Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Patrick Chappatte's "The End of Political Cartoons at The New York Times"

For those of you familiar with my 2017 book UNTIL THE LAST DOG DIES (a darkly satirical novel about a young stand-up comedian who must adapt as best he can to an apocalyptic virus that destroys only the humor centers of the brain), you might be interested in reading political cartoonist Patrick Chappatte's 6-10-19 blog post entitled "The End of Political Cartoons at The New York Times," which he wrote in response to The New York Times' cowardly decision to cancel their own political cartoons for the foreseeable future:

"All my professional life, I have been driven by the conviction that the unique freedom of political cartooning entails a great sense of responsibility.

"In 20-plus years of delivering a twice-weekly cartoon for the International Herald Tribune first, and then The New York Times, and after receiving three OPC awards in that category, I thought the case for political cartoons had been made (in a newspaper that was notoriously reluctant to the form in past history.) But something happened. In April 2019, a Netanyahu caricature from syndication reprinted in the international editions triggered widespread outrage, a Times apology and the termination of syndicated cartoons. Last week, my employers told me they'll be ending in-house political cartoons as well by July. I’m putting down my pen, with a sigh: that’s a lot of years of work undone by a single cartoon - not even mine - that should never have run in the best newspaper of the world.

"I’m afraid this is not just about cartoons, but about journalism and opinion in general. We are in a world where moralistic mobs gather on social media and rise like a storm, falling upon newsrooms in an overwhelming blow. This requires immediate counter-measures by publishers, leaving no room for ponderation or meaningful discussions. Twitter is a place for furor, not debate. The most outraged voices tend to define the conversation, and the angry crowd follows in [...].

"Curiously, I remain positive. This is the era of images. In a world of short attention span, their power has never been so big. Out there is a whole world of possibilities, not only in editorial cartooning, still or animated, but also in new fields like on-stage illustrated presentations and long-form comics reportage - of which I have been a proponent for the last 25 years. (I’m happy, by the way, to have opened the door for the genre at the NYT with the "Inside Death Row" series in 2016. The following year, another series about Syrian refugees by Jake Halpern and Michael Sloan got the NYT a Pulitzer prize.) It’s also a time where the media need to renew themselves and reach out to new audiences. And stop being afraid of the angry mob. In the insane world we live in, the art of the visual commentary is needed more than ever. And so is humor."


Yes, with each passing day, it seems that the speculative world of UNTIL THE LAST DOG DIES is becoming a grim reality. 


To read Chappatte's entire post, click HERE.



Monday, June 10, 2019

Walter Bowart on UFOAZ TALKS

I recommend taking the time to check out this interview with my late friend and colleague, Walter Bowart, author of the groundbreaking 1978 nonfiction book OPERATION MIND CONTROL. What follows is Walter's hour-long appearance on Ted Loman's television show UFOAZ TALKS, a recording of which popped up on YouTube about a month ago. This episode aired at some point in 1995, not long after Walter released the updated "Researcher's Edition" of OPERATION MIND CONTROL in 1994....

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Dr. James Ketchum and His Billion Dollar Barrel of LSD

Further intriguing information has emerged regarding the career of Army psychiatrist James Ketchum in the wake of his recent death on 5-27-19. What follows is an excerpt from Matt Novak's 6-7-19 Gizmodo article entitled "The U.S. Army Once Kept $1 Billion Worth of LSD in a Maryland Office for Some Reason":

James Ketchum, an Army psychiatrist who conducted controversial drug experiments on members of the U.S. military, died last month, on May 27, at the age of 87. And while Ketchum’s legacy is filled with plenty of weird and horrifying tales, there’s one story that should get more attention in the wake of his death.
Specifically, we should probably talk about the time that Ketchum found roughly $1 billion worth of LSD, enough to “intoxicate several hundred million people,” according to Ketchum, just sitting in his office—and the fact that it disappeared without explanation.
Ketchum worked at the U.S. Army’s secluded Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland during the 1960s and will be forever remembered as the man who gave U.S. servicemen mind-altering substances like LSD to see how they would react. Ketchum’s experiments were conducted on an estimated 7,000 men from 1955 until 1975 using over 250 different substances. The experiments were part of a broader military effort during the first Cold War to understand how different chemicals might be used in warfare against the Soviet Union.
It’s not just the hypothetical use of powerful drugs against a foreign adversary that raised very serious concerns about Ketchum’s work. Ketchum was rightly criticized for conducting experiments on U.S. Army personnel who didn’t know what they were taking, and the Pentagon failed to provide safeguards to ensure that the servicemen received medical care after the trials.
Ketchum wrote a memoir titled Chemical Warfare Secrets Almost Forgotten: A Personal Story of Medical Testing of Army Volunteers, published in 2006, defending his actions, but the book also contains a bizarre anecdote that should raise a lot of questions. The story is buried at the end of the Washington Post’s obituary for Ketchum, published earlier this week.
From the Washington Post:
In his memoir, “Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten” (2006), Dr. Ketchum said that although he abstained from taking BZ, he was sometimes mystified by what he saw at Edgewood. One day, he said, he walked into his office to find a “large black steel barrel.” Inside were glass canisters filled with LSD — enough to intoxicate several hundred million people, by his estimate, and worth nearly $1 billion on the street.
Within a week, the barrel was gone. Dr. Ketchum said he never learned what it was for.
But the Post’s summary of the event perhaps doesn’t do it justice. It’s worth quoting the book passage at length to accurately explain what we’re talking about....
To read Novak's entire article, click HERE

