Monday, March 22, 2010

On Bad Writing

When I taught university-level English courses, I told my students it was useful to study bad writing. The idea was that if we could figure out what things made writing bad, we could avoid those things, and thus reduce the likelihood that we might produce bad writing.

I also taught that all writers have two fundamental tasks to perform. They must:
1. Have something to write.
2. Write it in such a way that the reader can understand it.

In the bad writing I'm about to discuss, writers fail about equally on both counts.

Let's explore. The poorest writing I've seen is that done in a certain kind of periodical I'll call "true confessions magazines." I've only read one of these, but it was a howler.

Remember, the stories in these magazines are all supposed to be "true." The most badly written story of the bunch was one concocted by an author who claimed to have been the mother of a teenage son. The son, she wrote, had taken explosives to his high school and killed 16 students.

Immediately I knew the story couldn't possibly be "true." To state the obvious — if a student killed 16 students at a school, we'd all have heard about it innumerable times. As our media experience repeatedly demonstrates, the killing of even a single student at a school immediately generates a multi-day national media event.

Worse than the obvious falsehood about the killings was the explanation of the "mother" for the behavior of her "son." He did this horrible thing because he wore black clothing. That was the writer's sole explanation. It wasn't that the black clothing was a symbol or expression of deep-seated psychological disturbances. No, it was the mere fact that he wore black clothing. The kid was an all-American youth who immediately turned into a monster the day he put on his first black overcoat.

The writer failed on count one. She had nothing to say. She threw together a tasteless, facile rip-off of the Columbine story.

In trying to account for writing of such wretched quality, I keep in mind that the writer may well have been someone capable of producing good work who merely dashed off some fast, poor work in order to get fast money from a magazine with extremely low standards.

Harder to explain is the work of writers who are established in their fields and tend to receive positive reviews (at least in some quarters). Let me focus on genre writing, which is thought by serious critics to be little more than a refuge for bad writers.

Let's turn to point two above: The way in which the writer says what she intends to say. The characters in the books of horror writer Clare McNally use language that sounds so contrived and stiff that an attentive reader will refuse to see the language as credible. In the novel Ghost Light, a six-year-old character says to another character of his age, "Someone has fastened a lock to the door!"

I put it to you that no one raised in the United States would ever say such a thing. The standard spoken American English expression for what McNally tries to convey is something such as: "Somebody's put a lock on the door."

Almost as clumsy is overly formal language used in a popular literature narrative. Zero at the Bone, a true crime book about mass-murderer Gene Simmons, was written by a Paul Williams, who apparently has an academic background in poetry composition. He quotes his own poetry liberally throughout his book. He writes the sort of verse students are taught to compose in university creative writing seminars — verse that can be deciphered by those willing to engage in intellectual concentration, but not by Joe Sixpack. The book's title is a phrase from an Emily Dickinson poem. I see no application of the phrase to the life or case of Simmons. The writer just wants the true crime reader (of all people) to know that he knows his Dickinson.

In the first 10 pages of the book, Williams treats the reader to such obscure academic lingo as: "that iambic closure," "immobilis in mobile," "the isinglass patina," "an ell of the wall," "iambic tom-tom." Such language in a true crime book, a genre second only to porno books in hastiness and sloppiness of writing, is about as appropriate as a cycle of Latin sonnets.

Depending on the nature of one's sense of camp, one can see inappropriate language as amusing (as I did in the Williams book) or annoying (as I did in the McNally book, which I quit reading at page 50).

Let's now turn again to point one: what is written. Those who write either true or fictional stories ("narratives," if you prefer the fancy term) will earn respect for their work only if they make the effort to develop characters who are distinct from each other and are at least minimally interesting to the reader. Character development needs to be an essential part of what storytellers write.

The failure to develop characters is recognized by horror book readers as the most common flaw of horror writing. I quit reading John Shirley's fairly well-known novel Wetbones after 200 pages because I couldn't distinguish one character from another. The book's two male protagonists are young men who work together as script writers in Los Angeles. After 200 pages, the only way I could differentiate the two was by reminding myself that they had different names.

