February 25, 2020

Schmernie

Well, folks, everything is up for grabs. What if Trumpola, or Schmernie, get the coronavirus? Or if 1/3 of the American population does? What if Schmernie gets elected, and there is a military coup, restoring Trumpi to power? What if Tulsi makes a killing in exercise tapes, and becomes a combo president/fitness guru? So many possibilities!

But in these uncertain times, Wafers know one thing for sure: at some unspecified point in time, perhaps 2040, the US will be no more. Inside the US there will be weeping and wailing. Outside, rejoicing and celebration. For some odd reason, we are not the most beloved nation on earth.

Meanwhile, on the short story front, things are progressing swiftly. Altho for the sake of sales, I'm thinking of changing the name of the book to LeBron James Confronts Harvey Weinstein. Can't lose w/that, n'est-ce pas?

As the country heads down the drain, your typical Wafer will sit next to the fireplace, new Berman book in hand, and (to quote T.S. Eliot) laugh like an irresponsible fetus. (See "Mr. Apollinax")

Exciting times, amigos-

mb

February 13, 2020

Circus Days

Wafers-

Gd news: my new collection of short stories was just accepted for publication. I'm now working with my technical staff, and hopefully the thing will be listed on Amazon in June or July. In the meantime, I wanted to provide you guys with a few samples, as I have been doing. Here's one of my favorites:

There was an annual fair that came to our town, which included circus acts, magic demonstrations, and all kinds of other shows. One year, when I was seven, my parents took me to it, and bought me a large cone of cotton candy. It was pink, and tasted of sugar. I ate the whole thing, then threw up in a nearby garbage can. When I finished, I looked around, but my parents were nowhere to be seen. You'd think that I would be afraid, start crying or whatever, but instead I had a heady sense of freedom. Ours was not a happy home; my parents were always fighting. I often dreamed of running away, and now, suddenly, the opportunity had presented itself, like a prison break.

I began making my way among all the tents and displays. In one, there was a fat lady with a moustache; in another, a man riding around on a bicycle with only one wheel. Finally, I stopped at the magician's booth. The magician was tall and handsome, wearing a tuxedo and a top hat, and sporting an elegant moustache. His assistant was a very pretty lady in a bathing suit. He did things like pull a rabbit out of a hat, or "saw" his assistant in two—which she miraculously survived. I had by now pushed myself up to the front row of the crowd. Mr. Miraculo, as he was called, was holding a balloon in one hand and a long, thick needle in the other. He announced that he was going to pierce the balloon, but that the balloon wouldn't pop. He leaned over to me and asked me to touch the point of the needle with my finger.

"Is it sharp, sonny?" he asked me. I nodded. "Tell everyone here," he said. I turned to the crowd behind me. "It's sharp!" I declared. Then his assistant, who was called Miss Yvette, held the balloon in her hands, while Mr. Miraculo pushed the needle into it. The balloon didn't explode; instead, the needle went through it like butter and came out the other side. Mr. Miraculo took a bow, and the audience applauded.

I was dumbfounded. How in the world could a sharp needle not pop a balloon? Mr. Miraculo and Miss Yvette did a few more tricks with cards and coins and handkerchiefs, but I wasn't interested. All I cared about was learning the secret of the balloon trick.

It was late afternoon by now; all the stands were packing up, including Mr. Miraculo's. I approached the stage, looked up at him. "How did you do that?" I asked him. "Do what, sonny?" "Put a needle through a balloon," I answered. "Oh, that's a trade secret," he said; "a magician never gives away his secrets. But maybe someday you'll become a magician, and then you'll know all the secrets." He smiled broadly. "Why not right now?" I asked him. "You could teach me." "Shouldn't you be getting on home?" he suggested. "It's getting late." "I have no home," I told him. "My parents disappeared the other day, and I've been sleeping on the street." I faked crying. I guess that was my magic trick. "There, there, sonny." He bent down, put his arms around me. "We should probably go to the police." "No police!" I shouted; "no police! Let me live with you!" He and Yvette lived in a large covered wagon. "Let me stay in your wagon. Look how big it is."

Mr. Miraculo looked over at Yvette; she just shrugged. "Why not?" she said; "we might even be able to use him in one of our acts. Come on up here, sonny; we can fix a bed for you right below ours." And so began my apprenticeship with Mr. Miraculo—and Yvette.

The three of us toured the countryside, performing tricks in various towns. Mr. M. showed me the secret of the balloon: you coated it with oil. Then, when the needle pricked it, the oil moved in to seal the spot before any air could escape. Oil was also poured into the inside, so that the same thing happened when the needle emerged from the balloon. I was really excited by this, and Mr. M. let me practice with it until I got it right.

He and Yvette were really kind to me; I never figured out why. Mr. M. used me to "test" the needle for the audience, and gave me pocket money for this. They shared their food with me, took care of me. I was finally free from my parents, and I was in heaven. This was my idea of a real family.

As we tended to get up very early, we all usually went to sleep around 9 p.m. Every night, for some reason, he and Yvette would wrestle on their bed, and she would moan and groan. Should I say anything? I worried that he was hurting her. But the next day, she always emerged with a big smile on her face. She apparently enjoyed these wrestling matches, so I decided it was OK.

