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Smarter Than the Rat

1 May

“The more weapons you posses,
the greater the chaos in your country.”
-Lao Tzu

I haven’t posted anything in a while, an’ it’s ’cause I wanted to write something about guns.  However, this policy stuff is not in my normal books-and-movies stomping ground, hence I dawdled.

I gather that most people don’t care about the issue one way or the other. I base that on the fact that the NRA holds so much sway – most Americans disagree with the NRA’s extremist views, yet the NRA continues to get its way.

I once knew a veteran who related a dream about being back in Viet Nam. To his surprise, a rat was in charge of everything. “Why is the rat in charge?”, he asked his buddies. “After all, we’re smarter than the rat.” I don’t remember the rest of the story, but in a similar vein, I have often wondered the same thing about the NRA.

If there was a contest for being the most contemptible organization in America, the NRA would win (despite stiff competition from multi-level marketing companies.) Their rhetoric about freedom, the Second Amendment, law-abiding citizens, and the like is just a smokescreen; the NRA is nothing more than a flack for the weapons industry. The “Brand Partners” listed on the NRA’s Web Site include Ruger, Hornaday, Smith and Wesson, Mossberg, and Sig Sauer, and that’s only some of them. The organization claims it’s “America’s longest-standing civil rights organization.” Why the plural form?


Distinguished NRA Board Member Ted

As I write, more than a month has passed since the March for Our Lives. I know that the young people from Marjorie Stoneman High School have rattled folks at the NRA by the amount of invective being hurled at them. These students have obviously struck a nerve. News stories have quoted NRA board member Ted Nugent as saying “These poor children, I’m afraid to say this and it hurts me to say this, but the evidence is irrefutable, they have no soul.” Wow, Ted. Irrefutable. I never knew that you were the arbiter of such things. I don’t think that Nugent has any integrity, though; he famously declared “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I Will Either Be Dead or in Jail by this time next year.” Obama was re-elected, but Ted still hasn’t delivered on his promise.

For me, it comes down to pointing out the obvious:

1. The Second Amendment does not describe a right to own any weapon you want and carry it wherever you want.  Even the Supreme Court’s Heller decision (much lauded by the NRA) states:

“Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

The Heller decision went against over 100 years of jurisprudence on firearms, but even Heller is not a blank check.

2. You don’t need a military-style semi-automatic weapon to protect yourself.  You might want such a weapon, you might even own such a weapon. But you don’t need it.

3. The absurdity of “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This is just plain (I don’t like to work blue, but I’m afraid I must here) cow poop. The NRA came up with this one after the Sandy Hook massacre. Note how it plays into the weapons industry’s agenda – if you bought more of our guns, you’d have more weapons than the sociopath who bought our guns.

4. The absurdity of “Criminals will always be able to get guns so gun laws are useless.” Embezzlers still embezzle despite laws against embezzlement. Ponzi schemers still run Ponzi schemes despite laws against them. This argument peddles the false idea that unless a law is 100% effective, it’s bad policy.

Now, I don’t know who this is going to play out in the future, but I’m rootin’ for the students.


Dear Philip K. Dick

13 Nov

Dear Philip K. Dick,

We know you died in 1982, but we’re contacting you in the hope that the metaphysical state you’re in now might be like ‘half-life’ in your novel  Ubik – a condition that allows the departed and the living to communicate, at least for a time. Here’s hoping.

Many of your plots deal with the question of reality. We recall your short story, Faith of Our Fathers, for example, and your novels The Man in the High Castle and “Flow My Tears”, the Policeman Said. We could name others, but you know your oeuvre a lot better than we do.  We’re living in the US in the year 2016 (or at least, we were), and we think we’ve ended up in an alternate reality, cut off from our fellow citizens back in ‘normal’ (for want of a better word) reality.


Is it just us, or are you in a parallel universe, too?

The parallel universe into which we’ve  just  been thrust features an orange-hued alien who apparently has the power to bend people’s perceptions on a mass scale. This entity has just been elected president of the U.S. We know something in our neck of the multiverse is out of whack, Philip, because things just don’t add up. For example, during the campaign:

  • Said candidate (the aforementioned orange-hued one) came into the race with a complete lack of qualifications, never having held office, even at the local level.
  • He insulted women and minorities, and even encouraged violence at his political rallies.
  • Candidate exhibited insensitivity to the grieving parents of a slain soldier.
  • He bragged about his business success, yet went bankrupt several times, with a string of business failures in his past.
  • He ran a dubious operation that he called a University. Defunct university currently under litigation.
  • In videotaped footage, he bragged about his ability to grope women’s genitalia and get away with it.
  • He paid no taxes for twenty years. Further, he failed to release his tax returns as many who sought the Presidency have done.
  • Candidate said he was blameless for not paying taxes, suggesting that his opponent was responsible for the tax code. In general,  he exhibited an inability to take responsibility for anything – it was always someone else’s fault.
  • He had a server that communicated inexplicably with a bank in Russia.

