Saturday, April 28, 2007

Who is at the wheel?

Imagine you're on a roadtrip with three other people. On the highway, you're sitting in the backseat of the car, reading a magazine. The guy in the front passenger seat is trying to find something good on the radio. The guy sitting next to you in the backseat has dozed off.

While engrossed in your magazine -- maybe a copy of The Realist or The National Daily Conservative Review -- the car you're riding in is involved in a collision: you don't see the details of the accident as they unfold, your senses are simply jarred by the crunch of the fibreglass sheathing the styrafoam bumper; the hood buckling; the awful sudden stop, the sound of breaking glass. And all you know is that you've dropped your magazine, your collarbone is sore where the seatbelt locked against you; there's a cloud of powder from the exploded airbags floating in the car.

Miraculously, no one in your car is hurt.

For the sake of this analogy, let's jump ahead of all the insurance rigermarole, police, and all those inconveniences, to the resumption of your roadtrip: You've got a new rental car and you and your group are ready to hit the highway again. . .

. . . but the guy who was driving when the accident occurred refuses to relinquish the car keys. He insists on continuing to drive.

Before the roadtrip began, you and your car-mates drew straws and the guy who was driving when the accident occurred had been the winner and asserts that this gives him the right to continue.

"But you got us in that accident," one of the other guys says, "so that nullifies you winning the straw-draw."

"Yeah," another guy says, "Whether it was your fault or not, I don't trust you at the wheel."

To which the driver responds, "It's because I was driving when the accident happened that I should continue driving. Had one of you been at the wheel, the accident would have been much worse!"

And here is where we are at with American politics during the long, long run-up to the 2008 presidential election.

We have former NYC mayer, Rudy Giulliani, claiming that because he was at the helm of New York when the September 11, 2001 attacks occurred, that he is somehow more qualified to protect the country than any other candidate. This is the same specious logic that George W. Bush used for the 2004 election. It made no sense then, it makes no sense now, and yet these candidates are not only putting forth this ridiculous argument, some people actually agree with it.

There is no question that America, and the world in general, is much less safe since George W. Bush took hold of the White House in 2000. His wrong-headed war in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, America's consistent flouting of international law, America's lust for torture, are the greatest recruitment tools any enemy of America could hope for to help with rounding up fresh crazies. On a more concrete level, having people in power who stretch the country's military to (and beyond) its breaking point, spread painfully, dangerously thin around the world -- so much so that when America needs its own resources (think: Hurricane Katrina), those resources are missing or sorely lacking -- that strengthens and emboldens "Das Enemy." Pursuing foreign policy goals that make the rest of the free world think the U.S. is crazy is dangerous for America.

I heard Giulliani on the Sean Inanity radio program the other afternoon slinging these un-truisms like an Alabama short-order cook slings hash. And Inanity ate it up, of course.

No, keeping the guy at the wheel who was driving when you crashed in the first place is a bad idea. Talk is cheap, but it's cheap talk that leads to lost lives. Ask those 700,000 dead Iraqi civilians about that.

Oh, right, you can't . . . because they're dead.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Rich Little to perform at the White House Correspondents Association's dinner

It was a year ago that the world beheld the landmark performance of Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner. Standing only a few feet from the American Butcher in Chief, Colbert's genius was on full display, ranking in my opinion right up there with Jonthan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" and Lenny Bruce's "Christ and Moses." His comments were among the most piercing, hilarious and honest remarks made about BushCo. Later, however, the very media honoring itself that night proved once more its relevance to the public by almost uniformly declaring Colbert's exceedingly funny performance "not funny." Some went so far as to say that Colbert "bombed" -- doubtless an unintentional pun giving W.'s bewildered proximity to the happenings.

