Tuesday, December 28, 2004


Some 60,000 dead as of this writing, and doubtless thousands more to come. The Red Cross and Red Crescent are on the stick, as is AID. Support for their efforts is of course needed.

Really nothing new to say about the brutality of this samsara world. People wiped from mortal existence in a second, the survivors left to deal with the grief, pain, starvation and disease that follow. Accelerated mass killing of this kind grabs the world's attention due to its immediate drama. Would that the daily, slower killing that occurs over much of the planet receive the same shock, sadness and outrage, esp from us in the West who largely benefit from unequal wealth distribution. And then there's Iraq . . .

As someone once asked, How much can you stand before your soul grows cold?

Monday, December 27, 2004

Reggie White Wash

Eagle & Packer defensive great Reggie White, 43, died early Sunday in North Carolina. White was respected and feared by those he lined up against, had great speed off the snap and hit with authority. He was a fluid defender for his size, but strong, not the kind of guy QBs welcomed during pass plays.

Hall of Famer? Sure. Popular around the NFL? Absolutely. So when I turned on ESPN Game Day yesterday, I expected the well-deserved kudos White abundantly received. But what I didn't expect, naive me, was the abject whitewashing of White's reactionary social views, primarily his longtime anti-queer stance. I knew that they might skate around it, but I thought at worst Chris Berman's ESPN pre-game team would acknowledge that in life, White took "controversial" positions, that he didn't please everyone -- the standard hypocritical dodge when dealing with issues that don't help sell Bud Light and Chevy trucks. Hell, I thought a mainstream Repub like Steve Young, 49er QB turned ESPN chatter, might celebrate White's "outspokenness," his courage "to take a stand" and not buckle under the All Powerful force of Political Correctness.

Not to be. Instead we got endless hosannas about what a fine humanitarian White was. How he viewed all people as brothers and sisters. How his love for everyone was transcendent and pure.

Except for fags & dykes, of course. Oh, White would pray for them to give up their wicked lifestyle. But that was about the extent of it.

Let's recall some of Reggie White's publicly stated takes on same-sexers:

"Homosexuality is a decision, it's not a race. People from all different ethnic backgrounds live in this lifestyle. But people from all different ethnic backgrounds also are liars and cheaters and malicious and back-stabbing." -- Associated Press, March 25, 1998.

"If no one's calling you a homophobe or a bigot, check yourself. Because you're doing something wrong." -- Minnesota Family Council, April 20, 1999

"I am going to speak the truth and I am going to speak out against things that's hurting our children, that's killing off our people. If people think that's a contradiction and that's hate, they need to take them up with God, not with Reggie White." -- Associated Press, April 26, 1998, quoting White's 20/20 interview.

PEGGY WEHMEYER of ABC's 20/20: "Are you saying there that homosexuals are like liars, cheaters, backstabbers and malicious people?"

-- ABC's 20/20, April 27, 1998

Here's one worthy of Jerry Falwell's post-9/11 statement that gays were partly to blame for the terrorist attacks:

"America is not big enough to shake her fist in the face of a holy God and get away with it, and as I read this I want to explain something. I'm going to read this and then I want to explain something. As America has permitted homosexuality to establish itself as an alternate lifestyle, it is also reeling from the frightening spread of sexually transmitted disease. Sin begets its own consequence, both on individuals and nations." -- Remarks to the Wisconsin Assembly, March 25, 1998.

And more from that Assembly:

"Let me explain something when I'm talking about sin, and I'm talking about all sin. One of the biggest ones that has been talked about that has really become a debate in America is homosexuality."

"But the Bible strictly speaks against it, and because the Bible speaks against it, we allow rampant sin including homosexuality and lying, and to me lying is just as bad as homosexuality, we've allowed this sin to run rampant in our nation, and because it has run rampant in our nation, our nation is in the condition it is today."

"Sometimes when people talk about this sin they've been accused of being racist. I'm offended that homosexuals will say that homosexuals deserve rights. Any man in America deserves rights, but homosexuals are trying to compare their plight with the plight of black men or black people. In the process of history, homosexuals have never been castrated, millions of them never died."

(I think that those gays who wore the Pink Triangle in Nazi death camps might have a comeback to that.)

Now, White's defenders will point to all the good things he said in that and other speeches, primarily about how men should take responsibility for the children they help conceive, and how he assisted youth in depressed areas. But how that mitigates White's utter (and I would say un-Christian) contempt for gays is beyond me. And that ESPN's many personalities would let this pass without even a brief mention is, if not an endorsement, then certainly a toleration of views that were they about Jews or blacks would doubtlessly be cited, no matter how "nice" a guy White was.

White also worked with the Traditional Values Coalition, run by the Rev. Louis Sheldon, a particularly nasty anti-queer bigot who, among many disgusting statements, once said that those with AIDS should be quarantined in "cities of refuge" (Mark E. Pietrzyk, News-Telegraph, March 10, 1995), and who denounced any federal attempt to compensate those gays who lost lovers in the 9/11 attacks.

Of course, White was not alone or unique among jocks who hold similar views. Indeed, American sports culture is predominantly anti-queer -- or perhaps more accurately, non-queer -- when it comes to athletes and sexual orientation. In NFL history, only three gay men have outed themselves, and they are clearly the tiniest tip of a much larger iceberg. The idea that only three NFLers were gay goes not only against nature, but against math as well. Percentage-wise, the current, collective NFL roster must be at least five percent queer. And that's being conservative, given the homo-erotic nature of the game.

Fear & hatred of this obvious fact is what fuels either open hostility to queers or complete denial of their existence. (I remember years ago when Bill Parcells, then Jets head coach, responded to a question about gay players with a shake of the head, a smirk and a "that's ridiculous" dismissal.) This is true throughout American team sports, from high school to the pros. Think how long it took for Jackie Robinson and Larry Dobie to break into the majors. Think how long it'll take for American sports fans to accept an openly gay superstar, much less a journeyman jock. The anti-gay cracks heard regularly from callers on sports radio shows suggests that this form of bigotry will take decades to overcome -- if then. As Reggie White said in his rambling speech to the Wisconsin Assembly, "We're a very judgmental nation. We need to be a nation that's a caring nation, an understanding nation, a compassionate nation."

