Friday, April 29, 2005

Viet-wha?




One of the privileges of being American is that we can remember what we want about what we've done any damn way we like. Revisionism and self-delusion are Constitutional rights. Funhouse mirrors flatter us. American history exists solely to let us off whatever hook we're currently caught on.

Not long ago, while visiting a local relative, a college-age female friend of the relative's daughter went off on a mystical rant about America, none of it fact-based, her eyes misting as she spoke of the Archangel Gabriel guiding Ronald Reagan's hand to free the slaves, or something like that. It was all mush. She then stood up and declared, "And that's why I'm a history major! Because I love America!"

Out of courtesy to our host, I suppressed the urge to engage the young woman in a real historical discussion, just to get a sense of how much she really knew. But I did feel kind of sick. Was this typical of most college students? I doubted it, but then, living in a college town, I've overheard some pretty stupid conversations between students who somehow got into one of the nation's leading universities. Having not gone to college myself, there may be academic subtleties I've missed. But more often than not, I'm reminded of that wonderful scene in "Good Will Hunting" where Matt Damon's Will takes apart some Harvard asshole in a bar, reminding him that "you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on an education you coulda' picked up for a dollar fifty in late charges at the Public Library."

Still, it's not really those young students' fault, not when the mainstream culture encourages and rewards historical amnesia and selective memory. For example, I'm certain that in order to get a writing job at USA Today, you must at least hold a Bachelor's Degree, probably in journalism. And when you are assigned to report on, say, the 30th anniversary of the US pulling out of Vietnam, you must stick to a very worn, comforting script, as Steven Komarow did in today's edition.

Reading this piece, one would not get the idea that the US, over a 13-year period, pounded and ripped apart Vietnam in every imaginable -- and in some cases, unimaginable -- way, slaughtering millions, maiming tens of thousands, then expanding this aggression to Cambodia and Laos, that latter of which, in the Plain of Jars, remains an active minefield, thanks to the millions of cluster bomblets (courtesy of Honeywell) dropped there. You wouldn't remotely sense that the US assault on Vietnam was one of the 20th century's bloodiest and most destructive wars.

No.

What we get instead are sanitized remembrances from a limited group of witnesses. There's no mention of the antiwar movement, nor a nod to antiwar Vietnam vets who came away from that nightmare with rather darker tales to tell. Not even a take from those Vietnamese who resisted our attack (and who, surviving the hell-on-Earth we created in their country, are remarkably forgiving of us). Nothing of the kind is allowed in Komarow's piece. Instead, we're handed the standard story about how our motives were pure but sometimes purity of heart is not enough, etc. That the "real" lesson of Vietnam is that when we do choose to attack another country, we must do it quickly and efficiently -- kill fast, then leave ASAP. Well, if that's the "real" lesson, then we haven't learned dick, if Iraq is any indication.

So it goes. In retrospect, I was probably too harsh in my assessment of that young history major mentioned above. Given our national inability to face the most basic facts about our conduct in Southeast Asia, she should prosper as a historian.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Call It "Freedom Growth"




There's a reported twenty percent increase in deformed Iraqi babies, post "liberation." Part of this is due to inter-marriages, according to Dr. Lamia'a Amran, a pediatrician at the Iraqi Red Crescent Society in Baghdad. But the vast majority of deformities, "characterised by multiple fingers, unusually large heads, unilateral lips or no arms or legs," are caused by polluted water and depleted uranium from US bombs. And as is usually the case, it's the poor who are taking the biggest hit.

No need to thank us, Iraq! All part of Freedom's Blessings. And enough with the candy and flowers! You're embarrassing us already!

Up In The Air




Finally caught "Left Of The Dial," the HBO docu about Air America and its attempt to shift talk radio away from the reactionary howling that dominates the airwaves. Interesting but not terribly inspiring. While I'm glad that Air Am exists and has extended its broadcasting reach, the network is essentially an arm of centrist Dems and assorted DLC types. That this is now seen as "the left" proves how much success the right has had in setting the terms of national debate. It also shows the lack of cohesive creative expression among progressives who don't view the Dems as the answer to everything evil.

I've listened to Air Am pretty regularly over the past year, and I think that even its most devoted fans will admit it's a very mixed bag. To be expected with any new venture. But I wonder what Air Am's ultimate goal is. To organize people? Wake them up to see their real interests? To serve as a release valve for all of us who can't stand this administration and its media/Web apologists? I'm starting to think that Air Am is strictly that -- a bitch & moan forum for mainstream Dems. Which is fine. God knows the Dems have plenty to bitch about. But whenever I listen to Air Am, I usually feel that the hosts aren't really talking to people like me, people who view the Dem party as another obstacle to real progressive change. They are talking to themselves and to the rank and file. Anyone outside of this tidy consensus doesn't seem to matter, and in certain cases, exist to be vilified.

Take Ralph Nader, who's long been the Devil incarnate to upstanding libs nationwide. Now, I didn't back Nader's '04 run. I thought it was a poorly thought out exercise in political vanity. Nader had no substantive base supporting him, and unlike his '00 campaign, he wasn't trying to help build an alternative progressive party. He ran to run and to be seen. That's it. And by doing this (among other things), he destroyed whatever cred he had left, and served as an easy target for those libs who think that Al Gore is a populist messiah.

There's a scene in "Left Of The Dial" where Air Am host Randi Rhodes has Nader on her show simply so she can scream at him. It was as infantile a display as I've ever seen. Rhodes wouldn't let Nader talk, trampled all over him in a self-righteous manner, yelled and yelled and yelled till Nader, who was on by phone, finally hung up. We then get a close-up of Rhodes's self-satisfied grin as she goes into a break.

What was the point of that? And whose interests did it serve? Nader's '04 candidacy was a joke to begin with. Why bother? Well, I'll tell you why -- Dems like Rhodes cannot abide progressives who aren't as slavish to the corporate party as is she. Oh, she'll rant and snort about the "special interests" in the GOP, but I've never heard her go off on a similar tangent about the party she loves. Maybe she has and I missed it. I don't listen to every minute of her show (there's only so much lib bluster I can take in an hour). But from what I've heard, Rhodes, like most of Air Am's line-up, is primarily a flack for the Dems. And if you didn't think that Joe Lieberman should be a heartbeat away from the presidency, then fuck you Jack. You ain't down with the humane side of American politics.

Amid all the Dem flacking, there are flashes of creativity and pointed humor on Air Am. Al Franken can be quite funny, esp when he reacts to clips of O'Reilly, Hannity and Rush at their trog worst. And some of Franken's scripted bits are reminiscent of his and ex-partner Tom Davis's routines on the original SNL. And I have a soft spot for Janeane Garofalo. While she can be incredibly strident to the point of flying way past her intended target, she's pissed off in a very genuine way. I also admired her guts during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, when she went on any show that would have her to make the anti-war argument. Janeane took a ton of shit for that, death threats included, and she admitted that many times she was frightened and rattled. But she forged on and continues to do so. I also like her tats. We could use more libs like her.

