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Please, J.K. Rowling, More Stories

Please, J.K. Rowling, More Stories

The current Harry Potter moviefest that I’m enjoying with my son has inspired me to make a request of J.K. Rowling. I love these stores – we’ve read all the books multiple times – because they give me hope. It’s just that simple. They give me hope.

So, I navigated over to her website at and – sure, why not? – clicked on the contact link.

The Blair Partnership represents J.K. Rowling internationally and across all media. Please direct any queries to and a member of the team will be in touch directly. J.K. Rowling very rarely does interviews or public speaking, and when she does they are usually around a new project or charitable commitment. Please note that she does not undertake fee-paying public speaking engagements. Because of the huge volume of requests coming in, J.K. Rowling also regrets she is unable to…

Yada yada yada. Well, ok, fair enough. I sent the following email, but just in case there isn’t any analysis or reporting of the communications, I’m also posting it here. You never know, maybe they do some version of web analytics, social media harvest, or even a Net Promoter Score (put me in the “I would definitively recommend” bucket).

To Whom it May Concern:

I am aware that the illustrious J.K. Rowling could not possibly respond to the billions of her readers, but I am hoping that you maintain some sort of thematic statistics for her.

If so, may I add to the numbers of those who pray that she considers creating more stories that work at multiple levels for children and adults alike? I pray for very few things.

There are so very few such nourishing narratives that do (or can) burst into our mainstream cultures as they exist today. In the Potter books (and films – one must include the films) human complexity is better grasped in these contexts that show how important existential choices are (whether or not someone has quite enough information, whether or not situations are fair, whether or not you think anything you do will make a difference to yourself or anyone else). The stories allow us to feel (with the very deepest of empathy and intuition) compassion and pity and courage and friendship and trust and even alienation. That they do so with a marvelous reinvention of all the long-standing traditions of literature, fairy tale, and even institutional satire gives incredible depth to the world she crafted and creates the speculative but nuanced expansion of imagination that used to be the basis of all liberal education.

In short, the Potter stories give me hope during what I consider to be rather dark times.

My son Ben (now 12) has grown up with the Potter story. It has given us so many opportunities to discuss life’s issues and mysteries in a common language. I can tell you – definitively – that navigating the terrain of the characters and story have made a significant difference to his own evolving character and intellectual/creative/spiritual development. He understands being true to himself, and the meaning of friendship, and the gifts of love, awareness, grace, support. He has internal reference points for things that are difficult to articulate, but can be recognized. And he doesn’t simplify into simple dualities and sound bites. He learns to ask better questions. Thank you for this gift to my son, and to me, and to all the others, everywhere.

I love the woman of her personal history and of her effects in the world, but please – more stories. The world so desperately needs them.

The War Prayer

The War Prayer

Disgusted by the aftermath of the Spanish-American War and the then-current Philippine-American War, Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) wrote The War Prayer in 1904. It was considered too sacrilegious and provocative for the times. Twain agreed to bury it, but wanted it published after his death (“I have told the truth in that… and only dead men can tell the truth in this world”). He died in 1910, and it was published in Harper’s Monthly, November 1916. I have always found this to be a very powerful piece of writing, and this animation adds a new resonance to how I have imagined it in my mind’s eye before.

Take a few moments. Read. And watch – if you like.

The War Prayer by Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.


Sunday morning came — next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams — visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation.

God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!

Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory —

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside — which the startled minister did — and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

“I come from the Throne — bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import — that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of — except he pause and think.

“God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two — one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken.


Ponder this — keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

“You have heard your servant’s prayer — the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it — that part which the pastor — and also you in your hearts — fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. the whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory–must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause.) “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!”

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

And then, try reading To the Person Sitting in Darkness.

Satire – the fusing of truth, anger, and irony – is an important genre for us to relearn. We have become too literal, and too superficial. We need more writers like Mark Twain and Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde. Some people don’t even get Colbert and Jon Stewart. Wikipedia has a list, but I think they must define satire too broadly. Top comedians are less satirists than court jesters. Not to say that jesters cannot be satirical, but it’s just one tool in their bag of tricks.

For me, true satire is a little like a koan. You have to play with perspective, and performatively evoke an ethical sense in the other. You know it’s satire when literalists cannot grasp the dynamic: That’s when they will object! … or join up!

Fun with Watchtower Covers

Fun with Watchtower Covers

Fun with Watchtower covers, from TruthBook Blue (this is number ten in a series!)


If you read this blog, I am quite sure that you already have an idea of what I might have to say about the following question:

Does “the faithful and discreet slave” endorse independent groups of Witnesses who meet together to engage in Scriptural research or debate?

This question – and its answer by the Governing Body – appeared in the September “Q&A” section of the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Ministry publication.

It’s a great example of Watchtower-speak. They start off with a simple question about endorsement. Of course,there’s no reason that they should feel they have to “endorse” independent studies. However, they gradually move into a prohibition against reading anything but the Society’s publications – even suggesting that learning Hebrew or Greek might not be such a good idea.

And people still try to argue with me about the way the control their members and take the god-position.

