Scanlyze

The Online Journal of Insight, Satire, Desire, Wit and Observation

The Book That Got the Bro Tazed

The Book that Got the Bro Tazed

Armed Madhouse
Greg Palast
Dutton (2006)

I’m with you in Rockland
where you bang on the catatonic piano the soul
is innocent and immortal it should never die
ungodly in an armed madhouse

Allen Ginsberg, Howl (1955)

Greg Palast is an angry man, a funny man, a brilliant man, and an unapologetic egoist. You might say he’s like Sy Hersh and Mike Moore and Ed Murrow and Milton Friedman rolled into one. His book, Armed Madhouse, has been released in several editions, with various Swiftian subtitles, since 2006. This reviewer used the English Dutton edition from the Ann Arbor Public Library, which, bless them, has four copies.

The book is like a volcanic eruption. Where to start? Most anywhere, since Palast has dispensed with conventional narrative, chronological progression, and logical argumentation in favor of a thematic and topical approach which is much like his blog at gregpalast.com. Palast says, “I like to read in the loo, so this book, like my last [The Best Democracy Money Can Buy] can be read in short spurts, in any order. To that end, I’ve eliminated the consistency and continuity I despise in other books.” A pity, that.

I first became interested in Armed Madhouse during the infamous “Don’t Taze Me, Bro” incident at the University of Florida on September 17, 2007. A young man spent 90 seconds attempting to ask former Presidential candidate John Kerry a series of questions based on Palast’s book. The unfortunate young man, Andrew Meyer, was dragged to the back of the auditorium by campus police. While Meyer was waving a yellow trade paper edition of Armed Madhouse, he was pinned to the ground and “drive stunned” with a Taser while pleading “What did I do?… Don’t Taze Me, Bro!”

Public interest in the Andrew Meyer case has subsided since Meyer, on the advice of counsel, wrote a letter of apology exonerating the police who had taken him down, drive stunned him and arrested him for taking 90 seconds to ask an argumentative question. Meyer reportedly is to complete a “voluntary” 18 month probation, which if successful, will result in him not facing charges over the incident. Video of the incident was a YouTube phenom, with more than 2 million viewings to date. Interest in Palast’s book, which had reached the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list in May 2007, has resurged since the Tazing of the Bro.

Palast is savage in his treatment of President Bush Jr’s defining “Mission Accomplished” moment:

On Thursday, May 1, 2003, President Bush landed on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. Forgetting to undo the parachute clips around his gonads, our President walked bowlegged on the ship’s deck in a green jumpsuit looking astonishingly like Ham, first chimp in space.

It is really quite disgraceful of Palast to make such a comparison to Ham, a perfectly respectable hero-chimp-astronaut.

Beyond his bombast, Palast clearly has excellent investigative instincts and deep national security sources. His investigations of Exxon and Enron helped blow the whistle on major scandals of the 1990’s. His analysis of the Bin Laden’s and Bush’s as motivated by the same oil-baron class interests is similar to the thesis of fellow BBC contributor Adam Curtis’ documentary The Power of Nightmares which we reviewed in Current in January, 2006. Palast says:

Fear is the sales pitch for many products…Better than toothpaste that makes your teeth whiter than white, this stuff will make us safer than safe… Real security for life’s dangers–from a national health insurance program to ending oil sheiks’ funding of bomb-loving “charities”–would take a slice of the profits of the owning classes, the Lockheeds, the ChoicePoints and the tiny-town big shot who owns the ferry company. The War on Terror has become class war by other means.

Palast’s investigation of ChoicePoint alleges this organization grew out of the now-officially-defunct “Total Information Awareness Office” at DARPA. He associates ChoicePoint with the database techniques used to “suppress” votes by millions of legally registered Democratic voters in the 2004 election.

