Monday, January 31, 2005

Iraq The Vote

Well, the magic day has come and gone, and what have we, the occupiers, learned? Clearly, there are many, many Iraqis and Kurds who desire some level of democratic say in their (collective? separate?) lives. That's been obvious for some time, well before yesterday's vote. And we saw that the Shi'a, led by Ayatollah Sistani who declared that voting was a "religious duty," are looking to grab majority rule and impose some type of theocratic order on the rest of the population. Again, anyone who's paid attention to Iraq already knew this. And then there are the Sunnis, a minority relegated to a political status that most of them reject, some violently so, looking at their triumphant tribal foes with mounting disdain. Surprise? Again, again . . .

In short, Iraq's elections have only confirmed, and hardened, the obvious. Indeed, as some commentators pointed out, these elections are the result of Sistani's insistence on a direct ballot, as opposed to the narrow caucus system that the Bush gang tried to push earlier last year. For all the self-congratulatory wailing in our mass media about how "we" brought "freedom" to Iraq, I didn't see or hear many hosannas going Sistani's way. But then, I was sent running early by the sheer volume of crowing.

The American corporate media is truly unbelievable in every sense of the word. There's an almost adolescent need for anchors and commentators to be not only right all the time, but to demand praise for their correctness -- that is, when they've paused from praising themselves (a breath, maybe two). What media coverage I caught on Sunday was pretty repulsive in this regard, and it was instructive to see our quasi-state media drone on and on about "diversity" and "freedom." If someone spoke out against this consensus in any way, I'm sure they got smashed immediately. As I know from personal experience, the last thing the corporate media likes is having its stroke party interrupted. And if you accuse them of being in bed with the government . . . CAW! CAW!

Of course it's heartening to see the poor of Iraq engage in some kind of civic exercise, however limited. God knows these people have suffered in ways that Americans dare not even fantasize about. But, honestly, how do you have a "democratic" election while under foreign occupation, when the state is packed with elements from the old ruling order put in power by the occupiers, when much of the country is a free-fire zone, when there is intermittent electricity and running water, when, in order to vote, the occupiers have to essentially put much of the population in a cage? I dare say that if we in the US had to vote under such conditions, I highly doubt that anyone would seriously define it as a "blow for freedom."

We'll see how this all shakes down soon enough.

And can we end all this talk about our troops coming home? They're not coming home anytime soon, not with talk of "enduring" bases in Iraq and the surrounding region. This is a long-term imperial project. However wonderful the election was for those who found it wonderful, it is but one chapter in a larger, bloodier narrative that continues to unfold.

AND -- Here's a take from LBO-Talk pal, Dwayne Monroe.

AND 2 -- Patrick Cockburn, on the ground in Baghdad, provides his insights on the election.

AND 3 -- Close readers with a serious pop culture background will note that the visual link I provided above under "CAW! CAW!" shows those Terrytoon faves, Heckle and Jeckle, who are magpies, not crows. Dunno if magpies caw, but the image was too good to pass up.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Big Vid Weekend (More Just Added!)

Too busy at the mo to tap out something about Iraq's demonstration elections (but will soon). So instead, I've asked the kids in the AV Dept. to roll out some entertaining video offerings. Because, as the scrolls teach us, watching is better than writing.

First, Bob Odenkirk delivers a moving tribute to America's most patriotic country singer.

Next, for you Mark Mathis fans (a growing online community), here are a few more examples of his weather hysteria to tide you over till his Best Of DVD hits stores.

On the opposite end of the weather spectrum, the anti-Mathis if you will, is this poor guy. I think this is a put on, but compelling viewing all the same.

And for those who miss the days of cigarette TV ads, here are a few classics from that happy, innocent time, including my fave, the Benson & Hedges ad from 1967. Conceived by Wells, Rich and Green, this spot was the first to highlight the negative aspects of a product, a radical shift from the Rosser Reeves approach (and spot
Kenneth Mars in a cameo). Plus, the Bossa Nova track is smooth and lovely. Yes, I remember this ad well. Isn't it sad that one of my more pleasurable childhood memories is this cigarette commercial? Oh, Capitalism, you are a cruel nanny . . .

Perhaps more as the weekend progresses . . .

UMM -- Here's some Eisenhower campaign ads from 1952 (via Rosser Reeves). Scroll down to the Korean war spots & tell me that Kerry didn't borrow Ike's language. If only JFK II took it as far as Ike ultimately did:

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence--economic, political, even spiritual--is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted, only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

OH: This is . . . I don't know what. But you must watch it now.