The thing is, Philip, any one of these things would likely have torpedoed the candidacy of anyone else, but what the hell, he won! He WON! That’s why we think we’re in Bizarro world with an alien who has the power of mass hypnosis, because we can’t believe the American people could elect such a total loser. We desperately want to get back to the universe we came from, where facts mattered at least a little and things made at least some sense.  At this time, we’re not sure if we’re the only ones trapped in La La Land, or whether our fellow citizens are in the same boat.  If you’re in half-life, we’d appreciate any observations you may have.


Harry Calnan

Ekkekos, Elections, and “Er Ist Wieder Da”

17 Oct

We’ve not written much about the upcoming U.S. Presidential election. The thing’s already a surrealistic debacle, so we didn’t think we had anything to add to the mess.  And what the heck, we don’t, except to notice that many people treat their favored candidate like their own personal ekkeko.  “What’s an ekkeko”, you ask?  So did we. Years ago we received a gift of a small open-mouthed guy in a brown suit and bow tie.  He’s  festooned with a tiny basket, bags of grain, small play money, a box of laundry detergent (go figure),  a small pair of huaraches, and the like. (There was also something in a small plastic bag, but we put him on our workbench in the basement and a mouse ate whatever was in there – we forgot what that was.) We lost the tag that goes with him, which explained that one puts things on him related to what one wants to manifest in one’s life, so his burden of treasures increases over the years.  (When we were studying computer science, our youngest daughter thoughtfully drew a picture of a computer and put it on our diminutive plaster person. What the heck, we got an A.) Only after a Web search did we recall that this droll little man is called an ekkeko, and it comes from the Incan tradition.


We’re on Facebook, and some of our friends (and people we don’t really know – we’ve gotta adjust our filters) like to post things of a political nature. We wonder if the candidates are emotional ekkekos of sorts, something for people to pin their hopes and dreams on.


We’ve seen David Wnendt’s “Er Ist Wieder Da” (“He’s Back”, or “Look Who’s Back” in English) twice now. The first time, we didn’t realize that there were optional English subtitles on this German language film and we missed about half of what’s going on.  (Nevertheless, we have long believed that if you want to see if a film is engaging, watch it with the sound turned off – if it still holds your attention, then the film is cinematic.  Some very good movies may fail this test, but on the whole, it’s not a bad way to judge a movie.) “He’s Back” could be described as “Borat meets Network meets Rip Van Winkle.” It’s based on a novel of the same title by Timur Vermes, and the one who’s back is none other than Adolph Hitler (played by Oliver Masucci.) As the film begins, we hear Hitler’s voice over expressing amazement that the German people have survived World War II, despite his order that all Germans be killed.  We see shots of clouds, and it’s not clear if Hitler has descended from the sky or been vomited up from the bowels of an Earth that has rejected him, as we then see him lying in the dirt near the former Führerbunker. In the course of the film, a hapless videographer named Fabian begins an uneasy relationship with the dictator, thinking him a demented actor who refuses to break character.  He takes him on a road trip of sorts around Germany. We don’t want to say too much else about the picture, as we’re always cautious about revealing plot points, but we found the film intriguing, funny, and disturbing all at the same time.


We suspect that the novel is less Borat-like than the film is.  Oliver Masucci, the actor who plays Hitler has said that during scenes shot at the Brandenburg gate, many people seemed happy to see him, and unprompted, begged him to bring back concentration camps.  (One woman hit him, and he felt that it was the healthiest reaction he received.)

The one quibble we have is that Masucci, a 6′ 1″ tall actor, is too tall for the role (Hitler was 5’9″.)  Nevertheless, the film is worth your time, and it raises some disturbing (and in this election season, timely) questions.

Trumpe l’oeil

15 Mar

We just got an idea for a sci-fi screenplay. Being the layabouts that we are though, we know we’ll never get off our lazy duffs to write it. We’ll pitch it to you and maybe you can do something with it.