But Shirley's no fool. Consider the following observations he makes on the human condition in his novel: "Garner had to search for his little girl in this endless sea of irrelevancy and indifference and preoccupied people and deteriorating places. This is crazy, this is hopeless ... "

Or this: "Line up the ifs like toy soldiers, move them around the way you want, try to make yourself feel better. It's still just playing with ifs."

Or: "He had preached at himself by preaching at other people."

Shirley likes to take time to think about life. He won't take the time to contemplate what sorts of people might lead this life.

I quit Reading Richard Laymon's horror novel Darkness Tell Us after the first two chapters. Laymon introduces 10 or so characters in these chapters. I could only get a sense of one of them: the misfit and outcast (the character type that is, for whatever reason, the one that always seems to get fleshed out even in poorly written horror novels). The first sentence of the third chapter contained the name "Glen." I had to flip back through the first two chapters to see whether I'd been reading about a character who had that name.

In contrast is a novel by horror writer Edward Lee, whose many devoted fans seem to take pride in his reputation for bad writing. In Lee's Flesh Gothic, there are some clanky passages. But in this novel, the gaffes don't matter much. Lee's careful to begin by devoting a chapter to each of the more than 15 major characters. While this makes for a somewhat slow initial read, the approach pays off in spades in the last 300 pages, when the reader feels compelled to find out what happens to these characters whom he understands better than his own acquaintances.

It's not necessary that one identify or feel deeply for a character. But one must at least know enough about the character to feel an interest in what happens to her. It is no great feat for a good writer to create credible characters who are more interesting than the people we know.

When established horror writers create flat characters, they do so, I think, because they've gotten too caught up in the plot to take the time to envision the personalities of their characters. Novels by these writers build to a rapid sequence of shocking events: the payoff for the horror book reader. The bulk of the creative work has gone to the creation of what is the most exciting part of the narrative. The writer's intoxicated with the plot twists she's contrived to make the knock-out climax or ending.

In terms of how they write what they write, it's often possible for the writer to play around with or even mess up the words and still deliver a readable story. But if there's a story, character development seems to be a requisite of good writing. You can have fun with language. When it comes to character — watch out. I can imagine that some extremely experimental writer, such as Alain Robbe-Grillet, might write a good, solid story that contains a plot devoid of a series of discrete actions — for example, a plot that consists merely in the narrator's description of a photograph he is presumably looking at. But even in such writing as this, the intrepid reader (which is the only kind who will make it to the end) is working backwards to construct in his head the kind of character who's looking at the photograph.

In order to be interested in stories, whether true or otherwise, we need to know that the things that happen have happened to or been done by creatures that strongly resemble the people we are or we know. We can watch full-length movies about pigs and mice and dogs, provided these creatures act (and "talk" or "think") like people who are familiar to us.

And the tortured efforts that networks go to to convince us that the people on reality television shows are just like us convey a message that's all too true. If it weren't, how would any sociologist ever explain the popularity of the things?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cortez, The Distressed Hillbilly

Thanks to Aaron Thomas, a native of Southwest Louisiana, who brought by Cortez del Mar's recent CD You Did This To Yourself.

With a little imagination, you can see this CD as a musical portrait of the gothic backwoods mischief of a bunch of inbred country musicians who spend many long nights drinking Everclear and listening to albums by American Music Club. You pick up the vibe from such lyrics as "Here's to something sinister" ("Bigger Skies") and "You know I'm a little crazy" ("Sugar Skull"). And the "Cities of Gold" line "Just wait till I get you alone" doesn't sound like a promise of tender romance.

Gothic content notwithstanding, what makes the whole shockabilly approach work is that our skewed singer is relating tales that come from the hard living of real life. In "All Smiles," he sings to his lover about "all the pain there in your chest." In "Cities of Gold," he reveals the kind of honesty that only comes from people who've given up the effort to put up a good face: "I'm not sorry or sad. Should I lie?" Those are the kind of lines Johnny Cash felt compelled to growl out now and then.

