Thursday, October 4, 2012

My Childhood

I'm the product of a government experiment called the public school system.

I suppose you should know this about me. It explains a lot. I've never told anyone because it's so ridiculous you'll assume I'm making it up. That's the price of satire - no one believes you when you're telling the truth.

I was born a rich kid, Beverly Hills, north of Santa Monica Blvd., big house, tennis court, Cadillac in the driveway, all needs met. One neighbor had an Oscar I played with (I.A.L. Diamond, for writing The Apartment), another had a lavish vomitorium for those really GOOD parties with endless courses of too much food. I'd go to a friend's house after school only to discover they actually had their own house behind their parent's house. When my dad died, we started a gradual descent, moving to a smaller house, then a smaller house, then to an apartment in the slums of Beverly Hills below Santa Monica Blvd., all to keep me in what was supposed to be the best school system in the world.

None of this stopped me from being a holy terror in class. I was thrown out of the fifth grade at Beverly Vista Elementary in BH, sent to military school as a "disciplinary problem," sent back to the sixth grade at Horace Mann Elementary in BH, thrown out, sent to another military school where I advanced to the rank of corporal, sent back to the seventh grade at El Rodeo Elementary in BH, and finally declared "emotionally disturbed" and thrown out of the entire Beverly Hills Unified School System.

How did this happen? In 1960 or thereabouts, when I was 8, the Beverly Hills Unified School District decided to be the very first to give every single one of their students one of them fancy new standardized IQ tests in order to scientifically analyze the entire student body. They wouldn't tell me the number but I got fourth highest in the entire district, across all schools, ages and grades. All the other students with high IQs were the top straight A students except me. I had Cs and Ds and Fs so I became a case study. How could someone as bright as me be doing so poorly academically? They plucked me out of elementary school and sent me to UCLA Psychiatric Institute where I was tested and observed for weeks, test after test, observation after observation, drawing, piling blocks, answering endless questions. They had to figure me out because if the problem wasn't me, it would have to be them.

I was actually surprised I did so well on the IQ test because I had such difficulty answering certain questions, particularly the ones showing a list of words saying "which one doesn't belong." The list would be something like...

a) banana
b) potato
c) petunia
d) candle

One might think the obvious answer was d) since it's the only one that isn't a form of vegetation, but I'd be able to come up with a rational reason why every single word didn't belong. Each word has an "a" but banana is the only one with three. Potato is the only word with an "o." Petunia is the only word that isn't six letters. I'd sit there not trying to figure out which was the right answer, they all were right, but trying to figure out which right answer the jerks who came up with the test were expecting.

The same problem crept into my studies. Teachers didn't know how to handle me. I figured if they had the right to test me, I had the right to test them. I noticed they used a template for grading tests. I'd reorganize my answers so they couldn't use it. For my answer to question 1, I'd write "see answer #6," where the correct answer would be found. I got Fs on tests where I got every answer right, just not in the expected order. I used this technique from the first grade, elementary school arithmetic, if the question was "What's 3 + 8," I'd answer "5 + 6." Correct, but not the answer they were looking for. When did Columbus discover America? 320 years before the War of 1812.

It never occurred to anyone that the reason I was acting like this was because I was bored out of my skull. Anything to pass the time. I managed to learn absolutely everything they were teaching, just as reliably as their finest students. I just wasn't mirroring it back to them properly, thus, Cs and Ds and Fs.

Teachers were warned about me before I ever met them. They kept their eye on me from the first day so I couldn't get away with anything. I was the first to be blamed if anything happened, and half my time was spent exiled to the hallway for insubordination.

When I got my first history book, I drew a little B-52 bomber in the lower left margin of the first page, along with a little city on the far right. On the next page, I drew the bomber a little bit to the right, closer to the city, continuing on each page until eventually, if you flipped through the book, the bomber would fly across the page till it dropped a big one on the city, causing a mushroom cloud to go up the right margin.

When my teacher saw this, were they impressed by the fact a seven-year-old had seemingly invented animation? Animation wasn't the day's lesson. Did they simply ask me to erase it? Did they encourage my creativity by handing me a pad of blank paper and asking me to use it for my animations instead of the textbook? Nope, they suspended me for defacing school property.

How do you get thrown out of the 5th grade? I was bored with what they were having me read. One day during a PE period where I was excused for some medical problem, I had nothing to do, so I started reading a paperback I saw in a metal rack in the playground, Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, the first book I ever read so it was the best book I'd ever read, way better than Dick and Jane. I couldn't stop reading so I took it with me to class. Nobody had ever explained that those particular books had to be checked out. I left school on my bike and got chased by two bigger kids who threw me to the ground, searched my backpack, found the book, and dragged me back to the school office for stealing school property.

Upon finding a fifth grader caught trying to read a tenth grade book, did they advance me to another grade? Nope, it was the final straw, they threw me out of the whole system.

Despite this particular moment of idiocy, it turned out the BH school system really was better then the rest, which caused a very strange problem. They'd get rid of me, I'd end up in a school in the LA system that was teaching what I'd learned the year before, I'd get straight As, they'd say to Beverly Hills "what's the matter with you, this is a fine student," BH would take me back, I'd be a year behind, learn everything but fail, they'd throw me out, send me to another LA school where they were teaching everything I'd just learned, I'd get straight As again, and end up right back in BH.

Finally I found myself at Beverly High for four years, class of '69, WAY before Beverly Hills 90210, with a theater department headed by the magnificent John Ingle, and a separate parking lot just for students, full of much better cars than those in the faculty lot. I took swim lessons in the "swim gym," the pool under the slide-away basketball court made famous in the film It's a Wonderful Life. Hung with Patricia Cummings - daughter of Bob (You don't know who Bob Cummings is?), Cathie Amsterdam - daughter of Morry (C'mon, Morry Amsterdam, from The Dick Van Dyke Show. Who's Dick Van Dyke? Jesus!), and Phil Ritz, son of Harry of the Ritz Brothers (they replaced The Three Stooges in Blazing Stewardesses when Moe died before filming, but you knew that). 