I began to pester Mr. M. to teach me some magic tricks. And slowly, he did. I learned the rabbit-in-the-hat trick, and the saw-Yvette-in-half trick. Meanwhile, Yvette introduced me to the Tarot. "These cards," she said, "tell the person for whom you are reading what is happening in his life, or her life. Sometimes, they can foretell the future. But you have to know how to read them correctly. I'll teach you, and then we'll set you up with a table next to the stage. You'll read for people, and charge them fifty cents. You get twenty-five, and Mr. M. and I get twenty-five. OK?" I nodded happily.

"People want to know that their lives are on track, that things are going well. Or if not, they want some idea as to how to fix things. Women always want to hear that they are going to meet a tall dark stranger. Men want to hear that they will soon be rich. You understand what I am saying?" Again, I nodded.

"Now take this card, for example. Death. It's part of what we call the Major Arcana. It could, of course, represent death, but it could also stand for a major change in a person's life—which could be a good thing. So when you're doing a reading, instead of telling your customer that he or she is about to die, tell them that some big change is going to occur in their life, and that they should be ready for it. Get the idea?" I said yes.

"Why do you and Mr. M. wrestle every night, when we go to bed?" I asked her. Her face turned as pink as that cone of cotton candy I had eaten long ago.

"To keep fit!" she said. "It's really good exercise."

"I was afraid he was hurting you," I said.

"Oh, no, not at all; it feels really good."

"Could I try it?" I asked her. Her eyes widened. "What, with me?" she exclaimed. I nodded.

"No, sonny. In order to wrestle properly, you need a girl your own age. You'll do it when you get older, you'll see." I was deeply disapointed, but I didn't say anything. Meanwhile, I started running "Oscar's Tarot Table" next to the stage, charging fifty cents per customer. It got easier as I got more practice with the cards. Yvette was absolutely correct: the women wanted to meet a man and fall in love, and the men wanted to make lots of money. So I tried, when I could, to steer the readings in these directions. But what my customers wanted, above all, was that things come out "all right" for them, whatever that meant. I discovered that all of them were worried about their lives; often, very worried. What they most wanted from the readings was reassurance, and I did my best to provide it. This often led to generous tips.

One evening, instead of the usual wrestling match, Mr. M. and Yvette had a big fight. I was sitting outside the wagon at the time. I wasn't sure what the fight was about, but I heard her cry, "Look at all the years I've put in! Look at all the loving I gave you! Don't you think it's about time?" She jumped out of the wagon, ran into me, put her arms around me, and cried like a baby.

"Yvette," I said; "what's wrong? Tell me."

"He won't marry me," she said, angrily. "After all these years of being together, all these years of being his faithful assistant, he says he doesn't want to get married. Jesus, what else does a girl want, anyway? I have half a mind to leave him."

"Why doesn't he want to marry you?" I asked her.

"Oh, the usual male nonsense about wanting to be free, needing space, and so on. I think he might be interested in another girl."

"No one could replace you, Yvette; no one," I told her.

"Thank you, honey; you're such a doll. Can I sleep in your bed tonight? I don't want to sleep with Guido right now."

It was kind of a strange arrangement, that night. I curled up in Yvette's arms, and smelled the fragrance of her body. She was still wearing her bathing suit, and I pressed against her. "You're such a great kid," she kept saying. "I wish I could have a kid just like you."

The fight with Guido blew over for a while. Yvette was still angry, but she wasn't ready to go off on her own. After all, what could she do? Read Tarot, probably, but that was all. She was an assistant, not a magician.

Then a dark cloud suddenly appeared. The next town we got to, there were posters with my face on them, stuck on walls and telephone poles. MISSING they said; REWARD OFFERED. "OK, Oscar, no Tarot this time around," said Guido. "You need to stay in the wagon, out of sight." At one point a cop even came by, carrying a poster. "You haven't seen this kid by any chance?" he said to Guido and Yvette. "Apparently he ran away from home."

"Sorry, officer," said Guido; "haven't seen any sign of him." The policeman laughed. "Kid probably ran off to join the circus," he said jokingly.

That night Yvette, Guido, and I had a "family meeting." "Listen, kid, we're in a bit of a bind here," Yvette explained. "If you get caught, we could go to jail for kidnapping, even though we didn't kidnap you. Do you want to go back home?"

"This is my home," I told her. Yvette shot a look at Guido. "What do you think?" she asked him. He shrugged. "Let's take the chance and keep him," he said. "He just hasta stay outta sight in those towns where the posters are up. Meanwhile, he can keep earning money from Tarot readings, and I'm going to continue to train him in the magical arts. That way, when he gets older, he'll have a craft." Talk about kindness.

So I stayed. The sleeping arrangements continued to be kind of weird. Two or three nights a week Yvette would wrestle with Guido; the other nights she slept in my bed, hugging me tightly. Guido didn't seem to mind. As for me, I loved her body, loved the smell of it, the sensation of it. "You're going to make some girl very happy some day," she told me. I was now eight years old; I had been with her and Guido for over a year, and was not to learn the joys of "wrestling" for another seven. (More on that in a moment.)

In any case, we finally got caught. Someone had identified me from a poster, and turned me in to get the reward. Guido and Yvette were arrested. At their trial, I testified that coercion had never been involved; that I was never kidnapped, and had in fact imposed myself on them. The judge accepted this, but jailed the two of them for a year for harboring a minor and failing to report it to the police. I went back to my parents, who were still fighting all the time, and pretty much suffered in silence. I was not allowed to visit Guido and Yvette in jail, but I wrote her two or three times a week (she saved all my letters). When she was released, I met her outside the jail, and we hugged and cried. I also got together with Guido, and thanked him for teaching me to do magic, which I practice to this day.

