Archive for the ‘Prose’ Category

Got a New Warrior Team in the Mix

October 6th, 2011 No comments


Scarecrow Rising

Backfire Satire. Can. You. GET IT?

AmeriKAZAM! is a new entry into both political punditry (but more in the mold of Richard Kahane’s Rules for Radical Conservatives) and Comic Book Reviews… Really, how cool is that? Combining both the comics’ graphics and some biting commentary makes for some fun and enlightening reading. Perhaps you’ll move away from being a SAP (SubParAmerican) and become a participating patriot after a few “boots-to-the-head” commentary. Check out “Making the Stupid Stupider” and spend some time browsing around the new home of Team AK. I think you’ll enjoy it immensely!


“But I was born this way.”

October 1st, 2011 4 comments


Time to re-engage. Since I seem to like hate mail, I figured to jump in with a splash.

Recently, I was engaged in a lively argument/discussion about Rick Santorum’s little dustup at the Republican Debates. I referenced a GOProud press release (mostly ’cause I like the organization) that called Santorum out and demanded an apology. My original post (on a social networking site) read like this:

Not that he ever had my vote, but the cowardice in failing to simply answer the question up front, his entire preamble to answering the question and his failure to even thank the soldier for his service reveals the kind of bigotry that is second nature.

As for the boos that some of my liberal fellow pundits were “so terribly shocked” by, pack sand and get in the real world. You see the same kind of boos directed at people who support the defense of marriage act (or name some other contested policy) in a liberal audience. Get over the fact that people have differing opinions and keep your eye on the ball.

Santorum… Apologize.

The responses ranged from heated to well reasoned. I implied both that Santorum was a coward and a bigot. I was called out on the bigotry charge, for good reason (especially since I had just complained about living amongst a bunch of moon bats that sling the charges of racist, bigot, homophobe, etc., at the slightest criticism of their position). Kind of galling to get called out for something I find particularly egregious. So I retracted and apologized for the charge of “bigot,” but will definitely keep the charge of cowardice ~ specifically being a moral coward about answering a direct yes/no question and the horseshit equivocation in order to justify it.

I like debate. I like argument (when you understand it in its more classical definition, or even as legal sharps might define it). This lively discussion also raised an issue I discussed on my old Skalduggery site, and I decided to resurrect it since it garnered so much hate mail. So then, here’s the old post:

A few days ago I participated in a hackneyed discussion with some fellow officers at work. It centered on the nature and morality of homosexuality. Mostly, I am tired of the topic, but I also realize the “controversy” is here to stay for some time to come. The reason I mention the topic today is that the tired line of argument that was used to justify homosexual behavior is ultimately so ridiculous. So then, before you tune out, let’s make a few things clear. First, I am not going to address the morality or immorality of homosexual behavior per se. Second, I am not going to address the truth or falsity of whether there is or is not a “gay gene,” or whether homosexual behavior is biologically determined. Finally, the aim of this post is not to provide a positive or negative judgment about homosexual behavior (update: since I have several gay friends, I want to convince them to use a different argument).

Before I do get to the aim of the post, since part of the background is about the notion of being “born gay,” it seems reasonable to provide a few starting points for independent research concerning the “gay gene.” For a somewhat “moderate” view of things that contains a bit of history and looks at some of the research from an obviously postmodernist perspective try out PBS’ Is Homosexuality Inherited? by Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet. For a contrarian and less than moderate view that traces both the history and science involved try out Ryan Sorba’s The Born Gay Hoax. With these as a starting point, finding any number of social science perspectives that fit with one’s preconceived notions of homosexual behavior should be a breeze!

Now then, what is the aim of this post? Simply to make the point that claiming one was “born this way” is not a justification for any kind of behavior. The correlative to this is clearly that homosexuality primarily describes a behavior – not an identity.