Mar's recent CD You Did This to Yourself. I had the idea this band was from Lafayette, but I was mistaken. Thomas says most of the band's members live in Sulphur (right across the river from Lake Charles).

In the CD, Cortez leads with its strongest suit: a soaring, euphoric minute-long instrumental intro. Beautiful hooks are layered on by electric guitars and keyboards. It ends abruptly, and the audience is introduced to the distressed hillbilly vocals that will be its companion for the next 45 minutes. Think of the voice of Mark Eitzel after he's been through one of the prodigious drinking nights he's always writing songs about; or imagine Chris Isaak taking the mike right after he's chugged a couple of bottles of cough syrup.

Though there are lots of change-ups (which I'll describe), the default sound on the disc is a downbeat, quiet, steadily paced country-tinged rock with a melancholy cast. Departures from the default sound include "Sea of Sound," an upbeat power pop number with lyrical hooks that could have come straight off a 1980s SubPop record.

"Cities of Gold" starts as a mix of mariachi, a Cash Ballad and "Ghost Riders in the Sky." This chirpy little gem about personal and shared misery ends up with some good, creepy off-key guitar string plucking, weird off-key piano tinkling and what sounds like — of all things — a French horn solo. Compare this ending to the off-kilter cabaret music beginning of "Burning Whiskey River," with its fine Link Wray-style electric guitar decays.

I don't know whether Cortez fits into the postrock category. You can hear some of the crazed hillbilly stuff in Godspeed You! Black Emperor. But aside from that, I don't hear a lot of overlap. Don't buy this disc expecting to hear a Mogwai or Sigur Ros record. As for the shockabilly vibe, this disc sounds closer to the sort-of mainstream shockabilly of The Reverend Horton Heat than the psychodrama shockabilly of Shockabilly. The bottom line: if you're interested in avant country rock ballads on real-life topics, you'll want to have this recording. If you want to listen to country rock ballads about idealized life, just turn on the radio to any station that doesn't have an angry guy talking on it.

CDs like this one indicate there are almost amazingly talented bands right here in Lake Charles, La. But they don't stay here long. They don't have venues to perform in and thus can't build a big support base.

Of course, Lake Charles always has the option of embracing and supporting bands like this. Hell, for all I know, pigs always have the option to fly. But I don't expect to see a pig flying in my lifetime. Whether they fly or not, you can keep track of the band's progress on its site Did This to Yourself

Friday, March 19, 2010

Neopets and Creepy Moves

It's never been news in my lifetime that we are living in both a material and a virtual world.

In theory, the virtual world of the present resembles by ever greater degrees our thoughts and feelings about whatever we mean when we use terms such as "reality" or "the real world."

It's true that none of the television shows that ran when I was a kid had anything to do with the realities of anyone's everyday life. But when I first heard the Rolling Stones' song "Jumpin' Jack Flash" on the radio, I knew it resonated with emotions I had; I just didn't know what the emotions were.

The virtual world that exists 40 years after the release of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" has this distinction: it's interactive. One can make choices about one's place in it. If I have the right program, I can make "Jumpin' Jack Flash" sound any way I want it to just by moving a mouse around. In an online game, one can go down one hall or another; talk to another character or keep quiet; even take actions that will get oneself killed (in a virtual sense).

How does virtual interactivity affect the life of the typical American consumer? The marketing think tank Trendwatching (see gets at it when its representatives write (in somewhat overworked prose):

"The new consumer ... creates his or her own playground, comfort zone, universe ... At the core is control: psychologists ... agree ... that human beings want to be in charge of their destiny, or at least have the illusion of being in charge. And because they can now get this control in entirely new ways, aided by an online, low-cost, creativity-hugging revolution ... consumers now weave webs of unrivaled connectivity and relish instant knowledge gratification. They exercise total control over ... identities in cyberspace at a whim, wallow in DIY/ customization/personalization/co-creation to make companies deliver on their terms. (They make) ... virtual worlds in which they can truly be whoever or whatever they want to be."