WARP FACTOR LOVE: And here's a guy enamored of "Star Trek," and it seems himself.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

From The Golden Age Of Late Night Comedy

Came across the infamous Crispin Glover clip from Letterman's show in 1987 (again, Windows Media Player needed to join in the fun). Really worth watching. Extremely funny. Seriously. No, I mean it.

This was when Letterman was open to his guests performing conceptual pieces in lieu of an interview (though here Letterman appears simply annoyed, which makes the segment even funnier). Think back to Andy Kaufman, Pre-Playhouse Pee Wee Herman, and Sandra Bernhard. Each time they came on Letterman you knew they would force Dave into a corner which, again, made for great TV.

I spent an afternoon with Glover on a Hoboken film set (along with Rik Mayall of "The Young Ones," who I was profiling for a women's -- that's right, a women's magazine). He was low-key but intense, and wouldn't touch the film crew's food spread (he had a macro-feast shipped in from Souen). When he prepped for a scene he paced in a corner talking to himself, working himself into character. Clenched his fists and his jaw. His eyes sharpened. Within minutes, he was someone else completely. Mayall advised that I shouldn't approach Glover while he was in that state. Feeling Glover's raw but focused energy, I had no intention of doing so.

So, enjoy this little blast from the exciting 80s. I did. Honestly.

OH YEAH: Here's a nice audio summation by Harvey Pekar about his experiences on Letterman's show.

Spread The Love

Caught this lovely image at Tom Tomorrow's site. Photo was taken in an Applebee's parking lot in Kentucky by Joe Accardi.

What I like about these hatestickers is the utter lack of wit. No attempt is made to cleverly twist a cliche or engage in double entendre. They are straight-up, to-the-point anti-Arab/Muslim sentiments. The person who drives this truck must feel pretty secure blasting his/her hatred all over town. Replace "Muslim" with "Christian" and "Arab" with "American" and then roll through Kentucky. You'd probably experience what it's like to drive from Baghdad International to the Green Zone.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Gonna be a bit lax on the blogging for the next few days (working on a piece for money, among other things). But I wanted to fill some space, so ---

Here's a nice photo of Charlie Scott of the ABA's Virginia Squires (driving on Steve "Snapper" Jones of the Dallas Chaparrals):

Got to see Scott live when the Squires came to Indy to play the Pacers. Modeled my jumper after his, but that combined with Pete Maravich's dribble needlessly complicated my game ("Go with one or the other, son," advised Ol' Coach Denton between whistle blasts). In any event, a great player to watch in that great, nearly forgotten league.

And then there's my love for crazy weathermen (Windows required for maximum enjoyment). Been told this guy was shipped off to rehab. Don't know why. Willard Scott's still free.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Johnny Carson

Passed away yesterday, age 79.

Carson wasn't my favorite comic, not by a long shot. But I did respect his quickness and ease on camera. His panel banter never seemed forced, and he could keep up with or save pretty much anyone who sat next to him.

I also admired him for featuring authors like Gore Vidal and academics like Carl Sagan to comment on contemporary events. (Carson came out of the TV world of the 50s, when writers regularly appeared on talk shows like Jack Paar's "Tonight," whom Carson succeeded in 1962.) But beyond all the authors, animal acts, Hollywood stars, little old ladies who played the spoons and other novelty bits, Carson's "Tonight" was primarily a comedy vehicle.

For established comics, Carson's show was the prime spot to hang-out and try new material. My two faves growing up were Don Rickles and Rodney Dangerfield, each of whom would take over the show while Carson played the subtle straightman, feeding them stray lines as they tore through their routines (though Carson would occasionally, casually match Rickles' barbs with a few of his own). Albert Brooks was also great on "Tonight," making Carson gasp for air with his absurdist bits. When a comic was rolling, Carson knew to stay out of the way, applying the slightest aikido to transitional jokes.

For young stand-ups, Carson's "Tonight" was the stage. You had 5-6 mins to make Johnny and his audience laugh consistently, and if you succeeded, chances for a showbiz career were great. Dunno how many stand-ups passed through those curtains -- thousands? Wouldn't surprise me. But the "Tonight" gig was as tough as it was golden, and very few comics impressed Carson enough to be invited to sit next to him after their first appearance. Freddie Prinze, Steven Wright, David Letterman, and I believe Roseanne (but not, "ironically" enough, Jay Leno) were among that select group, as was Ray Combs. I was writing for Ray when he got his "Tonight" shot, and I remember him calling me from the coast after he taped the show, telling me that I'd be pleased when I saw it that night. After the opening monologue, Carson's audience participation bit "Stump The Band," and an interview with Lily Tomlin, out came Ray, confident, smiling, full of energy. The man killed. Absolutely killed. He owned the audience, who gave him a standing ovation. And the two jokes of mine (one of which I'd written the day before) didn't get laughs, they got applause --

"Man, I'm glad they cancelled 'The Love Boat.' I watched it each week just hoping it would accidentally drift into Soviet waters."

