Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Happy Birthday

To my son Henry, who turns 9 today.

I recall his birth very well. We were living in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It was early evening. I was taking a shower when my wife peeked in the bathroom to tell me that her water broke. I then pulled a Dick Van Dyke/Jerry Lewis by nearly strangling myself with the shower curtain trying to get out. I threw on some clothes but forgot my shoes as I dashed down to 7th Avenue to get a cab.

"Taxi! Taxi! Jesus -- my wife's having a baby!! Somebody! Anybody!!"

I was absolutely out of my mind. An elegantly dressed couple came up to me and offered the car service cab they had reserved. I thanked them, ran back upstairs where my wife, calm, serene, had her bag and was ready to leave, but told me it was too early to go to the hospital, St. Vincent's, which is in lower Manhattan. Instead she, our five-year-old daughter and I took the cab to her friend Christine's loft near Chinatown.

The wife remained unruffled while I paced the loft's long floor, hands sweaty, heart racing. "Will you calm down?" she asked. "We've got plenty of time. Take it easy."

A couple of hours later she said it was time. By now I'd been joined by my best friend and Best Man Tim, who rushed down from his Upper East Side abode to make sure that I didn't flip out. We left our sleeping daughter with Christine and tumbled into a cab. Once we arrived at St. Vincent's everything went more or less smoothly -- for me anyway. The baby was making its way into this samsara world, which put my wife through some fierce pain. I know women give birth everyday, but when you see it up-close, you have to marvel at their strength. My wife is very strong, and remained so all through that night.

After a big final push, the baby emerged at 4:57 AM, purple and wet, eyes blinking as if in shock, head moving around to take in the strange surroundings. Then a big cry as the baby was laid on my wife's chest, soothed somewhat by the sound of her familiar heartbeat.

I'd been convinced all through the pregnancy that we were gonna have a girl. I was certain of it. We didn't want to know the baby's sex beforehand, so this allowed me to visualize a future with two girls. We decided on the name Charlotte, and when the baby was born, I whispered, "Hello Charlotte!"

The midwife said to me, "Sir, look at your baby."

I looked down and then exclaimed, "Charlotte, you have a penis!"

It'd been a long night.

We named our son Henry after his mother's father, who was, in his prime, 6'7". Most of the people on my wife's side of the family are tall, and our son is no exception. He's already at my shoulder, and we've had pediatricians tell us that he'll probably be 6'4"-6'5" when it's all said and done.

Some relatives have urged me to get him interested in basketball, given his height and long reach. And Henry's taken it up, purely out of curiosity if nothing else. Whether he'll stick with it or not is up to him. At heart, he's too sensitive and generous to be truly competitive (though he does love lightsaber duels). He's wanted to be a video game designer, but lately he's been talking about being a teacher. His last two teachers were and are excellent role models, as is his mother, who expands on his learning at home. So I can see where he gets that. Plus, he likes to share knowledge.

Happy Birthday son. I love you so very much.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

In The Game

Hello faithful readers. I'd like to take a moment to explain why I blog and what the ultimate point of all this is.

For over a decade I've been off the political grid. Part of this was due to the time I took to write two books (the first of which, "Mr. Mike," required a grueling emotional three years), but mostly I was burned out and dejected. Life on the active left is not for the weak. You run into all manner of madness, and this can push certain people into strange political cul de sacs of their own (when they're not merely out for money or cheap notoriety, like David Horowitz). I needed to clear my head and reexamine my passions, both political and personal. Plus, I had started a family and needed to focus on them. So, after years of articles, debates, talks, speeches, radio, TV and rallies, I walked away and thought that was it.

But the bug stayed with me. Every now and then I'd pop off on someone's comments thread, usually anonymously, and feel as though I got it out of my system -- which of course I hadn't. I constantly read books, mags, papers and ranted around the house. The wife repeatedly suggested that I get back in The Game. It was clear to her that I needed it, and that I was good at it. Which, all modesty aside, I was.

When I performed stand-up comedy I was always nervous. Just me, a mike, my material and a roomful of drunks. This is why I ended up writing for other comics. I couldn't take the pressure onstage. But years later, when I began giving political talks, I felt pretty much at ease. The same was true when I started debating. Whatever anxiety I felt before an event quickly ebbed once I took the podium. I had no formal training, but this didn't matter. And the audiences were, for the most part, informed and attentive, and this fed my desire to share my thoughts and feelings about whatever topic was on the table.

Two people helped me to polish my natural delivery. The first was Jeff Cohen, who at that time was the Executive Director for FAIR. Jeff could be curt, but he was almost always right, and he continually gave me tips on how to make a certain point, how to engage an audience and get them to think differently about an issue. Jeff was/is an excellent speaker and debater. One of the best I've ever seen. He's been thrown into so many hostile environments that you'd think the guy would eventually crack, but he never does. And he has shut down many Beltway bigwigs on their home turf. Once on "Crossfire," Jeff endured a barrage from Pat Buchanan about how the Repubs alone represented American mainstream values. Jeff smiled, looked Buchanan directly in the eye and responded, "Defending [apartheid-era] South Africa and Nazi war criminals is not a mainstream value!" Buchanan stumbled over his tongue. Say what you want about Buchanan, but he's rarely flustered. Yet Jeff tripped him up with little effort.

The other person was of course Christopher Hitchens. Our relationship was much more convoluted, but I got so much out of it. Like Jeff, Christopher was a dynamite speaker, but his real talent emerged in debate. Oxford-trained, he knew so many tricks and had encountered every attack in the book. It was one thing to see him dispose of opponents on TV, but you had to see him live to fully appreciate his mastery.

I don't know how many of his debates I watched. But each time I sank into his performance, analyzing the smallest gestures. The bonus for me was that I got to experience Christopher one-on-one. Many times I riffed politically in his kitchen, and he'd watch and either say, "Go Dennis, keep going," or he'd stop me and suggest I look at this or that topic another way. And he was not a first thought/best thought kind of guy. He instructed me to reject the first thing that came to mind. "Flotsam," he'd say. "Go deeper."

Some think that Christopher and I parted over Iraq, which is partly true. But the real rupture came with this. Even though I told him about the piece as I was writing it, and sent him the draft before it was published, Christopher was thrown, and according to people I know, deeply hurt. That wasn't my intention. I wanted to explore and explain the conflicting feelings I had about his support for Bush and the war, and why he became so virulent with those who disagreed. I thought that if anybody could take what I had to say, it was Christopher. He always told me to not shy away from the truth of an issue, no matter what. This I thought I did. To him, however, it was a knife in the back.

