Wednesday, December 24, 2008

December 24, 2008: More on Vachss and his novel, "False Allegations."

Introduction from December 24, 2008. I just pulled this off of the "Way back machine," the internet archive site at It dates from 1996. One problem with being a writer, is that if people read something one wrote in 2008 or 2009, they often assume it is what one currently believes, even if one wrote it in 1996, twelve quick years ago.

Therefore, in all fairness, it should be stated that just as my views on things have changed since 1996, there is no guarantee that Vachss' views on things have not changed in twelve years either. Nevertheless, some of his fans insist that Vachss does not believe in repressed memories and cite this book as evidence that he has dealt with this issue in a balanced way.

For those who are interested, one can purchase a second hand copy of Vachss' novel today on for less than a dollar.


(This was written in 1996. The only changes made have been to correct some spelling errors. As I read it today, I feel, for instance, that it contains way too many adjectives, but I have left it alone instead treating it as a historical document.)

INTRODUCTION: This, like many things on this site, is another "almost published" piece. Sometime ago, I sent it to the Newsletter of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, an organization that works to educate the public on the problem of False Memory Syndrome and to help people who have been falsely accused of abuse through allegations arising during bad therapy. It was scheduled to be run, but then apparently cut due to a need to report on a precedent setting legal case. I used to be a big fan of Vachss' mystery novels. I think this should give some idea of why I use the past tense.

What's even worse is that, as a child advocate, Vachss' is doing no one any good by mislabeling so-called critics of the system. Word is getting out on what's going on. And, as an author, he missed out on a great opportunity to tell a really dramatic story by reducing his critics to cardboard caricatures. (Warning: This review contains spoilers, but who cares? This is easily the worst of Vachss' books. Read a different one instead.)

A review of Andrew Vachss' mystery novel, False Allegations 1996, Knopf Publishing.

Many have heard the name Andrew Vachss. Vachss is an attorney who specializes in child advocacy, as well as the author of a successful series of noiresque mystery novels, of which False Allegations is the latest. These novels are marked by two characteristics. The first is their grim, detailed depiction of sub-inner city life -"deep streets", as one reviewer described them. Vachss's descriptions of the pits of New York City and the people who reside there, the human predators and their human prey, are probably unique among modern mystery novelists. (In fact, the only place I've ever heard any stories like them was from an acquaintance in recovery who once sold crack on forty second street.) The second is the series' constant focus on sexual predators, sexual exploitation, and child abuse and child prostitution of all sorts. Of course, this is where Vachss specializes, and one of his motivations in writing is to publicize these problems. Its a grim subject, but Vachss's work has earned its reputation as some of the darkest, grittiest, most gripping thrillers on the market today.

Yet critics, such as myself, have to point out that as dedicated as Vachss is to his causes, and as terrible as much of it may be, not everything he fights against exists. (i.e. Satanic Ritual Abuse and claims based on Recovered Memories). Child advocates are losing a great deal of respect for this very reason. Vachss himself has written of the problem of the growing "backlash" (people like me) in a recent Parade magazine article. Although I did not agree with his entire point of view, I was pleasantly surprised to see that most of his concrete suggestions for improvement paralleled my own. Here, I thought, is a man we, critics of the system, can work with. For that reason, when his latest novel, False Allegations, came out, and the plot dealt with the "backlash" I was quite anxious to see the end result. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.

Burke, the hero, is an investigator, an ex-con, petty criminal, who was raised in a series of foster homes. Like many of the characters in the series, he is an abase survivor, as well as a self taught expert on sexual predators and deranged sadists of all sorts. The novel begins when, through a round-about means, Burke is contacted by a man named Kite. Kite is a defense attorney specializing in defending those accused of child abuse and sex abuse. Kite frequently speaks of the "modern day witch hunt" which false allegations pose.

So far, it sounds interesting. Unfortunately, as the novel progresses, I found myself more and more disappointed. (Warning to those who wish to read this -from here on in, I'm going to include several spoilers including the unforgivable sin of the ending to a mystery novel.)

First of all, although at times Kite sounds like a critic of the system, his opinions are not indicative of the real critics of the system. For instance, Kite believes in repression. In fact, everyone in this novel believes in repression.