During our discussion, the group I’ll call the “religious right wing-nuts,” argued belligerently that homosexual behavior was a sin, morally wrong, and should be legally sanctioned. The group I’ll call the “loony left nutroots,” argued just as belligerently that homosexuals were “born that way,” and therefore should not be punished any more than someone who is born black should be punished for an accident of birth. Mostly I was just listening, but when the “born that way” comment was made I “couldn’t help myself” and said, “That’s an incredibly poor argument for justifying homosexual behavior.” I was pretty much immediately attacked as a bigot and Nazi like the right wing-nuts were being attacked. The following paragraphs reflect what I tried to explain to both parties.

At this point, I don’t care whether homosexual behavior is right or wrong. You guys on the right are saying a specific BEHAVIOR is wrong, while you guys on the left ignore the behavior being addressed and try to equate the behavior to an identity. The point is truly simple: two guys or two girls having sex is nothing like simply being black. You guys on the loony left need a new argument! Don’t use this one, it’s useless!

For the sake of argument, let’s pretend for a moment that homosexuality is somehow like race – one is simply born that way – and that sodomy is illegal. One is not punished for being black, white, or brown; however, a black, white, or brown person will be punished for murdering his neighbor – because it is against the law. Likewise, a person would not be punished for being a homosexual; one would be punished for a behavior called sodomy.

Now then, here in today’s America, very few states punish homosexual behavior. However, to extend this line of thinking a bit further, let’s make another comparison. Again, for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that there is a strong biological/genetic component to homosexuality. Let us also pretend, for the sake of argument, that there is a strong biological/genetic component to pedophilia. Since pedophiles are “born that way,” and are unlikely to change their sexual preference, should that somehow make their attendant behaviors as legal and moral as the homosexuals’ behaviors?

Do not think that this comparison is a stretch. Dr. Michael Werthheimer in A Clash of Worldviews interview, while discussing pedophilia and the fact that pederasty was normalized in ancient Greek culture made the following comments in response to the question: “[I]s ANYTHING, in your view, an objective disorder? Would you consider pedophilia normal and desirable, if a particular society says it is? Could a pedophilic relationship ever be “good”?

I’m sure that various somatogenic problems due to severe brain trauma may be close to “objective” disorders. But I know of no convincing evidence that even pedophilia is harmful to the boy. In ancient Greece, for example, a pedophilic relationship with a young boy was viewed as the ideal kind of relationship for an older man. What’s the actual evidence–not just principled moral prejudgment–that such a relationship is damaging to the boy?

That’s why I said the “born gay” notion is not the point. If people (whether gay or straight) fail to think about the premises of their arguments and the logical conclusions that can be drawn from those premises, then too soon simple identity becomes a justification for immorality and illegal behavior. So, to my conservative straight friends, listen to what is actually being said when you’re in one of these discussions 🙂  As for my friends I refer to as loony left nutroots, please find a better argument! But especially my gay friends (liberal or conservative), bail on this lame justification. Goodness, “what happens between consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes,” I believe, is still a much better start!


Ranting on Reading

June 9th, 2011 7 comments

This originated as a note over on Facebook, and it occurred to me that it would work as a post here, though it is a bit personal. Ignore it if it makes you uncomfortable, we often do that anyway… Here it is:

I may have made a terrible mistake in dropping out of high school. There are a few holes in my education. I noticed some of these holes, and initially, I started filling them with famous books I’d seen mentioned in the paper or news or movies… and discovered a disparity in the books’ content and the content in the media where I’d discovered the book. Reading Mamet’s new book, The Secret Knowledge,  reminded me in some ways of my own conversion.

I am not, by popular measures, a towering success. I live a pretty much average middle class life. The only worthy successes in my life are not my own. In fact, these successes are what my children have become despite my meddling and failures. This is largely due to my one towering achievement… being smart enough to recognize the valuable person that is my wife.