Palast ties the war in Iraq to oil–not to an attempt to sell the oil but rather, to prevent it from being sold in order to drive up prices. He points out that there is no oil shortage geologically–world proven reserves, he says, top 1.189 trillion barrels. That’s 49,938,000,000,000 gallons of oil remaining by my calculation. He quotes Mobil Oil heir Lewis Lapham of Harper’s as saying that “we have been ‘running out of oil’ since the days when we drained it from whales”. Palast later refutes, or refines, his own theory in an afterword called “Return to Hubbert’s Peak: Why Palast is Wrong”.

Greg Palast’s website may be found at http://www.gregpalast.com/

Armed Madhouse is a work to taste, chew, and enjoy. A troubling work by a troubled man, and wicked funny. But I repeat myself.

Ham:
Ham


Bush:

Bush

You be the judge!

see also: keyword “Andrew Meyer” on scanlyze

Copyright © 2007, 2008 Henry Edward Hardy

A version of this article has previously appeared in Current.

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23 January, 2008 Posted by | Allen Ginsberg, Andrew Meyer, Armed Madhouse, BBC, book, Bush, ChoicePoint, DARPA, Don't Taze Me Bro, economics, Greg Palast, Ham the Chimp, Howl, media, news, oil, politics, review, scanlyze, taser, Thomas A Swift Electric Rifle, torture, Total Information Awareness, war | 1 Comment

The Children of Húrin: Tolkien’s Tragic Saga Shows a Darker Side to his Fantasy

Tolkien’s Tragic Saga Shows a Darker Side to his Fantasy

The Children of Húrin
Houghton Mifflin Company
2007

Henry Edward Hardy

The Children of Húrin is a tragedy written by JRR Tolkien. The book chronicles the destruction of the family of the noble Húrin of Dor-lómin, a human counselor and ally of the noble High Elves of Beleriand.

JRR Tolkien is best known as the author of the beloved classics The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The Hobbit, published in 1937, and the three-volume Lord of the Rings, published in the 1950’s, tell the tales of two notable hobbits, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, and their adventures. The Lord of the Rings is set against the backdrop of older tales which Tolkien started writing in 1916-1918.

The young Tolkien experienced the horror and madness of war while serving in the Great War. After contracting trench fever following the Battle of the Somme, Tolkien was returned to England for convalescence. It was at this time that he courted and wed his teenage sweetheart Edith Mary Bratt, and began writing the posthumously-published Book of Lost Tales. It is the juxtaposition of the joy Tolkien felt in the fields of flowering hemlock at Roos with Edith and the remembered horrors of the war in which most of his friends had died, which provided the inspiration for The Children of Húrin.

The writing in The Children of Húrin is archaic in style, with the characters declaiming with great intensity. The fall of the House of Húrin begins with a great battle, called the Battle of Unnumbered Tears in which,

…all the hosts of Angband swarmed against them, and they bridged the stream with their dead, and encircled the remnants of Hithlum as a gathering tide about a rock. There, as the Sun westered and the shadows of the Ered Wethrin grew dark, Huor fell pierced with a venomed arrow in the eye, and all the valiant men of Hador were slain about him in a heap, and the Orcs hewed off their heads and piled them as a mound of gold in the sunset.

Last of all Húrin stood alone. Then he cast aside his shield, and seized the axe of an orc-captain and wielded it two-handed, and it is sung that the axe smoked in the black blood of the troll-guard of Gothmog until it withered and each time Húrin slew he cried aloud: ‘Aure entuluva! Day shall come again!

But even mighty Húrin fell at the last and was captured alive. Unable to break him, Morgoth placed a curse against Húrin and all his folk and then placed Húrin on a great peak whereby by dark arts Húrin, powerless, beheld what transpired to his family in the world below. Thus the curse of Morgoth begins the destruction of Húrin and his wife, brave Morwen and their beautiful children Túrin and Nienor.

Tolkien was a professor at Merton College, Oxford in English language and literature and was a scholar and translator of Anglo-Saxon texts such as Beowulf and The Battle of Maldon. Tolkien saw the ultimate expression of Anglo-Saxon heroism in the man who goes to certain doom in battle against a vastly superior foe, because honor and duty demand it. The Children of Húrin resembles many tragedies, from Oedipus to Njal’s Saga to the Kalevala, in the depiction of the character of heroic men who strive to overcome fate or the malice of one of the Gods, or Valar, as Tolkien calls his angelic demiurges.

