Happy NEW YEAR! 2012!

Happy Year of the Dragon! May this year be a Magical one for you and yours!
- Andy Boerger



Surf's Up!

My latest in the series of Pet Art Portraits, here's Momo and Luna putting their surfing skills on show in Waikiki!


Girl on a Horse

An image from an idea for a children's story I'm working on now.


The Deal That Says "Splunge!"

Remember that Monty Python skit

(and if you don't, it's here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3v0I4OQi7CQ)

where the Texas movie producer gets a bunch of screenwriters in a room and badgers them all until they are reduced to hiding under the table? The Texas producer actually reminds me a lot of the Tea Baggers. But I digress.

Terry Jones is so terrified of getting axed on the spot he shouts out “Splunge”, and then explains that it means that the idea proposed by the producer might be a terrific idea, but possibly not, and he’s not being a yes-man. Quite a word, splunge! Anyway, saves his neck.

So this deal seems to do that. It saves everybody’s neck, it can and must be leveraged to show just what a toxic element the Tea Bagger (aka The Mice That Roared) caucus is, AND it has something for everybody to hate about it, which means it also has something for everybody to LIKE about it. Except the Bagger Caucus, of course, because they are insane.

What’s more, it’s so confusing you can pretty much spin it any old damn way you want.

Personally, I haven’t quite made up my mind about it, splungily, because I have a hard time seeing how this will all play out in the future. It absolutely MUST be played out in a way that exposes the Baggers for the unreasonable folks they are, and makes them radioactive to all but the most Kool Aid slurping RWers come reelection time.

But I’m guessing I probably never WILL make up my mind about it, because I am pretty sure in the meantime, and not too far off, somebody, somewhere will manufacture the NEXT crisis du jour to seize us all by our craniums.
So, Splunge!


Katy and Tiara Get Hitched!

The latest in my series of "Pet Art" commissions, featuring the lovely Katy and the dachshund who has swept her off her feet (with his paws), Tiara.


The Innocence of the Human Body

Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
- Auden

St Francis of Assissi had, to be sure, an odd relationship with his body. As a strict ascetic, he considered it of utmost importance not to give in to its cravings for pleasure and leisure. He dubbed his own body “brother ass” and felt that it should be treated as any other domestic beast of the time. Beaten when in need of discipline, and given only coarse food upon which to subsist. He was known to curb his temptations by hurling his body into snow, or even on one occasion a briar patch which he tossed himself about in until his flesh was ripped and bleeding. However, by the time of his death, the great man had reconsidered his ill treatment of his body – his earthly vehicle – and asked the Lord to pardon him for having treated Brother Ass so cruelly. He realized that he had been indulging a fascination; an attempt to conquer that which his Creator had given him. Finally, it seems, that he who loved life and all its manifestations, had finally learned to love, or at least honor, his own organism.

Although many may feel that Francis’ relationship to his body was downright bizarre, I think it is difficult to escape the conclusion that we, in our modern age, relate to our own bodies in even more dysfunctional ways, or at least are encouraged to. We obsess over its skin layer, its most superficial aspect. Say the word “body” to a teenage male, and no doubt the image that will result is a female with Playboy-approved proportions. Or perhaps his own body, “ripped” and sculpted. It is doubtful that he will think of the intricate, mechanical wonder he inhabits, the magnificence that goes far beyond the skin layer. I’m reminded of a scuba diver, who, seated next to a friend who looked out at the ocean at sunrise and remarked at how beautiful it was, replied, “yes, and that’s only theroof!”

We indulge our bodies in exactly the way that St. Francis frowned upon, as we load up on ice cream, tortilla chips, cola, coffee and red wine. We then scan it for signs of resultant flab, and hold it up for critique alongside the impossible ideals that mass media relentlessly parades before our eyes. In magazine articles and website pages we are asked to consider which Hollywood hunk or starlet has “the best body”, when presumably the correct answer should be the one that functions best – the one that digests, eliminates, breathes, repairs, etc. most efficiently.

No greater indication of our dysfunctional relationship to our bodies can there be than the fact that we have created a trillion dollar industry that has as its sole purpose the manufacture of machines and devices that destroy and disfigure it by the millions. Our so-callled “defense industry” would perhaps be looked upon less favorably by its supporters if it were referred to, more honestly, as “the body destroying industry”. Although it has numerous competitors, perhaps the most atrocious and obscene example of this in all our sad history was the Treblinka II Death Camp in Nazi Germany. This was the Industrial Revolution meets Dante’s Inferno. For the first and only time in history an actual factory was built, with train lines leading up to it, that served no purpose other than the destruction of human bodies as quickly and “efficiently” as possible. People were carted in by the train car-load, and few lived more than 24 hours after arriving.

And these bodies that we waste and destroy so casually are near miraculous machines that are far beyond the capabilities of our greatest scientific geniuses to create or even imitate. Each cell, when it is first birthed in us, is like any other cell in our bodies, yet each knows how to evolve through exactly the right iterations so that it becomes part of our hair, our eyes, our lungs, our genitals, etc. How do the cells do this? Nobody knows, but it is likely the answer will someday be found in the portion of our DNA that biologists have lovingly referred to as “junk”.

We punish bodies mercilessly, and yet throughout the history of our species they have never sinned in any way. They serve us faithfully to the fullest extent they are capable at any given moment, until they can no longer. When they long for sleep we deprive them of it. When they need healthy natural food to stay strong, we insist that they make do on starchy, sugary, salty substances they have little use for. We keep them chained to chairs when they long to move about in the open air, as they were evolved to do. If we treated our pets the same way we treat our bodies we would be considered negligent, at best. And we punish bodies for the transgressions of the mind. I am opposed to the death penalty because I believe it is always a miscarriage of justice, as the body merely did what it was told, no matter how heinous the crime. To the body, slicing a cucumber or slicing into a human finger is essentially the same act, insofar as it merely follows the instructions of a healthy, or deranged, mind. An eye for an eye is thus two outrages, not one.

I am only writing to say that human bodies are innocent. We have yet, as a species, to demonstrate our worthiness to inhabit them. We should never harm them in any way.


Atlas Buzzed

While scientists remain puzzled as to the cause of the dramatic decline in honeybee populations in North America and elsewhere, some are speculating the cause may very much be human related; however, not technological, but philosophical. It appears that “Randism”, a trend that has recently exploded on the American political landscape may similarly have caught on among our bee brethren. It seems that the reason for the decline of hive populations is that many bees are now practicing “the virtue of selfishness”, keeping the nectar they collect for themselves and not returning to the hives they emerged from. These bees consider the notion that they should return for the benefit of the whole colony “evil altruism” and look down upon the “Hive-ists” who would act for a goal larger than themselves. They argue that “there is no such thing as a species” and that it all comes down to individual bees and their pursuit of their own happiness. When it is pointed out to them that this could result in the extinction of honey bees and have cataclysmic results on worldwide crops, they scoff and say, “and this is my problem how?”

Meanwhile, more religious-minded bees are concerned about how to carry on in the aftermath of what they regard as “The Great Rapture” that has decimated their populations. “Left Bee-hive”, the bee adaptation of the “Left Behind” series of books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, paints a bleak picture of life on earth after the Chosen Bees have been taken up to their Maker.

So, will it be Rand that the bees turn to, or the Good Book? “Why should I care?”, a distraught bee who agreed to be interviewed for this article lamented. “It’s so hopeless that I just may go off somewhere and sting someone!”


Satomi's Tea Party

My friend Satomi, the photographer who took the pictures of Rosie I posted a while back, is the subject of my latest pet art project, along with her two pups, Shishimaru and Momo. I managed to sneak Rosie in there too! Check out Satomi's blog at


The Lonely Ape

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left.”
- (attributed to)Einstein

My morning yesterday was like so many others, riding a crowded train out from suburban Tokyo to neighboring Yokohama for work. As usual, I would have to wait several stops before managing a seat. So as I stood in the cramped aisle in front of a row of seats and watched the scenery change, I happened to glance over at the kangaroo standing next to me. He was reading The Kangaroo Times, and, since I don’t read Kangaroo, I could only get the barest notion from the photographs of what seems to be the chief concerns of kangaroos these days. Some sort of major kangaroo sporting event is going on, as well as what looks to be some sort of territorial dispute in a place I assumed to be part of the Australian outback. When he noticed I was poking my nose into his newspaper, the kangaroo seemed a bit miffed, and ever so slightly folded his paper as if to demonstrate to me it was off limits. Not wanting to make a kangaroo angry, I quickly looked in the opposite direction and found something frightfully interesting about the ad for after shave lotion above the luggage rack.