"Never get into an argument with a schizophrenic and say, 'Who do you think you are?'"

If that wasn't a high enough for me, then Johnny's motioning for Ray to join him desk-side made me hit the floor. "Oh my God, Ray," I told the TV, "do you know what company you're in?" Dreams of writing for Ray's sitcom, talk show, or whatever he was sure to get clouded my mind. Instead, he ended up as host of "Family Feud," making millions before his career and life slowly, sadly slipped away. Like so many others, Ray's "Tonight" appearance was the highlight of an otherwise so-so career.

With the arrival of "Saturday Night Live" and then "Late Night with David Letterman," Carson's show began to betray its age. As smooth as he remained, Carson was behind the humor curve, and he paid for it when Dana Carvey performed a merciless Carson impression on "SNL." The nastiest cut came when Carvey did Carson trying to be Arsenio Hall in a desperate attempt to regain young viewers. "Carsenio" made the old master look foolish and senile, and apparently Carson never forgave those who allowed this sketch to air. He made anti-"SNL" cracks till the end of his run, saying things like "I hear that next season, 'Saturday Night Live' is going to do a comedy version of the show." A timeless line that, esp if you've seen this year's edition.

Given all the noise and rush of current late night talk shows, Johnny Carson's style of letting the guest set the tone, of quietly guiding him or her through a segment and weaving it into the larger fabric of the show is long, long past. We the living seem to prefer a shovel to the face than a raised eyebrow or a silent take. Carson was the master of the form. In the larger scheme, it means little. But I'm sure that if anyone knew that, it was Johnny Carson.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

John Hess

Passed away Friday morning, age 87. As others in the blogsphere have noted, Hess was a decidedly Old School journo fueled to the end by a passion for knowledge, justice and words. The guy wrote till he dropped, a true artist and muckraker in every sense. Go to his blog and absorb his final mortal energy. We should all check out like this.

I note Hess's passing as a kind of mea culpa. The last time I spoke to him, many years ago, we had a pretty nasty exchange. At a party for FAIR, John and I threw around countries we thought the US would hit next. A dopey parlor game, I thought. But the mere concept of the US invading or destroying another country clearly enraged John, who was, among many things, quite passionate. So when I suggested that North Korea would put up a fight and would not easily submit, John erupted, "That's fucking ridiculous! We'd crush them. Don't be so fucking stupid!" Taken aback by his anger, I countered that the North Koreans did a pretty good job the last time 'round, and while they might be poor, I couldn't imagine them simply folding under a US assault.

"That's just bullshit!" said John, his small face turning dark pink. Now I was pissed and wanted to tell him to get fucked, but instead I curtly remarked, "Whatever, John," and waved him off.

What a fun party that was!

A few years after this, someone at LBO Talk, a discussion list I belong to, mentioned Hess in a thread, prompting me to inject some really toxic remarks about his person (remarks that, mercifully, have turned to ether). I was petty and harsh, as well as being in a dark emotional place at the time, and I truly regret those comments as well as that stupid exchange in the FAIR office long ago. Because, at bottom, John Hess was generous and supportive.

When I quit the comedy scene in the mid-80s and began my political writing life by tapping out weekly blasts for the East Village freebie, Downtown, I was hired by The New York Observer on a probationary basis to create a "young, edgy" media column (as then-editor John Sicher put it to me). And there to guide me was John Hess, who shared an office with Doug Ireland (who once burst through the door and kicked my briefcase across the room, before plopping down and making numerous calls). John was meticulous with my copy, forcing me to sweat over every word, every comma. I resisted somewhat since I was in love with my rather florid prose, but John showed me how to make it tighter and punchier. After four practice columns, none of which saw print, Sicher paid me and cancelled the project. Apparently, I was too raw for those soft peach pages. I felt like a failure, but John was very encouraging, telling me to never quit, to keep writing no matter what ("Shit like this is part of the business"). I'd run into him on a semi-regular basis at the FAIR office where he'd drop by to read and chat. And then there was that party . . .

So farewell John, and my deepest apologies for being a dick. You had what it took. RIP.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Hearts & Minds Dept.

Via Steve Gilliard, who saw this on the BBC's site.

At least these people weren't shot by Saddam. That's an improvement, right?

Thursday, January 20, 2005

All Hail Dear Leader!