Much of the text of The Children of Húrin has been previously published in the book Unfinished Tales and in the tomes of son Christopher Tolkien’s 12-volume History of Middle-earth. Christopher Tolkien has done a fine job of editing and restoring his father’s unfinished tale of Húrin and his progeny. The American edition is handsomely illustrated by Alan Lee.

The Children of Húrin is the work of a young Tolkien made wise and bitter by the dreadful experiences of war. The Children of Húrin is acrid and tragic, but contains many passages of great vigor and heart-catching beauty. Highly recommended.

A version of this review was previously published in Current and Electric Current.

Copyright © 2007 Henry Edward Hardy

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12 August, 2007 Posted by | Anglo-Saxon, Beowulf, book, Children of Hurin, dragon, dwarf, elf, fantasy, Hurin, JRR Tolkien, literature, Lord of the Rings, LOTR, Middle-Earth, orc, review, saga, Túrin, The Children of Húrin, Tolkien, tragedy | Leave a comment

Murder and Mystery in Medieval Cambridge: Mistress of the Art of Death

Murder and Mystery in Medieval Cambridge:
Mistress of the Art of Death

Ariana Franklin
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2007

reviewed by Henry Edward Hardy

Mistress of the Art of Death (G. P. Putnam, 2007) is an engrossing yarn of skullduggery and forensic pathology in 12th-Century Cambridge, England. The protagonist is one Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar or “Dr. Trotula”, a physician and “doctor to the dead” from Salerno in the Kingdom of Sicily.

Adelia and her companions, Simon, a Jewish Italian “fixer” and Mansur, an Algerian eunuch, are sent on a mission by the King of Sicily to the aid of the Jews of Cambridge. This is not the Cambridge of the eponymous University. This is an earlier Cambridge, a prosperous merchant town with a small port, several Roman roads, a native wool industry and a Jewish quarter.

Adelia and her companions must redeem the Jews of Cambridge, who are interned in the local Royal Castle while under suspicion of murder and child crucifixion. She must gain the trust of the local people while investigating the awful murders and fending off the mostly unwelcome attentions of the local knights and crusaders.

The recreation of medieval life is serviceable, but as the author notes in an afterword there are a number of anachronisms. The town itself wasn’t known as “Cambridge” until hundreds of years after the time depicted. Nor would the term “doctor” have been used at that time for a physician or surgeon.

Trotula of Salerno was the reputed author of an authoritative text on women’s medicine, the Diseases of Women (Passionibus Mulierum Curandorum), also known as the Trotula Major. It is disappointing that Franklin did not acknowledge in the afterword, and odd that most reviewers have not noted, that the protagonist was based on the character of an historical author and scholar.

Mistress of the Art of Death starts with a curious sort of “over the shoulder” first person plural: “Here they come. From down the road we can hear harnesses jingling and see dust rising into the warm spring sky”. This seemed promising but likely to be a difficult conceit to carry throughout, and indeed the narrative soon assumes the more usual third person singular, only to return to the curious “we” form at the end. One suspects the heavy axe of an editor has been at work here to condense and commercialize what was probably once a bloodier, scarier, and less broadly accessible novel.

The character of Adelia presented here is that of a modern woman, scientific, irreligious, compassionate, egalitarian, and humanitarian. We don’t have the sense here that this “Dr. Trotula” would subscribe to the view presented in the Trotula Major that women are more susceptible to disease due to the “curse of Eve” resulting from the apple in the Garden of Eden. The character of the protagonist is being twisted to conform to a set of modern (or post-modern) sensibilities which would have been peculiar even to the enlightened Eleanor of Aquitaine or Empress Maud. When the book overreaches to appeal to modern sensibilities it produces a jarring effect which disturbs the “willing suspension of disbelief”

When Roger Picot, a knight of the Crusades and the erstwhile love interest, opines about what the crusades are achieving, the author is not talking only about the medieval crusades, but giving an allegory of the Iraq war: “They’re inspiring such a hatred amongst Arabs who used to hate each other that they’re combining the greatest force against Christianity the world has ever seen. It’s called Islam.”