When Ella Fitzgerald moved to Beverly Hills, her son Ray Brown Jr. became the very first person of color many of us had ever met and we went out of our way to treat him as an equal. I directed him in the school production of Marty.

One day I was called to the office where Dr. Morgenstern, an official with the school system, now the school psychologist, told me he'd read my file and wanted to talk. He told me I was still one of the smartest students in the system, that they were proud to have someone so brilliant at the school. He sincerely apologized for the way I had been treated so far. He couldn't understand why they didn't realize the problem wasn't me, it was their inability to cope with anybody challenging the status quo. Dr. Morgenstern followed my career as a journalist and wrote me decades later with pride at how I had turned out.

Though I went through the ceremony with my classmates, I was given a blank sheet of paper instead of a diploma. I never actually graduated BHHS because I was lacking 2 grade points. I learned absolutely everything they were teaching without having to bother with crap like homework, which I never handed in, or daily quizzes, which I inevitably failed. I aced my finals, proving all the other stuff was unnecessary, but not to one teacher who flunked me anyway. I'd already been accepted to LACC so who cared.

Time went on. It was a gradual descent from uptrodden to downtrodden, from all needs met to most needs met to some needs met to few needs met to no needs met, from Paris Hilton to Motel 6, from hobnobbing with the got-alls to scrounging with the rest, but the gravity of life can tend to run downhill.

I always intended to move back to Beverly Hills to see how my own kids would fare in the same system that had such problems with me, but that ship has either sailed or never docked. Now my kids are the products of completely different bad school systems. Dr. Morgenstern's apology was nice but I really hope they learned their lesson and they're not still creating people so fucked up.

Maybe telling me my IQ wasn't such a hot idea, but how else could they explain what they were doing? I never bragged about it and fifty years later, this is first time I've ever mentioned it. It was too traumatic for me to consider it a plus. I can't think of any circumstances in my childhood where knowing I was supposed to be so smart did me any good. On the contrary, the guys watching me with clipboards only instilled the belief there was something wrong with me, a belief I apparently still hold to this day.

Thanks for reading this. Now I don't have to pay for a therapist.


"The past is our definition. We may strive, with good reason, to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it."

- Wendell Berry -

Letters about My Childhood from Issue #216 of Disinfotainment Today

Amazing story. 

- Jeff Crook

My Childhood is a fabulous read. Life is a trip. Thanks. Do more of this.
- Frank Cavestani
If you were a stand-up, I'd stand in the back and watch you. 
- Larry Hankin

Mr. Dare,
    I don't know what are your plans for an autobiography, if you have written the full scale of it or intend to promote your writings as such, but I was completely captivated. Surely, this is the premise of a memorable screenplay, at the very least.
    One of life's insults that perplexes me most is how truly brilliant minds of creative genius so often seem to be perpetually at odds with realizing their full potential and the ability to lay claim to greatness, primarily in the form of significant recognition and cold hard cash.
    I, for one, would pay the price of a hardcover to read it - a new hardcover from one of those expensive hotel book shops with organic bagels and espresso served in porcelain demi tasse. In other words, surely the story of your life would sell well.
    I have been in that position a few times at school, seen the kid who is obviously gifted on a level far beyond his peers and instructors, stuck in the corner, struggling with the strictures of cookie-cutter education, doodling ideas that speak of talents the rest of us can only marvel. And I have seen what just a few words of encouragement and understanding can do to help them see that those years coming of age are such a small part of the great expanse of destiny. It staggers the imagination what those kids could accomplish if only more of their educators had the wisdom and resources to cultivate their abilities.
    Thank you for sharing your personal struggles. Few biographies, in my opinion, prove more interesting than a life lived in full pursuit of breaking free from the status quo.
- Kristen Twedt

This is a wonderful piece you've written and should be a chapter in a book of your life. You don't need a therapist, you just need to continue to believe in how smart you are, how well you write, and how someday, someone is going to realize this and do something for you.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Spotlight on Tony Scott - Billion Dollar Director

Critic's Take on Action Auteur

from Daily Variety, Aug. 6, 1996

by Michael Dare

It’s hard not to see it as one of the most public displays of sibling rivalry in all of show biz. Ridley and Tony, one a master of the cerebral, one a master of the visceral, both absolute masters of the technical. As children, they must have played games together, gotten in scrapes, challenged each other, and done arts and crafts. The competition between them was inevitable. One makes films that are artsy, one makes films that are crafty.

Despite their equal technical proficiency, the overall philosophy of their films couldn’t be more different: Ridley’s nihilistic and pessimistic outlook is in direct contrast to Tony’s exuberant optimism. Tony couldn’t make a film in which the two main characters end up flying off a cliff any more than Ridley could make a film in which the two main characters end up cavorting on a beach with their baby. One fights for happy endings, the other for sad. Ridley fought hard to prevent “Bladerunner” from being released with an ending that had even the slightest glimmer of hope. He lost, but the film’s cult following enabled him to eventually release a director’s cut with a much more depressing denouncement. Tony fought hard to prevent “True Romance” from being release with an incredibly depressing ending penned by Quentin Tarantino. He won, and the film’s ultra-happy fantasy ending helped elevate the film to cult status.

By the time Tony Scott made his first film, “The Hunger,” (1983) his older brother Ridley had already established himself with “The Duellists” (1977), “Alien” (1979), and “Bladerunner” (1982). Deciding to become a film director with such an older brother is like deciding to become an architect with Frank Lloyd Wright as an older brother. Quite a challenge for anyone to live up to.

“The Hunger” doesn’t seem to fit into Tony’s filmography at all. Watching it is less like watching a movie and more like flipping through a movie. With equal amounts of vampires, lesbians, rock music, and more hip sunglasses than Melrose Ave. on Saturday, it’s as though MTV and Vogue Magazine conspired to remake “Dracula” as soft core porn. Starring Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, and David Bowie, if your memory of the film consists of more images than plot, your memory is serving you well. “Hollywood hated ‘The Hunger,’” said Scott at the time. “They said it was arty and indulgent, which it was. After that, I couldn’t get arrested. It took me two years to get another movie.”

