Friday, May 25, 2012

Canadian Election Fraud Update: "Pierre Poutine" Used Conservatives' Campaign Computer; Polls Support A Federal Inquiry Into Irregularities; By-Election Ordered For Etobicoke Centre

Investigators from Elections Canada believe that the computer used by "Pierre Poutine" to make more than 7,000 fraudulent and potentially illegal robocalls to Guelph voters on the day of the May 2011 federal election is the same computer used by Andrew Prescott, the deputy campaign manager of Guelph Conservative candidate Matthew Burke.

Investigators say Prescott and "Poutine" used identical IP addresses when logging into their accounts with RackNine. On May 2, 2011, thousands of phone calls were sent through RackNine's servers to voters in Guelph, erroneously stating that, among other things, polling locations had changed. Prescott denied any involvement in the growing scandal, claiming that billing records will show he and "Poutine" used different computers.

A recent poll stated that 75% of Canadians want a formal inquiry into the Conservative Party's activities in the run-up to the May 2011 election that gave Stephen Harper a much-desired majority government.

Elections Canada has also conducted interviews with staffers in Burke's office who overheard conversations between Ken Morgan and Michael Sona about "how the Americans do politics", such as making harassing and misleading calls, and giving incorrect information to potential voters.

Elections Canada is following up on 700 actionable complaints in more than 200 ridings in 10 provinces and one territory. Marc Mayrand, Canada's chief electoral officer, said the scandal "cut[s] pretty much across the whole country". Mayrand told a parliamentary committee on in late March, "It's absolutely outrageous. It's totally unacceptable in a modern democracy."

A judge ruled on May 18 that a by-election must be held in one of those riding. Conservative Ted Optiz won the Etobicoke Centre riding by only 26 votes over Liberal Boris Wrzesnewskyj, who brought a court challenge, asking that more than 180 suspicious ballots be tossed out. Judge Lederer disqualified 79 ballots, enough to trigger a by-election. If Optiz appeals the decision, the case will be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. If the decision is upheld, it could set a precedent for by-elections across Canada.

Elections Canada's investigation has expanded to Conservative Party headquarters in Ottawa.

Investigators are convinced that the list of phone numbers used by "Pierre Poutine" to make fraudulent phone calls in Guelph perfectly matches a list of opposition supporters from the Conservatives' Constituent Information Management System (CIMS). Elections Canada has asked for CIMS logs for one particular user in the Conservative party's headquarters, but the log on and log off information for that specific user is missing for the date in question.

The NDP has called this apparent coincidence the Conservatives' "Rose Mary Woods moment", a reference to the White House secretary who was blamed for erasing roughly 18 minutes from Richard Nixon's Oval Office audiotapes, including an important conservation related to the Watergate burglary.

The Conservatives admit their database was used for the fraudulent phone calls, but claim the calls were made by a rogue staffer acting completely on his own. Of course, that flimsy excuse does not account for the suspicious activities and phone calls made to tens of thousands of voters in the other approximately 199 ridings across the country.

In addition, Annette Desgagne, a former employee of Responsive Marketing Group Inc., has filed an affidavit in the Council of Canadians' lawsuit seeking by-elections in seven ridings in which complaints were received and Conservatives won by slim margins: Don Valley East, Winnipeg South Centre, Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar, Vancouver Island North, Yukon, Nipissing-Timiskaming and Elmwood-Transcona.

Desgagne worked in RMG's Thunder Bay call centre, making calls on behalf of the Conservative Party. She claims that three days before the 2011 federal election, she was given a new script (written by the Conservatives) that erroneously told voters that their polling stations had changed.

"About three days before election day, the script changed," Desgagne claims. The new scripts "concerned changes to the locations of their polling stations. The new scripts we were to read did not identify that we were calling on behalf of the Conservative party. . . . I became increasingly concerned that I was giving out incorrect information to voters. . . . [T]he supervisors told all of the callers to 'just stick to the script'. . . . Our concerns were ignored."

Desgagne specifically remembers calling voters in the riding of Nipissing-Timiskaming because she had trouble pronouncing it correctly. In that riding, the Conservative candidate won by only 18 votes.
Bob Penner, a 20-year political consultant and expert in voter contact programs, has also provided an affidavit in the CoC lawsuit, testifying that these targeted voter suppression election calls could only be authorized by someone at the highest level in a political campaign, someone with access to a centralized database and the necessary funds to carry it out.

Allen Raymond, a 10-year U.S. Republican political operative who spent three months in prison for making illegal political calls, believes that the fraudulent calls made before the 2011 election are likely an American import. "The thing that stands out most egregiously is the number of ridings involved," he said. "That's a fairly sophisticated operation. This thing is not rocket science but it does require some knowledge of the process. ... It takes some co-ordination. It takes some money. "

Liberal MP Frank Valeriote says the calls were part of "a sophisticated, systematic Conservative election fraud scheme".