I’m not quite sure which is more absurd; the scenario I just described above, or the fact that for the vast majority of human beings alive today, nothing even remotely similar will ever occur for them – an encounter with another species of animal, in both creatures’ natural environment, on equal terms. We have fashioned a world that has become so people-centric that some of us go through whole days without ever seeing another species from the animal kingdom. Those of us who don’t have pets might go a few days without even thinking about other creatures, aside from the eating of them. Many will not regard the food before them as a once living animal. Hamburgers and chicken nuggets so completely disguise the fact that This Once Breathed that it is as if food originates in supermarkets and restaurant kitchens. No other species lives like this on our planet; so isolated, so disconnected from other creatures. A hefty toll is being paid for this, I believe. In fact, I believe that one of the main reasons there is so much alienation, depression and other forms of mental illness plaguing the human species is because our relationship to our fellow creatures has become so distorted. We are a lonely species.

To see this loneliness given expression, we need only look at children’s stories and entertainment. When I was a child, my television friends were Bugs Bunny, Foghorn Leghorn, Daffy Duck, Scooby Doo and Bullwinkle. Especially Bugs. Now, Bugs is a funny fellow, as are the other characters I loved, but he’s nothing like an actual rabbit, even in appearance, is he? Why even depict him, or any cartoon character, as an animal? Why Mighty Mouse, Woody Woodpecker, Eeyore, the White Rabbit, etc.? Couldn’t they all be people? They basically are people, just ones wearing funny animal suits.

What does this tell us? That we long to reconnect to animals. We miss them, and as long as we do, we’ll insert them into our culture any way we can. On greeting cards, calendars, animated programs, children’s book illustrations, T-shirts, etc., etc. We’ll also put them in zoos, basically prisons for innocents, and go to gawk at them in an odd and wholly inappropriate gesture of reconnection. Our popular culture indicates a deep yearning within us to restore something beautiful that has been lost.

To be sure, the reasons for our isolation are clear and reasonable enough. Animals threatened us. Whether lions, tigers or bears, whether locusts, snakes or scorpions, whether disease carrying rats, flies or birds, we built our cities and homes to shelter us from the danger so many of our fellow inhabitants of this world presented. But we’ve gone too far. We have created a sterile, barren environment. Wherever you are, sitting right now and reading your computer screen, try to imagine this same spot of land five hundred years ago, and for tens of thousands of years before that. It was very likely a lush forest with a vibrant, cosmopolitan atmosphere of squawking, hiding, howling, hunting, slithering, jumping animals. The land pulsated. The animals had an alertness we can only dream about, knowing that every move they made or failed to make could be fatal. In this threatening world of predators and prey, still they managed to mate and raise children. Surrounded by creatures utterly different from them, they shared and persevered. Consciously or simply instinctually, they participated in life, just as their descendants still do in the vast but ever shrinking expanses of forest that yet survive on our world. But for us, our world has been reduced to slabs, boxes, and slick surfaces. We see a spider or cockroach run along our walls, or a line of ants moving back and forth across our floor and we nearly freak out. “EWwww! How did these animals get in here?”

Our isolationist course has taken us to, and perhaps beyond, the tipping point. The latest hypothesis to explain the disappearance of honey bees in some parts of the world is that mobile phone “noise” is disrupting the bees’ homing sensors. Once they leave the hive to gather pollen, they can’t find their way back. The hives die. It’s hard to proffer a more essential species than the honeybee. Most of the world’s crops depend on them for pollination. So, will it be mobile phones that ultimately do us in? If so, I see a profoundly sad irony in that. Our isolated, lonely species, robbing the planet of its life force, while we go on chattering, chattering, chattering among ourselves.



La Fiesta en una Cantina!

Here's my latest Pet Art image, done for my friend Emari, of her two chihuahuas, Cinnamon and Milky, in honor of Cinnamon's 6th birthday. Feliz Cumpleanos, Cinnamon!


Rosie Pics!

Here are some great pictures, taken by my new friend Satomi, when we met at the Tama River a couple weeks ago. Satomi is a professional photographer, and she was snapping away like mad! So I'm sure I'll post some more of her pictures here from time to time.

Here's Satomi's website address:


To The Victor

This year’s NBA Finals match-up has enough back stories to fill out a season ofThe Sopranos. It has the potential to be one of the most exciting American professional sports events of the last ten years. Gone from this year’s finals are the old, reliable Lakers and Celtics. They have been vanquished, nay, trounced, by the two teams that will be slugging it out in a best of seven series inside their glitzy sunbelt city arenas, the Dallas Mavericks (Western Conference) and the Miami Heat (Eastern Conference). Those two teams have met in the Finals before, in 2006, with Miami winning four games in a row after losing the first two. So the Mavs, still featuring many of the same players from the earlier series, will have revenge on their minds, without question. But this season even that little slice of drama must take a back seat to the bigger saga that will unfold. Call this one The Legacy Series.

The two teams each have a player who has simply risen above the numerous other great stars who have played throughout this post season, so much so that each has looked like the proverbial Man on a Mission. And, indeed, both are.Lebron James and Dirk Nowitski are two of the best players ever to lace up, just coming short of belonging in the same conversation as such greats asMichael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, et al. But, like the diploma-less Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, they both lack something those other players all have – a championship ring (actually, multiple ones). Naturally, only one is going to come away with that this year, and since neither wants to retire with the unenviable epithet of Greatest Player To Have Never Won A Championship, we fans can look forward to two warriors playing their hearts, guts, spleens and toenails out in order to be the last man standing. Let the battle begin!

Rust Belt Warrior vs. Bavarian Giant

It is hard to imagine a more picturesque city than the medieval fortress town of Wurzburg, Germany, nor one less so than grimy Akron, Ohio. These cities, similar in population sizes, but very little else, are the hometowns of the two main protagonists in the drama that is about to unfold. Dirk, the seven foot giant from Wurzburg, has a sports pedigree as stately and impressive as the town he hails from. His mother was a professional basketball player,while his father was a handball player who represented Germany at the highest level. His sister is a former track and field star/basketball player who now works for the NBA’s International TV division. Conversely, Lebron’s background matches his town’s tough, hard scrabble condition. The only child of an unwed teenage mother, if it weren’t for his phenomenal athletic abilities (he could probably start in the NFL if he chose to), it’s doubtful he would have risen above the hard knocks of his upbringing to be anything more than just another struggling nobody in a region plagued by one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Instead, he’s one of the world’s best known athletes, with more money than God. Only in America, as they say.

What a Ring Means to Dirk:
Dirk (32, 13th year in the NBA) is widely considered to be the best European basketball player to ever play in the NBA, if not the greatest European baller of all time. His career in the league, all with the Mavs, has been stellar. His individual stats, as well as the achievements of the team he plays for, are impressive enough to place him alongside the other great stars of his generation, Kobe Bryant (five championships), Tim Duncan (four championships), and Kevin Garnett (one championship). So why no ring? The answer to that gets to the heart of the nastiest dragon that our Bavarian giant is out to slay this year, the perception that he is soft, especially when it counts the most. That his teams fold in the playoffs, that he as an individual can’t handle the increased pressure and physicality of playoff style basketball. Going back to that ’06 Finals series with the Heat, Dirk’s Mavs were up by two games, and well on their way to winning Game 3, with a comfortable lead going into the fourth quarter. A 3-0 edge would have been an insurmountable deficit for the Miami squad (led up to that point by Shaq O’Neal), one that no NBA team has ever fought back from. But what happened next is legendary in NBA folklore. The young star, Dwayne Wade, Shaq’s sidekick up until that point, found a new gear, playing at a Jordanesque level from that point onward, never looking back as the Heat came back to win that one, and the next three as well. Wade, almost overnight, became the biggest star in the NBA, and Dirk became a mere footnote to the younger star’s ascension.

