Overweening Generalist

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Poetry, Conversation, Translations, In-Form-a-Tion, Etc

In an interview about his book of poetry titled Uselysses, Noel Black recalls a time with Harry Mathews at a San Francisco art school, and I like this passage because it sheds light on my two previous blogspews on "translation":

Harry Mathews came and gave a lecture to a class I took at New College, and I had this amazing conversation with him afterward about the “I” and “self” and that whole labyrinth. I’ll never forget what he said to me because it was so freeing. I’m paraphrasing here, but what he said is that Americans, because most of us only speak one language, have a tendency to believe that language comes from within us out of some sort of linguistic font of self, which leads us to this “I” to which we cling. For a lot of Europeans, on the other hand, many of whom are polyglots, language is something external that’s not only mutable, but easily rearranged and manipulated and only loosely regarded as any part of a fixed self. By that measure, he had concluded after many years of living abroad, that you could only know yourself with the shared language you were using with another person, i.e. you are creating a different self with each different person you’re with in whatever common language you happen to share. I loved that idea so much because what it says is that the I is always in relationship, that it’s a conversation, a community.
-gleaned from this Levi Rubeck interview with Noel Black

It seems what Noel Black is getting from Harry Mathews here supports what Lera Boroditsky has been arguing in her academic career. But then, beware: this is me, today, interpreting/translating/fumbling to explain to my Dear Reader what I think is going on. Lots may get lost in my grapples with Boroditsky's  thought, with what Noel Black seeks to remember ("I'm paraphrasing here...") from his time with Harry Mathews, what Mathews thinks "makes sense" vis a vis European polyglots and language and the "self" versus what monolingual Unistatians think about where language comes from, how it relates to a "self," etc, etc, etc.

I'll return to Noel Black's poetry later, but want to try and haul in some things about interpretations, translations, and Information Theory.

                                     How ordinary my having a blog seems!

One of my own spiritual fathers, Robert Anton Wilson, often wrote and talked about the acceleration of information. In his cosmic intellectual goofy-sufi-like humor, he eventually dubbed this mathematical doubling the Jumping Jesus Phenomenon, and if you don't know what it is, the first paragraph in this link gives the inkling. RAW took this stuff seriously, if not siriusly, and he actually has quite a lot to say about the statistical mechanisms underlying this phenomenon, and the social, personal, political and philosophical implications of it. Terence McKenna had some similar things to say on this topic, although they seemed more teleological and metaphysical in bend than RAW's. If one looks at Ray Kurzweil's work, particularly the fat The Singularity Is Near, Kurzweil seems to have picked up from RAW and his influences on information doubling and logarithmically taken it to another level, but that's for The Reader (and future history?) to decide.

There's also quite an abundant literature that seeks to determine boundary distinctions and interactions between types of knowledge, and, more fascinating to me, the differences between data, information, knowledge and wisdom. I have found nothing but vast abstruse disagreements here. Which is fine with me.

RAW, in his widely dispersed writings on information doubling in history, touched on the qualitative aspects therein, but any reader can easily miss that in favor of what I see as - wild and ironically - a Platonified view of how information works. If Claude Shannon's and Warren Weaver's and John Von Neumann's and Norbert Wiener's and Gregory Bateson's and...all  the others mentioned in James Gleick's marvelous 2011 book The Information - the information that can be quantified and more or less given a relatively thick description as to how it worked within a scientific/technological sense - THAT information...then yes. Maybe. But I wonder about our brain's unrealistic expectations of information transformation, mostly because I played, at childhood birthday parties, the game of Telephone...and never stopped thinking about what it meant. (Huh? WTF is the OG onto now?)

I remember how funny it was that, what went into the first kid's ear turned out, after the 16th iteration, to be shorter and weirder and having almost no resemblance to the original. Why was it funny?

Well, humor may be a way to let our guards down and admit we're not perfect. We seem not even close to perfect. And that it's okay, because being human? We're far too complex to get strings of information exactly right, using our wetware. (I didn't think this stuff about Telephone until the last couple years.) Getting data and memory 100% is not something we do well in these embodied minds of aggregated replicators and evolutionarily legacy-ed mind-software. But what about other implications?

One of the "reasons" the market tanked in 2008 was "we" ("quants" and others) had written algorithms into very posh hi-powered computers that took in data about either buying or selling, and in microseconds, made "decisions" on whether it was buy or sell time. And the data/information the algorithms were working on was extensive. But it was based on earlier data strings that supposedly represented something in the Actual World that you or I would care about...like buying a house. But again: this data string was based on decisions made in microseconds from other data strings. It was like Telephone, only these algorithms were making buy/sell decisions without any human minds interposed. And yet, all you needed was one bit of some "interpretation" (can robotic algorithms, no matter how complex, be said to interpret?) that the algorithm "thought" was okay...to be wrong in some way. And then we had a sort of Telephone-like iteration which resulted in something that was not given to the same mirth of a children's backyard party and something rather like a Worldwide Economic Depression. Oh, humans, talking amongst themselves, playing by what the "rules" allowed, made bad decisions too...

Were there unethical, even criminally negligent decisions made? You betta you ass there were.

                            There's a LOT missing in this basic schematic, no?

Why do we allow complex mathematical formulae, worked over at blinding speeds by hi-powered computers, to make "decisions" about what are basically human values? Because it seemed/seems like a cost-efficient or "neat-o" idea? I read about this stuff and the FOLLY angers me. (Hence the Robin Hood Tax seems like a very sound idea to me.)

Now, I'm writing this based on my best understanding as a Generalist, some dude reading books, and maybe I've missed something? Maybe the authors I've read missed something? Maybe I misread some tiny bit based on some tiny bit someone, who I trust KNOWS something...errr...missed? Hey, that's life.

It's not at all convincing or clear to me that higher levels of abstracted information make for something healthier, to borrow from a hippie slogan, "for children and other living things." Too many artifacts and errors creep. We must always have something like an attempt of wise humans refereeing. It seems far too many Geeks and policy makers do not get this.

And that's my point. Information transfer from brain to brain or from algorithm to algorithm of from algorithm to brain is not a Platonically perfect dealio, ladies and germs. And the repercussions are not academic; they come packing a world of hurt at times.

Back to Black...

Noel Black's Uselysses
Gawd, what a delightful, funny book of poetry. This alone should be enough to pique you, but maybe my taste is not close enough to yours, so I'll say a few things about why I like the book.

Black remembered someone calling themselves a "depressionist," and, being an artist in today's Unistat? It's easy to feel useless, no matter how much effort and soul-bearing you do. For a punster  - who prefers portmanteau to pun, as Joyce preferred the portmanteau as stylistic device -"uselysses" can describe the interior feelings of many an artist in this day and age.

He's steeped in the poetic tradition, but feels its weight, Whitman appearing at odd times throughout the book, laying his body down along the entire stretch of road one might drive from New York to San Francisco. And, steeped in the art school/academic and especially San Francisco poetry scene (where certain, say LANGUAGE poets live in their own poetic fiefdoms while poets of Other Schools theirs), he had to leave, go back to Colorado Springs, where he was brought up by a gay father who died of AIDS, and a lesbian mother. He goes back to evangelical right wing hotbed Colorado Springs to reclaim it, in some Whitmanian sense, for Art.