It’s a dirty story of a dirty man and his clinging wife doesn’t understa – wait, that one’s been done…

No, actually, this one takes place in the not-too-distant future. A guy is running for President. He’s rich, he says racist things, and he’s a bit of a bully. He actually encourages his supporters to use violence at his rallies. (Remember is a sci-fi dystopian future-type story, so if the scenario we’re describing seems really far-fetched, just remember, this is fiction.) The guy is not as wealthy as he makes himself out to be – he has bankruptcies in his past and the book he’s written is not the best-selling book of all time, despite his assertions that it is. Our character has an overweening ego and always uses superlatives to describe himself.

By now, you’re probably saying, “Wait we know who this guy is – it’s the bad guy from Steven King’s ‘The Dead Zone.'” OK, we’ll admit, there may be similarities between King’s villain and ours, but we’re trying to go in a different direction with our story – it’s sort of a Dead-Zone-meets-Citizen-Kane-meets-Philip K. Dick mashup.


Dead-Zone-meets-Citizen-Kane-meets-Philip K. Dick

In our screenplay, we drop hints that the guy is an alien, with an orange-hued visage to suggest he just might be from some other planet or perhaps another dimension. We’ll also suggest his other-worldliness by the hypnotic effect he has on his followers. No matter how outrageous his statements, his followers praise him for his “straight talk” and for “telling it like it is.” They even raise their arms in a gesture reminiscent of the Hitler salute. OK, we know we’re now straining credibility to its breaking point, but stay with us.

To cut to the chase, the guy keeps winning primary after primary, racking up impressive wins without anyone understanding how he’s doing it. After a rancorous convention, he wins his party’s nomination. In debates with our anti-hero, his opponent makes reasoned arguments, only to see them fall flat. With a combination of bluster, bullying, and low humor, our dystopian candidate wins every debate.

We then cut to Election Night. Things are going well for our anti-protagonist as several states fall into his column. It looks like he’ll soon be slouching toward Washington to be inaugurated. His supporters are ecstatic! It’s then that the CIA (those wonderful folks who brought you MK Ultra) make their move, sticking a hypodermic in the almost-President-Elect’s derriere and spiriting him away in a black limo.

We then see the CIA guys head for a shadowy underground location with scientists in lab coats and armed, burly MPs at every door. Using the latest in Virtual Reality technology, they construct a scenario where our anti-hero sees himself in front of adoring masses who hang on his every word. We see subjective shots where he tells them that a neighboring country has just acquiesced to his demand that they pay for the large wall that has just been completed on his decree. The crowd cheers. The almost -prexy is blissful. The scientists will keep him in this state for at least eight years

Meanwhile back at the ranch, our would-be dictator’s followers undergo a shocking reversal. It’s as if the mind-link connecting them to their hero has somehow been severed. With the polls still open, they head to the polls en masse, and to the surprise of  the pundits, vote against their erstwhile idol! The country is saved! (well, not really saved, as the opponent is not all that great, but much better than our orange-hued alien.)

OK, that’s the gist of the thing. Some of it might need punching up and you can change the ending if it’s too cliche. Again, this is so far-fetched as to be laughable – American voters certainly aren’t as naive as we suggest, but suspension of disbelief is at the heart of the movie-going experience.

High Plains Drifter and the race for the Republican presidential nomination

18 Jan

This article contains spoilers, but given that the picture in question was released over 40 years ago, we figure that if you like this sort of thing, you’ve already seen it.

We’re fans of some pretty bad movies.  We love Arnold Schwarznegger’s Commando as well as some bad Clint Eastwood movies (The Gauntlet, for example.) While channel-flipping last week,  we found High Plains Drifter, which we had never seen.  We don’t recall which film critic coined the term “adult fairy tales” to describe pictures of this type, but it fits this movie to a T.  The moral universe of the movie is unrelentingly ugly. ( The picture was made in the early 70s when anti-heroes were starting to be a thing -Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange had been released two years earlier in 1971.) One of the first things Clint’s character (who’s never given a name) does when he arrives in the Western town where the film is set is to rape a woman because, well, he’s Clint and he can.  He also establishes his street cred as a gunslinger.

We then see violent flashbacks of three bad men as they brutally bullwhip the town’s former sheriff to death. This sequence goes on waaaay too long.  The townsfolk watch this horrible spectacle and do nothing to stop it (and as we later learn,  they’re complicit in this murder.)  The scene makes no sense: if these guys want to bump off the sheriff, why don’t they simply shoot him?  Well, that would be direct and to the point, whereas the writers (and Clint, who also directed) apparently want to make this scene as nasty as possible.  What the hell, they succeed.