For instance, we have this scene (p. 143), a discussion between Kite and Burke, told from Burke's point of view:

"It bothers me too," he said. "The whole hypnosis thing. You know about the so-called 'false memory' controversy?"

"I heard about it," I said, neutral.

"The water is very murky. There is no question but that the recovery of repressed memory is documented, scientific fact. Repression of course it exists."

I listened to him. Wishing some of my memories were repressed...

Unfortunately, repression is not a scientifically confirmed fact. And, and this is what really bothers me, even if Vachss believes in repression, he is surely an intelligent enough man to know that his critics do not believe this phenomena occurs or is a scientifically confirmed fact. Which means that he is knowingly distorting the controversy.

Kite, the so-called critic of the system, consistently refers to the debate over false memories as one between people who believe in abuse and people who don't believe in abuse, as does Burke. This is absurd. I have met no one involved in the False Memory Syndrome Foundation who has ever denied that abuse occurs. It may be argued that some, and only some, within the FMS Foundation do not pay proper attention to actual abuse, but if this is the case the organization is no worse than any other body of people chosen from the public at large.

In fact, the problem with abuse is quite simply that people do not forget actual abuse. Instead, it scars a person, often for life. Intrusive memories of the abuse often interfere in one's daily functioning. In fact, Vachss's novels emphasize this very fact, again and again. Furthermore, as critics charge, if repression is so common among abuse victims, how come nobody completely forgets that they were a holocaust or war survivor?

Kite has a client who has recently recovered memories. Kite believes she is an actual survivor of abuse, but he wishes for Burke to investigate and confirm that she is, in fact, remembering actual events. (The author's belief being that some recovered memories are true and some are false.) Burke investigates and discovers that the memories are, naturally, true.

In the process, he interviews a few people concerned with the issues of false allegations of various sorts. The bulk of these interviews occur on pages 161-169. Some of these give a good indication that Vachss understands where his critics are coming from, yet there's always some distortion that makes one wonder. For instance, there's a well done scene where a father tells Burke of how his son accused him of molestation on the basis of recovered memories. The emotions are right, but the details are a little bit off. For instance, the son wishes to speak to the father, after accusing him, but the father refuses to speak to the son on the advice of his attorney. Although this occurs, often it's just the opposite. More commonly, the child makes the accusation, then blocks communication. Similarly, the therapist in this case is painted as a knowing extortionist. Thus Vachss bypasses the entire issue of poorly trained, well meaning therapists who inadvertently destroy families.

Other critics of the system are painted as naive or seeking fame, although these same individuals do give some accurate criticisms of what's wrong with the child protective or mental health systems today.

Yet these criticisms are only accessories to the plot. For most of the book, in standard Andrew Vachss' style, Burke tracks down a child molester, in this case the man who molested the woman who is recovering memories. This is well done. Vachss has never been accused of not understanding the behavior of actual child molesters, just the opposite. In fact, such details are what often makes the books work. Yet it might have been more interesting, after eight books where Burke and his companions hunt child molesters, to see what they would actually do if confronted with a false accusation. Yet Vachss sidetracks this possibility and gives us more of the same.

Finally, and I hate to give away the very last scene, it turns out that Kite is not interested in the problem of false allegations at all. He is only debunking sex abuse claims because he is secretly being paid to do so by Mafia child pornographers. Apparently, Vachss suspects the Mafia wants to bring child advocates under fire, in order to more freely exploit children to make kiddie porn. In the end, it seems Vachss cannot face up to the possibility that his critics might have valid points and good intentions.

This is a cop out. First of all, if so called child advocates would stop chasing their own shadows and clumsily creating false claims of abuse, they could better allocate resources to protect children who are actually being abused. Secondly, one of the most frustrating things about working for change within the system is the way in which so-called child advocates and quack therapists dismiss their critics out of hand. The fact is that if they cannot police themselves then sooner or later, somebody else will have to police them. In the meantime, Vachss seems to have reconfirmed the stereotype that so-called child advocates refuse to listen to their critics. Many, including Vachss it seems, would rather make the same mistakes again and again, destroying innocent lives in the process, rather than face up to their own errors.