Tightening the leash: the Watchtower’s attempt to put an end to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ apologists is an excellent point-by-point analysis and rebuttal posted by The Apologetic Front.

Before this talk, I didn’t really have much of an idea as to the extent to which the Watchtower has control over its members. Now I can sadly say that I do.

Adobe Semaphore Pynchon

Adobe Semaphore Pynchon

The semaphore (four rotating disks of light) atop the Adobe tower in downtown San Jose is indeed transmitting a message.

Never heard of a semaphore? There are multiple meanings. In programming, it concerns methodology for mutual exclusion (see “excluded middles” below), parallel processing, and synchronization.

Predating the electrical telegraph, the semaphore was defined as an optical telegraph that conveyed information via visual signals – towers with blades, shutters, flags and so on.


I wonder to what extent the Adobe semaphore might be performing the first function? It performs the second as a kind of street art – well, I think that’s the purposeless purpose, but one can never be sure. And that’s the whole fun of it.

Communication and information processing are inherent to both meanings. I could go on and on on here on topics like entropy and noise and Maxwell’s Demon and so forth, but this is already going to be a long post.

Mark Snesrud and Bob Mayo cracked the code of the Adobe Semaphore. The message is the entire text of the Thomas Pynchon novel The Crying of Lot 49.

One almost can’t help wondering about the process by which such a text would have been chosen. I suspect it was really just a kind of postmodern viral “resonance” – and yeah, it’s cool – but there is a sinister tone underlying this novel. You’d almost have to close your eyes to the possibility of other meanings in that performative choice. Are they interpeting themselves, then, as the “tower” of the novel? Or the postal underground? Or the command-control, or the shadows, or the lines of flight? Or all, or none?

The 1965 Pynchon novel is a serious satire of the military industrial complex and communication systems of command and control. It’s full of playfulness and paranoia, but the larger theme is the tendency of informational chaos to multiply under the pressure of increasing attempts at control.

Ultimately, the reader is forced into the position of making many of the interpretive decisions; people who limit themselves to literalist readings had best avoid this one. It’s not as good a novel as Gravity’s Rainbow – and in some ways it’s harder to understand – but it’s classic Pynchon, and a good place to start.

My favorite passage from the book (pp. 179-182, only two paragraphs!):

Yet she knew, head down, stumbling along over the cinderbed and its old sleepers, there was still that other chance. That it was all true. That Inverarity had only died, nothing else. Suppose, God, there really was a Tristero then and that she had come upon it by accident. If San Narciso and the estate were really no different from any other town, any other estate, then by that continuity she might have The Tristero anywhere in her Republic, through any of a hundred lightly-concealed entranceways, a hundred alienations, if only she’d looked. She stopped a minute between the steel rails, raising her head as if to sniff the air. Becoming conscious of the hard, strung presence she stood on — knowing as if maps had been flashed for her on the sky how these tracks ran on into others, others, knowing how they laced, deepened, authenticated the great night around her. If only she’d looked. She remembered now old Pullman cars, left where the money’d run out or the customers vanished, amid green farm flatnesses where clothes hung, smoke lazed out of jointed pipes. Were the squatters there in touch with others, through Tristero; were they helping carry forward that 300 years of the house’s disinheritance? Surely they’d forgotten by now what it was the Tristero were to have inherited; as perhaps Oedipa one day might have. What was left to inherit? That America coded in Inverarity’s testament, whose was that? She thought of other, immobilized freight cars, where the kids sat on the floor planking and sang back, happy as fat, whatever came over the mother’s pocket radio; of other squatters who stretched canvas for lean-tos behind smiling billboards along all the highways, or slept in junkyards in the stripped shells of wrecked Plymouths, or even, daring, spent the night up some pole in a lineman’s tent like caterpillars, swung among a web of telephone wires, living in the very copper rigging and secular miracle of communication, untroubled by the dumb voltages flickering their miles, the night long, in the thousands of unheard messages. She remembered drifters she had listened to, Americans speaking their language carefully, scholarly, as if they were in exile from somewhere else invisible yet congruent with the cheered land she lived in; and walkers along the roads at night, zooming in and out of your headlights without looking up, too far from any town to have a real destination. And the voices before and after the dead man’s that had phoned at random during the darkest, slowest hours, searching ceaseless among the dial’s ten million possibilities for that magical Other who would reveal herself out of the roar of relays, monotone litanies of insult, filth, fantasy, love whose brute repetition must someday call into being the trigger for the unnameable act, the recognition, the Word.