The three who killed the sheriff are expected to return and they’re mad at the populace, so the townsfolk hire Clint to protect them (sorta like the Seven Samurai, but in this case, there’s only one.) Clint balks, so they sweeten the deal;  in return for his protection, he can have anything he wants.  Big mistake – there’s a whole lot of things that Clint wants.  After a while, the folks get pretty sick of Clint’s demands and plot to shoot him while he sleeps.  In a scene straight out of a Warner Brother’s cartoon, he’s waiting for them on the balcony and tosses a bundle of  dynamite into the room.  Ka-boom!  That’s all, folks!

Unfazed by the attempt on his life, Clint has the townsfolk paint all the buildings in the town red as he renames the town “Hell”.   That’s where we quit watching the picture – unlike The Gauntlet, which to us is a good bad movie, this was a bad bad movie.  Besides, we pretty much knew how the thing was going to play out. There’d be a lotta mayhem, the bad guys’d be killed off, the townsfolk’d get their comeuppance and Clint would vamoose. (Based on what we read on IMDB, we were pretty close.)


Clint paints the town red

The picture is deliberately unclear about Clint’s relationship it to murdered sheriff – is he the ghost of the sheriff, the sheriff’s brother or what?  One thing is clear, the picture is apocalyptic, with an entire town in chaos, in turmoil, being destroyed by a malevolent interloper.

We then turned to the news and saw that Donald Trump was still doing quite well in his bid for the Republican nomination.

Dog Psychics and Stigmata

24 Jun

Recently, a woman at work told us that she had taken her high-strung canine to a dog psychic.  We’re not clear as to what the psychic’s observations were, but it got us thinking about psychic phenomena and religious experience.

As we’ve mentioned before, we’re wusses.  We adopt a pose of being coldly scientific, but we’re on the fence.  We’re not religious, but we have a not-so-secret desire to experience the numinous. It was this desire that impelled us some years back to see a stigmatic. An e-mail we’d received stated that this individual would be at such-and-such a church on such-and-such a date. After work, we drove the better part of a hundred miles to check it out for ourselves.

We got there, and from what we recall, the scene seemed like a religious Woodstock. We were instructed to let people with illnesses approach first.  As there were many people there, and as we were in good health, it was clear that this was going to be a long night.  We seated ourselves at the very back and settled in. Several hours passed, and it was finally time to approach the stigmatic. We’d seen photos of the columnist Mike Royko, and this chap looked vaguely like him. He embraced us with his bandaged hands and boomed “God love ya, buddy!” (Note: we think he had bandaged hands, but we’re not sure – we’re recalling this from memory.)  And that was that.

In the days that followed we tried to objectively observe any changes in ourselves and there were none.  Well, one actually. For about a week after the experience, we discovered that we’d lost the ability to judge anyone harshly.  Reading a newspaper article about the latest thing that Dick Cheney (a politician we disliked) had said, we found that the anger we normally experienced on reading his pronouncements just wasn’t there; all we could manage was to wonder what would make a person say the things that Cheney said. We figured it wouldn’t last and it didn’t; after about a week, we were our same ol’ judgmental selves again.

We’re not drawing any conclusions one way or the other, merely reporting. We’re neither scientists nor seers.  We’re just some guy.


Dick, why’d ya say those things?






Repeating Oneself

10 Apr
“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.”
-Mark Twain
We suspected that our U.S.  representative was a chowderhead, and now we are sure.  Last week we drove for an hour across our gerrymandered district to tell our U.S. Rep that we supported raising the minimum wage.  You may agree with us,  you may disagree with us, but we think that folks workin’ hard for dirt wages need an increase.  That’s our opinion, and we’re stickin’ to it.

Ee’dplebnista norkohn forkohn perfectunun. ..