In its description of a general on-line virtual experience, Trendwatching listed, by my count, 12 states of interest to the contemporary consumer: possession, comfort, a sense of control, economical alternatives, access to new technology, acquisition of information, gratification, socialization, a sense of identity, collaboration, an opportunity to create and reality creation.

In the long passage I quoted above, Trendwatching didn't specifically mention Internet games. When it turns to online gaming, Trendwatching quotes experts who see gaming as meeting consumer's desires for these states:
• escapism
• the "drive to explore" (Mediaedge)
• the "promise of reward" (Mediaedge)
• a sense of accomplishment (economist Edward Castronova)
• the experience of "feeling ... be friended" (Castronova), and
• "feeling ... loved." (Castronova).

Now we're moved into the uneasiness many associate with the "simulacrum." What's the simulacrum? Philosopher Jean Baudrillard believes contemporary consumers — that is, you and I — live entirely in an illu sory world created by electronic media. He calls this the simulacrum — a fancy term for the imitation.

An imitation is by no means bound to afford an accurate representation of what it imitates. Reality, Baudrillard would say, is seeing a space ship blow up with your own eyes at the very place where it blows up. The simulacrum is seeing and hearing 1,000 media representations of a space ship blowing up.

Let's use the term "simulacrum creepiness" to describe a situation in which my experience of electronic media inclines me to experience potentially dangerous states of mind or symptoms of mental illness, such as, say, unwarranted terror or traumatic disappointment.

Consider the idea that a game makes me "feel loved." I can easily understand that a person would have nostalgia for a game he spent a lot of his youth playing. But when a person tells me he thinks the game loves him — or even that a participant in a mas sively multiplayer on-line game "loves" him — I start thinking "ther apy."

Does a corporation that puts its advertising in a on-line game want the user to feel loved? If it did, it would presumably at the very least have to insert an ad that works.

Let's start with the basics. What makes an ad in a game effective? Trendwatching can get us started:

"In-game communication [such as advertisement] should always facilitate escapism ... There's a delicate balance between enhancing realism and obstructing escapism. Wizards with cola cans or aliens brandishing chocolate bars are almost certainly wrong."

In one respect, those who advertise in games are realists who have the advantage over idealists, cynics and Luddites; Nicholas Longano, CMO of Massive, describes the advantage: "If (the game is) set in the 20th century or beyond, you expect to see advertising. Advertising enhances the sense of realism," he tells Business Week.

Smart marketers know that if they can figure out a way to integrate their brand smoothly into the game's story line, there's a possibility they can get gamers to use their products and services. A 2005 study by Nielsen Interactive Entertainment found that in-game advertising increased players' awareness of the product by 60 percent. Product awareness isn't the same thing as product consumption, but it's enough to put a smile on the marketer's face.

Locate the role of the simulacrum in this quotation from MediaEdge: "The opportunity and challenge for brands is to figure out how to add something relevant to virtual worlds: providing players and inhabitants with experiences they actually enjoy and could even co-create with you."

I felt a shiver of simulacrum creepiness there. Can I really co-create with companies run by people who have 100,000 times the amount of assets I have? Does the owner of a chain of multi-million dollar seafood restaurants co-create with an oyster shucker? I doubt that happens even in the virtual world.

Let's look at the specs of ads imbedded in games. Games about race cars can have brands on the virtual cars or on billboards along virtual race tracks. One expects race cars to bear advertising to begin with, so when an ad appears on a virtual car, the ad seems perfectly realistic. Such an ad — one that seems to belong — is called "imbedded." It's one of the millions of details imbedded in a long believable storyline.

Virtual billboards can be changed at any time. Brands using them include Honda, Cingular, Reebok, Coca-Cola, Comcast, Honda, NBC, Verizon, Warner Bros., and a few jillion others.

