The Maya never predicted that 2012 would be the Year of the Cigar Box Guitar. They missed the most important story. The end of the world, which ought to be in a couple of hours, is not this year’s crucial event.

Should the world end, it won’t be remembered as vividly as Paul McCartney’s appearance with the surviving members of Nirvana: an incident that produced indifferent music, but introduced the world to the Next Big Thing — an instrument that will change the face of rock and roll.

(This story about Hurricane Mitch was initially published in Fathom.)
 
If you live somewhere, you don’t want me to visit. No, really. I’m approximately as safe to have around as the Grim Reaper. In fact, I seem to be his official advance scout. I can’t count the places that have experienced genuine disaster soon after welcoming me with warm, soon-to-be-severed arms.

(THE NEW YORK TIMES, June 29, 2000. They wanted to know what it felt like to have Stephen King make a fortune on an idea which had originally been mine, and upon which I had famously not made a fortune. This piece ushers in my much-lauded period of faux self-effacement.)

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Stephen King, as I’m sure you know, made headlines — and a small fortune — when his e-novella, “Riding the Bullet,” was published online in March.

THE CAMPAIGN MANAGER of a congressional candidate in Arkansas returns home to find his children’s cat bludgeoned to death. The creature’s skull is caved in. The word “liberal” has been scrawled on the corpse. Why should you care?

It is easy to dismiss this as a small crime, relative to the atrocities we read about daily.

THE TOTAL NUMBER of Israelis and Palestinians killed, in over half a century of conflict, is approximately 15,000. This includes all of the fatalities on both sides. The great majority of these have been armed enemy combatants.

I urge you to check these numbers for yourself. They are academically sound—we have nowhere near the uncertainty that we have regarding, for instance, Stalinist Russia.

I HAVE BROWSED the relevant entrails, and it will be an amusing if shallow year. In particular, I have weighed the Mayan prophecy of the Unrapture against a countervailing but potent sign: the mental health of Tom Cruise. No, I cannot verify that he has become a well-adjusted human being, but Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol — which ought by rights to be incoherent franchise fodder — is a surprisingly sane vehicle for a miraculously sane Tom.

Bill Maher is a merciless bastard. And I say that with the greatest respect. Lesser guys may be conned by righteous charlatans — not Bill. He’s the one in the front row, shining a rude light on the emperor’s flashed genitals. Lo, if you have stupid beliefs, Maher’s going to haul your ass onto the Carpet of Reason. Hence, he is pretty much the last person you’d expect to get sucked in by PETA, Ingrid Newkirk’s cult of euthanasia.

GENGIS KHAN IS in fact an interesting choice. He is not just any murderous figure. Even among the most homicidal rulers, he occupies a special position. We know that Stalin admired him immensely, and for good reason: Until Stalin arrived, Genghis Khan was almost certainly the most prolific murderer in history. He may still be. If you discount the famine under Mao, Genghis Khan may be responsible for more deaths than Mao and Stalin combined: some say 40 million people.

IN 1886, AN unpleasant man strapped to a bomb wandered into a novel; he had a detonator in his pocket. Thanks to him, we ended up with Hannibal Lecter. And the Unabomber. This was a new kind of human: the condescending scientist, with a peerless intellect and a slow athletic pulse, who is morally insane. (Bear with me — this is a review of the new Sherlock Holmes film, A Game of Shadows.)

We care about the parents of children murdered. We care when they lose their loved ones to psychopaths enabled by the NRA. We care deeply, don’t we? That’s why we’re all so livid about this: the father of a boy shot in that school massacre, who was taunted by a proud militiaman, “Your son should have had a gun, you stupid….”

I DISLIKED CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS. I’m fairly sure of this. So why did the news of his death affect me as it did? Even though many of my friends knew him personally, I knew him only through his writing, where he came across always as amiable, literate, shallow, and wrong. That made him a better man than most pundits — by two adjectives — but I never understood the adulation.