Another of the younger poets who draw upon and allude to TV and pop culture (almost) as much as anyone, Black's surrealistic sensibility and sense of the cosmic absurdity of his own fleeting thoughts in the mundane get worked over into something truly artistic and human and hilarious. Aside from a very witty section of short poems all based on how some famous poets died, he's perhaps best-known as the author of a chapbook (contained in Uselysses) called Moby K. Dick, (an odd concatenation of Philip K Dick's book Ubik and Melville's masterwork) in which he takes books he's loved and combines their deeper structures, has a sort of ethereal chat between both books (or book/another author), and neither book comes to the reader in bold relief; rather, the odd intertwining essence-ish-ness of each book speaks in the short poems, variously titled "Lord Jim Thompson," "Paul Austerlitz," "Watchmen in the Rye," "Huckleberry Finnegans Wake," "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold Blood," you get the idea.

If you're a Joycean looking for something in, say, "Huckleberry Finnegans Wake" you're unlikely to come away with anything, save for the idea that a poet drew, in some odd way, on Finnegans Wake. Black's purpose here seems closer to William Burroughs's use of the cut-up method, only Black is cutting up general feelings - interpretations - in his mind about the two books, how his sense of himself was subsumed while reading those books, and how his made-meanings of texts dreamily interposed in the overnight "dialogue" between both books as they sat on his shelf.

But this is Black at his artsiest. The Noel Black I had most fun with was the one who wanted to write poetry again because it was FUN, and he had calendrical time and geographic distance from two places he'd tried to make it, San Francisco and Brooklyn. Colorado Springs seems to suit him fine. Here are some lines from a poem that, to me, depict my favorite aspects of Black. From "Poem of Carl Sagan":

It must be confusing for Christians
who arrive in Heaven
to find Carl Sagan seated at the right hand of God,
which is a gigantic, glowing vagina
floating above the Captain's chair
on the deck of the Starship Enterprise.

"It's interesting - and I never imagined this - "
says Carl, using the weirding voices of Science to soothe the recently dead,
"that the Universe is merely an emanation of the brain,
which as we look into it, tricks us into believing 
that we are gazing into an unfathomable outward expanse
that is but the unknowable inner reaches of our own minds. Now,
who would like to be reborn?"

Vaginal wormholes, C. S. Lewis perturbed by it all, Star Trek's spaceship as the Holy Ghost, telling someone they'll understand heaven a lot better if they re-read Dune, then here's Carl Sagan again:

Then he unzips his burnt-orange windbreaker
and a laser of love shoots out
from the spectral Starfleet logo upon his heart,
zapping them all into the raptures of wordless knowledge
as God folds their souls into dream.

If this all sounds vaguely like you and your funny friends, high in college, your parents split up or dead, listening to the Scorpions in someone's mom's basement in Unistatian suburbia in 1981, then yea: you probably have something in common with Noel Black. And you can either confirm or deny this by reading this book, but ESPECIALLY the last part, a rather long poem called "Prophecies For The Past," which was, to me, one of the most moving poems I've read by a currently living poet. I found Uselysses in my public library, but will buy the book if only for "Prophecies For The Past," which articulates a living reality for so very many of us, growing up in broken homes in cultural poverty pockets or suburban white America, last 30 years of the 20th century.

Noel Black, family man, seems wonderfully jester-wise and nutty, wears his resilient heart on his sleeve, which I picture as paisley right now, for some reason. I loved this book.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

More On Translations (NOT: "Moron Translations")

Searle and Future AI Robots
In the previous installment here, I briefly alluded to Prof. John Searle, and it was because his philosophical invention of the "Chinese Room" still is, for me, a Thought Experiment that I've found exceedingly stimulating. As I see it, as of today's date, I think he makes a strong case for the impossibility, in principle, of the Machine Language translation to have anything like a human mind behind it: it only executes algorithms; no matter how accurate and seemingly human-like its responses, it doesn't truly understand.

                             One of my favorite living academics, John Searle of Berkeley
                             Photo from, as much as I can glean, 2005, Mexico. Not sure
                             who took it, but I'd guess Dagmar?

Nevertheless, I'm also drawn toward the eerie converse: maybe all we're doing is executing mental logical algorithm-like strings of thought-stuff when we're operating, on all our levels of Being. One strand of thought about AI that extrapolates to some future Singularity sees the AI robots (probably fairly attractive and somewhat "graceful" in bodily movement?) as very adept intelligences in some ways that are far beyond ours, while we Humans are still able to do things (with humor, irony, and empathy?) that the AIs don't - and won't - quite get. Intuitively, this line of prognostication makes sense to me.

So, the experiment I ran using Michael Chabon's line from a recent essay in the New York Times on Finnegans Wake and H.P. Lovecraft was AI "machine mind" attempting a series of translations. I wonder what it would look like if a series of humans who were skilled enough to translate English to Chinese, one who could translate Chinese to Arabic, another person Arabic to Spanish, one rare wily one for the Spanish to Ukrainian, a Ukrainian to Dutch person, and then someone taking from that entire series of translations, with Dutch in hand, translating it back to English? At present I lack the funding, the research grant, or lots of Dad's money to conduct such a whimsical experiment, so I must be happy with the ease of something like Babel Fish. 

What Was the Damned Point?
I've not blogged on this stuff before, but for the past three and a half years, I've been enmeshed in something I think of as the Neo-Whorfian Model, which derives from the classic Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, and which seemed to devolved to a rather robust debunking by anthropological linguists and others roughly in the cognitive sciences of Hard Whorfianism: that each language creates a different worldview. What has been labeled Soft Whorfianism was given its due (despite some rather overweening Chomskyites): the language we speak shapes the cognitive "realities" we find ourselves in. 

                                Lera Boroditsky, one of the most fascinating researchers
                                      in the revived field of linguistic relativity 

The Neo-Whorfian stuff seems to be waxing now, and I'm currently in thrall with people like Lera Boroditsky and George Lakoff. I think language seems a strong part of a total environment, and neurologically it's instantiated/"mapped" on neural circuits that other parts of our brain seem to think "are" the "things" that are wired in as circuits there, in brain-matter. But maps deceive. They also give different, abstracted-from-existential/phenomenological "reality" perspectives, depending on the intentions of their makers. In my playful experiment, I imputed intentionality and mind to the Machine. This seems analogous to trying to communicate in a foreign country and not quite having the adequate language, a situation I've been in many times, one which seems always sobering if bracing. With all the pantomiming, pointing, mispronunciations, and frenzied attempts to use the Phrase Book in real time, I don't know if the future AI-bots will be better than us, or we'll have augmented ourselves to keep up with them. Maybe they'll just kick our asses. (I just now recalled a brilliant book I read that speaks to this. I read Slaves To The Machine right after it came out, and it had a drug-like effect.)

Finnegans Wake and Translations: Strange But True
Simply put: I find the very idea confounding. And yet there it is: Finnegans Wake was translated into French, Dutch, German, Polish, and wildly (and absurdly?) enough, Japanese and Finnish! I have no comment, but wonder who, how, why, to what end, what do readers get out of these...?

I must surmise that this proves there is no limit to what a certain sort of linguistic freak will attempt. Which I find totally wonderful.

Next thing you're gonna try and tell me is that they're going to get a Chinese version of it. Yea, right...