A study by EKOS Research Associates of voter suppression provides what the Council of Canadians say is "potent evidence" of organized attempts to suppress voter turnout in those seven key ridings.

Tens of thousands of Canadians received voter suppression or harassing phone calls: 16.9% of eligible voters received calls related to polling stations, and of those, 22.3% were told of polling station location changes.

Canadians were targeted for these calls based on the political party they had previously indicated they intended to vote for. Of those who were told of polling station changes, the voter intentions were as follows: Liberals 32.6%, Greens 28%, NDP 25.6%, and Conservatives 10%.

The effect of voter suppression averaged across the seven ridings was estimated between 0.8% and 2.2% of total electors. The margin of victory in these seven ridings in the 2011 election ranged from 0.03% to 2.02%.

Frank Graves, president of EKOS Research, said there appeared to be robo-calling "activity" across the country, but he compared 106 ridings where there were no reports of suspicious activity to seven ridings where there was a lot. In those seven ridings — all won by Conservative candidates — the data show about 10-15% of voters received deliberately misleading calls aimed at suppressing non-Conservative votes.

Council of Canadians Executive Director Garry Neil called the results "conclusive and shocking". He said the calls were "targeted at individuals who were not supporting the Conservative Party and it had the desired effect … supporters of the Liberals, NDP and Greens were less likely to vote. ... We believe in all seven ridings there is sufficient … data to indicate that elections were stolen in those ridings."

Meanwhile, several Conservative MPs who hired political strategists with deep ties to the Republican party in the U.S. for their 2011 campaign do not mention the association on their Elections Canada expense reports. Fourteen Conservative MPs used the services of Front Porch Strategies, which has extensive links to the Republican party in the US.

Front Porch was involved in the campaign in Nipissing-Timiskaming, which is under investigation by Elections Canada for misleading phone calls directing voters to non-existent or false polling stations. Conservative candidate Jay Aspin won the riding by a mere 18 votes. Aspin is one of 11 Conservatives who paid Front Porch; the others are Mark Adler, Dean Allison, Patrick Brown, Dean Del Mastro, Rick Dykstra, Cheryl Gallant, Parm Gill, Phil McColeman, James Rajotte, and Kyle Seeback.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Stephen King: The Long Walk (as Richard Bachman) (1979)

Any game looks straight if everyone is being cheated at once.

Every year on May 1, one hundred teenaged boys compete in the Long Walk, an endurance contest that begins at the Maine/Canada border and continues for hundreds of miles south, along rural routes through small towns, and onto Interstate 95.

There are no stops or rest periods. The boys walk 24 hours a day until there is only one walker remaining. There is extensive television coverage, tens of thousands of people line the walk route day and night, and $2 billion is wagered on the outcome. The winner receives anything he wants for the rest of his life.

Ray Garraty, 16, is from Pownal, Maine, and has volunteered for the Walk over the strenuous objections of both his mother and his girlfriend, Janice. Why they would object so strongly is because of what happens to the 99 boys who do not win. The walkers are monitored and must maintain a pace of four miles per hour. If they fall below that pace for 30 seconds, they are warned. Each walker is allowed three warnings; on a fourth violation, he "gets a ticket" - the slang phrase for being shot in the head by the armed soldiers who monitor the boys' speed and ride alongside them in military half-tracks. Boys can also be "ticketed" for leaving the road, which usually means trying to escape into the woods or the crowds. (If a boy walks on pace for an hour, one warning is subtracted from his total.)


Stephen King wrote the first draft of The Long Walk in 1966-67, when he was a freshman at the University of Maine at Orono. Burt Hatlen, his English professor, was one of the first people to read the novel:
I was very impressed ... it was clear he was a natural writer. ... I thought The Long Walk was a spectacular performance. ... [I responded to] the intensity of the narrative pace. Here was somebody who really knew how to tell a story, that grabbed you and kept you going. ... I don't know that that's something that can be taught, and he clearly had it.
King, from the original introduction to The Bachman Books (1985):
I wrote five novels before Carrie. Two of them were bad, one was indifferent, and I thought two of them were pretty good. The two good ones were Getting It On (which became Rage when it was finally published) and The Long Walk. ... I submitted Walk to the Bennett Cerf/Random House first-novel competition in the fall of 1967 and it was promptly rejected with a form note ... no comment of any kind. Hurt and depressed, sure that the book must really be terrible, I stuck it into the fabled TRUNK, which all novelists, both published and aspiring, carry around. I never submitted it again until Elaine Geiger at New American Library asked if [Richard Bachman] was going to follow up Rage. The Long Walk went in the TRUNK, but as Bob Dylan says in "Tangled Up in Blue," it never escaped my mind.
Frank Darabont, a film director, screenwriter, and producer who brought The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist to the big screen, has wanted to make a film of The Long Walk for many years.
It's a very intense ensemble character piece, another one of those "people in a contained pressure-cooker situation" stories that Steve does so well and seems to specialize in. To me, it's an existential metaphor for our mindless obsession with war – kids being sent off to die for no reason other than "just because." I don't think it's a coincidence that King wrote it in the shadow of Vietnam, though we've never really discussed that part of it, that's just my interpretation. It's a remarkable and pointed piece of fiction, especially considering he was basically a kid when he wrote it.

