"Totally coup, yo."

2002


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JONATHAN HARKER’S JOURNAL

Aug

02

by

JONATHAN HARKER’S JOURNAL
Summer, Year of the UnHalfliving

Excerpts of journal entries made by Jonathan Harker, law clerk in the employ of civil litigants and personal injury law firm Cerrino & Baines.

9:13 AM—Departed by train from Auditorium Station. It was running late, as the conductor seemed unable to ascertain in which direction from him lay the opposite end of the train line. Arrived at the Allen Street station about 9:18 AM. Many strange people at the sub-terranean depot. Nothing like the usual sorts gadding about the confines of my beloved student common area back at the Amherst Harker
I wandered along the sidewalk
of a street called “Allen”.campus. Must write Mina. Anyway, these unusual people were dressed in immeasurably oversized garments that ostensibly bore no relevance to a particular trade or artisanic endeavor. Two or perhaps three of them attempted, quite bluntly, to converse with me but I was able to dissuade their efforts by gesturing sternly with my hands that I would show no quarter. Upon making the ground’s surface again I chanced upon a man cloaked in a cumbersomely heavy overcoat made of cashmere wool. It was not unlike a smaller coat of the very same fabric under which I took shelter against the harsh gales scything in from the Erie Lake back at my Lewistown home. But this day it was quite, so very hot. How could he bear to remain blanketed in that bodyoven in this unmitigated swelter? At first he withdrew from me as I approached him to enlist his assistance. Reluctant as he was to indulge me I persevered and he eventually capitulated. I asked him if he could aid me in arriving in the center of a place called Allentown. He turned away from me to indicate an area behind himself and I saw that the backside of his coat was gravely tattered, even rotting and grotesquely soiled. And then, as if by will of The Almighty himself, a breeze blew across the withered and fetid body of this timeless soul and I caught, full-olfactory, the overwhelming stench of death-ages-gone-by. I nearly fell ill at the whiff of this and could scarcely find purchase in my stance. I staggered away from him, but he was now, more than yet, much eager to perpetuate our fellowship. As I reeled backways from him he seemed to gain momentum in his pursuit of our closeness, momentum eerily fueled by his delight in my disorientation. I fell backwards in the street, nearly being crushed by the otherworldly rush of a fantastic traveling machine. A vehicle greater in size than any I have seen apart from the docksides of the Erie basin where great journeys and seagoing cargo ships launch and land. He let out a madcap burst of hysterical laughter at my dismay. I turned to run across this hard-paved avenue, but just then a wave, nay an army, of those un-Godly land vessels rushed on me. I withdrew from their path and they stayed their course, leaving a berth of only a few feet between they and myself. When they had passed I was able to elude the maniacal, soiled man.

I wandered along the sidewalk of a street called “Allen”. Some of the land vessels moved along the middle of this street as well, but much more slowly, affording me some easement of mind. I looked into shop windows and bade “good day’” to habitants perched in chairs upon their porches and passersby on the avenue, but received, in return, only perplexed and sometimes disdainful glances.

I came upon a place that looked civilized. A place that reminded me of the comforts of familiarity back in Amherst. It was called, by their sign the very curious appellation of Frizzy’s, and I went inside to take repose and imbibe.

I asked the proprietor if he knew the precise location of the place from whence emanated the doings of a man called Moses, who concealed his personal deeds behind the faade of an endeavor called “Artvoice”. The name of his manor may well be titled “Artvoice”, I told him. He regarded me with one vacant eye and made reference to my removal from his establishment if I did not have enough money to buy a drink. I assured him, on the honor of the crown itself (as my employers fancied themselves regal) that I was endowed well and could pay at once for any goods or services rendered me by him.

I explained that I was in the employ of said firm of legal practicing and had been sent ahead to investigate circumstances surrounding a class-action suit on behalf of Allentown’s business community being brought upon Moses and his Artvoicians claiming recompense for the damages suffered by merchants, restaurateurs and residents of Allentown resulting from an alfresco [ITAL.] fte within their environs. The contention of this good man’s neighbors, I explained to him, was that the Artvoice Manor had presented an event involving gaiety, revelry, the trading of sub-standard crafts (some of an occult nature) and loud, agro-rock, cover band and “extended jam” musics, all of which left a great deal of paper and food trash, debris of an un-comely origin (which decorum prohibits me from describing) and the lingering stench of “death-ages-gone-by”. As was the assertion of the “Allentown Consensus”, Moses and his faction made no attempt, nor did they take into their hire any party to make right the gruesome and revolting mess that their “festival” left behind.

I can assure you that the proprietor was rightly aghast and so taken aback at my depiction of this that he commanded me to find exit of his inn and as he suggested “take it down the street”.

Amid the confusion surrounding my egression from Frizzy’s I was able to inquire as to where I might find His Heinousness and was told to “go east till you smell him and north till you step in him. Now hit the fucking [not certain of etymology] road weirdo”.

From this point further, my friends, I must tell you, things became strange beyond my darkest imaginings. I walked the streets and avenues of Allentown only to become less and less certain of my mission. I gazed into eyes of people who were lost and would never find their way. Everyone I spoke to, innkeeper, denizen or merchant shuddered at the word “Artvoice” and became positively apoplexic at the mention of the man Moses. Nothing could quell the fear in these people when I attempted interrogation concerning the events of the “fest” and its resulting atrocities. They behaved as if they wished to have never heard of “Artvoice” or Moses, some claiming never have to. But anyone, even the un-trained, could see by the depth and realness of the horror in their souls town called "Allen"
A breeze blew across the
fetid body of this timeless soul
and I caught the overwhelming
stench of death-ages-gone-by.that Moses swung a broad sickle. He had touched and tainted nearly every life in the region.

After a few hours I grew despondent. A pall had fallen over the landscape of Allentown and I was dread my inquest had been in vain. But just then a strange, hunched man spoke to me from the shadows in a labored voice, his breath rife with rasping, saying, “If Mosferatu be the demon ye seek, when night doth fall pursue the reek.”

And now I realized that hints had been recurring and I had heretofore not taken heed. This was the third mention of a “stench” or “reek” (the first reference being in my own mind). I realized I would find these sorcerers by cover of night.

(Seven hours later)

I awoke in the narrow passage of a walking alley. The details of how I happened here are too disconcerting to recount, involving consortiums and precursors to consortium as I had never considered Christian. Nonetheless, as I gained conciousness I was drawn to a peculiar aroma. It was at first only unusual or curious but as I rose and ambled feebly towards its source I recognized it as the same malodorous wallop I had encountered in the cashmere-cloaked man. The same nefarious odor of death of which I had thought and others had spoken. I travailed along what I now believe to have been the same Allen Street from earlier that day but now it was fogged over and still as a Mass. Light rarely suggested itself through the thickness of firmament. I groped along the ground and, following the stench, turned. Yes, I turned onto Franklin St. heading…NORTH! Just as the man at Frizzy’s had told me to do. “…North ’til you step in him,” he left me with. I now felt that I was quite close, but by God above I felt so unprepared, so short of the necessary faith in the prevalence of righteousness. There was a cold glow ahead of me in the mist. As I neared this diffuse imbuement I trembled within. Every ounce of me fought to turn and run, even back into the dense fog. Surely whatever horror that may hold in store could be no more evil than what lay ahead of me. I crouched low, as I could see there was a window in an edifice. Now, the stench was sickeningly overwhelming. It smelled as though the souls and innards of a thousand devilish warlocks had been burned in an immense pyre of all things dark on this very spot. As I approached the glass looking into the ominous structure I noticed lettering above. What could it say? I knew full well what it may say and should have had some inner-bracing prepared for the utter terror I felt when I saw that the letters spelled “ARTVOICE!!!”. I mean, an ice-cold bolt of frozen-hard iron shot through my heart at the sight of this word. Moreover, as though compelled against its will, my body was still moving toward the window that looked in. I had no choice now. I may soon see the source of all the terror, spite and consumption of will I had beheld in the streets. And I did. When my head had crested the level of the sill, I saw before me the comings and goings of a great many women. One, two, maybe four, five, six, I can’t be sure. They talked on voice-telegraph transmitters. They were all wearyworn and painted with make-up from fine store counters. I was appalled yet allured by these anti-sirens, these minions apparent, but just as I relaxed to regard them a most awful and appalling beast appeared along the back wall in the room of this place. He was green and crawled vertically on all fours, making his way along the vertical boundries of the house. He was something like a small man, with arms, legs, eyes on the front of his head, brows and deadish grey hair atop him, but he could turn his body this way and that. He could go up, down, sideways and other. It was the most disturbing and ghastly vision I have ever seen. I could not be sure he was real. If he was real then there could be no God, I dared to think. He went along the back wall, perpendicular to my vantage and then came to the corner where his wall adjoined another and he changed on to that perpendicular plane as easily I could have soiled myself. But just then he stopped, as though he sensed something. He was still; perched high upon the wall and all at once his eyes shot up from his chest and speared out the window at me, into my eyes, searing me unto my soul. His ocularia were lit from within by a crimson flame and he sneer-grinned a painful visage. I fell back as he and all his aides began a huge commotion directed toward the place where I was. I stumbled back and felt the touch of a cold metal machine under me. As I fell, back-of-my-head-first, into it I noticed it was a two-wheeled vehicle-scooter of Bavarian manufacture. Then my cranium met hardened steel and I was unconscious.

Here ends the first journal entry of Jon Harker’s journey into Allentown.


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FORGERY DETECTION, vol. 1

Aug

02

by

FORGERY DETECTION, vol. 1
How to spot a BEAST-authored letter to Artvoice

We are beginning to be deluged with phone calls here at the BEAST asking us if this or that recent ridiculous letter to the editor at Artvoice was, in fact, written by us. At first we were happy to answer each call individually, but then we figured it might be better to give folks the tools to spot our work on their own. We did in fact make the Artvoice letters page again last week; here’s that letter, side by side with a real letter.

forgery v. the real deal


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HOW I HARRASSED THE WORKING CLASS

Aug

02

by

HOW I HARRASSED THE WORKING CLASS My Sinful Persecution of Working-Class Poet Jim Daniels
By John Dolan

I’m a harasser. Put the cuffs on me; I harassed the working class. And it wasn’t even fun. It’s not like I groped some factory girl as she leaned over a sweaty sewing machine. That would have been a harassment worth risking. All I did was post an email reply to a “Call for Papers” on the work of “Jim Daniels, Working-Class Poet.”

I should’ve known better than to sign up for the damn “Call for Papers” list in the first place. These “Calls for Papers” (CFPs) are one of the dreary routines of academic life. You get on an email list and they send you notices of upcoming conferences. If you see a topic which interests you, you send them a 250-word proposal and they put you on the schedule.

Like a lot of things about this filthy business, it’s utterly corrupt, yet totally unaware of its own corruption; sly, but convinced of its own transparent rectitude. It sounds simple enough: you agree to give a 20-minute talk on your current research, and in return you get a fully funded trip to a mid-range hotel full of plain but eager academics, more than willing to be picked up after a dangerous second glass of Chardonnay.

You don’t even need to put any effort into the paper you give. Only grad students worry about that. Nobody cares what you say in those 20 minutes.

I had a rather dramatic demonstration of that fact early on in my career. I unpacked my bag at a conference where I was supposed to give a paper on Wallace Stevens, only to find that I’d brought an article on 18th-century occasional poetry, not Stevens. It wasn’t even finished. But I read the damn thing, quavering and expecting to be exposed as a total fraud–and to my astonishment it went over very well. It was so obviously, wildly irrelevant that they took me for a theory guy and treated me with the greatest deference for the remainder of the conference, and even begged me to submit a written version to the CV-padding collection which every conference produces.

I didn’t; I was too ashamed. And that’s fatal to an aspiring American academic. Out of sheer bitterness, I’m going to let you civilians in on the great secrets of the Tenured Guild. There is one quality which the aspiring American academic in the Humanities must have. Not brains, God knows. Only an amateur would think that.

No–you need the GI system of a buzzard. That’s all.

You can feed buzzards pure botulism toxin–put a funnel in their beaks and force it down them till their crops bulge, enough toxin to wipe out a whole city–and they won’t even hiccup. They literally can’t gag–their gullets don’t work that way–and can’t be poisoned. To be a Humanities professor, you must be a buzzard.