Still, there have been some achievements. I have filled a lot of holes in my education over the years. Having read many of the books that my children’s teachers claimed to summarize for the children’s benefit, I’ve found that the teachers are either ignorant of the content in these books (e.g., they may have uncritically accepted what some college professor fed them ~ I am being charitable) or they are just plain lying about the content. I noticed the same mischaracterizations in our media/entertainment as a young adult, and now, as a curmudgeon, it’s really starting to piss me off. What to do…?

Agitate. “Challenge the dominant paradigm.” Do what the current purveyors of our culture claimed was honorable back in the sixties and seventies ~ be active in your community. Exercise your right to assembly with like minded folks. Recognize that they are the establishment… the establishment media that is. Make the finding of truth more important than searching for it. Get involved… especially in the making of our culture by influencing our entertainment, who entertains us, what we choose to be entertained by, and of course, exercising our franchise boldly, intelligently, and thankfully. My wish, or prayer if you prefer, is that our citizens will take the time to fill in the holes of their education where they find them… more important, search out those holes.  And Read.


Check Out the Canada Free Press

June 27th, 2010 No comments

Hey! Take a trip to the Canada Free Press… and take a look at Jeff’s, the owner of  “My Nasty Romance,” take on the congressional re-write of our constitution made it up to Canada 🙂 Congratulations Jeff!


What if the Congress of 2008 had Rewritten the Constitution?

June 20th, 2010 1 comment

A solicited guest column by Jeff Begley:

The Outdated, Outmoded, Old... Oh, never mind!

Revised Constitutional Preamble

We the people of the cities and academic centers of the United States, in order to form a more perfect labor union, establish social justice, insure non-traditional domestic situations, provide for the common defense fund for the legally challenged, promote the welfare system, and secure the blessings of liberalism to ourselves (we’ll let our posterity pay for it), do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Bill of Wrongs

Amendment 1 – Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression.

Congress shall make laws disrespecting established religions, and prohibiting the free exercise thereof in public areas; and abridging the freedom of speech by calling certain speech “hate speech”, and of the press through the hilariously named “fairness doctrine”; but not the right of the people peaceably to assemble for these assemblies will simply be handled through media outlets and labeled violent, racist extremists in order to dismiss them rather than address them.

Amendment 2 – Right to Bear Arms.

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall be infringed.  We will also hedge on the definition of the word militia, ignore the original intent of the founders, and make certain that once liberal hegemony is established it will be impossible to disrupt through force of arms.

Amendment 3 – Quartering of Soldiers.

Soldiers shall, in time of peace-keeping, be figuratively drawn and quartered for any mistakes made in front of a journalist.  We shall also attempt to quarter soldier pay, benefits, and at least put a dent in any honor once felt in serving the nation by claiming people only join as a last resort.

Amendment 4 – Search and Seizure.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable or even reasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause as defined by the current administration, supported by oath or affirmation of a federal judge appointed by a Democratic president, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.  Under no circumstances shall the possibility of the person being an illegal, er, undocumented… um – insufficiently-naturalized citizen be broached.

Amendment 5 – Trial and Punishment, Compensation for Takings.

Amendment 5 shall be phased out to make room for the implementation of an adult day-school for the reeducation of those with a diminished capacity to follow laws.  These poor souls simply need dignity and love.  Kumbaya.

Amendment 6 – Right to Speedy Trial, Confrontation of Witnesses.

In all criminal prosecutions, if we must, the accused shall enjoy the right to a supportive and closed trial  so as not to impinge upon their sense of dignity, by an racially diverse jury with as few privileged, bigoted white people on it as possible, of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed unless we want to move it for political posturing.  It should be noted that, as in the case of the 5th Amendment, trials are to be avoided as much as possible due to self-esteem issues they appear to cause in the accused.

Amendment 7 – Trial by Media in Civil Cases.

In cases where political opponents disagree, no civil discourse shall be initiated.  Instead, agreeable media outlets shall be engaged in order to impugn the character of said opponents in order to dismiss them as some sort of crackpot, whichever is considered the lowliest type at that particular time.  If the term “racist” can be used without fear of reprisal, it shall.