On the joyful occasion of Inauguration Day, on behalf of the Glorious and Correct Republican Party and the Heroic American People, our warmest congratulations and heartfelt good wishes to Our Dear Leader, President George W. Bush!

In recent days, all Patriotic Americans have been very excited and happy to hear the news that President George W. Bush will be sworn-in for a second term. Those who are blessed to live in the United States, the Greatest Country in the history of Planet Earth, feel safe in the knowledge that Our Dear Leader, personally guided by God and Jesus Christ, will protect them from Evildoers and the various Dark Forces that seek to undermine our Superior Values.

Patriotic Americans are United behind President George W. Bush as he wages a Valiant Crusade to spread our Superior Values to a hungry, waiting world which desires to join Patriotic America and the Republican Party of the United States. We look forward to and celebrate another Four Year Plan to make this Glorious Vision a political reality.

Once again, on this Happy Inauguration Day, we affirm our support for the Republican Party and our solidarity with President George W. Bush's Heroic and Wise Struggle. We stand as ever shoulder to shoulder with Our Dear Leader in the cause of Christian Civilization and Privatization, the only future for humankind.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Required Reading

I order you all to read Jon Schwarz's Tiny Rev. posts on Bush's "plan" for Social Security. Jon does this so people like me can focus on important stuff.

God's Will

Another story about an Iraq War vet who's seen enough, thank you. While this is becoming as common as car bombs, there's a quote from the guy's Army Chaplain that grabbed me:

"You should have had the moral fortitude to deploy with us and see me here in Kuwait to begin your CO application. You should be ashamed of the way you have conducted yourself. I certainly am ashamed of you."

Not the Father Mulcahy type, eh?

Iran Not So Far Away

Says Seymour Hersh, who's proven pretty reliable when documenting the Bush gang's various schemes. Naturally, the Pentagon denies that the US is currently active in scouting for bombing targets inside Iran. So, who ya gonna believe, Mr. & Ms. America? What's that -- the new season of "American Idol" starts tonight? A full 2 hours? I'm sooo there!

No one should be surprised by Hersh's report. The US has meddled in Iran and with Iran for decades, and the imperial pain still felt by those who miss the Shah (The Shadow Of God, as he called himself) remains fresh. Still, bombing is about all the Bush gang can pull off at the moment. Stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan, there simply aren't enough troops to invade and occupy Iran. And even if there were, can you imagine the carnage? Look at Iraq today, then consider the larger country of Iran. Oh man, it would be brutal.

As the always must-read Juan Cole put it today:

I don't think there is any doubt that Bush and his appointees at the head of the Department of Defense intend to do something to Iran. If Iraq had gone well, they probably would already have attacked it. Since their land army is tied down in Iraq, they have to use special operations forces for aggressive action against Iran. The Pentagon and also Pakistan are denying [Hersh's] report heatedly. But it makes sense. Iran has formed a close military alliance with India, Pakistan's chief rival in South Asia, and Iran has come out on top in the new Afghanistan, with Tajik and Hazarah allies displacing the largely Pushtun, Pakistan-oriented Taliban. And Pakistan has reason not to want Iran to get nukes, thus surrounding Pakistan with nuclear powers on both the east and the south. So Pakistan has every reason to cooperate with the US against Iran.

As for Bush and his DoD hawks, they have been quite clear about their intentions. They announced that Iraq and Iran were part of an axis of evil, and we have already seen what happens to regimes so categorized.

The potential for trouble for the United States if the Bush administration acts aggressively toward Iran is enormous. It could turn the Iraqi Shiites and the Afghan Hazarahs decisively against Washington. An Iran in chaos similar to that in Iraq would be three or four times the problem for the US and the world that Iraq is.

Bombing's bad enough. But for the brave neocon/lib hawk base in DC, it's all good. Would bombing Iran and killing who-knows-how-many civilians whip up even more anti-Americanism in the region? Fantastic! Then we could see who is on board with the New American Century and who needs to be wiped out or tortured. Might expanded war cause another 9/11 on American soil? Exhilaration! Further justification for more imperial violence and domestic "unity" behind Dear Leader.

Years ago, at a dinner party in LA, I got into a fierce argument with a relative of the Shah's. He wasn't very bright, but he was rich and entitled, and his anger toward the US for not backing the Shah with an invasion seemed genuine. The Pahlavi family missed ruling their homeland, and had to make do with skiing trips to Vail and vacations in the Caribbean (among many other posh spots). Well, seems the time to turn back the clock to those happy days is upon us. Problem is, we're dealing with a broken clock. Tick tock, y'all.