Luckily, Simpson and Bruckheimer saw his commercial reel and hired him to direct “Top Gun,” which erased all memories of his premiere experimentation in storytelling. Anybody who can’t follow the plot of “Top Gun” is brain dead. A cocky Navy pilot (Tom Cruise) gets sent to a special school to learn dogfighting. After a torrid affair with his flight instructor (Kelly McGillis), he gets to prove himself in a final confrontation with the Russians. Though the plot is standard, the action is superlative. Time Magazine called it “Shamelessly entertaining,” and even Roger Ebert had to admit that “The remarkable achievement in ‘Top Gun’ is that it presents seven or eight aerial encounters that are so well choreographed that we can actually follow them.” The film was an enormous hit, which must have felt good for several reasons. Big brother had just bombed with “Legend,” another seeming sure thing starring Tom Cruise.

Scott continued his lucrative collaboration with Simpson/Bruckheimer with “Beverly Hills Cop II” (1987), another ode to momentum with wall-to-wall action sequences. Though not as funny as the original, it was an enormous commercial success, establishing Scott as one of Hollywood’s premiere action directors.

“Revenge” (1990) starts out as a female fantasy. What woman married to Anthony Quinn wouldn’t consider having an affair with Kevin Costner? Not Madeleine Stowe, who jumps at the chance. Then the film switches sides as Quinn moves in on the lovers, giving the movie it’s well deserved title. With his now trademark stylish photography, an amazing performance by Quinn, and virtually no action sequences, “Revenge” got good reviews but did no business. It was, however, Quentin Tarantino’s favorite film of Scott’s, inciting him later to recommend Scott as a director for his script of “True Romance.”

With “Days of Thunder,” Scott returned to a formula he knew well, the Tom Cruise action flick. Set in the world of stock-car racing, it follows the archetype of “Top Gun” almost exactly. Unjustly maligned at the time for it’s budget and very public behind-the-scenes bickering, it has actually aged quite well. The races are top-notch, and the dialogue by Robert Towne full of surprises.

“The Last Boy Scout” follows the Bruce Willis archetype as strongly as “Days of Thunder” follows the Tom Cruise archetype. Willis is a down and out private detective who teams with Damon Wayons to stop a plot to legalize gambling that somehow involves blowing up a football stadium. Scott integrates the laughs in a much surer way than he did with BHC2, with Taylor Negron as a particular standout among a large crew of villains.

Scott totally hit his stride with “True Romance” (1993). In his quest to perfectly integrate plot and action, it turns out that all he really needed was a script by Quentin Tarantino. Scott took Tarantino’s backwards and sideways script, straightened it out, and gave it a miraculously happy ending that Elvis would have loved.

It’s also the one that got him in the most trouble. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole accused the film, and others, of crossing the line “not just of taste, but of human dignity and decency,” and of threatening to “undermine our character as a nation.” All this because Tony Scott changed the ending. Perhaps if he had gone with Tarantino’s ending, where the hero dies a horrible death, the film wouldn’t have been excoriated as another one of Hollywood’s “nightmares of depravity.”

“True Romance” is in many ways his most satisfying film, due in no small part to the brilliance of Quentin Tarantino’s first script, especially in the treatment of the minor characters. As Tarantino explains, “Clarence and Alabama keep running into all these people, and when they do, the movie becomes the story of the people they meet. When they’re with Clarence’s father, I treat him as though the whole movie is going to be about him. When Vincezo Coccotti, the gangster that Christopher Walken plays, comes in, the whole movie could be about him. The same thing with Drexl, the Gary Oldman characters. But particularly the father. You just figure he’s going to play a central role. Then I rub Dennis Hopper out.”

Next was “Crimson Tide,” (1995) the best submarine movie that Tom Clancy didn’t write. Rolling Stone called it a “powerhouse action thriller acted to hell and back by Denzel Washington as St. Cmdr. Ron Hunter and Gene Hackman as Capt. Frank Ramsey.” It’s an intense, claustrophobic, and very serious version of “Dr. Strangelove” underwater, a monument to testosterone.

Seeing his work as a whole, it’s not just his expertise at action that draws in the male crowds, but his fascinating penchant for creating miraculous fantasy babes. What student pilot hasn’t daydreamed that his flight instructor will not only look like Kelly McGillis, but will actually fall for him? What survivor of a car wreck doesn’t have the fantasy that his doctor will not only look like Nicole Kidman, but will actually fall for him, giving him “a thorough physical examination?” And breathes there a clerk in a comic book store who hasn’t fantasized about meeting a whore with a heart of gold at a kung-fu film who not only looks like Patricia Arquette, but falls for him? As adolescent as these fantasies might seem, the purity of their nonsense cuts right to the male heart, if not a lower organ.

RIP Tony Scott

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Seattle Hempfest 2012 Press Release


Is it time to retire marijuana prohibition? The world’s largest cannabis policy retirement party thinks so. Seattle Hempfest 2012 expects many tens of thousands to attend its 21st annual event, and as America’s largest marijuana law reform event Hempfest invites everyone to join in the celebration to end cannabis prohibition Aug. 17-19 at Myrtle Edwards Park.

The 2012 “protestival” features hundreds of booths and six stages of music and speakers dotting the mile plus expanse at Myrtle Edwards and Centennial Parks, on the beautiful Puget Sound. With the Washington state decriminalization Initiative 502 on this November’s ballot, there will be much discussion about the merits and mechanics of regional cannabis reform on all of Hempfest’s stages.

Scheduled speakers include Steve DeAngelo, executive director, Harborside Health Center; Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Washington State Senate; Roger Goodman, Washington State Representative; Jill Stein, Green Party presidential nominee; Alison Holcomb, campaign director for I-502 New Approach Washington; and Rick Steves, travel show host and New Approach Washington Sponsor for I-502.