Trying to get your do-nothing rep to hear your views and in return receiving  a stupid form letter that’s a spitback of  his/her views when you already know his/her views is pretty frustrating.  The chowderhead in question writes (in part) “I certainly understand that government adding more barriers and regulations to employment hurts people looking for work, employers, and our economy.”  So he’s helping people looking for work by opposing better wages for those at the bottom of the pay scale? This would be funny if it weren’t so stupid.  If you want to stimulate the economy, start with folks at the lower income levels.  They’ll actually use it to buy stuff they’d otherwise be forced to do without.  Giving an increase to those with higher incomes provides less stimulus ’cause those folks don’t need the money to begin with, and by and large,  they won’t spend it.
But we digress.  It’s not as if we expected our do-nothing rep to drop his opposition and agree with us.  However, it’s pretty lame that all he did was to repeat the same ol’ ordure that he sends in his e-mails touting what a great guy he is.  Toward the end of the letter, he invited us to visit his Web site so we could learn more about the views that we already know he holds.
Gawd, this is not how they explained government in high-school Civics class …

All Politics is Local

2 Apr

We recently got an e-mail from Move On, or Sit Up, or some organization like that asking if we’d show up at our U.S. Representative’s office to let him know that we supported an increase in the minimum wage.  We figured  that this would be a good time to let our rep know how we felt.  He’s kind of a do-nothing guy, if we can believe the weekly updates he himself puts out.  He’s always going to this or that coffee klatsch and getting meaningless awards from groups who think he’s just a peachy guy.  Tell him that folks who work their tails off for dirt wages deserve an increase? Sure, that was something we could get behind.

Jimmy Stewart

If only our rep was like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith goes to Washington.

We left at 11:00 am to get to our Rep’s office by noon (the district is long and thin – Elbridge Gerry would be proud.)  Despite the fact that we’d printed the directions from Map Quest, we managed to get lost and drove around aimlessly until we located the office.

Less than 10 people stood on the sidewalk outside the office holding signs exhorting the Rep to support an increase in the minimum wage. Oh well, at least they were out there.  Some drivers honked in solidarity as they passed.  We parked and joined the small group.  One woman said they’d find a sign for us.  We pointed out that perhaps we’d be more effective if we went into the office and told the rep our views.  She allowed that that was true, but they did not want to risk being thrown out.  Having missed out on the days of 60s protests, we were rarin’ to be thrown out.

We entered the office.  A woman sat at a desk behind a glass with a metal speaker hole in it, like a movie theater box office. We said that we’d like to talk to our Rep.  “He’s not here – he’s in Washington,” she replied nasally.  Oh great, the guy was not even there to know that a protest march, however humble, was going on outside.  The woman took our name and address and wrote “Supports minimum wage increase’ or something to that effect on a legal pad.  We apologized for not being high-powered lobbyists with deep pockets.  “I don’t know anything about lobbyists,” the woman replied.  “I’ve never seen any.”  And that was pretty much that.  We left the office, stopping to hobnob with the sign carriers once again.  They told me that a clean water action group was coming later.  We thanked them for the information, but said we needed to get back to work.

We thought of our Representative, probably lunching with a lobbyist that very moment.  We got in our car and drove back to work.  The event had been less dramatic than we’d hoped, but we weren’t sorry that we’d made the trip.

Being Right

16 Oct

Henry Gibson

A poem

If you follow the political scene even casually, you’ll note that each side is convinced their views will bring prosperity while the other side’s ideas are sure to bring ruin. That got us to thinking – what if you were right all the time? What if you were right, even when you desperately wished you were wrong? We mused on this for a while, and then we got into a poetic frame of mind.

Being Right
As blind Teresias must surely know,
There is no joy in always being right.
The hapless king has taken father’s life
And slept in his own mother’s marriage bed
Longing for the luxury of error,
No consolation comes from bitter truths.

-Harry Calnan

The gun thing

11 Oct

As noted before, here at De Jungle, we avoid controversial topics ’cause we don’t want some guy egging our house on Devil’s night.  However, if we don’t write about controversial stuff, we feel like wusses.  So, here we go.

We’re really tired of all the hand-wringing over firearm deaths, ’cause we think that the solution is obvious and should have been implemented years ago.  If we have to register our cars, we should have to register our guns.  Yeah, we know – some of you are gonna say that a step like that would put us on a slippery slope to all guns being confiscated. We have a good counter argument: it’s BS.  We have to license our vehicles and no one’s come to take them yet.  We had to license our dog, but no one’s come to take the dog.  The NRA trots out this old chestnut every so often ’cause they know it gets their base energized.

While were on the subject of the NRA, they’re really little more than the lobbying arm of the firearms industry.  Their logic is pretty circular.  “I support lax guns laws so I can have easy access to firearms to protect myself from those who easily armed themselves due to the lax gun laws that I supported.”

novelty gun