In Arthur C. Clarke's early--and arguably best--novel Childhood's Endan advanced alien civilization suddenly "appears" in giant, silent spaceships that hover over our cities.  Their intentions, we soon learn, are entirely benign; over a generation, they gently shepherd us to a millennial utopia of universal peace and prosperity.  But there's a catch: "appears" is in quotes because they won't let us see them, just their ships, and they communicate with us exclusively by voice.

For a while.  After that transformational generation has passed, they let themselves be seen.  And the reason for their concealment is immediately clear--they look like the devil.  (That's a seventeenth century woodcut of Baphomet on the far left and a made-up Charles Dance in SyFy's adaptation of the book next to it.)  But because of the decades of unbroken kindness since their arrival, their resemblance to the lords of hell is swiftly chalked up to an amusing coincidence.

But it wasn't.  The paradise they've made for us is just a transition.  They are here as emissaries of an infinitely higher being, overseeing the absorption of the last generation of humans--all the children in the world-- into it as the climax of our species' evolution.  They appeared in our mythology as demons in a racial premonition of the role they would play in humanity's metamophosis and extinction. And not just humanity's; as the children dissolve into the Overmind, Earth itself disintegrates as well.

The novel has haunted me since I read it the first time in junior high.  And somehow it got me thinking about a half-forgotten social phenomenon:  the scary clown hysteria of Fall 2016.  Yes, the Great Clown Scare was a real thing, thousands of sightings of armed and menacing jesters hovering in the woods or lurking in subway entrances and doorways.  Though the craze was worldwide, it centered in the United States and peaked in late October--just before the election.

So let me ask the obvious: Was it mere coincidence that we started to see scary orange haired buffoons everywhere just as it began to seem possible that Donald Trump would win the election?  Or was it a premonition of the future which, now realized, was even worse than we could have then imagined--an aged whorehopper with a scalp like a scalded poodle plunging the stock markets and roiling the world trade system just because he's in a bad mood? 

It's the nature of omens that they are always ignored.  We now live in a world run by an evil clown.




Clifford Brooks’ Athena Departs: Gospel of a Man Apart is the latest work of a poet rising to deserved prominence.  Incorporating much of his earlier Exiles of Eden, it---as both works’ names suggest—addresses issues of belonging and separation, home and departure, in ways that are paradoxically rooted in place and at the same time universal.

First, rooted in place.  This is clearly a Southern poet’s work.  Explicitly so: One poem is titled “An Ode to Southern Sons,” and another, “Sex and Sweet Tea,” mentions the “soft red Southern sky.” The prose poem “The Last Wispy Gypsy” says “no one keeps watch on the dirt road leading back to pavement,” a line that will immediately resonate with anyone who’s actually spent time on a dirt road. 

More importantly, universal.  Brooks is not afraid to tap into myth---—again, as his title suggests.  Athena is present in many pieces concerning relationships, adored but soon to be abandoned.  But Odysseus is everywhere, visibly, as a man or not quite, as an impulse--the simple inability to stay put, regardless of consequence,  He appears explicitly in “A Noble Death”---“oh, to have my own Ithaca!”  And as noted earlier the eroticism of the relationship poems is tempered by a sense of imminent loss—hers, of him, to the road.  “Even if I told you/ how alone/ loving me leaves a lady/you’d stay,” he says in “Hypothetical Date with Calypso.”  The drive to aloneness is undisguised in “As My Mind Wanders”—“a better, solitary existence.”

But don’t think for a moment that this is a freeze-dried once-over of Ovid.  Brooks blows the doors off with “Orpheus and Eurydice,” a prose-poem account of the myth informed by the roadhouse.  “Hades had, and has, a gambler’s stare, and hears a hanged man’s last prayers. . . .The house always wins.”   “Eurydice smiled behind the veil that fit like tinfoil over cold rock.”

Brooks is not afraid of emotion, but his diction is consistently masculine and taut.  He is an old-school poet of the first order nevertheless part of his place and generation.  This is the right stuff, and not to be missed. 

Buy the book at Kudzu Leaf Press.  Brooks' exploits can be followed at the Southern Collective Experience.




The Trump Presidency has raised many fascinating questions.  One, of course, is "How in the actual fuck did this happen?"  Another is, "Hey, weren't the Republicans supposed to be the national-defense law-and-order guys?"  But let's leave those aside for the moment.  