Saturday, January 15, 2005


Looking at Charles Graner's grinning mug in Abu Ghraib, I get the distinct impression that he's a sadistic fuck. After all, beating & humiliating bound prisoners, 70 to 90 percent of whom were swept up and jailed minus any proof of criminal activity (and later released -- sorry about the torture and all that), requires a certain detachment from the better side of one's self. His parents say he's good guy and a great dad, but that's dubious at best. Graner clearly got a kick out of abusing Iraqis in a prison used by Saddam's henchmen. Parental role model? Depends on your values.

All this said, it's obvious that Graner is taking the fall for those higher up. Army Specialists enjoy only so much authority, and judging from the Abu Ghraib pix, Graner and company were operating on an extended leash. Had those photos not gone public, are we talking about this case? Please.

Graner didn't order the invasion of Iraq. Nor did he work with his corporate pals to carve up an impoverished, occupied country. Graner is simply the latest soldier, in a long line of soldiers, to be hung out to dry for political purposes. How much time Graner will actually serve is probably an open question, once the heat on him fades and newer scandals arise.

Meantime, the real criminals remain at large, free to continue their murder and torture spree. Grunts like Charles Graner mean nothing to them -- a hired hand to do the dirty work, then disappear, die or take the blame if some shit comes down.

Graner's conduct, bad as it was, is mild compared to some of the stories coming out of Gitmo, and esp those infamous videos from Abu Ghraib (yet seen by the public) where Iraqi boys are reportedly raped in the presence of US troops. And of course there's the daily carnage in Iraq, so routine at this point that it's just another soundbite in the white noize of our mass media.

Maybe, with some luck and a good agent, Graner will come out of this mess with his own Fox "reality" show, "Mister Guard," where Graner practices his Abu Ghraib techniques in a juvenile detention center, sort of a hands-on "Scared Straight." Given all the war supporters who think torture is no big deal, there's sure to be a ready fan base.

UPDATE: Graner gets 10 years. Guess "Mister Guard" will have to wait.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Borat The Brave

Friends have raved to me about "Da Ali G Show" for some time, but I've never really warmed to it. Interviews conducted by fictional characters take me only so far (Martin Short's Jiminy Glick works the same street). But then I saw this, and now my interest is piqued. What Sacha Baron Cohen did took major rocks, reminiscent of Roseanne's similar routine back in '90 and Carl Lewis', um, "effort" (and then there's Ozzy Osborne's wrecking of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" at Wrigley Field, the 7th inning anthem of the Cubs). Many (most?) Americans view the Anthem as a religious hymn, and any parody of this tends to whip up an ugly nationalist response, esp during wartime. And that Cohen did this at a fucking rodeo heightened the danger (only a NASCAR event would be riskier), which will doubtless make for great TV.

Cohen exposed the potential violence rooted not only in our Anthem, but in all nationalist expression. An obvious point, true, but one that should be made more often.


Dunno if this is true or not, but according to troops who fought in Fallujah, the insurgents were hitting the pipe between fire fights, as well as shooting speed.

Assuming that the users are practicing Muslims (and not Ba'athist professionals), one wonders if this is allowed under the Koran. My Muslim friends are pretty anti-drug. Still, imperial wars blur a lot of lines, so I suppose anything goes once a city is assaulted and destroyed.

The use of crack & speed reinforces an earlier point made here that, unlike Vietnam, this war is not a hallucinogenic affair. This is ramped up mad throbbing screaming stomping cyber-kill. An old Viet vet once told me that he & his buddies would sit behind sandbags and smoke wicked Thai weed while watching tracer rounds and explosions rip through the night. He said it was almost beautiful to see. Well, them days is gone. Welcome to Full Throttle Insanity.

If we play our PR cards right, we can merge the Iraq war with the Drug War. Think of it -- commercials featuring zonked-out Sunni and Shi'ite zombies marching into suburbia, kicking down doors and threatening to behead anyone who won't help them get their next fix, brought to you by the Partnership for a Drug Free Iraq.

"Remember kids, insurgency isn't cool, but an insurgency on drugs is even less cool. Wanna be cool? Join the Marines today!"

And on top of everything else, there's this:

"Top military officials consider the discoveries evidence not just of drug use among insurgents, but also of smuggling operations that they say the Sunni Muslim rebels in Fallujah may have been using to finance the insurgency."

Using drug profits to finance a war? Those Iraqis are getting more Americanized every day.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A "Progressive" Iraq?

Been waylaid by a nasty flu/cold virus and on my back for the last few days (TV Land is the sick person's best friend -- Mr. Ed seems funnier in a haze), so, for those who care, apogs for the lack of posts. You'd think that Red State stock would be of firmer texture! Another Lib Media myth . . .