I'm saying all this for two reasons. One, I know that nearly two years after my piece appeared, Christopher is still furious with me. He bad mouths me, gets angry when my name is mentioned, and apparently has trashed me on Australian radio. And while he'll sometimes affect a dismissive air when it comes to me, his anger points to something deeper. He really feels betrayed, and one rarely experiences betrayal from a casual acquaintance.

The second reason is that after hemming and hawing for a few weeks, Christopher has declined to publicly debate me. This is somewhat unusual for him. Christopher's long prided himself as someone who doesn't duck a challenge. So long as his fee is met, he'll engage pretty much anyone, including, if I recall correctly, a Holocaust denier.

But not me.

Friends tell me that Christopher has nothing to gain and everything to lose in a debate with me. I suppose that's true. As I've said, I've been out of The Game for a long time while Christopher's profile has risen to statist heights. But with the advent of this blog, which I didn't think would last this long, I'm getting back into fighting shape. I'm also receiving invitations again to speak at universities. I'm lining up a variety of projects, and all lead me back to The Game.

I do this because it's what I do best. Also, I have kids who are growing quickly into a world of mayhem, deceit, mass murder and torture, in a country under reactionary assault, and I simply cannot and will not sit back and wish them the best of luck. If I can help the fight, I will. And from the emails I get, it appears that many of you feel this is what I'm doing and should be doing. I thank you for your encouragement and support.

I'm still open to debating Christopher. Hell, I'll do it for free. I think it would be cathartic for both of us. It would be electric. Everything he says about me in private he can say to my face in public. I can take it. But that's his choice.

Me, I'll keep this little engine humming. And if a warblogger or lib hawk wants to go podium-to-podium, let me know. I'm Game.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

No Exit

Is pretty much what Juan Cole sees in Iraq:

"Therefore, I conclude that the United States is stuck in Iraq for the medium term, and perhaps for the long term. The guerrilla war is likely to go on a decade to 15 years. Given the basic facts, of capable, trained and numerous guerrillas, public support for them from Sunnis, access to funding and munitions, increasing civil turmoil, and a relatively small and culturally poorly equipped US military force opposing them, led by a poorly informed and strategically clueless commander-in-chief who has made himself internationally unpopular, there is no near-term solution."

And while Cole doesn't examine the geopolitical/economic reasons for the occupation (preferring to cite Bush's stubbornness as the chief culprit), I agree with pretty much everything he says in the above post. It's depressing, but a required read nonetheless.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Freedom Ain't Free

Not that I take this very seriously, but still --

"A congressman says comedian Bill Maher's comment that the U.S. military has already recruited all the 'low-lying fruit' is possibly treasonous and at least grounds to cancel the show.

"Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., takes issue with remarks on HBO's 'Real Time With Bill Maher,' first aired May 13, in which Maher points out the Army missed its recruiting goal by 42 percent in April.

"'More people joined the Michael Jackson fan club,' Maher said. 'We've done picked all the low-lying Lynndie England fruit, and now we need warm bodies.'

"Army Reserve Pfc. England was accused of abusing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

"'I think it borders on treason," Bachus said. 'In treason, one definition is to undermine the effort or national security of our country.'"

And then, in a fit charity, Bachus added, "I don't want [Maher] prosecuted. I want him off the air."

All this from an Alabama Repub. Go figure.

Maher, for whom I once wrote, is at best a cranky libertarian. He's had some excellent shows regarding Iraq and the Bush admin, and I suspect that's what really rankles the likes of Bachus. To him, in order to promote freedom in the Middle East, we must first eliminate it at home (after all, it can't be in two places at once).

Or maybe he's just another PR-trolling polihack looking for free Fox airtime.

Monday, May 23, 2005

American Sith

The wife, kids and I did our civic duty yesterday and went to the local megaplex to see the final (middle) chapter of "Star Wars." My son, nearly 9, was pumped. He loves light saber duels and the various creatures that inhabit George Lucas's world. My daughter, 14, broke from us as soon as she could, so she could sit away from her uncool parents (yes, the teen rebellion thing is in full bloom, and the wife and me couldn't be more excited). My spouse came out of curiosity. She liked "The Empire Strikes Back," but prefers the first two "Alien" films and the original "Terminator" to most of Lucas's saga. She'd also read that some Bush lovers are squawking 'cause they think that the new installment is filled with anti-Bush slams. And being even more antiwar than me, she wanted to see if that was so.

Well, kinda. Lucas admits that he's fascinated with how republics become empires, democracies give way to dictatorships. And there's a lot of that in "Revenge of the Sith," including Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader telling Obi Wan, "If you're not with me, then you are my enemy!" A midnight campus audience would howl and applaud that, given how transparently Bushian it is. But our early afternoon crowd was mostly suburban parents with young kids. If they are as apathetic and willfully unaware as many of the suburbanites I regularly encounter, then I doubt that Lucas's little jabs at Bush mean all that much, esp when your kid is screaming for a refill of frozen Coke.

In fact, the audience reacted more to Lucas's corny humor than anything else. And it's this element of "Star Wars" that has always driven me nuts. I enjoy a lot of sci fi and space fantasy -- not to the Comic Book Guy's degree, but in the general vicinity. My fave themes are time travel and parallel universes. "Star Wars" doesn't meet many of my sci fi criteria, but I'm taken with its overall narrative. And given that Lucas began the series in 1977 with an Empire battling rebels loyal to a fallen Republic, he's not suddenly twisting his story to meet his current political mood. Indeed, when "Sith" ends, we're nearly back to where we came in 28 years ago.

Unlike my son, I get easily bored with light saber battles. Same ol' zmmm zmmm brrk zmmm. Some variety on this front would've made the "Star Wars" enterprise less sluggish and more engaging. But then, Lucas seems to like repetition, and the first two-thirds of "Sith" convey the same tone as the other films. But when Anakin makes his choice to join the Dark Side, this film gets very interesting very fast, and it teases us with a darker, more dramatic version of "Star Wars." As I watched, I thought to myself, "Jeez, why couldn't the whole series be like this?" Granted, had Lucas gone in a darker direction, he wouldn't have made the mojo coin he has. Plus, you're not gonna get a lot of product and ad tie-ins by taking average American moviegoers down a twisted narrative path. But still . . .