Amendment 8 – Cruel and Unusual Punishment.

Being that punishment is considered mean by those being punished and the term unusual is vague, we shall pretend to rehabilitate those poor, misguided souls who asserted their wills over the wills of others.  Only if a crime personally affects us shall we even consider punishment as an option because, hey, it’s us and not you that are suffering at that point.

Amendment 9 – Construction of Constitution.

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall be construed as the absolute limits of rights retained by the people.  If the people need more rights, we will determine what they are and grant them.  Maybe.  Ok, not really.

Amendment 10 – Powers of the States and People.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people… LOL!  Okay, we were really just yanking your chain here.  Gotcha!  Seriously, the central government shall retain all the power.  States are for hillbillies clinging to their bibles and guns.

The Gospel of Lazlo

May 15th, 2010 No comments
The Gospel of Lazlo by J. Ethan Begley: Book Cover

My Nasty Romance - Author's Website

It’s here! The newly published freshman novel by J. Ethan Begley is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Lulu – the publisher! In the recent past I sweat my way through a book review of The Gospel of Lazlo to somewhat competent effect and even wider readership – it’s been in the top ten posts for some time now. Take a look at the review, or not, but buy the book – it has the important elements of modern literature… it’s fun and entertaining, screw the deeper meaning, it’ll slap you on the back of the head after you read it =)

From Amazon’s page, here’s a small blurb describing the story:

Apparently the reprinted scrapbook of a possibly disturbed individual, The Gospel of Lazlo tells the tale of Mr. Lazlo Epps, a suicide clean-up worker who takes up residence in a dead man’s townhouse. His “really real” world is soon shredded by a chocolate peddling holy man, a deranged Goth clown, and a would-be penguin terrorist.Stumbling through the wreckage of his life, Lazlo finds himself hounded into a relationship by Sophie Bogota, an enigmatic password psychic, and embroiled in a cultural revolution he cannot personally abide.Lazlo must either find truth within himself or step aside as a fictional messiah pulls back the veil of belief to expose the reality most people fear too much to accept. Decide for yourself whether this fantastical urban fairy tale is real or merely the product of a diseased imagination.

Cheers all,


Daughters, Sons, Patriots, and Me

May 13th, 2010 8 comments

One Brick at a Time @ Responsibility

My apologies for not posting regularly these past several weeks, especially since I’d promised to attempt a minimal once a week update. I had considered blowing this whole enterprise off as a wasted or failed effort, but again, reconsidered. As I promised in my last post, I planned to give an account of my absence – I think this will go a bit further than that…

Why this extended absence? Illness, anger, and an unusual despondency are the straightforward explanations. Very nearly two weeks were consumed with a flu that kicked my old tired ass around the work place, home, and… “does it really make sense to disappear on your motorcycle when you have pneumonia?” While my wife is absolutely right to pose the question as though I were a teenager, it is also true that sometimes, that little teenage rebellion might be worthwhile. Little rides like this help me. As I mentioned to an online blogger buddy “I needed some time by myself to recharge, get my shit straight, and screw my head back on.”

While that explains part of my failure to provide regular posts, the other parts are at once more personal and more public. I received a few phone calls and several posts enquiring as to my well being – all much appreciated! So, on the other end of a little despondency, and in response to those initial communications I threw up the last post with every intention of getting right back to business. Here’s where the story gets a little squirrely.

With great thanks to a gift card to The MacStore from my daughter and son-in-law, I purchased a new Mac Book Pro. I’ve often found that the quickest and most direct route to learning something is “total immersion.” I resolved to avoid my desktop until I was reasonably proficient with my new laptop… I’ve answered many emails LATE because I failed to sit down at my desktop and check mail. Though I am getting the hang of my Mac 😀  Poor excuse, but it is the explanation of record. You have my sincerest apologies for not answering emails much sooner.