The more I thought about it, the more I see the influence of Vietnam and King's opinion of it as pointless and a waste of lives, and the fear of death and confusion among the soldiers who were sent to fight for no clear or logical reason.
The names of the 100 walkers are drawn out of a large drum on national television like draft numbers. Death is all around the boys as they walk – cheered by uncomprehending crowds – with the fear of a bullet in the head an ever present concern. The city-raised boys hear strange noises in the Maine woods at night and are terrified of what is moving around out there. There is a desire to stay alive at all costs, but there is also a common bond among the walkers. The boys are forced to adjust their thinking, to be glad they are alive now and not worry about later today or tomorrow. The searching questions – Why did we do it? What were we thinking when we signed up? – and the incomplete answers – I don't think there was any good reason – strike a chord, as well.


The Long Walk is set in an alternate United States, a country under the totalitarian or military rule of the Major, who oversees the Walk. There are small hints of this throughout the book, a reference to "the Change", the existence of 51 states or regions, Hank Aaron's 739 career home runs, the date of April 31, and "the German air-blitz of the American East Coast during the last days of World War II". Citizens who voice dissent or speak against the government – like Garraty’s father, who referred to the Major as "the rarest and most dangerous monster any nation can produce, a society-supported sociopath" – are disappeared or "squadded", taken away by one of the roaming military squads, and never seen again.

Once the race starts, the narrative is either the boys talking or the Garraty's observations and thoughts. The boys walk through the heat of midday, afternoon rain storms, and the still loneliness of night. Walkers can request a canteen of water at any time and every morning at 9 AM they are given "tubes of high-energy concentrate pastes".

King does a masterful job of describing the first night, which begins roughly 10-11 hours into the walk, after several boys have been killed, and any initial bravado has long since disappeared.
Talk had faded with the daylight. The silence that set in was oppressive. . . . [F]or the first time it seemed perfectly real and totally unnatural . . . and [Garraty] wondered what in the hell he was doing and how he ever could have gotten involved. He could not even kid himself that everything had not been up front, because it had been. And he hadn't even done it alone. There were currently ninety-five others fools in this parade. . . . He realized that someone up ahead was sobbing softly. He had not heard the sound begin, and no one had called his attention to it; it was as if it had been there all along.
The walkers "resign themselves to a long, barely understood bitterness ahead . . . little clots of society, dissolved into 3s, 2s, solitary islands". The hours drag as each of the boys moves through the groundfog, having retreated into "his own private world of pain and effort".
The darkness seemed to isolate each of them, and Garraty felt a shaft of intense loneliness. ... Garraty turned up his collar and listened to the sound of his feet pounding the pavement. There was a trick to that, a subtle mental adjustment, like having better night vision the longer you were in the dark. This morning the sound of his feet had been lost to him. They had been lost in the tramp of ninety-nine other pairs, not to mention the rumble of the halftrack. But now he heard them easily. His own particular stride and the way his left foot scraped the pavement every now and then. It seemed to him that the sound of his footfalls had become as loud to his ears as the sound of his own heartbeat. Vital, life and death sound. ...

By four o'clock there was a brightening band on the horizon ... [Garraty] stared back at the long tunnel of the night in actual horror, and wondered how he ever could have gotten through it. ...

He watched the sky and the land lightened by degrees. ... The guns roared once more before the last of the night was finally banished, but Garraty barely heard. The first red arc of sun was peering over the horizon, faded behind a fluff of cloud, then came again in an onslaught. It looked to be a perfect day, and Garraty greeted it only half-coherently by thinking: Thank God I can die in the daylight.
The question every reader must ask is: Why? Why would hundreds of boys sign up for a chance to participate in a contest that almost certainly means their death? There could be a feeling of invincibility, an inability to weigh the consequences, a subconscious death wish, the lure of the grand prize ... but these all seem inadequate, and none of the walkers is able to articulate a reason.

We enter the story in medias res – the boys are gathering at the starting line – and we receive bits of each walker's back story as they talk to each other on the Walk. It almost seems as though they have no choice. Competing in the Walk is simply something you do. When Peter McVries asks Garraty, he says honestly, "I don't know." Before the race, Janice had told him, "You don't understand what you're doing", and Garraty now realizes she was right – "and he did not understand it even now". During that first night, Garraty "wondered in terror what he was doing here, walking down this dark road".
[Garraty] found himself still with too many questions and not enough answers. The whole Walk seemed nothing but one looming question mark. He told himself that a thing like this must have some deep meaning. Surely it was so. A thing like this must provide an answer to every question . . .
McVries insists that all of the boys have all been duped. Their lives are meaningless to the state; they are being offered as sacrifices to a callous, violent society under the guise of entertainment. "The reason all of this is so horrible is because it's just trivial. We've sold ourselves and traded our souls on trivialities."
[Garraty] could no long wish he wasn't here; he was too tired and numb for retrospect. What was done was done. Nothing in the world would change it. Soon enough, he supposed, it would even become too much of an effort to talk to the others. He wished he could hide inside himself like a little boy rolled up inside a rug, with no more worries. Then everything would be much simpler.