Perhaps it is significant that in the end, Kite, having discredited Burke's report proclaims, (p.223)

"This is a chess game," ... "An intellectual problem. The real weapon in this war is propaganda..."

One wonders, is this the fictional character Kite talking or is it Vachss himself? In either event, the picture of the critics is far from accurate and one must question Vachss's motivations.

All in all, False Allegations, is a cop out. It promises a dramatic confrontation between the system and its critics. This is a confrontation that is much needed and I'd thought that Vachss was a man with the courage and the commitment to children to do it well, even in fictional form. In the end, it provides none of these things. Even the title, False Allegations, is a cop out as the only allegations in the book turn out to be true in the end.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

December 21, 2008:Criticism of Vachss' activism

I'm irritated. Okay, child abuse is bad. Got it!

Andrew Vachss writes gritty, gripping novels. Got it.

Andrew Vachss wants us to prevent child abuse and help abused children. Got it.

Now stepping back a bit, regardless of whether or not one thinks that one should help abused children because Andrew Vachss says to or whether it's simply the right thing to do, one should work to prevent child abuse and help abused children. right?

Simple idea. Got it!

Now, how do we help these abused children?

Er . . . remember the phrase? "We're from the government. We're here to help!"

Now doesn't that make you feel good? Your children and family in the hands of the same people who handle your motor vehicle paperwork and fund the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms? And somehow these agencies will work even better if the people who fund them are angry, impatient and think less critically, preferring to act out of passion, instead of using rationality?

Er, now I'm confused.

For more see this essay.: A REPLY TO ANDREW VACHSS' "A HARD LOOK AT HOW WE TREAT CHILDREN." by Rick Thoma.

Part of Lifting the Veil.

Yes, child abuse is bad, but lets try to differentiate between truth and fiction, reality and emotion. Killing them all and letting God sort them out, is not gonna help kids, especially if you have no idea who "ALL" refers to or what the kids are suffering from.

December 21, 2008: Thoughts on Andrew Vachss' "Terminal."

Last week I read Andrew Vachss' latest novel, "Terminal," this is by my count his 20th novel, and the 17th in the Burke series.

I'm not really up to writing a full review but here's just a few thoughts on the book.

Andrew Vachss is a very skilled writer who has a talent for gritty crime fiction. He has an ability to describe darkness and crime in a manner that few do. The reader is left with the feeling that he has spent time with a man who has been there, done that, and traveled mentally and physically in places where they themselves probably have dared not.

His novels have a dark, transgressional quality to them, as the author seeks to push the reader outside of their comfort zone and leave them outraged and intent on working to correct Vachss' causes, most of which center around child abuse or mistreatment in various forms. The books are designed to push people's buttons and provoke a response.

Therefore the first few books in the Burke series hit the world like a hammer. Few people had ever read anything like them in their power, darkness, emotional intensity, lightened by interesting characters who traveled in a surreal vision of inner-city New York and its environs. (For most of us in this society, the deepest parts of the inner-cities are places we dare not travel and therefore they take on a mythic nature at times. Vachss and, at times, Frank Miller, the comic author, both toy with this in a very skilled manner.)

The first half dozen or so in the series had a major impact on me and many other readers.

However, in my opinion, about that time the series lost steam. Although one could see that the characters in the first few books had been designed in such a way that they intertwined, establishing depth and verisimilitude while leaving threads hanging to be tied up in future novels, eventually there were no more integral plot threads waiting to be resolved and instead the author seemed to pull plots out of the air and tack things on willy-nilly and returning to things and characters that should best have been left alone, weakening them in the process.

"Shella," a non-Burke novel, came along. To borrow terms from another genre, this was set in the same "universe" as the Burke novels, written with the same intent, feel and style, but involved all new characters. But the readers demanded more of Burke and the author returned to writing that series. Vachss' day job and passion is working as a lawyer who defends children. He has stated that since his clients do not have much money, it is important that his novels bring in money to help the law firm. (He also stated this was not a realistic business plan for others to follow. It simply worked out for him that way.) Therefore to some extent he is trapped in writing the Burke novels, although he has experimented with writing other novels including "The Getaway Driver." I enjoyed "The Getaway Driver." This had a different feel than his previous novels, being less surreal in my opinion.