My daughter agrees. Afterward, once the coast was clear for her to rejoin us, she and I talked for about an hour about how we'd make "Star Wars." We would keep the general storyline, lose a lot of the cute diversions and distractions, and we'd cast better actors to play Anakin and Padmé. Hayden Christensen can certainly play petulant anger and frustration, but after awhile, that's all his character is. When he turns Sith, he's not nearly monstrous enough (despite being a child killer), though he gives it his all. Natalie Portman may as well be a plank of painted wood. She supposedly loves Anakin despite his emerging evil consciousness, but the passion, fear and doubt are never present. The same is true with Christensen -- his love for Padmé is apparently so intense that he sells out to the Empire in order to keep her from harm. But again, no sparks. Theirs has to be one of the worst (non?)-acted love affairs in recent film history. One of the main reasons why Anakin is so easily manipulated into becoming Darth Vader just isn't believable. For any of this to dramatically work, Anakin and Padmé must melt the screen. In Lucas's version, they keep it well-chilled.

In a contemporary political context, however, Anakin/Vader would be most welcome in the Republican Party and among those who admire Bush. As Obi Wan tells him before their climatic battle amid the lava, "Only a Sith thinks in absolutes," which is a guaranteed winner with those Americans loyal to the Empire. Now if only Vader could affect a Texan accent and clear some brush with a light saber, the possibilities would be limitless.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Death To [Your Name Here]!

Unlike a lot of lib/left bloggers, I don't spend much time on the likes of Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter, simply because I don't closely follow what they say. Once you've seen their shtick, you've seen it. The rest is repetition and show biz.

Still, like many people, I enjoy the occasional batshit outburst, for comedy's sake if nothing else; and thanks to sites like Crooks & Liars and Media Matters, I can browse the shelves for lunatic opinions, thus avoiding watching an evening of Fox fare.

While browsing the other day, I encoutered two audio clips that stopped me in mid-smirk. The first was O'Reilly (of course), and the second came from Glenn Beck, another radio yahoo yelling to the sticks. Both dealt with murder fantasies. Now, I've seen plenty of lib hawks and battle boys screeching for blood in the sand, but usually these are general cries, a series of basement shouts. O'Reilly and Beck, on the other hand, drew very explicit pictures. These weren't random noises. Each clearly thought things through.

O'Reilly was angered by the LA Times' editorial suggestion that detainees at Gitmo and elsewhere be afforded legal representation. "Does that make any sense to you?" he screamed. "Do you think Osama [bin Laden] is gonna be more favorably disposed to the U.S. if we give the Guantànamo people lawyers?" Par for the course. If people are languishing in Gitmo, then they must be guilty of something, so fuck them, let 'em rot. Typical O'Reilly fascism. Fine. But he couldn't stop there. Turning to LA Times editor Michael Kinsley, O'Reilly hit the pedal:

"I mean, but this is what they're saying. It is just -- you just sit there, you go, 'They'll never get it until they grab Michael Kinsley out of his little house and they cut his head off.' And maybe when the blade sinks in, he'll go, 'Perhaps O'Reilly was right.'"

Now, apart from O'Reilly's maniacal egotism (I'm sure that in Kinsley's final moments, he'd focus solely on Crazy Bill's superior wisdom), consider the logic: Letting prisoners see lawyers emboldens terrorists. That's essentially what O'Reilly is suggesting. Make sense? Well, no, but that's beside the point. In order to fight the war O'Reilly thinks is being fought, we need to trash what supposedly makes us more civilized, i.e. the rule of law. Because if we live according to our professed democratic standards, standards we're ostensibly defending, that's it, the beheaders rule.

At least O'Reilly is upfront about this. Some war whores like to pretend that they don't share his position. And part of this mentality is the desire to kill domestic critics of the war, even if said critics believe there's a real "War on Terror" but differ when it comes to tactics. The image of Kinsley being beheaded, heightened with the "blade sinks in" rhetoric, doesn't sadden O'Reilly, it vindicates him. As an American liberal gags while his windpipe and arteries are severed, blood spraying everywhere, there's O'Reilly smiling, telling the dying fool "I told you so!"

Glenn Beck isn't as graphic as O'Reilly, but he comes close. And he too has clearly considered the merits of killing an American he disagrees with, in Beck's case, a reliable target:

"I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out -- is this wrong? I stopped wearing my What Would Jesus -- band -- Do, and I've lost all sense of right and wrong now."

So Beck wouldn't kill in Jesus's name. That's comforting. And I bet that if confronted with this, Beck would do the Limbaugh Dodge -- it's a joke! You liberals have no sense of humor! Then again, maybe not. It's become so easy for the swivelchair crowd to criminalize those who don't share or honor their imperial lust that openly fantasizing about killing political opponents comes naturally to them.

And I won't bother to imagine what the reaction would be if Al Franken or Janeane Garofalo talked about slitting O'Reilly's throat or beating Beck to death with a shovel ("I just keep hitting him, y'know, till his skull becomes a crimson mush. Is that sick of me?"), though doing so might make for an interesting sociological experiment.

This degrading, barbarous war degrades us at home and brutalizes political differences. O'Reilly and Beck aren't alone, nor unique. I wonder what the excuse will be should one of their fantasy murders actually occur. If they spin hard enough, they can blame the left for making them so angry that they had no choice but to kill. Call it "Preventive Homicide."

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

A Softer Tots?

Say it ain't so!

Battle boy Michael Totten, who celebrates the glories of war from his Pacific Northwest command post (Swivelchair Division) when not telling Iraqis what kind of government they may have, is urging the US to "dump" Uzbekistan tyrant Islam Karimov as an ally. Why? 'Cause Karimov has done some pretty icky things which, up till now, were tolerable (in the US-USSR-WW2-Alliance kind of way), but no longer serve our purposes.

What's striking about this is that Tots doesn't call for Karimov's assassination. Nor does he advocate a US invasion and occupation of Uzbekistan in order to spread some of that democracy the Bush admin loves and respects so much. Recall that in the past, Tots wanted (and still wants) Saddam executed, and desired Moqtada al-Sadr's splattered corpse on the street. And then there are the 100,000 or so dead Iraqis that have made many of his days, but they are anonymous, and besides, I doubt he has the bandwidth to issue a death sentence to each Iraqi personally.

But "dump" Karimov? I dunno, Tots, that may give the terrorists the opening they've been looking for.

"Brothers in arms! Have you seen the infidel Totten's call for a severing of ties with the jackal Karimov?"

"Yes, Ahmed! This is a gift from Allah! For years, the infidel Totten has forced us into hiding and filled our daily lives with fear! But now, the imperial snake seeks respite from the sun! No longer do his fangs drip with deadly venom! Surely, this is a sign from God that Totten is weakening! We must make immediate plans to sever the snake in his lair!"

Oh, and I notice that on Totten's blogroll, my pal Marc Cooper is listed underneath the anti-Arab racists at Little Green Footballs. Marc has admitted that these days, it takes only a little liberal radio to stir his inner-Michael Savage, so such proximity to people who make Savage appear genteel cannot be a good thing. Or is Marc, like Tots, weakening as well?