Another positive side to Air Am is that they feature the lovely and talented Laura Flanders, weekend nights from 7-10. Laura and I co-hosted FAIR's weekly radio show on WBAI New York over a decade ago. I won't feign modesty here -- we kicked ass. Laura and I had great chemistry, and whenever I went off on one of my improvisational jags, Laura knew exactly when and how to bring me back to the point. I have very fond memories of that show, and of Laura, and I'm happy to see she's still bringing it. Personally, I think that Laura should be on weekdays, say, the mid-afternoon shift. It would be a hell of an improvement, and would push Air America in the right, errr, left direction.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Sports Blog




Just posted my first take at my new blog, American Fan, so for those interested, you can start going there for what I hope will expand into something bigger. Going with Blogger at the mo, but that will change at some point. Still messing around with it, so please be patient. But with the NBA playoffs raging, I wanted to get started.

Oh yeah -- GO PISTONS!

A Message To Our Customers




The nightmare is over.

Thanks to the fine detective work of the Las Vegas and San Jose police departments, the woman who falsely claimed to find a human finger in a bowl of our delicious, low-fat chili has been arrested and will be extradited back to San Jose to face charges of grand theft.

Hat's off to you, boys!

Now, to our customers nationwide, but especially to those in the San Jose area, we say only this:

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, WE BEG YOU, COME BACK.

Seriously. You can't believe the hit we've taken. It's been brutal. Even our troops in Iraq returned several good will cases of our one-of-a-kind chili, saying they'd rather eat sand. So you see we're not exaggerating here.

Of course, we understand why many of you believed that woman really did find a human finger in our out-of-this-world chili. To be perfectly honest, we believed it at first, too. I mean, have you ever seen how our meat is processed? Trust us, it's not for the weak. The smell of fear. The screams of death. The floors covered with rotting entrails. And the blood. Good God, the blood. Five minutes in one of those slaughterhouses and you'd become a vegan for the rest of your life.

And let's not even start with the chickens.

Also, there are numerous blades to deal with at various levels of our food supply chain. It's inevitable that some human fingers are going to be severed, and that some of those digits will end up in our not-to-be-missed chili stock. Law of averages. So when we heard about this case in San Jose, we thought, "Well, we're due. Get the press release ready."

But, thankfully, it was a hoax.

Now, we're not saying that this won't happen again. And perhaps next time it will be for real. We're talking about the fast food industry, for God's sake. But at the moment, our fit-for-royalty chili is finger-free. So please, visit one of our outlets today and enjoy our sumptuous menu. Because even with human parts scattered here and there, we're still better than McDonald's and Burger King. And you don't want to know where they get their meat.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Blogiggles




Fess up -- who wants to start the week plowing thru yet another partisan screed, more "Bush is stupid, Bush is a Nazi, Bush feasts on the still-beating hearts of Iraqi children" rants, and general political nastiness? Scientists wearing long white lab coats have proven that laughter is the best way to begin our five days of soul-crushing empty labor. Thus I humbly offer my contribution to modern science in the hopes that, maybe, somewhere, there's a person whose sad life will be, well, if not filled with mirth, perhaps touched by an angel who knows some really good jokes, 'cause frankly, I'm kinda burned out. But here goes anyway!

LOVE IS STRANGE

Seems there was this affable fellow whose fingers were stuck in a bowling ball. No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't remove them. Even doctors were flummoxed. So, resigned to his fate, this cheerful chap went about his business with the aforementioned ball seemingly forever attached to his digits. Then, one day, this jolly Joe met a sassy young Sally and love began to bloom. Before long, our genial gent was so smitten that he asked for the lovely lass's hand in marriage. Surprised but happy, this beautiful Betty immediately accepted.

"And you don't mind that I have a bowling ball stuck to my fingers?" our heartfelt Harry inquired.

"You what?" asked the now anxious Annie.

"This bowling ball," said the flustered Fred, lifting his hand to eye level, "is stuck to my hand for the rest of my life."

"Gosh," said the backpedaling Belinda, "I never noticed that before. In that case, forget it."

GYM JAPES

Q: What do you call the last person standing in dodge ball?
A: Spry and Alert!

***

There once was a gym rat named Henna
Who could lift more weight than McKenna.
At night, after ten
She would lift more again,
Driving McKenna to swear a vendetta!

***

Boy: Why don't girls give wedgies?
Girl: Because the lack of a penis and scrotum makes it pointless.
Boy: I see.

WHO SAYS EVIL IS MORE FUN?

Those who make a sweet living from being evil, that's who.

DUMBEST BLOG NAMES EVER

Metal Plate In The Head Musings
Bubonic Quicksand
Squirrels On My Roof Vex Me So
No Opinions And Even Less Enthusiasm
Holy Fuck You Scared The Shit Outta Me
Wubbity Wigga Wonga Sproog!
Read My Blog Or I'll Poop In Your Yard
Zapata's Gone So Stop Your Crying And Get On With Life

THE MEANEST GUY IN THE WORLD

Lives at 1457 Glenn Oaks Court, Hampton, MO. Stay away from his place. Seriously. I mean it.

A TIMELESS TALE

A young boy found a lamp on a beach. He picked it up, rubbed it vigorously, hoping that a genie would emerge and grant him three wishes:

1. Ten trillion dollars
2. The ability to fly and deflect bullets with a stare
3. All the White Castle cheeseburgers he could eat, forever

But nothing came out. The boy took the lamp home. For over a week he rubbed it, polished it, prayed before it, but still no genie. Finally, the boy decided that genies don't exist, threw the lamp away, and went to White Castle for some cheesburgers.

But inside the lamp, a genie was laughing his ass off. "Stupid kid," he said to himself.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Sonday Notes




Three to six inches of snow on this lovely Michigan spring day. Put away the winter coats a week ago, and refuse to dig them out. If I must wear sandals and shorts when going out today, then fine. I won't be intimidated.

Working on a variety of projects and soon-to-be projects/gigs, one of which is an all-sports blog-site (left the podcast thing over a month ago -- didn't feel right). At this point in the American empire, corporate sports play a large, influential role in the main culture. I love the physical beauty of athleticism and physical effort, but despise the politics and militarism that frame it. And like everything else in my life, I have to write scream stomp edit polish to work through my feelings on this. So that'll soon bow.

Got a six thousand word piece coming out this week in the Ann Arbor Observer about blue collar work and the bullshit people down here must endure. The piece won't appear online, but I can fwd a copy of it to those interested.