Amen to that, Reggie. God bless your soul, and may you bask in the Light that connects us all, regardless of make-up.

PS -- Here's another, albeit less charitable, take on White's passing, by the always hard-core Steve Gilliard.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Gins-Mas

Even though Allen Ginsberg's "Kral Majales" was written in May 1965 and was about the Prague Spring, it has always reminded me of the (better) spiritual part of Christmas. So here is my humble, Navidad offering. (And if you wanna see some rare pix of Ginzy, including some taken by Czech cops tailing him during his Prague visit, go here.)

And the Communists have nothing to offer but fat cheeks and eyeglasses and
lying policemen
and the Capitalists proffer Napalm and money in green suitcases to the
and the Communists create heavy industry but the heart is also heavy
and the beautiful engineers are all dead, the secret technicians conspire for
their own glamour
in the Future, in the Future, but now drink vodka and lament the Security
and the Capitalists drink gin and whiskey on airplanes but let Indian brown
millions starve
and when Communist and Capitalist assholes tangle the Just man is arrested
or robbed or has his head cut off,
but not like Kabir, and the cigarette cough of the Just man above the clouds
in the bright sunshine is a salute to the health of the blue sky.
For I was arrested thrice in Prague, once for singing drunk on Narodni
once knocked down on the midnight pavement by a mustached agent who
screamed out BOUZERANT,
once for losing my notebooks of unusual sex politics dream opinions,
and I was sent from Havana by planes by detectives in green uniform,
and I was sent from Prague by plane by detectives in Czechoslovakian
business suits,
Cardplayers out of Cezanne, the two strange dolls that entered Joseph K's
room at morn
also entered mine and ate at my table, and examined my scribbles,
and followed me night and morn from the houses of the lovers to the cafes of
Centrum -
And I am the King of May, which is the power of sexual youth,
and I am the King of May, which is long hair of Adam and Beard of my
own body
and I am the King of May, which is Kraj Majales in the Czechoslovakian
and I am the King of May, which is old Human poesy, and 100,000 people
chose my name,
and I am the King of May, and in a few minutes I will land at London
and I am the King of May, naturally, for I am of Slavic parentage and a
Buddhist Jew
who worships the Sacred Heart of Christ the blue body of Krishna the
straight back of Ram
the beads of Chango the Nigerian singing Shiva Shiva in a manner which
I have invented,
and the King of May is a middleeuropean honor, mine in the XX century
despite space ships and the Time Machine, because I have heard the
voice of Blake
in a vision
and repeat that voice. And I am the King of May that sleeps with teenagers
And I am the King of May, that I may be expelled from my Kingdom with
Honor, as of old,
To show the difference between Caesar's Kingdom and the Kingdom of the
May of Man -
and I am the King of May because I touched my finger to my forehead
a luminous heavy girl trembling hands who said "one moment Mr. Ginsberg"
before a fat young Plainclothesman stepped between our bodies - I was
going to England -
and I am the King of May, returning to see Bunhill Fields and walk on
Hampstead Heath,
and I am the King of May, in a giant jetplane touching Albion's airfield
trembling in fear
as the plane roars to a landing on the gray concrete, shakes & expels air,
and rolls slowly to a stop under the clouds with part of blue heaven still
And tho' I am the King of May, the Marxists have beat me upon the street,
kept me up all night in Police Station, followed me thru Springtime
Prague, detained me in secret and deported me from our kingdom by
Thus I have written this poem on a jet seat in mid Heaven.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Must See TV!

Join the FOX family Christmas Night for a two-hour holiday special that'll let Freedom ring in the New Year!


Watch the stars from the West send their values East as we celebrate the Birth of Christ and the Trial of Saddam Hussein!

Hosts Kelsey Grammer

and "Everybody Loves Raymond" star Patricia Heaton

present a cavalcade of Pro-American Celebrities who know that the USA is always right -- especially at this time of year!

Highlights include:

Matt LeBlanc in a comedy sketch, "Joey In Abu Ghraib"!

Kid Rock singing, "Baghdad Bling (Rollin' In Da Green Zone)"!

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger leading a convoy of Humvees Against Car Bombs!

Bruce Willis breaking open a life-sized Michael Moore pinata with a Louisville Slugger signed by the Texas Rangers! (The candy then dropped from a Blackhawk helicopter over what remains of Fallujah!)

Clint Black and Toby Keith duet, "Don't Try To Escape Saddam, Or We'll Kick Your Ass Again"!

Mel Gibson reading a poem about why secular Jews hate Jesus!

A pro-war comedy newscast co-anchored by Dennis Miller and Colin Quinn!

Holiday greetings via satellite from Tony Blair and Ariel Sharon!

John Malkovich threatening to shoot journalists he doesn't like!

Jason Priestley and Chuck Norris reading Iraqi orphans' letters to Santa!

The American flag that was on that Saddam statue we pulled down!

Britney Spears singing, "Can You Feel The Missile's Heat?" and "Bomb-tastic Love"!

The Crazy Arab!

Comedian Jeff Foxworthy on "You Might Be A Sunni Extremist If . . ."

NASCAR's top 12 drivers singing "The 12 Days Of Christmas"!

America's third-graders salute President Bush!


"Hello friends. Kelsey Grammer here."

"Won't you please join me and my lovely co-host Patricia Heaton for an evening filled with holiday cheer and American might? We'll save you some egg nog, and maybe I'll sing a carol or two."

"Chesnuts roasting on a burning corpse/Jack Frost loading some ammo . . ."

A VERY AMERICAN IRAQ CHRISTMAS, December 25 at 8 Eastern. Only on FOX!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Finding Grace In Fame

I've long felt that celebs who take up Causes are more oil for the PR machine. Social justice gets branded, bar-coded, and becomes the faux-humane side of the sham & sensation that engulfs so much of our public lives. (Though I have taken seriously those models and actresses who'd rather go naked than wear fur -- a just, measured response to animal torture, in my view.)