The reaction of the press reminds me of a scene from the second season of All in the Family during a flashback to Mike and Gloria's wedding preparations. Bigot Archie Bunker meets Mike's Uncle Kasimir, a huge, strapping man who was once a marine, but became a florist upon returing to civilian life after WWII. Archie does not like Uncle Kas on first sight and says, "Yeah, well we used to think the marines were pretty funny." To which Uncle Kas responds, "Yeah? Well, we used to think the Air Corps. was funny." Archie's face clouds: "I was in the Air Corps. What the hell's funny about the Air Corps.?"

And that was precisely the response of the press to Colbert's brilliant performance. But at least the press was consistent, treating Colbert's remarks with all of the blind-eyed superficiality it has treated the increasingly suspicious 9/11 attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Short shrift is the new journalistic mantra in North America. Lowering debate to the level of irrelevance is the only function these makers of birdcage liners serve.

Well, old Steve Scully, president of the White house Correspondents Association -- unlike the Bush administration -- refuses to make the same mistake twice. This year he has booked legendary comic Rich Little to perform at the dinner. Scully's first choice for the evening was Bob Hope, but Hope's tour of Hell has been such a raging success, he was simply unavailable for the engagement -- there are more former U.S. presidents on his current tour than on earth.
Rich Little says: "I don't know why I was invited [to perform at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner], perhaps they wanted a different type of comedian this year.... But I did the dinner in 1984 when Reagan was president. I loved him, he was the best audience in the world."

"For Steve Scully of C-Span,. the president of the White house Correspondents Association, this is a game where you can neither win nor lose, no matter what you do. He chose Little this year and had a hand in picking Colbert last year."

"'I picked Rich Little because I think he is funny,' Scully said in an interview..."
And no one knows funny like Steve Scully, voted in his high school year book as Most Likely to Marry a Rubber Chicken. The hilarious part? He actually did!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Fux Spews Obiturates Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

First and foremost, any journalist who works for any arm of Fux Spews has zero journalistic integrity. They enjoy being dictated to by the ideologues running their rancid money-making machine, and are so lacking in character and personal content, that they joyfully spew -- hence the name of the network -- all manner of bullshit, so long as it is contrary to reality and fed to them by King W.'s administration.

Chris Wallace, Brit Hume, Sean Hannity, Geraldo Rivera, Bill O'Reilly -- all industry jokes, bums with wretched reputations, all of whom jumped onto the Fux bandwagon as quickly as contracts and lawyers allowed, all readily identifying themselves as utterly untrustworthy voices.

Ever see the documentary Outfoxed? It shows that the more people view Fux Spews, the less these viewers know about the subjects reported upon. And this week:
Pew Survey Finds Most Aware Americans Watch 'Daily Show' and 'Colbert'-- and Visit Newspaper Sites ... Virtually bringing up the rear were regular watchers of Fox News. Only 1 in 3 could answer 2 out of 3 questions correctly.
So, when hack, ass-licker, soulless chump James Rosen "obiturated" Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., this week, it was done with all the callous, misanthropic bile we have come to know and love from Fux Spews despondents.

It was unequivocally a "good riddance to bad rubbish" obituary -- the sort that every Fux lackey listed above will enjoy upon his demise. Yes, Vonnegut himself at one time described some of his early work as "sci-fi mumbo-jumbo" and quite possibly as the quoted "despondent leftism." But there is no excuse for the mean-spirited final line of this lousy obituary when Rosen quoted Vonnegut as once saying that he hoped upon his death his children wouldn't say of him that he told funny jokes, but was such an unhappy man. "So, I'll say it for them," Rosen droned. Will you, now, Rosen? Only a Fux Spews despondent would presume to speak on behalf of the family of a dead American institution.

What. A. Fucking. Asshole.

But what can one expect from that landfill of a spew network?