How many shared Tristero’s secret, as well as its exile? What would the probate judge have to say about spreading some kind of legacy among them all, all those nameless, maybe as a first installment? Oboy. He’d be on her ass in a microsecond, revoke her letters testamentary, they’d call her names, proclaim her through all Orange Country as a redistributionist and pinko, slip the old man from Warpe, Wistfull, Kubitschek and McMingus in as administrator de bonis non and so much baby for code, constellations, shadow-legatees. Who knew? Perhaps she’d be hounded someday as far as joining Tristero itself, if it existed, in its twilight, its aloofness, its waiting. The waiting above all; if not for another set of possibilities to replace those that had conditioned the land to accept any San Narciso among its most tender flesh without a reflex or a cry, then at least, at the very least, waiting for a symmetry of choices to break down, to go skew. She had heard all about excluded middles; they were bad shit, to be avoided; and how had it ever happened here, with the changes once so good for diversity? For it was now like walking among matrices of a great digital computer, the zeroes and ones twinned above, hanging like balanced mobiles right and left, ahead, thick, maybe endless. Behind the hieroglyphic streets there would either be a transcendent meaning or only the earth. In the songs Miles, Dean, Serge and Leonard sang was either some fraction of the truth’s numinous beauty (as Mucho now believed) or only a power spectrum. Tremaine the Swastika Salesman’s reprieve from holocaust was either an injustice, or the absence of a wind; the bones of the GI’s at the bottom of Lake Inverarity were there either for a reason that mattered to the world, or for skin divers and cigarette smokers. Ones and zeros. So did the couples arrange themselves. At Verperhaven House either an accommodation reached, in some kind of dignity, with the Angel of Death, or only death and the daily, tedious preparations for it. Another mode of meaning behind the obvious, or none. Either Oedipa in the orbiting ecstasy of a true paranoia, or a real Tristero. For there either was some Tristero beyond the appearance of the legacy America, or there was just America and if there was just America then it seemed the only way she could continue, and manage to be at all relevant to it, was as an alien, unfurrowed, assumed full circle into some paranoia.

Laughing at Attempted Theocracy

Laughing at Attempted Theocracy

You’ve probably heard by now (via the attorney firing scandal, Monica Goodling) that the Bush administration has appointed more than 150 graduates of Regent (Pat Robertson‘s 29-year-old bottom-tier law school) to prominent positions in the US government. No?

Regent itself estimates that “approximately one out of every six Regent alumni is employed in some form of government work.” Their students aren’t interested in attending top-ranked universities which might challenge them. They want to become “God’s instrument” in changing the policies – and perhaps even the very nature – of the U.S. government.

Mark Crispin Miller comments on the danger of simply laughing off the agendas of schools like Regent while such institutions continue to place their (undereducated?) graduates in influential governmental positions.


I completely agree with Mark about the dangers of creeping theocracy, but I still enjoyed the comedic takes of Bill Maher and Jon Stewart. Humor is also a good way of spreading information; it’s more contagious.

Just a spoonful of sugar

Both of these examples were more informative than the network news programs that I saw. They both used comparisons to frustrate and mutate the stream of associations that people might have with the idea of the “university.” OK, the poke at Univ. of Phoenix was a little mean, but other than that…

I would be willing to bet a hunk of precious pennies that more Americans get their news and political information through satire and humor than via the news. They watch for entertainment, and they get some information too.

What’s the harm? It might spark an interest, and get them to research things for themselves. They’ll google it, they’ll check out the shelves at the library and the bookstore, and maybe even look through some other kinds of publications. They might try to reconcile conflicting information, collect evidence, make judgments. Independent thinking! Woo-hoo!

People need lines of flight – we are complex.

That’s why (for example) fundamentalists are all wrong to try to ban Halloween. Halloween already served their purposes by reframing and trivializing older religious traditions. If you follow the history of almost any community celebration, you’ll find all sorts of interesting overlaps and reversals. Halloween served to absorb and defuse those older traditions, overlaying them with new meanings. Now, by being “purist” or “fundamentalist,” they take away the carnivalesque, upside-down fun time. In Jungian terms, instead of embracing and taming the shadow they repress it and give it strength.

It is possible to take something heavily, and then a bit lightly. We do it all the time, and I believe it is probably part of the toolkit for human adaptability. Humor – and fiction – are survival tools. We tell stories, and we retell stories, and they change a bit in the retelling because the bits that are relevant are in a different context.

That is why there are traditions of the prankster and the jester and the representative of chaos. Life can only exist and thrive on the borders of order and chaos – either one alone will kill us. We live in the magical zone of transformations and patterns.

As others have pointed out, humor and satire can function to reaffirm the status quo by providing a little relief from order and law. Think pressure cooker. A little steam is let out to prevent an explosion. Some kinds of humor can even be hurtful.

Still, I’ve always thought that the complete lack of humor eventually helps to push a movement into its downfall. Think of how shrill people can become when they are focused on one issue that is very important to them. The more fanatical people get, the less they can laugh at themselves, and then humor can attack “from the outside,” so to speak.

Bill Maher and Jon Stewart and Lewis Black and SNL – and all court jesters – create rhetorical layers of understanding through exaggerations here and there. I’m all for it. Plant a seed.

I think we often take everything too seriously.

Performative protest that illustrates and entertains rather than sermonizes and dictates is sometimes more effective.

Billionaires for Bush
I like Billionaires for Bush, for example. And I like visual humor – there are some very intelligent and creative people doing editorial cartoons (see the blogroll under Humor).

Of course there have to be people who are able to provide the serious critiques, with all the details and proof and arguments, but these ought not to be drawn as incompatible with more humorous or entertaining approaches. They needn’t be.

They may create a resonating circuit of inquiry and reinforcement that helps to shape the milieu.

In this reality, many things happen at once. Patterns emerge. Networks intersect.