And back in the days when I consumed numerous anarchist texts, I'd practically spit at any TV that showed a Christian charity claiming to bring some relief to the poor & starving of the Third World. "What they need is revolution!" I'd say aloud, causing my more conservative relatives and friends to edge cautiously away from me.

But recently I've been reading much about U2's Bono and his crusade, if that's not too charged a word, to bring the developed world's attention and help to those in ravaged areas who are dying of treatable diseases, AIDS, hunger, and other mortal blights on our existence. Among the many things I find interesting about Bono's activism is his repeated references to a just, engaged Christianity on behalf of the poor. Yes, many TV Christians do this (known in the trade as "Make us rich and we'll toss some crumbs Africa's way"), but I've rarely seen someone with Bono's exposure forcefully remind those listening of their spiritual duty to those dying, esp from AIDS:

"People have been perverting the Gospels and the Holy Scriptures since they were first written — mostly the church. This AIDS emergency actually is just such a valuable example of everything that's wrong and perverted about Christianity today.

"There should be civil disobedience on this. You read about the apostles being persecuted because they were out there taking on the powers that be. Jesus said, 'I came to bring a sword.' In fact, it's a load of sissies running around with their 'bless me' clubs. And there's a war going on between good and evil. And millions of children and millions of lives are being lost to greed, to bureaucracy, and to a church that's been asleep. And it sends me out of my mind with anger.

"This is what's important and why I would be doing this interview with Christianity Today, to implore the church to reconsider grace, to put an end to this hierarchy of sin. … All have fallen short. Let's stop throwing stones at people who've made mistakes in their life, and let's start throwing drugs."

Bono's dedication is such that he'll meet or travel with anyone who he thinks might help bring debt relief to Africa or help export vaccines and medicines to as many people in those countries as possible. This led to him touring Africa with Treasury Sec. Paul O'Neill and meeting with Jesse Helms, as well as his 2002 visit with Bush. (Bono also undertook an American church tour to heighten AIDS awareness.) Predictably, these actions inspired some pretty nasty sniping from those on the left who, it seems, would never reach across the political divide in an effort to save lives. (Political purity may look good in the mirror, but it has severe limitations.) To be fair, I can't see much point in meeting with someone as isolated as Bush when it comes to global issues, esp while he's overseeing mass murder and torture in Iraq. But as Bono told his friend and guitarist The Edge, he'd meet with the Devil if did some good. He's certainly appealing to those with the power to change things immediately. If you're gonna do that, it doesn't help calling them assholes in the process.

Is he, as some have suggested, campaigning more for the Nobel than for the poor and dying? Only he knows for certain. But I haven't run across that many politicians who seem so deeply acquainted with the concept of grace, of spiritual purpose. In this cynical, jaded age, perhaps that's crime enough. The idea of forgiving the wicked in the hope of turning them toward justice may be awfully naive, but it's worth a shot, esp if you have the fame and power of your own to bend their ears.

On the U2 music front -- love "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb". The third track, "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own," is one of the more beautiful songs I've heard in months. I don't know the inner-Bono, but his and the band's musical expression seamlessly augments his public statements. If you can't trust a celeb like Bono to help with social justice, then maybe you can hear the message in his sound.

Monday, December 20, 2004


Not gonna pretend that I understand iPod or anything that flows from it. Call it a generational weakness. But I've started contributing to a raw vibe called Sportspod, which is essentially sports radio free from the FCC. Run by an MIT alum named Curtis Coutin, it's a place where sports fans can vent directly to one another without the corp madness that infects sports radio.

You can hear my podcast debut here. Rushed through my points, skimmed over names & refs. That's me onstage. You gotta sit with me for drinks to get the relaxed version.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

That Liberal Media

"For sharpening the debate until the choices bled, for reframing reality to match his design, for gambling his fortunes—and ours—on his faith in the power of leadership, George W. Bush is TIME's 2004 Person of the Year."

Oh hell -- why not? It was inevitable. Bushists are running around like Red Guards directed by Mack Sennett, yelling for cultural overhaul while wincing and whining at any perceived criticism or slight (their current moaning about the secular theft of Christmas is sent up nicely by James Wolcott). It's their high water moment, so Time's choice is upfront corporate acknowledgement of this sad fact.

Apparently, Michael Moore was in the Person of the Year running, but there's no way that Time would've picked Moore over Bush this year. To do so would make Time look like . . . LIBERALS! (Can you imagine a solid pro-Moore bloc within the Time-Warner bldg? More likely, someone at an ed meeting mentioned Moore's name, eliciting laughter and pleas to "get down to business.") Had that gone down, the Red State Guards would seize & burn stacks of Time, while the corp-media blowhards railed against Time's anti-Americanism.

Time merely did what was expected. In fact, the eds there seem to revel in their choice. Check out this opening:

"Eagles rather than doves nestle in the Oval Office Christmas tree, pinecones the size of footballs are piled around the fireplace, and the President of the United States is pretty close to lounging in Armchair One. He's wearing a blue pinstripe suit, and his shoes are shined bright enough to shave in. He is loose, lively, framing a point with his hands or extending his arm with his fingers up as though he's throwing a big idea gently across the room."

I don't think Bush has ever held a big idea in his life, much less thrown one "gently across the room." He'd get some intellectual flunky to drag it along the floor and then cram it down a willing journalist's throat, who'd then marvel at Bush's "vision" & "steadfastness" in the face of cynical opposition.

Personally, I was pulling for Time to make Abu Ghraib its annual Person. It would've made a fitting, logical bookend to last year's choice.

And while we're on the Liberal Media, I finally caught, on HBO, "Shattered Glass," the soap-saga of New Republic writer Stephen Glass who got nabbed inventing feature news stories and passing them off as fact.

Predictably, many in the major media made a big deal of this, which makes sense. Glass was small fry, an easy target on which corp media moralists could demonstrate their allegiance to Truth & Editorial Integrity. There's nothing media players like more than to congratulate themselves, and Glass (like the New York Times's fabricator, Jayson Blair) gave them the perfect opening.