I go by the name of Mr. Fabuloso, and have a lovely assistant named Peggy. As for Yvette, she finally left Guido and married a prosperous wheat farmer. She and I kept in touch, and she also acted as my "wrestling" coach, told me what to do and how to do it. Let's just say that her instructions were very precise; clinical, really. For this, Peggy has always been her biggest fan, and we wrestle quite often.

Yvette also joined a dance troupe, and Peggy and I would go to see her when she was in town. "How is the farmer at wrestling?" I got bold enough to ask her, one time. She pinched my cheek. "Like a tractor, kid."

* * * * *

January 27, 2020

Sweet Honey in the Rock

Waferinos-

Update on short story situation: I now have 17 of them, or 175 pages, so hopefully it won't be too long b4 I can pitch it as a bk to publishers. Meanwhile, thought I'd entertain u guys with a rather short one; as follows:

Good evening, my friends. I hope I am not intruding. I promise to take only a minute of your time. My name is Jean-François Champollion. I died in Paris in 1832, at the age of forty-one, from a stroke. I am writing to you from beyond the grave. To you, who might want to listen.

Do you know me? I am the decipherer of the Rosetta Stone. Yes, the one that has been sitting in the British Museum for more than 200 years now; that one. I cracked the code of Egyptian hieroglyphics. I made the Egyptian language, and Egyptian civilization, accessible to the West. Me, le jeune, as my friends used to call me, in contrast to my older brother, Jacques-Joseph.

But this was not some exercise in “Orientalism”—not at all. First, because I regarded Egypt as a great civilization. Not, as the British believed, some boring slave civilization centered around a death cult. Now that was Orientalism. No, I saw Egyptian civilization as a vibrant, complex, and long-lasting culture, with values and purposes different from our own, but no less superior for that.

And second, because my real goal was to demonstrate the opposite of Orientalism, which is empathic understanding. It is not difficult to see that the great curse of mankind is a failure of empathy. Everything has to be viewed through the lens of our Self; the Other is merely an (inferior) other. We can never seem to grasp that the Other is a Self all its own. We do not seek to understand or explore that other Self—not at all. All we want to do is paste labels on it. Why? I wish I knew.

So know that I am an Orientalist in the positive sense: my goal was to understand Egypt from the inside, as well as to demonstrate the principle, and the benefits, of empathy. I hope I succeeded.

There is one thing, however, that I am not proud of; it haunts me to this day. In terms of the Stone, and cracking the hieroglyphic code, I wanted all the credit—la gloire—for myself. And so rather than talking about “standing on the shoulders of giants,” I deliberately played down or ignored the contributions of those who preceded me, in particular the British doctor and physicist Thomas Young. Looking back now, I realize that this is just another form of denying the Other; which means that it too is a form of oppression. I just said that I didn’t know why we typically seek to denigrate the Other, or impose the Self on it, but maybe the phenomenon of plagiarism makes it clear: if I am insecure about my Self, then it is very tempting to try to obliterate the Other; and grabbing all the credit for one’s Self is one way to do this. Human insecurity, in short, is ultimately at the root of violence.

I confess, that really depresses me.

The content of the Stone itself is not very important. It’s just a pharaonic administrative decree, fairly banal. So the translation of this text is not my legacy. My legacy was to make translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics possible in general, which then allowed scholars to find out what Egyptian civilization was actually about. Equipped with the key in the lock, which I had provided them, they translated one carving, one papyrus, and one wall inscription after another. Thus we learned about Egyptian history, mythology, burial customs, and belief systems. We discovered that these people had a sophisticated knowledge of astronomy, mathematics, and architecture. All of this would have been a closed book if not for me. And for me, this was the “honey in the rock,” so to speak, what Nicholas of Cusa called “the sweetness of truth.”

Shall I go on, my friends? Shall I tell you how I did it? As with Young’s formulation of the wave theory of light—mon dieu, what a genius that man was—these “aha!” experiences are a combination of sweat and spark, of deep background information plus some inexplicable click in the brain, when everything falls into place. Roughly twenty years after I died, my fellow countryman Louis Pasteur declared, “chance favors the prepared mind.”Et voilà, mesdames et messieurs! There you go.
The Stone was discovered when I was nine years old, in the course of Napoleon’s expedition into Egypt. The expedition, as is well known, touched off an “Egyptomania” among the educated classes in France, and I got caught up in it. When I was sixteen, I wrote to my parents: “Of all the peoples that I love the most, I will confess that no one equals the Egyptians in my heart.”Zut alors! You have to be an adolescent to say things like that. In fact, I didn’t get to Egypt until 1828.

My great breakthrough occurred in 1822. For starters: What, exactly, does the Rosetta Stone contain? For those of you who haven’t been to the British Museum, let me spell it out. It consists of three texts, all of which say the same thing. The upper part is written in hieroglyphics, and the bottom part in Greek. The middle text is written in what is called the demotic script of the Egyptian language, and is related to Coptic, a modern language—one which I had studied extensively (it’s the latest stage of the Egyptian language, and written in the Greek alphabet). So the trick became to match the bottom two texts against the top one, eventually yielding a translation of the latter.

My friends, I don’t wish to bore you with the technical details, but let me just summarize by saying that the point I discovered that ran through all three languages was the verb “to give birth.” This broke open the hieroglyphic text. In my own imitation of Archimedes (albeit fully clothed), I ran down the street to my brother’s office at the Institut de France, and yelled “Je tiens l’affaire!”—I’ve got it! Subsequently, I was able to establish an alphabet that applied to all epochs, and I deciphered grammatical words along with the names of kings and private persons. This opened the door to Egyptian civilization. This was my legacy. Ten years later, due to poor health, and probably the stress of unrelenting work, I was dead.