You can’t fake it. I tried, and my friends tried, at Berkeley. We weren’t “principled” or anything–God, are you kidding? We’d've killed, literally, for a tenure-track job. But it never comes down to something as quick and simple as killing. It means swallowing toxins in public, for several years running, without betraying a vestigial gag reflex even once.

I never did have that God-given gizzard, and that’s how I ended up with this latest harassment complaint. I have a weak stomach, and after a few doses of this stuff I start to vomit it back. That’s what happened with this “Call for Papers” e-list: it started to make me angry, then sick.

The cowardice. The proud, eager conformity. The tin ear–if they have to lie, why can’t they do it more sonorously?

But most of all, I just could not stand seeing the pose of “transgressor,” “boundary-breaker,” “resistant” adopted by people who have never done a brave thing in their lives. If they’d just say outright: “Look, we’re contestants in a lookalike contest,” and competed openly and proudly, they’d be bearable. Like a wet T-shirt contest for ugly people. And why not? Good for them.

But for them to use these sacred terms, the terms of rebellion and courage, and mean nothing at all by them–it was intolerable.

You see, I’m a coward. And like most cowards, I know what real courage is. It’s not a good feeling–in fact it’s the most wretched feeling this side of sexual jealousy: jellied knees, spasming bowels and rapid heartbeat; the certainty that you’re making an idiot of yourself; the misery of hearing all your friends tell you you’re stupid; and above all it means you’ll never, never get that tenured job.

To be a brave academic is impossible. They just won’t let you in. They’re slow in some ways–intellectually, of course–but they have the fine-tuned instinct for conformity seen in many herd animals. A zebra with Parkinson’s Disease is a dead zebra. Not because the disease is necessarily fatal, but because its herd-mates will kick it to death for its wrong twitches. Academics are kinder, in a way; they just won’t let you in the herd at all if you twitch wrong–even once.

That’s why it was so unbearable to check my email every day and find another “Call for Papers: Transgression, Tango, and Tampering in Tanzania.” They could not write a title without sullying one of the sacred words, like “transgression” or “breaking”–the words I learned to worship listening to my father and uncles sing the sacred Irish songs of doomed rebellion. About people who meant it. Who weren’t looking for tenure. Who DIED for it.

All of it started to get to me. I started writing back to the earnest little careerists sponsoring these conferences.

Mistake, of course. But those alliterations–I couldn’t take it!

I wrote to one guy who was offering a conference on “Capitalism, Conjugation and Copulating Texts”: “You know, the three alliterated nouns don’t make you a poet.”

He didn’t reply.

Jim Daniel was the topic of one of these Calls for Papers. Here’s the text which set me off:

CFP: Call for critical-papers on working class poet Jim Daniels. Call for critical-papers on working class poet and short story writer Jim Daniels for a panel presentation at the American Language Association Conference in Long Beach, CA. Presenters should also be creative writers who can participate in a reading at the conference, as well as a discussion on Daniels’ influence and what it means to be a working class writer. Panel presentations will be included in a book proposal on Daniels’ work. 500 word abstracts, three poems and brief paragraph bio must be received by Jan 20. Put everything in the body of the email.

Send to:

Prof of English Renny Christopher of California State University, Stanislaus, rchristo@athena.csustan.edu

Sean Thomas Dougherty, English Dept, Penn State Erie, SUD1@PSU.EDU

I had to see what a “working-class poet” was, because it was such a lame oxymoron. Not just an oxymoron: a juxtaposition of two terms which were not only mutually exclusive but non-referential in themselves.

“Working class”? What would that mean in America in 2002? That term had been showing up in many of the CFPs lately, and it had to mean something career-centered and fake; that’s what that language was for. And it did. God, it did.

Briefly put: “working-class” in the context of contemporary academic “discourse” means “white but claiming victimhood.”

Not that there aren’t white victims. Fuck yes. Tens of millions–and that’s just the US. But they can’t deploy their victimhood as a self-promotion device. The ability to do so means that the user is not what he or she claims to be; thus the use of the self-description “working-class” implies its inapplicability.

If you can use it, you ain’t it. That’s the vile aspect of this self-designation.

I saw it deployed over and over, and always by the sly against the honorable, or the sly against the trusting, or the simple, or the brave. At Berkeley in the late 80s I had these two students: Dave Olenszuck, a loud white guy from Detroit, a real “working-class and proud of it” careerist, and a black woman named LaDonna Simmons. They both wanted to get into law school. (Everybody wanted to get into law school.) And neither of them had the sort of prose style which would allow them to get A’s at Berkeley. Not without some help.

The obvious option was to claim handicap. Dave started his campaign early, and loudly. He yelled every hard-luck story he could, to anyone in the room. He was crazy in a useful way, one of those ADD kids who keep the mania long enough for it to become an asset. His stories were impressive: how his dad shot him once with a pellet gun when he got home at 5 am, how he was a tank driver in the Army, how he used to snatch handfuls of crack out of the hands of dealers who came up to his buddy’s car.

LaDonna didn’t tell her stories. I didn’t know she had any till one day when Dave was in my office telling one of his Detroit stories, about how he was transferred to Family Care Services after his dad kicked him out. LaDonna said, “You mean Family Foster Care.” Dave squinted at her and said, “Whoa!” like someone had topped his kung fu moves. LaDonna didn’t say anything more, but something unprecedented happened: Dave shut up. And left without being pushed.

LaDonna started talking to me after that; Dave, of course, never stopped. Ever. I was wary of LaDonna’s stories because I thought that they, like Dave’s–like everybody else’s–were material for a law school application. But I had to admit they were very sad–which many people’s hardship stories weren’t. Many were like boasts. LaDonna’s weren’t; they were sad. She was sad about them, not proud. She hung around me, I realized, because I was SO middle-class that it was a relief for her. It was something she actually…wanted. Would have wanted.

Dave’s stories, on the other hand, were porn for middle-class teachers. He knew it very well. We who’d never had the guts to do anything to upset our teachers would goggle at his stories, and he would strut telling them, emphasizing his bravery until you began to wish he’d go away. The next time he told me the story about his father and the pellet gun, my views had changed: I was wishing his pansy-ass dad had done it right–with a .44. Just to shut the bastard up.

November came. Time to send your law-school application. There was a box you could fill out, something like “special circumstances,” if you wanted to claim hardship. It was especially important if you were white and still wanted to claim handicap. Dave ticked that box with an X so big it almost ripped the paper. LaDonna refused to tick it at all.

It had been so long since I’d seen anyone do something truly noble that I thought it had to be a trick; she must be going for a different box, something for being black or something. But that wasn’t it. She just wasn’t going to tick any of those boxes or claim any handicap. I actually begged her to do it; she got mad. I didn’t see why then. I see now: because when you do a brave thing, everybody begs you to change your mind.

And you fail; you pay a terrible price. That’s what makes it brave. You know how I know that LaDonna’s refusal was a brave thing, a morally good thing? Because LaDonna didn’t get into law school–any of them. Dave got into a decent one.

And now here was Jim Daniels, getting his own conference on the strength of his self-promotion as the bard of the working class. I hoped against hope that his promo material wouldn’t use that old Phil Levine phrase, “voice of the voiceless.” But it did! You can’t be shy if you wanna be a big vulture! You can’t afford to eschew even the cheapest self-congratulatory oxymorons!

So the very first thing I saw on Daniel was a fan informing me that he–yes indeed–gave voice to the voiceless. It’s odd; nobody seems to think that the voiceless are voiceless. When they “give voice,” they leave the category of the “the voiceless.” The only question is whether they ever belonged to it at all.

In Daniel’s case, the answer is clearly: no. Daniel’s claim to hardship is so stunningly simple a cliche that I didn’t believe it for a while: it’s the old Irish-Catholic taught-by-nuns-who-were-sexually-repressed story. This stuff was old in 1943. How do you get away with it in 2002?

Well, you do it as “poetry.” What’s “poetry” in contemporary American culture? In formal terms, the question has no answer; poetry is chopped prose, usually less than 1,000 words long…and that’s about it. It has linebreaks and is drip-fed, line by line, to the VERY SLOW. That’s the key: Jim Daniel is essentially Garrison Keillor for the VERY SLOW. You may say that Keillor himself doesn’t exactly write for the quick-witted. Maybe; but he has a bit of comic talent. And that disqualifies him as poet. Daniel is not only very slow but very, very pious. And that makes him a poet, because poetry is secular sacrament for the slowest Quakers this side of Lowell’s ancestors under the headstones.

Here, see for yourself. Here’s a sample of Daniel’s working-class poetry:

Sometimes I think calmness is love.
Peace, the small caresses and no words.

Uh, didn’t I hear that on SNL’s Deep Thoughts a few years ago? You might suspect me of quoting a particularly weak couplet, so here are some more samples of Daniel’s work:

I can pile up the facts.
My father was never home.
They were both forty.
She cried. They went nowhere.

You hear that first line, “I can pile up the facts”? Clever! You give the list of handicaps by way of refusing to give it, dismissing it but hoping it’ll stay in the reader’s head, give you extra credit. Not a new technique (Stevens did it 800 times, far more beautifully), but workable. After all, you have to remember this is slowed-down Prairie Home Companion, karaoke for the blind and deaf.

Jim DanielsDaniels’ first three volumes of chopped prose memoirs were “daring” and “raw.” That is, he put in things that pass for daring among Quakers: he titled his first collection M-80 and writes poems with titles like “4th of July in the Factory”–geddit? Patriotism vs. grim working-class scene? Whooo! Just as daring as it would’ve been in 1902! And “Union Man”–the kind of titles that gets you blurbs from John Sayles! And “the Foreman’s Booth”! It’s like you were back in some heartwarming American industrial slum–a landscape which has become more comforting and pleasant with every decade, as it recedes into myth.

And after three “raw” and “daring” books, Daniel did the perfectly-timed blissout. “Blissout” as in “sellout to bliss.” Why not? By this time he was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University–named after a couple of certified working-class guys and funded to match. And that’s how we get his latest book with its odes to calmness and babies and blue sky. You gotta time the sellout: Judge did it, making the loathsome King of the Hill as atonement for his one decent moment in Beavis and Butthead; and now, for an audience far tinier and dumber than Judge’s, this fake Union Man does the same move, discovering that once you have tenure and a baby and a house…life’s kinda OK. And he sees that as a revelation, a spiritual epiphany.

It wears me out. There are millions of them, and they will never stop. All you can do is fire useless rubber bands at them.

So I did. I sent this email to the organizer of the “Jim Daniel, Working-Class Poet” conference:

The key things to remember about Jim Daniels are:

  1. He can’t write.
  2. Most of his poems were featured on SNL’s “Deep Thoughts” years ago.
  3. “working class” functions as permission for sentimentality.

There–and in MUCH less than 500 words! John Dolan
English Department
University of Otago
Dunedin
New Zealand

There were two email addresses given, so I sent that message to both. And got two very interesting replies, which I append here in the interests of science:

To: John Dolan <John.Dolan@stonebow.otago.ac.nz>
Subject: Re: CFP: Working Class poet Jim Daniels (1/20/02; ALA,
From: “Sean Thomas Dougherty” <sud1@psu.edu>

you obviously have nothing better to do.


***

To: John Dolan <John.Dolan@stonebow.otago.ac.nz>
From: Renny Christopher <rchristo@athena.csustan.edu>

My mama taught me if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything. Saying nothing, in your case, would have been far preferable. The cfp was a serious call for submissions for a scholarly conference, not a call for snide abuse of the poet, of me, or of anything else. I don’t give a good goddamn who you do think can write, but I doubt you and I will agree on anything except, I hope, this one request I make of you–leave me the hell alone now and forever. Renny Christopher

 

If only I had time to tell you about my two interlocutors, Renny “Carpenter’s Daughter” Christopher and Sean “The Stepson” Geraghty! Alas, their working-class credentials are rather wordy.

Since a colleague of mine at this off-world university likes Flann O’Brien, I sent him some of Daniel’s work with an allusion to Jem Casey, “Poet of the Pick and Bard of Booterstown.” (If you don’t get the allusion you haven’t read At Swim-Two-Birds; and if you haven’t read that, get lost.)