The Seattle Hempfest is an all-volunteer effort and is free to attend; donations are encouraged. Attendees are urged to ride public transportation to the event. First held in 1991 as a “humble gathering of stoners,” it has grown to become a premier Northwest summer attraction, adding to Seattle’s notoriety as a marijuana-friendly city. The public is encouraged to cut the long lines by using Amgen Helix Pedestrian Bridge located at the intersection of Elliot Ave W and W Prospect Street.

WHAT – The Seattle Hempfest XXI, America’s largest “protestival”

WHEN – Noon – 8 p.m., Friday, Aug. 17, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 18 & 19

WHERE – Myrtle Edwards Park - Pier 70 on the downtown Seattle waterfront  

Contact: Vivian McPeak (206) 295-7258 cell or (206) 364-4367 office  


Friday, August 10, 2012

The Top 20 Logical Fallacies

What is a logical fallacy?

All arguments have the same basic structure: A therefore B. They begin with one or more premises (A), which is a fact or assumption upon which the argument is based. They then apply a logical principle (therefore) to arrive at a conclusion (B). An example of a logical principle is that of equivalence. For example, if you begin with the premises that A=B and B=C, you can apply the logical principle of equivalence to conclude that A=C. A logical fallacy is a false or incorrect logical principle. An argument that is based upon a logical fallacy is therefore not valid. It is important to note that if the logic of an argument is valid then the conclusion must also be valid, which means that if the premises are all true then the conclusion must also be true. Valid logic applied to one or more false premises, however, leads to an invalid argument. Also, if an argument is not valid, the conclusion may, by chance, still be true.

Top 20 Logical Fallacies (in alphabetical order)

Ad hominem: An ad hominem argument is any that attempts to counter another's claims or conclusions by attacking the person, rather than addressing the argument itself. True believers will often commit this fallacy by countering the arguments of skeptics by stating that skeptics are closed minded. Skeptics, on the other hand, may fall into the trap of dismissing the claims of UFO believers, for example, by stating that people who believe in UFO's are crazy or stupid.

Ad ignorantum: The argument from ignorance basically states that a specific belief is true because we don't know that it isn't true. Defenders of extrasensory perception, for example, will often overemphasize how much we do not know about the human brain. UFO proponents will often argue that an object sighted in the sky is unknown, and therefore it is an alien spacecraft.

Argument from authority: Stating that a claim is true because a person or group of perceived authority says it is true. Often this argument is implied by emphasizing the many years of experience, or the formal degrees held by the individual making a specific claim. It is reasonable to give more credence to the claims of those with the proper background, education, and credentials, or to be suspicious of the claims of someone making authoritative statements in an area for which they cannot demonstrate expertise. But the truth of a claim should ultimately rest on logic and evidence, not the authority of the person promoting it.

Argument from final Consequences: Such arguments (also called teleological) are based on a reversal of cause and effect, because they argue that something is caused by the ultimate effect that it has, or purpose that it serves. For example: God must exist, because otherwise life would have no meaning.

Argument from Personal Incredulity: I cannot explain or understand this, therefore it cannot be true. Creationists are fond of arguing that they cannot imagine the complexity of life resulting from blind evolution, but that does not mean life did not evolve.

Confusing association with causation: This is similar to the post-hoc fallacy in that it assumes cause and effect for two variables simply cause they are correlated, although the relationship here is not strictly that of one variable following the other in time. This fallacy is often used to give a statistical correlation a causal interpretation. For example, during the 1990s both religious attendance and illegal drug use have been on the rise. It would be a fallacy to conclude that therefore, religious attendance causes illegal drug use. It is also possible that drug use leads to an increase in religious attendance, or that both drug use and religious attendance are increased by a third variable, such as an increase in societal unrest. It is also possible that both variables are independent of one another, and it is mere coincidence that they are both increasing at the same time. A corollary to this is the invocation of this logical fallacy to argue that an association does not represent causation, rather it is more accurate to say that correlation does not necessarily mean causation, but it can. Also, multiple independent correlations can point reliably to a causation, and is a reasonable line of argument.

Confusing currently unexplained with unexplainable: Because we do not currently have an adequate explanation for a phenomenon does not mean that it is forever unexplainable, or that it therefore defies the laws of nature or requires a paranormal explanation. An example of this is the "God of the Gaps" strategy of creationists that whatever we cannot currently explain is unexplainable and was therefore an act of god.

False Continuum: The idea that because there is no definitive demarcation line between two extremes, that the distinction between the extremes is not real or meaningful: There is a fuzzy line between cults and religion, therefore they are really the same thing.

False Dichotomy: Arbitrarily reducing a set of many possibilities to only two. For example, evolution is not possible, therefore we must have been created (assumes these are the only two possibilities). This fallacy can also be used to oversimplify a continuum of variation to two black and white choices. For example, science and pseudo-science are not two discrete entities, but rather the methods and claims of all those who attempt to explain reality fall along a continuum from one extreme to the other.

Inconsistency: Applying criteria or rules to one belief, claim, argument, or position but not to others. For example, some consumer advocates argue that we need stronger regulation of prescription drugs to ensure their safety and effectiveness, but at the same time argue that medicinal herbs should be sold with no regulation for either safety or effectiveness.

The Moving Goalpost: A method of denial arbitrarily moving the criteria for "proof" or acceptance out of range of whatever evidence currently exists.

Non-Sequitur: In Latin this term translates to "doesn't follow." This refers to an argument in which the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premises. In other words, a logical connection is implied where none exists.

Post-hoc ergo propter hoc: This fallacy follows the basic format of: A preceded B, therefore A caused B, and therefore assumes cause and effect for two events just because they are temporally related (the Latin translates to "after this, therefore because of this").

Reductio ad absurdum: These arguments assume that if an argument is valid, it necessarily means that the most extreme example of that argument must also be valid. A UFO enthusiast once argued that if I am skeptical about the existence of alien visitors, I must also be skeptical of the existence of the Great Wall of China, since I have not personally seen either. He therefore tried to take my skepticism to an absurd extreme in order to invalidate any skepticism.

