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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Zog, The Boy Wonder

I can’t define the line between sanity and insanity, but I know it when I see it. Kurt Vonnegut was pushed to the precipice of that line as a POW in Dresden during WWII, and stayed mostly on the sane side, in part by fictionalizing his experience in the novel “Slaughterhouse Five”. David Hamel, who died a couple of months ago, saw many of the same horrors at Dresden, also as a POW, but he went sailing over the line in a single leap. It is hard not to compare Hamel to a character from a Kilgore Trout novel. Trout was Vonnegut’s mythical and mystical science fiction writer. In his own novel “Breakfast of Champions”, Vonnegut wrote, “Kilgore Trout once wrote a short story which was a dialogue between two pieces of yeast. They were discussing the possible purposes of life as they ate sugar and suffocated in their own excrement. Because of their limited intelligence, they never came close to guessing that they were making champagne.” Well, David Hamel ate the sugar, and he may have suspected the champagne, but he died at 81 having produced only a lot of excrement. He loved his wife and he hurt as few people as possible. That may qualify him for sainthood, but not genius.
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According to David, on Sunday, October 21, 1975, he was watching “The Waltons” with friends in his home outside of Vancouver, British Columbia, when he was contacted by two aliens from the planet “Kladen” who appeared out of the snow on his television screen. Unseen by the others in the room they zapped him across time/space to their spaceship where they communicated their science to him, telepathically. They said they were entrusting him with the “survival of the species”. Hamel explained, “They planted these drawings in my brain. They gave me all the instructions I needed. It is now up to me to make it work.” It was 32 years later when David Hamel died without ever making it work, even with the enthusiastic assistance of several acolytes. Evidently the aliens did NOT give him all the assistance he needed. How incompetent of them.
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Hamel fiddled in the Quonset hut in his backyard for decades and sent dozens of drawings of the resultant “alien inspired technology” to the patent office in Toronto, in a deluge of “perpetual motion” machines, “pollution free endless energy machines” and “anti-gravity machines”, and the engineers and scientists there deemed his solutions to these fundamental conundrums to be unworkable. How incompetent of them, too. When asked by one true believer how his spaceship would work, Hamel replied, “Fucking energy.” Evidently some “fucking” combination of magnetic energy, vibrations and granite spheres would combine, he insisted, to make his “spacecraft” weightless. “Do you understand now? Or are you just stupid.” To the true believers that question was mere proof of Hamel’s genius, but I think it actually proved that the answer to Hamel’s question was yes, they were just stupid, and desperate to believe.
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Dozens of people have tried to build the 45 gallon drum sized, magnet driven, flying machine designed by the aliens and transmitted through Hamel. Universally they have failed to get off the ground. Perhaps they are all incompetent, but by this time competency seems almost irrelevant to the issue at hand, which is sanity. One believer spent 12 years collaborating with Hamel, and $5,000 on an 8” version of the device, and still says he will need another $7,000 to build a version big enough to actually work. He offers no explanation as to why model airplanes function but models of this flying saucer do not. Another supplicant spent a month working closely with Hamel, invested his life savings, was even divorced by his wife, and remains earthbound. And yet he still believes in the genius of Hamel. It makes the faith of the Hebrews almost seem passive.
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Hamel believed that Stonehenge was a landing zone for UFOs; never mind the big rocks scattered in the way. He believed the Dead Sea Scrolls were alien instructions on how to achieve certain alternate realities, written perhaps by some bronze age Timothy Leary (what will our ancestors make of the real acid head?) Hamel believed in Atlantis, never mind the evidence of Santorini and Crete. And Hamel believed that the key to the Bible, The Torah, the Koran and even the Book of Bonkinism (“Cat’s Cradle”), was revealed in a spider’s web. “Did you ever see a spider weaving his web, and then suddenly jump horizontally to another branch without any apparent gravitational forces affecting him? This is the scalar….The spider rides the scalar of the earth.” David also said, “They (the aliens) were eating my peanut butter to teach me a lesson”, and, “The end of the world is not far off, and we need some of us to survive. Otherwise, all is lost.”
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Well, it’s clear that something was lost, and I think most of us know what it was; David Hamel‘s sanity. There is no indication that Hamel weaved his fantasy for profit, which puts him in a different category from Vonnegut, the author. Two books were written about David but he never wrote one himself. But Vonnegut used fantasies while Hamel was used by them. Vonnegut knew how seductive insanity can be (“God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater”) so I think he would have sympathized with David Hamel. But there is a difference between sympathy and respect. Insane people all tell lies, and they honestly believe them. To join in their fantasy is not a show of respect. It’s just telling more lies. So do we laugh at David Hamel or do we cry?
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I figure we are in the pretty much the same situation as the Kilgore Trout character (“Breakfast of Champions”) named Zog from the planet Margo, who resembled a human but who communicated by farting and tap dancing. “Zog landed at night in Connecticut. He had no sooner touched down than he saw a house on fire. He rushed into the house, farting and tap dancing, warning the people about the terrible danger they were in. The head of the house brained Zog with a golf club.” Zog certainly meant well.


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But if it was your house, what would you have done?