Of course, the bigger liars in the press usually get away with much worse. Sometimes, they're given awards.

I always thought that Glass got a raw deal. What he did took balls and imagination. If I had had the opportunity to write fiction posed as fact for a rag like the New Republic, I would've leapt at it. Anything to undermine its pretension, anti-Arab racism (owner Martin Peretz once wrote that the Palestinians were simply incapable of non-violence) and love of imperial power.

I still think there should be a Stephen Glass reader, a notion shared here (though it seems that most of Glass's pieces have been pulled).

The film itself was more entertaining than I thought it would be. I avoided "Glass" for some time, having spent my younger days attending panels and parties in DC, arguing politics with New Republic-types in bars and Georgetown brownstones. It was an awful crowd, filled with young hustlers intent on corp media advancement. So I wasn't in the mood to watch that scene beautified for the big screen. But, instead, I felt a weird sort of nostalgia. Despite those dreadful little predators, I did have some good times on the DC party circuit. And I got a front-row glimpse at all the schmoozing and ass-kissing that went on, and doubtless still does. A tawdry show, overall. Perfect for any young writer just opening his or her eyes.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Kangaroo Iraq

Thank God for historical ignorance -- or amnesia, or just the feeling that you really don't give a fuck. For without this constitutional right ("Congress shall pass no law suggesting that citizens understand current events" -- 28th Amendment), most Americans could never get through the day. And with the ongoing chaos and general madness surrounding Iraq, this political detachment has become even more necessary.

The announcement this week by Reformed Ba'athist Iyad Allawi that Unreformed Ba'athists would begin facing War Crimes trials was as bald as an imperial gesture could be. You'd have to be either completely Party Line or simply unconscious to keep from laughing (or crying) at the utter hypocrisy of this. The idea that a US-installed regime, populated with former thugs of the old ruling order, can pass objective legal judgment on those who once served US regional designs is farcical, if not obscene. This assumes that current US players like, oh, say, Donald Rumsfeld,

were always opposed to and appalled by Saddam's brutality, which of course is horseshit. So, will we see Rummy on the stand for his contribution to crimes against humanity? How about Reagan's Sec. of State George Shultz and Sec. of Defense Frank Carlucci? They were in the pro-Saddam saddle when the Beast was gassing Kurds and Iranians. How about George H.W. Bush, who as president turned on Saddam when the regional client exceeded his role by invading all of Kuwait (as opposed to "straightening the border"), only to grant Saddam permission to crush the 1991 Shi'a uprising, which led to those mass graves that suddenly became a concern? If Poppy gets subpoenaed, then it's only fair and just to do the same to James Baker and Dick Cheney, who also backed Saddam's tyranny when it was convenient. Put 'em all on the stand and have them explain to an Iraqi jury why they supported Saddam at his worst.

Well, you see where I'm going with this. As my father likes to say when I rant about what a just world might look like, "That'll never happen."

Indeed. In order for these sham trials to take place with any degree of seriousness, domestic commentators must ignore the Iraqi blood dripping from US hands, and insist that Saddam's crimes took place in an alternate universe. 'Course, most Americans won't care one way or the other, not with so many pleasant diversions to choose from this holiday season.

In other Free Iraq news, Allawi has announced the start of his election campaign, though what kind of public appearances he plans to make are I'm sure still hour to hour. Can't wait to see him make campaign swings through Fallujah and Mosul. And if he can find babies who haven't been blown apart, incinerated or too severely maimed to kiss, we're talking photo op bonanza, American-style. Another step taken in spreading Our Values.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004


The Big Jewel, a humor site via Kurt Luchs, onetime writer for Craig Kilborn and Bill Maher (and current syndicator of the American Comedy Network), is running a piece of mine, "Shemp Howard's 1949 Journal."

Shemp was always and remains my fave Stooge. Curly gets all the acclaim, and he's funny, I won't deny that. But he lacked the subtle lunatic/absurdist edge that Shemp displayed in such shorts as "Malice In The Palace," "Slaphappy Sleuths," and "Sing A Song Of Six Pants," where, for maybe a half-minute, Shemp lip-reads the funny pages and breaks out in his distinctively brash laughter. That strange sequence alone defines Shemp. He should've been courted by the Surrealists.

Shemp had a fine solo career as well, starring in his own series of comedy shorts like "Smoked Hams," "Open Season For Saps," and "The Knife Of The Party," which has the only appearance of "Shemp's Stooges," a faceless group that served as a mere target for Shemp's rather violent slapstick. He also appeared in several features, most notably "The Bank Dick" with W.C. Fields, though he's somewhat muted as Joe the Bartender. Still, just watching Shemp lightens my mood. I don't think there's a comic alive who can make me laugh so easily or so deeply.

I've just come across two Shemp sites -- one run by his granddaughters, the other simply called Wall of Shemp. And by all means watch Shemp whenever you can. It'll extend your life. Heep!

Monday, December 13, 2004

Our Free Press

A bowed head for Gary Webb, who took his own life late last week. Webb wrote the explosive 1996 series for the San Jose Mercury-News about the contra/CIA/cocaine connection that helped to finance the US war on Nicaragua. (The back story, excerpted from Webb's book, "Dark Alliance," is here, with a transcript of a Webb appearance here.) Of course, such allegations could never be true in these United States, so Webb & the Merc-News got whacked by the corporate press and its government mouthpiece (or is it the other way around?). The attacks were so brutal that the Merc-News pissed itself, apologized and ran, leaving Webb exposed and ultimately broken.

Happily for the Merc-News, its act of journalistic and moral cowardice won it the much-coveted Good Dog award, given to press outlets and journalists who go beyond mere bowing & scraping and really grovel before centralized power.