What did I do in the interim? I worked on other hieroglyphic texts, and published several books on my discoveries. I traveled to Italy, visiting collections and monuments there. I met the pope, who helped me to obtain funds for an expedition to Egypt. In 1826, the king appointed me curator of the Egyptian collections of the Louvre; in 1831 I was made chair of Egyptian history and archaeology at the Collège de France. The next year, I was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery, a kind of national hero. I am, to this day, regarded as a major figure in modern French history, the “Father of Egyptology.” Recently I learned that a lunar crater on the far side of the moon was named after me. It all seems like a dream.

I don’t know why the Fates chose me for this purpose, this opening up of the richness of Egyptian civilization to the West. I don’t know why they gave me the gift of languages, and I don’t know why they took me from the earth at so young an age. I was married, and had a beautiful daughter, Zoraïde, whom I loved dearly. That I had to leave her prematurely was the hardest part of dying. You’d think there would be a code book somewhere, something like the Rosetta Stone, that could be deciphered to explain all of this; that could explain the workings of the human heart. But there isn’t.

Reflecting on my life now, I have to ask myself why Egypt in particular was my “laboratory” for exploring otherness. Part of it was the national “Egyptomania” already referred to. But it went deeper than that. If Egypt was the oldest human civilization (or one of them), then it promised to tell us the most basic things about human beings; or so I believed. The other factor was the sheer unfamiliarity, the opaqueness, of the script. It made Egypt the most Other of Others. What I was really exploring, I can see now, was myself. Egypt is my mirror; is me.

It has been said that we can never truly know another person, but some psychologists have added that we can never truly know ourselves, as well. I tell myself that in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. That I don’t count for anything, despite all of the national tributes. What counts is a rock sitting on display in the British Museum. And yet, what is it all for, if not for human beings? What is a rock, compared to a beating heart—mybeating heart? On cold winter nights, here in the spirit world, I think about these things, and wonder.

©Morris Berman, 2019

January 07, 2020

Project X

Waferinos-

As I mentioned earlier, I have been working on a collection of short stories. I have 14 of them now, for a total of about 135 pages. Probably, when I have 50 pages more, I can start approaching publishers. But I work very slowly, so it may take several months before that day arrives. There is much to think about, and edit. The following story is not the best of the 14, but I enjoyed writing it, as in the case of "The Wire Cage Experiment." Hopefully it might give you guys a few laughs.

At age forty-four, with an IQ of 182, Sonia Butterworth was director of the most prestigious neurological institute in America, the Cerebral Investigations Unit (CIU), which was physically housed in the Sam Houston Institute of Technology (SHIT). Sonia was of medium height, fairly attractive, with dark hair and gray-green eyes. She was married to a US senator, Felix J. Butterworth, who was also chair of the Committee on Domestic Intelligence (CDI). At the moment of this writing, she is sitting in her office and staring at the blinking cursor on her computer. The cursor is located next to a top secret research file that Sonia had originally labeled "Project X," but which she now wished to rename and hide in her computer, so that only she had access to it. She finally decided on "Horvath Index," which sounded both boring and innocuous, locked it, and created a password for it: KAKA2020. But in her mind, it would always be Project X.

It must also be stated that the funds available to the CIU were enormous, on the order of a billion dollars. The reason for this was extremely well-hidden: Felix held the purse strings of the CDI and could allocate funding at his discretion. Hence, Project X was awash in money. It was conceived at some point in the late nineties. Data began coming in regarding the intelligence level of the American public that were hard to believe. Something like 20 percent of the population thought the sun revolved around the earth; another 9 percent said they had no idea which revolved around which. 45 percent believed the earth had been visited by extra-terrestrials during the past year; 72 percent rejected the theory of evolution. 86 percent were not able to locate Iraq on a world map, although they were perfectly happy to have the government send troops there to take over and destroy the country. And so on.

There was also anecdotal evidence, such as collected by Jay Leno and other comedians. A man in his early twenties claimed that a tree, located twenty feet away, was a mile away. Female students emerging from classes at the Women's Studies Center at UC Santa Barbara, asked by a man with a clipboard if they would sign a petition opposed to "women's suffrage," were only too happy to oblige. People of all ages had no idea as to the significance of they year 1776; some said we had gained our independence from China. Others identified the Civil War as having occurred in the 1960s. Watching all this, Sonia couldn't figure out if she was looking at stupidity or ignorance; but when Donald Trump, a horse's ass of the first order, was elected president in 2016, she decided to launch Project X. With a billion dollars at her disposal, she figured she could do whatever she wanted.

The project was so extreme, so radical, that it required lots of hush money to keep it under wraps. Between December of 2016 and Trump's reelection in November of 2020, Sonia hired dozens of thugs to kidnap people--just scoop them up off the street at random--and bring them to her lab. These guinea pigs covered the entire spectrum of age, color, race, religion, socioeconomic group, etc. Once in her lab, the victim would be subjected to an fMRI plus a brain biopsy; and during the period in question, Sonia performed these operations on exactly 10,000 Americans. The results were absolutely astounding, though they went a long way toward explaining how a young woman might sit through a class at UCSB on the suffragettes and then sign a petition protesting "women's suffrage," thinking that suffrage meant suffering. Or how a young man might think that twenty feet was equal to a mile.