Well, that was it. Harassment proceedings were in session. I had pissed off the working class but good. And as you’d expect from these hard, simple men, retaliation was swift. But not quite in the form you might expect. Did they challenge me to fists’n'boots on the fact’ry floor? Nah. Did they offer to shove an M-80 up my ass and make me into a performance piece titled “4th of July on the Eastern Front”? Alas, no. Did they pitch in for a ticket to New Zealand to do Riverdance in hobnails on me mug? (fer y’see we’re all Oirish-American heeere, we be, O aye! As Oirish as Bugs Bunny, or perhaps not quite so much.)

Alas no. Remember the key rule: if you can deploy the term “working class” to your own career advantage, you are no longer covered by the term. And these boyos–more Oirish stuff, y’see? “boyos” is an Oirish workin’-class term of a thing, an’ roight off the mean streets of the Oirish quarter o’Pleasant Hill, CA I be, aye and begorrah!–these boyos, as I were sayin’, they have washed the wuurkin’ class roight off of’em!

In other words, they did the last thing any working class person would do, and the first thing a sleazy academic snitch would do: they got on Netscape, looked me up, found out the name of my superior, and sent him a formal complaint accusing me of harassment. Here ’tis now in all its glory:

Dear Professor Alistair Fox (Assistant Vice-Chancellor), This is an official complaint against one of your faculty, one John Dolan. A few days ago a colleage of mine Prof Renny Christopher, issued a call for papers on the Working Class Studies email list. Since then I have received a number of harassing and taunting emails from your faculty member. I would like them to stop immediately. Could you please take care of this matter. In the United States we have very specific harassment laws regarding email. These laws are based on the laws against unwanted and harassing phone calls. Thank you for your action to resolve this matter before it goes any further. Sincerely,
Sean Thomas Dougherty
English Dept
501 Station Road
Penn State Erie
Erie, PA 16563-1501



***

To: “Sean Thomas Dougherty” <sud1@psu.edu> From: Alistair Fox <alistair.fox@stonebow.otago.ac.nz> Dear Mr Dougherty, I have forwarded your complaint to the Head of the Department of English, Associate Professor Chris Ackerley, with a request for him to take the matter up with Dr. Dolan. Without having seen the content of the emails that have occasioned your complaint, together with Dr Dolan’s comments on them, it is impossible for me to ascertain the validity of the complaint. The most I can say is that the University of Otago expects its staff to observe the same standards of professional conduct in their dealings with members of the wider international academic community as those required in their dealing with colleagues on this campus. These standards are outlined in the University of Otago’s Ethical Behaviour Policy, which may be found on the web. Yours sincerely
Alistair Fox
Assistant Vice-Chancellor
Division of Humanities
University of Otago
Dunedin, New Zealand

And that, boyo, is how I came to be the pitiful figure you see before ye, a convicted harasser of the wuurkin’ classes and a tormentor o’the labuurin’ masses, black wi’sin as Mary in a coal mine an’ damned ta Hell fur all the masses a wuurkin’ class priest could sing fer me puuuur benighted sowl.

And proud of it.


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WHATEVER IT TAKES

Aug

02

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WHATEVER IT TAKES

Announcing a Run For Congress, Beast Publisher Paul Fallon Lets it All Hang Out

It had to have been about a month ago… We were in the office one day when our publisher, Paul Fallon—who in his Bruce Banner/Clark Kent incarnation doubles as the Erie County Green Party chairman—offhandedly made an announcement one morning.

“Yeah, I was thinking, what the fuck, enough is enough, I’m going to run for Congress,” he said.

“How was your weekend?” I asked, not really paying attention. There is a perpetual deficit of coffee cups in the BEAST offices, and I was scanning Paul’s desk for poachable mugs. In any office environment, particularly one like ours, the desk of the practicing attorney is always the most promising potential source of office supplies—pens, pads, clean things to drink coffee out of.

“Everyone complains that I don’t do enough,” he said. “So I figured, I’ll do something. I’ll run for congress.”

He seemed serious, but who can tell? People talk about a lot of things in our Nothing to Hidewing of the luxurious Statler Towers. We talked about it for a few more minutes, and then, satisfied that there were no clean cups in Paul’s office, I left.

A week later a bunch of us were in the office designing an ad when Paul came in.

“Oh, by the way, I’ve decided I’m going to announce my candidacy in the nude,” he said. “My slogan is going to be, ‘I’m Paul Fallon, and I have nothing to hide.’”

That turned out to be a short conversation, too. It was a great idea, but I don’t think that any of us actually thought he’d go through with it. Hell, we wouldn’t do something like that, and we’re crazy for a living. We talked vaguely about his campaign strategy, offered to help any way we could, and then went back to work, still not sure that any of it would ever come to anything.

Then last week rolled around. For weeks, Paul had been quietly gathering signatures to get on the ballot as a Green Party candidate, doing the whole thing himself, never asking for our help in getting even this tiresome job done. By last Thursday, he had more than he needed. Now it was serious. And what’s more, he seemed more serious than ever about making his announcement in the nude. He had that glow that people get about them when they’re very determined about something.

On the surface, Paul is about the last person you would imagine if you were trying to picture a congressional candidate. His manner of speech is halting, and at times he mumbles. He’s had financial problems, problems with his career. He doesn’t have any backers at all, let alone powerful ones from the corporate world. Take away his law degree, and his years of involvement with minor party politics—much of which has involved mediating intramural squabbles over minutiae and trying to maintain morale amid a hopeless sense of marginalization—and Paul is no more qualified than any of us to make a run at the House of Representatives.

But Paul has one thing that sets him apart. He’s not ashamed of his problems. In discussing the idea of announcing in the nude, people criticized him, and told him that it would be a blow to his credibility, that he wouldn’t be taken seriously. What those people failed to realize was that, more than a gimmick, announcing in the nude was a gravely serious statement. He was planning to get up and say, “Here I am, and so what? I’m not rich, I don’t look like a model, my career isn’t what it should be. So what!”

The unwillingness to believe that it is okay to say that is the only thing that keeps tens of thousands of people from feeling that they’re more qualified than rich creeps like incumbent Republican Tom Reynolds to hold office. Having the balls to believe that you’re as good as they are is the only qualification any of us ever need to make a run at these people. Paul was the first one of us to figure that out, and God bless him.

Once his petition was in, we dropped everything and helped prepare the press release for his announcement, which would live up to its billing as a truly original political event.

Just after twelve this past Monday morning, Paul walked out of a side door in the Buffalo room of the Statler Towers and headed for the podium. He was completely naked. His unit hung freely for all the cameras to see. Tripods whirred and flashes popped as the Candidate walked slowly and defiantly to the front of the room.

Humorously, Paul ended up positioned behind the podium in such a way that most of the still photographers in the room could only capture his hanging balls on film, the more essential part obscured. Our own photos came out looking like illustrations in a veterinary textbook.

About the funniest thing about the press conference was the sight of the local journalistic priesthood wondering aloud before the start, in apparent seriousness, why in the world any serious candidate for office would announce his run naked.

I heard several of the TV reporters talking about this before Paul came out (channels 2 and 4 attended). It was an amazing thing to listen to. Not one of them even thought to bring up the fact that two TV networks, radio, and the Buffalo News would never in a million years turn out to hear a Green party candidate with clothes on announce a run for congress. As it was, the newspeople faithfully reported the next day that Paul, in addition to being naked, stood for ending the war on drugs, providing everyone with health care, and working to support labor in opposition to Tom Reynolds’s pro-corporate policies.

Channel 2 even rebroadcast, under a series of beeps, the following sound byte from the beginning of Paul’s speech: “I’m running because Tom Reynolds is a big fucking asshole!” No way a candidate with clothes on gets that on the air.

I will refrain here from describing the curious positioning of some of the cameras, or that certain members of the press strategically positioned themselves well to the side of the makeshift podium (actually a pair of chairs covered with a garbage bag and an American flag featuring corporate symbols instead of stars) in order to have full view of Paul’s congressional package throughout the ceremony.

Paul’s speech started slowly, but during the question and answer period, he started to heat up. What started out as a gimmick started to sound curiously like politics when, in response to a question about whether he was a credible candidate, he answered, “Why not me? I represent actual people. How many of us have a mansion in Clarence like Tom Reynolds, or rich corporate friends who’ll pay $5,000 a pop to play golf with you at Pebble Beach?”

That night, on Channel 7, Tom Reynolds actually responded, calling Paul’s stunt demeaning to the political process, and too silly to be worth his time.

Whatever. The reason most people are bored by politics these days is because almost none of us feel like we’re actually participating. The two parties serve us up a pair of mostly identical candidates who conduct a narrow, polite debate with one another, at the end of which we lazily choose one or the other.

But the reality is that you can go from being broke and anonymous to forcing a millionaire congressman to publicly respond to being called an asshole within about an hour. Instead of a sham, you can have the real thing. All you have to do is do it yourself. It just takes balls and a little brains.

Journalists who stay on the sidelines cracking Jay Leno one-liners during elections make us here at the BEAST want to puke. The real fun is in actually doing something. Paul may not win this election, but he could very easily make Tom Reynolds’s life until November utterly miserable. That’s a goal this paper can support. Give Paul a call if you feel the same way. He needs your help.


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Reporter in the Court

Aug

02

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Reporter in the Court

Reporter in the CourtBy Kevin McElwee

Cheektowaga is by no means unique among sprawling suburban towns in having one end that is practically urban while the other is essentially rural. But unlike many other such suburban “border” towns, Cheektowaga’s judicial branch has a decidedly rural feel to it in that neither of its two popularly elected justices, Thomas Kolbert and Ronald E. Kmiotek, holds a law degree. This lends an uncharacteristically informal air to the mostly monotonous proceedings, which are broken up by the occasional breach of protocol (such as when the judge momentarily forgets to swear in a witness who is about to give testimony) or confused arguing (when a defendant’s case has been remanded back and forth between courts so many times that the assigned counsel can’t make heads or tails out of the file and the judge hasn’t a clue what he’s supposed to be ruling on). But then just before you’re lulled to sleep by the court’s old-fashioned folksiness, some poor lifelong drunk up for a probation violation is sentenced to a year in jail for nothing more than failing an alcohol test at his halfway house.

The Cheektowaga Court is in operation Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The following is a report of the court’s proceedings from this past Tuesday, July 30. The names of the defendants have been omitted.

8:27 a.m.: I pass through the rudimentary security check. No food or beverages, cell phones, pagers, or recording devices are permitted inside. The elderly bailiff is amazed when the metal detector still triggers after I’ve removed 14 or so items from my various pockets. My belt buckle causes the buzzing, but they don’t make me undo it like in the airports nowadays.

8:40 a.m.: The doors open and the younger of the two white-shirted bailiffs (whose graying pompadour and extra-long sideburns give him a vaguely yokelish appearance) instructs those with civil disputes to enter. The plaque up on the bench tells us that Ronald E. Kmiotek is to preside over the day’s proceedings.

8:43 a.m.: Kmiotek enters the courtroom. He is a large, jowly man with thick dark hair and eyebrows that appear dyed. He looks like one of those elderly uncles who is rumored to have been a real mean bastard when he was younger, but has now mellowed to the point where he seems harmless, if not exactly friendly.

9:07 a.m.: A short black attorney with shaved head and glasses (one of the few wearing an actual suit) is perusing a brochure for “We Wan Chu Cottages.” Meanwhile, another black male directly in front of me is rhythmically raising and lowering his left leg at a rate of just under 30 per minute. His girlfriend has an intricately sculpted hair weave that looks like it would repel asteroids.

9:20 a.m.: The clerk reads the roll call of scheduled criminal cases.

9:42 a.m.: Kmiotek returns.

9:55 a.m.: The day’s third criminal case has a no-show female defendant. This is the second date in a row she has missed, so a bench warrant for her arrest will be served. Next up is a mid-30s, ruddy-complexioned white male with massive Popeye forearms and brand-spanking-new tan work boots. His elderly mother looks on as he pleads guilty to DWI for a $100 fine (with $65 surcharge).

10:04 a.m.: Handcuffee #3 is brought in, a sullen-looking, stout white male with pencil-thin mustache and ornate, garishly colored tattoos running up the length of his right arm, apparently all the way to where the shoulder and neck meet. As this defendant takes his seat, the younger bailiff moves to rouse a heavy-set black male (accompanied by a woman and small girl) who has fallen asleep.

10:34 a.m.: The first female in handcuffs is brought in. She’s a nearly spherical middle-aged black woman in orange shorts and hideously clashing tangerine tank top who requires rather more escorting than most. Once seated, she slouches over with her head resting on one shoulder, looking sort of like the Pope giving a speech except for the toothless half-smile that remains plastered on her face for as long as I can manage to keep my eye on her.