"When it's snowing, the outdoors seem like a room," wrote poet David Berman in his fine slender collection, "actual air," lent to me by my friend Luke. Yes -- a spring room frosted over, as if X-Men's Iceman came to call. And as I tap tap my stained keyboard, my nearly nine-year-old son is writing and drawing his second comic book in two days, the ongoing adventures of Mystery O and his battles with, not only arch-nemesis Shadow Hole, but his darker mind, which gives him powers he does not want and can barely control, sometimes pitting him against himself. My son takes breaks by working out storylines with his Marvel Comics action figures, turning the living room into a superhero battlefield. Still, he's the gentlest, sweetest kid I know. Not a single cynical cell in his tall body.

My 14-year-old daughter writes all the time -- what I do not know, but notebooks fill quickly. She illustrates her work, has a sharp eye and sense of perspective. Currently she's plumbing R. Crumb's art, which I was hesitant to allow, given some of the twisted mindscapes that Crumb explores. But then, Crumb is perhaps the most honest and confessional of contemporary artists, admitting to his darkest, perverted desires without having to justify or contextualize them. What with the utter depravity that surrounds us, artistic confession, no matter how demented, is to be encouraged. Just wonder what my daughter'll make of Devil Girl. . .

Slow days like this make me appreciate what I have. I didn't grow up around books, art, political discussions and aesthetic debates. I was dismissed or made fun of whenever I attempted some creative project. So to see my kids prosper in a home with floor-to-ceiling book cases (handmade by my father-in-law), books stacked in every room, magazines and journals on the tables and counters, a vast library of films, cartoons, and TV shows, all sorts of music on CD, tape and vinyl, a piano that my wife plays as my daughter sings Broadway & gospel tunes, Cole Porter and Burt Bacharach faves, and of course my son's growing comic book collection, warms me and makes me feel somewhat optimistic. Still, I know the blood-caked madness my kids will soon have to face. So this is their time to prepare for it, to later hit the street fully armed.

Just snagged a few tulips from our front yard. Couldn't stand seeing them covered in snow. Now in a vase, they open to the light coming in our living room window. My son sits before them, admires their beauty, then illustrates Book 2's first action sequence.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Not Easy Bein' Green




Just read Tom Green's tell-all showbiz autobio, "Hollywood Causes Cancer," but before I get to that, you must click here, scroll down to "12 oz. coffee cup," play it and enjoy.

That should put you in the Green frame of mind.

Tom Green has always made me laugh. Sometimes uncontrollably. I don't think I've ever seen a comic so in touch with the rawest of ids. At his best (and esp in his early work on Ottawa's public access Rogers 22), Green played three-chord comedy, a punk aesthetic guaranteed to force a reaction. As much as I love Andy Kaufman, Green stripped down and accelerated the style of confrontational performance art that Kaufman made infamous. Even when he played Bad Guy Wrestler, strutting about, beating his chest, shouting sexist remarks, Kaufman was much more mannered than Green. He clearly was performing a role. Green simply was. A single frayed throbbing nerve shot into rigid society.

There was an early show of his that used to be online (can't find it now), a Christmas special of sorts, where Green begins in the standard fashion, drinking egg nog and singing carols. But about ten minutes in, he starts to unravel. His mind shoots all over the place as he douses himself with water and pancake mix, then slowly dismantles the set. Soon he becomes psychotic, screaming at a specific guy he thinks is watching him. Negotiating. Pleading. Mocking. Accusing. Green's emotions fly everywhere at once, and it's clear he's having some kind of nervous breakdown. Holiday stress? Green never says. But you can't stop watching. You have to see where this is going.

Not sure what MTV was thinking when it grabbed Green from Canadian TV and stuffed him down its corporate gullet. Green makes some guesses in his book, but ultimately he confesses that whatever the reason, it was The Break and he was gonna take full advantage of it. 'Course, once he arrives in New York and starts production, the reality of MTV's intentions knocks him on his ass. Green and his colleagues are told to shut up, follow orders, read the Tele-Prompter and to not improvise. AT ALL. They have big plans for Green, but first they must "improve" his show for a wider audience.

Green writes honestly about his anger and frustration with MTV, which, early on, wouldn't let him do what he does. Reading this section, I recalled my own brief MTV experience. I'd done some freelance writing for MTV, dopey tags for their commercials and what-not, most of which was never used. Then another writer I knew told me about a new comedy game show the net was producing, and that I should contribute to it. So I went to the show's offices, hung with the writers and producers, traded one-liners and concepts, when somebody suddenly said to me, "Hey! You should be the host!" The other writers nodded in agreement, and soon I was in a small studio taping a screen test. I stood at a podium reading the horrible script in front of me. I asked if I could re-write some of it. "Sure, sure. Whatever man." I crossed out much of the material in a very theatrical fashion, as if I was trying to kill the script (which I was). I jotted down some raw ideas and began improvising in front of all these MTV people. Everything clicked. The writers were extremely supportive and said I was their pick to host. They couldn't wait to show the tape to the bigwigs.

Then a couple of days later, I was informed that the game show was trashed in favor of "The Big Serious Show," starring Yahoo Serious, who was then coming off "Young Einstein". Yahoo's show lasted, I believe, one week. And my chance to be an MTV celeb never returned.

Maybe for the best, if Green's experience there is any indication. MTV gave him his first real glimpse into the eyes of the Beast, and he quickly understood what was required if he desired comedy fame. Green says that all he wanted was to produce & perform comedy for a living. He didn't expect, or perhaps played down, what that meant in real terms. You can call this naive, but unless you've been in that spot with all those hip showbiz pigs slapping your back, promising everything, you cannot truly know the Temptation. As I read about his struggles, I understood exactly what must have gone through his mind. But unlike me (who fled to the lush pastures of political writing and speaking), he forged ahead and eventually broke through to produce some excellent pieces for his MTV show.

For me, Green's masterwork to date is undoubtedly "Freddy Got Fingered." I can't remember the last time I laughed that hard in public. "Freddy" is the most extreme and absurd screen comedy I've seen. And according to Green, that was his intention. He didn't want to make a mainstream film aimed at his MTV audience. He wanted to push as far as he could, to rip apart the "gross out" genre altogether. He succeeded, so well in fact that most reviewers didn't know what hit them. (Only A.O. Scott of the NYTimes really got it.) But Green's fidelity to his vision cost him at the box office, and he hasn't really recovered -- yet.