Slippery Slope: This logical fallacy is the argument that a position is not consistent or tenable because accepting the position means that the extreme of the position must also be accepted. But moderate positions do not necessarily lead down the slippery slope to the extreme.

Straw Man: Arguing against a position which you create specifically to be easy to argue against, rather than the position actually held by those who oppose your point of view.

Special pleading, or ad-hoc reasoning: This is a subtle fallacy which is often difficult to recognize. In essence, it is the arbitrary introduction of new elements into an argument in order to fix them so that they appear valid. A good example of this is the ad-hoc dismissal of negative test results. For example, one might point out that ESP has never been demonstrated under adequate test conditions, therefore ESP is not a genuine phenomenon. Defenders of ESP have attempted to counter this argument by introducing the arbitrary premise that ESP does not work in the presence of skeptics. This fallacy is often taken to ridiculous extremes, and more and more bizarre ad hoc elements are added to explain experimental failures or logical inconsistencies.

Tautology: A tautology is an argument that utilizes circular reasoning, which means that the conclusion is also its own premise. The structure of such arguments is A=B therefore A=B, although the premise and conclusion might be formulated differently so it is not immediately apparent as such. For example, saying that therapeutic touch works because it manipulates the life force is a tautology because the definition of therapeutic touch is the alleged manipulation (without touching) of the life force.

Tu quoque: Literally, you too. This is an attempt to justify wrong action because someone else also does it. "My evidence may be invalid, but so is yours."

Unstated Major Premise: This fallacy occurs when one makes an argument which assumes a premise which is not explicitly stated. For example, arguing that we should label food products with their cholesterol content because Americans have high cholesterol assumes that: 1) cholesterol in food causes high serum cholesterol; 2) labeling will reduce consumption of cholesterol; and 3) that having a high serum cholesterol is unhealthy. This fallacy is also sometimes called begging the question.

- The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe -

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Mardi-Gras Fable

The ancient patriarch gathered his children to his deathbed and explained their inheritances to them.

"To you Bernard, the studious, I leave my money, all of it, to do with what you want. To you, Heimlich, the adventurer, I leave my land, in hopes you will finally make a proper home. And to you, Paco, I leave my most treasured possession, my luck."

"Your luck?" said Paco.

The patriarch pulled out a cheap plastic piece of junk jewelry and handed it to him. Paco said, "Hey pops, this is nothing but a cheap plastic piece of junk jewelry."

"Appearances are deceiving," said the patriarch. "Listen up."

"I owe everything to that amulet, my wealth and my health," he continued. "Without it, none of you would be getting anything. I used to be in great shape but had nothing. Yeah, I know, it's hard to believe, but in my twenties I didn't eat meat and I actually fasted for several weeks every January in order to clean out my system. Then I started eating meat, made a great fortune, and turned into the decrepit mess I am today. I blame Mississippi."

Why I'm Not a Vegetarian

I stuck out my thumb and got a ride right away, out of Memphis, across the border into Mississippi. The driver looked in his rearview mirror and said "You got any pot on you?"

Trick question. I had a couple joints hidden away where they'd never be found, inside a thermos I always kept filled with hot coffee. You'd have to pour out the coffee to find it. Did he want to get high? Was he a nark? Seemed a funny way to bust people, picking up hitchhikers and taking them to another state. All I could say was "Why?"

"I'm being followed by some undercover cops who've been after me for ages. They see a strange person in my car and I just know they're going to stop me. We're about to get searched."

I confessed that I had something rolled, but that it would be damn hard to find.

"Okay, listen, I'm going to let you out of the car at the next stop, then continue on and hope they don't stop me."

The next stop turned out to be a burger joint in the middle of nowhere. He dropped me in the parking lot with my suitcase, sleeping bag, and guitar. Before I could stick my thumb back out, a dark gray sedan pulled into the opposite end of the parking lot, and I could see that the passenger was actually looking at me through binoculars.

They were cops. He wasn't lying. I had to look normal. I had apparently asked to be dropped off, otherwise why was I here. It was nothing but a burger joint. Nothing else for miles. I could just sit there like an idiot, or I could do what it looked like I was expected to do. I went inside and ordered a burger. I sat in the window and ate it slowly while reading a book, keeping my eye on the guy in the sedan who still had his eyes on me. Only when I had finished and wiped my mouth with a napkin did they take off. I had eaten meat for the first time in years, and it saved me from being rousted by Mississippi cops.

I waited another half hour, then went back to the road and stuck out my thumb. The first car that came along was the sedan. They pulled over and questioned me. Yeah, I was on my way to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. No, I didn't know anyone in Mississippi.

Then they asked the same question. "You got any pot on you?"

No way I was going to give them the same answer. "Why?" wouldn't have been the proper response. I pulled out my greatest acting ability, channeled Lee Strasberg, and said "Man, I'd have to be an idiot to hitchhike through Mississippi with pot on me." I didn't look like an idiot. I had actually been reading. A book.

"You're damn right, son," said the cop. "Tell you what, we can't let you keep hitchhiking here. You got enough money for a motel room?"

I did. They took me to a nearby motel where I checked in and spent the night. The next morning I stuck out my thumb again. Got to New Orleans the next day without any more problems.

"My favorite animal is steak." - Fran Lebowitz -

The Build-Up

One reason for getting to New Orleans early is that the parades start at least a week before Fat Tuesday. There's one or two, then five a day, then ten, building to the final day of non-stop neighborhood mini-parades leading to Canal Street where they merge into one giant parade.

I stayed in the house of a district attorney I'll call Paul but whose real name must remain secret for obvious reasons. Every Mardi Gras his front door would stay open and a giant bowl of ganja would sit on his living room table surrounded by rolling papers. It was non-stop party for two weeks. He knew the pastures to invade on cold winter mornings when there had been an overnight rain. We'd head across Lake Ponchartrain, sneak into a farm, and mosey around the cows looking for patties with mushrooms growing out of them. Bruise them a little and if they turned purple, you knew they were the kind. Just the right spice for homemade pizza.