Unhappily for Webb, his career was pretty much ruined, and he obviously felt there was no alternative to his final desperate act. The destruction of Gary Webb shows that there's a price to pay in the Land of the Free when you presume to expose the criminality of the state. Obedience to and the tacit acceptance of the corporate status quo is required of those scribes who wish to "make it" in US media. For every Seymour Hersh, there's probably a half-dozen Gary Webbs, banging their heads against the marble wall of the press establishment. Thankfully, there's a Web-based generation that operates independently of the major media, a generation that replenishes itself every year with fresh voices and perspectives. Quality varies, of course, but I'll always prefer those who at least attempt to uncover the sad truths to those who gladly help maintain happy fictions.

Update -- If you wanna see the pull enjoyed by journos who side with state power, check out this piece about the odious Bob Novak. This makes Gary Webb's death all the more tragic.

(Thanks to pal Doug Henwood for the head's up.)

Update 2 -- Another Webb obit, from my old friend and former stablemate Jeff Cohen.

Friday, December 10, 2004

The Hitch Show

Recently, on Linda Vester's Fox chat show, Christopher Hitchens smeared on some greasepaint and dove right into his performance:

Hitchens: Michael Moore openly says that he regards the murderers and torturers and beheaders in Iraq as the moral equivalent of America's founding fathers.

Vester: Which a number of people in this room take a dim view of.

Hitchens: I should hope.

Vester: Why do you in particular... I mean, you're tough on Michael Moore in your book. Why?

Hitchens: Well, because he's a scumbag.

Ouch! Can you say that on TV?

Vester did her scripted part, setting Hitch up for his rube-rousing punchline, a Fox specialty that seems lost on its cable competitors. Think Chris Matthews has the patience or desire to play straightman to any guest?

Hitchens's much-advertised hatred of all things Michael Moore is a safe & profitable routine. The richer Moore gets, the louder and cruder the routine becomes. Indeed, should Moore garner an Oscar nomination for "Fahrenheit 9/11", or even win another Oscar, you can bet that Fox will air Hitch ripping off his shirt and beating his chest in indignation, with the studio host gasping at what a bad boy he is.

But what of Hitch's comments above? Did Moore actually say that beheaders in Iraq are the "moral equivalent" to the nation's founders?

I searched Moore's website and found this from last April:

"The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not 'insurgents' or 'terrorists' or 'The Enemy.' They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win."

No mention of Washington, Jefferson or Franklin. No use of the words "moral equivalent." Moore does employ "Minutemen," who were an elite wing of the anti-colonialist militias in revolutionary America (and long before, having fought in the French and Indian War). Once the Continental Army was consolidated under Washington's command, the Minutemen were dissolved. So I suppose that's about as close a connection you can find between Moore's usage and Hitchens's warbling about anti-Founding Father slander. But then, Hitch has long been keen on inflating quotes and enhancing them with thrills and spills to jack up his marquee value. Requirements of showbiz.

(As for the rest of Moore's quote, neither he, Hitchens, nor any other Western observer knows what the "REVOLUTION" is or is not in Iraq, given the numerous groups and militias battling for power and influence amid destruction, chaos and imperial occupation.)

Hitchens has been whacking the "moral equivalent" scarecrow for some time, which, again, is part of his cabaret act, but it doesn't make much historical sense. Comparing the Founders to the various actors in Iraq, no matter what your angle is, is akin to comparing petticoats to burkas. It might provide some abstract fun, but tells us nothing new about either era.

It's true that some militias in Iraq have been brutal to civilians, setting off car bombs in public areas, beheading hostages and all the rest. No argument there. But how did colonial/revolutionary America treat its native population? Again, no direct comparisons intended, but since Hitch brought the whole thing up . . .

I know the above won't move my old friend. On more than one occasion, Hitch freely opined to me that slaughtering the natives was a progressive action, that the Enlightenment could not abide such backward reactionaries. At first I thought he was doing his Bad 'Iddle Boy bit (which then was a part-time thing, as opposed to now), but soon I saw he was serious. He'd also smile about it. Not sure exactly what was on his mind in those moments, but watching him revel in "creative destruction" these days, I'd guess he was working on future material.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Quick Plug

For my pals Mike Gerber & Jon Schwarz, whose blogs you should be reading.

Mike & Jon are smart and quite funny. One of their New Yorker pieces, a mock crossword puzzle, made my wife laugh for days -- which made me laugh for days, since I wanna stay on my wife's good side, and there's nothing like supportive laughter to maintain domestic tranquility.

The boys also used to write for SNL's Weekend Update, a forum that once boasted the talents of Chevy Chase, Michael O'Donoghue, Jim Downey, Herb Sargent, Al Franken, and the blunt Norm MacDonald, who (along with Downey), trimmed & polished his fake news pieces until they were haiku-like darts. This naturally doomed MacDonald, since NBC suits prefer broad Leno-type yuks. Since his departure, Update was become more big bass drum than silent flute, and I'm amazed (but not totally surprised) that Mike & Jon's fine material found its way through vessels like Jimmy Fallon.

So check Mike & Jon out. They've been posting some of their unused Update material lately, which has inspired me to thumb through my old "Politically Incorrect" file for jokes I tapped out for Bill Maher. Here's one I could never get on, even though the producers told me it was a great joke. It had to do with the Susan Smith child drowning case and the media circus surrounding it. Seems it was too incorrect for "Incorrect":

"Lawyers for Susan Smith say they will proceed with an insanity defense. But you have to wonder: Is a mother truly insane when she insists that her children wear seatbelts?"

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Bowl Championship Scam

If there's any remaining doubt that American sports culture is driven by pure greed & a bottomless lust for ratings (hands? anyone?), then the recent screwing of the Cal Bears and the Auburn Tigers by the Bowl Championship Series should help to bury it under several tons of concrete.

As sports geeks know, Auburn, which went 12-0 overall, and 9-0 in the SE-Fuckin'-C, one of the toughest conferences in the nation, was rewarded with a Sugar Bowl game against twice-beaten Virginia Tech. Seems the BCS honchos were unimpressed with Auburn's remarkable season, leaving them out of the national championship game in favor of Oklahoma, also 12-0, but from the comparably weaker Big 12 conference. The Sooners, a perennial BCS fave, will meet 12-0 USC in the Orange Bowl for what passes for the national championship.