Possibly the Wake represents a Third situation, juxtaposed with the two alluded to above (humans and AI using language to translate/communicate). To briefly play with this idea, let us see Joyce's book as the apotheosis of extremely dense wordplay in the Novel. Many devices the Novel (and its writers) has/have developed are used therein. It requires above all Time, but pays off in overflowing information flow-through in the nervous system and its wetware architecture; the Novel's ability to create Other Worlds in the minds of its readers may still be unparalleled. So might the Novel's ability to develop empathic circuitry be nonpareil. Whether any one given reader of the Wake sees this limbic tropism occur within themselves seems peculiar to that reader; for many others Joyce's "claybook" appeals to the musical sense, and the frontal cortex and its abilities to Solve Problems...Not to mention something variously labeled "The Creative Self" or "Artistic Mind."

Short Commentary on the Wiki for Books Most Translated
I take it the Jehovah's Witnesses see translation as a major strategy. Pinocchio comes in at number three? It still needs to be translated into another 152 languages to surpass the Witness tome. No one's catching The Bible. I checked the Vegas odds on Pinocchio  or any of the others in the Top 10 surpassing The Bible by 2050, and they'll give you 300 to 1 odds for The Little Prince, but I really don't have a dog in this fight. Verne's 20KLeagues is a truly fantastic book, but what makes it so much better than any of his other stuff, much less anything by H.G. Wells? I can't account for those who translate for the rest of the world, and looking at this list makes me feel awfully parochial for some odd reason. The various translators themselves? Worldwide? Bless them with fine drugs, fantastic sleep, transcendent sex, and much laughter, for what they do is an act of love towards humankind...(Yes, even the army of Jehovah's Witnesses translators. I mean what the hell, right?)

Finally, I must confess that Paulo Coelho's 1988 book The Alchemist, tied with Harry Potter (!) at 67 languages? I'd never heard of it. Now I feel I must get to that book before the newly minted summer's up.

Re: Tom Robbins
He said Robert Anton Wilson turned him on to the idea of reading Finnegans Wake. Robbins has kept a copy bedside for years, has only read a few pages before nodding off, but for him, the Wake engenders wonderfully weird dreams. He said something like this in a documentary film on Robert Anton Wilson titled Maybe Logic

In the previous blog on translation, I ended with Robbins. In his book Wild Ducks Flying Backward: The Short Writings of Tom Robbins there's a short piece called "Lost In Translation" in which he gives a passage from his 1984 book Jitterbug Perfume in its original (it's hilariously, tomrobbinsy surrealistic in its anthropomorphizing of vegetables), then a "back-translation" from the Czech (something analogous to my weirdo experiment with Babel Fish), and Robbins seems quite okay with it. Some of the "meaning" from the original surrealistic vegetables' attributes and aspirations (especially the beets!) has been altered. But what of it? It still swings!

Robbins thinks some translations are "more precise" than others. It seems no one can judge this more accurately than the writer of the original, although I've seen some fascinating arguments that question this. Here's the end of TR's piece on "literal back-translation":

I've been told by bilingual readers that until recently, when the insensitive publisher unduly hurried the translator, I've been reproduced in Italian with scant loss of meaning or intent; but that the Mexican version of Even Cowgirls Get The Blues is quite "sleazy," a description that probably doesn't displease me as much as it ought.

Incidentally, Jitterbug Perfume in Czech back-translates into Perfume of the Insane Dance. I'm not sure but that I don't prefer that title to my own. So, if much is lost in translation, something on rare occasions may also be gained. (pp.209-211)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Translations? A Mid-Sized Armful of Disparate Riffs OR: Does Any Of This Make Sense?

"Many addicts HP basic entry in the work that the reader can't help noting that the formation of the people after the end of the road, which leads to death, hitting something disgusting, as if they were linked to related/human skin. -Michael Chabon (Chinese) (Arabic) (English) (Ukrainian) (Dutch) (English)"

               Novelist Michael Chabon, who just happens to live in Berkeley too

In my previous blogspewage, Prof. Eric Wagner responded in the comments section with a quote from Michael Chabon, which related Joyce's Finnegans Wake to something almost sinister or evil or menacing, as HP Lovecraft's Necronomicon was meant to make us feel. The latter book, while fictional, "is" real on some ontological level - it has some ontological status, I will argue. But this isn't my point, of course. You're reading the OG and you know he digresses like Laurence Sterne on bad acid.

What "is" the first paragraph, above? "Many addicts..."?

It was an experiment in machine translation using Babel Fish. Here's how the first paragraph was derived: I cut Prof. Wagner's quote from Michael Chabon, pasted it into Babel Fish's box, and translated it into Chinese, with a nod to Prof. Searle. I then cut/pasted the Chinese (which I understood exactly zero of, looking at it) into the original translation box, chose the Chinese to be translated into Arabic (more weird characters I didn't have a clue about), and then repeated these iterations, from Arabic to Spanish, Spanish to Ukrainian, Ukrainian to Dutch, and finally, Dutch back into English.

The original quote from Chabon, as given by Wagner, was this:

"A reader steeped in the work of H.P. Lovecraft could not help observing that, to many educated people, there was something unmistakably loathsome about the Wake, a touch of Necronomicon, as though it had been bound in human hide. - Michael Chabon"

                                                       H.P. Lovecraft (d.1937)

I'm guessing the Machine thought "Lovecraft" - at some point - was really "basic entry." Anyway, the translation by Babel Fish was, I thought, ironic, in that, the original subject matter had to do with a novelist's take on Joyce's novel, which most people find the most difficult book to "translate" from Joyce's own Dream-Wake-Language (at times I've called it "Wicklang," for reasons readers of the book might understand) into their own understandings. Chabon further related Joyce's book to Lovecraft, whose profoundly extra-terrestrial, transdimensional forces of appalling indifference to human understanding or suffering suffuse his books. It's as if the Transhumanist's Artificial Intelligence Machines, from the year 2030, combined with Genetics and Nanotechnology, had reached their "singularity," and come back to haunt us with a stark omen for us all: "formation of the people after the end of the road, which leads to death, hitting something disgusting, as if there were linked to/related human skin." But then my ma always said I had a very active inventive complex...

                             Supposedly the small print is the first page?

For the translation going on in my own nervous system (i.e, "speaking for myself"), Chabon's observation has, via an iterated polyglot Babel Fish peregrination, been made far more..."eldritch," to use a word Lovecraft himself used often. And thus, what I see as ironic. 

The Reader (translation: you) may see it differently. If we keep looking at the translated passages, back and forth, we can see where the Machine got its ideas. "Bound in human hide," via its commodius vicus of recirculation via Babel Fish becomes "linked to related/human skin." Readers steeped in HPL's work became "addicts" at some point. Where the Machine got "formation of the people at the end of the road" seems somewhat less clear to me, and therefore qualifies as my favorite part of the translation.

I was actuated to think/write about translation by Prof. Wagner's answer to my question.

                               Russian structuralist linguist semiotician
                               Roman Jakobson (1886-1982) I interpret
                               his expression here as something like:
                              "Wait a minute...did I forget to turn off the 
                               stove before I drove to the library?"