People in New Orleans waited all year for one big blowout, and the city was full of used clothing stores where you would pick this year's costume. Only a lazy bastard would wear what he wore last year. I loaded up on strange clothes for the big day. Don't forget the fancy umbrella, useless for the rain but perfect for dancing down the middle of the street.

I checked out all the places I'd heard about, the Audubon Zoo (where they all asked for you) and the Vieux Carre, home of the world's best balconies. The streetcar line to Desire was changed to a bus line in 1948 so I was reduced to taking a bus named Desire.

I wallowed in all things Cajun, especially the music. Zydeco was something new that grabbed my legs and forced me to dance. I'd heard Dr. John but not the early stuff, Kon kon, the kiddy kon kon, Walk on Gilded Splinters, the dark authentic voodoo Dr. John. Bought a ticket to see him on Mardi Gras day. I'd been into Little Feat but now it was The Meters (now The Neville Brothers) all the way. Saw them live with The Wild Tchoupitoulas, authentic Indians who only come out on Fat Tuesday, whose one and only album I must insist you buy immediately.

The Wild Tchoupitoulas, Mardi Gras, mid '70s

I had already mastered Scott Joplin, and I actually had the nerve to play the Maple Leaf Rag on the piano at the Maple Leaf Bar to a crowd of drunks who have hopefully forgotten. I had always considered him the heart of American musical culture when Van Dyke Parks told me about the man who influenced Joplin, the man ragtime actually came from, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the very first American composer (other than Benjamin Franklin), born in 1829 to a Creole Indian mother and Jewish German sailor father. Gottschalk mastered the piano early, moved to France to study with Liszt, came back and toured the south doing solo piano concerts for union soldiers during the Civil War. Why Hollywood hasn't made a movie about him I'll never know, but allow me to mention that his Souvenir de Puerto Rico, full of African/Caribbean influence, is my favorite piece of piano music of all time, and if you want to know where it all came from, you better give it a listen. (MP3)

Fat Tuesday

Okay, we all know that Ash Wednesday is the day we stop sinning and repent our evil ways. Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras day, is the day before Ash Wednesday, when all good Christians invite the world to join them in committing all the sins that will be forbidden to them the next day. The world's shortest list is the one of all the sins that aren't committed on Mardi Gras day. This is what all Mardi Gras around the world have in common.

But there's a back story that makes the one in New Orleans unique, and you need to hear it in order to understand why the cheap piece of crap plastic jewelry pictured below is one of my proudest possessions. This is the history as I understand it. The annual Mardi Gras in New Orleans is much more than a chance to blow off steam before lent.

Like most major metropolitan areas, New Orleans was divided between rich and poor. The city is shaped like a U, the outer edges being the rich parts, the Vieux Carre and the Garden District, with the ghetto in the middle, literally blocks away. You can stand on Canal Street and stare at the grandest southern mansions ever built, then walk one block east and find yourself in the deepest poverty. I was sincerely warned by my friend the district attorney that I'd be taking my life in my hands if I wandered too far from civilization. According to him, the entire inner city was populated by blacks too stupid to leave, and who resented my existence.

Centuries ago, the rich people in town took it upon themselves to ride their horses through the ghetto once a year and throw coins and jewelry to the poor who would gather by the side of the road. This was their version of charity.

The poor would line the streets in hopes of receiving a token of mercy, and they quickly learned a lesson. The goal in attending one of these "parades" of benevolent rich people was to GET THE ATTENTION of the riders with the moolah. If you were a rich person riding your fancy horse through the rabble, whom would you throw a coin to, people just standing there going "me me me," or someone dressed like a peacock holding a giant basket with a bullseye painted on it? Something as simple as flashing your tits was enough of an attention grabber to get the guy on the horse to make a donation to your cause. The first patrician to throw a coin at a flamboyant reveler holding a homemade target was responsible for the tradition of observers showing up at Mardi Gras parades looking as outlandish as possible.

Unlike other parades, such as the Rose Parade and other local patriotic affairs, the Mardi Gras represents a give-and-take. Though the booty has been reduced from real jewels and coins and coconuts to plastic imitations, nobody goes to a Mardi Gras parade just to watch - the object is to get something to prove you were there. Each Krewe minted it's own individual coins, the Krewe of Bacchus, the Krewe of Comus, the Krewe of Craw, one Krewe for each parade. Showing up anywhere else on earth covered in cheap plastic jewelry would be considered pretty goddam embarrassing, but not in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, where a neck covered in hideous purple and gold novelty crap was a badge of honor showing how many parades you attended.

The parades in New Orleans aren't something you park yourself on the sidewalk to watch, you go there dressed as outrageously as possible so that someone on the float will throw something at you. Chances are you won't catch it so...

RULE #1: If it hits the ground, do not, under any circumstances, simply pick it up. That's a surefire recipe for getting your hand trampled by a boot. If it's on the ground and you want it, stomp on it, then retrieve it from under your shoe.

If you dream of someday riding on a Mardi Gras float, keep dreaming. Mardi Gras Krewes like Bacchus are as closed as Skull and Bones. Each parade leads to a private party where they change into tuxedos and evening gowns. You are very much not invited. Every year they announce someone who gets to be the honorary king of the festival, and even though they're usually B-level Hollywood celebrities, I'm always jealous because being made honorary king of the festival is just about the only goddam way that a non-insider can actually get to ride on a float.

Once the Mardi Gras transformed from a mini-act of charity to a full-fledged, world-renowned festival, the black community put together their own parade, not a snotty group of whites who deigned to travel through the ghetto once a year, but a genuine celebration of everything non-white, a parade not INTO the ghetto but FROM the ghetto. The marching bands would play real music, not that John Philip Sousa crap. There would be flambeauxs and dancers who actually had rhythm. The map of the parade route would NOT be printed in the paper. It would start in the ghetto and the leader of the parade, with his giant marching stick, would decide at each intersection what direction to go in. There was no way of knowing where to find them. It was the Zulu Parade, reputed to be the best parade on earth, by blacks for blacks, and if you were white and wanted to see it, you'd just have march into the ghetto on Mardi Gras day and try to find it.