It turned out that to varying degrees, the 10,000 subjects had excrement in their heads--actual excrement. There was gray matter as well, of course, but in terms of fecal content, the lowest amount was 15 percent, and the highest 65 percent. And if this were true of all 10,000 subjects, what would be the point of going on to victim #10,001? If the sun rises in the East 10,000 days in a row, what do you think it's going to do on day #10,001?

If the US government had no idea what it was doing in Viet Nam, or Afghanistan, or in any of its misguided, self-destructive wars, how could such a population have the resources to evaluate this, let alone protest it? If the water supply of Flint, Michigan, was poisoned, who was going to care? How else could Kim Kardashian, or Donald Trump, be loved and respected by millions, unless the American population had shit for brains? The Horvath Index was a volcano, and Sonia Butterworth was sitting on top of it. And she was, at this point, the only person in the world who knew the contents of this file.

What should she do with it? Should she tell her husband? As Americans go, the shit content of his brain was probably lower than most. But what about the other senators, who voted to acquit Trump? Or the NSA, the FBI, the CIA? The crap content of these people, given their historical and political records, was undoubtedly high. The media? The New York Times was little more than a joke (just read the columns of David Brooks or Thomas Friedman, she thought to herself). How do you take a database showing that the country consisted of buffoons and present it to those very buffoons?

Maybe, she thought, she should leak the file to the Guardian, or Le Monde. But then it would be dismissed as a foreign plot to smear the US. No, the only way was to start with Felix: present the evidence to him, and get his opinion on how she should proceed. That evening, after dinner, she took out the file, which she had printed off of her computer, and handed it to him.

"Felix," she said, "I'm sitting on a land mine, and I don't know what to do about it. Take a look at this file, and tell me what you think." The senator took the file, put on his reading glasses, and slowly read through the data. When he finished, he looked up at his wife. "Jesus," he exclaimed, "this certainly explains a lot. How do you think all that shit got there?"

"I have no idea," Sonia replied, "but I'm not sure that's the most important issue we need to address right now. The crucial issue is, What do I do with this information? With all that shit in their heads, I doubt most Americans would even be able to understand it. What's the point of your taking this info to your colleagues on the CDI if they are basically a bunch of shitheads?"

"Sonia, this is the most explosive bit of data to hit the United States in its entire history. I doubt a Martian invasion, à la H.G. Wells, would be more earth-shaking than this. Maybe we should just bury it."

"Let's take twenty-four hours to think about it," she decided. "By then, we might have some idea as to how to proceed."

* * * * *
The next evening, Sonia announced what she had come up with. "Let 'er rip!" she declared. "Let's e-mail the file to the editor-in-chief of the New York Times, and see what happens. I'd also like to append a note, that if anyone wants a brain biopsy to determine the shit content of his or her cerebrum, they should just show up at my clinic and I'll do the operation free of charge." Felix agreed, so she sent the file the next morning, and waited for the reaction. Would this be included in "All the news that's fit to print?"

Twenty minutes later the phone rang. "Dr. Butterworth? This is Hotair J. Blowhard of the New York Times. Is this file you sent me your idea of a joke?"

"Not at all," she assured him. "What you have in your hand is the result of four years of careful scientific research. In fact, if you want to fly down to Texas and visit my lab, I can show you precisely how these results were obtained."

"I just might do that," said Blowhard. "The more important issue at hand--assuming these data are really real--is what the impact would be on the American public if this material were released."

"You're the media expert," Sonia replied; "you certainly know more about that topic than I do. But I will say this: the most outstanding characteristic of the American people is apathy. We can wage a useless war in Afghanistan for twenty years, have the Washington Post expose it as a complete farce, and the American people don't give a damn. And the excrement content of their brains explains why. So it's an even bet that if this file were made public, there would be no reaction at all."

"Hmm," said Blowhard; "you make a good point. In which case, there really is no risk in releasing the file. For the American public, the news is little more than entertainment--something your data also explain. And I can't imagine too many people showing up at your clinic asking for a free biopsy. But there's another thing that's been on my mind--I suppose I should say, 'shit-filled mind'."

"Yes," interrupted Sonia; "that would be accurate."

"Here it is: have you given any thought as to how to remove excrement from a brain? That could solve a lot of our problems."

"I did, Mr. Blowhard. The problem is that the do-do is not confined to a single place. If it were, we could just remove it with a straw; though I'd hate to be the one sucking on it. But since the poop is randomly dispersed, the straw method would result in extracting gray matter as well; in which case the individual would be just as stupid after the operation as before it."

"So America is doomed, then, is what you're basically saying," said Blowhard.

"Oh, Mr. Blowhard," she responded; "you can't imagine how off-base the 'progressive' New York Times is. To put it bluntly, your entire staff is full of shit. Brooks? Friedman? Give me a break! There is only a tiny handful of writers and political analysts who have been saying, for years now, that the American experiment is over. Why, Andrew Hacker said it in 1970; C. Vann Woodward suggested it in 1953. But they and these other writers have been completely ignored, and my data explain why that is the case. And if the Times began citing their work, or publishing articles as to how and why the game is up, the paper's circulation would drop to zero."

"Well, what the heck," Blowhard exclaimed. "If we're totally screwed, I might as well publish the file. Thank you for your time, Dr. Butterworth. You are probably one of the few courageous scientists left in this country."

"Thank you," replied Sonia, "and have a nice day."