Mistress of the Art of Death is particularly redolent of Ivanhoe, written by Sir Walter Scott and published in 1819. This novel chronicles the adventures of a young Saxon noble, Ivanhoe, in 12th century England. In Ivanhoe the essential dramatic conflict is the same as in Mistress of the Art of Death: Jews are accused of murder and witchcraft and held in the castle while the protagonist must solve the mystery while protecting the weak and innocent around themselves, as well as guarding their own reputation.

The character of King Henry Plantagenet in Mistress of the Art of Death is given sympathetic treatment as a democratically-minded monarch who falls prey to occasional carpet-chewing fits of madness. It is interesting to compare the more subtle and devious depiction of Henry in the play A Lion In Winter by James Goldman which was made into the sublime 1968 movie with Peter O’Toole as Henry and Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Mistress of the Art of Death is a well-written and engaging book which offers a peephole into the goodness and depravity, enlightenment and ignorance of an imagined world of England, 900 years ago.

A version of this article appeared previously in Current Magazine and on Electric Current.

Copyright © 2007 Henry Edward Hardy

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6 March, 2007 Posted by | 11th century, A Lion In Winter, Ariana Franklin, book, books, Cambridge, Eleanor of Aquitaine, England, fiction, history, Ivanhoe, Mistress of the Art of Death, murder, mystery, pathology, review, Sir Walter Scott, Trotula Major | Leave a comment

Everything is Not Going to be OK: Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly

Everything is Not Going to be OK:
A Scanner Darkly

by Henry Edward Hardy

Richard Linklater’s film, A Scanner Darkly (2006) explores the boundaries of consciousness and identity. Based on the book by Phillip K. Dick, it revolves around the character of Agent Fred, who has been assigned to infiltrate a California commune in order to discover the ultimate origin and means of production of a new powerful psychoactive drug, “Substance D”.

—Note: spoilers follow—

Substance D produces hallucinations and dissociation between the two hemispheres of the brain. As in the book, The Erasers by Alain Robbe-Grillet, the officer turns out to be tracking himself. Agent Fred ends up investigating his alter ego, Substance D dealer Bob.

Phillip Dick was a methamphetamine user and suffered from visions and visitations as he describes in the afterward of the book. He was also a prophet and a very fine writer. His works have been made into some notable science fiction movies such as Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report. Dick, like novelist John Brunner were social critics and visionaries who in the 1970s foresaw a 2000s with a “war on drugs” in which the government suppressive apparatus and the drug kingpins are ultimately one and the same.

The film is live action heavily overlaid with computer graphics. The result is beautiful, but also psychotic and disturbing. Linklater uses a “digital Rotoscoping” process invented by MIT Media Lab guru Bob Sabiston, and earlier used by Linklater in his 2001 film, Waking Life. Produced by Stephen Soderbergh and George Clooney, A Scanner Darkly is a subversive canvass for provocative, and one might say paranoid, ideas and images.

The phrase, “a scanner darkly” is a reference to 1 Corinthians 13:12, For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. A common enough conceit, and one which features in many other “through the looking glass” tales, notably the manga Ghost in the Shell. But an interesting taking off point for a further exploration of consciousness, and the social construction (or destruction) of reality.

A Scanner Darkly (IMDB)
A Scanner Darkly (wikipedia)
A Scanner Darkly (Rotten Tomatoes)

A version of this article appeared previously in Current Magazine and on Electric Current.

Copyright © 2006-2007 Henry Edward Hardy

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28 February, 2007 Posted by | A Scanner Darkly, Bob Sabiston, book, books, drugs, George Clooney, media, MIT Media lab, movies, paranoia, Phillip K. Dick, review, Richard Linklater, Rotoscope, Stephen Soderbergh, Substance D, video | 1 Comment