10:40 a.m.: A young black male charged with marijuana possession and various traffic violations has no attorney, and so is dispatched downstairs for the ACD forms. Next we have a pair charged with petty larceny. One is a short, stout black female with hair neatly pulled back in a bun (which only serves to accentuate the extremely wrinkled state of her skirt). The other is a tall white male, slovenly dressed and wearing a gray NY Yankees cap. Both look like they just rolled out of bed.

10:55 a.m.: The sleeper’s female companion is called. She faces charges of second degree harassment and driving without a license. After he is one of many pink-faced, rail-thin white males wearing a goatee and an angry expression. I notice his shirt is actually tucked in, and it occurs to me that this is the first defendant so far to have done so. He’s charged with marijuana possession.

By now my ears have adjusted somewhat to the sound of the courtroom and I am able to make out more of what the judge is saying. His speech is very practiced and terse (entirely understandable under the circumstances), and yet the ups and downs of his intonation rarely seems to correspond to the sense of what he’s saying. I don’t know what to make of this except that the resulting effect is mildly unsettling.

11:04 a.m.: The younger bailiff is hot on the trail of another sleeper, this time a heavy-set black male whose son had been carrying the morning edition of The Buffalo News when they entered the courtroom. This bailiff will henceforth be referred to as the Sleep Enforcer.

11:14 a.m.: The Sleep Enforcer nearly nabs another victim, this time a young white female with strawberry-streaked blonde hair and a large cat tattoo on her back. She’s sitting hunched over with her head almost in her lap, but she snaps awake before the bailiff can get to her. I take particular note of this as I’m now starting to nod myself.

11:24 a.m.: The nearly sleeping woman is up. Turns out she’s 28, has a 4-year-old child, and feels she’s ready to turn her life around because she’s finally in a “stable relationship.” She’s sentenced to a $100 fine on her DWI charge.

11:30 a.m.: We get two more male defendants in cuffs: a short bald black fellow who looks a bit like Emmitt Smith and a lanky middle-aged white fellow with a long braided ponytail. Meanwhile, the attorney for the nearly sleeping woman is still up at the clerk’s desk fiddling with the paperwork, which leads a bow-tied southern dandyish-looking public defender to ask the judge if he’d like him to remove him from the courtroom. This, the day’s first bit of verifiable intentional humor, is barely acknowledged by the judge.

11:37 a.m.: We now have a few young adult white males accompanied by one or both parents. Among the other recent arrivals is a gray-suited attorney whose slicked-back hair is slightly mussed. He sits just across the aisle from me perusing a day planner in which every fourth page is a full-color picture of a pug striking some “cute” pose.

12:14 p.m.: Handcuffed Emmitt Smith faces numerous charges, including an intriguing “false impersonation” that has been reduced to disorderly conduct. All but a few of the charges are dismissed. The judge appears to have warmed up and is now effortlessly tossing off such standard legalese phrases as “contrary to the provisions of.”

12:21 p.m.: One of the parent-accompanied young white males is up for his DWI charge, but he is quickly sent downstairs for ACD forms. He is just the second defendant thus far who had the foresight to tuck in his shirt (for the record, my shirt isn’t tucked in either, but then I’m not appearing before the court on criminal charges). His two parents look a bit like yuppies and not as unhappy to be there as might be expected.

12:43 p.m.: Our newest cuffed defendant is a diminutive, nervous-looking fellow wearing a particularly hideous Miami Dolphins T-shirt.

12:54 p.m.: The courtroom is nearly empty now as Dolphins guy is on, facing a probation violation that may or may not involve attempted assault. There’s much confusion over the case (is there time served? was it 90 days? which charge is he on probation for? etc.), and it is several minutes before judge and attorney can figure it all out. It seems the violation was failure to show up for drug court. The attorney gives the day’s longest defense statement by far, which reveals that the 40-year-old has been an alcoholic most of his adult life, has been married to the complainant for 12 years, has been incarcerated for the past month, and is looking into a 30-day in-house treatment program. He has relatives in Florida, where he hopes to relocate and turn his life around. “I just have to get a change of environment,” he says. Just under the bell, the attorney gets in that the defendant’s continued alcohol problems are partly due to the fact that his wife works in a bar.

1:12 p.m.: Next up is another lanky white truck driver type with long hair and mustache. He appears extremely dejected and remorseful and is also up for a probation violation (from a petty larceny charge). The probation officer goes through the details of the case for about 3 minutes before Kmiotek remembers he was supposed to swear him in first. He does so, and the officer starts over. The violation here is a failed alcohol test at his residential treatment facility. It becomes clear from the judge’s statements that this defendant has been here more than once before: “Mr. [name omitted], this court has been very kind to you, and your family has been here every time… they’re genuinely concerned that you might die from this…” The family is his mother, sister, and brother, the latter a small mustachioed fellow wearing a blue NYPD cap and an extremely dirty white T-shirt that reads “Newport Pleasure” (I’d been noticing him nervously going in and out of the courtroom for most of the morning). The sentence, essentially for failing a urine test for alcohol, is 1 year in county jail. The brother and sister nod approvingly.

1:27 p.m.: It’s now just me, another man (the final defendant’s brother as it turns out), and the final defendant himself. Kmiotek asks me who I’m there for; I tell him I’m just watching. “Good,” he says, “more people should go to court and see what actually happens, instead of believing all those… rumors.” Unconvincingly, I tell him I agree. Thankfully, the defendant’s attorney returns, now under the impression that his client has served out all but two days of his sentence and might as well be released now with time served rather than being sent back to jail for two days. The judge doesn’t like the sound of that at all and goes into a convoluted explanation about how the case was remanded because he hadn’t previously gotten into the record any statement imploring the defendant to think about his past crimes and the effect they have had. So Kmiotek now gets this all-important statement into the record and only then releases the man with time served. I decide that two days’ worth of leniency is the closest thing to a happy ending this story is likely to get, and make my way outside.


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THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB

Aug

02

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THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB

How the BEAST was hired to build James Kopp’s beard

by Matt Taibbi

Light attracts moths. Fake beards attract comedians. Some laws of nature are simply immutable.

A few weeks ago, BEAST reporter and head coach Slidell Montgomery called me in a panic. He was manic, barely understandable on the phone. The right fake beard story will do that to a professional humorist. “Did you fucking read the newspaper?” he said. “They’re going to put Kopp in a fake beard for the lineup!”

“What?” I said.

“James Kopp, the guy accused of shooting the abortion doctor Slepian…”

“I know who he is,” I snapped. “What’s this about a fake beard?”

Slidell slowed down and explained the story, by now well-known to most everybody in this city. Kopp was to be placed in a lineup wearing a fake beard, fake mustache, and dyed hair to simulate what police say his appearance was four years ago, before he fled in anticipation of arrest for Dr. Barnett Slepian’s murder.

The decision by Erie County judge Michael D’Amico was immediately called “highly controversial” in the press for the predictable reason that the defense, led by legendary attorney Paul Cambria, considered the wholescale alteration of a suspect’s appearance for a lineup somewhat, er, prejudicial. After all, if you follow the reasoning behind this kind of technique to its logical end, you could conceivably end up with prosecutors dressing up suspects as the Hamburglar, and asking witnesses to pick the criminal out of the lineup. The whole idea seemed shaky, to say the least.

The lineup idea was made even more controversial by the delicate legal gymnastics needed to justify it. Whether or not it actually intended to do so, the prosecution, led by District Attorney Frank Clark and Assistant DA Joe Marusak, could not say that it wanted to make Kopp up to look like the witness descriptions of the person seen outside Dr. Slepian’s house in the days before the shooting. That would be prejudicial on its face, so to speak. And the idea of making him up to look like his pictures and mugshots from previous arrests seemed equally ridiculous. That concept reminded me of the old Joseph Heller joke from We Bombed in New Haven:

General to Lieutenant: We’re going to bomb them right off the map.

Lieutenant: Why don’t we just bomb the map?

If you’re making him up to look like a picture, why not just show the picture? And in general the whole idea of having a lineup after four years of intense press coverage of the case, coverage that had the infamous mugshots of Kopp on front pages and on national television about once every five minutes or so, seems ridiculous; it would appear an easy matter for a defense attorney to argue on appeal that the witnesses would not have been able to not know instantly which of the bearded men in the lineup was James Kopp, suspect.

But all of these were abstract legal questions that attorneys on both sides would doubtless argue over for years to come. The questions that came to our minds when we heard about the lineup were more immediate and concrete: Where the hell does an Erie County prosecutor go to find a fake beard? and On a scale of one to ten, exactly how outrageously funny-looking will Kopp’s beard be when they finally wheel it out for the lineup?

The range of possibilities was intriguing to consider. Independent of each other, Slidell and I had both immediately focused on the preposterous prop used by Woody Allen in the movie Bananas, in which the Allen character fleeces the entire world, including the analytical department of the CIA, by sporting a three-dollar costume store fake beard as he assumes the identity of a Latin American dictator. We both imagined Kopp in the guise of Allen’s Fielding Mellish character, nervously blowing the fake mustache strands off of his lips as he warmed up the United Nations crowd with a joke before a speech: “As I stand here before you today, I am reminded of the farmer who had incestuous relations with his daughter…”

There was also the Abe Lincoln model, an option that seemed too absurd to consider but would later prove not too far off the mark…

Law enforcement and clever disguise have always been contradictions in terms. There is no creature on earth less qualified to avoid the pitfalls of unintentional comedy than a middle-aged policeman or prosecutor grappling with the nuances of wigs and makeup. In all of literature there is perhaps no funnier passage than the section of G. Gordon Liddy’s autobiography, Will, in which Business Card
Aaron’s business card. Without thinking,
we used Artvoice’s numberLiddy describes the “disguises” he and fellow White House henchman Howard Hunt used before their break-in into the office of Lewis Fielding, the psychiatrist for Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.

Liddy and Hunt contrived to wear polyester lounge clothes and special braces on their feet that would make them appear to be walking with limps. Apparently this disguise in the garb of handicapped Floridan tourists would make them less conspicuous as they went about their business of burglarizing a California physician’s office at night.

Liddy and Hunt were the best and the brightest in the American security apparatus at the time. If that was what White House first-teamers will come up with in the area of appearance alteration, one can only imagine what an Erie County prosecutor will do when faced with the assignment of finding a fake beard. Unless someone stepped in to save the day, we thought, it was only a matter of time before someone caught Frank Clark roaming the aisles of a Spencer Gift store, rummaging for beards under a pile of magic 8-balls.

We at the BEAST were curious to see how desperate the situation was at the DA’s office. So we decided one afternoon last week to put in an exploratory phone call to Marusak, the prosecutor in charge of trying the Kopp case. As it turned out, affairs in their office were in such chaos that what started out as a simple phone gag, spurred by mere curiosity, ended in one of the more surreal episodes in our journalistic careers—with the District Attorney offering us, in a formal face-to-face interview, the job of making up the face of James Kopp.

In our initial phone call, we decided to just throw a few things against the wall, just to see what would stick. As is becoming increasingly evident, walls are very sticky in this town when it comes to pranks. Posing as “Aaron Aaron's crowning achievement
Aaron’s crowning
achievementWolfsheim,” a vacationing Hollywood makeup artist, I spoke first to a switchboard operator, then to attorney Jeff Hagen, and finally to Marusak, to whom I cordially offered my services:

Marusak:   Joe Marusak.

BEAST:   Hello, Mr. Marusak?

Marusak:   Yes?

BEAST:   Hi, my name is Aaron Wolfsheim. I’m a makeup artist.

Marusak:   Okay!

BEAST:   I’m actually a Buffalo native, but I work in Los Angeles.

Marusak:   Uh-huh.

BEAST:   I’ve done a lot of work in movies. I worked on Planet of the Apes. I don’t know if you saw the recent movie, but I did Helena Bonham Carter’s makeup.

Marusak:   [skeptically] Okay…

BEAST:   And I’m home visiting relatives, and I was reading about this Kopp trial. And I was wondering if you’d found someone to do the makeup for the lineup, and if you’d be interested in seeing some of my work.

Marusak:   Yeah! I would! In fact, it’s ironic that you called, because we’re in the process right now of trying to, uh, use someone. I had someone that I used on a criminal case, oh, God, it must have been ten years ago. And the telephone numbers that I have for her are no longer valid, so…

BEAST:   So you haven’t found anybody, huh?

