Friday, July 26, 2013


Anybody remember the Millennium?  I don’t mean the turn—several years back—of the year/century/millennium, but the bright promise our world seemed to hold in those lost, halcyon days at the end of the 20th Century.  Remember the Peace Dividend?  The many improvements that would be wrought with the billions of dollars we’d be saving now that the Cold War had ended? 

Remember the fall of Apartheid in South Africa and how optimistic we were when we learned that the world finally produced enough food to feed everyone (enough indeed, to make us all very fat)?  All it took, we thought, was some tweaking of the system and hunger would be rendered a thing of the past.  

Now I grant you, some of these were hopelessly naïve, but many of us looked to the coming millennium with a sense of great optimism.  True, there were people who held the opposite view.  Chief among them were two factions: the Techno-Apocalyptics—who believed that a glitch in the programming of most computers (the dreaded Y2k Bug) would send us back to a technological stone ageand the Religious Apocalyptics, who believed that the world would literally end and evil people would be cast into Perdition—but only after the righteous were spirited away to Heaven in a Divine Rapture. 

These were, however, a minority.  As I said, most of us were optimistic in those days, albeit perhaps naïvely.

So what happened when the new millennium arrived?  I don’t need to tell you.  Two stolen presidential elections, terrorist attacks, two wars, the economy in a nosedive, the gap between rich and poor widening, the mortgage crisis, record high gas prices, skyrocketing food costs threatening millions with starvation, a spying apparatus that has compiled a dossier on literally everyone, environmental rape (e.g. mountaintop removal, clear-cut logging, fracking; etc.), genocide in Africa, and on and on and on. 


Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if many of these disasters didn’t exist, if only in nascent form, in the last millennium.  But I’m by no means the first to opine that things took a decidedly darker turn after the year 2000.  

So what caused all of this?  Well, after several years of Deep Thinking and Ponderous Reflection, your intrepid reporter has found an answer to this depressing riddle.

Movies like The Sixth Sense, and TV shows like The Hitch-Hiker (that famous Inger Stevens episode of The Twilight Zone), reflect a common theme in the folklore of many peoples ‘round the world.  To wit: those who are dead but don’t know it.  Now, the characters in these two stories eventually realized they’d died, but there are many more tales to be found in ghost lore where the people never learn of their demise.  These poor, lost souls go on haunting the same places they frequented in life—presumably for eternity.

…And that, in a nutshell, is my theory.  The friggin’ preachers and religious wackos were right!  At the turn of the millennium, we all died and went to Hell.  Just like the people in those stories, some catastrophe or act of God snuffed us one and all, only we don’t know it. 

And we’ve been drop-kicked into the fiery pit as punishment for our personal sins and our acquiescence to the Evil Deeds of our leaders.  Beelzebub knows that our punishment will be most keenly felt if we don’t realize we’re in Hell, if we think we’re just having a temporary run of bad luck.  If we knew we were damned, our hopes couldn’t be dashed again and again because we wouldn’t have any.

And what better example of this dashed hope can we find than with the Obama administration?  Old Sparky got our hopes up by offering us a bright, articulate man with the look and manner of wisdom and integrity.  He promised to roll back the abuses of his predecessor and restore our nation to a Path of Righteousness.  And as our first African-American president, he gave us hope that we had come one step closer to our dream of equality and opportunity for all. 

Our reward?  More of the same.  Much more of it.  He didn’t quench the hellfire that torments us, he stoked it (presumably via an unmanned drone strike).  In spite of his many promises, he didn't renounce the abuses of the past, but embraced and enlarged them.  Hey, they don’t call Satan the Great Deceiver for nothing!  Who else could've found a more exquisite torment for liberals and conservatives alike? 

“But what of the Rapture?” some will ask.  “If all those apocalyptic ravings were really true, why didn’t the righteous disappear?  God’s spokespeople told us the Chosen Ones were to be lofted into the clouds in the moments before the Final Call, didn’t they?”

Well, I have an answer for that too.  When God took a look at all the religious blowhards, moral crusaders and hypocrites of their ilk, He realized that they were the least righteous of us all.  He contrasted the splendor in which they lived and the luxurious appointments of their churches against the suffering and poverty of millions of their parishioners and He knew who was there true master, their most cherished idol.  (And He got damned tired of people thinking He couldn’t handle His money, always in need of donations.  It was becoming embarrassing, I tell you.)

In short, everyone went to Hell because THERE ARE NO RIGHTEOUS PEOPLE! 

Now I admit, at first look this theory might seem farfetched, but if you think about it, all the pieces fall into place.  For example, I used to chuckle a few years ago when someone referred to Dick Cheney as the Dark Prince.  But everything becomes perfectly clear when you realize that HE REALLY IS THE DARK PRINCE!  I mean, who but the Living Embodiment of Insensate Evil would’ve carried on like he did?

Similarly, the actions of our vaunted representatives and bureaucrats in government make no sense when examined under the assumption that they are rational, moral human beings.  But their shenanigans become perfectly logical when you understand that they’re really the imps and demons of the Inferno, charged with the responsibility of making our lives—quite literally—a living Hell. 