I ran across several [emails] that both entertained and admonished – which made me rethink continuing this blog. I received several versions of a very similar sentiment: “You said once a week,” “Hey, WTF? Once a month updates??” “Get your lazy ass back to work, and don’t make excuses, POST SOMETHING.” “You need to post something more often than once each month or so…” From a subject line: “I sure hope you are on vacation” Thanks to all of you that wrote or called – even being called a “lazy shit” made me feel special 😀

What does that have to do with the anger and despondency? Daughters and patriots? So here’s the post!

T.A. Barnhart, a contributor at Blue Oregon, wrote an article on July Fourth of last year entitled We are all patriots, not just arrogant generals with big mouths. In it, he castigates General Bednarek for the following statement:

“Honor. Duty. Patriotism,” Bednarek said. “Unfortunately, there’s way too many people in our country who have forgotten it, don’t understand it or never got it.” – Savannah (GA) Morning News

By the nature and tone of Barnhart’s reporting, I suspect he wasn’t there for the whole event. I suspect this because Barnhart doesn’t marshal any other real evidence of Bednarek’s supposed offence, and yet spends a tremendous amount of space attributing various vile character defects to the general for that one statement. He variously calls the general or his words a “fool,” “grotesque, shameful, and unprofessional,” “And stupid.” Read the article, you’ll pick up Barnhart’s “inappropriate, irresponsible and reprehensible” comments about the general.

In addition to the character attacks Barnhart launches without one whit of evidence, he also attributes beliefs to the general that are patently of Barnhart’s own invention.   According to Barnhart the general’s arrogance “is unbecoming of an officer, an American and, above all, a patriot.” First, the notion that the general was directing his comments at Barnhart is an absurdity. It’s common to many people. Imagine a manager, not wishing to call out a few employees, mentions that “everyone needs to do [enter chosen task here] better.” A fair share of employees will immediately take offense even though none was proffered. Second, to throw out a challenge that the general’s words were unbecoming an American and patriot reveal Barnhart to be a hypocrite. How is it that Barnhart is allowed to define patriotism and denies that same right to the general? Simple, Barnhart is a self-righteous, self-aggrandizing, self-centered hypocrite.

I didn’t comment on that post, nor did I comment on his follow up a week later entitled, Fear, anger, and a son too far away that was loaded with more unreasonable vitriol. Except there he does precisely what he accuses but never demonstrates the general of doing. He claims his anger, then accuses the American people (hyperbole or not, this is BS):

I am angry at the American people whose self-centered, piss-ignorant fearfulness (where is our cherished trust in God?) let them approve with hearty cheers and huzzahs the tossing of their children into the maw of war. The steadfast refusal of too many Americans to learn a goddamn thing about the world and people who are neither bad nor wrong but merely “foreign” has resulted in this obscene war and occupation. The blood of all those who’ve died or been torn apart by this war is on the hands of an American populace with no desire to care about the rest of the world unless they can feel all warm and fuzzy via a tax-deductible charity.

Why didn’t I comment on the posts? The reason was simple. His son was in harm’s way and I had two daughters and two sons-in-law in the same sandbox. I understand being angry. In fact, I believe Barnhart is a patriot, just as I believe the general is a patriot. More to the point, I agree with the general, that there are too many today that have “forgotten… don’t understand… or never got…” honor, duty, and patriotism. Witness the past (ENRON et al) and current crop of corporate thieves (pick a bank that passed their risk on to his fellow citizens) who have raped our economy. Moreover, think about the various groups of American citizens saying things like “Goddam America,” etc.

Hmmm. Should I assume Barnhart was addressing me as one of those “self-centered, piss-ignorant” Americans? Perhaps. I didn’t, but perhaps he was referring to people like me. I disagree, strongly, with a great number of things Barnhart writes, but I rarely doubt his love of community, and by extension, his love of country.