I first learned of this hatchet-job obituary on where quite a discussion string has grown throughout the day. There are people defending Lackey Rosen and Fux Spews. No, these contemptible phillistines should not be applauded or even tolerated. The only consolation is that since archivists around the world agree that this will be the least remembered era in human history -- our magnetic media is not constructed to last more than a few decades -- that Fux Spews will be recalled with all the force and clarity of the great lost nation of antiquity, Contagia. Ever hear of Contagia and its society of soccer-playing floutists?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., was one of the few famous people I wish I would have personally met. There are many artists whose work means much to me -- Van Morrison, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Neil Young -- whom I have no desire to meet. Hunter S. Thompson was the leader in that category while alive. It was often entertaining reading about his antics, but I never wanted to be within a thousand miles of the man.

It was different with Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., whom I always thought of simply as Vonnegut.

Slaughterhouse Five was the first Vonnegut novel I ever read. After the first twenty pages, I thought it was a terrible book. The narrative was nothing more than the author speaking directly to the reader. I was such a stranger to art in my early days that I had no clue that this would, actually, become one of the aspects of Vonnegut's writing that I would most love.

Reading Kurt Vonnegut made me feel better about not knowing what I was doing when attempting my own writing. Vonnegut kept his insecurities in the foreground as his genius powered his work in the background. The second Vonnegut novel I read was Mother Night. Of course my underdeveloped sense of appreciation for subtlety and artfulness was momentarily unimpressed by the book's simplicity. But as the plot unfolded, I remember being knocked out of my chair by the story. When I finished reading the book, I was hooked.

This hasn't kept me from doubting Vonnegut on occasion. I continue to doubt him when trying to get through Hocus Pocus. I doubted him mightly at times in Galapagos and Dead-Eye Dick. As Vonnegut would readily admit: Nobody is perfect -- the writer nor the reader.

On my first visit to Ireland when I was twenty years old, I had limited space among my possessions, but still brought along Vonnegut's collection of short stories, Welcome to the Monkey House. The story "Long Walk to Forever" was like a lightning strike inside of me. And the distraction was very welcome, as I gone to Dublin simply to go to Dublin, and within hours of arriving wondered just what the hell I was doing so far away from home. It worked out in the end.

Years later, while living in Ireland, a good friend came to visit. The day before he left, he bought me a book as a gift to say thanks for having him over. Saying thanks to me! I was so gratified having my friend with me for two weeks that I took him out, got drunk and vomited on his shoes. The book my friend bought me was Vonnegut's last novel, Timequake. The novel is not considered one of Vonnegut's best, though it's among my favorites. It's so flawed and Vonnegut was so upfront about its flaws -- mitigating for them with wonderful updates on the actual people who had populated his previous books. There was nothing more heartrending than reading Vonnegut's beloved, revered brother, Bernie, had died at the age of eighty-six. I reread Timequake last year and it has held up marvelously.

I saw Vonnegut when he appeared on The Daily Show last year. It was terrible seeing how feeble and aged Vonnegut had become; how miserably out of breath he was. But he proved the youth and vigor of his ideas, the still-polished-chrome of his humor. He was as relevant that day as when Slaughterhouse Five hit the bestseller lists in 1969.

Last year I read Player Piano, The Sirens of Titan, and Slapstick for the first time. I've owned strange little hardback editions of these books for years, found in the early 1990s in a Detroit used bookstore. I had started the novels numerous times, but set them aside for something else. But last year I was determined to give them one final try. All three were wonderful. Vonnegut the short story writer was much more in evidence in the first two novels, both written early in his career. They are very tight and to-the-point. The humor is more subtle in those. By the time of Slapstick Vonnegut was much looser on the page.

In 1992, I did a "directed reading" in the English department of the University of Windsor. I had dropped a creative writing course and wanted to make up the credit. My directed reading centered on Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, Mother Night and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. My professor -- a Vonnegut-esque character in his own right; a sweetly morose poet who watched The Simpsons and flipped through his wife's Victoria's Secret catalog when not perpetrating academics -- really bailed me out consenting to lead my directed reading. At that time in my life I was living with a girlfriend in a rented room in a shitty house. I sat in the dank, foot-smelling living room with my books and photocopies of articles about Vonnegut from The Dictionary of Literary Biography.