Wade is still playing for the Heat, who are now supercharged with the added talent of James, and Chris Bosh, all three of whom entered the league in 2003. It is Wade, more so than Lebron, who Dirk undoubtedly feels the need to vanquish. A championship will give him what he needs to move into the conversation as an all time great, and the chance to win it over the very same thorn in his side who kept it from him last time around would have a taste more satisfying than the most robust Bavarian beer. As for Wade, his career after that championship has dipped a bit, and in a sort of payback the Mavs have pretty much owned the Heat in the regular season ever since their humiliation in ’06. Wade would love to prove himself once more on the sport’s biggest stage. But there is someone else on his team who wants redemption so much more…..

What a Ring Means to Lebron:
We all make bad decisions from time to time. But while the rest of us merely make decisions, Lebron James (26, 8th year in the NBA), disastrously, made “The Decision”. Sticking a dagger into the heart of the very region he hails from, Lebron announced, on a shamelessly self aggrandizing hour-long ESPN TV special, that he was leaving the team he had played for ever since entering the league, the Cleveland Cavaliers, in order to “take his talents” to Miami, to hook up with buddies and fellow greats Wade and Bosh, in search of, in his own words, “multiple championships”. Rarely has a star’s popularity fallen so spectacularly as Lebron’s did with that one decision, and how he went about announcing it. He instantly went from being one of the most liked players in the league to easily the most reviled. He left the Cavs without ever getting them the trophy they badly needed, not only for the team, but for the entire city. Cleveland, Ohio, among all professional sports loving American cities, is famously “cursed”, and neither its Browns, Indians nor Cavs have been able to win a national championship since all the way back in 1948, though they came close many times (most recently when Lebron led his ragtag bunch of non-star teammates all the way to the Finals in 2008, where they were summarily swept by the vastly superior Tim Duncan-led San Antonio Spurs). Unfairly, the hopes of an entire sports loving city were placed on one young man’s shoulders. If he had managed to deliver the goods, he would have become a city hero like no other, worshipped for decades. Instead, he made The Decision. He made it clear to his fans that he just didn’t see a championship happening there, not without a better supporting cast. He had lobbied buddy Wade to leave Miami and join him in Cleveland. But. Nobody leaves Miami to go to Cleveland. Lebron did what he felt he had to do, on a personal level, and a city’s dream died.

He couldn’t possibly have imagined how big the hit to his reputation would be. He was booed in every arena he played in, each time he touched the ball. It was not that suddenly everybody fell in love with the city of Cleveland. It just more or less became a de rigeur thing to do, to boo Lebron James, a reverse form of Beatlemania. The purpose of all the scorn was to show him how arrogant and cocky the folks in the stands perceived him to be. To let him know how unfair they felt it was to the rest of the league for such an All Star team to assemble. Wade and Bosh got some of it too, but Lebron, who always seems to court a brighter spotlight, received the lion’s share. When the Heat started out badly, people were all too delighted to see him struggle, as if he were being zapped by karma. When they got it together and showed the greatness that was more or less assumed of them, people hastened to call him a “quitter” who couldn’t win without help. He was suddenly Robin to Wade’s Batman (although this was never the case on the court, where both players have played equally well). Jordan and Magic, two of the top five all time players by any standard, took turns announcing that they would never have done such a thing, and tut tutted about how this new generation of stars just don’t seem to have the same competitive instinct they did. One can only guess, but the criticism of those two elites probably stung Lebron more than all the booing of the mere mortals in the stands. It seemed that they were preempting Lebron from ever entering their club, no matter how many championships he may end up winning before hanging up his sneakers.

Ascending Mt. Redemption

Although both the Mavs and the Heat looked impressive enough in the regular season, as did Dirk and Lebron, it wasn’t until the second round of the playoffs that their hunger began to show. For Dirk, that meant facing off against a man whose shadow he has lived under nearly his entire career. Kobe Bryant has already placed himself in the conversation for All Time Top Ten, by virtue of the five championships his Los Angeles Lakers have won during his tenure. A title this year would have made him the equal of the man he is often compared to, Michael Jordan, in at least one respect. Not only would it have been his sixth title, the same number as Jordan, it would have been his second three-peat, three consecutive titles in a row, exactly the same way Jordan won his six rings. Going into his series against the Mavs, it was widely thought that it was Kobe, not Dirk, who was the man on the mission to place his name indelibly among the immortals. What happened instead sent shock waves throughout the basketball hierarchy. Not only did Kobe not play magnificently, thereby demonstrating that he understood the significance of what he was aiming for, rather he turned in an anticlimactic performance that has basketball fans all over the world convinced that he’ll never be another Jordan. Meanwhile, Dirk was dominant. He was the best player on the court throughout so much of the series that the Lakers appeared unable to defend against him. The result: a four game sweep of the two time defending champions. Basketball fans quickly took note; Dirk wants it this year.

Lebron was on a parallel mission. He needed to do with his new team what he hadn’t been able to as a Cavalier: vanquish the Boston Celtics. The C’s had actually created the template for multiple superstars-led teams that the Heat simply took to its logical conclusion. In 2008, perennial All Stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined the great Paul Pierce in Boston to form a team capable of what no one of them had been able to do so far in their careers, hoist a Finals trophy. Once they got together, they did that in their very first season, beating James’ Cavs on the way. Just as they did in James’ last playoff series as a Cav (before losing to the Lakers in the ’10 Finals). The C’s both played the role of spoiler to Lebron’s ascension, and made it clear to him what he needed to do to get past them – hook up with his own All Star buddies. It was a smart move. While the Mavs were busy sweeping the champs, the Heat’s fearsome threesome was having its way with the league’s original Big Three. Lebron & Co. made the other guys look old, slow, and human. The Heat were never meaningfully challenged, and the series lasted a mere five games.

Advancing to the next round, Dirk and Lebron were once again on parallel courses, as they faced off against the league’s two young guns. Dirk outplayed two time scoring leader Kevin Durant (22), and his Oklahoma City Thunder, to earn a Finals berth. Similarly, Lebron outshone, and manhandled,Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls, another 22 year old who snagged the MVP trophy from him this season (Lebron had won it the last two years in a row). Both series lasted only five games. Dirk’s Mavs seemed in control the whole time, and Durant was held well below his scoring averages. Lebron looked terrible in the first game, a loss for the Heat, but afterwards he played spectacularly, and the Bulls never really had a chance from that point onward. By the time both the Mavs and the Heat were up 3-1, the outcome was never really in doubt, and it was clear that Dirk and Lebron were on a collision course, both desperate for something that only one can have.

And In This Corner….

So who needs the ring more? Although Dirk has played stronger all season than his similarly aged counterparts, Kobe, Duncan and Garnett, who this season have all showed signs of slowing down, Dirk’s age is very much a factor in his quest for rings. This is even more so the case of his All Star teammate, Jason Kidd, one of the greatest playmakers the game has ever seen, with by far the greatest number of “triple doubles” (double figures in points, assists and rebounds in a game) of any current player (and one of only three in league history to have more than 100). Kidd is 38, grandfatherly by league standards. All things considered, this Dallas Mavericks team is the most talented group in the league that boasts not a singer player who has ever played for a championship team. And the clock, as they say, is ticking.

Time is something that Lebron has more of. Still only 26, having come into the league directly from high school, he still has perhaps another five or six prime years left to play. On the other hand, he might not. Players who come into the league directly from high school tend to wear down a bit faster than their counterparts who had some college years. Playing in the NBA is a far more brutal experience to a player’s body, and psyche, than the NCAA, and it extracts a heavy toll on those who take the fast track. None more so than James, in that he had to pretty much be on the floor during every crucial minute of game time while with the Cavs in order for them to have a chance of winning, such was the drop-off from him to the second best player on any of the Cavs’ rosters during his tenure there. Although he still looks and plays like an immortal, a sudden decline is not unthinkable. In fact, it may be one of the most sensible of all the factors that led to his infamous Decision. Having stars alongside him to share the burdens, emotional and physical, just may be the thing that makes it possible for him to keep playing at a level necessary to earn multiple, rather than one, championships.

