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Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog, passed away June 2, 2007. He was 42.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

Please keep Steve's friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us.

We will miss him terribly.

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Driftglass: "Come Join Us - Part 2"

This is fiction

There are no


(Crossposted from driftglass.)

Thanks to Driftglass for this wonderful two-part piece.

(Continuing from Part One commentary on this article by Joshuah Bearman)

driftglass: No, Mr. Bearman, our monotheistic religious tradition began with a story about Abraham being prepared to kill his own son.

Also with God flooding the planet, stomping whole cities flat and fucking with Job on a bet.

Again, so what?

Other equally entertaining stories have Prometheus, chained to a rock, getting his liver ripped out and eaten by an eagle every day for all eternity. Another has Hercules holding the entire world while Atlas goes off to take a piss and get laid.

But between all of these mythologies, fairy tales and allegories and the moldering corpses of 39 idiots in 1997 stands The Enlightenment.

That proud march out from the darkness and unreason of superstition and boogie man fear, and in the end that is the lesson here. The lesson Mr. Bearman works so very hard to steer away from.

The simple lesson that those who demand that Reason be overthrown to make room for their superior, Alien/Astrology/Telepathic/ Illuminati/Rapture/Creationist line of bullshit Are. Your. Enemies.

Doesn’t matter if they smile. Doesn’t matter if they shed pious tears. Whoever wants you lobotomized – who wants you to swap the hard won evidence of your senses, causality, scientific method and common sense for a secret, magic, translucid semaphore visible and interpretable only by special adepts who will conveniently intermediate between you and The Higher Power – does not have your best interest at heart.

In fact there is a very good chance they are trying to kill you.

Mr. Bearman continues:

When you get down to it, just how much of human history is filled with willing martyrs for heaven or some other abstract cause? Two hundred thousand Englishmen were slaughtered for queen and country at the Somme. Does that make any more sense than what happened in Rancho Santa Fe?

The answer may be that this is the wrong question, because none of it makes sense. Dying for the patrie is just as arbitrary as dying for duty or glory or Marshall Herff Applewhite.

driftglass: What an immensely flippant and disgraceful thing to believe. And how unintentionally ironic that the author – who has held himself in state of nearly spine-snapping moral contortion as he attempts to avoid “judging” a suicide cult – casts the casual and deplorable judgment that “dying for duty” and dying “…for Marshall Herff Applewhite” are equally arbitrary.

All deaths, while equally final, are not created equal. The Jew who got marched into an Auschwitz shower was not morally equivalent to the Nazi hanged for war crimes. The soldier who jumps onto a grenade to save his platoon is not the moral equivalent of some double-wide-dwelling Scarface-wannabe who beefs it when his meth lab explodes.

How did that not occur to you, Mr. Bearman?

In this very, very, very long article on 39 children of the late 20th Century who were conned into stepping in front of a bus with smiles on their faces, how did it come to you that their fatal folly is somehow equivalent to standing between your fellow human beings and harm at the cost of your own life?

How do you not get the difference between a mother dying to save her child, and a mother drowning her child because the Alien Jebus Man says so?

Because to whatever extent you are incapable of comprehending that, is the extent to which you have no business putting pen to paper and opining about a god damned thing.

… He now realizes that’s been his job since DO came up with the idea of writing a screenplay in 1996.

The script incorporates the Heaven’s Gate cosmogony. Humans are bit players in a vast galactic drama, including at least one alien summit on Mars. The protagonist is a telepathic man-dog descended from the Atlanteans who has a crystal embedded in his forehead and journeys to Earth to grow a soul. Rio and OLLODY started the first version when the group lived in Pleasant Valley, Arizona, and DO decided that a screenplay would be a ticket to the masses. The first draft was several hundred pages long, and featured concept art for all the different alien races and ships. NBC, Rio said, was interested.

driftglass: But he really wants to direct.

We were at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Beverly Glen when Rio told me that some time soon, the Earth will shift its axis and many people will die. I had just sat down with a chocolate-covered graham cracker, and the sun was setting. Information of this kind, he said, arrives in his mind like a ticker tape, providing constant updates in thought form. “I can’t yet say when the axis will shift,” he added with his usual conviction. “But hopefully that will come soon.” When I asked if this ticker tape is coming straight from DO, he said, “I think so.”

but Rio’s not just a charlatan. He definitely believes in something, although it’s hard to tell what exactly that something is. In a nutshell, the message is “Buy the book.” Beyond that, I’m not exactly sure. The Next Level seems to have chosen some elliptical emissaries. Following in DO’s footsteps, Rio speaks very precisely about impossibly vague things.

These people were so alienated they literally believed there are aliens. If that’s what absolute tranquility requires, it’s a psychological Rubicon I’m not willing to cross. For those who did, I don’t want to judge them other than to say that there was likely another answer for them, one that didn’t entail 39 grieving families.

driftglass: And that is the mistake. That is the fatal weakness. Because just as there are too many people who are far too quick to judge others by superficialities like race, sexual orientation or degree of Dirty Hippyness, there are also too many people reflexively unwilling to judge anything at all.

Who are far too willing to shrug and say “Meh?” to every differentiation because they have been taught that everything from culottes to mass suicide is a matter of taste.

Which is a lie.

Because there are some things that demand judgment.

Things that scream up from our blood and bones “Run! Now!” And when we don’t label them clearly for what they are -- when we chloroform our most basic survival instincts and let apple juice sit side-by-side with carbolic acid in the fridge, ‘cause hey, who are we to say which is good and which is bad? -- that is the moment when we strip away the only armor we have to defend ourselves from charlatans and killers.