"Hollywood Causes Cancer" explores not only the "Freddy" debacle, but also Green's marriage to Drew Barrymore (which took him deep into Hollywood's bowels) and his bout with testicular cancer. It's a Small Town Boy Gets Famous Fast And Then Is Chewed Up And Spat Out By The Entertainment Machine story. Not for everyone. I enjoyed it, and in a way am glad that I didn't write it. But then, Green's only in his early 30s. I suspect and hope there's more to come.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Killer Liberals




Took a stroll through a number of lib blogs last night and this morn, looking for some mention of the Waco anniversary.

(Image of vacant lots. Wind blowing stray paper. A broken fence.)

Now, I didn't visit every single site, so perhaps there are a few lib bloggers who said something. But I doubt it. As I posted yesterday, Waco for liberals is a non-issue. A murderous federal assault in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act does not stir in them anger or outrage. This is because their beloved Bill Clinton (using Janet Reno as his enforcer) oversaw and approved the action. After all, what says compassion more than some Bradley tanks crashing into your home, igniting fire while CS gas fills the lungs of your children, suffocating them before everyone is burned to cinder? And really, who cares about that when faced with a truly serious crime -- like Time magazine putting Ann Coulter on its cover?!

I did find a few libs acknowledging the Oklahoma City anniversary, a terrorist act that, unlike Waco, moves them to sorrow, and in one case, satisfaction in revenge. Lib blogger Roger Ailes offered a few "thoughts" on Oklahoma City, and while doing so decided that "Although I oppose the death penalty in almost all circumstances, I believe the execution of [Timothy] McVeigh was justified."

I oppose the death penalty . . . except when I don't. You'd think that one's opposition to state-sanctioned murder would, if principled, extend to the likes of McVeigh -- hell, esp in the case of McVeigh. It's in the worst case scenarios that one's beliefs are seriously put to the test. But for Ailes, it's far easier to applaud lethal injection for a "hate-filled" bigot who cast himself as a warrior "opposing a tyrannical federal government" than it is to maintain a political/moral stand. Who says liberals aren't flexible?

And note that Ailes suggests that McVeigh (and his cohort Terry Nichols) fantasized that there was a "tyrannical federal government" to fight. Clearly, the guy was crazy, 'cause we know there's no such thing, right? That McVeigh openly and consistently said that his actions were in retaliation for Waco apparently meant nothing. That he chose the second anniversary of the federal assault to carry out his murderous deed also counts for little. He was a "hate-filled" bigot. A blood-soaked cracker. Nothing more need be said. Kill the motherfucker and Move On.

Now, I don't endorse what McVeigh did. Not by any stretch. He and his co-conspirators essentially handed the state another excuse to curtail civil liberties and tighten the societal screws, which is what Bill Clinton did by signing the Anti-Terrorism Act on -- trumpets please! -- this day in 1996. (Another anniversary to mourn.) Clinton set loose the police state, allowed expanded wiretapping and surveillance of American citizens who might hold the "wrong" ideas. Given Clinton's enthusiasm in this regard, there's little doubt that had he been prez on 9/11, he would've pushed the Patriot Act with the same gusto as did Bush -- only Clinton would be cheered on by liberals. No nazi he.

To get a fuller picture of what Waco, Oklahoma City and McVeigh all mean, read Gore Vidal's Vanity Fair piece from Sept. 2001. Vidal was much maligned when this appeared, but don't let that sway you. Take it in and decide for yourself.

And since many liberals seem incapable of examining the politics and class issues that may have contributed to McVeigh's bloody decision, we must move further left to find what answers exist.

When it comes to Waco, one must shift to the libertarian end to get beyond the Official Account. And Justin Raimondo forges some interesting parallels between Waco and Iraq.

Lib bloggers? Obsessed with New Pope and . . . ANN COULTER!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Twin Anniversaries




As Tom Tomorrow reminds us, today is the 10th anniversary of the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing by Timothy McVeigh. 'Course, TT uses this to bash Time mag's decision to slap Ann Coulter on its cover (a decision that's driven much of the lib blogworld crazy over the past 24 -- get a grip, people, it's Time after all), citing Coulter's crass one-liner about how McVeigh should've blown up the NY Times bldg instead. But he does note this terrible event, as do I. Can't imagine what it would've been like to be at the scene after the blast, esp with all those slaughtered and wounded children.

Nor can I imagine what it would've been like to be present while the FBI, aided by the Texas National Guard and the US Army's Joint Task Force Six, assaulted the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, an assault and mass murder (children as well) that took place 12 years ago today.




Apparently, McVeigh and his co-conspirators were so incensed by this state crime that they selected April 19 as their target date two years later. Thus did violence beget violence, in an oh-so American way.

Most libs I've known or encountered really don't care about what happened at Waco. This indifference, in my experience, stems from the fact that Clinton was prez, and they didn't want to embolden his enemies; and also from the idea that David Koresh and his followers were nuts and the world is probably better off without them. When I asked a lib friend who worked at Simon & Schuster for a copy of Dick Reavis's fine book, "The Ashes Of Waco," she became all flustered and short, and asked if I was becoming a rightwinger. (She gave me the book anyway, shaking her head and wondering why I'd want to read such garbage.) I've never understood this at a basic human level. But if George W. Bush had ordered the assault . . . well, y'know what the reaction would've been.

Stealth Candidate?




Hmmm . . . part my hair on the other side, paste on fake eyebrows and gray moustache, don suit, don't mention Waco . . .




It's crazy, but it just might work . . .

Killing In The Market




Jon Schwarz, as always, combines humor & horror in this illuminating post on the late Thomas Enders and his friends in the American ruling structure. I've nothing to add to Jon's take, but I do wish to expand on his open:

"Several years ago I helped organize a political event. We invited Gore Vidal to speak at it, and while in the end it didn't work out, during the process I was lucky enough to talk to him.

"We mostly spoke about the American empire, such as it is, and Vidal's description of it in his books. I made a long-winded argument that the financial arm of our empire -- basically the IMF, World Bank, and WTO -- has actually killed more people than the military arm. There was a pause. Then Vidal said: 'Well... let's call it a tie.'"

As much as I enjoy Vidal, he sometimes foregoes facts in favor of punch lines. (An understandable trait.) Here I'm solidly with Jon -- the financial arm of our empire has definitely killed more people than bombs, bullets and torture centers. Starvation is the preferred weapon, cost effective, low overhead. Dehydration and disease make inspired contributions as well. Of course, bombing the holy living fuck out of poor people helps to set up the later slow murder of the survivors. But the mechanism of private profit can work efficiently on its own.

Now, it's common Web wisdom that nothing can match commie-ism's body count -- 100 mil total, according to the much-cited, little-read "Black Book." But even if we take that number at face value (and this is being generous), the commies still cannot compete with capitalism. Not only did capital win what was amusingly called The Cold War, it also out-killed the state-planning amateurs (while making, in most cases, a decent profit). And being the winner, capital continues to kill, as you may have noticed.