While writing my paper on those three novels, I had the distinct impression that Vonnegut would have been embarrassed for me. Vonnegut, himself, only ever read for pleasure. He never sought to prove he understood a book by writing about it. That's just what I was doing. By it was one of the few truly pleasurable assignments of my academic career. So much so that the latent Catholic in me felt a little guilty about the whole thing.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., has died and I have yet to read "So it goes" in any of his obituraries. I hope I don't read that anywhere. The loss of Vonnegut is immense. For all of the turmoil and triumph in his life, he is one of the few people I've encountered -- personaly or via their work -- who communicated true values all human beings could live by. He was no preacher, no prosletyzer, he was just very wise and equally humble. One of my favorite quotes of Vonnegut's comes from his novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater:
"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies — 'God damn it, you've got to be kind.'"

Monday, April 09, 2007

Don Imus: There's no There There

I've heard the name "Don Imus" here and there over the years, getting himself into the news on the rare occasion by saying something terrible on his radio show. I never found the quotes attributed to him interesting enough to check him out, but during a recent vacation to Florida I watched his radio show (a bizarre concept in and of itself) on MSNBC. What I found was a ridiculous muttering man propped up at a microphone, his drawn face looking like the wax melting from the skull of museum dummy, with an even more ridiculous cowboy hat perched on his head and his beyond-ridiculous moppy hair sticking out from underneath. He carried on a banal repartee with a Paul Schafer wannabe in the studio. The rest of the assorted crew laughed intermittently when nothing funny was said. Then, every once in a while the camera would center on Imus who made an awkward gesture at the viewing audience with a gnarled finger, ushering in a procession of commercials. He does this to let the viewing audience know he hasn't expired utterly at the microphone. He's merely in a functioning coma, not rigor mortis.

What did Imus talk about on his show while I watched? Nothing that I can remember. Being fluent in English, I easily deciphered his affected mumbling; I understood the words that came out of his mouth. They simply did not engage me on any level, either positively or negatively. In fact, Imus was intensely more dull than the commercials that bookended his show.

Years ago, I saw an interview with Don Imus. I forget what the occasion was or who conduted the interviewer. But there sat Don Imus before the camera with a distinct expression of tharn in his muddled gaze -- deer-trapped-in-headlights expression. He muttered one-word answers to the interviewer as though he was from some other culture and had no concept of being asked questions by a stranger while being filmed. He seemed stunned and slow-witted, possibly hungover. At one point, the interviewer asked Imus if there was anyone in the world he loved. It seemed a stupid question, a softball lob that a more thorny and alert personality would have leapt all over. But Imus just stared warily into the camera like a rancher in 1903 regarding a bank manager. He muttered without moving his lips, "Ma-brudder." Don Imus loves his brother. It was a strange, humanizing moment -- a moment in which Imus needed to humanize himself because up until then he seemed like some inflated something that was merely losing air.

So, Don Imus, alleged titan of morning radio, recently uttered racials slurs. In typical Imus form, these comments were of a dull, inelegant nature -- not that there is an elegant way in which a person can reveal himself to be a racist. The words fell from his mouth with the muted thud of turds landing on a tiled floor. "Nappy headed hos" Imus called the girls of the Rutugers womens basketball team. For a man who's made a career out of saying terrible things, this observation of his was not only terrible, but launched at a completely undeserving target. Damn right, Imus should be fired. From what I saw and heard of him, how is it that he's still employed?