In the NBA's cleverly named 2K6 video game, more than 200 of the virtual basketball players wear Nike shoes in the game. Users improve their performance by collecting various types of Nike shoes and storing them in the game's "Nike Shoe Locker."

The PC game of the television show "CSI" was a collaboration between Visa and Ubisoft that resulted in a game plotline in which credit-card fraud protection was a central motif. Visa got 10 minutes of exposure in the game CSI 3: Dimensions of Murder. Nokia and General Motors also worked in ads.

Before we get stuck in games, let's look at imbedded, as well as pretty much open, advertising in virtual "being spaces." A being space, such as the 50-million user Habbo Hotel, is a virtual meeting place where people can communicate with friends or strangers online and engage in a multitude of online tasks and diversions. Being spaces aren't games that one wins or loses. Consider them gigantic online communities.

Each of the 50 million regular users of Habbo Hotel creates an online persona called a "Habbo." Habbos explore the hotel and create and decorate their rooms with furniture ("furni") that are purchased with "Habbo credits." Habbo credits are paid for with real-world credit cards, whether mom's or dad's or the user's.

Habbo rooms can be named after an advertiser. The advertiser's virtual billboard is placed in its virtual hotel room. The virtual maids and personnel who come and go in the room speak ad lines that promote the product.

In Habbo Hotel Germany, L'Oreal's Party Proof Gel opened two sponsored rooms: the Party Proof Club and the Party Proof Lounge. At mid-year, the first had been visited by 174,920 users and the second by 99,996.

In Canada, Habbo Hotel leased its largest club space to "Miles Thirst," a Habbo who's a virtual walking, talking advertisement for Sprite. Not only does Miles have Club Thirst, he has "virtual pouring rights" in Canada's Habbo Hotel, meaning Sprite's the only virtual soft drink users can get there.

Miles Thirst opens up his penthouse to all Habbos twice a week. If you visit, you get two Habbo credits, which are worth 40 cents in real-world money.

Sprite ran a television commercial for its Habbo Hotel set-up on MuchMusic. After that, Club Thirst became the most popular site in Habbo Hotel.

Here we come to another simulacrum creepiness moment. Most people are aware of risks that can arise when users start to think of virtual characters as actual flesh-and-blood people. There's a host of users who adore the set of electrons that is Miles Thirst. "Miles" has gotten more than 9,000 emails. Many include accounts of very personal experiences and of daydreams and fantasies that center on Miles. I realize we're mainly talking about kids here. But when a kid is expressing intense personal emotions to an ad, what's going on? Is the kid all right?

Speaking of kids, there's concern about advertising in the Neopets site, since it's geared towards children. The site draws 70 million Neopet owners ("Neopians"). They can communicate electronically with each other, and play more than 160 games in several zones. Zones and games are sponsored by such companies as Nestlé, McDonald's, General Mills, Atari, Frito-Lay and Disney. Neopets is itself owned by the monster corporation Viacom.

I don't know that I necessarily find all this troubling. In an age when every consumer is disconnected from every other consumer in the material world, it may be helpful if some consumers find solace in the ad-imbedded virtual world. And I know that marketers have to earn a living.

If one has a concern, one can look toward the source of the marketer's clout: the corporation. Aside from the occasional Enronesque fiasco, the corporation is always silent.

Don't shoot daggers at the player; don't rage at the imbedded ad. Ponder what is imbedded within the imbedded ad.

If the corporation wants me to believe the corporation loves me and co-creates with me, I may find myself wondering what the corporation really wants to do to me. The corporation is the entity on which I depend for my shelter, water, food, clothing, heat and health care. Can I afford to ignore its moves — however imbedded they may be?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Marginal Culture, Marginal Writing

Radical Calls To Impossible Actions

I figured out what marginal culture is through the process of induction. It all started, I think, at some time in 1987, when I noticed what a peculiar assortment of books I'd been reading in the previous few months.