A little behind the curve on this story, but still wanted to comment on it, as it simultaneously shows the horrors of post-invasion Iraq and the shamelessness and desperation of our domestic warriors still looking for a justification that will last beyond a week. The torture and execution of Iraqi trade union leader Hadi Salih has provided some supporters of Bush's war & Halliburton's agenda another body atop which they can proclaim the righteousness of their cause (scroll down to graf 10 here). There have been antiwar commentators who've denounced Salih's murder (in addition to Doug Ireland linked above, there's Nathan Newman and Marc Cooper, in whose comments section you'll find pro-war lib Josh Legere getting his simplistic rants sliced to fine ribbon), but the majority of concern can be found on trade union sites like the Iraqi Federation of Workers' Trade Unions, LabourStart, the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq, and US Labor Against The War.

Of course there are numerous differences between these and other labor groups (to be expected), but it's clear that union activists and working people in Iraq are united against both the US occupation and the Ba'athist & Islamist thugs who pine for an authoritarian order. And any antiwar movement worth its name should be in solidarity with these brave people who face overwhelming odds. (I've yet to see a piece about Salih's murder at ZNet -- did I overlook it?) But let's be clear about one thing -- Bush did not invade Iraq to secure workers' rights or to build a trade union movement. Quite the opposite. Iraq, should it ever be fully suppressed, is meant to compliment Western corporate designs for the region, and this naturally means that the country's resources will be privatized for foreign use. Which is why ex-viceroy Paul Bremer reinstated Saddam's anti-union policies (the part of Saddam that US elites admire).

Dealing with a violent superpower is bad and hard enough (esp now that BushCo is going the Salvadoran route). But let's say, somehow, some way, the Iraqi left were to gain state power and start to implement its secular, anti-corporate policies. Wouldn't it face a reactionary counterinsurgency? And which side would the US take? If American involvement in Afghanistan in the 1980s is any indication, the US would rather see the likes of Osama bin Laden take charge than any semi- or pseudo-socialist order -- so long as the Islamists behaved and understood who's boss. Well, we saw how that turned out. And the notion that after decades of supporting, directly and indirectly, authoritarian rule in Iraq, a murderous invasion and occupation would magically set things right is equally ridiculous, dangerous and tragic.

Progressive forces in Iraq deserve our support. They're up against a lot -- not the least of which are those who pose as their "liberators."

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Quick Hits

* Susan Sontag's death. I didn't read a whole lot of her work (was more of a Vidal fan in my impromptu adult education), though I did like some of her early essays. Sontag loomed large over the Western educated crowd, and was one of the first Big Thinkers to treat camp and pop culture seriously (Vidal claims that she stole her camp insights from Christopher Isherwood's "The World In The Evening"), granting permission to those who followed to ponder the aesthetic worth of the dumbest topics (someday I'll post online my 798 page dissertation on The Monkees).

Once stood next to her at one of Hitchens's parties (though I was more transfixed by a scowling Ann Coulter, who was the thinnest person I've seen outside of Auschwitz photos, and whose "date" was decidedly on the lavender end). She and Hitch served as an audience to a guy with wild, uncombed hair who ranted in a thick, middle-European accent. I had no idea who he was, but he seemed crazy to me. This was around the time when Hitch began his slide into war frenzy, pre-9/11, so I guess it had something to do with the bombing of Serbia, which he and Sontag supported. Thankfully, Stanley Crouch was there, and we had a delightful chat.

Sontag took hits from swivel chair commandos for her statements after 9/11, which took some guts to say in that environment, and which still ring true. Of course, bringing historical and geopolitical context into the national "discourse" will usually get you heckled and slimed. Kudos to Sontag for braving that. And a tardy farewell to an atheist who's probably (and I hope pleasantly) surprised.

* Ashlee Simpson. After getting booed off the stage during the Orange Bowl's halftime show, you'd think that, finally, the girl would realize that this singing thing ain't working and that she should find another outlet. But this misses what I believe is now an obvious point -- Ashlee Simpson is bad on purpose. Getting "caught" lip-syncing on "Saturday Night Live," the dopey videos, her screeching and growling in front of millions is all intentional. Like her sister Jessica, Ashlee is a pre-packaged parody of pre-packaged celebrity. Their father Joe Simpson has pulled off a brilliant marketing concept that barely masks a trenchant critique of American trash culture (Jessica/Wholesome, Ashlee/Rebellious). Americans love garbage, and love to hate garbage. So long as there's garbage, the country is happy. The Simpson girls reflect this reality while raking in serious dime (profits that reinforce the critique). I think the Lettrists would've approved.