* * * * *
Blowhard put the file, and its depressing conclusions, on the front page of the paper the very next day. Much to his surprise, and Sonia's, the article did not pass unnoticed, as they thought it would. In fact, for the first time in decades, the American people began to show faint signs if intelligence. They flooded the streets, and the most common cry was, "Of course I'm a dummy! I have shit in my head!" Thousands lined up outside Sonia's clinic for biopsies, and she had her staff working around the clock. When the dust finally settled, the Times ran a banner headline:

AMERICA FACES SHITTY FUTURE
The article explained why the excrement could not be removed from people's heads, and that there was, as a result, no way of reversing the downward spiral the US had been on since the greatest shithead in American history, Ronald Reagan, had been elected president. People subsequently went into mourning, but instead of wearing sackcloth and ashes, they hung signs around their necks saying I AM A SHITHEAD. Hard to believe, but the people were finally facing up to the fact that the nation was finished. Progress, of a sort.

The foreign media were delighted. A NATION IN THE TOILET, blared the London Telegraph. MERDE, MERDE, ET MERDE declared Le Monde. TOTAL SCHEISS AUF AMERIKA! exclaimed Die Zeit. And newspapers in China, India, the Arab nations, and actually most of the world, came out with variants of GOOD RIDDANCE! It seems that America hadn't made a whole lot of friends in its relatively short history--the price of exploiting everybody else for your own ends.

The president, of course, denounced the report as "fake news," and ordered a full investigation into its sources of funding; which ended its sources of funding. Much to his surprise, however, the American people rose up as a whole and demanded that Sonia be allowed to continue her work. As one Iowa farmer put it, "For many years I knew I was an idiot, but I never knew why. Now I have a rational explanation for it. The New York Times expose also led to my looking into why the United States is going down the drain, and I've been reading Morris Berman's trilogy on the American empire with great interest. I can't believe how I was running around wearing a MAGA hat, declaring that we must make America great again. The country is finished, and just as well. I'm thinking of moving my entire family to Bulgaria."

One unexpected visitor who showed up at the CIU for a brain biopsy was Sarah Palin. It was no surprise, of course, that the shit content of her brain was over 90 percent. This woke her up. As a result, she and Sonia toured the country together, explaining the results of Sonia's research and telling the crowds that America was at an end. Mass emigration followed in their wake, as millions of Americans left for Canada, Mexico, and the Canary Islands. Hotair J. Blowhard fired David Brooks and Thomas Friedman, instructed Paul Krugman to stop trying to save capitalism, and then left for Antarctica, where, dressed in a tuxedo, he joined a colony of penguins.

Basically, the US imploded. Native Americans, who (it turned out) had almost no excrement in their heads, took over the administration of the country, declaring that there would have to be a complete change of values, from hustling and ignorance to cooperation and intelligence. Eventually, as the country emptied out, it was restored to its pre-Plymouth Rock days. The deposed president was guillotined, and his remains buried at Wounded Knee; although there was a rumor that his head was kept behind, for use as a bowling ball. Sitting Bull's great-great-grandson was elected president; his inaugural address was very short: "If instead of the pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock had landed on them, America would have turned out much better." He ordered a complete reconstitution of the country along Native American lines.

Felix J. Butterworth, along with all of the other senators and congressmen, was rounded up and shipped out to Sri Lanka, where they were incarcerated and forced to break rocks all day long. (These were life sentences without possibility of parole.) As for Sonia, she took a vow of silence and entered a monastery in Tibet. Shanti was the last word she ever spoke.

* * * * *
(c)Morris Berman, 2020

December 20, 2019

The Real Beneath the Real

Waferinos-

I want to follow up on the article posted by Tia at the end of the last thread, an article called "Marcuse Today," by Ronald Aronson, publ. in 2014. It raises some very important issues regarding what would constitute real social change. Let me, however, begin with an anecdote. In May of 1968 students had taken over the Sorbonne, and public debate went on for two months. A friend of mine, a prof. of French, arrived outside of Paris by plane in May, and went directly to the Sorbonne, where he remained until the student movement collapsed in June. What he told me was this: that for two months he listened to debates about the nature of man, what real change was about, and existential questions of a sort that could never be discussed by Americans because Americans are clueless; they couldn't begin to understand these types of concepts. I call these issues "the real beneath the real."

http://bostonreview.net/books-ideas/ronald-aronson-herbert-marcuse-one-dimensional-man-

The Aronson article makes it clear that Marcuse alone, during the sixties (One-Dimensional Man, 1964), in terms of sociopolitical analysis, was going for the whole ball of wax. He regarded the US as totalitarian because it had colonized the minds of every American. This, writes Aronson, "is wholly compatible with civil rights, a free press, and free elections." My own critique of the Occupy movement (which Aronson, oddly enough, regards somewhat favorably) was that its goal was the redistribution of wealth (hence 1% vs. 99%), rather than the core issue, namely the relations of power. I never saw a single article from the movement on the latter subject. But Aronson sees a deeper layer, even than that, in the Marcusean outlook. As in the case of Aldous Huxley, he is pointing to the "comfortable oppression" under which we "happily" live in a Brave New World. This reality is one that is so global, that the citizenry is unable to think in terms of alternatives, or to even be aware that alternatives might be necessary. Thus the core issue is not civil rights, or a free press, or free elections, or the distribution of wealth, or the relations of power, but the consumer society in which we are all immersed. "The pleasures of consumption," writes Aronson, "absorb political opposition." He doesn't, however, take a stand on the issue of false consciousness vs. Americans eagerly buying into the system, a la the Janis Joplin song--a weakness in the essay. But he emphasizes that there is, today, "no significant opposition to the system as a whole and its way of life." It is this that both Marcuse and Huxley targeted (along with Allen Ginsberg). Radical change, says Aronson, is not merely about alternative politics, but about creating a different sensibility and different values.