I'd read about movies made on minuscule budgets and the amateurish hustling directors who made them. I'd read true crime books. I'd sought out books about people I considered conspicuous failures in their personal lives (Nietszche, Pollock, Strindberg, etc.). I rented a P.O. box and started an organization whose letterhead I used to appeal for copies of rants of all types on the grounds that I was forming a "free information database."

While some might consider the material I was reading just so much junk, I had the feeling it was all shaping a particular and peculiar view of the human experience in my head.
I discussed the situation with a friend, who said he had been reading exactly the same sorts of materials, and that these were the materials that were likewise being read by the small number of people he wished to associate with. We both agreed we were hooking into an odd and noteworthy cultural phenomenon.

But what kind of culture were we investigating? I didn't have to look at the data too long to figure out I was reading about misfits, freaks, fish out of water and guys who were so ordinary that their unblemished banality made them de facto weirdos. To some degree, and usually a large one, these people failed at everything they tried to do. Some were way beyond the whole question of success and failure; one might have been a diary-keeper obsessed with the notion that the supervisor who'd fired him two decades ago was a CIA assassin; another might have been a self-publisher convinced the Vatican was administrated by the Trilateral Commission.

Others about whom I read were simply eccentric in the extreme: they were robot builders; music makers who used jackhammers, industrial saws, caves and explosives as musical instruments; performance artists who tore up their bodies for nauseated audiences.

I wound up tagging the collective written work of all these authors and subjects "marginal culture." The projects to which they devoted themselves, or their lack of success at these projects, kept them at the margins of social activity. Their preference for the workings of their projects over the niceties of social interaction made it likely that few of the marginal people were popular with their contemporaries or are popular today with present-day book readers. (There are exceptions. The writer Edward Lee is popular, and it must be a great strain for the typical reader to imagine in even a vague way the bizarre worlds he creates with words.)

Each marginal writer or subject of marginal writing was or is off in his or her own little world. That puts each in stark contrast with the drones contentedly immersed in the mediocre mechanics of everyday living — the zombies whom you and I must tolerate and work around just to survive.

Before I was even 20, I'd said to a friend, "Life is banal." Never, as far back as my memory goes, have I been able to generate any interest in the conversation about fripperies that is zombie talk: the discourse of middle-class American society. People talk about how so-and-so is "doing." Some other so-and-so is said to be going to such-and-such a school. He's in such-and-such a grade and making such-and-such grades. Another so-and-so is working at such-and-such a place. And how is he doing? Oh, he's doing pretty good, I guess. He's started dating again. Oh, really? Who's he dating? Oh, so-and-so. Really? How's she doing? Oh, she's doing pretty good, I think ...

And on and on and on it drones. When I can manage to think in the mist of this verbal spew, the only thoughts I can muster are, "Who cares? Do the people talking care about what they're saying and hearing? Why do they keep talking?"

But people will always do as they have always done and talk as they have talked. That's why one seeks out marginal cultural. Vicarious experience of marginal culture is the means of escaping the democratic populace; of fleeing the discourse of those who find it fascinating to discuss Wal-Mart parking conditions.

The marginal is anything that falls far outside of convention. The marginal shaman has the useful power of making the everyday and banal magical by putting it in a context for which it was never designed. A simplistic but precise example is that of the writer who took Donald Rumsfeld's press conference meditations and ramblings and published them in the form of poems.

Readers of the marginal can make a text marginal by placing it in a context different from that used by the text's author. To take another painfully obvious but apt example, if a writer puts in words his experience of terrifying, complex and far-reaching paranoia, he creates a piece of writing that's in the margin. Now, if the reader reads the text not as an cautionary guide to the dangers of mind control or the revelation of a vast conspiracy, but as an unintentionally humorous schizophrenic rant, the reader places the text in the margin.