California got reamed even worse, their 10-1 season (the sole loss was to Number 1 USC in a very close game) ending in a pathetic Holiday Bowl appearance against 7-4 Texas Tech.

You'd think that with Pac 10 champ USC playing in the Orange Bowl, Cal would represent the conference in the Rose Bowl against 9-2 Michigan. Ha! Thanks to Cal's refusal to run up the score on an already-beaten Southern Mississippi, combined with the public groveling for votes by Texas head coach Mack Brown and sudden shifts in the AP & Coaches' polls (Cal was ranked ahead of Texas until the end of the season, when the Bears were dropped from No. 4), the Longhorns will play in Pasadena on New Year's Day.

Of course, the millions that pour into the major conferences from the BCS Bowls has something to do with the present fix (though, in fairness, Texas won't get the maximum $14.5 mil from the Rose, since they are the second Big 12 team in a BCS game). TV ratings matter too, and I'm sure there are few network execs who rubbed their hands anticipating a Michigan/Cal match up (I doubt that Utah v. Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl, however alluring to die-hard college football fans, is sending ABC Sports into fits of joy). But what depresses me is the idea that Cal is a "soft" 10-1 -- that they didn't pile on Southern Mississippi to "impress" the BCS and the nation's coaches. Why is this a consideration? Why must winning teams beat their opponents into paste well after victory is assured? Football is a violent, war-like sport, but the better warriors exhibit a more balanced approach to combat.

American sports culture thrives on humiliation and subjugation. Worse, many if not most sports fans like it that way. Listen to the howling and baying on sports radio and you'll get the idea.

As far determining a real, college football national champion goes, a year-end playoff would settle all the on-field questions. There are those who warn that a playoff would destroy the current bowl system, but seeing how bowl games are currently handled, I'd say that the traditional system has already been trashed. In any event, there's no way that the major conferences will submit to a playoff anytime soon, given the financial perks they receive from the BCS and the endless manipulation of the bowl games.

My Rose Bowl pick? Go Blue!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Happy Birthday, Noam

Seventy-six and still going. I've had my differences with him, a few quite strong, but I will defend him against scurrilous attacks.

"Fateful Triangle" was my first Chomsky read -- a heavy one, given that at the time I was baby-stepping into Middle Eastern politics, not a nice place, as I'm sure many of you know.

Me & the courageous Allan Nairn filled in for Noam at a Palestinian academic conference in Virginia way back when. Had to follow the great Edward Said. Not easy, but I think my lasso tricks helped to break the ice.

The measure of Noam's ongoing effectiveness is the amount of slime that's still thrown at him. I won't link to his more delirious critics, but you can find them easily enough on the Web. Contrast their attacks with his analysis and judge for yourself.

He's also helped to raise awareness on a number of issues, from East Timor to the corporate stranglehold on the planet, and has inspired & worked with several generations of political and media activists.

I leave you with this transcript from a rare appearance on American TV -- a recent outing on Bill Maher's "Real Time."

MAHER: Okay. Earlier today, I spoke with Professor Noam Chomsky, who teaches linguistics and philosophy at MIT. His latest book is Hegemony or Survival. I told him earlier, I have never had a guy requested more of me in 12 years of doing two shows. I swear to God, every kid wants Noam Chomsky. And we got him today. Please welcome Professor Noam Chomsky. [applause] [cheers]

So, Professor, I’m not kidding. Over the last 12 years, on three different networks, people – especially young kids – request you. When I first did it, I didn’t even know who you were. All right, let me ask you this. It seems to me that the most religious people are also, at least in this country, the most super-patriotic. Isn’t there an inherent conflict there? I mean, if you’re truly religious and you believe in God – I mean, Jesus is not an American, I assume—[laughter]

NOAM CHOMSKY [via satellite]: Just the favorite philosopher of America.

MAHER: Isn’t it impossible to be truly Christian and also to love one country, even if it’s your own, more than every other country?

CHOMSKY: Depends how you understand your religion? Religions have taught all sorts of things in the past, from the most horrible to the most elevated. So you pick and choose.

MAHER: Yeah, but Christ doesn’t say, “Love your country.” He doesn’t say, “American life is more important than other life.” And I would imagine that that’s what a lot of people who call themselves Christian in this country believe. [applause]

CHOMSKY: Well, if they do, there are plenty of things – there are plenty of things that you can read in the Gospels that are certainly not believed by George Bush and his associates. Are they helping the poor? [applause]

MAHER: Right.

CHOMSKY: I mean, did they hear – did they read the description in the Gospels of the hypocrite, the person who refuses to apply to himself the same standards he applies to others? [applause] We can go on and on.

MAHER: Well, I could, but I don’t want to go to Gitmo. [laughter] We’re about to blow the unholy hell out of Fallujah. Do you think it’s too late? Aren’t we just – Iraq – isn’t is just something that’s going to get more infected the more we pick at it?

CHOMSKY: The invasion of Iraq was simply a war crime, straight out war crime. [applause] [cheers] If we are not – if we don’t want to be hypocrites in the sense condemned in the Bible, we’ll apply to ourselves the judgment of the Nuremberg Tribunal, for example, which said that aggression, invasion is the supreme international crime, which includes within it all subsequent crimes, including all of those that are taking place now. So when the invade Fallujah, as I suppose they will, after having driven out most of the population, probably smash the place up, it will add to the enormous casualty lists which may be in the range of 100,000 by now, maybe more, maybe less. And there’s more to come.

MAHER: Why do you think we did Iraq? I mean, what is the bottom line reason? I assume that you don’t think that the reasons given were the real reasons.

CHOMSKY: I think that the polls taken in Baghdad explain it very well. They seem to understand. The United States invaded Iraq to gain control of one of the major sources of the world’s energy, right in the heart of the world’s energy producing regions, to create, if they can, a dependent client state, to have permanent military bases, and to gain what’s called “critical leverage” – I’m quoting Zbigniew Brzezinski – to gain critical leverage over rivals, the European and Asian economies. If you hold the – it’s been understood since the Second World War, that if you have your hand on that spigot, the source of the –world – main source of the world’s energy – you have what early planners called “veto power” over others.