I was passionately opposed to the war in Iraq, as was my wife and many of my friends. Many, on the other hand, supported the invasion of Iraq. So why was I angry? Because my president (yes, I say that, even though many on the left wouldn’t call Bush their president) still hasn’t got my kids out of Iraq, and more important, he [the president] just sent one back for another tour of duty. I am angry at my government for not delivering on one of the promises made during a campaign. Moreover, I am angry at writers like T. A. Barnhart who create a clamor out of imagined insults and contribute to the very divisiveness they claim to abhor.

At this point I think it’s worth defining patriot. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first listed meaning of the word is rare or obsolete as a compound “a fellow-countryman, compatriot.” However, the primary meaning with a caveat about usage before the late seventeenth century is:

2.a. One who disinterestedly or self-sacrificingly exerts himself to promote the wellbeing of his country; ‘one whose ruling passion is the love of his country’ (J.); one who maintains and defends his country’s freedom or rights.

In this use, at first, as in French (see Littré), with ‘good’, ‘true’, ‘worthy’, or other commendatory adjective: cf. ‘good citizen’. ‘Patriot’ for ‘good patriot’ is rare before 1680. At that time often applied to one who supported the rights of the country against the King and court.

Why mention the definition? Because of Barnhart’s title “We are all patriots…” This kind of political correctness is a chain and anchor to mediocrity. Let’s not indulge in this kind of nonsense. Here’s a wonderful bit of dialogue from one of my favorite Pixar flicks, The Incredibles that demonstrates the point:

Dash: You always say ‘Do your best’, but you don’t really mean it. Why can’t I do the best that I can do?
Helen: Right now, honey, the world just wants us to fit in, and to fit in, we gotta be like everyone else.
Dash: But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.
Helen: Everyone’s special, Dash.
Dash: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is.

Angry – and maybe a little despondent that I’m not sure I’ll change a thing. Do I take the long view or the short view? Do I stop this silly writing and activism, or keep on going? Like Barnhart’s challenge to the general, I’d match my patriotism against Barnhart’s any time – and probably for similar reasons. I’m an optimistic pessimist – I believe countries, communities, groups, and even individuals are capable of change… whether I believe in it or not.

I stole the above photo from Tom over at Responsibility – click it for a great post. I’m working on my next brick. I said thanks for the encouragement earlier, but it wasn’t specific enough – thanks to Tom, Jeff, Mr. Grim, Tony, Andy, Cindy, Moira, and Billy.

Cheers all!!

Let’s keep marching forward.

Stony River’s Microfiction Monday #10

March 1st, 2010 19 comments

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Monday Monday, so good to me, / Monday Monday, it was all I hoped it would be… so far! Please, press play 😀 (I still like the Mama’s and the Pappas, so here are three songs for your pleasure) I’ve written my entry for Susan’s Microfiction Monday and am looking forward to my weekly visits of new online buddies that also participate in this fun weekly meme. With the advent of tweeting (though I don’t), it is not just a fun idea, it is a challenging and entertaining goal to accomplish each week. The rules are relatively simple – write a story of 140 characters or less that is triggered by an image provided by our hostess. I encourage my visitors with blogs of their own to join in – the fellowship alone is worth the price of admission. So, let’s get to business!

The Triggering Town (click Richard Hugo)

All the grass is green
and the sky is grey
I’ve been for a walk
on a summer’s day

California Cows happier??
*cough* Bulls@&t! DREAMING!

Try the second song 😛 Had to take that somewhere, so it seemed music might be nice.

Now I’ve some exciting news:  Jeff, over at My Nasty Romance, a sometime fellow traveler in this weekly meme, has a new book coming out soon. The moment I get a link to the Amazon purchasing point I’ll post it here – as well as at my book review of The Gospel of Lazlo. Please take a run through the review, forgive me for not being quite the polished reviewer, and know, it’s a damn fine book despite my reviewing inexperience!