Marusak:   So we struck out there.

A decade of Law and Order episodes had not prepared me for the reality of a District Attorney who stops at dialing an old telephone number when searching for someone who is not hiding. It seemed to me that any adult American male over the age of twenty who has ever been so hard up for sex that he’s been forced to look up an old girlfriend would know how to proceed past the “old telephone number no longer works” problem. Momentarily unnerved, I pressed on:

Marusak:   We’re in the process of looking, so yeah, I would definitely like to see something, uh, that you’ve done.

BEAST:   Well, if you just want something for a preliminary look, you can see some of the movies that I’ve done. I was in Splash 3, I did all of the costumes for that…

There never was a Splash 3. Marusak was unfazed:

Marusak:   Uh-huh!

BEAST:   And, like I said, I did Planet of the Apes, I did Helena Bonham Carter… and, uh [scrambling to think], I worked for Dino Di Laurentis for many years.

Marusak:   [impressed] Oh!

BEAST:   So I’m just home for a couple of weeks…

Marusak:   Oh, perfect!

BEAST:   I could come by any time.

Marusak:   Do you have your materials with you?

BEAST:   Yeah, I have a kit. I’m working on some models while I’m here.

Marusak:   Okay!

Genuinely freaked out by this point, I decided, in a panic almost, to throw something else out there:

BEAST:   There might be some things that I’m missing, but… I’m good. I’m so good, if I did you, they’d pick you out of the lineup.

Marusak:   [again impressed] Wowwwww!

BEAST:   [laughing] So when would be a good time for me to come by?

Marusak:   Well, how about… well, let’s see. Let’s take a peek about my calendar… Today is the 23rd. How is Thursday, the 25th?

BEAST:   Sounds good.

Marusak:   What’s good for you?

BEAST:   How about sometime after noon?

Marusak:   Okay. Let’s shoot for two o’clock.

BEAST:   Okay.

As soon as this phone call was over (Marusak spent an inordinate amount of time giving me directions not only to his office building, but from the elevator on his floor to his office), I hung up the phone and sat for a moment in stunned silence. There seemed to be no question that I actually had to go in to Marusak’s office for the interview. God’s vengeance is unerring when such rare opportunities as these are squandered. Little as I liked the idea of waltzing into the District Attorney’s office to pull this kind of stunt, I knew there was no way out.

But what would I do if he actually offered me the job? That was a trickier question, but after a heated discussion in the BEAST offices, we settled on a plan for that, too. In the meantime, we had a serious task before us: we had less than 48 hours to turn me into a plausible candidate for a job in a million-dollar, internationally celebrated criminal trial.

One of the ironic things about this story is that within about twenty minutes after our call to Marusak, we at the BEAST managed to track down a qualified professional makeup artist, with a degree in industrial design that included training in makeup and effects, who was willing to teach us the ropes of fake beard application. This was clearly the first order of business. If I was going to go in to the DA’s office and interview for the Kopp makeup job, I needed to sound like I knew what I was talking about.

It seemed impossible that a bunch of slackers running a two-bit humor newspaper would be able to instantly find the right guy for the job right here in Buffalo, when a mighty state apparatus with an unlimited budget couldn’t manage to find anyone, anywhere, qualified or not, in any length of time. But this was apparently the case.

While I met with the Expert for my beard tutorial, our designers set to work making up the necessary props for Aaron Wolfsheim’s resume. Pressed for time, we focused on the essentials. Any reputable special effects artist, we knew, would want first and foremost to be able to show a picture of himself on the cover of Fangoria
The Fangoria cover. I’m sporting the
super-mullet, in lower left cornerFangoria magazine, that blood-spattered Bible of the effects industry. We dug up an old back issue at Queen City Bookstore that featured a mangled latex head from the movie F/X; our nymphomaniac trailer-trash designer Velma Stark scanned it in, adding in one corner a doctored photo that featured my face on the body of an effects artist with a truly spectacular early-90s mullet. The picture could not possibly have been more ridiculous, but there was no question of not trying to use it. Underneath the photo, we added the dramatic headline: AARON WOLFSHEIM BREAKS THE MOLD.

Next step: the obligatory photo of a slightly older Aaron Wolfsheim with his arm around Robert Englund, a.k.a. Freddie Krueger. The original photo we found featured Englund with his arms around a man in his late thirties who had the awful haircut and hideously unhealthy body of a top-flight Hollywood cosmetic artist. I posed for a picture that imitated the expression on the man’s face, looking in mock fright down and to my right at Englund’s famous razor-bladed fingers resting on my shoulder. Velma morphed that picture onto the original, and there I was, sporting a prominent set of middle-aged man-titties and standing with my arms around Freddie Krueger.

We made a few other pictures, including an 8×11 still of Helena Bonham-Carter in ape costume, which I was going to point to as my “crowning achievement” (I also planned to drop hints that I’d had an affair with the actress, but, sadly, the opportunity never arose). Then we drew up a set of campy business cards with a Planet of the Apes theme (Aaron worked for a company called “Modern Freddie
With Freddie Krueger. We left in the
bad hair and man-boobsProsthetics” that specialized in “Meeting the economic prosthetic, mask, makeup, realistic recreation and effects needs of the motion picture, film, video and theater industries”), and set to work sketching out a believable biography for Mssr. Wolfsheim. Among other things, I planned to have him take credit for building the Sasquatch costume from a Carlsberg commercial from the early nineties, one which “didn’t get a lot of airplay” but was “well-received by people in the business.”

I got a good night’s sleep the night before the meeting. Then, in the morning, I met Velma to gather up the sight gags before retiring to our offices in the luxurious Statler Towers to get mentally prepared.

On the way out the door just before two, I realized I’d made a serious error. The previous evening, one of our other designers, who’d been in charge of making the business cards, had called me to ask what telephone number to put under Aaron’s name.

“Put Artvoice’s number on there,” I’d said reflexively, not even thinking.

“Done,” he’d said.

Now I had a stack of those cards in hand and I realized that they all bore numbers with 716 area codes—which didn’t exactly fit the profile of a Los Angeles-based effects artist. In a panic, I took a pen and frantically crossed out all of the 716′s as I walked across Niagara Square, replacing them all with the more appropriate 323 area code.

Confidence momentarily rattled, I walked into the DA’s office at 25 Delaware, passed through the metal detector, and headed for the third floor. I needed to take a leak, but I was afraid to ask anyone where the bathroom was. I was sure that the fraud was written on my face so clearly that the first word out of my mouth would get me shot with a Taser gun and dragged into custody. But I wasn’t able to stall for long before a short bald man in shirtsleeves and a tie caught me meandering in the third-floor hallway.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m looking for Joe Marusak.”

“And you are?” he asked.

“Aaron Wolfsheim,” I said. “I’m a makeup artist… I have an appointment.”

“Oh, hello, Aaron,” he said, shaking my hand. “I’m Jeff Hagen. We spoke on the phone. He’s expecting you.”

“Uh-huh. Do you have a rest room?” I blurted out.

Hagen led me to a rest room, right up to the door. For a moment I thought he was going to come in with me. But he backed away at the last moment, then waited in the hallway… When I came out a moment later, he led me into his office for what I quickly gathered would be some kind of pre-interview.

“Joe’s on the phone,” he explained. “In the meantime, I’ll just need to ask you a few questions.”

Hagen pulled out a fresh yellow legal pad and glared at me with a blank expression.

“So what’s your connection to Buffalo, Aaron?” he said, not smiling.

It took me about two seconds to grasp the perilous dynamics of the situation. On the phone, Hagen’s boss, Marusak, sounded exactly like what one would expect a grandstanding trial prosecutor would sound like: comically bombastic in tone, megalomaniacal, none too bright, and consumed with a fairly narrow range of predictably vulgar political ambitions, a man who, in all likelihood, owns four sharp suits and a carefully-attended anchorman haircut. Behind every such man in this world there is a less photogenic man who is usefully paranoid and is the real brains of the operation. This was the person who was interrogating me now.

I volleyed back each of his questions with my lame preconceived answers: I was born in the Buffalo area, but moved to Massachusetts as a small child. After retirement, my father had moved back to the city and settled in Allentown, where I was now staying for a two-week visit. I gave him an address and a telephone number, the former bogus, the latter belonging to co-editor Kevin McElwee’s mobile account.

“Do you have a business card?” he asked, still not smiling.

I handed him my card. “You’ll see the area code is crossed out…” I began.

“Why?” he asked.

“They added a new area code in LA,” I said. “My number used to be… in the 213 area.”

Hagen examined it, then put it aside before sitting up straight to face me.

“You understand the reason I’m asking you all of these questions,” he said. “You know the nature of this case?”

“Yes,” I said. “But only what I read in the papers.”

“Well, you see, the thing is, you know, there are some people who might want to create a provocation,” he said. “And you know, you called us, we didn’t call you. So obviously we have to check…”

“Obviously,” I said. “I understand, this is a sensitive case…you have to be wary.”

Hagen flipped closed the legal pad. A chilling idea which had occurred vaguely to me at the start of the meeting now rose violently to the surface of my thoughts. If Hagen did not join in during the meeting with Marusak, would he excuse himself to start conducting his background check right away? One phone call to the fictitious number on my business card, and I was dead meat. Again the visions: Marusak’s door bursting open, more Taser guns, dogs, carpet burns, the exposed out-of-shape journalist clutching wildly at a desk leg as he is dragged off…

“I think Joe’s off the phone,” Hagen said suddenly, interrupting my fantasies. “Please, come on in.”

Hagen and I walked into the office next door, and he closed the door behind us. He wasn’t going anywhere; I was safe.

Behind the desk sat a dazed-looking man with an anchorman haircut, who even when sitting, appeared to be standing with his hands on his hips.

“Aaron Wolfsheim,” I said.

“Joe Marusak,” he answered.

There’s never been any question in my mind that life is stranger than fiction. That’s why I got into journalism. The material is so much more challenging.

In my pre-interview, Hagen had, by way of asking me how long the process of applying a fake beard would take, given me a hint as to their earlier progress in wrestling with the whole beard issue. He showed me a fax some out-of-town outfit had sent him that included rough diagrams of various beard shapes. The fax was grainy and nearly illegible; the “beards” looked like Rorschach tests.

“We understand this is sort of a drawn-out process,” he’d said. “These other people we’re talking to were saying that what you do is take an Abe Lincoln beard, and cut it down…”

The image of James Kopp, right-wing nut case, standing in a lineup with an Abe Lincoln beard nearly felled me from my chair. I recovered myself in time to affect a convincing sneer of professional disdain and begin to explain the actual process of making a professional-caliber fake beard. Hagen had sat quietly, taking notes.

Now, in the meeting with both attorneys, I entered into my speech again. Marusak, a fit-looking man with a vague and unfortunate resemblance to character actor Fred Ward, sat at his desk in a pose eerily reminiscent of the classic reverse cutaway shot used in TV journalism—the one where the TV journalist is shown sitting with his hands folded on his lap, nodding seriously as he listens to his interview subject. Those shots are sometimes done after the fact, but this one was happening in real time.

Amazingly, my nervous astonishment in looking at him suddenly translated into an impassioned and utterly believable imitation of a Hollywood effects pro.

“No professional would ever just stick on an actual fake beard,” I said. “A realistic beard is applied hair by hair. For a short beard, the process is fairly simple. You apply spirit gum to the face. Then you take a human-hair wig that matches the color you want, and cut the hairs into small strips. You take those strips and you roll them up lengthwise and wrap them in a little blanket, so that you end up with something that looks like a little cigar, or… sushi.”

“Sushi,” repeated Marusak.

“Then you take the sushi and you dab it onto the subject’s face,” I continued. “The hairs will tend to stick to the gum straight out. Once you’ve finished applying the hairs to the whole face, you comb it in the shape that you want, and you’ve got your beard.”

“I see,” Marusak said, sounding not all that interested in the particulars. “Well, he has a short bear-…”

“For a long beard,” I said, ignoring him. I was in a zone.”The process is more complex. You take this stuff called slush latex and you apply it to the face, so that you have a sort of thin rubber coating. Then, with a needle, you apply each individual hair strand by strand, sticking it into the latex. The process takes a long time. When you’re finished, you pull each of the hairs slightly, so that they come out of the latex a little. The effect is to make it more realistic, because those little tugs will leave tiny indentations in the latex that look like pores.”