Friday, January 07, 2005

It's All Too Beautiful

Wanted to bookend my BCS rant from last month, now that college football is done, and USC demolished overrated Oklahoma in the FedEx Yawn Bowl (impressive Trojan offensive line -- QB Matt Leinart could've hit his receivers from a barcalounger). Wanted to say that unbeaten Auburn would've given USC a better game, and that despite sleepwalking against Texas Tech, Cal still should've gone to the Rose Bowl (though Texas v. Michigan was a great game, which, as I'm sure you all know by now, ended sadly). Wanted to basically repeat that the BCS truly sucks, and will continue sucking until it is dismantled and dumped somewhere in the Pacific. But as much as I'd like to dwell on my college football fantasy Final Four scheme, there's too much real world, life & death bullshit going down to worry about that.

Hell, if things keep going as they are, the BCS will seem an island of sanity amid increasing madness and despair.

The recent announcement by the Islamic Army in Iraq that it plans to
carry out terrorist attacks within the US,
should give one pause. Is this where Bush's mad Iraq adventure is leading us -- an increasing probability that now Iraqi Muslims will soon be killing Americans on our own turf? Don't recall this being a remote possibility even after 9/11. The concern then, if I recall, had to do with Saudi radicals and their Pakistani sponsors, a real enough threat (old anti-commie friends come back to visit), however infrequent or competent. Now, thanks to a murderous invasion and occupation of Iraq with no end in sight, plus the added bonus of torture and rape which has really gone over big in the Arab world, we now face increased Islamic radicalization across the board, far beyond the quaint days of al-Qaeda and its mountain retreats.

Justin Raimondo says pretty much what I would say about this, so no need restating the obvious.

Think the neocons, war-crazed libs and kindred souls care about the above? They love it. More justification for expanded war. That we've inherited Saddam's Iron Fisted role in Iraq appears lost on them. As Christopher Hitchens put it right after the Twin Towers collapsed, they are exhilarated by the prospect of more bloodshed, here, there, doesn't matter.

Happy times for them. As for the rest of us . . .

And then there's the rubber-stamped confirmation of soon-to-be Attorney Gen. Alberto Gonzales -- Big Al Torture as he's known to pals. Big Al has taken all the pre-coached "humanitarian" poses he needs to slide into office, but the glint in his eye remains.

And where's Dear Leader in all this? Hummin' gleefully to himself, mutterin' "Will of the people" while bluebirds & bunnies smile and sing in the meadow of his mind:

"There is rising concern amongst senior officials that President Bush does not grasp the increasingly grim reality of the security situation in Iraq because he refuses to listen to that type of information. Our sources say that attempts to brief Bush on various grim realities have been personally rebuffed by the President, who actually says that he does not want to hear 'bad news.'"

How long, dear Lord? How long?

If you need me this weekend, I'll be hiding in Itchycoo Park:

Over bridge of sighs
To rest my eyes in shades of green
Under dreamin' spires
To Itchycoo Park, that's where I've been

What did you do there - I got high
What did you feel there - Well I cried
But why the tears then - I'll tell you why

It's all too beautiful
It's all too beautiful
It's all too beautiful
It's all too beautiful

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


Nearly 146,000 now dead, God knows how many missing, survivors still in shock and perhaps even worse to come. But the good news is that, thanks to his tsunami tour/photo op, Jeb Bush's political profile has been raised.

Though he downplays talk of his running in '08 (more rational observers predict a '12 campaign), it's clear that Jeb and those who handle him are definitely looking to the White House. And why not? Half of those who bother to vote seem to love the Bush family. If they feel that the likes of W. should lord over us, then I'd think Jeb is a sure bet. Imagine it -- 16 straight years of Bush family rule. Deepening Red State fascism, expanded imperial war, publicly intoxicated relatives undermining the family's Official Christian pose.

Exciting times, eh? I only hope that Kitty Kelley remains healthy to
capture it all.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Haji Is A Punk

Punk may have found its war, albeit a quarter century late. When this generation's Francis Coppola (Hal Ashby is already taken by Wes Anderson) shoots the ultimate Iraq war flick (David O. Russell's "Three Kings" was a mild preamble), there will doubtless be a scene set against mortar fire, car bombs and headless bodies, where combat-maddened American troops slam & thrash to a SoCal punk band, the violence of occupation turned inward and expended at 300 beats per minute.

Iraq 2005 is no place for acid and The Doors.

On New Year's Eve, while we stateside watched yet another bland Times Square countdown to midnight, Baghdad's Green Zone exploded to the sounds of The Vandals, who performed a one-hour concert for troops trapped in Rumsfeld's nightmare.