Any text the reader sees as kitsch (whether it was meant to be kitsch or not) is a marginal text. Also qualifying are any texts the readers sees as evidence of outlandish and indemonstrable theories and ideas, radical calls to impossible actions, evidence of lunacy, demonstration of appallingly bad taste and documentation of lives lived in squalor and monstrous excess. Street people, pimps, crackheads, backwoods loons, serial killers, homeless schizophrenics, channelers — their stories lift us out of our habitual stress and tedium and give us relief. We feel, for a moment, as if there might be real life on the planet.

There is a gargantuan storehouse of marginal writing that extends far beyond library walls to the boxes in vanity publishers' warehouses, the graffiti-covered walls of dead factories, the diary-filled boxes of estates and the rant-covered telephone poles in the urban wasteland.Nietzsche: A Critical Life

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Foot Loops: State And National Flavors

Froot Loops: State And National Flavors

The March 5 edition of The Dead Pelican carried the irresistibly interesting headline "Louisiana Cops Plan for 'End of the World' Scenario." When I clicked the headline, the Pelican hooked me up with a Feb. 27 story Kurt Nimmo wrote for something called

Said Nimmo, The Shreveport Times had reported on a local police exercise called “Operation Exodus.” Bossier Parish Sheriff Larry Deen said he aimed to protect Bossier Parish’s grocery stores, hospitals, gasoline stations and so forth "in the event of a catastrophic event, such as war or a terrorist attack."

Well, of course I know the terrorists are just lining up to attack Bossier Parish. So, what's Deen going to do about it? According to Infowars, the plan involves the use of "volunteers ... dispatched to vital areas to protect them." These volunteers won't just be using just riot shields and batons. Deen would have them using .50 caliber machine guns mounted on something called “the war wagon.” As of Feb. 20, reported Infowars, police in Bossier Parish were training volunteers "in hand-to-hand combat techniques."

My initial thoughts were, "OK, this will be one more chance for national media to have a hearty laugh at loopy authority figures in Louisiana." But as I read on, my bemusement turned to astonishment as I realized the reporter not only took all this stuff in Bossier Parish seriously but also thought it was a great idea.

Writer Nimmo broke out the heavy ammunition. He quoted Paul Joseph Watson as writing, "Numerous public figures, including Sen. Christopher Dodd, leading economist Nouriel Roubini, top trend researcher Gerald Celente, the head of the International Monetary Fund, the head of the World Trade Organization, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, former national security director Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair have all warned of coming civil unrest and global instability.” (BTW, Watson writes for

Next came a link to a video of trend forecaster Celente. Under the headline "Fox Business: Gerald Celente Predicts Revolution" and over the subhead "PREDICTING OBAMA'S IMPACT" sat the image of Celente. (This isn't the only time Celente has appeared on Fox News. On Fox News Sunday, he deplored "Obamageddon," and on The Glenn Beck Show, he called the Obama stimulus package "fascism," It was for a different media venue, The Washington Post, that Celente predicted the "Panic of 2008." He may wish he could unpredict that one.)

"OK. Maybe the story's a little biased," I thought. But then Nimmo called the Bossier Parish end-of-the-world scenario inevitable, referring to "the inevitability of civil unrest as the economy continues to unravel." See, I would use the term "possibility" rather than the term "inevitability" and the term "if" instead of "as." But I'm stupid that way.

At this point in the story, I got that ecstatic feeling I always get when I realize I'm in the presence of the froot loop, the loony toon, the nut bucket. This was the real deal My ecstasy grew more intense as Nimmo ended the story with this riveting sentence: "Short of dismantling the Federal Reserve and arresting and prosecuting the bankers, there is no solution short of training police to shoot starving food rioters and declaring martial law." (Nimmo has a thing about bankers; at another point, he got behind the notion of "throwing out the banksters.")

Whew! Ahem. After I caught my breath, I clicked on the home page of Infowars. Sure enough, the first prose I saw told me "an ultra-secret global elite controls technology, finance, international law, world trade, political power and vast military capabilities." Wow! Where do I sign up?