"Terminal," in my opinion, seemed to have been written in the following manner. With short choppy segments, strung together to form a novel, one gets the feeling that Vachss probably writes a segment daily. However, many of these segments can only be described as rants, with Vachss interrupting his narrative in an undisciplined fashion to voice his opinion on things that upset him.

Some of these are quite understandable, such as extreme forms of child abuse, loss of privacy making life easier for stalkers and the internet fueling extreme forms of cruelty, are understandable. Such opinions are in keeping with his mission as a writer, although they do tire the reader at times. Many, such as the gentrification and changes in New York City, are in keeping with the characters and their world, although they too go on a bit too long. Yet others, such as the stupidity of "wasting your vote" by voting for the Greens, just seem a bit ranty and, for lack of a better term, childish.

Finally, the odd thing about Vachss' book is that he often rails against people who work on his causes but not in the way he wishes (i.e. he criticizes the sex offender registries and amber alerts) or on related causes instead of the ones he wants them to (people who work to publicize human trafficking of adults instead of child abuse). Now. for the record, although we've never met, I believe Vachss' heart is in the right place and his commitment to his causes unmistakeable. And having spent time working on and around child abuse issues from various sides, including at times the side of false accusations, these things do eat at a person. There is a concept floating around called "secondary traumatization," which refers to the way in which a person becomes traumatized by frequent exposure to working with people who have been traumatized or even frequent exposure to reports of trauma. Therefore it is understandable that Vachss will occasionally lash out.

However, let me go on record here. I do not agree that everything Vachss believes in or every sort of abuse he includes in his novels is true. I do not, for instance, believe in Satanic Ritual Abuse (neither does the FBI, by the way). I do not believe in repressed and later recovered memories (nor do competent psychologists these day) and I believe that when Multiple Personality Disorder does exist it exist due to the coaching of incompetent therapists. Therefore I see it as socially irresponsible the way in which Vachss encourages people to believe in things for which the evidence simply is not there and then to encourage people to act on these beliefs.

Of course, he is not alone in this, but by encouraging such behavior he is going to unleash pointless child abuse programs and waste resources that could be better spent on programs that work more directly to effectively prevent child abuse either directly or indirectly (Since there is a direct correlation between child abuse and neglect and poverty, programs to reduce poverty would reduce child abuse and neglect. This, however, is not mentioned in Vachss' books, where the issues are more simple and the primary cause of child abuse seems to be human evil.)

My thoughts, "Terminal" is far from Vachss' best work. I found the plot confusing and disjointed. The authors rants were irritating and distracting. Vachss, however, is a skilled writer. I admire his early work.

I should probably get out my copy of "Two Trains Running" (a non-Burke novel that unlike many of Vachss' books is written in third person, includes shifting points of view and actual chapters) and give it another try.

December 21, 2008: North Korean refugees caught in Burma.

This boggled my mind when I came across it. In the last few months, I've started working with refugees, many of them from Burma (Myanmar). Prior to that I'd done some reading on Burma, although I confess it was nothing that I would consider to be extensive. Throughout all this time, I have NEVER heard anyone anywhere say anything good about the government of Burma. Nothing, nada, zip.

And the economy there is terrible, too.

So the notion that North Koreans are actually sneaking into Burma as refugees, even if they intend only to use it as a transit point to elsewhere, is just shocking in its implications about North Korea.

BREAKING NEWS >> Saturday December 20, 2008 22:24

Burma arrests North Korean refugees

Rangoon (AFP) - Burmese authorities have arrested 19 defectors from their ally North Korea and plan to charge them with illegally entering the country, a senior police official said Saturday.

The group of mostly men were trying to make their way to South Korea via China and Southeast Asia, an increasingly popular route for North Koreans trying to escape chronic hunger and repression in their communist homeland.

"They were arrested when they entered over the border in eastern [Burma] in early December," said the official, who did not want to be named as he was not authorised to speak to media.