Meanwhile, however, Durant and Rose are smarting from the schooling they just got at the hands of Dirk and Lebron. These two young stars, born only five days apart, have done amazing work so far, to lead their teams to respective east and west semifinals appearances in only their fourth (Durant) and third (Rose) seasons. They are the new faces of the league, and they aren’t going anywhere. In fact, their defeats this year are certain to motivate them to come back even stronger next season, the taste of blood still fresh in their mouths. The possibility of a Durant/Rose rivalry, similar to the famous one between Laker Magic Johnson and Celtic Larry Bird back in the ’80s (who won eight titles between them), has the potential to give Lebron and Dirk shivers. They could end up as old news no matter which of them ends up with a trophy this year if that happens. But that is next season’s concern, and the seasons to come. Neither Durant nor Rose looked ready to take over from Dirk and Lebron when their chance arose on the big stage. At this rare point in time, when a mere sports event has such a compelling back story, all basketball fans should savor the moment. This is going to be a Clash of Titans.

There is one little extra bit of drama playing out. When Lebron finished up his contract with the Cavs, and announced his free agency, every team in the league was salivating at the prospect of signing him, but none more than the Mavs, and their brash billionaire owner Mark Cuban. It was an open secret just how much Cuban wanted Lebron on his side. We’ll never know exactly what sort of courtship ritual ensued, but it is safe to guess that a megalomaniac like Cuban didn’t take too well to being jilted. He seemed as amused as anyone early in the season when the Heat started off slow and dropped a lot of games they should have won. That was then, as the cliche goes, and this is now. The superstar he once courted is now the rival he wants his own superstar to make mincemeat out of. A few days from now he’ll be the Happiest, or the Saddest, Billionaire.


Cyber Pixies!

Here’s my tribute to those adorable, impish critters, without whom the Digital Age would seem oh-so-mundane, the cyber pixies! Just as their woodland cousins delight in visiting mischief upon humans who happen upon their forest dwellings, these little rascals are responsible for all the foibles, mishaps and just plain goofiness that occurs as we traipse through cyberspace.

Cyber pixies are the ones who induce amnesia in you just as you are about to attach a file to your outgoing email. They place all those double “and”s and “for”s into your text, after you have thoroughly proofread it! They lure important emails from prospective employers into your junk file, cause reply emails to go out from you with no message attached, and send you the exact same email three or four times. Why do they do these things? Why, because it’s fun, of course!

But where they really work their malicious magic is on the blogosphere. They perform a kind of hypnosis on online readers so they always take messages in ways they weren’t intended. They cause you to feel humiliated, angry, jealous, all those nasty human emotions you supposedly moved into online relationships to get away from! So far, the only defensive weapon humans have come up with to defeat their hypnotism is emoticons, but it’s the cyber pixies who generally get the last lol.

So the next time you have to apologize for yet again forgetting to attach a file to your email, rewrite a paragraph that suddenly and inexplicably disappeared into the ether, or spend an afternoon in a funk because of something someone wrote on a blog that you know was directed at you, blame the cyber pixies. Every computer ever created is infested with them, so you might as well just learn to live with ‘em. They’re here!


The View From The Left Hemisphere Of The Universe

After the Big Bang came the Great Darkness. In indescribable darkness, matter raced away from itself in all directions, pushing space into being as it did so. Darkly, it spun and coalesced, exploded and merged, exploded again, grew heavier, impossibly; formed stars that lived billions of years, died, and in that dying gave rise to new stars, stars that spun off particles that, trapped in orbit, coalesced into planets. Galaxies, containing billions of stars, expanding, moving away from each other, pushing at the frontiers where What Is Not yielded to What Is. Unfathomably, Improbably. And all in total darkness.

Because no one was there to see it. A spectacle of unimaginable beauty, resplendent with colors beyond our own limitations of red at one end and violet at the other, played out over billions of years, and yet this spectacle was for not. As bland as a painting of a snowflake floating in a glass of milk, or an inkblot on a lump of coal. For, for only a brief period of the many billion year history of the universe has anything been seen, anywhere, and only as the result of a chance occurrence. On our planet, and perhaps others, matter formed itself into something that could sense light, and by gradual modifications these light sensing mechanisms became more sophisticated, up to and including our own wonderful eyes. And these modifications; did they occur so that the beauty of the universe could be beheld and appreciated? No. Every modification, from the simplest eyes to the most complex, merely helped an organism secure food. Or not become food. Or perhaps a combination of the two.

Think about that for a moment. Do a gut check. Does it seem credible? That except for on our planet, and perhaps other planets similar to ours, and only in a relatively brief period of this and similar planets' histories, has the grand spectacle of the universe been even partially visible to itself? And only through the vulgar mechanism of keeping one step ahead of a mouth or a grabbing appendage? That up until the time that these modifications came about, on perhaps this planet exclusively, even though it is made up of light and its very mechanisms are circumscribed by the speed of light, the universe was completely and utterly blind?

Such a scenario lacks poetry, to say the least. That a cosmos could be at once so dazzling and yet completely invisible to itself for such a long time, only to finally become visible through the merest chance on an inconsequential rock - somehow seems decidedly unsatisfying to my poetic nature. There, where my mind is free to wander and extend beyond what is rational and explained, the above scenario seems to me to have it all backwards. Eyes, my poetic mind persuades me, do not make sight possible. On the contrary, it is sight that makes eyes possible! Eyes did not develop because, for some odd reason, in a universe that up until then had been completely blind, there was suddenly some reproductive advantage to sensing light (imagine what an extraordinary moment that must have been, and yet so under-appreciated by its experiencer. Hey, now this is interesting. Munch munch).

Rather, eyes are a (but one, I dare say) manifestation of vision. It was not mindless food-seeking that brought them into being. Vision gave them birth, no less so than a painter's vision gives birth to a masterpiece, and an inventor's vision gives birth to a flying machine. Speaking of "flying machines", in the same vein I posit that birds did not develop wings because there were things to eat up there. Birds rose to fill the sky because the sky, because flight, summoned them.

Viewed through the lens of reason, such notions are risible and wholly passe. Where is the evidence to support such outlandish claims? Where do these bizarre notions of vision and flight come from? Obviously, they don't come from a scientific theory or an experiment, or from an objective, wholly rational observation of naturally occurring phenomena. Rather, they come from an area of human consciousness which science knee-jerkedly meets with cool skepticism, if not outright disgust: intuition, subjective feelings, and our mysterious human quality of looking for meaning in the cosmos.

Yet, how firm is the ground upon which science so confidently, even arrogantly, dismisses such rival attributes of human nature? For someone who is convinced that science is man's greatest achievement, and moreover is our greatest hope for improving our condition in the future, the very question probably sounds preposterous, perhaps even insane. Nevertheless, I will dare to ask: as reason and intuition are both essential aspects of a fully human mind, can one arrogate to itself an exclusive "rightness" from which to dismiss the properties the other might bring toward understanding the universe which we inhabit, and our relationship to it?

Science, as we have come to define it, has a very brief history. For all practical purposes, it begins in ancient Greece, notably with Socrates, and his method of questioning hypotheses. From there we move to Aristotle, who applied the Socratic Method, with his own modifications, to a variety of fields such as ethics, poetry, politics, etc., and most famously, science. The derivation of the word is perhaps related to cutting, or more accurately, separating. The Greeks, with Aristotle first among them, learned about their world by dissecting and examining it, reducing it to its parts, separating what could be determined to that point, and then investigating more fully into those "parts" which remained mysterious. Aristotle applied this method to zoology, anatomy, botany, and pretty much all aspects of the physical world. What he accomplished, with his stellar intellect and unquenchable curiosity, is mind boggling.