The best of Mondays to all of you, and thanks again Susan for a marvelous Monday meme!

Cheers All!

“The Gospel of Lazlo” ~ a Book Review

February 24th, 2010 10 comments

Wake Up!!

“Strip away the penguin bombers, kung-fu gothic clowns, and underground cafe societies and what you have left is a boy and a girl…” ~Jeff Begley – Author of The Gospel of Lazlo

I delightedly received an advance [reviewer’s] copy of a new book, and was of course asked to review… the… book.  The fact that I don’t know the first thing about writing a review didn’t deter me – I like books, what could go wrong?  I figured, like the seven words you can’t say on TV, I’d find a “what not to say” list and muddle my way through. Here’s Carlin’s list:

[Everybody knows these seven cuss words, if not, follow the link] Those are the heavy seven. Those are the ones that’ll infect your soul, curve your spine, and keep the country from winning the war.

Wow, pretty easy. Certain that the “thou shalt nots” were fewer and easier than the “thou shalts,” I found my list of “don’t words” on the  New York Times:

“Poignant, compelling, intriguing, eschew, craft, muse, and lyrical” [those are the heavy seven. The ones…] It’s possible to (mis)use all seven words in a one-sentence book report: “Mario Puzo’s intriguing novel eschews the lyrical as the author instead crafts a poignant tale of family life and muses on the compelling doings of the Mob.”

At this point I knew I was screwed. I should have mentioned the title and author’s name right up front – oh wait, I did! While I still think I’m screwed here, let me tell you why the book is a must read without the above words… on the second list. So pretend this next paragraph is the first 😉

Jeff Begley’s freshman novel, The Gospel of Lazlo catches the reader by the throat up front and promptly throws him into the company of Lazlo, our protagonist and primary narrator. The details throughout are as real, graphic and gritty as the characters in this thrust at the fringes of dystopian cyberpunk. I say the fringes because, like the opening quote, it’s more than cyberpunk – it’s got a romance of the best sort, the kind that happens while you’re busy getting on with life. More on the romance later – I like the religion, sex, and politics!

The book is about an out of work, homeless, skeptic of a journalist named Lazlo Epps. Though initially stumbling his way through the process of living, he manages to stumble into both a bit of journalistic work and a home. The stumbling continues as Lazlo finds himself making choices that disquiet both he and the reader and put him in the middle of a cultural rebellion. The story is well plotted and spends more time on narrative (action and storytelling) craft (oh shit, I’ve used two of the forbidden words) than description or exposition.

Begley, like Richard Bach in Illusions – The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, leads us to the problems between perceptions and reality and the contingencies involved with individual experience. Again, it’s graphic, gritty, and to the point. Where Bach leads us gently, “Perspective – Use It or Lose It. If you turned to this page, you’re forgetting that what is going on around you is not reality. Think about that –” Begley grabs us by the short and curlies and shakes us where we live and lets us know “It’s horrifying how the lens of your life can change with a single event.” This lens shifting is a recurrent theme that is put to excellent use and is introduced early with Lazlo’s recounting of his divorce. The perceptual shifts, the accretions of gradual and sometimes horrifyingly abrupt curtain lifting, cause us to share the lens shifts experienced by Begley’s well formed characters.

For example, Lazlo is involved in a “reconditioning service” specializing in cleaning up after suicides, murders, etc. Describing the lens shift suffered by the clients availing themselves of this “reconditioning service” Lazlo graphically shows us:

For the customers of Discrete Reconditioning Services this was also the case.  Before they required our help, their home was a sanctuary, their default location, and a safe haven.  After their loved one bled out in the bathtub or ate some buckshot, their home was a tragic site.  Their default location became their cars or any public place they could sit and avoid their house.  Their safe haven was the source of their insecurities, fears, and pathos.

Their promise of a father or husband replaced with a crime scene.  Their sanctuary, a forensics exhibit.