Where, exactly, Special Counsel Mueller is headed with all this raises an interesting constitutional issue.  It's widely assumed that the outcome will be a raft of indictments of Trump associates and family members, but that Trump himself is  immune from prosecution while he's actually sitting.  Thus, the worst-case outcome for him personally will be a report to Congress recommending impeachment, which  his treasonous human sockpuppets in the House will ignore.  (Note that he can, of course, be prosecuted once he leaves office.  Whether he can dodge this bullet through a preemptive self-pardon is a topic for another post.)  But that said, it's clear that the fundamental premise is wrong--there is no basis for believing that a sitting President can't be indicted.

First, there's nothing in the Constitution that says he can't.  It's simply not there.  It just provides a mechanism for removing him from office through impeachment.  That's it.  It may be objected that the notion is so inherently ludicrous that the Framers didn't think it need be addressed.  Not so.  They did specifically address the immunity of members of Congress, though--Art I. Sec. 6 provides them with protection from civil arrest, then a common means of enforcing debts, but specifically excludes from that immunity any criminal liability.  For that reason it can fairly be inferred that the Framers had no intention of making any elected official--including the President-- immune from criminal proceedings while in office.

This conclusion is buttressed by the history of the Vice Presidency in the criminal courts.  Twice, sitting Veeps have been indicted.  In 1804, then Vice President Aaron Burr was charged with murder in New York and New Jersey for blowing a hole in Alexander Hamilton.  Many of the Framers were still alive when it happened; Burr himself was Thomas Jefferson's second-in-command.  So you would think that if the Framers had intended that the Vice President enjoy criminal immunity while in office, someone would have said something.  Especially Burr, of course--but instead he fled the jurisdiction.  Similarly, in 1973, Spiro T. Agnew was charged with multiple corruption offenses while still serving as Richard Nixon's Vice President.  Again, no one raised vice-presidential immunity.

But wait, that's the Vice President.  Not the President.

Right.  Well, the Constitution draws no distinction between the two of them; in fact, it specifically says the qualifications of the former are to be no different than those of the latter, such as they are.  Remember that the Framers intended that the VP job go not to the President's running mate, but his rival--that is, whoever got the second highest number of electoral votes.  But because there's no basis in the text of the Constitution for presidential immunity, we have to turn to the ultimate justification--practicality.  And that really doesn't hold water either.

Proponents of immunity argue that the job of President is so super-special and demanding that its holder--alone among the three-hundred-million-plus citizens of this country--should be immune from criminal liability while in office.  That makes no sense on many levels, and leads to absurd results.  (It must of course be noted that the Supreme Court, in Flowers v. Clinton, held not only did the President have no civil immunity while in office, he wasn't even entitled to a stay of discovery proceedings.) Let's go back to the example of Aaron Burr.  What if Thomas Jefferson dropped dead--of natural causes--right after Alexander Hamilton?  What would have happened to the murder charges?  Dismissed?  What if New York had indicted Trump for fraud in the Trump U case while he was running and he got elected anyway?  Dismissed?  Stayed?  Or what if the President committed a crime before election and the statute of limitations expired during his term?  Out of luck, Ms. US Attorney?

But that really doesn't address the heart of the practicality argument, which essentially is that you can't have the chief executive of the world's only superpower distracted by a criminal case while in office.  Yet in the past thirty years we've subjected two sitting presidents to the yearlong agonies of actual and near-impeachment, and Reagan's second term was dominated by Iran-Contra.  The Republic did remarkably better during those three protracted public floggings than it is now.  

Yet even the practicality argument, tenuous as it is, misses the point.  If there's enough evidence against a president to warrant an indictment, the remedy is not a made-up constitutional privilege.  It's removal from office.  But he need not resign or be impeached.  If it's clear that the case will prevent him from exercising his duties, he can invoke the 25th Amendment to have the Vice President step in during his absence, to resume office if he's acquitted.  If he refuses to do so, of course, then Congress would have no alternative but to act.

There's nothing in the Constitution or common sense that prohibits a presidential indictment.  Let's see what Bob Mueller thinks.  
















In his Nobel acceptance speech--to which he refers here--Hemingway said that writers should write, not talk.  This interview proves him right.  Speaking in a strange staccato voice from verbatim notes apparently arranged on the floor, he's more wooden than his contemporary cultural icon Howdy Doody.  Worse, he's so nervous that he actually articulates the punctuation marks in the cheat sheets.  As you'll see, when the agony ends, he grips the interviewer's hand with a gratitude and relief so genuine that it brings tears to the eyes.