Those are all very – Iraq is also the last part of the world where there are vast, untapped, easily accessible energy resources. And you can be sure that they want the profits from that to go primarily to U.S.-based multi-nationals and back to the U.S. Treasury, and so on. Not to rivals. There are plenty of reasons for invading Iraq. [applause]

MAHER: Now, President Bush always says the world is better off without Saddam Hussein. And I haven’t agreed with that. I think the people who were in his rape rooms are better off without Saddam Hussein. [applause] That’s a far cry from the whole world. During the Cold War, we selfishly backed any tyrant that was on our side, that would have stopped what we thought was the greater ill of communism. Why don’t we have that same selfish doctrine with this man? Because certainly we know – somewhere in government people must know – that Saddam Hussein would never have allowed a power rival, even if it was a terrorist organization, in Iraq. He actually would have been a bulwark for us.

CHOMSKY: In fact, the U.S. support for – remember, the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein. And that means the people now in office or their immediate mentors, supported him in ways that had absolutely nothing to with Cold War or with the war with Iran. The support went on after the war with Iran was over, went off after the Berlin Wall fell. In fact, it even went on after the first Gulf War, when the first Bush Administration authorized Saddam to crush a Shiite uprising which probably would have overthrown him.

It’s certainly true that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein, and also without the people who supported him through his worst atrocities, and are now telling us about them. [applause]

The fact of the matter is that if it hadn’t been for the sanctions which devastated the society and killed hundreds of thousands of people, it’s very likely that the Iraqis themselves would have sent Saddam Hussein to the same fate as other brutal monsters also supported by the people now in Washington, like Ceausescu in Romania or Suharto in Indonesia, or Marcos and a whole string of others. Quite a rogues’ gallery. And probably Saddam would have gone the same way.

MAHER: Professor, I wish I had all night to talk to you. I hope you do this again. Please keep thinking outside the box. I know it’s lonely there, but stay the course. Thank you. Professor Chomsky, ladies and gentlemen.

CHOMSKY: Thank you. [applause] [cheers]

Monday, December 06, 2004

Kristof Rocks Kiev!

An old mentor of mine, years before he left his rocker, advised me to avoid kneejerk reactions to certain figures and statements. I've tried to live by this, difficult though it is (given the abject kneejerk times we currently enjoy), but few things get my knee a'springin' faster than NY Times columnists offering their views on "freedom." You won't find a more remote, elitist group than this Op-Ed bunch (the Wall Street Journal's page, by contrast, is very much engaged). Each scribe has a way with homily, with instruction from on high, esp Thomas Friedman, master of the If-Only-I-Ran-The-World, How-Much-Better-Things-Would-Be routine, a shameless comedy offering that garners awards, book deals and handsome public speaking fees for the guy. Why jack with a steady gig?

For my dough, no Times Op-Edder can currently touch Nicholas Kristof, humanitarian advocate for Third World sweatshops. Kristof won a Pulitzer in 1990 for his (along with co-winner/wife Sheryl WuDunn) reporting on the Tiannemen Square demonstrations in Beijing. Since then, it seems that Kristof has been searching for his Tiannemen II, a mass outpouring where he can set up his equipment and sing his extended version of "Free Bird," belted out in 700-word choruses.

Looks like Kristof has found a new stage in Kiev, Ukraine.

His Dec. 4 column, direct from the Orange Revolution, is one of the more self-indulgent takes I've seen in the US press coverage of Ukrainian events, but then, we're talking Timesman here. It's a very simplistic piece, filled with the requisite hosannas to American exceptionalism (Everybody Wants To Be Like Us). But Kristof turns it up to 11. Spurred by the adoring crowds, he shifts away from Tiannemen and slides toward Woodstock:

"Most Ukrainians love the U.S., and to be an American here - any American - is to be a rock star. Protesters overhear me speaking English and line up to ask me to autograph their orange ribbons with a big 'U.S.A.'"

Can you imagine such a scene in Times Square?

"Hey, isn't that Pulitzer Prize winner Big Nick Kristof?! Man, he fuckin' rocks! I want him to sign my tits!"

Maybe Kristof's going for a Grammy. More on his Ukraine Tour '04 as it rolls on . . .

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Voting Inc.

Elections are essentially democratic props waved around as "proof" of free living. In America, this idea has been streamlined to the degree that those who bother to vote every few years often feel that their civic duty is done. They are told by the corporate media to VOTE -- not to organize unions, civic groups, or, God forbid, independent parties. They are not told to dissect and examine the ruling economic consensus and the powers that enforce it and profit from it. No, they are told to VOTE, then go home and consume.

Without any real grassroots democratic input into a national dialogue that is owned & operated by private power, political elections serve merely as consumer ratification of decisions already made. This is especially true in the presidential contest, a fixed fight that is hailed every four years as a "miracle." As corporate pundits, journalists and assorted tastemakers/gatekeepers pitch the "uniqueness" of our system, those who actually run it take a more realistic view.

Take the invasion and occupation of Iraq. While millions worldwide opposed this unilateral (and, subsequently, destructive) action, very few were allowed to sit in US corporate media studios to make their case alongside countless generals and "terrorism experts." There simply was no tolerance for those who might question the president at so crucial a time.

In other words, there was no real national debate, no attempt by the White House or the media to open the discussion to varied points of view. The march to war was a public relations operation from the start, and this was confirmed by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, who rightly referred to the coming war as product to be consumed. In response to queries as to why the Bush admin waited till Sept 2002 to announce its intentions, Card replied, "From a marketing point of view you don't introduce new products in August."

If a major war can be launched this way, then what does that say about the electoral arm of the same system, one that is increasingly privatized? No serious political observer can view the Nov elections as "democratic" (esp with two prowar products to choose from), unless you tend toward Walter Lippmann's view of "democracy," (contrasted here with John Dewey's belief).