I had a girlfriend who lived with her parents. One day her father took me to his office and showed me his pride and joy, shelf after shelf of binders holding his Mardi Gras coin collection. They were arranged by year and covered decades. He pulled down a book and showed me the mint condition coins, one from each parade, like any fine coin collection, each page with plastic so you could see both sides of every coin. Every year he attended as many parades as possible, then swapped with other collectors to complete the collection. I spent an hour going through them. Many were incredibly beautiful, and some of the older ones were actual coins, not just plastic.

He had Zulu coins, which he said were the rarest. He had to trade for them with other collectors. He had never actually found the Zulu Parade himself.

Amulets and coins from other parades may have been fun collectors items, but they weren't gris-gris, imbued with mystical voodoo power like the amulets from Zulu. White people wearing a Zulu amulet during the Mardi Gras were gazed upon with awe. Man, I had just hitchhiked through Mississippi with a bag of dope, actually got stopped by the cops, and didn't get caught. Weren't no paranoid delusions of potentially getting beaten to a bloody pulp going to stop me from seeing the goddam Zulu Parade.

Mardi Gras morning I got up, gobbled some mushrooms, watched a bit of the local parade, then marched into mid-city in search of Zulu.

The rumors were right. I was the only white person for block after block. I searched for an hour then heard a sound down a narrow street that could only be a marching band. I ran down the block and there it was, the Zulu Parade, hundreds crowding the sidewalk as it went by, first a marching band playing a soul tune, not just marching, dancing up a storm, surrounded by flambeaux, flaming torches that whirled and flew, everyone dancing, drinking, me too, it remains the best parade I've ever seen.

Those on the floats were throwing gris-gris but none reached me. Then there was a glitch down the road and the parade stopped with a float right in front of me. People on floats would point at the person they were aiming at, then throw at them till they caught it. The crowd was reaching up, crying "ME! ME" as the coins and beads flew through the air to the outstretched hands. Finally, as the glitch stretched into minutes, the crowd was sated and I was the only one going "ME! ME!" I was the only white face in the crowd. No one would throw me a coin. Ten minutes went by and I knew it was futile.

Then I noticed a phenomenon. People would run up to a float and hand the riders something, a six-pack of beer, anything, just a gift, and they'd be rewarded with a handful of stuff. I had my Polaroid camera. I figured if I was in the parade, I'd like a nice Polaroid of me on the float. I took a shot, waited for it to develop, then pushed my way through the crowd to the still stationary float.

I pointed to one of the masked riders and waved the photo at him. He leaned down, grabbed it, and his jaw dropped. It was just what he wanted. He pointed at ME, emphatically, clutched a handful of beads and coins and threw them. So many black hands appeared between me and the float that I didn't get a single one. The guy on the float saw what happened and pointed to me again. He became as determined as I was to get myself a coin, but before he could throw a second time, the glitch got fixed and the parade took off. I ran down the center of the street, he kept throwing, and I kept missing as the crowd gathered around me. Finally I grabbed ahold of the float and hung on for dear life, dragged down the street, refusing to let go until I got my due.

The rider saw what was happening, leaned over the edge of the float, and actually placed one right in my hands. We saluted each other, I let go of the float, and the parade continued down the street.

I looked around. I was in the center of Canal Street, surrounded by barricades with thousands of people pushing towards me, precisely where I didn't belong. The police grabbed me and threw me out of the street, over a barricade and into a crowd where I was almost crushed to death, but I didn't care. I got what I came for.

And here it is, the symbol of my psychedelic youth, a white boy in blackland, drunk, stoned, flying high, an endless celebration. Amazing I still have it.

I headed to Dr. John, whose concert ended as he opened the stage doors on both sides and let the passing parade through one and out the other, then invited us to join in. Nobody left that theater through the lobby. We all jumped on stage and paraded out into the street with the doctor.

"That's some story," said Paco.

"Yep," said the patriarch.

"So Bernard gets all the money?" said Paco.

"Yep," said the patriarch.

"And Heimlich gets all the land? said Paco.

"Yep," said the patriarch.

"And all I get is this Zulu amulet?" said Paco.

"Yep," said the patriarch, who promptly kicked a bucket that was conveniently placed at the foot of the bed.

Paco put on the Zulu amulet and headed to an audition he had that afternoon for a small part in a Fox sitcom about a white middle-class family who take in a pair of New Orleans flood refugees who turn out to be non-stop Mardi-Gras party animals. Hilarity ensued. The producers weren't very happy with his line reading, but just as he was leaving the sound stage, the casting director, who was from New Orleans, noticed the Zulu amulet around Paco's neck.

"Where did you get that?" asked the casting director.

Paco told him the whole story, ended up the star of the sitcom, and next year was made honorary King of the Mardi Gras.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Book-It's Prairie Nocturne is a knock out

Reviewed by Michael Dare

"A story wants to be told a certain way, or it is merely the alphabet badly recited. At the right time the words borrow us, so to speak, and then out can come the unsuspected sides of things with the force like that of music.”
- Ivan Doig

The dialogue is rarely the best part of a novel. In-between the quotes, the novelist is telling you what one of their characters is saying, but outside the quotes is the author stripped bare and entirely dependent upon their particular use of language. If a character says something the reader disagrees with, they could end up hating the character, but if the TEXT says something the reader disagrees with, they could end up hating the author.

All novelists provide perspective, good ones a perspective unique to themselves, and great ones a perspective simultaneously unique and universal. Ivan Doig is one of the great ones, and I can say that despite the fact I've never read a single word he's written, because I have seen Book-It Repertory's new production of Prairie Nocturne.