This is nothing new. Mike Davis wrote about the tens of millions who perished for the sake of 19th century "free trade" (another witty term) in his book, "Late Victorian Holocausts." The British were the main culprits here, though they did have help from us upstart Yankees, who were still mopping up what remained of the indigenous population. A messy yet necessary undertaking. I mean, if it wasn't for this, we wouldn't have this.

So count your blessings. And pass the salt.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Backyard Warrior




"Remember the Alamo! Shoot 'em! . . . To show you how radical I am, I want carjackers dead. I want rapists dead. I want burglars dead. I want child molesters dead. I want the bad guys dead. No court case. No parole. No early release. I want 'em dead. Get a gun and when they attack you, shoot 'em."

So screamed Ted Nugent at the NRA's annual convention on Saturday. The former arena rock act's been wailing like this for some time, informing everyone in earshot how he likes to kill kill kill, is heavily-armed, wants to ram the flag up some fag vegetarian's ass, is a flesh-eatin' breeder of the backwoods, etc. It's a profitable shtick. There are millions of like-minded lib-haters who dream of a Pure State where white men may fuck, kill, rape and pillage without the commie federal govt's interference. Nugent plays up the fantasy beautifully. From his website:

"my sheer passion & determination to squash the antigun libscum out there scares the shit out of sheeplike status quo farts of terminal unsophistication. my guitar cannot gently weep. MY Natl Anthem is my battlecry. I perform it with maximum soul, spirit, fire, passion & joy. Whomever fails to grasp that total positivity is simply a fool. The attendance record I again set at my NRA presentation was wall to wall fellow passionate, musically & politically sophisticated American families from every walk of life that unanimously celebrated our wonderful battlecry in all its perfection. I jam on."

As gun-ho as Nugent currently is, waving rifle and flag as C4 blasts around him, he didn't have quite the same martial spirit when he was draft age in the late-60s.

According to a piece in the July 15, 1990 Detroit Free Press Magazine, Nugent "claims that 30 days before his draft board physical, he stopped all forms of personal hygiene. The last 10 days, he ingested nothing but Vienna sausages and Pepsi; and a week before his physical, he stopped using bathrooms altogether, virtually living inside pants caked with his own excrement, stained by his urine. That spectacle won Nugent a deferment, he says. '... but if I would have gone over there, I'd have been killed, or I'd have killed, or I'd killed all the hippies in the foxholes...I would have killed everybody.'"

Oh, I believe it. If this photo of Nugent and some liberal raccoons is any indication, the Vietnamese and the foxhole hippies would've had no chance.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Another Thought On Dworkin


From Nina Hartley, feminist porn legend, who graciously allowed me to repost her take from Susie Bright's site (whose fine obit can be read in my Dworkin post from yesterday). Thanks Nina!

"Well written, as always, Susie, and far more charitable than Dworkin would have been to you had, god forbid, the situation been reversed. If she had made any note of your passing at all, it would surely have been derisive.

"I like your observation that Dworkin rejected the notion of the
unconscious. I knew there had to be other areas where she and I disagreed as profoundly as we did about sex and porn. I suppose the rejection of all our unrecognized individual motivations made it easier for her to deny her own.

"I didn't know Ms. Dworkin had been ill, as I followed her career no more closely than she followed mine. I strive for compassion in the face of suffering wherever I encounter it, but there's no getting past the fact that she despised you, me and everyone like us. I, too, found that some of her observations had resonance, including those regarding porn. However, I got fed up with her one-note approach to the complicated subject of gender relations long, long before the symphony ended.

"Her ranting hatred of all things male and masculine was the source of more misery and confusion for heterosexual men and women over the past twenty years than all the sins she attributed to porn during that time, by and large wrongly. Her thinking turned the bedroom, which should be a place where people go to be loving and kind to each other and to share pleasure, into a politicized battleground.

"I knew right away that she didn't speak for me. My sexuality that didn't fit in her box and she had no use for any story that didn't conform to her vision of woman-as-eternal-victim. Indeed, among the many insults she hurled at women like myself, none was more hurtful than her loud insistence that we were incapable of asserting our individual sexual identities because they had been stolen from us by the vast, evil conspiracy of patriarchal domination and that we were just too dumb and brainwashed to know it.

"And then there was the matter of her undisguised contempt for my friends, yourself included (though she always claimed it wasn't personal, of course). In her skewed universe, we were either cynical pimps who had thrown in with The Enemy or defeated rape victims in the grip of Stockholm Syndrome. She berated us all from the safety of lecture halls packed with supporters and dismissed every challenge to openly debate women who disagreed with her.

"She hated me and what I stand for as surely as any fundamentalist hates me for what I do and who I am. She hated me and my kind so much that she willingly jumped into bed with those whose number one priority is the eradication of reproductive choice for women, simply because dirty pictures made her that angry.

"I acknowledge Dworkin's intellect, and the fact that she broke a spade or two of new ground, even as I reject her analysis, root and branch. This is far more validation than any of us would ever have received from her. I take no satisfaction in her passing, but it would be hypocritical to say the least for me to mourn it.

"Dworkin didn't need therapy, She inflicted her pain and suffering on the rest of us. It was a decades-long tantrum, and I was over it fifteen years ago. Now, at last, so is she. The haunting question that remains: when will the rest of this culture be able to say the same?"

Nina Hartley

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Dworkin



Andrea Dworkin died several days ago, and pretty much everyone has had her/his say. (I recommend Susie Bright's obit.) Wasn't sure if I was going to toss my coin in as well. I was an active participant in the porn wars of the late-80s/early-90s. Wrote about porn, obscenity and censorship, debated it (sometimes in the context of the NEA controversy that included Karen Finley and John Fleck, both of whom I shared stages with), and got into some pretty nasty arguments with lefties who despised my position. Through it all, Dworkin's shadow appeared.

I read several of her books -- "Mercy," "Intercourse," "Letters From A War Zone" -- and despite my solid opposition to her political prescriptions for ending porn, or at least forcing it underground, I was always impressed with Dworkin's intelligence and skills as a polemicist. She exhibited more fire and literary zing than the grim Catharine MacKinnon, her partner in anti-porn crusading. Unlike many writers, Dworkin was not an act. Her words were shards of broken glass, thrown at enemies real and imagined.

Dworkin suffered tremendous sexual and physical abuse in her life, and this, clearly, fueled her intensity. She wrote as if she might be assaulted any second, like a war vet who sees enemy soldiers in her backyard. Reading her, hearing her, you got the sense that the saying "Be quiet in your life so that you may be violent in your art" did not apply to her. To Dworkin, life and art raged equally.