There's lingering talk about voter fraud in Ohio & Florida, and voter suppression elsewhere. I doubt that there's ever been an American election without fraud and suppression, varying in scale and effectiveness, of course. And while I don't subscribe to the theory that "Kerry won," (I'm willing to believe that the majority of voters preferred Bush), I'm aware that we live in a corrupt political sphere. Name a world power that wasn't rotten in its center.

Which brings us to US attitudes about and involvement in the two prominent elections overseas -- Ukraine and Iraq. More on this in a subsequent post.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Ricky Don't Lose That Number

The ongoing clamor over Ricky Williams's (final?) decision to stay retired from the NFL is somewhat irritating, but not surprising. Most sports observers simply cannot grasp why someone with Williams's talent would walk away in his prime. Some, like Jim Rome, blame Williams's love of the weed, suggesting that the guy's too fried or too addicted to make a rational decision. To talkers like Rome, it's either the pigskin or the bong (being able to consider multiple concepts at once is box-office poison for bigtime sports radio). To Williams, being free from NFL drug testing is only part of the reason why he quit. He's said that he's tired of being smashed by 300 lb. linemen some 30 times every Sunday, that he no longer wants to be viewed as a commodity by the bottom-line league. In his now-defunct online journal (extended portions of which you can find here), Williams gave us a glimpse inside The Machine:

"The marketing lady from the NFL called and asked if I wanted to do it [a VISA commercial in which the two other participants would be making three times as much money]... Me, thinking I was in the top echelon of players in the NFL... the marketing lady explained that I wasn't there yet. We got into an argument about the top 3 selling jerseys in the NFL I started to realize that I don't ever want to be there if that means acting the way she wants me to, or anyone else wants me to. If I get there the way I want, being myself, then I can be proud of it, but I'm not going to be proud of it if I get there behaving the way someone else thinks I should."

"Whenever I do a commercial, the director always tries to get me to act tough and talk tough. If you haven't heard me talk, I have a soft voice. I shouldn't have to act tough, I play football. I AM tough."

I'd say -- Williams rushed for 4470 yards over three seasons, and he went about his business without succumbing to the WWF posturing that's expected from NFL superstars like Terrell Owens and Ray Lewis, posturing that's celebrated and promoted by league marketers and emulated by young athletes. Compared to these and other players, Williams was a Shaolin priest. And unlike most sports superstars, whose identities are completely wound up with the games they play, Williams finally said that he couldn't find any answers in football, and that he needed to leave in order to find his life's meaning.

Oh, how he was heckled for that line! In America, esp in sports, The Meaning Of Life is Get Rich, Be Famous, and Shout To The Sky About Your Greatness. Humility, reflection and meditation are for losers, and since Williams desires a more subdued, spiritual life, he's no longer of any use to serious sports fans.

For the moment, Williams's saga is being drowned out by the revelations that baseball's Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds (surprise!) used steroids to enhance their mega-performances over the years. There'll be much tsk-tsking on this front, primarily towards Bonds, who's angrily denied the obvious for some time. But note the difference: steroids have become, if not an accepted part of sports, then certainly an expected one. Any agent that makes batters swing faster with power and linemen hit harder will ultimately be tolerated by fans who desire swifter, more violent spectacles. This in turn will tempt the leagues to turn a blind eye to most infractions, knowing that a major crackdown will cut into profits. For every Bonds and Giambi outed, you know there are countless others secretly juicing, from high school on up.

Smoking weed, on the other hand, merely helps you see through the bullshit and lies that are thrown at you hourly. Laid-back, dreadlocked rastas and hippies do nothing to feed fan hunger for ultra-brutality and bone-snapping action. This is why Ricky Williams is receiving the opprobrium he is. As the late, great Bill Hicks put it, "They lie about marijuana. Tell you pot-smoking makes you unmotivated. Lie! When you're high, you can do everything you normally do, just as well. You just realize that it's not worth the fucking effort. There is a difference."

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Sandino Redux

In this edition of "I Love The 80s," we return to those crazy years when, in Soviet-built bunkers filled with Romeo y Julieta cigar smoke, the Sandinistas plotted to take all of Central America in preparation for a full-scale invasion of the US. Alarmed by this massive threat to our national security (remember the Civil Defense drills of '84-85?), the Reagan admin, outspent and outnumbered by the cunning Nicaraguan Reds, cobbled together a ragtag army of genial misfits called The Contras. A blend of Kelly's & Hogan's Heroes, these plucky, fun-loving, hard-playing Nicaraguan minutemen fought valiantly against cooperative farms, doctors inoculating peasants for treatable diseases, rural schools, and li'l terrorists galore.

With the backing of besieged American patriots and the prayers of freedom lovers nationwide, these moral equivalents of our founding fathers forced the Sandinistas to the ballot box where the cornered commie rats were trounced like Kerryites in Ohio.

Their grueling job finished, The Contras were rewarded with the highest state honor by a grateful President Reagan.

So who knew The Threat would return?

While the American political class chatters on about the battle between Good vs. Evil in Ukraine, the Sandinistas are making a political comeback in Nicaragua -- only this time, the sneaky bastards are gaining power by appealing to the populace and campaigning for votes!! In this month alone, the Sandinistas won 87 of Nicaragua's 152 mayoral posts in nationwide elections. And now there's concern up north that Daniel Ortega, the man who nearly destroyed America twenty years ago, might win the Nicaraguan presidency in 2006. Clearly, this is not the kind of "regime change" that the likes of Wolfowitz and his hangers-on are pushing globally.

The Sandinista revival is hardly an anomaly in Latin America. There is a growing leftist challenge to the ongoing economic inequality that ravages the region. It'll be interesting to see how those Americans who love to lecture other countries on democracy and popular rule will respond should this electoral trend continue. Given the make-up of the present US government, I highly doubt that we'll hear much about "the will of the people" and "popular mandates" that were Beltway vogue right after Bush's win. With all the former Reaganites and Iran/contra players currently on the federal payroll, perhaps another major political scandal is in the offing (not that the Dems would do much about it). One revival tends to prompt another.