Didn't know The Vandals were still around. Being a stodgy Old Skooler, I believe that punk -- which long ago became another commodity, like ketchup -- should be played by angry, disgruntled teens in garages and shithole clubs. The Vandals are in their 30s, much too old to be thrashing and grunting about how Mom & the Man are fucking with your head, how your girlfriend screwed you over and stole your Misfits records, etc. But, apparently, there's a market for polished, perpetual adolescent anguish, so who am I to judge? If The Clash's "Sandinista!" didn't forever shatter the punk terrain, nothing will.

I don't begrudge those troops hungry for any taste of home. If I was stuck killing and trying to keep from dying for corporate America's latest land grab, I'd crash the walls to just about anything -- string quartets, bluegrass trios, the road company of "STOMP." God knows what's raging through their minds. That must've been one seriously wild hour of musical appreciation.

In the piece linked above, this stuck out to me:

"'Haji was a punk just like any other boy! ... Oy!' lead singer David Quackenbush screamed into the microphone, using a nickname soldiers commonly use for Iraqis."

Don't wanna seem deaf to sarcasm or "irony," but was the use of "Haji" meant to play on the troops' growing disdain for the Iraqi locals? Given the rather upbeat tenor of the piece, I'd guess that it was. Yet I wonder -- if the US was fighting, say, a Jewish insurgency, would the moniker "Hymie" slip by sans comment? I also wonder if The Vandals played that night "Allah," from their album "The Quickening":

Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! - I studied carefully, - and I do believe - the best of heavens is to except is Islam - I hope that book is right - they promise paradise - I'm going for the bonus - of a martyr's reward - And when I fight - I know he makes me strong - And when I die - I know I can't be wrong - I know my only chance is - Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! - The prophet has summoned us to attack - He said we must in his defense - against those who don't believe - And when I fight - I know - he makes me strong - And when I die - I know - I can't be wrong - The last day grows near - my belief takes away the fear - I made the right choice - My God's the only God - And when I fight - I know he makes me strong - And when I die - I know I can't be wrong - I know my only chance is - Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! - When the infant girl buried alive - is asked for which crime she is slain - When the records of men's deeds - are laid open and heaven is stripped bare - When hell burns fiercely and paradise is brought here - then each soul will know what it has done - It's time to party with - Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah!

Can't say that would've been outta place at a Green Zone gig.

Does this concert mark the beginning of an Iraqi punk scene? Time will tell. But when you think about the violent lyrics & music inspired by Western consumer alienation, state power, family strife and unemployment, imagine the intensity Iraqi punks will bring. They'll make The Germs look like ABBA.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Caviar Christians

Presidential inaugurations have always made me sick, regardless of party, and I've pretty much skipped the last few. But this year's imperial pageant promises to be utterly grotesque, what with some $40 mil being dropped on this self-congratulatory event while the Iraq meat grinder keeps humming, and the tsunami survivors try to deal with their personal losses and find some way, in the face of disease and starvation, to trudge on.

Oh, I expect Bush will make some solemn noises amid his standard rough posturing. His shtick. But after the swearing in, the parade, the waving to the crowd and false smiles, there'll be the parties where a slice of the American elite will gorge itself on expensive booze and entrees. I won't pretend that I haven't imbibed some really fine liquor and downed some exquisite grub in my time, and that I didn't enjoy it. But how anyone, esp Bush supporters who consider themselves "Christians," can participate in this spectacle while paying for mass murder and torture in Iraq, and while people in south Asia need every dime they can get, is simply obscene. There's a part of me that believes if faced with such obvious and barbarous disparity, average people will back away from the pig trough and re-consider their actions. It may not be my rational side, but it still nags at me.

There are some who feel that these parties should be cancelled, and the funds used for tsunami relief, armor for troops in Iraq, among other less glamorous things. Steve Alburty has started a grassroots effort to convince those throwing the shindigs that dancing the night away (in praise of a corrupt admin) at this particular moment is at best in bad taste. (Thanks to pal Jon Schwarz for the link.) A noble gesture, doomed to fail, I'm sorry to say. The Beltway rollers are addicted to this kind of gala. Still, doing nothing would be worse. Push as hard as you can for as long as you can. Maybe someone will take heed.

As for our First Christian, well, I'm afraid there's no getting through to him. In his Bible, Jesus strafes Arab neighborhoods from a Blackhawk attack copter, yelling like Slim Pickens in "Dr. Strangelove." Afterwards, J.C. catches the red eye to DC in time for the festivities, hobnobs with corporate donors, RNC honchos & conservative celebs before embarking on a ten-city tour pushing His president's Social Security "plan."

Happy New Year.