IT IS NOT POSSIBLE to write an unrealistic novel. I give up. No matter how peculiar your invention, reality inevitably sprints past you, cackling. I thought I was conjuring something nicely absurd for my YA heroine, Arabella, when I gave her a mother with academic expertise in the mating habits of vampire bats. This was only a few years ago. 

Jews aren’t allowed to worry about their pets suffering. That would be shallow. In particular, Jews aren’t allowed to worry about their pets being hurt by Hamas, because that would be truly shallow. God knows, Israelis deserve to be targeted, so if Hamas causes their beloved cats or dogs to suffer, that’s just fine.

Though I find this premise appalling, it seems to be the conventional wisdom.

IF A THEORY is too ugly to float across the table at a dinner party, it probably doesn’t merit the cover of a respectable magazine. One of the low points in mainstream American journalism was October 31, 1994, when The New Republic decided that it would be a good idea to devote the journal briefly to the promotion of racism.

The decision was to feature a book called The Bell Curve. 

PETA may soon lose the right to kill healthy pets. As I and many others have verified, the headquarters of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in Norfolk, Virginia kills 97 per cent of the animals delivered into its care.

Norfolk, however, may soon pass legislation to make the city a “No Kill” zone.

This is a remarkable development in the growing battle to deny PETA the right to liquidate pets at its so-called “Shelter of Last Resort.”

Now that candidates can run respectably on a platform of torture, how long before we see a frontrunner advocating slavery? Surely everything’s open for reconsideration. It’s time to retire an inconvenient prejudice: that America’s progress should be in a forward direction.

Of all the candidates at the Republican debates — including that putative beacon of sanity, Mitt Romney — only Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul had the base-level decency to renounce waterboarding: a practice that has been considered a particularly extreme form of torture since the Spanish Inquisition.

THE SANE BURKEAN impulse when it comes to the Occupy movement is nervousness (in anticipation of Terror). If there were the slightest possibility of these protests resulting in actual regime change, believe me: I would be standing at the barricades with the Tea Party, polishing my retro musket. The chances of this, however, are nil. Occupy Wall Street is not going to kindle a revolution.

Some time ago I stumbled upon an entirely new genre of literature. While searching for a Sonny Rollins disc on Amazon, I happened upon the following customer review of Saxophone Colossus:

 

“Among the finest jazz works ever. Typically, I order mayonnaise as my condiment of choice on a sandwich. But after my cat’s death, I can’t seem to come to terms with mayonnaise anymore.

Big-hearted people tend to have warm and truly fuzzy thoughts about the Humane Society of the United States.

This is, after all, the organization that operates shelters nationwide and saves hundreds of thousands of animals. This is the selfless organization that stands up for the voiceless and abused. Although there are countless alternatives, this is the charity you should be sending your money to if you care about pets.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals employs only one argument in defense of its right to kill adoptable shelter pets. This is an abuse called “hoarding.” It is in fact an especially vile form of cruelty — animals are warehoused in filthy, overcrowded cages, where they then die, slowly and in misery.

This, we are told, is the reason that PETA’s founder, Ingrid Newkirk, is busy trying to prevent No Kill legislation from being passed in the group’s home town of Norfolk, Virginia.

People would love to donate money towards fighting the NRA. They keep telling me this. I’ve been desperately promoting an obvious solution since the Newtown massacre: a counter-lobby to take on the National Rifle Association, dollar for dollar, using their own grotesquely successful tactics to bring them down. Every time I suggest this project, the response is immediate and enthusiastic: “Where do I send a check?”

Do you care as much about your children as owners care about their guns? That’s an offensive question, isn’t it. Please. It’s an exercise in tasteless hyperbole — either that or I know nothing about the bond between parent and child. I’m not being serious, right? Of course you care.

Then what have you done?

Yes, I’m asking this ugly question in all sincerity.

It is touching that Wayne LaPierre, the compassionate CEO of the National Rifle Association, has expressed concern for the mental health of his fellow citizens. Let’s take this comical pose seriously for a moment, and imagine just how we might improve psychiatric health services in a way that would diminish the obscene rate of gun violence in America.