READ: Jon Schwarz's hilarious takes on the US and Karimov. Here, the humor is intentional . . . or is it?

Newsweek, Sit!

That's a good magazine.

The war hogs and their White House masters finally got what they desired -- Newsweek retracting its story about US defilement of the Koran at Gitmo.

That should calm matters!

As Reuters reports, "the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department all heavily criticized the report and said it had damaged the U.S. image abroad. White House spokesman Scott McClellan had said it was 'puzzling' that Newsweek had not retracted the story a day after apologizing for it.

"'A retraction is a good first step,' McClellan said after Newsweek issued its statement. 'This allegation was unsubstantiated and it was contrary to everything that we value and all that our military works to uphold. We encourage Newsweek to now work diligently to help undo what damage can be undone.'"

Translation: perhaps now Newsweek will help to transmit uncritical stories about the "War on Terror." After all, the function of a Free Press is to give the state the benefit of the doubt, when not actively promoting its interests.

And of course torture and humiliation of Muslim prisoners is "contrary to everything that we value and all that our military works to uphold." Quite right. How could anyone doubt our noble intentions, esp an American magazine?

McClellan added, "People lost their lives. The image of the United States abroad has been damaged. It will take work to undo what can be undone."

Wow -- who could imagine that Newsweek carried that much global weight? Time and US News must be pissing themselves in jealous fits.

Now that Newsweek has been leashed and whacked on the nose with a rolled up copy of last week's issue, the rest of the corporate media is on notice: Watch Your Step.

And what about trusting government sources? There are some who believe that Newsweek was given this story so that what happened, happened. A discreet disinfo tactic used to give the Bush admin some breathing room and to put the press on its heels.

Possible? Sure. Probable? Why not? Given the amount of spin and propaganda that comes out of the White House on an hourly basis, something of this nature is not beyond their abilities. Or desires. And Newsweek's humiliation comes at a good time for the Bush admin, which can now strut around and proclaim its righteousness, while its online admirers hoot, holler and drool.

But that's what democracy's all about, right? Iraq, you ain't seen nuthin' yet!

OH YES: New friend Arthur Silber has some worthwhile thoughts on the Newsweek saga. Check him out.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Newsweek's Fault?

The swivelchair crowd's uproar over Newsweek's "fabrication" that the Koran was flushed down a Gitmo toilet says much about their hypocrisy and desperation. Since when do these stateside battle boys give a shit about Muslim feelings or lives? Or is it merely the negative PR for the US that angers them? Whatever the spur, the sight of them shaking their keyboards at Newsweek reminds us that selective outrage, when it isn't simply feigned, is the swivelchair currency -- counterfeit, but freely dispersed.

Only the willfully idiotic or blindly partisan can truly believe that Newsweek magazine uniquely damaged whatever US credibility remains in the Middle East. Is the concept of Gitmo interrogators defiling Muslim symbols and beliefs impossible to grasp? Come on. And while Newsweek editors are taking a few tepid steps away from their original sidebar, they haven't, as of this writing, completely retracted the charge, originally attributed to a US source. Bottom line, nobody knows how much of this is true or not, but, again, given American conduct at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib (and doubtless places we know nothing about), the idea that captive Muslims are being humiliated in such a fashion is completely believable.

Not so for warbloggers like Roger Simon. To him, Newsweek has blood all over its pages, and I wouldn't be shocked if Simon accused Newsweek editors of committing war crimes. 'Course, the US can slaughter and torture all the Iraqis it likes, and Simon's hat remains on his head. But should Muslims die in riots presumably caused by Newsweek's report, Simon's hat flies off to the sound of steam whistles. Here's a man who'll not stand idly by while the press passes on falsehoods! I'm not a big reader of Simon's blog, but I wonder if he made the same fuss once it was clear that the Bush gang fabricated its WMD evidence, which the elitist media he despises passed on as fact. That state/media falsehood has caused a tremendous amount of death and destruction, far more than what's recently transpired in Afghanistan. Yet I doubt that Simon's hat so much as tipped in that case.

As usual, Juan Cole takes a calmer, deeper look at the present controversy. Particularly of interest is Guantanamo translator Erik Saar's testimony that, indeed, humiliation of Muslims at Gitmo was standard practice. Cole adds:

"As a professional historian, I would say we still do not have enough to be sure that the Koran desecration incident took place. We have enough to consider it plausible. Anyway, the important thing politically is that some Muslims have found it plausible, and their outrage cannot be effectively dealt with by simple denial."

Cole then tells of a former military officer who contacted him to say that the Newsweek story about the Koran is perfectly believable. That in his training, the Bible was trashed in a similar manner. After checking the officer's evidence, Cole surmises:

"This informed former officer has suggested the real reason for which some in the Pentagon are so angry about the Newsweek story. It may well so focus international outrage on Guantanamo that Rumsfeld will lose his little psych lab."

An excellent point. The whole "War on Terror" is an open-air psych/war/weapons lab for the US military and its corporate wing. Whatever the "truth" of Newsweek's report, the overall reality is clear to those willing to see. If Newsweek never pubbed its source's claim about Koran abuse, the war would still rage, torture would continue, as would theft and corruption by multinationals in Iraq. Maybe those specific riots in Afghanistan wouldn't have occurred, but riots elsewhere would, and no doubt will, so long as this madness goes on. So, for the swivelchairs to protest this one minor media burp as the cause of violence and anti-American feeling shows that they're either not bothered by the bigger picture, or are blind to its blazing presence.

And for the Bush White House to lambaste anyone for peddling falsehoods, well, let's just say my ball cap has hit the ceiling.


My other blog, American Fan, is up and running. Read about racist Indiana Pacers fans. Learn about the antiwar Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns, this year's NBA MVP. Just revving up, with much more to come.

And of course, Red State Son will always meet your non-sports opinion needs. Read by war-haters and warbloggers alike!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Jabba The Pod

One of the more amusing things about rightwing war whores is the relation between their avowed love for combat and the physical shape most of them are in. To hear the likes of Jonah Goldberg and Ann Coulter waxing delirious about killing and torturing Hajis is gloriously absurd. Neither one has served in the military, and so never went through basic training which, given their frames, would break them within a week. Hell, I doubt they have the stamina to shadow box. But they blather on, letting their lips do the fighting while their lessers do the dying.