That is the moment we sell our species into ignorant slavery.

That is the moment when death wins.

But let’s let Unca Harlan tell it, ‘cause he tells it so damned well.


Everywhere, today, the question is being asked: what did the Heaven's Gate cultists have to do with science fiction. Try this for an answer: nothing.

They had everything to do with that hideous verbal crotchet "sci-fi," however. And they are light-years apart, so don't confuse them. At peril of your life.

Almost exactly one year ago, my heart tried to kill me. Before I could die, they cracked me open and did a quadruple bypass. But for a moment, I shook hands with death, and in that bonding I got a tough insight; and this I now know for certain: In those gasping last moments of the Rancho Santa Fe cultists, as they were descending into their death sleep, they were thinking Please help me; I'm going into the darkness and I need to know! Yeah, we all want to know...the answers that make sense of a world growing ever more complex, of lives that seem to be controlled by forces too big for our puny intellects, of a journey without sufficient noble purpose.

Traditionally, answers have been sought in philosophy or religion or mysticism of one kind or another. What's the sense of it all, in a bewildering universe that doesn't seem to know or care that we're here? But from those sources no fully integrated or fully satisfying answers have come.

And those answers may not be anywhere in the literary genre called science fiction, either, but one thing is for damned sure: they are not to be found in the cheapjack foolishness of "sci-fi."

The concepts that abound in fantastical literature have the magical capacity to inspire dreams that become enriching reality. Science fiction, like The Whole Earth Catalog, is only an implement, a tool of the mind's imagination. It employs the technique called extrapolation, allowing us to play the game of what-if?. A game of intellect and daring, of special dreaming and determination not to buy into all those boneheaded beliefs that always tell use we're too stupid and too inadequate to prevail. That we need some kind of mythical alien or supernatural babysitter to get us over the rough spots. Science fiction says otherwise. It is an idea-rich literature that is, at core, hopeful and progressive, that always says--with a nod to the reawakening of a competent human spirit--there will be a tomorrow. It may be troubling, and it may require us to get a lot smarter, but there will be a tomorrow for us to work at.

"Sci-fi," that hunchbacked, gimlet-eyed, slobbering village idiot of a bastardized genre, says only that logic is beyond us, understanding must be crushed underfoot, that the woods are full of monsters and aliens and conspiracies and dread and childish fear of the dark. The former is a literature that can open the sky to all the possibilities of change and chance; the latter is hysterical and as overripe as rotten fruit, that can turn all rational conjecture into a nightmare from which one escapes only by phenobarb-laced applesauce or a slug of grape Kool-aid straight up with cyanide. The former says responsibility for your life is the key; the latter assures you that you ain't got the chance of a hairball in a cyclotron.

And that is the dichotomy of science fiction, as opposed to the tabloid mentality of UFO abductions, triangular-headed ETs, reinterpreted biblical apocrypha, and just plain bone stick stone gullibility. It is obscurantism and illiteracy, raised to the level of dogma. It requires that you be as ignorant today as you were yesterday, that you be no brighter than the sap who keeps playing three-card monte on a street corner with a hustler who will never cut you a break.

"Sci-fi" is what the Rancho Santa Fe sleepers bought, in that flashy but adolescent shell-game called Waitin' for the UFO. They were philosophical suckers who turned away from the genuine wonders of the real world and all its solvable mysteries, to embrace the sophomore horse-puckey of astrology and government conspiracies and recastings of Jesus as a deep-space navigator. That has nothing to do with the problem-solving and curiosity of science has everything to do with the monster fear and dread produced by the dumbness of "sci-fi."

Stop being exploited by greedy thugs who only want to sell you movie tickets and poisonous delusions that enrich them by your stupidity and fear. Because the truth is in this: neither Heaven nor Hell, and certainly not a flying saucer, can be found in the tail of a comet.

driftglass: Think about it. Reality stretches out in all directions for billions upon billions of light years, curving ever outward into the most magnificent cathedral imaginable. Its brick and mortar writ both vastly smaller and larger than we can imagine.

Not a single human thumbprint has yet left its whorl on a single patch of dust on a single planet other than our own.

Not a single human breathe has been exhaled anywhere but inside the Terra/Luna womb.

Not a single human being of the billions who have lived and died has had a home place anywhere but here.

And yet, in the face of the invincible truth of this unrivaled adventure for which we are uniquely suited…we pull back in fear.

We tremble and cower at the edge of this ocean, hiding out in medieval dreams, terrified of the implacable Real. We turn our back to the billion galaxies and pervert the only thing that gives our species grace – our imagination – into telling us that it’s really not there, or that we can only participate in it if we gobble down a bellyful of barbituates, alcohol and sci-fi twaddle.

That since nothing can be greater than our egos, since nothing can exist outside the span of our experience, we can only fulfill our place in the Universe if we go out in a blaze of Apocalyptic glory. That the Universe is not a never-ending epic, but a mere haiku. 17 syllables that began in a Garden and will end in…Fire?



God rolling over in his sleep and dreaming again?

In the tail of a passing comet?

Everyone has to work out for themselves what kind of deity – if any -- they see at work in the world. If you are a thinking person, you’ll probably spend most of you life figuring that answer out, revising it, throwing it in the wood chipper, cursing Heaven for its silence in the face of tragedy, and then taking another cut at it.

That’s how this game is played.

But you will never, ever find any answers in, as Ellison put it, “obscurantism and illiteracy”; the two valves of the dark heart of all theocracy.

Down among those who demand that you jettison your reason in favor of mysticism filtered through messianic authority you will only find con men

wearing crowns

Rouged-up beasts

posing as prophets

And death.

- posted by Driftglass