Sadly, though, it must be noted that the Nobel to which he refers was awarded in 1954.  That means that the man we're looking at was a very old 53, with seven more years of hard living to go.  Plimpton remarked that towards the end you could actually see his liver.  Though certainly a stranger to neither grain nor grape myself, I have to say that Hemingway's appearance here is a powerful reminder that it's a good idea to tap the brakes every now and again.

And of course, that writers should write, not talk.


A few days ago, a couple of million Americans were pretty sure they were about to be turned into radioactive vapor.  That is, if they were lucky.  If they weren't, they'd survive for a few minutes or hours in collapsed burning rubble, or even less lucky, for a few days before they succumbed to radiation sickness--vomiting blood, hair and fingernails falling out, skin sloughing off.  And of course they had thirty-eight minutes to think about it.  Some huddled with family in the comical hope that the bathroom walls would save them from a fission fireball; others frantically tried to find the family that in any event they could not possibly save.  But all of them just waiting to die.

Oh--never mind!  In an error too absurd to be believed a careless employee at the emergency management center had hit the wrong button.  And with a callousness and carelessness too extreme to be forgiven the agency had waited forty minutes to call back its mistake.

The episode is chillingly reminiscent of one of the most disturbing and powerful films of the twentieth century.  In Fail Safe (Sidney Lumet, 1964) a short-circuit in a primitive Cold War computer sends a nuclear bomber wing on a run to the USSR.  They cross into Soviet airspace; the world stands on the verge of war.  Luckily the Strategic Air Command is able to call them back.  Close call.

But that's just the beginning.  One bomber section doesn't get the word and proceeds towards its designated target--Moscow.  As the movie unfolds, the American President and high command desperately seek to stop the planes before they reach their objective and trigger World War III--first dispatching US fighters to shoot down their own comrades, then giving the Soviets US secrets in an effort to help them do the same.  In the scene linked above--from the 2000 live-action remake by George Clooney, the only such effort in the history of movies to be as good as the original--the Russians have launched nuclear missiles at the last surviving American plane as the President pleads with its commander to listen to his son tell him there's been a horrible mistake.  

It doesn't work, of course.  I won't give it all away, but the American bomber makes it to Moscow, and only the most extraordinary sacrifice avoids the nuclear extinction of our species.

That we could end human history through simple error had been made obvious two years before the movie's release.  In the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK was confronted with the discovery of Soviet nuclear missiles  ninety miles from Miami, putting the whole Eastern seaboard in danger of instant annihilation.  Throughout thirteen days of unimaginable tension, he resisted pressure from his advisers--including the surprisingly bloodthirsty Bobby--for a preemptive attack and stayed a course of gradually ratcheted-up pressure until the Soviets backed down.  

But that's not the whole story.  The missiles weren't there because of mindless Bolshevik aggression.  No, they were there because we screwed up.  The US had been supposed to remove its Jupiter nuclear missiles from Turkey--as close to the Soviet border as Havana is to Miami--months before and just never got around to it.  Thus the Soviets saw themselves as countering our hostile move.

But there's more.  What we didn't know until after the fall of the Soviet Union was that their commander on the ground in Cuba had tactical nuclear weapons and authority to use them without further orders.  So if we invaded--as Kennedy's cabinet urged--he could have fired short-range atomic missiles without picking up the phone to Moscow.  If Kennedy hadn't had icewater in his blood and steel in his sack, the likely consequence would have been an America and eastern Europe that glowed in the dark.

But he did, and we lived.  

What the Hawaii episode shows us is that technical failure or human error can trigger the most devastating and immediate consequences.  Those consequences can, however, be avoided by cold reason and a full appreciation of the scope and horror or modern war--it is worth remembering that both Kennedy and Kruschev had seen combat in World War II.

But the protagonists in our present nuclear crisis are neither rational nor seasoned.  Through some strange roll of the karmic dice the fate of humanity rests in the hands of two fat narcissistic manbabies with bizarre haircuts.  

The next time the wrong button gets pushed, we won't be so lucky.



Dan Reiter is on fire.  His latest in  Juked is a completely believable parable about a modern princess--the hybridization of a hedge founder and a model--who gets what she wants.  Any more about the plot would define a spoiler. Yet I can say that its descriptions of a privileged life in Boston, Cambridge, and Paris are sharply observed and wonderfully written.  Read it before your hipster friends beat you to the punch and sneer at you through their ironic mustaches! 