After you've read Novak's article, you might want to check out "Faith of Our Fathers," Philip K. Dick's classic 1967 short story about a dystopia in which the citizenry is kept in check with hallucinogens covertly pumped into the water supply. Dick later commented, "...it's been my impression since [the publication of 'Faith of Our Fathers'] that when the roof fell in on me years later, this story was in some eerie way involved." You can read "Faith of Our Fathers" (which was nominated for the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Novelette) in Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions anthology.

Click HERE for further information about "Faith of Our Fathers."

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Dr. James S. Ketchum and His "Cloud of Confusion"

From Robert D. McFadden's 6-3-19 New York Times obituary entitled "James Ketchum, Who Conducted LSD Experiments on Soldiers, Dies at 87":

Dr. James S. Ketchum, an Army psychiatrist who in the 1960s conducted experiments with LSD and other powerful hallucinogens using volunteer soldiers as test subjects in secret research on chemical agents that might incapacitate the minds of battlefield adversaries, died on May 27 at his home in Peoria, Ariz. He was 87.
His wife, Judy Ketchum, confirmed the death on Monday, adding that the cause had not been determined.
Decades before a convention eventually signed by more than 190 nations outlawed chemical weapons, Dr. Ketchum argued that recreational drugs favored by the counterculture could be used humanely to befuddle small units of enemy troops, and that a psychedelic “cloud of confusion” could stupefy whole battlefield regiments more ethically than the lethal explosions and flying steel of conventional weapons.
For nearly a decade he spearheaded these studies at Edgewood Arsenal, a secluded Army chemical weapons center on Chesapeake Bay near Baltimore, where thousands of soldiers were drugged.

Some could be found mumbling as they pondered nonexistent objects, or picking obsessively at bedclothes, or walking about in dreamlike deliriums. Asked to perform reasoning tests, some subjects could not stop laughing.
It sometimes took days for the effects to wear off, and even then, Dr. Ketchum wrote in a self-published memoir, many displayed irrational aggressions and fears. He built padded rooms to minimize injuries, but occasionally one would escape. Some soldiers smashed furniture or menaced others, imagining they were running from hordes of rats or killers [...].
While the experiments used popular recreational drugs of the 1960s counterculture — marijuana derivatives, mescaline and lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD — many subjects were exposed to a more powerful compound called BZ (3-quinuclidinyl benzilate), which produced acute anxiety, paranoia and delusions.
To test soldiers’ performance under the influence of BZ, Dr. Ketchum in 1962 had a fully equipped communications outpost constructed at Edgewood — an enclosed mock-up resembling a Hollywood set. One soldier received a placebo, but three others were given varying doses of the drug. All were locked up in the “communications center” and for three days subjected to barrages of commands and messages suggesting that they were under attack.
Dr. Ketchum, who often filmed his experiments with a theatrical flair, called this scenario “The Longest Weekend.” As hidden color cameras rolled and radio warnings of chemical assaults intensified, soldiers panicked, donned gas masks, tried to escape and lapsed into deliriums that lasted up to 60 hours. The Army concluded that BZ could disable a small military unit in a compact space, and for a time produced stockpiles of volleyball-size BZ bomblets [...].
On leave from Edgewood from 1966 to 1968, Dr. Ketchum studied at Stanford University, made documentaries of San Francisco’s psychedelic subculture, and treated drug-overdose victims at a clinic in the Haight-Ashbury section of the city.
He continued experiments even after the Army had rejected using hallucinogenic agents as weapons in the Vietnam War. He left Edgewood in 1971, served at Army posts in Texas and Georgia and resigned his colonel’s commission in 1976 to return to civilian psychiatry.