There were two types of Dworkin defenders I engaged back in the day. The first were women who were sexually abused, and to them, Dworkin told it like it was. There were some rather spirited discussions about sexual imagery and the political questions that raised, and looking back, I didn't fully comprehend the pain and anger I encountered. Still, I respected the fact that they sought an explanation and understanding for what had happened to them, whether or not it was tied to porn. And Dworkin was the raped woman's intellectual. Fair enough. What did I know.

The second type of defender I had no time for, middle-class (some higher) women and men fresh out of college who merely parroted Dworkin's takes on porn. They couldn't argue Dworkin's points because they didn't analyze them, they memorized them. Once the script was rehearsed, that was it, save for yelling out a few choice epithets. Sadly, during the porn wars, I encountered more of the second type of defender than the first.

For a time I lived in the same neighborhood as Dworkin and saw her quite a bit on the street and in the book stores. She always wore denim overalls, no matter how warm the weather. She usually lugged a heavy bag. And she always looked tired, worn out. I tried to muster the courage to walk up and engage her, not in any hostile sense, but as someone who took her seriously no matter how much I opposed her politics.

But I never did. I felt that to do so might be construed by her as some kind of attack, and I didn't want to trigger any emotional terror. The few times we were in a book store at the same time, I'd pretend to read something while listening to Dworkin rip the writers she hated, little performances that thrilled the store's female staff. Again, I was tempted to counter her -- what safer place for a debate than a book store? -- but thought the better of it.

I'll cede ground to Andrea Dworkin regarding the present state of porn -- a truly degraded state in so many ways. From what I've seen, there appears to be a real coarsening of attitudes in depictions of fucking. I don't recall so much anger, cynicism, emptiness, aggression, and the utter trashing of the human spirit. But then, the larger culture exhibits the same nasty features, which are made nastier thanks to perpetual war, torture, nationalism, corporate piracy and religious extremism. How could porn be exempt from this, especially given its primal nature?

I know that these elements have always existed, and that there are progressive alternatives to the main quo. Maybe it's age, but I definitely see a demeaning, darkening, destructive trend.

Abu Ghraib is porn. Gitmo is porn. Hostage and beheading vids are porn. Fallujah and car bombs are porn. At this horrible rate, how long before we're all Andrea Dworkin?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Fraud




Michael Berube, liberal Penn State prof, complains at his blog about being punk'd by David Horowitz, political panhandler and proprietor of FrontPage, the rightwing comedy site. Berube participated in one of FP's "debates," where lefties have to deny taking glee in beheadings and mass graves before they can make their first point (which is usually countered with, "So, you say you're against beheadings and mass graves, yet your response suggests. . ."). Seems that, either intentionally or through some kind of computer glitch, Horowitz and his minions chopped out a substantial portion of Berube's argument, making it seem like he was ducking questions or simply unable to withstand the Moral Force of Horowitz's Correct Vision. In any event, Berube bitched about it, called Horowitz a fraud, said he'd never darken FP's url again, and that was that.

Alerted to this, and ever cognizant of the importance of PR, Jamie Glazov, Horowitz's sidekick, assured everyone watching that this was a technical problem, not a political one, and that Berube's response would immediately be posted at FP, which prompted Berube to say that maybe he was too harsh on FP, and perhaps they aren't frauds after all. And yeah yeah yeah . . .

This is what happens when you step into FP's swamp. Shit and leeches stick to you and it takes days, perhaps weeks, to clean yourself off. Berube seems like a smart enough guy, but why he willingly took part in such a fixed fight is beyond me. Anyone who's read FP knows that their "debates" are shit-flinging, lowbrow affairs, so Berube can't claim that it was an academic exercise. Vanity? Masochism? Only Berube can say.

Also, Berube's much too fucking generous to Horowitz. Even when he castigates the panhandler, a wink and a nod follow. Is this 21st century liberalism -- giving domestic fascists the benefit of the doubt? If you wanna debate the guy, do so face to face, with a moderator, in front of an audience. That way no one's arguments are mysteriously lost. If you won't bring it live, then don't bother playing tag on some McCarthyite website. You're guaranteed to lose.

I debated Horowitz for a week via email back in '03, and the guy simply doesn't have it. When he loses on one point, he makes a lot of noise and shifts quickly to something else. He's also into political/personal gainsaying -- no one works harder than he, is smarter, cares more about people and freedom, etc. In short, Horowitz is a hack. And an intellectual fraud. If he wants to challenge that, he or one of his minions can contact me and we can set up a public debate about the war, intellectual freedom, terrorism, whatever. But nothing at FP. Bathing in a public toilet does little to advance ideas.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Fridays




You're all probably wondering what that feeling is, the sense that today is somehow different, perhaps momentous, but you're not quite sure. Can't quite nail it down though you think you're getting close . . .

Yes! That's right! Today marks the 25th anniversary of the premiere of "Fridays"!

Huh? You don't remember ABC's attempt to cash-in on "Saturday Night Live"? Well, I do. I watched every episode of that LA-based late night series, which ran from 1980 to '82. 'Course, I was (and remain) a comedy geek, and at that time I was writing and performing in a satirical theater group called Kamakaze Radio, which also ran from 1980 to '82 at the old Broad Ripple Playhouse in Indianapolis. So I saw "Fridays" as sort of our comedy twin, the minor difference being that we performed on a Midwestern stage, and they on national TV.

Though the critics slammed "Fridays," I admit to liking most of it. It was at times very raw, amateurish and seemingly obsessed with drug humor, but it had a real tangible energy and the actors gave it everything. The show's first season overlapped the end of "SNL's" 5th, the final one for what remained of the original cast, and all of "SNL's" 6th, which was the infamous Jean Doumanian death camp year where Lorne Michaels's franchise crashed into the mud. And while "Fridays" used the same format as "SNL," it was much fresher, took more chances, and presented a wide-open West Coast style of comedy that, while uneven, combined visual gags, surreal concepts and scene-crashing slapstick. "Fridays" tore out of the gate trying anything. And while older comedy vets hated it, younger comics like myself found it refreshing.

For me the star of "Fridays" was without doubt Michael Richards, who'd be at home in either a Beckett play or Tati film. Richards did the show's first monologue, where he stood at a mike, smiled nervously, shook and breathed heavily. No words. No jokes. Richards used his body as the punchline, whatever that was supposed to be. From that moment, I knew that "Fridays" would plumb the stranger depths of comedy that "SNL" had abandoned years before.

Richards's most popular character was "Dick," a self-confident loser who viewed himself as the acme of sex while others steered clear of his come-ons.