He had wondered a great deal about what McVries had said. That they had all been swindled, rooked. But that couldn’t be right, he insisted stubbornly to himself. One of them had not been swindled. One of them was going to swindle everyone else . . . wasn't that right?
Garraty is nearly hypnotized by the first boy to potentially get a ticket. A boy named Curley gets a charley horse after only two hours on the road and begins slowing down.
Garraty lost all track of time. He forgot everything but Curley. He watched him struggle . . .

It was the most fascinating thing he had ever seen.

Curley fell back slowly, and several warnings were issued to others before the group realized they were adjusting to his speed in their fascination . . . Garrary could small panic coming off Curley in waves, and it was like the smell of a ripe, freshly cut lemon. . . .

The crowd gasped, as if they hadn't known this was the way it was . . . The safeties clicked off. Bpys scattered from around Curley like quail. He was suddenly alone on the sunwashed road. . . .

The walking boys entered a leafy glade of shadow, some of them looking back, some of them looking straight ahead, afraid to see. Garraty was looking. He had to look. . . .

He wondered if it had hurt Curley. He wondered if Curley had felt the gas-tipped slugs hitting home or if he had just been alive one second and dead the next.

But of course it had hurt. It had hurt before, in the worst, rupturing way, knowing there would be no more you but the universe would roll on just the same, unharmed and unhampered.
Garraty soon becomes immune to the shootings. By the time the sixth boy is shot, "Garraty didn't feel much. He was too tired. He walked around Fenter." Later, he barely hears the gun shots.


As Day 2 begins, Garraty realizes that being physically fit is not enough. There is a mental strength needed, as well.
Thinking, Garraty thought. That's the day's business. Thinking. Thinking and isolation, because it doesn't matter if you pass the time of day with someone or not; in the end, you're alone. He seemed to have put in as many miles in his brain and he had with his feet. The thoughts kept coming and there was no way to deny them. . . .

He looked at the road quite a lot now. Sometimes the white line was solid, sometimes it was broken, and sometimes it was double, like streetcar tracks. He wondered how people could ride over this road all the other days of the year and not see the pattern of life and death in that white paint. Or did they see, after all?

The pavement fascinated him. How good and easy it would be to sit on that pavement. . . . and then to lie down, just fall backward and lie there, spread-eagled, feeling your tired spine stretch . . . looking up at the encircling trees and the majestic wheel of the stars . . . not hearing the warnings, just watching the sky and waiting . . . waiting . . .
At different points, each boy believes he is certain he cannot win – and must consider his impending death. McVries admits that after only 12 hours, "I stopped thinking I had any real chance."
It's hard to say, but . . . I went into it with my eyes open, you know? Lots of these guys didn't, you know? I knew the odds. But I didn't figure on people. I don't think I ever realized the real gut truth of what this is. I think I had the idea that when the first guy got so he couldn't cut it anymore they'd aim the guns at him and pull the triggers and little pieces of paper with the word BANG printed on them would . . . would . . . and the Major would say April Fool and we'd all go home. Do you get what I'm saying at all?
McVries tells Garraty about a recent breakup, but insists the end of that relationship is not why he signed up. At one point, a boy looks at McVries and remarks to Garraty: "I wonder what he's trying to make up for."

When Garraty is given his third warning after 218 miles and still cannot move his cramped legs, he wonders "what a bullet in the head felt like, if it would just be sudden darkness or if he would actually feel his thoughts being ripped apart".

Art Baker wonders about an afterlife: "If there is an . . . an after, I hope it's not dark. And I hope you can remember. I'd hate to wander around in the dark forever, not knowing who I was or what I was doin' there, or not even knowing that I'd ever had anything different."

There was still the unshakable, blind assurances that this organism Ray Garraty could not die. The others could die, they were extras in the movie of his life, but not Ray Garraty, star of that long-running film, The Ray Garraty Story. Maybe he would eventually come to understand the untruth of that emotionally as well as intellectually . . . It was a shivery, unwelcome thought.

The boys are engaged in this gruesome sport for entertainment, and they quickly become contemptuous of the crowds. Some spectators grab the boys' empty food tubes as souvenirs. A bunch of people watch "voraciously" as one walker moves his bowels on the side of the road and some boys wonder if someone will rush out and scoop up the excrement as a keepsake. Families are enjoying picnics along the walk route.