“How long will this take?” Marusak said, showing me a picture of Kopp. “He had a fairly short beard…”

I didn’t have the faintest fucking idea. “About two hours,” I said confidently. “If you’re looking at something shorter, like in that other picture, about an hour and a half.” I paused, coming to the important question. “Do you want me to do just him, or everybody?”

Marusak shrugged. “Nah, they’re bellyaching about us just doing one person, you know, like it’ll be obvious if there’s just one guy in a fake beard…”

No kidding, I thought.

“…so we’re thinking we’re going to have at least one other clean-shaven person in the lineup who get s a fake beard, maybe two, I don’t know. Can you do that?”

“No problem,” I said.

Going in to the interview, I was extremely curious to find out exactly how they wanted Kopp made up. Was he supposed to be given the beard that he would have been wearing on the day in question? That would be tough to do, since no one knows what kind of beard he was wearing that day; there are no photos, no witnesses who saw him. (Witnesses saw someone in a car outside Slepian’s home in the days leading up to the shooting, but none of them knew for sure that it was James Kopp). He might not have been wearing a beard at all, for all anyone knows.

If not exactly that beard, then, which one? Over the course of his life, Kopp wore beards of different lengths and hues. The mugshots of him show sharply various facial hair arrangements. Would they just pick one or the other? And if they did, choosing randomly, on the basis of nothing at all, how could that conceivably correspond to what he might have looked like on the day of the murder?

Marusak showed me a pair of old Kopp photos.

“Which one do you want me to do?” I asked.

Marusak shrugged. “Probably a combination of both,” he said.

I pointed to a photograph of Kopp wearing what looked to be a bright orange beard. “Is that a fake beard right there?” I asked.

“No,” Marusak said. “His hair color was usually described as reddish-brown… That’s his real hair.”

I shook my head. “The thing is, if I do that beard, it’s going to look like a fake beard, ” I said. “Not for any reason except that his actual beard looked like a fake.”

Marusak paused, then pointed to the photo of Kopp wearing a darker, more normal-looking beard. “Let’s go with that one,” he said.

Well, that settles that, I thought, taking in the depressing thought that Marusak might have just made me a witness at the trial. “Okay,” he said.

We talked a little bit more. Very quickly the conversation swung around to my Mugshots
Marusak ultimately asked me to make a beard like the
one on the rightwork. I opened a manila envelope and began handing Marusak my resume shots.

“This is me in, er, a less physically fit period of my life, standing with Robert Englund—you know, Freddie Krueger,” I said.

“Oh, great!” he said.

“I actually didn’t do his face,” I explained. “My job, believe it or not, was the sweater. It looks like an ordinary sweater, but it has all these moving parts inside.”

“Huh!” he said.

“And this is me on the cover of Fangoria magazine,” I said. “I had this great haircut back then. That bloody head I designed was my real career break.”

“Nice,” he said.

“And this, of course, is Helena Bonham Carter in Planet of the Apes,” I said. “That’s what I spent most of last year working on.”

‘So, what’s your timetable next week again?” Marusak asked.

Lost in professional pride, I didn’t hear him. “The funny thing about those masks,” I said. “The original Planet of the Apes masks were just masks. You stuck them on the face and that was it. But these new ones we designed are completely animatronic. There are little electronic parts in every section of the face. You move your upper lip, the upper lip moves.”

“That’s… interesting,” he said unconvincingly.

They asked me again about my schedule. It was clear I had the job. I told them that there was an outside chance that I’d have to be called back to L.A. immediately to do a project, but that, barring that, I was free to do it early the next week. Hagen told me that “we’re happy to have someone with your qualifications.”

“I hope we can all work together,” Marusak said.

“I think it will all work out,” I said, eyeing the exit.

We all shook hands and I left— in a hurry.

Don’t get me wrong. I hate those anti-abortion maniacs as much as anybody. As far as I’m concerned, if Kopp is guilty, he ought to be shot into space. And I think that every church in America ought to donate a million dollars apiece to Dr. Slepian’s family, so that even his great-grandchildren will never have to work a day in their lives. Jesus Christ! Shooting a doctor in the name of God! What’s wrong with these people?

But what if the suspect wasn’t an asshole like Kopp? What if it’s you or me in a drug case? You put a bunch of people like this in charge of the lineup, and who isn’t going to pick out the suspect? Left to their own devices, Kopp would be standing there in an Abe Lincoln beard!

And even if the guy is guilty, trotting him out there like that seems like far from a public service. Any sane appeals court judge might take one look at the transcript, decide the witnesses have been tainted, and throw out the whole case. Next thing you know, some abortion doctor in Pittsburgh is getting shot in his backyard next to his Hibachi. The whole thing is so nuts, it’s almost hard to laugh about it.

A few hours after my interview, I called Hagen. He wasn’t in. I left a message on his machine, explaining that I was being called away to Baton Rouge, to shoot a movie called Crawslaught (about mutant crawfish run amok) and would be unable to do the lineup.

Five minutes later, Hagen called Kevin’s cell phone number. The latter explained that he didn’t know any Aaron Wolfsheim. He called back, apparently in the hope that he’d dialed wrong. Same deal. They apparently didn’t look very hard after that. Let’s hope they don’t read the BEAST…


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Velma’s Nekkid City

Aug

01

by

Velma’s Nekkid City

OH, BROTHER, WHERE IS YOU?

Some people complain about anything. “It’s too hot,” or, “I’m sick of this fucking winter shit,” or “His tongue is really dry and rough and makes my clit sore,” blah, blah, blah. I fucking love summer. This year I found, at TJ Maxx’s, my favorite halter-top in my size (right, like Velma’s gonna tell you) and in five different colors. No laundry this summer. Just kidding, I wash my thongs out by hand in the kitchen sink and usually I listen to Rickey Martin when I’m doing it. I love him but no one else does. All my friends call him gay and Mexican. Mostly they just don’t like guys from foreign places. I feel that that is bullshit. What do I care if a guy is from another country? I say, once you take down the flag all’s that’s left is the pole anyway. Geez, if my brother, Kurt, heard me say that he’d knock the piss outta me. I don’t think they get this newspaper in prison anyway, so fuck him. I mean I love him, he’s my brother, but that’s mostly why the prick is prison now. He’s in jail so much I wonder sometimes if he don’t like what goes on in there. But he says it’s not like the movies. He’s never had to go down on a guy or bend over or anything but he said he almost had to touch a guy once but he got out of it by throwing up.

So, speaking of jail, my aunt Lucy just got out and she won’t get her license back for a while. They had her on one of those ankle tethers and she had to take a Breathalyzer every four hours from home. After that, she got one of those digital combination locks on her car ignition where you can’t start the car if you’re drunk. But she would just fill the tank, go the bar and leave the car running. That’s how she got busted again. Anyway I called her to wish her Happy Freedom and talked her into going out for a few drinks. I was going to pick her up but she said she had a ride and she’d meet me on Chippewa Street.

I don’t know. I mean I only had been down there once and it was all right but some of the guys that hang out down there are really young. With them, it’s like Christmas, they’re all excited to open up the package but once they see all the parts they can’t figure out how to put it together. But some of the bouncers are sweet. And some are Velma’s size. I saw this one in front of this one club, Big Shotz (from the look of him they might could live up to their name). He was a big hunk of a brother (I think that’s what they call themselves). Hey, I say the darker the meat, the firmer the bone. Anyway, he looked at me like he might have something to say about it but his boss or somebody came out to get him to go break up a fight. I thought to go in there and start swinging but I’m still on probation.

Once, the second or third time I was pregnant, I caught the clap from this guy I knew from the park. I am sure it was him. He was real cute. He wore these red sweatpants, like the ones that say “Bills” on them and he had real nice thick brown bangs in his hair. It was cut so it was almost short on top and trimmed back over his ears and then came way down his back, almost to his ass. He would wear these muscle shirts, tucked in, and he was always real cool to me cause I was so young (like 15). Everyone else at the park would tease me but he would stick up for me. Anyway, I think it was him, but my brother saw me on the towpath with this other guy form the projects over by Ontario St. and later on he beat the blood out of me. It was kind of good in a way cause I didn’t have to have the baby, but anyway, ever since then I thought I’m gonna go with anybody I want, no matter where they’re from.

So, I stopped by this bar where Aunt Lucy said she’d be, the Route 66, but they hadn’t seen her. So I stayed for a while and talked to these guys from South Buffalo who tried to get me to go to their favorite bar “Lay-He’s”. I was like, “yeah, right,” but it was really spelled Leahy’s. I didn’t go cause they were gonna get their car and pull it around but they must have gotten lost in all those one-way streets down there. So, I went over to this place, Liars, where this guy, Joe Sartiorio or some thing was playing. The guys at BEAST told me he sucked or something, but I like him. I mean he played all the songs my brother used to play in his bedroom before he started getting in trouble. So I sat there just digging the music and trying to see if there were any cute guys around but all the guys were just snickering at Satriorio or whatever his name is. I tried to catch his eye a couple times but he seemed to get nervous by it. Maybe he’s queer or something too. I could change that but I heard he was moving to Oklahoma somewhere.

Man, the way he runs his hands up and down that guitar reminds me of my brother showing when he learned to jerk off.

Anyway, Velma has been getting a lot of mail. So, if you have any questions or need some advice write: nekkidcity@hotmail.com


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Underground Is the Answer

Aug

01

by

Underground Is the AnswerWide Right
by James R. Miller

As the disturbing events of the past couple weeks have shown, the dog days of summer are a difficult time to be a professional athlete. Whether you’re Allen Iverson having to travel to an unpleasant West Philly neighborhood in the middle of the night to teach a lesson to the no-count cousin who dares to molest your young wife (and this after you have been paying to support him and his entire deadbeat family) or Al Unser, Jr., having to resort to drunken manipulation of the gear shift knob because your girlfriend still hasn’t learned to drive properly, there’s no end to the trouble you can find yourself in.

All this sports criminality only serves to make us wonder why more cities have not followed the Buffalo model when it comes to dealing with its potentially dangerous population of pro athletes during the off-season. I’m talking, of course, about the Buffalo Bills’ mysterious underground residential facility, which is believed to be located somewhere underneath the village of Hamburg.

Perhaps the reason the Bills’ ingenious idea has not caught on is precisely because it is shrouded in such secrecy. Even here in Buffalo, there are many local residents who remain blissfully unaware that such a facility exists. Out of sight, out of mind, I suppose.

But whether they are aware of its existence or not, every citizen of Erie and Niagara Counties (and particularly those who work as parking attendants at downtown nightclub) have the underground facility to thank for the fact that they never have to worry about getting into an altercation with a blitzed #4 rookie wide receiver as he stumbles from the nightclub door to his car parked nearby.

For the simple truth, which only Buffalo (and perhaps one or two other cities across the country) has had the courage to acknowledge, is that the professional athlete is a strange creature who, for his own safety and that of others, must not be allowed to mingle with the outside world. Al Unser, Jr., is masterful when driving at 200 mph on a closed oval track, but he should never be allowed to drive a normal car on an actual highway (not even from the passenger seat), as his recent run-in with the law has shown.

So it was that prior to the 1972 season (during O.J. Simpson’s heyday, it should be noted) then-coach Lou Saban approached Bills owner Ralph Wilson with idea of constructing a massive underground complex in which his players could live in self-sufficient comfort away from the trouble that awaited them above ground when they weren’t on the field.

Ground was broken on the complex, which was code-named H-3 (the “H” denoting Hamburg, and the “3″ denoting that it was the 3rd of the alleged 6 sites that were identified as potential locations for the facility), in October of that year, and by early December it was ready for habitation.

The players were given access to some of the world’s top chefs, along with a seemingly endless supply of willing underage girls and safe, non-addictive drugs. The wives were allowed to visit the complex only 1 day per week, and this only after being blindfolded and driven along a convoluted route that may have gone through Detroit. The players were happy, and the city’s resident could live in peace. Some time in the early 1980s a series of tunnels was constructed to take the players to key locations such as then-Rich Stadium and the strip clubs across the Niagara River in Fort Erie.

This is precisely the reason that, throughout the Bills’ triumphant but ultimately disappointing Super Bowl years of the late 80s and early 90s, there was never an above-ground mishap involving a Bills player awash in disappointment after losing the big game. Some players, notably Jim Kelly, would make a point of appearing at local bars and getting drunk with the locals, but for the most part the players kept to themselves.