Aristotle's discoveries and theories went on to fuel scientific inquiry for centuries. His vast achievements functioned as a template for the Renaissance. The great Arab scientist Alhazen refined the scientific method into its current form roughly a thousand years ago. It came into its fullest expression through the Italian super-genius Galileo in the early seventeenth century. Completing the process, the great inventions, such as the telescope and the microscope, along with the higher mathematics of Newton, arrived on the scene in the century after Galileo's achievements, giving birth to the era that we live in now, the Scientific Age. That's pretty much the extent of it. The entire history of science (as we think of it), subtracting its fallow period in the Dark Ages, is less than two thousand years, roughly one percent of the history of our species. The duration that it has been the dominant way of seeing the world is much shorter, perhaps no more than three hundred years.

Given such a short history, we can only conclude that science, according to science, was not selected for in the human species. One must keep in mind that according to our present understanding of how natural selection works, traits only pass the test of selectivity if they help the extant, hosting organism to survive. Ask any biological scientist, and he or she will hasten to assure you that evolution doesn't know what it is doing. It has no grand plan, no concept of a future, no notion of how newly acquired traits may spread among the entire species; no such scheme. Rather, it plays out one groping, clawing, devouring organism at a time.

Our large, multifaceted brains were selected for, most certainly. The knowledge we needed to explore caves, to use weapons, to hunt, to organize against stronger predators, was provided by those brains. The human resourcefulness and inventiveness that our brains made possible was selected for along the strict and narrow rules of natural selection. But science wasn't. Remember, for only the last three hundred years or so has there been any demonstrable survival advantage to having scientific knowledge, most obviously in terms of decreasing infant mortality, and extending the average human life span by several decades. For the vast preponderance of the history of the species homo sapiens, approximately 200,000 years, the scientific method provided mankind with no survivability value whatsoever, proved by the obvious fact that we survived without it. In purest evolutionary terms, it is nothing more than a "lucky accident", an ancillary feature of our large brains (which developed, remember, solely to help us secure food and avoid becoming food), that didn't even begin to reveal its usefulness until twenty millennia after our brains' development had made it possible! How utterly insignificant the very feature of human consciousness that devised the theory of evolution is, from the perspective of that very theory!

And yet the champions of science hold it up as a paragon against which all other features of human consciousness cannot even hope to compare. Did intuition and and hunches help our species survive before science? Assuredly so. Did poetic and spiritual insights provide strength and succor to our lowly and set-upon species, huddled together in small tribes against a world vastly more threatening than the one we inhabit today? Bet on it. Without them, would we even be here? That I very much doubt. That science, coming along so late in the game, should nevertheless hoist itself to such a lofty and judgmental position seems rather presumptuous to me.

Imagine a basketball team that plays well enough in the regular season to earn a playoff berth. The team advances, all the way to the last few minutes of the championship game. A talented rookie comes off the bench, and makes a few clutch shots. A star is born! But no, because this rookie then kicks everyone else on his team off the court. He's decided they've outlived their usefulness, and that he alone is the only hope the team has of winning the game. Every error his teammates have made throughout the season that he didn't play in proves to him their unworthiness to even be on the same court as him. Their mere presence weakens his chance of bringing home the trophy. Well, I think we can all imagine how that would turn out! And yet that is basically the arrogant stance that science's staunchest champions take. Any talk of hunches, intuition, to say nothing of spirituality and supernatural phenomena, is met with the same level of disdain our imaginary rookie shows to the very teammates whose efforts have made his appearance on the court possible. Religion? They are convinced that it has been nothing other than an unmitigated disaster for mankind.

Science is so convinced of its own superiority that it uses itself, its own methods, to judge the validity of those concepts that arise from other areas of human consciousness. If something can't be tested in its laboratories, and proven according to its rules and methodologies, then it becomes fair game to be scoffed at and labeled woo woo. This strikes me as absurd. Imagine a chocolate lover telling you that chocolate is the only legitimate sweet. You proffer a banana. "What is this ridiculous object? It isn't even dark brown! It fails!" He dismisses it without even tasting it. Dutifully, you come back with a rotten, dark brown banana. The chocolate lover puts it in its mouth and instantly spits it out, disgusted (understandably). The banana lover is in a hopeless situation. Playing by the rules the chocolate lover has set up, is it any wonder that chocolate always wins?

Don't get me wrong; I value and appreciate science. It is scientific triumphalism that I take issue with. What we have today is perhaps less true science than a raging tyranny of the left hemisphere of the brain over the right, and the consequences scream out at us. On the one hand, scientific experiments have improved medicine and lengthened our life spans, and technological advancement has improved the quality of human life. On the other hand, science has damaged the environment to the point where our very survival is threatened. Factory farmed, steroid injected animals harm our health. Acid rain weakens our forests (the very "lungs" of our planet). Oil spills and nuclear disasters point out the price we pay for our brave new technological world. Beyond all that lurks the mother of all environmental threats, catastrophic climate change. That we could have placed ourselves in such a dangerous predicament a mere three centuries into the Scientific Age should clue us that we should be going about things differently.

To me, the Great Lesson of our time is not that the ascension of science over the last few centuries is a harbinger of a new age of enlightenment, if we can just hold on and solve our current existential threats. It is that our survival depends upon striking a balance between the wonderful possibilities that science brings about and the poetic, intuitive, meaning-seeking portion of our consciousness centered in the other hemisphere of our magnificent brains. If that balance cannot be reached, I for one have very little hope that mankind will escape destroying itself. We will,rather, hasten our return to the Great Darkness, clinging to our belief in an unconscious universe that is completely blind to our existence, and never even returned the favor of seeing us.


Rockin' Night at Club Ikeda

Here I am having some fun and singing some songs, last Saturday at Ikeda in Setagaya-ku. Many thanks to Guy, Chico, Nori and the lovely Ayano, et. al. for helping me get my ya yas out!


S'cuse Me While I Kiss The Sky

“That particular sense of sacred rapture men say they experience in contemplating nature- I’ve never received it from nature, only from. Buildings, Skyscrapers. I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York’s skyline.”
- Ayn Rand

For all the disruption the largest earthquake to hit Japan in 300 years caused, the one thing it didn’t bring to a halt was the erection, to full height, of “Sky Tree“, Tokyo’s replacement for the now-too-short Tokyo Tower broadcasting tower (in the Roppongi district, which has recently been built up with skyscrapers that nearly reach its height, blocking its transmission capabilities). Yes, construction workers were way, WAAAY up there in the sky when the quake hit. I bet they felt it. But that didn’t stop them from going back up, day after aftershock smitten day (some of which felt nearly as frightening as the first – and that’s at ground level!) during the following week, to bring the sleek behemoth up to 634 meters (that’s 2080 feet for those of you who don’t want to bother with the metric system), and bragging rights as the Second Tallest Thing Ever Built by Man. That particular number is significant, as 6,3,4 can be read as Mu-sa-shi, which was the name of the largest castle town in the region before Edo transformed into Tokyo, the nation’s capital, and eventually incorporated its neighboring towns.

Sky Tree probably won’t hold that #2 distinction for very long, however. It only beat out Canton Tower by 34 meters, and taking into account China’s nonstop building boom, it likely won’t be very long before they slap up a tower, or even a building, even taller. #2′s kinda boring anyway, right? What it never even had a chance of becoming was the Tallest Thing Ever Built by Man (or TTEBBM), which, as many know, is The Mother of All Skyscrapers, the “Building of the Century”, the one and only Burj Khalifa (during its planning and building it was known as Burj Dubai), which rises a staggering half-mile into the sky (828m,2717 ft). Now, height is a relative thing. After all, if it were a natural feature of the geography, people would debate whether it should be called “Mt. Khalifa” or just “Burj Hill”. Nevertheless, what makes B.K. so impressive is not just how tall it is, but how much taller it is than the previous holder of the record for world’s tallest building, the supertall (a term used for skyscrapers above 300m) Taipei 101, which rises to a comparatively pip-squeaky 449m (roof height; with its antenna it clears 500m). In other words, the Big B.K. nearlydoubled the height of its rival.