As I investigated the page, I found ads for "the most lethal self-defense system in the world," dehydrated food sold at, a "bank" that enables its clients to "Plant A Full Acre Crisis Garden," a "New Crisis Cooker," and notice that a "Millionaire Patriot Wants YOU Armed and Trained" with "a new, FREE Springfield XD HANDGUN." T-shirts proclaimed membership in the "Tyranny Response Team" and called on buyers to "Resist The New World Order." Headlines read, "Can Obama Assassinate Americans?" "MSNBC Continues Propaganda Campaign Against Patriot Groups" and, my favorite, "Hooray For Starbucks." Don't believe me? Just go to and look around.

I eventually realized the site was constructed by the Alex Jones radio show staff. (In fact, the thing is called "Alex Jones' Infowars.") Jones describes himself as "a prominent figure in the 9/11 Truth Movement." Even though the political personage who takes the most hits on the site is Obama, Jones is correct in saying he is not partisan. He takes pot shots at W. and the Neo-Conservatives. And his guests have included Ralph Nader and Gore Vidal. They've also included such fascinating cuckoo birds as David Icke, who believes the world is run by giant reptiles (but also makes insightful and perfectly valid observations about human behavior).

For the sake of fairness, I'll concede that Nikko's story contained some thought-provoking ideas, such as these from The Christian Science Monitor's Bill Bonner: "The establishment tells us the worst is over. The mainstream economics profession is guilty of dereliction of duty. They should be telling people that this ‘recovery’ is a scam. They should be warning investors that the markets could fall apart any day.” And then there were comments Goldman Sachs chairman John Whitehead made to Reuters: “I see nothing but large increases in the deficit. I just want to get people thinking about this, and to realize this is a road to disaster. I’ve always been a positive person and optimistic, but I don’t see a solution here.”

I don't have a problem with things like Infowars being on the Internet. In fact, I'd glad they're there. So .. let's all raise a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon to all the citizen volunteers sitting on top of the "war wagons," cradling their .50 caliber machine guns and waiting for the terrorists to arrive. I predict they'll be able to wait exactly as long as they want to.

Not So Cunning Testimony

The good news, or sort of good news, is that all the froot loops aren't in Bossier Parish. Take the case of the recent testimony of Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic at the Hague.

When a war criminal is on trial, he isn't just trying to avoid jail or execution; he's also trying to salvage some hint of decency, and possibly even dignity. At any rate, in a perfect world he'd be trying to do that.

No such luck with Karadzic, who has the habit of dictatorship. Like the late Slobodan Milosovic and long-time Ukrainian strong man Viktor Yanukovich, Radovic just looks like a thug. He may be 64, but every time I see a photo of him, the first thought that enters my mind is, "I don't ever want to meet this guy in a dark alley."

Karadzic isn't just a thug; he's also a goofball. True to form, he's so desperate to save his skin he's willing to tell stories he knows no one will believe. He's not sophisticated enough to come up with the kind of stuff that would make a judge pause and think, "Hmm. There could be something to that."

In his testimony, he said Bosnians were both sniping at and bombing other Bosnians — on purpose. He says notorious bombings of Sarajevo markets in 1994 and 1995 were "faked." How, exactly, is a bombing faked? Remarkable as it sounds, Karadzic had an answer for that: "Perhaps it was corpses that were planted."

And why were the Bosnians engaging in all this wanton destruction of each other? That's easy, said Karadzic. They wanted to make the Serbians look bad. He said it was all a "cunning strategy."

Do tell. Karadzic is charged with being responsible for the Srebrenica massacre, in which more than 7,000 were killed. "It is going to be easy for me to prove that I had nothing to do with it," he said. "It is a myth." Karadzic belongs to the school that believes it's beneficial to say that things that are impossible are easy. It's interesting that when Karadzic testified at the Hague, he asked for more time to prepare his defense. Sounds like this project may not be quite as easy as he thought it would be.