! He’s a bad dude!”), I’m talking about Scientology higher-ups who shared it with them. [1].

But you can find out all you want about Xenu from Leah Rimini’s show (season 2, episode 4, “The Bridge to Total Freedom,” to be exact) or just google “Xenu Scientology.” I will say a little more about Xenu in a moment. This is not the essence of what I have to reveal.

If you wish to build an organization, a metaphorical army (which is a good way to describe the Church of Scientology, by the way), which of the following conditions would most likely ensure permanent loyalty; that is, which of the following would be most effective in preventing your “soldiers” from ever deserting?
  1. Exclusiveness. Instilling a sense of unique superiority over outsiders that only comes from membership in the group.
  2. Financial rewards.
  3. Intangible rewards: making you a better person with a fulfilling life — the contentment that comes from knowing you are living life in the correct way, benefiting not just yourself but also others, as you serve the greater good.
  4. Invoking terrible and painful punishments for leaving.

Though Scientology employs all of these except for (2) — and (4) is certainly not advertised — none of these choices is the correct answer. Read on.

Of my two Scientology friends, Carol was on the path, taking courses. Lynn, however was not presently taking any course. She was stymied.  It wasn’t the financial cost that was the impediment. (Though the cost was, and remains, mind-numbing, it is not what prevents these Paduwans from proceeding to the “Bridge of Total Freedom.” How they find the money for books, courses and auditing costing thousands and tens of thousands of dollars — auditing can run as high as $1,000 per hour, according to Rimini — I’ll never know. Refer to Leah Rimini’s show for anecdotal details.)

Scientology would not let Lynn take the course.

Once I explain the reason for this you will begin to understand the diabolically brilliant nature of Scientology as an organizing principle.

During some conversation, perhaps during the course she had taken, Lynn had revealed that some member(s) of her family opposed her involvement with Scientology. Someone in her family had clearly done his homework and would not give their seal of approval.

Now, Lynn was not bound by what her parents, or brother or sister or whomever it was, thought of Scientology. She was an independent adult, and this was 1973, not 1873. She did not require their permission. It was the Church that demanded she get their permission. Lynn could not take the next course until she had removed her family’s opposition.

Think about that. That means Scientologists who have fully committed themselves to the “path” (formally, the “Bridge of Total Freedom”) no longer had anyone in their immediate family who might be in a position, at some future time, to pull them back out if/when they become disenchanted. There was no longer any outside support system to turn to — they had already been convinced that Church involvement was fine, or they had been cut off by the Scientologist.  

* * *

I have nothing further on my two friends Carol and Lynn. I lost touch with them when I moved out of the Tenderloin — but I have more to tell.

Because of my friendship with Carol and Lynn I was able to volunteer at the Church. In retrospect it strikes me as sloppy security that they allowed someone to infiltrate so easily, but they did. While volunteering I got to observe several interesting (and remarkable) events. At one time while doing some filing I was able to observe a session of that very Communications Course I had worked so hard to resist enrolling in. The students were paired up across a long narrow table. The exercise was for one of each pair to say nasty insulting things to their partner across the table.  The partner’s job was to resist responding. Then they switched. I remember thinking at the time that it was a brilliant exercise; a stretching of normal interactions. I liken it to practicing free-throws from the top of the key so as to improve one’s shots from the free-throw line. If you can manage interactions at the extremes of behavior, normal communications would be that much easier. I could see how the Communications Course was probably really quite good.

On another occasion I managed to observe a presentation of self-auditing given by someone who had crossed the “bridge.” This guy was so advanced he could audit himself! So, he’s sitting up there on a raised platform auditing himself and suddenly breaks into laughter. He recounts that he just had a past-life memory of falling off a horse, in medieval times.

Did I mention that once someone has had their Reactive Mind cleared, they still may have to work on the Reactive Minds of their previous lives? Yes, reincarnation is firmly part of Scientology theory. Those that sign up for duty on the prestigious “Sea Org” sign a contract for — wait for it — one billion years. No lie.

* * *

An aside about this ability of Scientologists to access memories from past lives:

This facet of the cult’s behavior is actually instrumental in explaining something that defies rational explanation. Namely, when Scientologists reach OT-III and are shown L Ron Hubbard’s ridiculous grand space-opera revelation, how can they possibly buy into it?

In a nutshell, here’s the big reveal: 75 million years ago, Xenu, the dictator of the “Galactic Confederacy,” brought billions of his people to Earth in spacecrafts very similar to DC-8 jetliners, dropped them into volcanoes and then blew them up with H-bombs. But their spirits are immortal, and they adhered themselves to ... us, and are the real source of all our psychic problems that actual cause the engrams in our Reactive Minds. Or something. 
Bear in mind that these Scientologists have spent upwards of several hundred thousand dollars up to this point.

Tony Ortega, in his July 2012 Village Voice article, posits that the reason otherwise rational people can believe this is because they have already bought into “space-opera” stories — the ones they have themselves discovered in their self-delusionary auditing sessions. It should come as no surprise that with such far-fetched concepts already in the environment, people will quite naturally want to believe that they themselves were important people in their past lives. Hence past-life “memories” uncovered during auditing often involve events on other planets, including situations where they played pivotal roles in cosmic battles and such. According to Ortega, he knew of six Scientologists who believed they were Jesus Christ in their past lives.

Given that state-of-mind, believing in LRH’s big reveal about Xenu may in fact make perfect sense to them. Ortega is right.
For more info about Xenu and everything else Scientology, go to www.xenu.net, and be sure to read Ortega’s excellent Village Voice article.

* * *

And now a word about the actual work I was asked to do there while volunteering. Remember several passages ago where I said I knew about the infamous tactic of Scientology tracking down errant recruits who had left the fold? Well, that’s what I was tasked to do. I was told to go through their files and record the names of people who had not been contacted in some specific period of time (which I don’t recall... maybe a year or something like that). Those names would then be given to someone who would dutifully do their best to track down their whereabouts and reestablish contact, presumably by letter or phone call.

In the files I would see previous letters written to them. They were cheerful letters inquiring why they’d been out of touch? They would usually include some friendly comment about some item specific to the individual, such as “What did you think of the Communications Course?” or perhaps some message about something in their personal life.

While in those files I found some notable names, such as members of the Grateful Dead. I specifically recall seeing Robert Hunter’s file, and I can’t be sure about the others, but I know I saw one or two of the boys: Jerry, Bob, Phil or Billy.
* * *

And so ends my anecdotes. I will leave you with one last observation. That San Francisco Scientology office occupied several floors (at least two). It was always bustling with activity. All of the people had this unique science fiction-ey look in their eyes. It was scary. If you’re thinking now of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or some similar movie about a possessed population, you’re not far off the mark.

The classes that I observed, the clever exercises drills, all served to mold the minds of Scientologists. I remember having the impression of training people to operate at 100% efficiency, to be able to focus 100% of their mental activity to any task assigned them. A super effective human being — a “super-soldier,” as it were.

I left my little clandestine subterfuge with the sense that the Church of Scientology might be many things — cult, extraordinarily lawyered up criminal enterprise, winner of Best Bait-and-Switch Scam in Galactic Sector award for 43 trillion years in a row, an insane science-fiction author’s fantasy come to life — but it most definitely was not something to be laughed at.

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[1] Tony Ortega, “Why do scientologists accept the Xenu story?” Village Voice. 21 July 2012 https://www.villagevoice.com/2012/07/21/why-do-scientologists-accept-the-xenu-story/