When was the last time that happened? That would be 1889, March 31st, to be exact. That is the inaugural date of The Eiffel Tower, the main attraction of the Paris World’s Fair of the same year. Amazingly, the 324m (1063 ft) architectural/engineering triumph was slated to stand for only twenty years. Yes, what is still today one of the best known (and often imitated; the original Tokyo Tower was designed to be a near match) structures in the world was intended to be only a temporary feature of the Paris cityscape.

The structure that the Eiffel Tower nearly doubled in height to claim the title of TTEBBM from was The Washington Monument (169m, 555 ft). Construction delays (caused by, among others, The Civil War) supplied yet another humbling experience for the Monument. Not only did it barely come up to the kneecaps of its Parisian rival, it finally reached its completion on October 9th, 1888, meaning that it only held TTEBBM bragging rights for just shy of half a year!Sacrebleu! Freedom Fries, anyone?

Interestingly, there are two other cases in modern history of a TTEBBM quickly being bested by a rival before the paint barely had time to dry. The Chrysler Building (319m, 1047 ft) took over the title from the Eiffel Tower (which was less tall at the time; it has since been topped by an antenna), and then handed it to Midtown neighbor, The Empire State Building (443m with antenna, 1454 ft ), a mere year and seven days later. The Chrysler Building can, however, cling to another distinction. This was the first time in recorded history when the height of the structure was due to function, not display. Unlike a monolith or a cathedral spire, there were actual offices going nearly to the top, where people could work, stare out windows, get nosebleeds, etc. This trend has repeated up until the present day, where the TTEBBM has been either an office building or a broadcasting tower.

The Eiffel Tower had stood proudly as TTEBBM for just over forty years. The Empire State Building would do so for almost exactly the same amount of time. But such would not be the fate of the building(s) that surpassed it. The ill-fatedWorld Trade Center ( 526m, 1727 ft with antenna on WTC 1) snagged the title in ’71, and was summarily bested by The Sears Tower (now known asWillis Tower ) in Chicago, less than two years later. The 527 meter (1730 ft, antenna height) new champion retained bragging rights from ’73 until ’98 (until which time all five of the world’s tallest buildings were located in New York and Chicago), when the Asian Building Boom started getting into full swing. Up rose the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur (which never really passed the Willis Tower, but got by by on a weird structural technicality – its antennas were actually included in its spires), and then the Taipei 101, which brings us up to date. Nowadays, nearly all of the tallest buildings are in China, many in just two cities, Shanghai and Hong Kong. And then there is the Burj Khalifa, in a class all by itself.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the Burj ends up holding its title as long as The Eiffel Tower and Empire State Building did. Oh, I imagine that broadcasting towers may surpass it, but not an actual, inhabitable building, I’m guessing. Certainly not in today’s economic climate. The Burj is, in some respects, a white elephant (even the name change was caused by Dubai needing to borrow money from its neighbors in The UAE) to begin with. Imagine the burden, and folly, of building something even taller!

Inevitably, however, someone will. in 1956, Frank Lloyd Wright proposed a building for Chicago, dubbed The Illinois, which would rise to a full mile in the sky, nearly twice the height of The Burj (which bares a striking resemblance to Wright’s drawings of The Illinois). Just as some people have to climb mountains, others, it seems, have to build them.

It is doubtful that any building will ever again hold the title of TTEBBM for more than 4000 years, as did The Great Pyramid of Giza (146m, 480 ft). The Pyramid finally lost the title to the Rouen Cathedral (151m, 495 ft), which was completed in 1880, six hundred and seventy eight years after its cornerstone was laid. The Great Cathedrals of Europe were the architectural wonders that stoked the imaginations of builders everywhere, ultimately leading to the Eiffel Tower, The Chrysler Building, The Burj Khalifa, etc. The Giza Pyramid, however, is certain not to care about the showy upstarts that have one-upped each other, year after year, century after century. It holds its position majestically in the Egyptian desert, timeless, ever mysterious, ever directing our eyes, and spirits, upward.


To Censor Or Not To Censor

Imagine some of the things that you least (and I mean least) want to have happen to you, or to someone you love. Now imagine that a very sick person is doing all those things to you, or forcing you to watch them being done to someone you love. Now imagine a movie about this. Only about this. You don’t have to imagine, because I have just described the “plot” of a Japanese movie titled Grotesque, by horror movie director Koji Shiraishi. Except for a ridiculously out of place supernatural revenge sequence at the end, the only thing that happens in the movie is that two innocent people, a couple, are tortured and sexually abused for an hour and ten minutes. The English promotional materials promise to so outdo Saw and Hostel in gore, violence and depravity that watching those movies would thereafter be no different than watching West Side Story. Well, that was quite enough for the British Board of Film Classification, a body that determined that the – film – (can I just start calling it “piece of filth” or pof, for short?) had no redeeming value whatsoever, merely showed sexual depravity for its own sake, and presented a “risk of (psychological, I assume) harm” to potential viewers. “Not on these shores!”, decided the BBFC. They prohibited Grotesque from being shown or distributed in the UK, something that they normally just don’t do. Not surprisingly, Shiraishi wore this condemnation as a badge of honor, stood up for “artistic integrity” and redoubled his efforts to market his pof as the one film they don’t want you to see! Naturally, boasting this as its claim to fame, the standard audience for pofs of this nature felt even more determined to stand up for freedom of expression, to see what all the fuss was about, or to “test themselves” (let’s remember that no bravery is required to sit one’s posterior on a couch and watch a TV screen) against that which sought to disturb and disgust (or, just as possibly, arouse) them in every frame. The BBFC had their moral victory, and Shiraishi picked up a few extra yen. A win/win, if you will.
Why did the British film board decide to censor Grotesque, and not, for example, Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, a pof that features such heartwarming scenes as an innocent woman being forced to don a “mask” that has been fashioned out of her tortured-to-death husband’s facial skin? Because in the case of the former, it was determined that it in no way, shape or form even constituted a work of creativity. It was just, simply, extreme violence realistically portrayed so as to appeal to the most base and unhealthy interests of those wishing to watch it. In other words, they refused to recognize it as a work of art. Rather, they determined that it was just an unwholesome thingie, probably falling somewhere between rabid dog saliva and Weapon of Mass Destruction in terms of how beneficial they considered it to be for the citizens of the UK.
Many people called foul. Many people here, I imagine, may feel that the BFFC’s decision was lame and convoluted, and that is probably true. Essentially, thereis no difference between Grotesque and other “torture porn” movies that wereallowed, and hence the decision merely served to bestow upon it an “honor” which it doesn’t actually merit, thereby attracting a few more viewers to a pofthat, in the best of cases, has only a very limited audience, and could only stand to benefit from being turned into a cause celebre.
Personally, however, I stand behind the decision, not because I think the matter was handled particularly well, but simply because I think that a country has every right to empower its review boards to reject things that, patently, have no merit and can only add more upset and horror to a world that already has more than enough. I believe, in other words, in censorship. At the very least, I believe it to be an arguable position.