But if that is the case, then we have to talk about the consciousness of individual Americans, and how to change that. "How can a movement break with this all-absorbing world to demand and create a better one...And in the name of what?" Aronson asks. But this is where we hit a brick wall, because Americans are not Frenchmen. They can no more hold a May-June debate at the Sorbonne than sprout wings and fly. In political terms, they lack awareness of literally everything. In a word, they are children.

E.M. Forster raised the issue of individual consciousness in his essay "What I Believe," which I discuss in the Twilight book. One can regard the essay as an early manifesto of Waferism, I suppose. Marcuse had no idea of how systemic change might occur; Huxley provided an early reference to the New Monastic Option in suggesting that the dominant culture would remain as is, and that a handful of the alienated would live on the margins of this culture--like Native Americans on reservations (who have different values to this day). I also confront this issue in the chapter on Machiavelli in Genio. My argument is that his biographers all got him wrong, making him one of the most misunderstood individuals in the history of political theory. The bottom line for Machiavelli, the real beneath the real, was our actual day-to-day behavior amd values. Either they were about ego, or about decency; but like Forster, or Marcuse, or Huxley, he had to pose this mental breakthrough as an ideal, because he had no idea as to how a society might get there. Wafers have to live with the fact that decency is its own reward, and that as the whole constellation of capitalism collapses, there might be a different possibility on the other side. In that sense, he, along with these other writers, are utopians to a greater or lesser degree. But what else is there? C. Wright Mills called our present system "crackpot realism," which is where we are today.

Machiavelli died disappointed, but I hardly think his was a wasted life. Might as well go for broke, don't you think?

-mb

December 03, 2019

The Wire Cage Experiment

Wafers-

I've recently been working on a collection of short stories. I've written 5 so far, amounting to about 60 pages. The problem is that to publish them in book form, I need at least 160 pages. Since I write only when I'm inspired, and since I can never predict when inspiration will strike, it could be another year before I pitch the book to a publisher.

I occasionally feel guilty that I don't provide enough entertainment for you guys. Granted, watching the US go down the tubes in the gauchest and most vulgar manner possible, or ridiculing turkeys like Tulsi Gabbard, is very entertaining, but it's of a rather noir variety. So what I'm going to do today is post one of these stories. It's not the best of the lot, and it's also a bit noir, but it has a nice demented flavor to it that I think you guys might enjoy. Here goes:

As a salesman of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, George Walraven enjoyed his job, but in the digital age he was fighting an uphill battle. He liked going door-to-door, talking to people about their lives, and the importance of being well-informed. But most of them didn't want to by the encyclopedia, because they said they could get whatever information they needed online. George immediately pointed out that Britannica had an online paywall; this pitch worked some of the time, but mostly not. Still, he loved the job and didn't want to give it up.

In terms of developing new sales strategies, George was inspired by an episode of Friends, in which an encyclopedia salesman comes to Joey Tribbiani's apartment and tries to sell him a set of encyclopedias. He asks Joey if he ever feels out of it, sitting around with his friends, who are discussing something he knows nothing about. Joey admits this is a frequent occurrence, but says he just can't afford to buy these books. So the salesman asks him how much cash he has on him at the moment; it turns out to be $50. "For $50," he tells Joe, "I can sell you a single volume. What letter would you prefer?" For some reason, Joey picks V. Then follows a rather silly scene in which Joey, sitting around with the Friends, keeps trying to steer the conversation to subjects such as Volcanos, Viet Nam, Vivasection, and other V's.

George loved that episode, and it gave him an idea. In these days of economic hardship, he reasoned, most people simply can't shell out $1,200 for the entire set. But like the salesman on Friends, he could probably get them to buy a single volume. Once he had sold all of the volumes, from A to Z, he figured he might be able to throw an "encyclopedia party," in which each person in attendance represented one letter of the alphabet. And then what? Some kind of party games? He wasn't sure. But he was convinced there was an angle here, one that would enable him to sell more books.

George's wife, a rather attractive blond ten years his junior, was keen on the whole idea, even thinking that if George could sell two sets of A to Z, it might be possible to organize a public competition between the two teams and run it on network TV. It took a few months to make this happen, but finally the show took place: "From A to Z: The War of the Books." Prizes ran from $1,000 to $10,000. First up were the 2 A's. Each person had a buzzer; George's job was to name an A entry, and the person who buzzed first then had to explain the item, say what it was. The two A's were a housewife from Cincinnati, and an insurance salesman from Topeka. The winner would be the first to give ten correct answers.

"What is the Aeneid?" George asked them. Brittany, the housewife, was quick on the draw. "Long poem by Virgil providing a foundation myth for Roman civilization," she said. "Right you are!" exclaimed George. "Next, what is abalone?" Lorenzo, the insurance salesman, pressed the buzzer and declared, "A type of processed meat." The audience was convulsed with laughter. "No," said George; "you're thinking of baloney, which would be a B question. Brittany?" "A type of sea snail, or mollusc," she responded. "OK," said George; "the score is now 2 to 0."