To me, the biggest clown on this front has got to be John Podhoretz. Like his pa, Norman, J-Pod loves the thought of extended war. Killing and dying makes a man a man. And like his cohorts, J-Pod has no intention of doing this himself. The guy would have a massive heart attack were he to attempt any level of boot camp. But in his mind, J-Pod is one tough motherfucker. Oh how he hates pacifists and pussies! Even worse are the defeatists in Hollywood. How dare filmmakers extol the idea of negotiation, or worse, contemplation of non-violent alternatives! This won't do for a nation at war.

If you didn't know already, J-Pod fancies himself a film critic. Quite the serious cineaste. That he regularly misses the point of a certain film, or simply slams a movie if it doesn't reaffirm his ideological views, doesn't seem to concern him. Indeed, J-Pod is so in love with his cinematic insights that he's beyond embarrassment. I recall him on "Crossfire" debating the political merit of Oliver Stone's "Platoon" with Vietnam combat vet Bobby Muller. You would have thought that J-Pod would show a little respect to Muller, given that Muller had actually experienced action while J-Pod merely dreamed about it. Perhaps the fact that Muller was confined to a wheelchair might humble J-Pod just a touch. Uh uh. Not our boy. J-Pod predictably bashed "Platoon" for its pro-commie/anti-American slant, and worse, how it made war look like hell. Astonished, Muller turned to J-Pod and asked what the fuck did he know about war. J-Pod flashed a shit-eating grin and shook his head with condescending weariness. Didn't Muller know the cultural genius he was tangling with? Didn't he know his place?

While time, gravity and the dinner bell have altered J-Pod outwardly, inside he's the same faux-warrior blasting away peaceniks. In a post at the National Review's Corner, J-Pod reports that the new "Star Wars" film isn't up to his martial standards:

"Evidently 25 years into the Star Wars empire, George Lucas decided he just doesn't like war. Now he tells us. The whole confusion is reminiscent of the last Matrix movie, which is all about a noble truce between our heroes and the computers that have been using all of humanity as batteries. So that a few people could survive to have orgies in the underground city of Zion, billions of people had to remain in the Matrix. Inadvertently, both Lucas and the Wachowski brothers (who wrote and directed the Matrix movies) reveal with their brainless anti-Bushism the essential cowardly vapidity of pacifism."

Does Lucas, in his final installment, beat light sabers into glowing plowshares? I've yet to see the movie, but the possibility makes the series a little more interesting, esp in these times. But given that J-Pod completely misreads the ending of "The Matrix," I suspect it's a little more nuanced than that. (J-Pod seems to forget that the charred planet run by the machines is essentially unlivable for humans, which is why Zion exists underground. Where would all those billions, once unplugged, go? And if Neo hadn't forged a truce with the machines, at the cost of his own life, the unplugged humans of Zion would've been wiped out, thus eliminating any chance for future resistance or any hope of life at all. For J-Pod, like his pops, peace is linked to cowardice and by extension promiscuous, perverted sex. One wonders what the Pods fantasize of when they masturbate.)

But then again, maybe J-Pod is right. Maybe George Lucas made an anti-Bush epic. Once I see it with my son, I'll give my take. But until then, I'm happy that the very concept rankles J-Pod and his cadre of fantasy soldiers. Whatever keeps them grumbling in their air-conditioned Fox hole.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Cooped Up

It's always fun to be categorized, esp if you have no real concept of the category you've been assigned. Me, I'm now a member of the "radical left," or so says Marc Cooper in his latest blog post. His evidence? My post from yesterday, which Marc apparently found hard going.

I'm not really sure what the "radical left" is these days, or even if it actually exists. I do confess that at one time, I did have the hots for Bernadine Dohrn, but I've long since married and settled down. I think what Marc means is that I don't see any constructive purpose to ongoing US military action in Iraq. And this, I suppose, makes me a "radical."

If that's the case, then I have a lot of company. A growing number of Americans are turning against the war, or have formed a negative opinion about it. Most of the world is against our imperial presence, and has been from the start. The majority of Iraqis themselves want us to leave sooner than later.

I always thought that "radicals" were a minority. Not when it comes to Iraq, if Marc's definition has any meaning. Still, if anyone is siding with a radical few, it's gotta be Marc.

But Marc protests that I'm "tone deaf" to his position, that I've whittled it down to simplistic black and white. Perhaps there's some nuance I'm missing, but Marc has stated that he's against an immediate US pull-out, because if that happens, Iraq will most likely suffer a worse fate than it already has. The jihadists and Ba'athists will take over, heads will roll, mass graves will fill, and fascism will rule the day.

If Marc truly believes that, then he should definitely support the US occupation, which he tacitly does . . . except when he says he doesn't. Which is it? I think that deep down, Marc doesn't know what to think. "I pretend to have no viable answers," he says, which demonstrates his ongoing confusion. I think Marc means that he "doesn't" pretend to have viable answers. Or maybe he does have viable answers, but he pretends not to have them. But whatever he pretends or doesn't pretend, it's clear that Marc is as helpless as the rest of us, only in his case it's excusable. In my case, it's borderline criminal.

Meantime, the meatgrinder keeps running, 24/7. What to do? Marc advocates some hazy "third way" out of the mess, but he can't be bothered with the details. That's for the antiwar movement to conceive. But whatever we come up with, it better be bloodless, or else the ongoing carnage will be our fault. What's that? Bush is to blame for lying us into an unwinnable, increasingly barbarous war? How simplistic of you! Just because the Bush admin, which controls the machinery of state, is directly responsible for mass murder and torture in Iraq (and elsewhere), and continues to justify this insane conflict with more lying and sweet-talk, doesn't mean it deserves to be singled out. The antiwar movement is equally guilty, and has the supreme responsibility to end this war the Cooper Way (whatever that is)!

For the sake of clarification, I support Iraqi trade unionists, and have repeatedly said that any shot for a secular, democratic Iraq really begins with them. There are many international antiwar groups who show their solidarity with Iraqi workers, among them US Labor Against The War (which is sponsoring an American tour of Iraqi labor leaders in June), but for some reason, Marc seems to miss these activists, preferring to fling slime at the self-righteous-granola-eating-Birkenstock-wearing-Pacifica-listening-Mumia-loving-left stereotype that serves as his standard target. Looking for an answer amid the chaos? Listen to Iraqi workers and start from there.