Moving On
Professor Roman Jakobson, the great, great structuralist, said there were three basic types of translation, and I'll give my riffs on each, after you look at Dr. Timothy Leary for a second:

  1. Intralingual: This looks like re-wording. Hope I'm not giving Dr. Jakobson short shrift here. I would give many examples I've gleaned from academics, but I'd rather sit here and wonder about the scads of translations of the Tao Te Ching, supposedly by the Chinese person who history has (at times) named as "Lao-Tzu"...how much has THAT book changed via translation down through the years, travels, languages, changes in semantic understandings, writing systems, etc? To go back to Prof. Wagner's answer: How can I not agree? Let me give perhaps an extreme example, but I think it nevertheless fits my purposes here: Timothy Leary wrote a book called Psychedelic Prayers and Other Meditations. In some definite ways, it's a "loose" (what the hell does that mean?) translation of other previous English translations ("intralingual") of "Lao-Tzu," who was known to have been translated very early on circa 300BCE by syncretists who wished to lessen political factionalism among warring Chinese states. Leary didn't know Chinese. And furthermore, he's using his own syncretistic ideas derived from ethology, psychedelic drug experimentation, diverse religious knowledge and metaphors derived from them, and his PhD in Psychology to concoct a "guidebook" for people in the late 20th century English speaking world...to prepare for psychedelic drug trips. Leary re-worded much of prior English translations of the Tao Te Ching and translated/interpreted for an assumed audience. I think if Jakobson were in my room right now he'd be screaming at me for mis-interpreting what he meant by "intralingual," but then Roman would've been missing the point, my point. I'm a hermeticist anyway! This is what we do...<cue: canned laughter from 1960s TV sitcoms>
  2. Interlingual: I think Jakobson means "translation proper" here. Sorta like what you non-native English speakers are doing right now, as you read this blog. If you were to look at my text here and re-write it "in your own words," - in whatever language - without trying to do "damage" to what you think the OG means, I think you're having at Interlinguality. But then, as Professor Carlin said, when he noted that often in the court of law, a lawyer will tell someone on the witness stand to "tell the court...in your own words..."...this is absurd! No one has their own words! We're all using the same ones everyone else is using! But if you must use "your own words," just go ahead and say them: "Fringly cragit ponchee flooo!" (I suspect Roman would again be all frowny were he here.)
  3. Intersemiotic: As I understand it, Roman Jakobson meant "an interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of nonverbal sign systems." Hell, that's the interpretation by one of his colleagues that I copied into my notes from some highfalutin' book on Semiotics. I'm not sure and don't remember, but Jakobson may have been able to speak English, and may have actually written those words himself. I don't know. Do you know? Anyway I think he meant something like reading a book of poetry (in translation?) and then doing something like making a painting out of how the poetry made you feel. I'm not entirely sure. You come up with a better interpretation!

Ending The Blog Post
I harken back to one of my favorite living writers, Tom Robbins. In an essay collected in his book, Wild Ducks Flying Backward he writes about how his novels have been translated.  Now, most writers tend to assert something substantial got lost in the translation from their native tongue to the translated one, but Robbins goes on (see pp.209-211) about how he thinks that, sometimes, "literal back-translation" into English has improved his work. Say what you will, but I must applaud Robbins here for his cosmic sense of humor and overall non-graspingness. 

Q: Can loose translations of texts give rise to edifying misreadings? And if so, why? (You may choose to take this course for non-credit.)
                               Tom Robbins, one of my favorite 
                               living prose stylists. Born: 1936. Died: NEVER

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Drug Report: June, 2012: The Trouble With Cholesterol

[Friends: I could write about DRUGS every day here for five years and never get tired of it, although most of you would be tired of me. The mandate I've placed on myself is to adopt the persona of a "generalist," so the drug-writing would do harm to the stated purpose of the blog...I'm not sure I've made a good case for my thesis yet anyway, although one of these days I'll arrive at the point...There are already quite a lot of good readable blogs on drugs out there anyway, and if you've seen one you'd like to give a shout-out to, go ahead and mention it in the comments section. - OG]

Lipitor and Other Statin Drugs, and Why I May Have an Excuse For Not Being As Smart As You Think I Oughtta Be...
...Which I'll get to shortly, but first: did you know that, despite our ability to synthesize new compounds as medicines/pharmaceuticals/DRUGS, we still derive most of our best-selling drugs from Nature? Can you imagine surgery before the opiate drugs like morphine? Well, where did we find out about opium? From poppy seeds. This will never cease to invoke wonder in me: a molecule produced by a flower was found to produce euphoria and a diminution of pain in humans. We didn't know why/how this worked (morphine synthesized in the lab circa 1803) until the latter half of the Roaring 20th century.

Indeed, a recent study from Singapore shows that about 25% of the best-selling medicines were derived from microorganisms first found in leeches, snails, bacteria, fungi, and other critters. To meander away from the topic for one sentence, what I found interesting in the study linked to here was that these researchers think they've punched a hole in the reigning idea that beneficial-to-humans substances can be found throughout the biosphere; they think there are hot pockets of classes of organisms where you can get much more bang for your buck when looking for the novel stuff, and this is likened to the way petroleum geologists have gone looking for where to drill most profitably. But yea: if you use aspirin, antibiotics, Procodin for coughs, Ventolin for asthma attacks, Lantus for diabetes, Beserol as a muscle relaxant, or Drovan for hypertension, you have, behind all these drugs, researchers studying the microorganisms produced by "wee beasts" - as the Father of Microbiology, Anton van Leeuwenhoek (say "LAY-ven-hook") - called them. But let me back up just a bit.

                                           statin-discoverer Akira Endo, at 75 in 2008

Lurking around since the 1950s at least was the idea that, the reason heart attacks were such a problem was that people make cholesterols in their liver, derived from dietary constituents, and these cholesterols do all kinds of beneficial things for us, like maintain cell walls and cellular skeletal structures. The liver made an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase (which I include in this post to try to impress you), and this stuff did lots of good, but if there was too much of it, when it tried to return to the heart, it got stuck on arterial walls and formed fatty-like plaques. Maybe these plaques built up over time, but when they got too big they caused strokes; when they came loose they caused heart attacks. Those obstructed arteries probably played havoc in many ways. Certainly cardiologists and heart surgeons believed this: they saw evidence of it with their own eyes. (I'll spare you the pics.)

But let me back up again a bit.

                                  Anton van Leeuwenhoek, lens-grinder, curious self-
                                  experimenter extraordinaire. Read the chapter on him
                                  in de Kruif's The Microbe Hunters!

In 1971, a researcher at Sankyo Pharmaceuticals, Akira Endo - not to be confused with the Akira Endo who's a Japanese-American conductor - began to muck around with chemicals produced by fungi that grew on things like rice. He is credited with discovering statins, a class of drugs that definitely lower LDL cholesterol. Flash forward 35 years and Endo's receiving accolades and awards and the Japanese equivalent of the Nobel Prize for medicine. Those 35 years flash-forwarded and we also see that every Big Pharma company had their own statin drugs, but Pfizer's Lipitor (atorvastatin) was the blockbuster, the Thriller, the Titanic of all pharmaceutical drugs. It entered the market in 1997 and has made Pfizer $81 billion. It's probably the best-selling pharma-drug of all time. At least 20 million Unistatians are taking it in 2012, most of them over 45 years old. Pfizer's patent protection ran out last November, and it has been aggressively dealing with insurance companies by lowering its price in order to compete with the new generics market. Meanwhile, studies done by academic researchers and governmental bodies keep finding that statins are something like miracle-drugs, not only demonstrably lowering cholesterol and heart attacks and other cardiovascular morbidities, but they might inhibit Alzheimer's and, and, and...well, just all sorts of unforeseen wonderful things these statins do! But we consumers might want to start looking into these claims for ourselves. Chances are, we use statins ourselves or know someone who uses them. And let me just say this: make no mistake about it, Big Pharma largely funds just about every study you'll read on how great statins are.