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Monday, October 29, 2007

MAKE LOVE, NOT POINTS

I think everybody knows we live in a dangerous world, but did you realize just how much safer George and Dick are making it for us? It was announced last week that things are going so well in Iraq that the U.S. State Department has decided to give its employees a choice. They can either “volunteer” to work at the new American “Uuber Embassy” in Bagdad, or be fired. It seems there are 250 unfilled positions at what is supposed to be the largest U.S. embassy in the world, but only 50 applications have been made by department employees. So qualified State Department personnel will receive a letter giving them until Thanksgiving to “volunteer, after which date they will be assigned at random, at which point they can either join the “Bushies” in hell or be fired. There, don’t you feel safer? As you may have heard, the employees sure as hell don't.
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The State Department has also been extending the popular "War On Terror” by signing treaties with an “Allegiance of the Willing” to be boarded; those nations who are willing to have their merchant ships stopped by US Naval and Coast Guard vessels, ever searching for “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. So far they have signed up Panama, Liberia, Malta, Cypress, The Marshall Islands, and the latest signatory, Mongolia, which doesn’t actually have either a seacoast or a port. Feel safer, yet? No? Well, maybe you're just not concentrating hard enough, buddy.
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Well, residents of Lagrangeville, New York are concentrating and they remain concerned because ‘ole Dead-Eye-Dick Cheney is planning on “Goin’ Huntin’” at the Clove Valley Rod and Gun Club just outside of town. Viva Ttanata, the farmer whose back yard adjoins the Cheney “zone-of-death-hunt-site” told the New York Daily News, “I don’t want him in my backyard. He scares me. I’ll be keeping my dog inside while he’s there.” Another neighbor, Fred Boehmer, said simply, “I’m getting out of town.” Good thought, Fred. But what the hell do the rest of us clay pigeons do to avoid Dick's pacemaker inhanced glare?
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It may seem a little unfair to make fun of “Dead-Eye” Dick’s proclivity for gunning down his hunting partners since he’s only gunned down one little old man. But, honestly, how many little old men hunting partners do you have to gun down before you earn a reputation for doing gunning down little old men hunting partners? I say one. But all kidding aside, I still wouldn’t let my dog out side while Dead-eye is carrying a gun, either.
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I wish Dick would just shut the hell up. This time old dead-eye has announced that “We will not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons….Our country and the entire international community cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its most aggressive ambitions.” And Boom! Gas jumps from $2.59 a gallon to $2.89, and beyond. That sure as hell is shock and awe. It’s like Dick wants his buddies in the oil companies to get even richer, or something. And there was Hillary, voting to give Dick the justification to start WWIII, which George has also prophesied recently. I so wanted to vote for her, but she’s starting to make me as nervous as Dick Cheney, suicide bomber.

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Meanwhile, another little upstate New York town has become the focus of Republican Senator John McCain’s struggling presidential campaign. The citizens of Bethel Woods were hoping to build a museum to commemorate the seminal event which occurred outside their little town some 37 years ago, Woodstock, which McCain has described as “…a cultural and pharmaceutical event”. It is a description which caused his conservative audiences to smirk and applaud, and which, 35 years ago, would have produced the exact same reaction (for different reasons) from those who actually attended or wished they had attended Woodstock, (never in human history have so many wished they had been so loaded, so cold, so wet, so muddy, so hungry and standing in line for so long to use a port-a-potty.) Woodstock hasn’t been a political issue for almost 40 years. Thank goodness John McCain's Republican Party is still the party of ideas; forty year old ideas, but then these are the same people who are still trying to punish the Democrats for electing FDR four times. And then there was the whole Tom Dewey frustration.
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The argument about the Bethel Woods earmark is mirrored in Sparta, South Carolina, where that tiny community is trying to spend a million federal and state earmark dollars to build a 30,000 square foot Sparta Tea Pot Museum, but things are not going so well in Sparta, either. The owners of the largest private collection of Tea Pots in America, Gloria and Sonny Kamm, are unhappy because the latest design for the museum the developers are backing won’t allow room for their entire 7,000 tea pots, short and stout, practical and utilitarian and some created by painters Roy Lichtenstein and David Hockney, sculpture Michael Lucera and ceramist Beatrice Wood. A traveling exhibition of just a part of the Kamm tea pot exhibit has just finished breaking attendance records at museums in Napa, California, Montgomery, Alabama, and Toronto, Canada. They had such high hopes in the Republican dominated Carolina legislature.

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This could almost make up for the Tea Pot dome scandal that so injured the G.O.P in the last century. Except, of course, the Democrats have resisted attacking the struggling working class of Sparta. Which is why the Republicans have been on such a winning streak, their willingness to throw anybody from Terry Shivo to the children of America under their campaign bus, be it the Bush Veto juggernaut or the McCain Straight Talk Express.
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Because art, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder, and so are pork barrel earmarks. Sparta has lost over 1,500 well paying factory jobs. And the population of 25 to 34 year olds in upstate New York has dropped by from 30 to 42 percent. These communities are each struggling to find an anchor upon which to build their future, and both think they have found a unique local solution. And who should show up to criticize them but a bunch of ideologues trashing these locally inspired attempts at self preservation. Doesn’t America believe in its people anymore? Don’t we believe in investing in our communities anymore?
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And who would have ever thought that John McCain, war hero, really wanted to grow up to be George W. Bush, draft dodger. Feel safer, yet?
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