Censorship? Surely there are few things more revealing of a reactionary mindset, some would hasten to assure me. Why, censorship can be identified with all the cruelest dictatorships, the most oppressive regimes, the most hardcore religious fundamentalists, etc. This is indeed true. I believe that in any way limiting a person’s right to express his or her political or religious opinions can only be a sign of an outlaw government. There is no excuse for it, even less the means by which it is often enforced. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people have been executed, tortured, or wasted away in prisons for making statements (or being alleged to have made them), writing letters, drawing cartoons, etc. that dared to criticize the Powers that Be in countries all over the world, and throughout history. Such censorship can rightly be considered evil.
However, depictions of sadism and depravity fall under another category, surely. The human race has certainly evolved in terms of what it no longer considers entertainment. Romans went to watch gladiators fight to the death, starved animals loosed upon slaves, criminals, Christians, etc., and a vast parade of cruelties at their circuses. In the Dark Ages, asylum inmates were sometimes displayed to entertain passersby, petty criminals were dunked or placed in stocks and pillories, and in a plethora of other ways pain and humiliation were inflicted on some in order to entertain others. Although benighted governments even to this day continue practices just as heinous, it is a mark of the march of progress in human thinking that civilized countries and persons no longer consider such “entertainments” to be acceptable. Ditto for dog fights, cock fights, bare fisted boxing, etc.
One of the problems in our modern world is that technology has reached the point where the depictions of violence now appear every bit as real as actual acts of violence. We can now see on our film screens exactly what the Romans watched in their circuses. The only difference, a huge one assuredly, is that the acts are not real, and there is no real suffering taking place; no victims, in other words. But with the appalling stories of Abu Ghraib, and the more recent revelations about an Afghanistan-based GI rogue “kill team” and their trophy photos of their innocent victims, mightn’t we consider that there in fact is a victim; namely, society itself? Extrapolating into the future, can we imagine that technology will eventually make it possible to play one’s own virtual reality serial killer game (and the advertisements proudly proclaiming, “this is as real as it gets!”)? As we are obviously moving in that direction technologically, don’t we need to be thinking about how okay we are with that? When cruelty, whether real, filmed, or holographically simulated, is considered entertainment, doesn’t that throw up a red flag, or shouldn’t it? It does for me, certainly.

Sure, you can start by censoring things that nearly everyone finds objectionable, but aren’t you worried about a slippery slope?” Indeed, I am. It’s just that the slope I worry about slips in the other direction.

Consider this: imagine that you travel to a tribe in the Amazon that has almost no contact with the outside world, and still lives more or less exactly as their ancestors have for thousands upon thousands of years. You present an inhabitant there with a chocolate ice cream bar. I imagine that one of two scenarios would result:

The first would be that the sensations of super-sweetness and cold entering the mouth of the tribesman would be so unlike anything he’d previously experienced that he would instantly spit it out, perhaps considering it to be some kind of poison. He would be hard-pressed to identify what you have presented him with as “food”.

On the other hand, I suppose it is also possible that he would be delighted, as if the food had come from the world of the gods. He would want to share it with all his tribe’s members. Soon after, the tribe would come to recognize that their teeth were rotting, their overall health was decreasing and their children were becoming hyperactive and irritable. The tribal elders would insist that the tribe be allowed no more ice cream bars. They would censor that which they correctly determined to be harmful.

Ice cream is not a natural food; it is something that has evolved, as people have craved newer, fresher, sweeter, more stimulating sensations as they grew accustomed to the foods they were already eating. Cooking is an ongoing and evolving creative process, no less so than film-making, music, painting, etc. In all creative endeavors, it seems to be human nature to demand more, and for certain creators to strive to provide that. In other words, you make something sweet, I’ll make something sweeter. Oh, yeah? I’ll make something so sweet that your teeth will disintegrate. You show blood and torture, I’ll show twice as much blood and torture! Oh,yeah? And so on. That is the “slippery slope” that alarms me. A mere fifty years ago, audiences were so shocked by the infamous shower scene in Psycho that they fled the theaters, retched, broke down and cried, etc. Nowadays, “Psycho” can be shown unedited on prime time television. The iterative nature of film-making has reached the point where any depraved act that is shown will be seen as nothing more than a challenge to some audience members and directors to go even further. And, unfortunately, we don’t have tribal elders coming to the conclusion that this is not good for us. That it is poisoning our very souls. Instead, we have “staunch defenders of freedom of expression”.

There is no evidence that watching such movies influences people to actually go out and do such things! Hmmm….well, in that case, perhaps we should start telling companies to stop throwing away all those billions of dollars they spend annually on advertising. The images and messages we are exposed to through film and television don’t influence our behavior. Let’s remember that advertisements are rarely of the blunt, literal, “Go! Buy a Coke! NOW!” type. They aren’t even generally of the “You should buy only coke because it tastes so much better than its rivals!” variety. Indeed, in the early days of advertising, copy like that was quite common, as advertisers logically assumed that the way to get the most bang for your buck was to get straight to the point (an actual ad suggests, plainly, “Drink Coca Cola from a bottle through a straw, Absolutely Sanitary, Delicious and Refreshing”). As the industry moved out of its infancy, and became increasingly sophisticated, it was discovered that more subtle, subconscious associations that the viewer made about products were more likely to influence their purchasing habits. So we have “The Most Interesting Man in the World”, and product placement in movies, etc. In other words, media experts will vociferously argue (if there’s a buck to be made) that even subtle messages, through repeated exposure, can and do influence the external behavior of an audience. Of course, not everyone who sees a Coke commercial will go out and buy a Coke, but the whole industry depends on a sizable number doing so. And yet we are expected to believe that continual exposure to bodies being tortured and sexually abused will not impact the behavior of a segment of the viewers? A the very least, that it will not change their way of looking at the human body, what it is, what it is for, what is acceptable to do to it, or with it, etc.?

If not, why? Why can advertising influence our behavior but depictions of violence not? Does advertising activate a different part of the brain? Of course not. The same cerebral centers are responding to the same basic stimulus of filmed narrative. So, again, why one and not the other? Mightn’t that just be a disingenuous evasion tactic used to protect the profits of “the torture porn industry”? Put another way, if Grotesque isn’t, in effect, an advertisement for sadism, what is it?

****As a footnote, although Japan has a considerably lower homicide rate than the United States and many other countries, over the past few decades there have been a number of crimes that have shocked the country to its very core, involving sexual violence and barbarity beyond imagining. In all the cases that I can recall, the perpetrators were discovered to have a large collection of violent films and/or manga, even to have gotten their ideas from such. Japan is coming around, and a debate is taking place in the nation as to what type of content should be made viewable to the public.

I don’t want the government telling me what I can and can’t watch! Well, in fact, we do. It is the government, after all, that decides that we don’t have to watch a man pull down his pants and start masturbating in front of our home, or in front of a nursery school. Although the man may protest that he was simply expressing himself as he is hauled off to jail, I doubt that many would see him as a martyr at the altar of Artistic Freedom.
To say that the government has “no business” making judgments about such matters is basically to argue against any form of government, as if it is alwaysuntrustworthy. If we are worried about government overreach gradually leading to oppression, then perhaps we should do away with the Food and Drug Administration, The Surgeon General’s Office, etc., and no longer permit the government to determine how much nicotine can go into a cigarette, how much air pollution is too much air pollution; in short, to make any judgement calls regarding the health of its populace. Could a move to censor torture porn movies be used as a shoehorn to eventually legislate against other forms of expression? Certainly, the danger is there. But I’m not convinced that’s very likely. I think it would be a fairly simple matter to create clear guidelines as to what is or isn’t acceptable in a film or video game and to stay within those limits. I would like to consider what those type of limits might be.