Just one more back-up and then I'll keep it in drive from here on out?

Some Personal Stuff: About My Blood and Genes
Around 1997 I went in for a physical. I'm a lithe, ectomorphic dude. I'm omnivorous, but not a major meat-eater. I love eggs, but only have them once every two weeks or so. I exercise a lot, because I enjoy the mental states I get in when I'm hiking or riding my bike around town, and I love the endorphin buzz if I've exercised vigorously enough. But my blood tests showed too-high LDL (the "bad" cholesterol that could shorten lives). My doctor said he was surprised because of my lean body mass and asked about my parents. Well, my mom died of a massive heart attack in her sleep at age 53, but she had smoked cigarettes heavily from an early age. My dad? He's got a bit of a belly but he's in pretty good shape and yes, he's on cholesterol-lowering drugs. My doc thought I probably had a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol, and offered to write a prescription for Lipitor, which I balked at. He said I could try to lower my levels on my own through diet and exercise for six months, come back for a blood test, and if it's still high, I really ought to go on a statin. I said let's do that.

So I practically went vegan (not quite) and exercised with an added reason in mind, went back six months later: practically no change in LDL levels. So, I went on Lipitor.

Let me say this: I have never noticed any untoward effects of 10mg of Lipitor before bed. And when I went back four months later for a blood test, a few days later my doc called and said he'd never seen such a quick and dramatic lowering of cholesterol levels, especially the LDL baddies. So, as I understood it, I had moved into a mode of medical thought that was about preventing a disease before it has a chance to occur. This made sense to me, and seemed "progressive."

                                  Did mushroom spores arrive here from space? What 
                                  are some of them trying to tell us? Are you a mycophile,
                                  a mycophobe, or more neutral?

Among Us: Fungus
Lipitor hit the top of the charts, investors in Pfizer were euphoric. Later research showed all the other competing statins from the other companies were just as good (Crestor, et.al), but Lipitor's advertising was stellar. And all these billions from something derived from fungus from red yeast rice...something like that. In contemporary taxonomy of living things, Fungi has its own Kingdom all to itself. They reproduce via almost-invisible spores that fly through the air. Mycologists (AKA mushroom experts) are always fun to listen to; I've never heard a mycologist who was a dull speaker, and Paul Stamets (watch the gorgeous 150-second video in the lower right hand corner, "Fantastic Fungi: The Spirit of Good"!) and Terence McKenna (who was largely self-taught) are/were totally spellbinding in their own way. Every mycophile I've known was eccentric and very intelligent. There's something about fungus I can't put my finger on...I learned from both Stamets and McKenna that some people tend to be paranoid about the creepy images and powers of mushrooms and other varieties of fungus. These people are called mycophobes. The very straight east coast banker R. Gordon Wasson, an American, was a mycophobe, until his Russian wife Valentina - a mycophile - showed him how wonderful fungi were. Wasson later tracked down the mushroom that Mexican shamans said allowed humans to contact the gods. When he wrote an article about it for Life in the late 1950s, it caused a big stir among Beatniks and artists and other intellectual ne'er do-wells. As well it should've.

Yep: fungus can be tasty. It can create compounds with strong effects on humans, including alcohol, antibiotics, and hallucinogens. And it can lower cholesterol and save lives...according to the cardiologist model. But there are dissenters...Let's give 'em a hearing.

The Statin Contrarians
Largely shouted-out by the Big-Pharma-backed studies, this small but concerned group of medical researchers (possibly the most notable being Beatrice Golomb of UC San Diego) have been raising questions about what they think may be the vastly over-prescribed statin public, the manipulation of data by Big Pharma, the longterm side effects, whether statin use leads to Lou Gehrig's Disease and other neuromuscular diseases, and dementia, depression, and impulsive behavior. Furthermore, there may be a serious question that if statins have serious and more widespread side-effects, would we ever even find out, with the way the FDA tracks this stuff? Florida doctor Mark Goldstein even linked the massive use of statins to the 2008 world economic meltdown. I don't know how serious he was, but the impulsive behavior he saw in some of his patients who used statins made him think of the banking crash. In Tom Jacobs' article, "Cholesterol Contrarians Question the Cult of Statins," a 2009 piece for Pacific-Standard (then Miller-McCune), he concludes with these two rather paranoia-inducing (for me) paragraphs:

"So here's where we stand: A hugely profitable, largely self-regulated industry is aggressively promoting a line of newly developed products it assures us are safe and beneficial, when in fact they contain a significant element of risk. Much of the media takes the companies' claims at face value, leaving millions of people ignorant of the fact they are unwittingly participating in a huge, high-stakes gamble.

"Sound familiar? Statins may not have caused the financial meltdown, but the parallels between the two stories are positively heart-stopping."

In early 2012, the FDA issued new warnings for statins, mentioning possible increased risk of Type 2 Diabetes, and...I forget what the other thing was...oh yea: memory loss. (Can one monitor one's own side effects, always? With the 5% of the population that experience muscle fatigue and muscle pain with statin use, this seems easy. But note how often you or your friends blame their temporary inability to recall a name or a word in conversation. If you're over 40 and you have smart friends, they will darkly joke about early-onset dementia or Alzheimer's. The very significant segment of the over-45 population on statins that are reporting memory problems? Do we know this is caused by the drug and not that they're...aging? HERE is a horror story. But statistically, this is in fact rare, and the cost-benefit of using statins still seems to be in the statins' favor. I said "seems.")

A Gene Thing To Note
Researchers at Oxford found a "rogue" gene  (SLC01B1, just to keep you thinking I'm smart) that may account for 60% of the reasons why some people experience nasty-to-life-threatening side effects from statin use, especially neuromuscular disorders. If you have one copy of the gene, you're four times more likely to experience a nasty side effect; if you have two copies? 16 times more likely! And what's really a bit disconcerting: 25% of the population carries one or two copies of this gene, a number so high I think another reporter's use of the term "rogue" was misleading. This, I confess, I found more than a tad creepy.

Thinking For Ourselves
The statin contrarians say the public has been conditioned to be "cholesterol-phobic." They say that what heart specialists see should be balanced with what neurologists and other doctors see with regards to statin use. There's a very vocal crowd that seems mycophobic; they have argued that statins are a "mycotoxin" that obstruct the mevalonite pathway and, well, let me just give you the shrill title of a book I found: How Statin Drugs Really Lower Cholesterol and Kill You One Cell At A Time, by Yoseph and Yoseph. At the risk of sounding flippant, this reminded me of the plot from the old Twilight Zone episode, "To Serve Man." My gawd! The book To Serve Man? It's...it's...a cookbook!!!

[But then again, maybe the Yosephs are Cassandras and we statin users are guinea pigs in one of the worst biomedical disasters in the entire Pan-Galactic Archives? For now, I'm still swallowing my statin after brushing my teeth. You gather your information, sift, weigh the pros and cons, call 'em as you sees 'em, take responsibility for your decisions, think for yourself. Are you sure you want to be eating that Thing you had for lunch?]

But I have studied enough statistics to not be scared off statins for now. As you can see by yet another too-long blogspew, I keep up on this stuff. But before I leave you (as if anyone is still reading by now!), I want to add something that, for some reason, has generally gone unsaid in this statin side-effects brouhaha.