Dick was Kramer's older brother, and many of Dick's facial takes and pratfalls would be fleshed out and streamlined over a decade later on "Seinfeld." In my view, though, Richards's best character was Battle Boy, a little kid who tortured his plastic soldiers, made bomb noises and got excited by the very idea of death and mutilation. Simple. Direct. Funny. And an early look at what people would later call a "warblogger."

At the time, I thought the weakest "Fridays" cast member was Larry David, who essentially played a gruff, irritated guy in nearly every sketch he starred in.




Who knew that would become his comedy trademark? Or that he would become the TV comedy giant he did? Being a stand-up, David didn't seem to mesh with the rest of the sketch-trained cast. But he did shine in certain pieces, one of which is perhaps my favorite "Fridays" sketch.

David played a jailed convict whose wife comes to visit him. They make small talk until the wife shows David a picture their son drew in school. After looking at it, David's character goes crazy (and I paraphrase from memory): "What are these? Square trees? Have you ever in your life seen a square tree?! Is this kid crazy?! Does he live in the Bizarro World?! SQUARE TREES!!!" David is then dragged off by guards, kicking and ranting about his son's drawing.

"Fridays" was a brief, unusual attempt to push in a different sketch comedy direction. While not as good as "SCTV" (which was more character-driven and boasted a superior cast), it experimented with the sketch format on a regular basis, at times turning entire episodes into one long conceptual piece (this happened whenever Andy Kaufman hosted). Something like that isn't meant for an extended run, so perhaps it's best that ABC, by expanding "Nightline" to Friday nights in 1982, killed the show off. Five, 10, 15 years of "Fridays" would've been unbearable.

Two things came out of "Fridays": 1)"Seinfeld," of course, which not only included Richards and David, but also "Fridays" writers Larry Charles, Elaine Pope and Bruce Kirschbaum (as well as appearances by former cast members Bruce Mahler, Mary Edith Burrell and Melanie Chartoff); and 2) great musical acts. "Fridays" showed us The Clash at the time of "London Calling," Devo, Boomtown Rats, The Jam, The Plasmatics, Stray Cats (before they had a US record deal), King Crimson, The Busboys (remember them?), Jim Carroll Band, Split Enz, Pretenders, The Blasters, The Cars -- most of whom you never saw on American TV. "Fridays" also had its share of mainstream rock, soul and country acts, but the newer, younger bands are what I remember best.

To date, there's no "Fridays" DVD box collection. I'm not sure how much of the show's comedy would hold up today (esp some of the political pieces), but it would make for some interesting viewing (primarily the Andy Kaufman shows, which I just discovered can be purchased here). I'd definitely buy it, not only for the nostalgia value, but to once again see that sketch about square trees.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Me Kick Ball, Then Kill Siegfried, Roy




I always thought there was something insidious about Siegfried & Roy, though my suspicions were always linked to their clothes and hair. But former Oakland Raiders kicker Cole Ford saw something deeper, and felt the need to act:

"'While watching Siegfried and Roy, [Ford] had a sudden realization that what was wrong with the world was linked to the illusionists' treatment, dominance and unhealthy intimacy he saw them having with their animals,' [psychiatrist Norton] Roitman wrote.

"Ford told Roitman that he thought the entertainers' contact with their animals was sexual and related to the development of viruses such as AIDS."

And you thought only quarterbacks could pick up hidden signals.

THIS JUST IN: Former Tampa Bay Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica contends that global warming and high gas prices are part of a massive psy-ops plot financed in part by --


Thursday, April 07, 2005

"Ha! Ha!"




Said Butler student Nelson Muntz after David Horowitz was hit by a fascist pie.

"The jerk like totally deserved it," added Muntz, who then punched Horowitz hard in the arm and took his speaking fee.

Citing "terrorist dessert trauma," Horowitz says that he'll seek damages from the university, referring further questions to his attorney, Lionel Hutz.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Iraq Life




Baghdad-based Riverbend has conceived a wonderful new "reality" series for Iraqi TV. Having watched hours & hours of American TV programming (part of our effort to bring out the Empty American that undoubtedly exists in every Iraqi), Riverbend, inspired, hits on a more direct form of quality entertainment:

"I have a suggestion of my own for a reality show. Take 15 Bush supporters and throw them in a house in the suburbs of, say, Falloojeh for at least 14 days. We could watch them cope with the water problems, the lack of electricity, the check points, the raids, the Iraqi National Guard, the bombings, and- oh yeah- the ‘insurgents’. We could watch their house bombed to the ground and their few belongings crushed under the weight of cement and brick or simply burned or riddled with bullets. We could see them try to rebuild their life with their bare hands (and the equivalent of $150) . . .

"I’d not only watch *that* reality show, I’d tape every episode."

Fifteen Bush supporters? How 'bout --

William Kristol
David Horowitz
Andrew Sullivan
Jonah Goldberg
Ann Coulter
Christopher Hitchens
Charles Krauthammer
Dennis Miller
Michelle Malkin
Michael J. Totten
Brit Hume
Peggy Noonan
Rush Limbaugh
Paul Wolfowitz
Richard Perle

"This is what happens when life stops being comfortable, and becomes a living hell on Earth!"

Riverbend's right -- that would be Must See TV. And given all the Bush supporters I've left out, you'd have plenty of people for several sequels.

C'mon FOX. This is a natural.

Beirut Jane




Excerpts from Jane Fonda's memoir "My Life So Far" appear in this week's Time, and, like clockwork, Fonda offers yet another round of apologies for her 1972 visit to North Vietnam, where the infamous photo of her sitting next to an anti-aircraft weapon was snapped. She's been apologizing since the 1980s, and from what I can see, those rightwingers who wish we were still hammering Vietnam will never be satisfied. Still, Fonda goes over it for the 897th time:

"Here is my best, honest recollection of what took place.

"Someone (I don't remember who) leads me toward the gun, and I sit down, still laughing [from her earlier attempt to sing in Vietnamese], still applauding. It all has nothing to do with where I am sitting. I hardly even think about where I am sitting. The cameras flash.




"I get up, and as I start to walk back to the car with the translator, the implication of what has just happened hits me. Oh, my God. It's going to look like I was trying to shoot down U.S. planes! I plead with him, 'You have to be sure those photographs are not published. Please, you can't let them be published.' I am assured that it will be taken care of. I don't know what else to do.

"It is possible that the Vietnamese had it all planned.

"I will never know. If they did, can I really blame them? The buck stops here. If I was used, I allowed it to happen. It was my mistake, and I have continued to pay a heavy price for it . . . That two-minute lapse of sanity will haunt me until I die."

Fonda's "lapse" had more to do with negative PR than with any lack of sanity. She was visiting those who were actively resisting a massive foreign attack on their country (which, let's remember, killed millions). That she wouldn't be around weapons, esp in the field, is ridiculous; and to believe that the Vietnamese wouldn't use a famous American film star to promote their cause is simply naive. In any event, those two-minutes cemented Fonda as Hanoi Jane, a perennial target for the We-Got-Stabbed-In-The-Back/Swift-Boat crowd.