In the boys' tedium and exhaustion, the crowd becomes Crowd, a solid, living entity. As the 37 remaining walkers enter the capital city of Augusta, lights fill the night sky
with a bubble-like pastel glow that was frightening and apocalyptic. . . . They stared at each other uneasily and bunched closer together . . . There was a raw redness in that swelling sound of Crowd. A hunger that was numbing. . . . The town itself had been swallowed, strangled, buried. . . . Only Crowd, a creature with no body, no head, no mind. Crowd was nothing but a Voice and an Eye . . . Crowd was to be pleased. Crowd was to be worshiped and feared. Ultimately, Crowd was to be made sacrifice unto.

They plowed through ankle-deep drifts of confetti. They lost each other and found each other in a sheeting blizzard of magazine streamers.
The crowds respond in a very sexual way to the spectacle of death before them. When Garraty receives his third warning at one point, the crowd was suddenly on alert, watching closely. "The cheers had died away to a muted, almost sexual murmur." After one walker is ticketed, the crowd "made a low sound that might have been a sigh or a groan or an almost sexual outletting of pleasure".

Two girls stand beside an MG: "The faces of these girls were hot, flushed, and excited by something ancient, sinuous, and, to Garraty, erotic almost to the point of insanity." The walkers, too, are sometimes caught up in this feeling. A boy named Gribble actually tries to have quick intercourse with one of the MG girls, but cannot, stumbling back onto the road after receiving his third warning. Garraty sees a young girl with a "Go-Go-Garraty – Maine's Own" sign and runs over and kisses and fondles her, and becomes extremely aroused.


Despite the 1 vs. 99 nature of the race, alliances and friendships are formed. Garraty shares some of his food with Olson. Everyone is shocked to learn that the pre-race favourite, a boy named Scramm, is married and about to be a father. When he gets sick and seems near the end, each of the boys agrees that if he is the winner, he will help support Scramm's widow and child. Garraty and McVries save each other's lives at various points.

The boys also express a collectively hatred for the Major, enacting several small rebellions against the placid, wooden-faced soldiers. They give a collective raspberry to a marching colour guard. Spectators are not allowed to assist the walkers in any way but when a man manages to throw some pieces of watermelon out into the road before being hustled away by soldiers, the boys grab the pieces, break off sections and share it with everyone in the race.

This is another example of the socialism versus capitalism theme in King's early work, with the nearly impotent individual striking back against the faceless, uncaring monolith of power.

I'm stunned that an 19-year-old wrote this book. King did some rewriting before it was published, but one of his professors said that what is in the published version was pretty much there in 1967.

The Long Walk was chosen by the American Library Association as one of the 100 best books (published between 1966 and 2000) for teenage readers.

Next: The Dead Zone.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Books are the perfect entertainment: no commercials, no batteries, hours of enjoyment for each dollar spent. What I wonder is why everybody doesn't carry a book around for those inevitable dead spots in life.
Stephen King

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Stephen King: The Stand (1978)

He who stands firm to the end will be saved.
Matthew 24:13

Let's put our heads together, start a new country up ...
Rewrite the book and rule the pages, saving face, secured in faith
Bury, burn the waste behind you
R.E.M., Cuyahoga

After Stephen King finished the first draft of The Shining, he wrote the novella Apt Pupil and, after a short break, returned to a novel he was calling The House on Value Street:
It was going to be a roman a clef about the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, her brainwashing (or her sociopolitical awakening, depending on your point of view, I guess), her participation in the bank robbery, the shootout at the SLA hideout in Los Angeles ... the fugitive run across the country, the whole ball of wax. It seemed to me to be a highly potent subject ... [I]t seemed to me that only a novel might really succeed in explaining all the contradictions.
King never finished that book. While he was working on it, however, he read a news story about a chemical weapons accident in Utah, which reminded him of George R. Stewart's 1949 science fiction novel Earth Abides, in which an airborne disease decimates mankind. Around the same time, King heard a gospel radio preacher proclaim: "Once in every generation a plague will fall among them."
This phrase and the story about the CBW [chemical/biological warfare] spill in Utah and my memories of Stewart's fine book all became entwined in my thoughts about Patty Hearst and the SLA, and one day while sitting at my typewriter ... I wrote - just to write something: The world comes to an end but everybody in the SLA is somehow immune. ... [Later] I wrote Donald DeFreeze is a dark man. I did not mean that DeFreeze was black; it had suddenly occurred to me that, in the photos taken during the bank robbery in which Patty Hearst participated, you could barely see De Freeze's face. He was wearing a big badass hat, and what he looked like was mostly guesswork. I wrote A dark man with no face and then glanced up and saw that grisly little motto again: Once in every generation a plague will fall among them. And that was that. I spent the next two years writing an apparently endless book called The Stand. It got to the point where I began describing it to friends as my own little Vietnam, because I kept telling myself that in another hundred pages or so I would begin to see light at the end of the tunnel.
King calls The Stand (published in September 1978) a "long tale of dark Christianity". Many fans consider it his best novel.
For a long time - ten years, at least - I had wanted to write a fantasy epic like The Lord of the Rings, only with an American setting. ... Only instead of a hobbit, my hero was a Texan named Stu Redman, and instead of a Dark Lord, my villain was a ruthless drifter and supernatural madman named Randall Flagg. The land of Mordor ("where the shadows lie," according to Tolkien) was played by Las Vegas.
The manuscript that King handed in was roughly 1,200 pages, too long for Doubleday to publish in one volume. King says the decision to cut the manuscript by about 400 pages was
not an editorial one ... The cuts were made at the behest of the accounting department. They toted up production costs, laid these next to the hardcover sales of my previous four books, and decided that a cover price of $12.95 was about what the market would bear ... I was asked if I would like to make the cuts, or if I would prefer someone in the editorial department to do it. I reluctantly agreed to do the surgery myself.