I don't know how I missed him but strangely enough, I'm glad I did, because what better way to get turned on to an author than through a Book-It production. If you close your eyes, it's like a book on tape - a bunch of actors are reading a book to you - and if it's a good book, you'll keep listening. Open your eyes and there they are, in costume, on a stage, still reading to you, but going in and out of character as the book demands, sometimes doing accents and pantomime, surrounded by state of the art stagecraft, where the slightest change of set and lighting moves you instantaneously from a mountain cabin to a riverboat going down a canyon to a limousine going down the street, they give you just enough to picture it in your mind's eye, but never too much to distract from the language of the storytelling.

This time, director Laura Ferri and adaptor Elena Hartwell invite us back to the 20s in Montana to investigate the relationship between Susan, a music instructor, and the two men who love her, Monty, a singing student, and Wesley, a cattle tycoon who brought Monty to her in the first place. The triangle is complicated by the fact Wesley's married (to a wife we never meet), and Monty is black, the Klu Klux Klan is on the rampage, and he's and a mama's boy. Luckily, his mama filled him with a spirit of gospel that blessed him with a voice and repertory for the ages, taking him from the backwoods of Montana all the way to Carnegie Hall. (Monty has a real-life counterpart, Taylor Gordon, who actually did go from Montana to Carnegie Hall in the 20's. Doig says "I tape-recorded his memories of those times not long before he died, familyless, in 1971, and his papers and other Harlem Renaissance archival holdings are rich with detail," details he uses to fill the book with authenticity.)

Myra Platt, as Susan, is more talented than anyone has a right to be. She not only blazes through some excellent Chopin, she co-wrote the original music to Ivan Doig's lyrics with Theresa Holmes. Despite the flashiness of the other characters, when you start wondering who this is really about, it all comes down to her, and we become as much her pupils as Monty.

Shawn Belyea does the best he can with the thankless role of Wesley, the good natured gentleman whose relationship with Susan was in the past, and who doesn't get to do much but be a man and relive the love of his life without ever reconsumating it, but Geoffery Simmons get a real star turn as Monty. With Denzel's good looks and sensitivity, plus a magnificent singing voice, watching his rise from rodeo clown (really!) to tuxedoed solo artist is totally engrossing.

Special props to Faith Russell as Angeline, Monty's mom, who not only gets one spectacular solo number in a church at the end of act one, but has one of my favorite moments of the evening, a moment I'm always looking for in a Book-It production, a moment uniquely theirs.

In the book, every time Monty sings, he's infused with the spirit of his mother, so at his first singing lesson, when he first opens up and reveals the strength of his vocal cords, she's stage left singing with him, backing him up, giving him the encouragement he needs. Obviously she doesn't do that in the book. In the movie, they might have done something schmaltzy, like in the Lion King, have his dead mother appear in the clouds to sing with him, but here, it's a subtle touch, a translation of the spirit of the book as well as the actual words. Only Book-it could have pulled it off.

February 7 - March 4, 2012
Previews: February 7, 8, 9
Opening Night: Friday, February 10

Center House Theatre, Seattle Center

Evening shows begin at 7:30pm

Matine├ęs begin at 2:00pm

Buy Tickets Online or through the box office: 206.216.0833.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

All the words that will make the government look at you

Waihopai, INFOSEC, Information Security, Information Warfare, IW, IS, Privacy, Information Terrorism, Terrorism Defensive Information, Defense Information Warfare, Offensive Information, Offensive Information Warfare, National Information Infrastructure, InfoSec, Reno, Compsec, Computer Terrorism, Firewalls, Secure Internet Connections, ISS, Passwords, DefCon V, Hackers, Encryption, Espionage, USDOJ, NSA, CIA, S/Key, SSL, FBI, Secert Service, USSS, Defcon, Military, White House, Undercover, NCCS, Mayfly, PGP, PEM, RSA, Perl-RSA, MSNBC, bet, AOL, AOL TOS, CIS, CBOT, AIMSX, STARLAN, 3B2, BITNET, COSMOS, DATTA, E911, FCIC, HTCIA, IACIS, UT/RUS, JANET, JICC, ReMOB, LEETAC, UTU, VNET, BRLO, BZ, CANSLO, CBNRC, CIDA, JAVA, Active X, Compsec 97, LLC, DERA, Mavricks, Meta-hackers, ^?, Steve Case, Tools, Telex, Military Intelligence, Scully, Flame, Infowar, Bubba, Freeh, Archives, Sundevil, jack, Investigation, ISACA, NCSA, spook words, Verisign, Secure, ASIO, Lebed, ICE, NRO, Lexis-Nexis, NSCT, SCIF, FLiR, Lacrosse, Flashbangs, HRT, DIA, USCOI, CID, BOP, FINCEN, FLETC, NIJ, ACC, AFSPC, BMDO, NAVWAN, NRL, RL, NAVWCWPNS, NSWC, USAFA, AHPCRC, ARPA, LABLINK, USACIL, USCG, NRC, ~, CDC, DOE, FMS, HPCC, NTIS, SEL, USCODE, CISE, SIRC, CIM, ISN, DJC, SGC, UNCPCJ, CFC, DREO, CDA, DRA, SHAPE, SACLANT, BECCA, DCJFTF, HALO, HAHO, FKS, 868, GCHQ, DITSA, SORT, AMEMB, NSG, HIC, EDI, SAS, SBS, UDT, GOE, DOE, GEO, Masuda, Forte, AT, GIGN, Exon Shell, CQB, CONUS, CTU, RCMP, GRU, SASR, GSG-9, 22nd SAS, GEOS, EADA, BBE, STEP, Echelon, Dictionary, MD2, MD4, MDA, MYK, 747,777, 767, MI5, 737, MI6, 757, Kh-11, Shayet-13, SADMS, Spetznaz, Recce, 707, CIO, NOCS, Halcon, Duress, RAID, Psyops, grom, D-11, SERT, VIP, ARC, S.E.T. Team, MP5k, DREC, DEVGRP, DF, DSD, FDM, GRU, LRTS, SIGDEV, NACSI, PSAC, PTT, RFI, SIGDASYS, TDM. SUKLO, SUSLO, TELINT, TEXTA. 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Or please add your own in the comments.