I've always thought that Fonda made up for her "lapse of sanity" when she, along with then-hub Tom Hayden, visited Israel in 1982 to show their support for the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and Menachem Begin's Likud party. Fonda and Hayden watched the shelling of Beirut from Israeli positions, applauding while cluster bombs ripped through apartments and hospitals, and Israeli helicopter gunships strafed those trying to escape. Here, Fonda was not shy about appearing with weapons -- hell, she reveled in it. And unlike the anti-aircraft gun in North Vietnam, which was not being used at the time of her visit, Israeli weapons were in full use, chopping up and killing over 17 thousand Lebanese and Palestinians.

In debates with rightwingers obsessed with Fonda's "treason," I've often mentioned her later embrace of mass murder in Lebanon. In every case, my opponents expressed ignorance of this fact (which I found amazing), and they usually winced when I re-branded Fonda as Beirut Jane.

I haven't read Fonda's book, so I don't know if she wrestles with her conscience regarding the Israeli invasion. To be fair, she did visit the Occupied Territories in 2002 and appeared with Israeli peace activists in Jerusalem. I'm anxious to get a hold of her memoir to see what she says, and will report back when I do.

But I do know one thing -- if she apologizes for her 1982 pro-invasion stance with the same gusto that she has for that Vietnam photo, you won't find a fat excerpt of it in Time magazine.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Enough Popes




As thousands march past the dead pontiff (a morbid spectacle, very Catholic), and media heads, deep thinkers and assorted commentators ponder the importance and significance of the man, let's ask ourselves one question:

Do we really need another Pope?

I understand the current Dead Pope coverage. Dead Popes are, save for John Paul I, a generational event, and nothing spells fat ratings faster or more clearly than that heavy fact. But once JP2 hits the ground, I think that should be it. No more Popes. Ever. The Catholic Church is a dying, corrupt, medieval relic, and propping up another Vatican mouthpiece only prolongs the inevitable, and to my mind, desirable end.

Alas, there remain millions who desire to be part of a flock. To be spiritual sheep under the gaze of an autocratic, celibate, middle-aged (or older) man. Submission to an earth-bound authority who claims to have inside info on the Greater Celestial Mystery is a perennial problem, and may take generations to break. But it must be broken -- not only in the religious realm, but in the political realm as well.

JP2's death inspired the usual hypocrisy, most notably from Bush, who opined, "He's a courageous person. He's a moral person. He was a godly person." Apart from the shift in tenses, Bush's statement is especially delicious, given that JP2 spoke openly against the invasion of Iraq, and now the invader and occupier must travel to pay public homage to his most famous antiwar critic. Whatever power the Church has left, at least, in this case, it's being put to good use. (I'm still waiting for some pro-war hack to suggest that thanks to the war in Iraq, the College of Cardinals is finally holding an election.)

JP2's passing also led to some theatrical expressions of grief. The weeping crowds in Rome acted as if the Pope was suddenly mauled by a snow leopard as he raised the cup before communion. The man was in his 80s, frail and clearly in his final days. By all accounts he died peacefully (as opposed to Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was gunned down with US bullets while saying Mass 25 years ago, March 24). The tortured faces of the faithful seemed over the top to me. Besides, if JP2 was God's emissary on Earth, why cry about his death? His flock should be celebrating that he was finally called home.

But then, Catholics tend toward pain and misery. It's as if they look for reasons to be sad, like teen Goths moping under long dyed hair. I saw this up close. I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school, attended Mass and Sunday school and offered weekly confessions. I've been yelled at by priests and hit by nuns. I sat through countless sermons where Jesus's torture and crucifixion was s-l-o-w-l-y and in great detail recounted (and you thought Mel Gibson's "Passion" was an aberration?). Indeed, one of the first images I recall from my Catholic upbringing is Jesus nailed to the cross, broken and bleeding, clearly in agony. I was instructed to revel in this image, for this image was my Salvation.

It was sickening. It gave me nightmares. Thanks to the Church, I believed that God was out of His mind and would whack you for the slightest deviance. Look what He did to His own son -- and that was supposed to be a "positive" message!

And then there was the priest who said that a child who didn't have scars or welts on his or her skin wasn't being raised "morally."

Needless to say, I left the Church as soon as I could. And while I've met and worked with grassroots Catholic activists on a number of social issues (fine folk), I've never second-guessed my decision. This week's Dead Pope coverage has simply reinforced it.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Pro-Canuck




Is what I am. Toronto is lovely. Even the early-spring snow, wind & rain couldn't hamper my growing enthusiasm for that fine city. I hope to go back as often as possible, to explore and experience as much as I can, though at a warmer, greener time of year.

It's cliche and predictable but in my experience true -- Canadians are, by and large, much nicer, calmer and more civilized than Americans. Yeah, there are assholes in every country, but as far as I can see, the asshole ratio is much higher here than up there. Everywhere we went, people were relaxed, open, generous. The subway is clean and efficient, the Indian meal we had was as good if not better than any I've had in New York, Chinatown is like Chinatown in San Francisco and NY (same smells, sights and sounds -- romantic ballads blasting from tiny appliance/gift shops squeezed between fish markets and noodle eateries), the student/artist/bohemian neighbs lived-in, worn, tattered, though not as dangerous as the Lower East Side free-fire zone of my early NY days. There's no sense of menace or fear. Smiles are common. People are polite to a fault.

Now, I'm being a bit romantic here. But not by much. And the difference between Them and Us was amplified the second we re-entered the US. A gruff border guard, dressed in SWAT attire, mirror shades, loudly barked, "WHAT WERE YOU DOING IN CANADA?!"

"Spent the weekend in Toronto," I smiled back at him.

He looked at my kids in the backseat, then back at me, made a disgusted face and nodded us through.

God Bless America!

Once we were home and unpacked, I went to the store to pick up some provisions for the week. Having had a pleasant experience up north, I wasn't quite ready for the braying, shouting fat Americans running STOP signs, cutting each other off, yelling obscenities out car windows while blasting their horns, one SUV taking up two parking spaces, a HUMMER with a "Kick Their Ass & Take Their Gas" bumpersticker, etc. And in the store, grim faces fit for a Steadman book. I stood in line behind a loud, corpulent woman who was trying to convince the young cashier that a large loaf of bread was two dollars off, though she had no coupon or any proof of this. She kept yakking and complaining till a store manager, who tried to explain to her that there was no discount, finally gave in and shaved two bucks off the bread.

Cheap, greedy, deceitful. Home at last!