In The Stand, King muses on the dichotomy between the spiritual and the technological.
I was raised Christian, and I was raised to believe in the idea of the Antichrist. . . . I'm interested in the concepts. I'm particularly interested in the idea that in the New Testament, you're suggesting a moral code that's actually enlightened. Basically what Christ preached: get along with your neighbor and give everything away and follow me. So we're talking pretty much about communism or socialism. . . . I was able to use all those things in The Stand. It's an effort to say, let's give God his due here. . . . I wanted to explore what that means to be able to rise above adversity by faith, because it's something most of us do every day. We may not call it Christianity. I wanted to do that. I wanted it to be a God trip.
While King made a clear decision to write outside of the horror genre of his first three novels, The Stand also feels like a culmination of the themes of decay, paranoia, and uncertainty of 'Salem's Lot and The Shining. While The Stand is very much a creation of the 1970s, King's thoughts on society, government, and the fear of an outside enemy are perhaps more relevant now.

The novel begins on June 16, 1985 (Bloomsday!) when a car crashes into the gas pumps of Bill Hapscomb's Texaco station in the small town of Arnette, Texas. The driver is Charles Campion, who three days earlier escaped from a secret military installation in the Mojave Desert after being exposed to a rapidly mutating virus being developed by the US as a biological weapon. Campion was able to get out a mere 23 seconds before the base was automatically locked down. In less than two weeks, 99.4% of the world's population will be dead.

King's description of the way the plague spreads from person to person is cold, clinical, and matter of fact - which makes it both chilling and fascinating. From the 1990 "complete and uncut" edition of the novel:
On June 18, five hours after he had talked to his cousin Bill Hapscomb, Joe Bob Brentwood [who caught the virus at Hapscomb's gas station] pulled down a speeder on Texas Highway 40 about twenty-five miles east of Arnette. The speeder was Harry Trent of Braintree, an insurance man. ... And [Joe Bob] gave Harry Trent more than a speeding summons.

Harry, a gregarious man who liked his job, passed the sickness to more than forty people during that day and the next. ... Harry Trent stopped at an East Texas cafe called Babe's Kwik-Eat for lunch. ... On his way out, a station wagon pulled in ... Harry gave the New York fellow [Edward Norris] very clear directions on how to get to Highway 21. He also served him and his entire family their death warrants without even knowing it. ...

That night [the Norris family] stayed in a Eustice, Oklahoma, travel court. Ed and Trish infected the clerk. The kids, Marsha, Stanley, and Hector, infected the kids they played with on the tourist court's playground – kids bound for west Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Trish infected the two women who were washing clothes at the Laundromat two blocks away. Ed, on his way down the motel corridor to get some ice, infected a fellow he passed in the hallway. ...

During their wait in [Doctor] Sweeney's office they communicated the sickness which would soon be known across the disintegrating country as Captain Trips to more than twenty-five people, including a matronly woman [Sarah Bradford] who just came in to pay her bill before going on to pass the disease to her entire bridge club. ...

She and Angela went out for a quiet drink ... they managed to infect everyone in the Polliston cocktail bar, including two young men drinking beer nearby. They were on their way to California ... The next day they headed west, spreading the disease as they went. ...

Sarah went home to infect her husband and his five poker buddies and her teenaged daughter, Samantha. ... The next day Samantha would go on to infect everybody in the swimming pool at the Polliston YWCA.

And so on.

For an excellent summary of the novel's narrative and themes, you won't get any better than this, written by a guy that also set out to read and review King's books in order, but stalled after 16 books.

My brief synopsis:

Book 1 – Captain Trips – A deadly flu virus developed by the US military as a chemical-biological weapon (Project Blue) is accidentally released into the general population and wipes out nearly all of the world's population. The few survivors (who are inexplicably immune) attempt to connect with other survivors and cope with the collapse of society. King details the spread of the virus in fantastic detail. His strength is painting a realistic picture of this world, increasing his story' believability, even as it's clearly fantastical. We can easily wonder how it would feel if we were suddenly the only person (or one of the two or three people left) in our town.