One other thing: Marc finds "demonstrably false" my agreement with Steve Gilliard that Iraq is worse than Vietnam. Comparing the millions killed in Southeast Asia to the (at least) 100,000 butchered in Iraq, Marc wonders how I could take such a position. Well, Gilliard laid it out, but I'll be happy to reply. The death toll in Vietnam is from a 13-year-period. We're only in year two in Iraq, which, if we make a direct comparison, is 1964 Vietnam-time. Millions weren't dead by that point, but the slaughter was underway. And as Gilliard stated, Saigon was never the free-fire zone that is Baghdad today. American GIs and journalists could move about the capital more or less freely, which is not the case in Baghdad. I caught Russ Feingold on the radio yesterday. He was in Baghdad a few months ago, and he said that even in the Green Zone, everyone wore helmets and flack jackets. Far from focusing solely on the "bad news," as Fox-watchers insist the Liberal Media does, Feingold said that if anything, the American press is "under-reporting" the madness in Iraq. It's that fucking bad. Go back and read press reports from Saigon in 1964, and see which situation is worse.

Is there a way out? Again, I doubt it. As I said yesterday:

"One of the main reasons for the invasion was to establish a permanent US presence in the region (which has long been a goal of US planners), and to create 'critical leverage' to be used against economic rivals like China, Russia, and the European Union. There is no way that after pouring billions into this carnage that the US is simply going to pack up and go."

That's not "throwing up my hands" and taking delight in mass death, as Marc suggests. That's the fucking reality. Marc may want to fantasize about some solution where everybody lives happily ever after (so long as he's not pressed for tangible ideas), but as my old mentor used to say about Vietnam, a war so squalidly conceived cannot be honorably ended. It's a corpse-strewn mess any way you look at it. And, I fear, we're only in the early stages.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Out Never?

At the close of his rather dour assessment of current Iraqi events (is there any other kind?), Slate's Fred Kaplan opines:

"If the United States pulled out now, the Baathists, Zarqawists, and other insurgents would run wild. The country, rough and ragged as is, would fall apart."

Oh -- you mean the insurgents aren't already running wild? That the country, despite its parliamentary window dressing, isn't falling apart?

Kaplan's is the standard response whenever someone suggests that perhaps US troops should come home. "Why, we can't do that! All hell would break loose!"

"It would? Wow. Say, what's in the paper?"

"Same old shit."

The question of when, if ever, we should leave Iraq is currently vexing a number of American liberals, some of whom were, uh, against the invasion, but now, err, think that maybe we should, ah, stay the course until, ummm, well, like, whenever.

Marc Cooper's been making these noises for some time. While he initially opposed Bush's war, he now more or less supports it, for not doing so would consign Iraq to even greater misery. And, as is Marc's style, those to his left who disagree with his prognosis are slimed, called "knee-jerk," are soft on fascism, etc. His latest target is my dear friend and former radio colleague Laura Flanders (who Marc refers to, exotically, as "Lara"), yet another out-to-lunch lefty who fails the Cooper Reality Test. Doesn't Lara know that her's is a prescription for mass slaughter? That when US troops are killing Iraqis, it's a benevolent brand of butchery? That even though many soldiers refer to Iraqis as "Hajis" and "sand niggers," their contempt comes from a good place? That when the US tortures Iraqis (when we're not outsourcing torture, that is) who've not been charged with any crime, it's a more enlightened form of human degradation? And of course humanity demands that American soldiers continue to die and be maimed in order to maintain the status quo, however bloody and shaky it may be. Clearly, for the sake of the Iraqi people, and by extension ourselves, we must continue to administer our tough love.

Marc contrasts Lara's murderous fantasy with the more sober-minded views of Juan Cole. Now, readers here know that I greatly admire Cole, and his site is a daily must-read. And what Cole says about certain Iraqis, like the Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who do not want an immediate US withdrawal is undoubtedly true -- esp in Sistani's case, given that the US invasion has greatly enhanced his political power. In that sense, US troops are indeed needed, not as liberators but as bodyguards for an emerging Shi'a state. Yet regardless of what Cole says, the problem remains: how long are we staying and for what ultimate purpose?

Personally, I doubt we'll ever leave. One of the main reasons for the invasion was to establish a permanent US presence in the region (which has long been a goal of US planners), and to create "critical leverage" to be used against economic rivals like China, Russia, and the European Union. There is no way that after pouring billions into this carnage that the US is simply going to pack up and go. Plus, there's the political problem of "saving face." Because, once you've lied and slandered and tortured and slaughtered, morality demands that you keep it going (if only a talking dog were urging us on a la Son of Sam, at least we could plead insanity). I mean, who would take us seriously if, God forbid, we reviewed our conduct in Iraq and began efforts to extricate ourselves from the deepening morass?

David Corn, another anguished lib, deals with the from-bad-to-worse Iraq scenario much better than does Marc Cooper. Corn correctly states that no good option exists -- that the invasion has turned Iraq into a living hell and no matter what happens in the near future, chaos and bloodshed will prevail. It's a seriously, seriously fucked up situation, and there's no end in sight. And for those who try to compare Iraq to Vietnam, I agree with Steve Gilliard: there's no comparison; Iraq's worse.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Sports Blog. Again.

All right -- I started the thing, posted twice, then let the damn blog rust in the rain. But it's back. Honest. I swear on my ABA ball. With the Pistons kicking ass, and the NBA playoffs heating up (if you can call a number of major blowouts hot [insert Paris Hilton joke here]), I'm posting again and will continue to do so. So please, if reading extremely biased takes on sports and the corporate culture that frames them is your idea of a good time, or even if it isn't, then take a moment each day to experience American Fan. It's free, and better than Mitch Albom, who I'm sure you will not meet in heaven.

Monday, May 09, 2005


Readers of this and Jon Schwarz's blog may get the impression that Jon and I secretly plan posts, then publicly refer to one another in a shameless round of mutual self-promotion. I won't confirm or deny this, but I do love Jon's site. He's intelligent, funny and humane. Plus, he, along with partner Mike Gerber, has written for "Saturday Night Live" and the New Yorker. But unlike many of those I've known or encountered who've done the same, Jon and Mike aren't elitist pricks. They're both pretty down-to-earth guys. Me? I just hang around 'em.

Yesterday, I sent Jon a Wall Street Journal piece by Christopher Hitchens which, in his typically amusing fashion, Jon posted on his blog. I wasn't gonna comment on it, but since Jon has aired it out, I may as well toss in my two coins.

First, Hitchens makes yet another crude, sweeping statement about how those who opposed the invasion of Iraq are cheerleaders for jihad and who believe that Osama is the New Che. He doesn't offer any quotes or names to back this up, nor need he, given that he's bashing the left for the WSJ, and so is not required to provide evidence. A cozy arrangement suited to his present intellectual standards. I'm mildly amazed that Hitchens didn't make a return trip to the Michael Moore well, a source that has served him in the past and made him welcome in imperial circles. Perhaps an oversight on his part, for you know he'll go there again.