Yes.  It's snowing, all righty.  

An opportunity to stroll down memory lane in the magical kingdom without copyright.  

Dave's True Story was an exceptionally literate post-modern jazz-vocal trio active in those heady '90's, when moustaches were sad rather than ironic and artisanal was just a kind of wellwater.  (Okay, artesian.  I know.  Don't bother.)  In addition to "When Kafka Was the Rage," linked above, some of their brainier works include "Last Go Round" and "I'll Never Read Trollope Again"--no kidding, really.  I saw them twice, for free, a business model that no doubt explains their disappearance in the early part of this century.  But while they were around they were musically gorgeous and intellectually engaging.

Just the thing for a snowbound afternoon.




I took up this book with a sense of anticipation that was--almost--entirely rewarded.  Set in  New York--then a small city at the tip on the island of Manhattan--in 1746, its protagonist, Richard Smith,  is a well-mannered and cosmopolitan young man.  Versed in languages that extend to Turkish, the London stage, and conjuring tricks, he arrives bearing a letter of credit in excess of a thousand pounds charged on one of the infant City's largest financial concerns, an amount that, if honored, is so huge that it will exhaust its cash reserves.

If honored.  Much of the plot concerns the mystery--which our hero cultivates--as to his origins and intentions and New York's consequent suspicions of his legitimacy. As the City awaits confirmation of the validity of the debt by the next ship from London, in a few months, Smith finds himself embroiled in a series of adventures and misadventures that will not be entirely unfamiliar to readers of Tom Jones.  Or anyone who's just seen the movie.  Smith pursues a romantic interest in a well-born but difficult young woman, but consummates one with another man's wife, with predictable results.  In another episode he is saved at the last minute from certain death in a midnight sprint across the City's rooftops.  And speaking of last-minute escapes, he is twice spared the hangman's noose.  

Many reviewers refer to a startling plot twist.  While there is an entirely unexpected fact dropped two-thirds of the way through, once it is revealed, you can see the "twist" coming from way up the road.  

If I seem dismissive of the plot--and I'm not, to be clear; Spufford acknowledges his debt to the eighteenth-century novel-- my admiration for the setting is unbounded.  Spufford's mastery of the detail of life in eighteenth-century New York is astonishing, and his learning is lightly worn.  What he communicates most clearly is just how small, and how isolated, this largest of American cities was only thirty years before the revolution.  It was a town huddled on the very edge of a hostile continent, separated from the imperial capital by three thousand miles of seawater.  It was a scary place to be, and Spufford shows us that.  Equally compelling is the sense of the chaotic and ad lib nature of political and commercial life--a Governor hanging on by his fingernails, business conducted in the currencies of the dozen other colonies, other countries, or just bartered goods.  And some of the details are truly startling--just what "due process" meant three hundred years ago, for example, or the perils of a same-sex interracial relationship.

Though I didn't think the book quite lived up to the hype, it is nevertheless richly rewarding and not to be missed.



The well-deserved attention  paid to John Crowley's most recent book, Ka, merits a fresh look at his earliest work.  The Deep (1975) is a richly imagined, dark, and lyrical novel that prefigures much of what was to come.

Into a war between Black and Red factions in a semifeudal other world drops the Visitor in a silver egg from the stars.  A genderless android with memory gone, he is discovered by the Endwives, nurse-coroners who attend every battle.  He is adopted by the Red faction and rises rapidly through their ranks.  He foils an assassination attempt by a woman of the Just, a secret guild headed by the tarot-reading Neither-Nor.  The Visitor compels her to take him to the edge of the world, where Leviathan reveals its history as a colony peopled by human seed in light-driven sailships.  Their tiny circular world is no more than the peak of a tower with its foundations thousands of miles below in the depths of a gas giant.  The Visitor returns in  his silver egg to whoever sent him, and the Just assassin returns to her world as the Woman in Red, a messianic figure preaching the cosmology she learned from Leviathan.

Have I given away too much?  Not at all.  The book's great pleasures are to be found in the intricate machinations of the warring factions--based on the Wars of the Roses but familiar to fans of Game of Thrones--the deeply imagined details of a Celtic medieval society, and Crowley's rich language.   One detail that will never leave me is the "war viols," the stringed instruments that accompany every skirmish.  This is a book to be enjoyed not only by admirers of Crowley's later work, but followers of Ursula K. LeGuin, Mervyn Peake, and--no kidding--George R. R. Martin.