Let us begin with one of the earliest filmed depictions of depravity, the infamous eye slicing segment from Salvador Dali’s/Luis Bunuel’s bizarre short film, Un Chien Andalou. Probably many people reading this have never seen it. For those who have, how many have seen it twice? As for me, though it has been more than twenty years since I first saw the scene, and I have watched other portions of the film in the interim, I have absolutely no desire to ever again subject myself to that short bit of extreme gore, and in fact I cringe at the very thought of doing so. No doubt, that speaks to its power to evoke a response. But does that make it art? And even if it does, what kind of art? Am I in any way a better person for having watched it? Are any of us? If so, I would like to know how. Watching that scene, I am quite certain, has in no way elevated my spirit, expanded my horizons, raised my IQ, or made me a better person in any way. If it had never existed, I can’t see how I, or the world, would be the worse for it.
That raises the question as to what is art for? Should it only be that which elevates our spirits, expands our horizons, etc.? Plato, famously, felt so. He was of the, radical for our times, extreme view that art should show and promote “only the good”. In other words, he was of the belief that art, as is sometimes said about money, makes a great servant, but a terrible master. For him, censorship was an obvious response to this extremely powerful mode of human expression. To him the idea was preposterous that artists and poets could express themselves any old way, regardless of the effect that may have on audiences, and the public in general. Surrealists like Dali and Bunuel would have challenged this viewpoint from their own understandings of the emerging science of psychology. Surrealism can in fact be seen as a direct outgrowth of Sigmund’s Freuds enormous influence. Suppressing humanity’s darker impulses can only be harmful, the argument goes. Art is a useful way for mankind to get its “shadow” out of its system. Personally, I suspect that both Plato and Freud (and Dali, Bunuel, etc.) are partially right, and that responsible choices can still be made about what to show and what not to show. After all, taken at its extreme, the pro-Freud notion (had it existed at the time) could have been used as an argument in the Roman days for continuing the torture shows in the circuses.
So, should the eye-cutting scene be (forgive the pun) cut? I think that would make an interesting debate. Personally, I’m not sure. The whole purpose of the movie was to shock, thereby stimulating the subconscious mind, the point of surrealist art in general. The film is not pandering to anyone, it is not a commercial film and the motivation for making it was not to make an easy buck, as I suspect it is in the case of directors like Eli Roth (Hostel) and Rob Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects, House of a 1000 Corpses). Furthermore, the entire scene lasts only a few seconds. The man doing the cutting is not shown as an evil, leering sadist, and the woman victim is not shown bleeding and screaming afterwards. It is all very clinical, even as it horrifies and shocks. Maybe the above points would be considered mitigating by a review board, maybe not. Personally, I feel they are points worth considering.
What about movies that are considered major artistic achievements that nevertheless contain scenes of extreme violence, such as Goodfellas or Saving Private Ryan? The case of the latter is perhaps the easier one to consider. The Normandy beach sequence was so horrific that the audience response was on a par with the earlier reaction to Psycho. People fled the theaters, or broke down sobbing in their seats. Saving Private Ryan is perhaps the most widely seen movie ever made that doesn’t shy away from the kind of carnage that is the torture porn auteurs’ stock in trade. Plato, no doubt, would nix it without a second thought, but few in our modern age would agree. Director Steven Spielberg’s intentions in showing such extreme violence could not be more clear. He wanted to show what really happens when countries clash. He wanted to impress that reality on our minds in a way that no previous war movie had ever done. It’s hard to imagine anyone enjoying the first half hour of violence, identifying with its faceless killers, or getting any type of cheap thrill from it. Spielberg is an undisputed master at provoking the reaction he intends from his audience (to a fault,many would argue), and he made sure this scene became nobody’s wet dream.
Goodfellas is more problematic. It has numerous detractors. There are those who want to know why Martin Scorsese chose to make such a film. If Saving Private Ryan was an anti-war movie (or at least had anti-war overtones), wasn’t Goodfellas practically a pro-mafia one? With his scenes of spoiled hoodlums getting the best tables at the Copacabana, turning jail cells into bachelor pads, and sneering at the rest of us “shmucks”, this is clearly not your average cautionary tale. Far from it. It is more a grandly entertaining celebration of filmmaking that succeeds in entertaining us because its main characters are outrageously over the top, shockingly amoral and (in the case of Tommy and Jimmy) violent beyond our wildest imaginings. These are notpeople you want to go out and have a beer with. Just ask Billy Batts. In fact, the scene that depicts the unfortunate Mr. Batts’ brutal demise has some 2 million viewings, roughly, in its various incarnations on Youtube, and reading the comments, many of those are repeat viewings. Unlike the Normandy scene inSPR, which I imagine most people are content to see only once, many folks just can’t seem to get enough of Marty’s wiseguys, and their mayhem.

And, Goodfellas is considered by many to be one of the greatest movies ever made. It is a personal favorite of mine as well. Yet is it really all that different from the torture porn movies? Should it get a pass if they don’t? I waver on this one, frankly. Going back to my observations about Un Chien Andalou, I can’t very well argue that my spirit has been elevated in any way by having watched it. I am impressed by the breathtaking talent on display, particularly the masterful direction and Joe Pesci’s Oscar winning turn as Tommy. One might say that watching it and admiring it challenges and inspires me to go as far as I can with my own craft, and that I consider to be a good thing. Beyond that, I’m not really sure how best to argue on its behalf.
That is not to say that I equate Goodfellas in its most existential way with movies like Grotesque and The Devil’s Rejects, the Hostel series, etc. InGoodfellas, bodies are abused terribly, but in those other movies the abuse of bodies is their only reason for existing. Moreover, it is pretty much the onlything, or certainly the main thing, that viewers want to see. This is an area where I feel that societies have a right, perhaps even a duty, to make a stand. In my opinion, a society that does not honor, does not teach love and respect for, does not, if you will, revere, the human body, cannot truly be called civilized. The human body is our vessel while we are here. We don’t know how to make them, and our best scientists don’t know how to make a machine in any way as exquisite as them. We only get one, and without one, we’re pretty much up shit creek. Therefore, protecting and promoting the health of the body should be the central concern of any society, because after all what is society other than an community of human bodies living in close proximity to one another?
Is freedom of expression more important than that? I don’t see how. Freedom of expression is an important concept, of course. But it is, after all, a mental construction. It is an idea that people have come, over time, to accept, and some to revere. It is an invention. The human body is not; it is far beyond that. Whether you believe that it was created by God, or emerged by natural processes, it is decidedly not something that humans came up with and started talking about in the last few thousand years. Torture porn movies do not honor the human body. They spit on the very concept. They use the body’s limitations and capacity for pain as ingredients for a burlesque show of horror. They treat the body with the utmost contempt. What sort of notions – conscious/subconcsious/subliminal – does this create in the viewers of such films? How is it good for society to have its most important and valuable assets being thoroughly trashed for the cheap thrills that provides viewers? How is it wrong for a society to stand up and say, “no” to that?
I feel that censoring such films makes good sense. As to how to go about this, the film review boards of nations would need to go beyond just rating films as unsuitable for children, but would in fact be empowered to decide that some films are not even allowed to be released, shown or distributed. The determining question would be, I feel, something along the lines of “to what degree is this film dependent on the degradation and torture of the human body for its entertainment value?” I believe that there is nothing wrong with asking film directors to answer that simple question. Before being allowed to release a film, I believe that film companies or directors should have to present its outline to the film boards. In the case of directors such as Zombie and Roth, whose reputation, shall we say, proceeds them, I think it would be made clear to them that the odds of getting their next films released were slim to none, but they are welcome to try. Perhaps it would be a good opportunity for they, themselves, to look into what it is they are doing, and feel they are accomplishing. “I want to make this movie because there’s a market for it”. Sorry, you’ll have to do better for that. There is a market for slaves, Saturday Night Specials, and crack cocaine as well, let’s remember.
Clearly, this would lead to a number of films not being made (the whole torture porn genre would be unceremoniously dropped into the dustbin of history), and perhaps a number of scenes being altered or removed from movies that do get made. Perhaps future Goodfellas and SPRs would need to tone down the gore. I’m okay with that, I think. For me, the deeply held philosophical belief that the human body is sacred trumps my (perhaps selfish) desire to see what I want to see, all other considerations be damned. I believe that a group of highly respected professionals, consisting of philosophers, psychiatrists and psychologists, educators, art historians and film experts, etc. could be trusted to devise a sensible set of standards, and make those clear enough for anyone to understand and follow. I think the discussion that would ultimately lead to would, in itself, be good for society, if it got people to question their attitudes toward the human body, the nature of entertainment, and all the philosophical issues that would be raised.
With so much actual cruelty taking place in the world, with so much real bloodshed and pain, is this even a battle worth fighting, some may ask. I feel that it is. I feel that the human spirit, and the great gift that is having a body, would be the ultimate beneficiaries of such censorship. I can’t say for certain that any lives would be saved, or that any potential psychopath would be steered away from actually becoming one, or sinking deeper into depravity, if pofs were to be outlawed. Nevertheless, I still feel the benefit would be real, and felt. Furthermore, I hardly feel that the human race in any way loses by deciding that people can’t make torture porn movies anymore. Rob Zombie can stick to his music, Eli Roth can stick to his acting, and the director of Grotesque can, I don’t know, go work at a car wash.