"As they were arrested in our territory, we are taking action against them under the immigration act," he said. "Their main reason (for leaving) was to go to South Korea to meet with their relatives or family members there."

Many North Koreans cross China and travel through Laos and Burma to try and reach more sympathetic countries such as Thailand with the hope of winning eventual resettlement in South Korea.

China repatriates North Korean defectors as economic migrants. The Burmese police official said he was not sure if the 19 people would be returned and said the North Korean embassy in Rangoon had not yet intervened.

Military-ruled Burma and hardline communist North Korea, which are both severely criticised internationally for human rights abuses, agreed in April 2007 to restore diplomatic relations.

Burma severed ties with Pyongyang in 1983 following a failed assassination attempt by North Korean agents on then-South Korean president Chun Doo-Hwan during his visit to Rangoon.

The bombing killed 17 of Chun's entourage including cabinet ministers while four Burmese officials also died.

Burma, which has been ruled by generals since 1962, and North Korea have been branded "outposts of tyranny" by the United States, which imposes sanctions on both.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

December 16, 2008: Thoughts on SF and writing.

I've been going through one of those introspective moods lately where I step back and consider my life, my writing and my so-called career. For years, I've been writing science fiction, yet this effort has not led where I've wanted it to. There have been a few stories published here and there, and there was one year where I was a runner-up in the Writers of the Future Contest, something that leaves me with mixed feelings as I really do not approve of the contest, considering it to be a $cientology public-relations/ propaganda tool.

(Why'd I enter? Because I saw no need to make a moral issue out of it. After all, how was I to know I had a chance in H-E-double-toothpicks of ever winning the thing? Then again, there are clearly more winners each year than can possibly make it as SF writers, one of several hints that, like I said, the contest is a $cientology public-relations/propaganda tool.)

The result, like so much of my writing, is hints that I could make it if I worked hard, made the right decisions and allowed things to click for me.

But they haven't. Which begs the question why?

Today, I suggest that one factor is the following.:

1) Today's science fiction does not offer the chance to succeed while doing what I wish to do in science fiction. The markets are not there. The audience is not there.

2) What I wish to do is be mildly subversive, thought-provoking yet not hurtful, mind expanding in an artistic way. Perhaps a bit like the "New Wave" SF of the '70s, the sort of thing written and pushed by Michael Moorcock and Ballard, among others. I'd like to write stories that are the literary equivalent of listening to one of the classic "Talking Heads" albums when they first came out. These albums were not the least bit political, generally speaking, yet from the minute you placed that needle down on the vinyl and heard that first exciting "hiss," got hit with that mildly subversive hypercreativity, that you knew the world was full of so much more than you'd ever before dreamed possible.

I don't really want to make people think what I think. I want them to see that there is a whole world out there full of things that they've never seen, heard, felt and never thought of before. I want to inspire them to look for these things. I want to provoke curiosity and inspire intellectual exploration.

Not so much of an in-your-face thing as say Chuck Pahlaniuk, for instance, or Terry Southern or Michael O'Donoghue to dig earlier, although I do love their stuff, but something closer to . . . well now, there's the problem, isn't it? Bruce Sterling maybe? It's tough to say.

Without writers I admire, or magazines I enjoy, perhaps this is not the genre for me to be pursuing. No real conclusions for the moment. Just ideas to turn around and ponder. We'll see what gels.

Monday, December 8, 2008

December 8, 2008: NY TIMES --Taiwanese Shamanism

New York Times

December 7, 2008
Shaman Channels 12th Century but Adapts to 21st

TAIPEI, Taiwan — After 10 minutes of drum-beating and incense-burning by her assistants, Chang Yin donned a black, spotted robe and a pointed hat. She picked up a fan with her right hand and a silver flask of sorghum liquor with her left.

Then, she sat in a chair before an altar piled with joss sticks, cans of beer, fruit, other snacks and images of deities. The session began. She appeared to slip into a trance.

Ms. Chang is a jitong, a shaman who dispenses advice while said to be possessed by a spirit. Here, inside a modern office building next to Taipei’s bustling main train station, she is carrying on a folk tradition that goes back hundreds of years in Taiwan and the Chinese mainland.