Edgewood Arsenal today is a collection of derelict buildings attached to a military proving ground, its records housed in the National Archives.

To read McFadden's entire article, click HERE.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Lisa Morton on Dennis Etchison

Recommended reading: Lisa Morton's remembrance of Dennis Etchison (written on 5-29-19, only one day after Etchison's death at the age of 76):

"Where to begin when it comes to Dennis Etchison…

"How about this: I owe my writing career to him.

"Here’s how that came about: back in the early ‘80s, when I was living in L.A. as a young (very young!) would-be screenwriter, I dated someone who was close to Ray Bradbury. We got to do a lot of things with Ray, many of which involved hanging around other writers. One of those writers was an interesting, friendly fellow named Dennis Etchison, whose work I was unfamiliar with. I asked my boyfriend about him, and he loaned me a book by Dennis. The book was a collection of short stories called The Dark Country.

"That book changed my life.

"I’d never read anything like it. The stories weren’t just frightening and perfectly crafted, some of them were also set in Los Angeles, but, more importantly, they were set in my Los Angeles. This was the Los Angeles I knew, a place whose sunny reputation hid an underbelly of tension, of dark canyons and all-night convenience stores, of south-of-the-border jaunts gone bad, of greed and class warfare."

To read the entirety of Morton's "A Few Words About Dennis Etchison," click HERE.

If you'd like to read one of Etchison's numerous short stories, check out his 1984 tale "Talking in the Dark," which was reprinted in the July 2014 issue of Nightmare Magazine

And to learn about the genesis of "Talking in the Dark," you can find Lisa Morton's 2014 interview with Etchison right HERE.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Dennis Etchison: BLACK SUN

On the evening that Dennis Etchison's death was announced, I pulled out my signed hardcover of his 1984 collection RED DREAMS and reread his short story "Black Sun," a beautifully depressing tale about the day-to-day terrors of resisting the draft during the Vietnam War. Though I was just a toddler when Etchison first published this story (in the thirteenth volume of Damon Knight's legendary ORBIT series), his stripped down and yet evocative prose managed to transport me to another era... a bloody period in United States history that might be difficult for younger Americans to comprehend in the twenty-first century. Over the course of a story that's only nine pages long, Etchison induced in me the deep paranoia and anxiety that would have festered in any rational man forced to deal with a mechanistic process as irrational (and inhuman) as the draft.

In "Black Sun," the mundane, absurd, and tragic realities of living in the shadow of the Vietnam War during the 1960s is brought vividly to life, though filtered through Etchison's existential point of view. Etchison's "horror" stories owe more to Franz Kafka and Albert Camus than the usual supernatural scriveners often cited by those who choose to inhabit the horror genre. In the 1970s, or perhaps even in any other decade, only Etchison could get away with publishing such a starkly literary story within the pages of a science fiction anthology. The fact that Knight decided this uncompromising and realistic tale was appropriate for the pages of ORBIT says a great deal about Etchison's unique point of view. Even when Etchison was writing about the quotidian, his stories somehow felt nightmarish, distorted, and unreal. As "Black Sun" itself states, "The horror lies in that there is no horror."

The title Etchison chose for this particular story inevitably made me think of a 2001 Sally Mann photograph also christened "Black Sun." Though the phantasmagoric artist J.K. Potter is most often associated with Etchison and his work, it occurred to me while rereading "Black Sun" that perhaps the haunting Sally Mann photograph seen below would best sum up the overall tone and atmosphere of Etchison's fiction. A future collection of Etchison's stories adorned with a cover featuring Mann's unforgettable image would be eerily fitting.  

Late last night, while rereading this story (as well as "Not From Around Here," the final tale in RED DREAMS), I couldn't help but think that the majority of Etchison's stories must have been impenetrable to the general readership of the popular magazines in which they first appeared. What did the average reader make of the hopeless, downward spiral of the doomed lovers in "On the Pike"? Or the brutal, deadend epiphany experienced by frustrated romantic Jack Martin, the protagonist of "The Chair"?

In his cogent introduction to RED DREAMS, Karl Edward Wagner nails the underlying theme that unites many of Etchison's stories: "Etchison's nightmare visions are those of loneliness--of an individual adrift in a society beyond his control, beyond his comprehension, in which only sheep-like acceptance and robot-like nonawareness permit survival. Underlying it all is a sort of desperate, dark humor--condemned men joking as they are led to the gallows."

I would not say this about most writers who are tagged--whether fairly or unfairly--with the "horror" genre label, but without a doubt Etchison's stories deserve to be collected by the Library of America or some equally august series designed to preserve genuine American classics for future generations. 