To this very day, Buffalo has fewer athlete-related incidents each year than almost every other NFL combined. The statistics speak for themselves. So one must wonder once again why the rest of the country does not get in line and follow Buffalo’s lead. How many more incidents like those of recent weeks must we witness before the rest of the world finally wakes up?

Born and raised in Hamburg, James R. Miller is currently completing post-doctoral work at London School of Economics.


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TERRORISTS ATE MY HOMEWORK

Aug

01

by

TERRORISTS ATE MY HOMEWORK
The Beast’s A to Z of Post-9/11 Political Opportunism
By Matt Taibbi

Even we felt sorry for Mayor Anthony Masiello a few weeks back. Our fearless leader’s deranged July 5 outburst, in which he labeled graffiti artists who spray-painted “Fuck the Mayor” on walls around Delaware park terrorists, was a textbook example of everything not to do when seeking to ride the backs of terrorists, real or imagined, to political advantage.

This game has been going on for hundreds of years, and the dos and don’ts have been fairly well established. When seeking to garner support for new draconian legislation, or for additional funding, do avoid whenever possible pointing to specific acts when describing your terrorist threat. With political opportunism, a terrorist in the bush is always worth two in the hand; unless you have a pile of bodies and a sufficiently large exploded structure to point at, people will always be more impressed by the fear of what terrorists might do than what they’ve already done.

Graffiti artists in Delaware Park? Not scary at all. A lead from “reliable intelligence sources” that Hamas is planning to kidnap Drew Bledsoe? Not only do you have our vote, just tell us where to send money! As everyone from Stalin to Hitler to Augusto Pinochet has learned over the years, even children aren’t afraid of the Bogey Man once you open the closet door; in politics, you keep the door closed.

Here’s another “do”: when you play the terrorist card, do ask for a huge mandate, not a little one. As most people with the stomach to think about these things have figured out by now, big-time politics differs very little from corporate deal-making. And any good businessman knows: when courting investors for a project, you always ask for a lot of money, even if you don’t come close to needing it. Never ask for funds to open up a hot-dog stand; ask for funds to open up a national chain of hot-dog stores, one that requires additional funding for hot-dog merchandising projects, multiple-media hot-dog entertainment (“Radio and TV are just a start! We’re going to sign Drew Barrymore!”), a hot-dog web browser service, hot-dog escorts…

The reason? People who have a lot of money are never very interested in small deals. Big-timers like big-time investments; everything else bores them. When you throw out a bill founded on a terrorist threat, the quarry should never be just graffiti artists. It should be everyone. Politics may be a move-the-chains business, but, as has been proved amply over the last nine months, the terrorist threat is an end zone play. Masiello went for three yards; he should have gone for six points.

We are coming up on the one-year anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, and the events of the last year or so have left historians with an extraordinary record of political opportunism to consider. As we sit here quietly going about our business in a small town like Buffalo, we ought to be aware that all around us, all over the outside world, governments and politicians are attempting to pull off, at a breakneck pace, an unprecedented series of end runs that are certain to fundamentally change the world as we know it. There’s not a whole lot we can do about it, but we ought to at least be aware that it’s happening… and understand that, far from being a singular event based on a unique tragedy, the terrorism blame game is an age-old technique that, like a virus, always runs its course in the same way.

Incidentally, we here at the BEAST speak with some personal experience on the matter. Just three years ago, in the summer of 1999, we were living in Moscow and anticipating the seemingly inevitable demise of President Boris Yeltsin. Both Yeltsin’s family and his administration had been seriously tainted by a number of gruesome financial scandals, and poll numbers had a Yeltsin rival, Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, looking like a lock to assume power in the 2000 presidential elections.

Then a funny thing happened. A series of raids by Islamic Chechen rebels in the south of the country re-ignited a military conflict that had been dormant since Outhouse
An outhouse A hole
A hole 1996. After a brief period of backdoor maneuvering, an unknown ex-KGB operative named Vladimir Putin was installed as Prime Minister amid promises of an extreme crackdown in Chechnya. Having heard all of this before, the Russian public paid only minimal attention, and Luzhkov continued his march to power… But then, just like that, a pair of apartment buildings in Moscow and a city called Ryazan were leveled by high-powered explosions, leaving hundreds dead. Public outrage soared to unprecedented levels, and the tough-talking Putin–who vowed, gangster-style, to “whack the bandits in their outhouses”–was given a limitless mandate to crush the terrorists. Full-blown war ensued, dissent at home was crushed, and voila–Putin was elected in a landslide just a few months later.

Evidence eventually surfaced that Putin had bombed the buildings himself (and the journalists from a paper called Novaya Gazeta who broke that story were beaten and, in the case of one, shot) but by then it was a done deal. Once you’ve got a terrorist to point a finger at, a skillful politician knows the world is his.

No sane person would ever compare George Bush to Putin. For one thing, he’s much taller. For another, it would hard to argue that the Trade Center bombings weren’t a real terrorist act, while virtually every intelligent person in Russia had immediate doubts about the Moscow/Ryazan apartment bombings. Nonetheless, both presidents do clearly use the same playbook. The only difference is the language. A KGB-gangster-turned politician whacks people in outhouses; an ex-Texas governor smokes them out of foxholes.

Whatever. We don’t begrudge politicians their tactics. Everyone’s got to make a living. Our only issue is technique. If you’re going to do a thing, you ought to do it right. If Mayor Masiello is thinking of trying this again, he might consider sticking to the time-honored tradition. Here’s our take on what that is, the BEAST guide to taking excellent political advantage of terrorism:


STEP ONE: FIND A TERRORIST.

This is harder than it sounds. Only in the rarest of cases does an undeniable terrorist event on the scale of 9/11 actually drop in your lap for you to make use of. In many cases, unreasonable people are likely to insist that what you are inclined to call terrorism is actually separatism, domestic opposition, or just plain old run-of-the-mill crime.

The great masters of the terrorism blame game, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, found extremely effective and creative ways around this problem. Hitler went the direct route; he simply went ahead and burned down the Reichstag building and blamed it on a whining communist. Not everyone believed him–remember, 87 Social Democrats voted against the extraordinary anti-terrorist powers he asked for in the wake of the Reichstag fire–but the trick worked well enough, and 12 years later, in 1945, Germans were still massacring people all over the world in belated response to the nebulous anti-German terrorist threat.

Stalin, as is typical of a Russian dictator, took the more labor-intensive route. Although he did actually kick off the festivities of the 1930s by arranging a phony terrorist act–the assassination of a high-ranking party member named Alexander Kirov–the real strength of his anti-terrorist campaign came through the painstaking process of arresting and intimidating thousands of people and forcing them to admit publicly to having planned terrorist acts. The amazing, never-before-seen spectacle of formerly respectable politicians lining up one after the other to confess to having planned to do everything from put broken glass in canned food products to blow up bridges and dams gave him the mandate he needed to massacre the needed 10 million or so malcontents. Ironically, the anti-terror campaign left his country more or less helpless when a foreign power actually invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.

It is convenient when searching for a terrorist threat to have an actual enemy on hand who is in the habit of blowing up things and people on your territory. In this sense, countries like Israel, Sri Lanka, Russia, and India were at a distinct advantage when 9/11 came their way. All four of these countries were home to ethnic separatist movements that could be convincingly linked to international terrorism once the opportunity arose. It is always important in this case to issue expressions of sympathy with the more overtly innocent victim–in this case the United States–and to pound home as often as possible that the new victims of terrorism should finally understand your plight. Russian government spokesman Sergei Yastrzhemsky offered a skillful example when he announced, within a day after the 9/11 attack, that the “Western media has finally changed its information policy toward Chechnya.”

If there are no violent belligerents handy on your territory, the mere presence of undesirables will often do the trick. Only a few days after 9/11, Australian Defense Minister Peter Rieth implicitly linked immigrant asylum-seekers to terrorism, and demanded that, in light of the World Trade Center bombing, Australia ought to be allowed finally to keep all of those darned immigrants out. He got what he wanted. A few months later, the Australian government put forward a comprehensive anti-terrorism bill in response to the 9/11 bombings that allowed the government to secretly detain even children in order to combat the terrorist threat, among other things.

A problem can arise for the gain-seeking politician who, far from being faced with a terrorist threat, is actually a terrorist himself. For this kind of person, for example the ruthless dictators Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus and Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, there may appear at first to be little advantage to seeking out a fictional terrorist threat. After all, if there are no obstacles to enacting repressive laws to begin with, why bother making the effort to cook up a plausible excuse for them? The answer is that even in this case, there is a tangible benefit to finding yourself some terrorists, and that is the extremely rewarding sensation of temporary international legitimacy. Therefore Lukashenko acted shrewdly when, in December of last year, he enacted the “Law of the Republic of Belarus on Fighting Terrorism.” This law, which was so nakedly an act of political opportunism that even the dead Nazi soldiers buried in the Belarus forests had to laugh at it, permitted Lukashenko’s government to legally enter any home at will and confiscate any property deemed necessary to the cause of counter-terrorism. Not surprisingly, the law turned out to be one of the few moves he has ever made that did not instantly inspire violent international disgust.

Uzbekistan, meanwhile, having long ago disposed of any domestic opposition in possession of so much as a bamboo pole of offensive capability, simply went ahead and declared an unarmed Islamic group called Hizb-ut-Tahrir a terrorist threat. No one believed them, and in fact one of his own courts actually took the extreme step of convicting four policemen for murder after they beat a suspected Hizb-ut-Tahrir member named Ravshan Haidov to death, but the rest of the world was sufficiently convinced by Karimov’s vigilance that it began to talk about Uzbekistan as a valuable ally in the fight against international terrorism. The United States found the act convincing enough that it felt confident in setting up an airbase on Karimov’s territory, and even made noises about keeping it there permanently, setting off what is sure to be a lucrative bidding war for Uzbek hospitality between Russia and the United States. Whatever your situation, it is always possible to find a terrorist. The trick is what to do with him once you get him.


STEP 2: MAKE A WISH-LIST

Trying to determine what best to do with the political mandate offered by your newfound terrorist threat is similar to trying to make a decent meal at home. Before you go to the supermarket, your first step should always be see what’s already in the cupboard. There may be plans you already have underway that can be bolstered or expedited by bellowing at length in public about the need for anti-terrorist vigilance.

Without a doubt, the absolute master of this aspect of the terrorist blame game is the United States. While we may lack the political will of a Russia or a Nazi Germany to blow up huge numbers of our own citizens in order to blame it on somebody else (although we have never been above doing that in other countries), there is no doubt that we know how to take practical advantage of a terrorist threat better than anyone. Americans are the ultimate pragmatists; give us an empty field and a pile of rocks, and within six weeks we’ll turn them into a factory that makes a 700% annual profit selling ice skates, key chains, and slag. In the case of 9/11, our government instantly resubmitted into play about 30 different initiatives that it had already been trying to achieve, without success, for some time.

That air base in Uzbekistan? We were trying to set one up there as early as June, 2001. Oil drilling rights in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge? Bumbling-but-persistent Senator Frank Murkowski had been drooling over them for years, but after 9/11, he suddenly decided that it was American dependence on foreign oil that was funding terrorism, and instantly got what he wanted. An Caucasus oil pipeline that runs through Afghanistan? That pesky Taliban was an obstacle before, but thanks to the sudden need to occupy that country–itself thanks to the precipitous decision to declare Afghanistan the haven for international terrorism–those plans can now begin to take real shape.

Electronic surveillance? The ACLU bitched about Carnivore before, but just let them try now. An expansion of controversial free-trade agreements? A double-whammy of opportunistic benefit suddenly appeared in the wake of 9/11. Not only could anti-globalization protesters be publicly compared to terrorists, but administration spokesmen now could–and did–insist that poverty brought on by the absence of free trade had caused the bombings. A plan for an expansion of NAFTA that would cover all the Americas called Fast Track, long desired by the Bush administration, suddenly became an urgent priority.

On September 30, a U.S. trade representative named Robert Zoellick wrote an article in the Washington Post called “Countering Terror With Trade” that suggested that Fast Track was the best way to bring about the international security we needed. While denounced by whiny leftist political observers as shameless opportunism, Zoellick’s stance had the White House’s ok, and the stage was set for Fast Track to become political reality.