When his daughter is graduating from high school and she thinks how much she wished her father was there, she’ll have a moment where she remembers his head broken apart in the bathroom.  When his widow makes the final payment on their house, she’ll feel the irresistible need to go look at the toilet where they found her husband.  She’ll remember all the invented fictions of their retirement before it happened, two old lovers working a garden into their twilight, and in the middle will be her husband sitting in front of a wall turned into a semi-truck mud flap for brains.

This particular day, we were working for the Army on a “rapid, wide-effect cranial evacuation,” DRS lingo for a head blown all over the wall.  To tell the truth, most of our work was military.  Channy sat on a barstool that looked like a giant yellow suction cup for his ass.  This was a Sergeant Major’s house.

Lens shift.

Discussing his friend Channy’s lens shift, Lazlo relates the old aphorism that there are no atheists in foxholes. Begley manages to put a wry smile on our faces while still maintaining a firm grip on our throats:

But there’s nothing natural about having the upper left quadrant of your skull shaved off with a bullet.  Nothing natural about a tipped over baby carriage exploding next to your truck sending scraps of metal and screws into your belly and pelvis.  That type of stuff makes it hard to be an atheist.

I didn’t really know that Channy was an atheist.

In Bosnia I was Catholic.

Channy never really talked about God or an afterlife or anything, other than to criticize religion.  For all I knew he was Wiccan.

In Kosovo I was Buddhist.

Now here’s the hard part… how do I keep going without giving up the story? Do I tell you the obvious? Life isn’t a fairy tale. That it’s important to take the time to look behind the curtains as best we’re able? Life has good things for us too. Like that romance stuff I said I’d return to later… There’s this girl named Sophie…

“Alright, Mr. Epps.  Do you want me to be in your fairy tale?”

Could I handle a woman who might catch glimpses of my mind through passwords when I didn’t want her to?  I wasn’t sure.  But that wasn’t what she was offering.  She was offering to catch those glimpses and then let them go.  I didn’t think it would work, but if I didn’t say ‘yes’ I’d regret within moments not knowing for sure.

“Yeah, I want that kind of fairy tale.”

Sophie winked at me and half-smiled.  “Then the last two hours never happened.”

“Just like that?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said, “Just like that.”

Something made me believe.  Big eyes and a pair of breasts could get me to believe a lot, but this was different.

…Sophie made her whippet-sniffing grin permanent; it was carved into her face and wasn’t going away.  I shrugged off my seatbelt and climbed into the back seat with her.  I didn’t want the distraction of Mack.  The hardest part of being a romantic is other guys watching.

So then, I’ll give you some privacy to pick up a great little novel that pushes a few boundaries, conjures up notions of spiritual growth without being religious, and provides transformations as stunning as Neo in the Matrix or Bach’s reluctant messiah. As soon as it’s available, I’ll remind you and post a link for the purchase  HERE at my site!

Update: Also available here! and here!

Stony River’s Microfiction Monday #9

February 21st, 2010 17 comments

It is that time again, Susan’s Microfiction Monday that is – and it happened before I managed to get my post on the Middle East up and running! I’ve a book review going up later that will introduce a talented new writer, so buy the book when I give the link!!

Microfiction Monday is hosted by Susan over at Stony River, and it is a wonderfully direct and short short short story based on a picture she provides. In fact, the story is so short, well, it’s tweetable! Tell a complete story in a 140 characters or less – and join the Monday Fundays.

This Monday’s Trigger:

Lapine? A Language?

Lapine? A Language?

Of course I’d like to be El-ahrairah Fiver,

he’s only the best trickster ever.

Were I like him I’d have us to Watership Down in no time!

I suppose I lamed that one a bit by relying so heavily on a book… but my kids and I LOVED that book! It’s a great one to read aloud to kids – it reads like poetry – it’s the best kind of prose for the young and young at heart… if a bit scary!  Stay tuned here, a book review of one of our fellow players is due here shortly!!

Cheers fellow travelers!

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