The Possible Role of Co-Enzyme Q-10
My favorite Media Doctor has always been Dr. Andrew Weil. I really like his books. He was at Harvard studying medicine when Timothy Leary was experimenting with psilocybin (a fungus!), and was writing for the Harvard Crimson. He seemed to want in on the experiments, but couldn't get in. He found that other undergraduates were in on the research, a violation of Harvard's code of ethics, so Weil blew the whistle on Leary, Metzner, Alpert (Ram Dass), and eventually the psychedelic psychologists were kicked out of Harvard, or dropped out, or asked to leave. Weil had since then come to rather amiable terms with Leary (before Leary's death in 1996), but Ram Dass seems to have never forgiven him. (According to Don Lattin's The Harvard Psychedelic Club.) Anyway, I digress...because apparently I can't help myself. ("Impulsive behavior" driven by statins? No, I think I started digressing in writing around age 7...)

I went to see what Weil thought about statins, and he seemed to stress the use of the dietary supplement Co-Enzyme Q-10. (Hereafter CoQ10) So I read up on CoQ10. Very interesting. But I didn't start buying supplements of it.

Then I read a wonderful book of interviews by David Jay Brown called Mavericks of Medicine: Conversations on the Frontiers of Medical Research. Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw got on the topic of statins, mitochondria, the politics of biomedical studies, etc. I will throw this out there for the general edification of anyone reading this: food for thought, grounds for your own research!

In the Realm of Conspiracy Theory
Pearson says (I'm reading from page 112) that statins indeed do block the synthesis of mevalonate, which is used to make cholesterol. "However, mevalonate is also used to make a substance called Co-Enyme Q-10, which is part of the the single electron transfer chain controlling chemistry in the mitochondria." Pearson suggests a supplementation of CoQ10 higher than I already use (I'm a convert!), and gives good reasons why. He also says our ability to synthesize our own CoQ10 degrades as we age, or our mitochondria age. Pearson says you won't find this info in the Physician's Desk Reference, so even doctors don't know we should be supplementing with Co-Q10, much less the massive statin-using public. The FDA has been unresponsive to researchers and other doctors who have raised this issue. Why? Here's a nice little conspiracy theory, ladies and germs:

Pearson/Shaw (they're always together and, as Brown says, finish each others' sentences) say that Merck Pharmaceuticals has a patent on any statin plus CoQ10 since around 1990. They're not making it because it's really hard and expensive to get FDA approval of a combination drug, so they're sitting on this info. Yea, but why? If statins can be so debilitating, why not go ahead and try to get FDA approval anyway? Because by the time researchers knew about the drawbacks of statins they were already approved and making boffo dinero for Big Pharma. Coming out with the drawback data would have delayed the gravy train, gravy ironically elevating cholesterol levels to the point where your aorta congeals into a hockey puck, but there I go digressing again...On with the conspiracy theory:

Rather than pull the statins, then go through the long clinical trials of statins plus CoQ10, the Industry kept mum, lest the money-flow float out the window. And if the Public knew about the liabilities, they'd sue, sue, sue. The law among Big Pharma was like the law of the Mafia: omerta. Or: keep your mouth shut! Shaw/Pearson liken this to RJ Reynolds, the tobacco company, who did develop cigarettes that were safer, but didn't release them, because doing so would be an admission you'd already been poisoning the community. The FDA wouldn't let them say their new cigarettes were "less carcinogenic."

Here's Ray Kurzweil, from Brown's book:

"Co-Enzyme Q-10 is important. It never ceases to amaze me that physicians do not tell their patients to take CoQ10 when they prescribe statin drugs. This is because it's well-known that statin drugs deplete the body of CoQ10, and a lot of the side effects such as muscle weakness that people suffer from statin drugs [...] [CoQ10] is involved in energy generation within the mitochondria of each cell. Disruption of the mitochondria is an important part of the aging process and this supplement will help slow that down. CoEnzyme Q-10 has a number of protective effects including lowering blood pressure, helping to control free radical damage, and protecting the heart." (pp.242-243)

Here's a line from Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book of aphorisms, Bed of Procrustes: "Pharmaceutical companies are better at inventing diseases that match existing drugs, rather than inventing drugs to match existing diseases."

And with that ominous observation, I take full responsibility for...what I can take responsibility for...and  urge the Reader to look under rocks and see what squirms there, no matter how unpleasant. Because, whether the Truth shall set us free or not, trying to find more "truth" is bound to make our lives far more interesting than jelling out in front of the TV, no?

At any rate, if you think, after reading me, I'm sort of a dim-bulb, I have my excuse: I was only trying to save my own life!

Some Books and Articles Consulted, From Memory:
Happy Accidents: good on the discovery of statins and other drugs, very readable and delightful!
Scientists Greater Than Einstein: a modern version of the medical researcher/doctor as Hero - a chapter devoted to the heroic life-saving efforts of Akira Endo - in the mold of Paul de Kruif's classic The Microbe Hunters and Sinclair Lewis's fictional offshoot of that book, Arrowsmith, which was heavily influenced by de Kruif.

"Drug To Cut Cholesterol Tests Better Than Statin" (there may be much better drugs for controlling cholesterol coming down the pipes, but this one has to be injected.)

"American's Cholesterol Levels Shrink, Even as Their Waistlines Expand." (ties in with my obesity blogs?)

"Statins Cause Fatigue In Some People" (and yet, nothing on CoQ10)

"Lipitor Patent Ends; generic available: What Now?"

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bloomsday/Father's Day: A Berkeleyite Navel-Gazes

1.) To loyal OG readers (4?) : sorry to have taken so long to get a blather out. OR: Bless me Father, for I have not been persistent, but a recent study shows we learn persistence from our Fathers, so whattya gotta say fer yourself, hmmmm? (I hesitate to commit the Genetic Fallacy and discount their findings simply because they's a buncha Mor-mons...Or are they?)

2.) As I read Ulysses, one of the themes that continues to ricochet-echo through my life are the ideas - mine and my culture's, or mine versus my culture's - of genetic inheritance. When we first meet Stephen alone, he's thinking about this, influenced by his reading in Theosophy and many, many other sourcebooks. Hermeticism and related ancient ideas - including Plato - placed the astral "soul" or epicenter of self-consciousness or the seat of eternal divine light...in the navel. Yep! Your belly-button. Yourself as something re-incarnated? Your omphalos is Ground Zero. Joyce publishes Ulysses in 1922, so he's pre-pre-pre modern genetics, knowledge about which has exploded since then. It will be a long time before we have a Grand Synthesis of how DNA-RNA epigenetic megacomplexity actually works. Gosh, it may take another seven years, at the rate we're going!

                                            Jim Gavin's portrait of James Joyce's father, 
                                                  John Stanislaus Joyce

3.) One of the corollaries of Stephen Dedalus's and Joyce's thinking is that: maybe I'm not as much of my father's son as my culture is pressing me to believe. The biological link was for Joyce undeniable; it's the - for lack of a better word - spiritual link that he wonders about. And he has his reasons. Look at Simon Dedalus in Ulysses. He's a minor character, Stephen's father, known around Dublin as a raconteur of wit, a fun guy to be around and a fine tenor, is modeled on Joyce's own father (who did not like Ulysses, but was proud of his son's success). John Stanislaus Joyce (James Joyce's biological father) was also a loudmouth about politics and religion, a mismanager of money, a drunk, and...now the less said the better.