So stop bitching about the state of the world.  It’s already ended and we’re all damned for eternity.  Now get on with your suffering, you wicked, sinful people!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Overheard in a South Philly Bar

I live in South Philadelphia, an area that’s steeped in mob history.  Just a few blocks from my apartment, Angelo Bruno, the “Gentle Don” who ruled the Philly mob for twenty years, was gunned down in front of his home.  His successor, Philip Testa was blown to bits by a nail bomb planted on his front porch just a few blocks further south.  A neighbor grew up with Nicky Scarfo.

In spite of this, in all my years here I’ve never personally witnessed anything mob related.   Sure, like everyone else I've seen lots of news reports and grisly photos depicting the depravities of the gangsters in my neighborhood, but nothing of that sort had ever occurred before my eyes. 

But I think I overheard a couple of mobsters the other night.  I was out for a walk when it started raining.  In order to avoid getting soaked, I ducked into a tiny bar, ordered a drink and went to a booth at the back of the barroom to wait out the cloudburst.

I hadn’t been there long when two men entered.  They were both big, tough looking guys dressed in expensive suits.  I suspected they were there for the same reason I was, to escape the storm.  As they squeezed into a booth near the entrance, I thought I saw the outline of pistols under their jackets.

They both looked like some Serious People, but I didn’t figure I was in any danger.  I mean, if they were there to whack someone, they would’ve come in with guns blazing and besides, the bartender and I were the only other people there.  So I felt safe in assuming they were there for mundane reasons.  Like I said, probably just waiting out the storm.

Soon after they sat down, one of them stood up and took a long, slow look around the narrow barroom.  He saw the bartender who was standing at the back of the bar but he looked right past me.  Because I was in the shadows, I don’t think he saw me. 

He sat back down and right away began talking.  Even though they barely spoke above a whisper, due to some acoustic peculiarity of the room, I could clearly hear every word they said.  It was only a few words into their exchange when I realized I was overhearing a meeting of gangsters.  They were obviously plotting some horrible crime.   

You be the judge.  Here’s how it went:

“So why’d ya call me here?”

“The Boss wants us for a very important job.”

“OK.  I’m listening.”

“He wants us to find someone for him and he’s got the entire Organization working on it.  He's pulling out all the stops and calling in all favors to catch this guy.  Nobody's to rest for a minute until it's done”

“Hmm.  And when we find the guy he wants us to, ahem, paint his house?”

“No!  This time he wants him alive.  I think he wants to make an example of him and a bullet would be merciful compared to what the Boss has planned for him!”

“So what’s this guy done that’s got the Boss so pissed off?  He some kind of rat?”

“Oh yeah!  He’s the worst kind of rat.  The king of the rats!  He knows where all the bodies are buried and he’s singin’ like a canary.  He’s already said all kinds of things that could get Our Friends into a lot of trouble.  And I don’t just mean Our Friends here at home, but Our Friends around the world.  Thousands of 'em!  Worse than that, he’s ratting out our methods as well as our names and if he keeps it up, it’ll be a lot harder for the Organization to do business.  This man needs to be Dealt With and it needs to be done quickly.  If we don't make an example of him, pretty soon all kinds of squealers will be coming out of the woodwork.  We can't have John Q. Citizen meddling in our Business."

“Man, I see what you mean.  We gotta get that guy before he ruins Our Thing!  Does the Boss think he’s in Philly?”

“No, we know where he is. Right now, he’s holed up overseas, but he can’t stay there long.  He’s gonna have to jump outta there soon and when he does, the Boss wants everybody to be ready to grab his ass and make him pay.  He’s got all the other Bosses around the world keeping their people on the lookout.  The second he sets foot on their turf, they’ll bounce him over to us so the Boss can fix his wagon.  I almost pity the poor sap!  They’re gonna make him curse his momma for ever giving him life.  Gonna rock his world and make his platters twirl!  The Boss is gonna see to that...So ya got it?”

“Yep.  Oh, I almost forgot.  What’s the rat’s name?”

“Snowden.  Edward Snowden.”

Friday, July 12, 2013


I love watching old TV shows, especially those from the days of my childhood.  I used to think it was because they were better than contemporary fare, but now I’m not so sure.  I mean, for every good show from those days like Alfred Hitchcock Presents or The Twilight Zone, there were plenty of turkeys like Gilligan’s Island and My Mother the Car.

One show I’ve been watching lately is The Outer Limits (1963-1965).  Now some installments were better than others, but the other night I watched an episode of the series that was so relevant to recent reports of mass surveillance that, were it not fifty years old, I might’ve thought it had been written by Edward Snowden or Julian Assange.

Entitled O.B.I.T., the show is about a senator who is sent to a secure military facility to investigate a murder.  While there, he also finds that people on the base and in the neighboring town are suffering from severe morale problems, with a climate of fear pervading the region and alarming levels of alcoholism, mental illness and divorce.

He discovers the reason for the problem is the Outer Band Individuated Teletracer (O.B.I.T.), a television-like device that allows a viewer to see and listen to anyone, anywhere within a 500-mile radius.  Sort of like an invisible video camera that could be directed anywhere, it enabled its users to spy on anyone they chose.