George proceeded to run through Aardvark, Aeolian harp, All Hallows Eve, and so on, until Brittany was the victor with a score of 10-5, racking up winnings of $1,000 (so far). The audience applauded, and she and Lorenzo retired from the stage. The B's were up next, but before that contest could take place, someone in the audience stood up. "Is this game rigged?" he called out.

"Wha?" George exclaimed. "Of course not." "Abalone is processed meat?" said the man. "Are you shitting me? Remember the show Twenty-One, the big scandal? Contestants were fed the correct answers, including Charles Van Doren, a professor at Columbia. People will do anything for money."

"Sir," said George, "you need to sit down. This game is not rigged, and you are completely out of order."

"But that denial is exactly what that earlier generation of execs at NBC said!" he cried. At this point, Security was called in, but the man had apparently come with a bucket of rotten vegetables, which he skillfully deployed against the officers. Somehow, this triggered a mob psychology response, with people choosing up sides: rigged or not rigged. A total melee ensued. Out of nowhere, a man in a Tarzan outfit swung through on a rope, and a woman thrust a Boston cream pie in George's face. "Criminals!" she screamed. "Thugs!"

All hell broke loose. The mob was able to overwhelm the Security guards, in some cases banging their heads against the floor. People picked up on the cry of "Criminals!" and "Thugs!", tore up the seats of the studio, attacked the contestants, and threw volumes of the encyclopedia at each other. The madness lasted for over an hour, at which point everyone stopped, as if on cue, dusted themselves off, and left the building.

"This may not have been such a good idea," George said to his wife, through gobs of Boston cream pie.

Of course, most of the melee was caught by various people on their cell phones, and the footage was used on the late-night news report. The anchor said something like, "A riot was unexpectedly triggered this evening at the opening of an NBC quiz show called 'From A to Z' by a defrocked priest, the Rev. Pierson J. Flanksteak. Rev. Flanksteak, without any evidence, accused the network of rigging the show, which resulted in an outbreak of mob violence. The audience went wild, and the riot went on for over an hour. When later questioned by the police as to why he made the accusation. Rev. Flanksteak said he was out to demonstrate Freud's theory that civilization was but a thin veneer over a massive 'iceberg' of barbarism."

"From A to Z" was subsequently cancelled; instead, all of the networks hosted panel discussions of Freud's theory, what had happened, whether Flanksteak (now sitting in jail) was a lunatic or a genius, and so on. It was all hot air; most of the TV audience, and the media, correctly concluded that these "experts" were fools. George quit his job with Britannica and went on to write a best-selling book, From A to Z: The Riot at NBC. The promotional flyer contained the following passages:

"The Rev. Flanksteak set out to validate Freud's notion that civilization was a shaky cover on top of raw, irrational emotions. He had no evidence that the program was rigged, and in fact, it wasn't. What he actually demonstrated was that the public can be made to go crazy by the use of certain charged words--'rigged' being one of them. 'Post-modern' is another. My own theory is that Americans are badly squeezed by the inexorable disintegration of their way of life, such that when these words are uttered, huge amounts of energy are suddenly released. This is important information for us to have about the fragile condition of the American people. Flanksteak now sits in jail, whereas I think he more correctly deserves to receive the Presidential Medal of Honor.

"I don't think, as a nation, that we can afford to be conducting our daily affairs while sitting on a kind of semantic volcano. What I propose is that we set up controlled experiments on the release of energy. I have consulted with Senator Riggins about this, and we are going to arrange for such an experiment two weeks from today. For this, we need 1,000 volunteers. Interested parties should sign up at the NBC studios as soon as possible."

The signup sheets filled up very quickly. NBC constructed a huge wire cage to house the participants. On the appointed day, they were all frisked for weapons and then locked inside the cage. George stood outside of it with a megaphone. "Is everyone ready?" he called out. "Ready!" came the response. "OK," he said; "here goes:"

FEMINISM!

The people inside the cage went nuts. They began to scream, tear their hair, bite each other, and beat each other up. Many got down on all fours and barked like dogs. It went on for thirty-five minutes, until they ran out of steam. Exhausted, most of them were lying on the floor. Some were bleeding.

"Well done," George called out on the megaphone. "Now let's try another phrase:"

POLITICALLY INCORRECT!

Again, this set off a massive reaction of rage and violence, but since most of these folks were rather tired from the first round, it lasted only twenty minutes this time.

RACISM!
MUSLIMS!
ISRAEL!
DIVERSITY!

George bombarded them with these charged words until there wasn't a person left standing. The medical teams and ambulances that were parked outside now hauled most of the mangled participants off to local hospitals, where hundreds of them spent a week or more in recovery.

As would be expected, George was in high demand on the TV talk shows. The typical first question he was met with was, "Given the disaster of the wire cage experiment, what do you plan to do next?" George's answer was always the same:

"Bob [or Freddie, or Chrystal], this was no disaster. As a pilot project, it was a great success. It revealed the depths of negative energy stored in the American psyche--energy we are going to have to drain, if this country has any future. You know, we are constantly hearing about the need to 'get America back on track'. Well, this is how to do it. Think of it as draining the pus of an infection. If a bunch of words can push the American public right over the edge, then it's safe to say that we are dealing with a whole lotta pus--metaphorical pus, infecting the body politic. Myself, I'm looking forward to Wire Cage Experiment No. 2."

And the rest is history. As the "pus" was drained from the American people, a certain (limited) restoration of sanity settled over the land. "I think it's safe to say," George finally announced, "That we have made America great again."

(c)Morris Berman, 2019