For all his warbling about supporting secular forces in Iraq, Hitchens has made very little noise on behalf of the Iraqi trade union movement. This might be because a large chunk of it opposes the US occupation and foreign corporate control of the Iraqi economy, two things Hitchens supports. (Recall that he's publicly lauded Halliburton for its cronyism and private theft in Iraq, though he's put a much nicer face on that.) Iraqi trade unionists recognize that Islamic terrorists and Ba'athist remnants are their political enemies, but so too are their "liberators," who look to privatize the country's assets once the current mess is mopped up and some kind of compliant government is stabilized (good luck). If there's to be any real, grassroots social democracy in Iraq, it will have to start with these working class activists.

But did the US invade Iraq in order to support and strengthen trade unionists? Please. The Bush admin was against direct elections, for God's sake. Also, Saddam's 1987 Edict Number 150, which prohibits Iraqi workers from organizing, is still in effect. So it's a bit rich to see Hitchens blast antiwar activists for not supporting secular options. I've read countless pages about the Iraqi trade union movement, and apart from his condemning the murder of labor activist Hadi Salih (as did a number of antiwar/labor groups), Hitchens's name doesn't pop up. There's no consistent series of pro-solidarity statements from him that I've seen. He makes no mention of trade unionists in his WSJ piece, but again, he's toiling for those who favor privatization in Iraq. I doubt that they would applaud such retro-causes like union building.

The other part of his piece worth noting is how Hitchens has suddenly noticed that his GOP pals are in bed with the crazier elements of our domestic phalange. Those of us who asked him years ago how he reconciled this alliance with his "anti-theism" were waved off and told that it didn't matter, "in the larger scheme." Ho ho. How the globe turns. It would be even funnier were it not for the bloodshed, torture and madness that emanates from that quarter. Hitchens may try to crawl away from this crowd, but his shirt is soaked with their holy water. The price one pays when making common cause with clerical warmongers.

BTW, a public debate between me and Hitchens in currently in the works. A mutual friend is working to promote an event in New York: Mentor vs. Former Acolyte On The War That Drove Them Apart. Or something along those lines. Will update as new info rolls in.

Thursday, May 05, 2005


My friend Jon Schwarz links to an update on Kim Phuc, the Vietnamese girl who was napalmed by the US in 1972, and whose searing pain was caught in the famous photo above. Read it, and marvel at the human capacity to forgive.

As I've said before, the Vietnamese have been incredibly forgiving of those -- well, us -- who assaulted their country, killed millions, maimed tens of thousands, and made many more MIA in their own land. Can you imagine Americans suffering the same kind of attack and loss, not on one day like 9/11, but every day for over a decade, and emerge from the smoldering bunkers ready to forgive those who turned our country into a free fire zone, leaving untold millions dead and missing? I can't, but I'm willing to listen to those who can, if they exist.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Red Ass

In a recent Rolling Stone, comic David Cross had this to say about Larry The Cable Guy:

"He's good at what he does. It's a lot of anti- gay, racist humor -- which people like in America -- all couched in 'I'm telling it like it is.' He's in the right place at the right time for that gee-shucks, proud-to-be-a-redneck, I'm-just-a -straight-shooter-multimillionaire-in-cutoff-flannel-selling-ring-tones act. That's where we are as a nation now. We're in a stage of vague American values and anti-intellectual pride."

Couldn't have put it better. But I'll add to Cross's take anyway.

Dan Whitney's "character" isn't quite as innocuous as his creator suggests. Larry The Cable Guy hates fags and liberals, and is, at best, suspicious of blacks and Latinos. But Whitney's not engaging in subtle social satire here. Larry is not Archie Bunker or Joe Bob Briggs -- he plays directly to the hatred, fear and bigotry of those white working people who see Larry as one of their own, and Whitney's cleaning up financially in the process. Small wonder that Don Imus is one of his fans.

Now, according to the script, my analysis makes me a "PC White Person" who needs to loosen up, lose the politics and laugh with the crowd. Well, fuck that. I like lowbrow humor as much as anyone. And ethnic jokes do not necessarily put me off. Sometimes stereotypes are true and need to be speared. But Larry The Cable Guy's act is simply awful, on both comedic and political grounds. His fag-bashing is just that, nothing more. And his Kill-The-Ay-Rabs bits are especially repellent, given the ongoing slaughter and torture in the Middle East. His fans do not sit back, cock an eyebrow, and comment on how Larry's a droll caricature of contemporary working class ignorance. They eat his shit up and scream for thirds.

I grew up around guys like Larry, which is why, when older, I fled to New York City to live among fags, kikes, niggers, commies, spics, gooks, and Ay-rabs. Whitney may have found a winning ticket by appealing to racists and idiots, but it's too much for him to ask that the rest of us give him a break. Tell it to your braying fans, dude.

Monday, May 02, 2005


It's Monday, and again, I don't have the energy to go after the domestic thugs, mugs, warmongers, mongwarriors, and assorted bloodthirsty loons who deep fry the flag, douse it with ketchup (pretending it's blood) and devour it with a side order of imperial fries (also doused, but with catsup, or "Blood II"). Not that I've given up doing that, 'cause I haven't. No sir. Uh uh. Got plenty of slap-downs up my sleeve, and more than a dozen sleeves after that. So don't get too relaxed.

Besides, I received several thumbs up for last Monday's post and thought to myself, "Hello, this may prove an interesting weekly diversion." So count on Monday being a day when you can sit back, take a break from Web porn, and enjoy the "lighter" side of Red State Son. At least until I run through all my rejected bits from "Politically Incorrect," "The Awful Truth," and "Antelope Freefall." After that, you're on your own.


"Wow!" marveled Tina. "That boy's got the biggest head I've ever seen!"

"Ditto!" concurred Gary. "That is indeed quite the large cranium!"

"D'ya think his brain is extra large, too?" asked Camille.

"Wouldn't surprise me!" answered Felix.

"I wonder if that boy is a super genius," wondered Karen.

"If he is, then all I've got to say is, get outta the way!" counseled Myron.

"Where do you think he buys his hats?" inquired Judy.

The others stared at her with opprobrium.

"That's just hateful," admonished Brian.

"Agreed," agreed Carla. "Why don't you leave before you make a bigger ass of yourself."


Most people will run in fear, abandoning their beach-front homes, convinced that after decades of gull abuse, these now-loquacious water birds will not only exact fierce revenge, but will taunt humans in the language of their ancestors.

But one human will stay behind to fool the gulls into giving up their plans for retribution. And the gulls will listen and be swayed. Because, no matter what language they speak, gulls are easily manipulated.

And that human's name? "Gulliver."

Take that, cynics!