And spy they did.  That was the cause of the terrible sense of fear and hostility that had descended upon the region.  Husbands spied on wives.  Bosses spied on underlings.  Coworkers spied on each other.  As you might imagine, it came to a point where no one could trust anyone else and everyone was soon at each others’ throat. 

Worse, it turned out that there were several O.B.I.T. devices scattered around the world, each generating chaos in its wake.  In spite of the fact that its users soon realized the conflict that was being caused by the device, their curiosity and emotional insecurity compelled them to use it again and again.  One military officer admitted that he was powerless to fight his addiction to eavesdropping with O.B.I.T.

Long story short, the episode ends with the revelation that the devices were created and installed by an alien race bent on conquering our planet.  Here’s a quote from the climactic scene:

Lomax (revealed as an alien): The machines are everywhere! Oh you'll find them all, you're a zealous people. And you'll make a great show of smashing a few of them. But for every one you destroy, hundreds of others will be built. And they will demoralize you, break your spirits, create such rifts and tensions in your society that no one will be able to repair them! Oh, you're a savage, despairing planet, and when we come here to live, you friendless, demoralized flotsam will fall without even a single shot being fired. Senator, enjoy the few years left you. There is no answer. You're all of the same dark persuasion! You demand – insist – on knowing every private thought and hunger of everyone: Your families, your neighbors, everyone — but yourselves.

Wow.  And this from those quaint and innocent times when the worst you had to fear from the government was having your phone tapped or your mail opened, and only then if they suspected you of something.  Now all of our phones are tapped, all of our postal mail is photographed, and almost every interaction we have with anyone that somehow enters the digital domain—be it email, text messages, retail purchases, the web links you click, the organizations you support (or even communicate with), entries on your blog, everything you say or do on Facebook, Twitter or other social networking sites, your financial information—all of these and much more are being recorded and stored all the time.

They can even remotely activate the microphones on our cell phones, making them into bugs to listen in on nearby conversations.  The phones don't even have to be turned on for them to be able to listen.

Eerily similar to the device in The Outer limits, wouldn't you say?  Only our modern O.B.I.T. wasn’t inflicted upon us by aliens, but by our own governments.

Anybody remember J. Edgar Hoover?  He was the director of the F.B.I. from 1935-1972.  During that time, he amassed great power due to his extensive surveillance files on thousands of people, including presidents and their families, leaders of politics, industry and especially dissidents.  He used these files to perpetuate and expand his bureaucratic empire via blackmail and intimidation.  Several presidents tried to remove him from power, but they all failed because he had dirt on everyone.  That’s why F.B.I. directors are now limited to ten-year terms.  The leaders of government wanted to prevent anyone from ever again gaining such power.

The point is that, as recognized so long ago in the Outer Limit episode, such power will always corrupt its possessors.  And our governments (and the institutions they serve) now have a degree of power undreamt of by the likes of Hoover, and it cannot but be used illegitimately, to intimidate and control us. 

Of course, defenders of such surveillance will say that only a select few have access to such information and that it will only be used within narrowly defined limits in the War on Terror, but we have no way of being assured that rogue elements within the intelligence establishment won’t use this power for their own ends.  Indeed, rogue elements have already appeared in the form of Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, but thankfully their rogue activities were done in the name of freedom and openness, rather than for oppression. 

But now that the ability exists to document your every movement, every interaction with anyone on every day of your life for the rest of your life, the possibilities are endless.  Anyone who has made a small misstep in his past (and who among us has never made such mistakes?) can be targeted for blackmail and other forms of intimidation if they step out of line. 

Any politician or activist who attempts to oppose the intelligence (sic) and defense (sic) establishments will have exposed anything they’ve ever done wrong and there’s no way they can hide their past mistakes from scrutiny.  If they flirted in their youth with extreme politics of the Left or Right, downloaded raunchy porno when in their teens or did anything else that can be used against them, it will be used against them if they challenge the status quo.

This awesome power will also be used in personal feuds among competing bureaucracies within the intelligence (sic) and defense (sic) establishments, leading to ever greater levels of bureaucratic stupidity, and these are but a few of the institutional uses of the technology that spell doom for anything resembling a right to privacy..  

Other possible abuses abound.  Let’s not forget that computers can be hacked and there’s no guarantee that unauthorized personnel—both inside and outside of our countries and their governments—will also be able to use the information for an endless (and terrifying) array of purposes.  The power it conveys is impossible to resist and you can be sure it will come to be used more and more as our Masters fall under its spell.

Mr. Lomax, our alien from The Outer Limits was right.  Mass surveillance, our modern day O.B.I.T., will ultimately destroy our societies much more efficiently and completely than mere bombs or bullets.  

As Robert Anton Wilson said, “national security is the chief cause of national insecurity.” He was right and we're seeing it played out before our eyes.  He meant that when the preoccupation with national security becomes so great that everybody comes to be spying on everyone else, none of us can possibly be secure.

Welcome to Gulag Earth.

You can watch The Outer Limits here.