Thursday, May 30, 2019


NEWS FLASH: My next book, WIDOW OF THE AMPUTATION & OTHER WEIRD CRIMES, will be published by Eraserhead Press early next year. Feast your eyes on the stunning cover, as designed by the incomparable Matthew Revert and his Mysterious Third Eye....

Though the official release date is March 1, 2020, the book will be ready for preorder in July. Better start saving your shekels now, kiddies! I'll post more details as they emerge....

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Dennis Etchison, R.I.P. (1943-2019)

I was very sad to hear today about the death of Dennis Etchison, a masterful short story writer whose work transcends genres. If you've never read his fiction, particularly his short stories, you're missing out on one of the most subtly disturbing American writers of the past forty years. His many memorable stories include "The Late Shift," "It Will Be Here Soon," "The Dark Country," "On the Pike," "The Soft Wall," "The Olympic Runner," "The Blood Kiss," "The Dog Park," and "The Detailer." I consider all four of these collections to be essential reading:  THE DARK COUNTRY (1982), RED DREAMS (1984), THE BLOOD KISS (1987), and THE DEATH ARTIST (2000). Also noteworthy is his work as an anthologist, particularly CUTTING EDGE (1986), which includes Whitley Strieber's infamous short story "Pain," and the MASTERS OF DARKNESS series (1986-1991). 

I highly recommend listening to the following interview with Etchison, who spoke with fellow short story writer Scott Edelman during the second annual Stoker Convention (held aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California back in April of 2017) where Etchison was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Horror Writers Association. To hear the June 23, 2017 episode of Edelman's EATING THE FANTASTIC podcast, click HERE


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Jared Kushner and the Bilderbergers

From David Reid's 5-28-19 CNBC report entitled "Jared Kushner, Google's Schmidt and Microsoft's Nadella to Attend Secret Bilderberg Meeting":

Jared Kushner, senior advisor to President Donald Trump, is set to attend this year’s Bilderberg Meeting in the Swiss town of Montreux this week.

Founded in 1954, the Bilderberg Meeting was designed to foster warmer relations between the United States and Europe. The annual talk fest is considered secretive because guests are not allowed to reveal who said what at the meeting.

The Bilderberg guest list typically includes top politicians, business leaders, financiers, academics and influential members of the media. The event’s website said Tuesday that about 130 participants from 23 countries have confirmed their attendance this year.

Aside from Kushner, this year’s list of attendees features French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, Credit-Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Total CEO Patrick Pouyanne, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger are also confirmed.

To read the entire article, click HERE.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Harlan Ellison Reads "The City of the Singing Flame"

In honor of what would have been Harlan Ellison's 85th birthday, check out this 1986 recording of Harlan reading one of his favorite short stories, Clark Ashton Smith's "The City of the Singing Flame." Harlan read the story in several parts over the course of three episodes of Mike Hodel's Hour 25, a radio show dedicated to the science fiction genre that aired on KPFK in Los Angeles every Friday night from 1972 to 2000. The source of this recording is Will Hart, who briefly discusses both Clark Ashton Smith and Harlan Ellison on his CthulhuWho1's blog.

You can listen to Harlan reading "The City of the Singing Flame" by clicking right HERE.

You can also hear Harlan ruminating about Smith's tremendous influence on his writing in Darin Coelho Spring's excellent 2018 documentary CLARK ASHTON SMITH: THE EMPEROR OF DREAMS, the trailer for which can be seen directly below....

Clint Margrave on Charles Bukowski

Earlier today Quillette published Clint Margrave's latest article entitled "Bukowski: Recommended Reading for the Damned." Here's an excerpt:

It seems to me that some of Bukowski’s critics could use a drink. I dread a future in which our artists must meet the high moral standards of a David Orr and Ceri Radford. How boring the future of fiction or poetry will be when its value depends upon the rectitude and responsibility of its author. Or has it already come to that? Could a Bukowski be published today? Not likely. What goes missing then is the chance to glimpse the darker and messier side of life, which is still there no matter how many “sensitivity readers” try to edit it out, and no matter how many Twitter mobs try to suppress it.
What is perhaps even more alarming about these reviews is the insinuation that art is something to be feared because it can influence people to do bad things. How is it Bukowski’s fault that some people become alcoholics? That’s quite a responsibility for a man who couldn’t even control his own drinking. Not to mention the familiar assumption—such a common narrative of our day—that readers need to be protected by those who know better. When art is framed by fear and moral grandstanding, it always leads to censorship. Today, of course, it isn’t so much a religious concern about obscenity that drives censorship and informs taboos, but deviation from politically correct orthodoxies.
To read Margrave's entire article, click HERE.