Book 2 – On The Border – The main characters of the book all have a series of similar dreams and nightmares. They head west to rural Nebraska to meet Mother Abagail, a 108-year-old black woman, and then on to Boulder, Colorado, where they form their main settlement (the Free Zone). Some other survivors have travelled further west, to Las Vegas, where Randall Flagg (aka the Walkin Dude, the Antichrist) is making plans to attack and destroy the Free Zone.

Book 3 – The Stand – The narrative grows more fantastical as four men from the Free Zone walk to Las Vegas to confront Flagg in a confrontation between the forces of good and evil.

Religious references and spiritual overtones permeate the novel, but The Stand is also a story of rebirth, of second chances. The superflu has destroyed not only the United States, but all the world's governments. Now the nearly one thousand survivors in Colorado have some major decisions to make. What type of society will they build, and how will it be governed? What code of conduct should be put into place, what laws should be passed, and what system of justice should uphold those laws? How the residents of the Free Zone wrestle with those questions is arguably as big a part of the novel as the climatic showdown with Flagg.

Keith Phipps, AV Club:
The Stand is a book of aerial footage and close-ups, with little use for medium shots. King is skilled at showing the scope of his ruined world and of those left to make what they can of it. He also has a Dickensian talent for establishing characters with a few key details, and a gift for deepening readers' understanding of those characters across hundreds of pages. Where a lesser writer might have filled The Stand with broadly drawn types, King sticks to flu-resistant characters who seem as if they were randomly chosen to survive, from a tight-lipped East Texan to a pregnant college student from Maine. King makes them and their baffled reactions seem real, and his writing ability gives the novel a heightened sense of danger and loss. In one chapter, a woman struggles—both physically and psychologically—with the need to bury her father. It's remarkably easy to imagine having to do the same, and King's emphasis on the grim details makes it that much easier to empathize with her plight.

Joseph Reino, Villanova University, Stephen King: The First Decade:
Apocalyptic dispositions always surface in Bible-influenced societies when human reason becomes incapable of resolving whatever distresses might happen to afflict a nation, or – as at the present time – consume the whole earth in irradiated madness. . . . [F]aith in human progress, especially when that progress is dependent upon the triumph of human reason, is constantly circumscribed with doubt, insecurity, and ambivalence. . . .
Douglas E. Winter, Stephen King: The Art of Darkness:
From the colonial years, Americans have seen themselves as a people of great mission - of destiny. The westward urge of "manifest destiny" inspired the conquest of a continent and the creation of the very imperialism that we sought to escape. We see ourselves as independent and democratic, even though two political machines control the electoral process, many of us never vote, and the spirit of independence is likeliest to be manifested by dissent. Our heroes typically have been cowboys and rugged individualists - only recently have we embraced our martyrs. We think of ourselves as nonviolent and peace-loving, but we cannot even successfully regulate, let alone ban, the sale of handguns. We have conquered ruthlessly when our destiny has been challenged; and we have found war to be a cleansing experience. Our science created the atomic bomb to end a great war, and we must live in its shadow evermore. We romanticize small towns, yet flock to our crowded cities. "All men are created equal," but this may not include women, gays, blacks, chicanos. ... "In God We Trust," but missile silos and chemical/biological warfare hedge our bets.

We pursue happiness, believe in progress, materialism, and the infallibility of science, but we doubt our success, our power, ourselves. As we watch the evening news, if we reflect even momentarily upon our social fabric, we begin to question the validity of the engine of progress. Our position as a society is a precarious one - and principally because of our misguided belief in the divinity of civilization and technology. ... [T]hese are the precise fears that Stephen King explores in The Stand.
At one point in the 1990 version, Nick Andros is reading William Styron's 1960 novel Set This House On Fire. That novel's epigraph is from John Donne, and states that God, if not given his due, will command the attention of humanity by setting the "house" on fire. The book features an evil man named Mason Flagg. In Styron's book, the narrator's father states:
what this country needs . . . is something to happen to it. Something ferocious and tragic, like what happened to Jericho or the cities of the plain – something terrible I mean, son, so that when the people have been through hellfire and the crucible, and have suffered agony enough and grief, they'll be men again, human beings, not a bunch of smug contented hogs rotting at the trough. Ciphers without mind or soul or heart ... [W]e've got to start from scratch again, build from the ground up. . . . What has happened to this country would shame the Roman Empire at its lowest ebb.
Styron suggests that catastrophe and destruction are necessary for spiritual consciousness. I would say that, in The Stand, King agrees.

King also has a lot to say about the nature of government, and he puts most of it into the mouth and mind of Glen Bateman, a former sociology professor. Despite knowing that the plague originated as a weapon of mass destruction in the US military's arsenal, when the Boulder survivors discuss what type of society they want, they quickly move to put into place the old ways of the US, ways of governing that eventually led to the bleak position they find themselves in.