And right into my basement. Good God, this is gonna cost me.


Kick and Stomp Before Opening
Do Not Mix With Snow
Read Ingredient List Aloud in Public
Pour Slowly Or Suffer Greatly
Bake At 99 Degrees For 110 Minutes, Turning Every 30 Seconds
Si Está injerido En Bulto, Entonces Adiós, Usted Es Muerto


Death lurks, folks, so dig deep or have blood on your hands.

You want groveling? I can give you groveling. But wouldn't that just lessen the two of us?

Give generously and receive a gallon jug of delicious butterscotch pudding as our thanks to you!

Arson? Who said anything about arson?

We don't want your money. Your money stinks. That's right, I said stinks! Anyway, you probably don't have the kind of cash a decent person would pledge. Loser.

Give $500 or more, and be safe from identity theft!


"You know honey, even with all the wickedness, rape, deceit, and endless cruelty, there really isn't a sweeter sight than Gomorrah at dusk."

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Two Cents

The local public library and HBO conspired in the same month to grant me a chance to compare the two versions of Dennis Potter's "Pennies From Heaven" -- the 1978 BBC miniseries with Bob Hoskins and Cheryl Campbell, and the 1981 Herbert Ross film with Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters.

The library (a wonderful place) carries a growing selection of BBC DVDs, and how happy I was to find the original "Pennies" in stock. I hadn't seen it in probably 20 years, but I always remembered it, for it had a solid emotional impact on me when I first viewed it. So hungry was I to experience "Pennies" again that I watched it several times, focusing on specific scenes in order to really understand the main characters. I never got bored with it. As before, "Pennies" grabbed my mind and soul and pulled me right into its world.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it concerns a Depression-era sheet music salesman, Arthur Parker, whose life consists of professional and sexual frustration. His prim wife, Joan, rebuffs his advances, and he has a tough time convincing stodgy merchants to buy the latest pop tunes that he's convinced will become hits. And it's in those pop tunes where Arthur sees his utopia -- a grand place where people dress elegantly, dance gracefully, drink champagne and make love without a care in the world. A world where there is no hatred, violence, theft, madness, nor deceit. A musical heaven on Earth.

Arthur's fears and desires, as well as the inner feelings of the other characters, are amplified through lip-synching the pop tunes of the period. "Pennies" was Dennis Potter's first production to use this device: an incredibly dark and depressing scene is suddenly transformed into a bright musical number, the characters mouthing the words of a song while dancing with one another before dark reality throws them back in their place. Potter streamlined this device in later productions like "The Singing Detective" and "Lipstick On Your Collar," but for me, "Pennies" remains the model.

I suppose that's because Bob Hoskins, who plays Arthur, is fantastic. "Pennies" is one of his best performances. His Arthur is a liar, an adulterer and a cheat, but there's something incredibly fragile about him. In one scene he attempts to explain to some other salesmen what he sees in the songs he sells. He fumbles and sputters, admits that he's no good with words, but soon you get the idea. Arthur is very frightened. A veteran of the First World War, he's seen death and destruction up-close. Having survived that, he claws at whatever paradise he can find. And for him, paradise is fully explained in songs like "(Yes, Yes) My Baby Said Yes" and "Roll Along Prairie Moon." To Arthur, pennies from heaven are dropping all around us at all times, and we're too blind and ignorant to recognize this.

Arthur finds his human key to paradise in a rural schoolteacher named Eileen. Everything he's ever dreamed about exists in her, and of course he lies his head off in order to have her. Played beautifully by Cheryl Campbell, Eileen begins as a socially repressed country mouse who, once seduced and impregnated by Arthur, unleashes a sexual and emotional will that cannot be contained. And no matter what Arthur does to her, she stays loyal to him. Even when reduced to prostitution in order to eat, Eileen still thanks Arthur for rescuing her from a dead life.

Like everything else, paradise exacts a price, and for Arthur it's being charged and convicted for a crime he didn't commit. Despite all his petty behavior and personal deceit, you have to feel for Arthur, and by extension for Eileen. Their happiness together is short-lived and compromised by poverty and the hypocrisy of those who are enriched by poverty. Soul mates to the bloody end, their love transcends this horrible world and lives forever in song.

Steve Martin was moved enough by this production of "Pennies" that he pushed to remake it for the American screen. Give him credit -- Martin was coming off the huge film hit "The Jerk" and could've easily scored big with another comedy. Instead, he wanted to play Arthur Parker. Teamed with "Jerk" co-star (and then girlfriend) Bernadette Peters, director Herbert Ross, and Dennis Potter, who compressed his BBC miniseries into a screenplay (Hollywood money and exposure -- who can blame the guy?), Martin stripped his wild & crazy persona down to a dramatic monotone. Well, in most scenes, anyway. In the musical fantasy sequences, we get a measured dose of Martin's comedic side as he mugs, grins, struts and dances across the screen. You can tell that this role meant a lot to him. Martin put serious work into creating his Arthur. But no matter how hard he tries, Martin cannot compete with Hoskins's performance.

A major part of this is that Martin is simply too good looking for Arthur. He's too sleek, too polished in the dramatic scenes, so when he leaps into song and dance, there's no real difference. Hoskins, on the other hand, is short, broad, barrel-chested. His dramatic Arthur rings true. You've seen this guy a thousand times in real life. So when he jumps on a table to tap out a tune, the fantasy comes alive. There's no way the real-world Arthur could move like this. Plus, Hoskins is simply a better actor. He can be charming, disgusting, heart-wrenching, funny. Martin looks like he's marking time between musical numbers.

Peters's Eileen is a bit more inspired: there are quiet dramatic moments where she accurately hits Potter's darker notes. And, being a Broadway vet, she's no stranger to singing and dancing. But due to the brevity of the film version, Peters must transform quickly, whereas Cheryl Campbell had several hours to flesh out her Eileen. Some projects are just not meant for film, and "Pennies" is one of them.

It's always worth hearing Potter talk about what shaped him as a writer. The man endured a lot of physical pain and ailments throughout his life, which ended in 1995 when he finally fell to cancer (he named his tumor "Rupert" after Murdoch). In his final interview with Melvyn Bragg, given just over a month before he died, Potter openly explored what moved and inspired him. Frail, weak, chain smoking cigs, drinking white wine supplemented by sips from a morphine flask, Potter poetically bid adieu to a world whose horrors he creatively documented. The only thing missing was for him to jump out of his chair and dance around Bragg while lip-synching to Lew Stone's "Pick Yourself Up." ("Dust yourself off/start all over again!") A deeper truth found in fantasy. For Potter, the proper final gesture.