Good on Al Sharpton pulling Imus' pants down about this. Unfortunately, given the elaborate slickness -- and laughable pointlessness -- of the televised version of Imus' show there's clearly too much money in the man (how? why? who the hell knows!) for him to be fired. Hence the flaccid slap on the wrist his employer gave him -- a two week suspension. Lying in bed at home or sitting before the microphone in that science fiction radio studio, I don't think Imus will really know the difference. There's no there there. Which makes him a hard target to wring any justice from.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Ah, Good Friday & Crucifixon Hangover

Easter weekend is one of my favorite weekends of the year. I'm blogging right now on my Blackberry from the bright lights of the Philipines. I've come to be crucified -- you know, they have this fantastic tourist-draw in which pilgrims are nailed to actual crosses with actual nails by guys with actual hammers -- and I'm currently waiting in line for my turn. It seemed uncouth to bring a book to read in line (other than the Bible, that is) so I'm covertly blogging. There's enough commotion around me -- hordes of self-flaggelators, rosary-praying pilgrims and, of course, the monstrous screams from the people currently being crucified -- to distract people from noticing me. Truthfully? I can't abide their screams. Either be crucified like a man -- quiet and dignified, like Jesus -- or fuck off and stay home and watch The Song of Bernadette on AMC.

Anyhow, while waiting for my turn under the hammer, I wanted to blog about something I've been thinking about lately:

Global warming and why is it that religious people absolutely refuse to acknowledge such a thing exists? The other day our local weather man was saying as a lead-in to his forecast that there have been other warming periods in the history of the world that were not caused by man. Interesting. I'd like to read more about that. But until then, how can anyone dispute that our factories and cars and all the shit they spew into the air isn't having a negative effect on the world that sustains us? I'm no alarmist and I'm certainly no activist. When I heard the latest about the melting icecaps, I thought, "Well, at least we don't have to worry about them getting so large as to spin the world the wrong way on its axis." I guess that happened millennia ago -- archaeologists have found wooly mammoths under arctic ice with wild flowers undigested in their stomachs, suggesting that the wooly mammoths had gone from a warm climate to a cold one in a very, very short time.

Regarding global warming, my born-again Christian neighbor said to me, "Well, I believe that god has a plan." By that reasoning, I ought to go out and become a heroin addict, shoplift and shoot-up the rest of my life because what's the point in exercising freewill? God has a plan. Like most things my born-again neighbor has said to me, I think this is bullshit.

So, is this the reason global warming can't exist -- even though it's quite apparent that it does? Because god has a plan?

There were a couple of other things that I wanted to air, but my turn has come in line. Have a great Easter! I know that I will.

Crucifixon Hangover

I'm blogging from the Philipines with my Blackberry on voice-recognition mode. It hangs around my neck like Soap on a Rope.

Before coming here, my chiropractor gave me a schematic made from an x-ray of my hands. He marked up the image to show where the nail was to be hammered through me in order not to aggravate my carpal tunnel syndrome. When my turn came to be crucified, I handed the schematic to my hammer-er. The bastard wiped the sweat from his forehead with it, then pounded me onto the cross. I'm no chiropractor, but I think he did less than a delicate job of it.

My first impression upon being crucified -- as my cross and I were raised into an upright position -- was an overwhelming sense of being a piece of furniture. I wished I had brought windchimes to hang off the ends of the crossbeam.

My cross faced the direction opposite to that from which I entered the crucifixion area. And so it was more than a little disheartening to see hotdog and ice cream stands over there. And a souvenir shop called St. Martin's Souvenirs. I'd had lasik eye surgery not long before my overseas trip and I saw quite clearly the Padre Pia placemats and plastic Jesus statues displayed in the front windows. There were candles of every size for sale. Figures of saints and angels were lined up like superheroes, and holy water receptacles with the images of peoples' favorite saints or biblical figures on them.

The sight of all this shit was like an electric charge in the nails piercing my hands and feet.

I thought about how much money I spent on my plane ticket to the Philipines, taxi fare from the airport, the clothes I wore that were ruined with blood stains. And I wondered what kind of long weekend I could have had in Las Vegas for the same amount of money -- and no wounds to slow me down at my keyboard.

As I sit in this train station, dictating on my Blackberry, my hands wrapped in Shroud of Turin dishtowels, I'm beginning to think that this is one of the stupidest vacations I've ever taken. Christ, my hands are so fucked up, I couldn't even unwrap a chocolate egg if any of the unsmiling people around me offered one.