They knowingly discuss corruption, lying, secrecy, and rigging elections - "short-circuiting the democratic process", as one of them says - all in the name of keeping the Free zone free and keeping everyone safe from an outside, perceived threat (Flagg). As Bateman says, "When safety and constitutionality are at sword's points, safety must win out."

First: re-create America. Little America. By fair means or foul. Organization and government come first. If it starts now, we can form the sort of government we want. . . .

What we've got going for us now is culture lag. Most of these people still believe in government by representation – the republic – what they think of as "democracy". But culture lag never lasts long. After a while they'll wake up to the idea tyhat the old ways are gone,, and that they can restructure society any old way they want. We want - we need - to catch them before they wake up an do something nutty. . . .

[I]t's very important that the first thing we do is ratify the spirit of the old society. That's what I mean about re-creating America. It has to be that way as long as we're operating under direct threat of the man we're calling the Adversary. . . .

[W]e'll see to it that the people who get elected are the same people who were on the ad hoc committee. We'll put the rush on everybody and get the vote taken before people can do any tub-thumping for their friends.
Much earlier in the book, Frannie Goldsmith thinks to herself:
If the system of authority had temporarily broken down, they would just have to find the scattered others and re-form it. It didn't occur to her to wonder why "authority" seemed to be such a necessary thing to have . . .
They also discuss arresting or detaining anyone who disagrees with them or any suspicious newcomers (they fear spies from the other settlement, just as they are planning to send spies over to Las Vegas to see what Flagg's possible plans of attack are).

At another point, while talking about various weapons, Bateman tells Stu Redman: "All of that stuff is lying around, waiting to be picked up." It's a sentiment that is repeated two or thre more times in the novel. It reminded me of Naomi Klein's 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Klein's theory is that governments like the United States have various undemocratic plans and policies on hold, simply waiting for a natural or man-made disaster to implement them. In the aftermath of any large disaster, while the populace is too shocked and scared and confused to notice or offer any dissent, these policies, agreements and/or laws can be pushed through with no discussion, and sometimes, even little notice.


Late in the book, King posits, without irony, that love is the answer to many of mankind's problems. One character, Tom Cullen, decides that the Las Vegas community was missing "simple love. They were nice enough people and all, but there wasn't much love in them. Because they were too busy being afraid." King's unironic stance reminded me of David Foster Wallace's essay on Dostoevsky, and how modern novelists employ irony to avoid look too earnest and naïve. I also thought of DFW as I read the end of The Shining, when Dick Halloran talks to Danny Torrance about grieving over the death of his father:
The world's a hard place, Danny. It don't care. It don't hate you and me, but it don't love us, either. Terrible things happen in the world, and they're things no one can explain. Good people die in bad, painful ways and leave the folks that love them all alone. Sometimes it seems like it's only the bad people who stay healthy and prosper. . . . [W]hen you feel you have to cry . . . you go into a closet or under your covers and cry until it's all out of you again . . . But see that you get on. That's your job in this hard world, to keep your love alive and see that you get on, no matter what.
That seems like a perfect example of what Wallace was talking about when he wrote, regarding Ippolit's "Necessary Explanation" in The Idiot:
Can you imagine any of our own major novelists allowing a character to say stuff like this (not, mind you, just as hypocritical bombast so that some ironic hero can stick a pin in it, but as part of a ten-page monologue by somebody trying to decide whether to commit suicide)? . . . The straight presentation of such a speech in a Serious Novel today would provoke not outrage or invective, but worse – one raised eyebrow and a very cool smile. . . . The novelist would be (and this is our own age's truest version of hell) laughed out of town.
Wallace added that we
seem to require of our art an ironic distance from deep convictions or desperate questions . . . [we] distrust strong belief, open conviction . . . ideological passion disgusts us on some deep level.

Twelve years after the release of The Stand, King had the clout to come out with the "complete and uncut" version of the novel. In his introduction to the 1990 edition, King writes that this version is
an expansion of the original novel . . . [Y]ou won't find old characters behaving in strange new ways, but you will discover that almost all of the characters were, in the book's original form, doing more things, and if I didn't think that some of those things were interesting - perhaps even enlightening - I would never have agreed to this project.
When he expanded the novel, King also changed the year of the plague from 1985 to 1990, and updated all the pop culture references. (I am not sure why he changed the dates, beyond the idea of not wanting the plague to have happened in the past.) The difference from the 1978 paperback and the 1990 paperback is 324 pages.

After I read the "complete" version of The Stand, I wrote:
Many sections went on and on, and I felt King could have told us more than enough in five pages rather than 12. But when I slowed down and read each sentence carefully, it did not seem indulgent or redundant or excessive. King was simply taking his time, relishing the details of his apocalyptic tale. If you concentrated, he wasn't boring. I simply wanted the story to move along at a much quicker pace.
The original, 1978 version seemed to zip right along, by comparison.

Next: The Long Walk, by Richard Bachman.