In the past, such shamans played a central role in rural village life. Based in local temples, they would resolve community disputes and pick auspicious dates for important occasions, and they were believed to help heal the sick by channeling spirits.

Now, as Taiwan’s economy has developed and its population urbanized, some jitong, like Ms. Chang, are changing with the times. With the tradition on the decline, Ms. Chang is one of a small number of people who are maintaining the shamanistic practice but adapting it to the needs of modern city dwellers.

“People moved into cities, but they still have this kind of religious need,” said Ting Jen-chieh, a specialist in Taiwanese religion at the Institute of Ethnology at the Academia Sinica in Taipei, the capital.

Forty years ago, shamanistic ceremonies were still a frequent feature of village temples, with jitong playing an important public role.

Now, Mr. Ting said, few young Taiwanese are interested in becoming jitong. Many older people who carry on the shaman tradition have switched to “private practice,” often in cities, operating out of homes, storefronts or offices rather than temples.

The problems they are called upon to solve have changed, too: there are fewer village-level quarrels, more questions on marital disharmony or workplace setbacks.

In the southern Taiwanese village that Mr. Ting has been studying, there were eight jitong in the 1960s. Now there are none.

“Before, jitong were seen as performing a public service,” Mr. Ting said. “But now, as people have become more educated, they’ve come to think the practice isn’t scientific, that it’s uncivilized.”

But if jitong are less visible, the underlying beliefs that prevailed when Taiwan was a predominantly poor, rural society are surprisingly resilient.

Many Taiwanese pragmatically switch among Taoist, Buddhist, folk and other beliefs and practices, depending on the situation, Mr. Ting said. And at least 70 percent of Taiwanese still adhere to some traditional ways, he said.

Another example is the divination blocks that many Taiwanese still use in temples for spiritual guidance. Each crescent-shaped block has a flat and a rounded side. How a pair of the blocks falls is believed to determine the answer to a (typically yes or no) question one might ask.

“Taiwan has become more middle-class-oriented, but we still keep our folk practices,” Mr. Ting said.

Consulting a jitong is a case in point. The practice has not been totally abandoned, just updated. Ms. Chang, for example, regularly sends out text messages to about 300 clients. That virtual network has replaced the tightly knit village setting of old.

One Sunday a month she invites those contacts to her office for an open spirit medium session.

On this particular day, as she answered petitioners’ questions, several elderly men lounged nearby on pillows and chairs, watching the proceedings. Children ran in and out of the room. Ms. Chang’s assistants bustled around in the office and an attached kitchen, lighting joss sticks, washing dishes, tending to accounts.

Her office door remained open, with about 15 waiting visitors and passers-by chatting and eating in the outside hallway.

As clients knelt on pillows before her and aired their troubles, Ms. Chang was by turns marriage counselor, family therapist and psychotherapist.

“In the U.S. or the West, people go to a psychologist,” said one 40-year-old man who works in financial services in Taipei, after he and his wife had finished their session. “The jitong plays the same role. In Taiwan, we think going to a psychologist feels a bit strange. A psychologist is just a person, but this is a god. I can say anything to a god, but I can’t say everything to a psychologist.”

Most often, Ms. Chang said, she is possessed by Ji Gong, a maverick Buddhist monk who lived in China in the 12th century and loved his meat and liquor. Thus, the cans of beer as offerings on the altar and Ms. Chang’s slurred speech as she channeled the tipsy monk.

Another popular god is Santaizi (literally, the “third prince”), the youngest son of a Tang Dynasty general who has a third eye and boundless energy.

But she says other spirits, including Jesus, can speak through her.

“I usually ask Ji Gong to answer peoples’ questions,” she said. “When I start the ritual, I need to dress in Ji Gong’s clothes and drink alcohol, because Ji Gong likes it.”

She says she does not remember anything that happens while possessed by the spirits.

“My assistant helps me, recording everything I say and telling me what I did,” she said.

This time, a visibly relaxed Ms. Chang, as Ji Gong, was cracking jokes, sipping liquor, hiccuping, waving a fan, teasing questioners, scolding a child and in general thoroughly enjoying the experience and putting everyone at ease.