4.) The hermetic idea of the bellybutton/navel as a linked source to all of the soul or consciousness's previous incarnations? What a wonderful idea, eh? As Stephen walks alone along the beach in the late morning of June 16, 1904, after teaching his class, we're in his stream of consciousness, and, at one point, we read:

The cords of all link back, strandentwining cable of all flesh. That is why mystic monks. Will you be as gods? Gaze in your omphalos. Hello. Kinch here. Put me on to Edenville. Aleph, alpha: Nought, nought, one.

I loved this bit the first time I read the book. Not only wonderful portmanteau words like "strandentwining" (oddly: seems like a precog-inkling of the double-helical structure of DNA, not discovered by Watson and Crick [the latter was probably influenced by LSD] until 1953), but the idea that the umbilical cord could be used like a telephone, to call back to Eden. Navel-gazing by the introspectives, meditating throughout all of all history: maybe they can get in touch with their origins? In the early years of the telephone, numbers were much shorter, and you called a switchboard operator to patch you through. Stephen imagines the number for Eden is 11-001, which reminds me of the digital code sequence I'm using right now to communicate with you. It also reminds me of the neurogenetic archival material that mystics and some imaginative scientists have thought we could access, if only we use the correct techniques or ingest the appropriate molecules...

                              I liked Milo O'Shea as Leopold Bloom in Joseph Strick's
                              daring 1967 film. But when I read Ulysses I don't picture
                              O'Shea in my mind when Bloom's perambulating. YMMV

5.) As you know, the other main male character in Ulysses is Leopold Bloom. Ever since his son Rudy died 11 days after birth, he and his wife Molly have not had sex. When we read the entire book, we find that thoughts of Rudy impinge on Bloom's mind at odd intervals, and the scene at the end of the "Circe" episode (where Bloom rescues a drunken Stephen in the red light district, late at night), where Bloom sees an apparition of Rudy as a boy reading Hebrew...is one of the most profoundly moving passages in all of literature for me. I get choked up just writing about it here.

In the famous internal monologue of Molly, at the end of the book, we see she has not emotionally reconciled with Rudy's death either.

Ulysses is one of the two or three most closely-scrutinized-by-scholars works of fiction in history, and it's difficult to write about it without boring the hell out of people who have turned considerable personal energies towards it exegesis. But for those who've always wanted to "get to the book but haven't yet found the time," I'll just state that Bloom is, in some ways, the spiritual father of Stephen. Bloom takes Stephen home with him, and they share a cup of eucharist...errr...hot cocoa. Bloom listens to the young intellectual Stephen and realizes he's an odd egg...like himself. He even fantasizes that Stephen can move in with he and Molly. Molly can give him singing lessons while Stephen can teach Molly italian. Why, Stephen might even end up marrying his teenage daughter Milly, and become his son-in-law! But it will not happen. Bloom is an outsider in Dublin, and Stephen realizes he can't find himself as an artist unless he gets out of his hometown.

6.) One of my favorite passages illustrating how these two seemingly very different characters are like Father and Son comes in the section, late at night, back at Bloom's house, and it's a section that suddenly appears in the style of a 19th century scientific textbook, but more likely is a parody of the Catholic catechism:

Did Bloom discover common factors of similarity between their respective like and unlike reactions to experience?

Both were sensitive to artistic impressions musical in preference to plastic or pictorial. Both preferred a continental to an insular manner of life, a cisatlantic to a transatlantic place of residence. Both indurated by early domestic training and an inherited tendency of heterodox resistance professed their disbelief in many orthodox religions, national, social and ethical doctrines. Both admitted the alternately stimulating and obtunding influence of heterosexual magnetism.

This catechismal flow also discusses their differences, but the thrust of the thing? They're like father and son, although not related by blood at all.

And with this I'll cut it short. I know you really wanted to see what 7.) had to say, but I will leave this off here: the book ends at the address 7 Eccles Street.

Let us, on this Bloomsday and tomorrow's Father's Day, reflect not only on our biological fathers, but on our spiritual ones as well?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Zombie Apocalypse and Cultural Neurosemantics

I'd just finished writing hyperbolically about how robots were taking over the world, when I realized I'd left out how drones were a sort of video-game-like robot, and how we now have mechanized warfare, and a slew of ethical problems that the Geneva Conventions don't quite cover (the TV just coming into being as they were written, etc), and make things, as pseudo-intellectuals like myself are wont to say, "problematic." A fascinating guy on this topic - always - is P.W. Singer.

Also, I was just starting to think I had come to a decent guess about the mysterious hog farm explosions.

But then I got blindsided by another threat. A threat so heinous it made me watch CNN and a few other TV "news" stations. They were waist (or is it "waste"?) deep in this - these - stories: the Zombie Apocalypse was upon us!

Full disclosure: the recent 28 Days (or whatever it was called) and others in the zombie genre/franchise are not exactly my top priorities. Not in my Top 5000, as a matter of fact. Not that I'm immune to the zombie film allure. One of my favorite films of all time is Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur's 1943 film for RKO, I Walked With A Zombie.  (It's really Jane Eyre with voodoo.) George Romero's 1968 Night of the Living Dead has reached deserved "classic" status , and probably ought to be seen in some allegorical way as reflecting the war-without-end the US was in in Vietnam. But then I've already digressed...But not before I foist a one-minute-long trailer for this wonderful film on y'all:

This blog's all downhill after that!

But sometimes, you just can't ignore it when a man is seen eating the face off another - living! - man, on a pathway in that gawdforsaken place called Florida. Florid indeed were the reports. This report from CBS Miami starts off, "Police are still tight-lipped..." I would be too, if I knew there was a guy out there who ate the eyeball and nose of another guy. Hell, I'd be tight-lipped, tight-eyeballed, tight-eared, tight-cheeked, and tight-nosed.  Slate seeks to tell us why, when people do psycho things, they often strip naked first. Before reading it, I figured, "Hey, why not? If there's anything worth doing, it's worth doing well...aaaaaaand...naked!"

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. You'd think, even though you were eating another living person's nose, you'd have the decency go dress casual...

But nudity can be so freeing! (I do not condone eating most of the face of a transient, though. Even I have standards.)

I think there are certain crimes that demand proper attire. You're hired Mafia muscle, making a hit on a rival eating a plate of spaghetti? We all know you wear a suit, fer cryin' out loud. Knocking off a bank requires very careful planning, not only of gun, what to say to the teller, and escape route, but how to make your face look...not like you for the cameras. Buys you some time. Other than that, it's permitted to go anywhere from formal to Bermuda Shorts with a cummerbund and hi-tops. Maybe a beret, little nod to Patty Hearst. I don't have the time, and this is not the place, to go over what attire is appropriate to what crimes, but it's my understanding that argyle socks are perfect for mail fraud. Anyway...

Just as I was trying to exorcise from my consciousness the image of what happened on that causeway near Miami, another story broke that fed the zombie apocalypse frenzy: a 21 year old college student in Maryland admitted to eating the heart and part of the brain (the tasty part?) of a roommate, after said roommate had died. Ladies and gentlemen, let's keep our cools here. What do we really know so far? We know They are not vegetarians. We know They must have been hungry. And possibly mad, in at least two senses of the word. We all know how stress can get to us; it makes us "not ourselves." Perhaps we end up "chewing out" a co-worker? Get my drift? They are not so different from us. A little understanding is all I ask!