Another important thing to remember, in making up your wish list, is that your counter-terrorism proposals need not make any sense at all. What is crucial in your demands is your apparent sincerity in your desire to vanquish the enemy and your insistence that your objective is the answer. A great example of this is the Bush administration’s insistence upon pushing its Missile Defense project after 9/11, with the explanation that the events of 9/11 had clearly indicated the need for such a program. Logically, of course, the WTC attack had explicitly proved the worthlessness of missile defense, but the Bush administration was wise not to let this affect its strategy. If anything, failure to enthusiastically tie 9/11 to a need for missile defense might have called the whole program into question.

Countries with a less specific connection to 9/11 were wise to limit themselves to one or two fiercely-desired political objectives. In the case of the Israelis, it was the bold expansion of Jewish settlements and the incitement of an expanded conflict with the Palestinians that, given the worldwide political climate, they were bound to be able to conduct with unusually wide international support.

The Russians played a small number of angles, but all of them with consummate skill. First, they secured the de facto support of the West for the prosecution of their insane, completely hopeless war in Chechnya, atrocities and all. The country also mined a decade of experience in playing up its utter incompetence to police itself to secure $20 billion in international funding to destroy and/or monitor its nuclear material, which of course might “accidentally” fall into the hands of terrorists. $20 billion is a lot of money; some of it is bound to get lost somewhere…

Whatever your wish list includes, make sure as you lobby to fulfill it that you remember two things. One, affect the utmost sincerity in your desire to crush terrorism. Two, do whatever you can to make sure that victory remains as far away as possible, which brings us to…


STEP THREE: START AN OPEN-ENDED FOREIGN WAR THAT PROMISES TO GO ON BASICALLY FOREVER

A war that has a chance of being won quickly is of little practical use to anybody. You can buy a lot more with eternal vigilance than, say, three months of vigilance. Although the Bush administration has performed admirably on this score, no one yet has understood this concept better than Stalin.

Stalin never had the balls to actually launch a foreign invasion–his one attempt, against Finland, ended with the entire Soviet army utterly humiliated at the hands of nine Finns on skis–but in his grand internal war, he was very careful never to run out of enemies. While on the one hand playing up the infinite dastardliness of the Trotskyite-fascist wreckers, imbuing them with a seemingly limitless persistence in their goal of traveling vast distances to torment even drunken factory workers in Siberia, he constantly shifted the grounds of battle from one segment of society to another.

When the wreckers were purged from the party, he moved on to the military. When the military was tamed, he moved on to the arts community. When most of them were dead, he moved on to physicians; in the famous “Doctors’ Plot,” he alleged a vast conspiracy among Soviet doctors to aid the fascist cause. He got around to Jews surprisingly late, in his famous “Cosmopolitan” purges in the fifties. In any case, he was able to do this by painting the enemy as a nebulous and ever-shifting belligerent, indefatigable in his evil, requiring a permanent offensive response.

The United States has taken much the same approach to terrorism. Unlike the Gulf War, when we had one simple military task to perform, the War on Terrorism was instantly declared to be open-ended, one that “might go on for a long time.” Despite the fact that there was presumably only one group of actors responsible for the Trade Center Bombings, the White House made it a point to state immediately that the list of enemies would be expanded on the go, as new threats were determined.

“The Afghan theatre has been the first battle but it won’t be the last,” said Donald Rumsfeld. “The existence and development of weapons of mass destruction in countries that are on the terrorist list [Iraq, Iran and North Korea] means we have to do our task [urgently] before the terrorists get their hands on [them].”

At this writing, plans are afoot to invade Iraq, and the White House has made it clear that the War on Terrorism exists not only abroad but at home, in the hearts of men, making final victory virtually impossible to achieve, even in the event of an occupation of the entire planet.

The benefit of open-ended conflict is most clearly seen in its ability to help bureaucracies permanently justify their existences. If the war on drugs had a target victory date, hundreds of thousands of law-enforcement bureaucrats would be left to actively work for the elimination of their jobs. Had the Cold War been made hot, the military of one side or the other would have been looking for work before long. Colombia would have a tough time getting aid from the United States if it ever managed to rid itself of FARC guerillas. Of all the rules of the terrorist blame game, this one is the most ironclad; your enemy can never be defeated.

Actually securing an open-ended conflict is not always so easy, however. The best conceivable solution is to pick for an enemy a rebel insurgent group that wears beards, smells bad, lives in thick brush and mountains, and which, even given a best effort, you can never finally defeat. Russia, Columbia, the U.S. during Vietnam, and about two dozen African republics have had the good fortune to have enemies such as these. When the political chips are down, those guys in beards are always there, waiting to give you a boost.

You are also lucky if your enemy happens to be an ethnic group that, like your own, will never, ever reconcile with you, even if a thousand years pass. Israel, India, Pakkistan, the Yugoslav states, the Rwandan tribes, all of these groups have enemies that need never go away.

But if ethnic hatred is not a factor, and if you have absolute power to conquer anybody, anywhere, as we happen to have right now, you have a problem. Then the task is not choosing an enemy, but describing him correctly, which means moving to…


STEP FOUR: DESCRIBE YOUR ENEMY AS A MINDLESS, REASONLESS EVIL

Given superior force and a reasonable opponent, one can always negotiate a peace. When wars are rooted in reasons, people are always looking for ways to end them. Therefore the only way to continue to garner permanent support for your anti-terrorist effort is to make sure that your enemy is understood to be completely and totally insane.

You can see this truism at work everywhere, and not just at the national level. Even here in Buffalo, just look at the response to the Zoo vandalism business. There was no discussion of why the kids had attacked those lorikeets; it was understood immediately that it happened because black people just like to break stuff. Newspapers called the vandals “animals,” “miscreants” and “cretins,” and just left it at that. When you put it that way, why not just occupy all of East

Pravda
SOVIET: 
Trotskyites just hate
socialism and
the working class Bush
NEO SOVIET: 
terrorists just hate
our way of life Buffalo with cops?

After 9/11, the Bush administration, as well as the national media, was very careful to outline exactly what had gone on. “These people just hate our way of life,” said President Bush. “They hate freedom,” wept Dan Rather. Both lines have been repeated ad nauseum since then, which underscores the effectiveness of the technique.

It’s not like the line hasn’t been used before. Here’s a fairly typical quote from a 1938 edition of Pravda: “There is no person in the world more disgusting to every honest worker than that vile and traitorous enemy, avenging the exposure of Trotskyism for its great and boundless hatred toward socialism and the working class.”

Once people buy into the idea that the enemy is completely crazy, and hates you just because, they will accept the idea that he’s bent on infiltrating every aspect of your existence, just to piss you off. Once you’re there, you’ve hit the jackpot.


STEP FIVE: THE ENEMY IS EVERYWHERE AND RESPONSIBLE FOR EVERY LAST GODDAMN PROBLEM

During the Super Bowl this year, the Office of National Drug Control Policy launched a series of TV ads that claimed that people who buy drugs support terrorism. Only a month or so before, a trade lawyer named Robin Mazer had written an article in the Washington Post arguing that people who bought pirated goods–anything from unlicensed CDs to unlicensed brand-name t-shirts–were supporting terrorism. Both ploys were absolutely correct applications of the terrorist blame game strategy.

The whole point of having a meaningful terrorist threat is its utility in extending its use to anything and everything. A terrorist who is limited in his objectives is not a worthy enemy. If we content ourselves with the idea that our enemy is mainly interested in blowing up one big building, then we’ve soon enough digested the problem, and we’re back to wondering why our lives feel so empty, and our leaders seem like such morons.

The terrorist threat only works if it leaves us in a state of mental paralysis, leading a life without issues or uncertainties, focused completely on the single objective of Progress in the War. Life in such a circumstance is a dream, a sort of vegetative bliss devoid of questions or responsibilities. The final victory of the terrorism blame strategy comes at the level of ordinary people like ourselves. For politicians, opportunism in the face of terrorism means the chance to do something. For ordinary people, opportunism in the face of terrorism means taking advantage of the chance to do nothing, and think about nothing. It’s like winning the lottery; a lifetime license to sit around and let your whole life be determined by one random event.

The only thing that can spoil it for all of us is a bumbler like Tony Masiello, who cheapens the terrorist threat and makes it seem phony. Message to the Mayor: Keep it real. We want this one to last.


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BEAST PHYSICS TIPS 2

Aug

01

by

BEAST PHYSICS TIPS

with Ashok Dibbawalla

Lesson #2
Some Intermediate Pressure Calculations Involving Centripetal Force and County Executive Joel Giambra

Question:
What would happen if we put Erie County Executive Joel Giambra in a centrifuge?

Answer:
CentrifugeEver taken one of those spinning carnival rides? The ones where the floor drops out, and the riders are stuck to a vertical wall? (If you haven’t, imagine riding inside a giant top loading washing machine on spin cycle.) This is a low speed centrifuge. As the drum turns faster and faster, the riders find themselves plastered to the sides.

Most people know that heavy items will press against the edges of a spinning container. Still, there remains a lot of confusion as to why this happens, or what happens at extreme speed. In this article, we’ll explore the phenomena in a thought experiment, using Joel Giambra as our test subject.

Let’s imagine an extremely powerful carnival ride, with Giambra, fresh from calling for an additional $45 million in loans for the county to build a new Youth Detention center, is riding alone. For the sake of discussion, we’ll assume that Giambra weighs about 220lbs, and that the radius of the drum is 25 feet. We’ll start by turning the drum at a stately 1 RMP (1 revolution per minute).

If we only glance for a moment, we see that Giambra appears to be moving in a straight line. If we observe over a longer period of time, we can see that his direction of travel is actually continuously changing. The definition of acceleration is the rate of change of velocity. Therefore, the more rapidly his direction of travel changes, the greater the acceleration he’s experiencing. Some elementary calculus will tell us that the acceleration is proportional to the radius of the drum, and proportional to the square of the rate of rotation. Accelerating a massive object implies a force, and this force is proportional to the product of the acceleration and this mass.

In layman’s terms, this means that every time we double the rate that the drum spins, we quadruple the force that the drum wall exerts on this back to keep him moving in a circle. At 1 RPM, less than two pounds of force is needed to keep him moving in a circle. Of course, he must still support his own weight, so the acceleration he feels is the normal 1 G we all live with.

Let’s dial up the speed. At 4 RPM, he’s pressing against the wall of the drum with 30 lbs of force. This is at a right angle to gravity, so his total weight feels as if it’s only gone up by 2 lbs. At 10 RPM, he’s reached 1.3 G’s. He’s also traveling about 10 MPH. If the drum had a hanging weight, it would now hang at 40 degrees to the vertical. 15 RMP takes him to 2.2 G’s, approximately the force of gravity at the cloud tops of Jupiter. The force holding him against the wall is now stronger than the earth’s gravity pulling him down. If you placed a scale between him and the wall, it would read about 420 lbs.

Remember what we discussed about the force being proportional to the square of the rate of rotation? Well… here is where things start to take off. At 20 RPM, much faster than any speed he experiences in County meetings, our scale reads 750 lbs. The weight of this own chest makes breathing labored; he’s at 3.6 G’s. 25 RPM brings 5.4 G’s. Fighter jet pilots are exposed to this level of acceleration, but they won’t tell you it’s fun. At 30 RPM the G force reaches 7.7. County executive Giambra will not be awake for the rest of the ride.

We’re up to 60 RPM now, once around every second, and 31 G’s. His body is pressing against the drum with a force of 3.4 tons. I confess that I don’t have detailed data on bone strength, but I would imagine that he’s at least cracked some ribs by now.

350 RPM takes us to 1,000 G’s, and once again, Giambra—as he was at the bottom of the ocean floor—is liquefied. The flesh has long since peeled away from bone. We notice something else, too. The liquid is forming layers. The tissue is no longer strong enough to support its weight, and the heavier chemicals are settling to the walls of the drum.

You can rev your car to 5,000 RPM, but at that rate, the unfortunate Giambra is finished. We’ve exceeded a staggering 200,000 G’s. Assuming that drum is 6 feet tall, Giambra’s remains are a slick on the wall mere 45 thousandths of an inch thick. (See my previous article for calculations of Giambra’s volume.)

Ashok Dibbawalla is Professor Emeritus at the Online University of Ft. Lauderdale. He now lives with his family in Buffalo NY.


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