The questioners all listened calmly, letting Ji Gong do most of the talking.

Ji Gong assured one troubled woman who had recently lost a baby that the child was doing well on “the other side.”

“Give me your heart, and I’ll open it,” Ji Gong told the woman, using a Chinese phrase for giving happiness. The woman put her hand to her heart and then extended it to the shaman.

“That’s not your heart, that’s your hand,” Ji Gong said, chuckling mischievously.

“I was just kidding; only you can open your heart,” Ji Gong said. “If you want to open it, just open it. You think too much.”

Another time, Ji Gong gave specific advice to a couple and their young son, repeat visitors. To the wife, he said, “Your husband’s not gentle enough, as usual,” and gently upbraided the man.

Then Ji Gong had another message: “Your son wants to ask you for money, but he’s afraid to. He wants money for an online game; he’s been trying so hard to overcome an obstacle, but he needs a weapon. Just give him 100 dollars or 200 dollars.” (Those sums, in Taiwanese dollars, are equivalent to about $3 or $6.)

Ms. Chang does not charge for the jitong services. She teaches classes, and most of her income derives from advising businesses on feng shui and other such matters.

In an interview, Ms. Chang said that the spirits called her to be a jitong; she did not choose it.

“When I was 6, I asked my mother why there were people walking in the sky through the clouds,” she said. “They didn’t blame me or think I was seeing things; they bought a book with pictures of holy beings and asked me which ones I’d seen.”

When she was 12, a Taoist priest began teaching her the ways of the jitong during summer and winter school breaks. At 15, she said, she was capable of being possessed. She completed vocational school and held jobs in a hospital and in sales, but she said the spirits kept pestering her to be a jitong and to deliver their messages. A few years ago she did.

If the profession has evolved in tandem with changes in society, Ms. Chang said it was not only the jitong who had adjusted.

She said that these days the gods were more likely to be consulted on thorny personal relationships than on physical illness.

“So now they give a different type of guidance,” she said. “The gods have changed along with the times and kept up with the trends.”

Yang Chia-nin contributed reporting.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Sunday, December 7, 2008

More dead stuff! ==is the governator's mom's corpse at risk?

Yet another bizarre news story about dead things!

Sunday, Dec 07 2008 This Evening
By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 1:21 PM on 02nd December 2008

Police tracking a gang who robbed the tomb of a billionaire industrialist are linking it to a secret plot to steal Arnold Schwarzenegger's mother's coffin.

Detectives in Schwarzenegger's native Austria are this week quizzing ex special forces soldier Karl Painer over claims that the gang tried to recruit him for the raid on Schwarzenegger's mother's body.

Last month the body of Austrian tycoon Friedrich Karl Flick was stolen from the family tomb in Velden, southern Austria.

Shock plot: Arnold Schwarzenegger with his late mother Aurelia

According to local media, Painer has now been interviewed by police who believe that Mr Flick's disappearance could be linked to a plot to snatch Aurelia Schwarzenegger's body seven years ago.


* Body of 'Nazi slave' billionaire stolen from Austrian cemetery in 'extortion attempt'

Painer, 45, claims he was asked to help steal her coffin in 2001, three years after her death.

In his book Bloody Bouncers he claimed that a Polish man asked him for help stealing the coffin from the cemetery in Weiz, eastern Austria.

Austrian industrialist Friedrich Karl Flick died two years ago

Painer said the man contacted him as he lives in Weiz and knew him from time they'd spent in prison together.

Painer said: 'He said we could make millions by blackmailing Arnold Schwarzenegger. Of course I refused to help him. In the end, the raid never happened.'

Now police are linking the two plots and believe they may have stumbled across a bizarre VIP grave-robbing gang.

Mr Flick inherited the family business in 1972, a multi-billion fortune made from exploiting concentration camp labour during World War II.

'There has been no demand for a ransom yet so we still don't know why they're doing this. The two cases are very similar and worth studying in more detail,' said one police source.

December 7, 2008: Manswers appearance finally happens!

After much wait, here it is! My MANSWERS appearance.