At any rate, I was probably a tad hasty when I rushed out and bought 14 pounds of garlic cloves and a hefty stainless steel cross with Jesus on it. My wife reminded me: garlic and the cross ward off vampires, not zombies!

Boy, did I feel like an idiot!

                                       See how much FUN this Apocalypse can be?

I was just about ready to pass off this silly zombie apocalypse meme flare-up when I read about one Luka Rocco Magnotta. This guy made the dudes in Florida and Maryland look like Girl Scouts. Say what you will about stabbing your lover with an icepick, slitting his throat, cutting the body to pieces, decapitating it, feeding pieces to your dog while you masturbate with other body parts...but anally penetrating the headless corpse? That's some sick jit there, man. That, my friends, is my idea of "going too far." And wouldn't you know it? This Magnotta is Canadian. What is with those sick bastards?

Magnotta was arrested in Berlin. Now, I don't know about you, Dear Reader, but I think this is a serious crime, and I think we need to get tough with Magnotta here. I'd say to him, "Luka? That was some crazy-assed crap you pulled over there in Canada. Sending a severed foot in the mail? That's not the kind of society we approve of, no sir! (I'm sorry to be yelling at you, but this kind of thing gets me upset.) That dismemberment of your pal? No good! I'll say it again: NO GOOD! If you do it ONE MORE TIME, it's gonna mean a heavy fine, fellah! Now, get outta here, before we take you in for acting like a d-bag!" (Except it would be in German, of course.)

[R.I.P. George Carlin, whose bit about Dahmer I just stole.]

I was beginning to think the Kidz were right this time, and the Zombie Apocalypse now deserved to be in capitals, and maybe I was doomed to have my own brains fricasseed by the Undead. I wondered what I could do. The most powerful weapon in the house was an Air Horn. I tried to humor myself. Hey, at least the zombies are intellectuals, as Stephen Colbert said: all they care about is BRAINS! But then I quit sniffing glue, put down the PCP, and came to my senses: these were isolated incidents, it's just after Memorial Day, the kids are getting out of school and a news frenzy about shark attacks just wouldn't cut it this year. Not with World of Warcraft so popular.

Speaking of sniffing glue, I was horrified to learn that police and the media were tarring LSD's good name by linking it with the Miami zombie. His poor victim could've only wished the guy had taken LSD instead. He/the Miami zombie was, in fact, on a designer drug called "bath salts," which...represents an ominous turn in the naming of designer drugs. First of all, the term "designer drug" seems misleading to me. What? Did Ralph Lauren and Coco Chanel get together and design something especially for me? Just 'cuz I wanna get high? Nooooo...When I first read the term "bath salts" in conjunction with face-eating, I thought, "How could something so soothing-sounding have caused....?" Bath salts - epsom salts - conjures images - for me at least - of relaxing after a vigorous day, with Bach cello suites playing while I soak my feet in "bath salts," a glass of zinfandel by my side. Naming some new concoction of bathtub-meth "bath salts" just seems criminal to me. What's next? A new nasty chemistry experiment that makes you claw all the skin off your own face, then drive backwards on the freeway at 100 mph and it's called "Autumn"? Someone PLEASE stop this nomenclatural madness!

And then I realized this was yet another designer drug, and they're coming fast and furious now. At first - ten years ago or so, these were an "Ain't It Odd?" news item in the local newspaper. Now, they're coming at us like the flow from a finally unclogged spigot, and I expect a weekly Hot 100 Designer Drugs list to appear in Rolling Stone any day now. And the irony: a friend of mine had some wonderful cannabis we smoked and then listened to Bartok and talked about the unemployment problem and then how language in novels puts us in different worlds of imagination. We talked of James Joyce and Philip K. Dick, Thomas Pynchon, and Vladimir Nabokov. It was all very fulfilling, an uplifting, even spiritual evening. The name of the strain of cannabis? "Lamb's Blood." Anyway...

I wrote about Krokodil about six months ago. It appears this stuff keeps rolling out of C-minus desperate-for-employment chemistry students' labs all over the place, but Europe, especially. And again, I find I'm forced to plaintively ask my fellow psychonauts: Would it kill you to just smoke a fat joint?

It would be tempting to try to tar Obama's crackdown on medical pot with this influx of chemical drug-agents, but at this point it would be a stretch. Although I am pissed at him for going back on his word, and can't imagine a stupider thing to do, or a better way to alienate his base...RANT OVER

To what extent this bathtub chemical meth-like crap is driving this particular Apocalypse, I don't know. And I hadn't known about the guy in New Jersey who recently stabbed himself in the gut 50 times, then threw parts of his own entrails at police...but this stuff is spreading. It's a meme. With legs. Legs severed from a roommate who appeared to be projecting voices into the now-zombie's head. It was at this point the CDC stepped in - I'm still not sure to what extent this was a joke - and assured the Populace they know of no virus or anything else that can reanimate the dead.

The Internet is like anabolic steroids for memes. I'm tempted to say this meme-reality-meme-reality works like a "feedback loop," but you all know I wouldn't stoop to cheap punning. One example of many, illustrating how this meme is taking off, is found HERE..

When did the Zombie Apocalypse start? Experts disagree. Some go Old Skool and trace it back to that whackiest of Biblical books, Revelation of St. John the Divine. For which I give intellectual style points. I will at this point go Day of the Triffids (1962) for now, but certainly, Cracked had a hard line on this back in 2007. That article claims over 16 million views, which is slightly higher than the traffic for the run-of-the-mill Overweening Generalist post. But hey, tap that meme, fellow bloggers!

The Christian anarchist Jacques Ellul, hero of the French Resistance and intellectual influence on both Ted "Unabomber" Kaczynski and Marshall McLuhan, identified the "Beast" in Revelation with the State, but when I read South Florida University anthropologist Elizabeth Bird's analysis of zombies, that they have "no emotional core, no consciousness, no limits...," I couldn't help but think of Dick Cheney, and most of the NeoCons and Business Criminals on Wall Street that presided over the wreckage of Unistat. And I'm now just as confused as ever about what this Zombie Apocalypse means, so any help will be appreciated. I'm guessing this Zombie Apocalypse is some sort of Jungian repression of what the 1% have done to our hopes and dreams...not to mention how dumbed-down so many of us feel that Others have become. But I'm not sure. Please, I need your help figuring this one out. Like a zombie, I need your brains (HA!) to sate my knowledge and help me prepare for the...next Damned Thing that comes along.

The only thing I'll have to say about "cultural neurosemantics" vis a vis this Zombie Apocalypse will be found in the above paragraph. Please consider it before consigning my bullshit to the "typical OG nonsense" bin.

Not that you'd asked, but I'd previously written on other Apocalyptic imaginings HERE.

My Undead Zombie Apocalypse All-Star Dream Team:
                                                      Dahmer, Jeffrey
                                                        Bundy, Ted
                                                          Gein, Ed
                                                      Manson, Charlie
                                                         Gacy, John Wayne
                                            Albert Fish, batting "cleanup"

If I've forgotten anyone, I apologize. I hate to make anyone feel "left out." I now notice I got six guys, so it's a hockey team, no cleanup hitter needed. Let's call Fish the "goalie"? - OG