Saturday, June 25, 2005


Earlier this week, while walking through town, I came across a young man who was pressed to the side of a bank building, as if he were holding it up. He kept tapping the back of his head against the concrete, eyes closed, teeth bared, muttering what seemed to be a chant or mantra of some kind. I tried not to stare, but as I passed him I glanced perhaps a beat too long. He stopped tapping his head, opened his eyes and asked me, "Do you feel it too?"

"Feel what?"

"The fear, man! The motherfucking fear!!"

"Umm . ."

"Yeah, I see it! I see it in your eyes! Late at night, am I right? Middle of the fucking night you wake up and it's strangling you. You need air. You know in your stomach that the bastards are at work and there's nothing you can do. All you can do is pace and dread what's next. Oh yeah. You've been there! I know."


He flashed a lunatic grin. "Because I'm always there."

I'm beginning to see his point.

Karl Rove skull-fucking 9/11 for whatever political gain he thought he'd get set off all the liberal alarm bells, bright red lights flashing at nearly every blog. Of all those libs wailing, Billmon at the Whiskey Bar (who I've added to my blogroll -- I know, very tardy of me, but I work outside of the lib blog circle) was the most penetrating, accurate and concise. Billmon sees Rove's humping as a fevered act of desperation, which I suppose it is, given how fast and far domestic support for the war has dropped. But Rove holds state power, and when trogs at his level get spooked, it usually means bad times for the public at large.

I mean, who's gonna stand between an increasingly paranoid, belligerent and violent administration and us? The Democrats? Please. This is where I part company with (most of) the lib bloggers who, while accurately nailing the war criminals and their apologists, naively turn to the Dems for back-up. Yeah, yeah -- Ted Kennedy called for Rumsfeld's resignation, but this comes two years too late, the average lag time for Dems to summon the courage to pretend they have a spine. I like what John Conyers did and is doing regarding the Downing Street Memo, doomed effort though it is (spat on and laughed at by the Liberal Media and well-heeled Dems). But Conyers is a back-stairs Dem, the kind the national party speaks about in hushed, embarrassed tones. If you want to play in the Beltway bigs, you must accept at some level the Rove/Cheney conditions for debate. Oh, you can scream bloody murder about Rove's political necrophilia, but if you want to be taken "seriously," then you must dissent on tactical, not moral, grounds. After all, the Dems don't want to stop killing Americans and Iraqis -- they want power. And in this diseased environment, that means you feed off the dead as well.

I suspect soon (maybe I've already missed it) that Hillary will be anointed the new Antiwar Hope, the same way John Kerry was. That they're not is beside the point. Both want to "better" manage the empire, to replace the neocon crazies with Ivy League technocrats. And of course they want to continue clamping down on us at home. In many ways, corporate libs with state power are even more dangerous than fundamentalist hypocrites. They know to say the correct things, to sound as if they're rational, sane. Meanwhile, the killing machine rolls on . . .

Fear on my part? Oh yeah. Definitely. How can any intelligent person look at the present American scene, from "left" to "right," and not be scared shitless? If you doubt my assessment, just watch about 2-3 hours of cable news shows. Doesn't matter which network, they're all pretty much the same. Just surf around and around till your brain is soaked with FOXCNNMSNBCCNBC rhetoric, till you can barely stand another quip, another slam, another faux smile, then shut off your set and try to think clearly. If the deepest fear doesn't force you to cut through the corporate-induced haze in order to simply breathe, then you either regard the dominant discourse as factual or non-alarming, or you've cynically accepted your fate.

My friend Doug Henwood recently posted to his LBO Talk list a brief recap of a Seymour Hersh talk given in New York on the 16th. Apparently, Hersh said that:

*The country is being run by 8 or 9 people, in complete isolation
from the rest of the government

*There's no grand plan in Iraq - the gang of 8 or 9 really believes its own propaganda about democratization -- he contrasted this with
Kissinger, who, though perfectly willing to kill thousands, would
have had some kind of grand oil deal in mind at the end of the carnage

*Cheney's in charge, and W's out of the loop

*They're going to bomb the shit out of Iran, but there aren't enough free ground troops to mount an invasion

*Cheney wants to run for president in '08

*Things are really really bad, though there's some hope for the '06 election

Then Hersh concluded by saying he was going home "to brood."

In fear, no doubt.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Freedom Don't Burn

Tired of the noxious fumes emanating from all those burning American flags? Seems you can't walk three feet these days without gagging on thick Old Glory smoke. And what about our children? How can they say the Pledge of Allegiance at school this fall when countless America-haters are defiling the very symbol that they pray to?

Thankfully, the US House of Representatives stepped in to stop this national nightmare, approving a Constitutional amendment to criminalize flag burning, 286-130. Now it's up to the Senate to seal the legal deal and put an end to this traitorous vandalism.

Don't you feel safer already? Our enemies, both foreign and domestic, must be shuddering in the face of our strong national resolve. As for those 130 pro-jihadist quislings who voted against defending our flag, their time will come. Our Imperial Christian State will not be slowed nor pulled down by their bottomless self-hatred. Soon, our pro-American God will give the faithful the sign.

Of course, once this amendment is law, there will be need for strict enforcement. After all, traitors never sleep, driven as they are by an anti-American madness that defies all clinical definitions. Thus, I propose that pro-flag squads be formed in communities nationwide, perhaps 8-10 patriots per squad, driving extra-wide pick-ups through residential neighborhoods, searching for any trace of flag desecration. Burning is the least of it: people caught wearing American flag neckerchiefs, bikinis, hats, patches on jeans, or any variation thereof, should be detained and questioned, and if deemed insufficiently patriotic, turned over to the authorities and considered potentially pro-terrorist.

But these squads shouldn't stop at helping to enforce the new law -- they must make sure that those citizens who display the flag outside their homes do so with proper reverence. Weekly checks to see if each flag is clean, untattered, and set at the right height will do wonders in our fight against tyranny. Also, those homes that do not display the flag will be considered suspect and will be monitored closely. This may include going through that home's garbage or mailbox in an attempt to find incriminating materials, but such tactics must be agreed upon in private squad meetings. As for homes that display American flags with "peace" signs in the star field, or homosexual rainbow flags, or UN/world "peace" flags, well, the less said for now, the better. We don't want to tip off the enemy.

So rise up, Mr. and Mrs. America! A New Dawn approaches! One nation, one flag, one people!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Saddam's Boy

Was Ronald Reagan. From Reuters:

"Saddam Hussein likes Doritos, washes his hands compulsively and thinks fondly of the late U.S. President Ronald Reagan, according to American soldiers who guarded him and tell their story in the July issue of GQ magazine.

"The jailed former Iraqi leader described how Reagan, who was president during the time of Iraq's 1980-88 war with Iran, sold him planes and helicopters. 'Reagan and me, good,' Saddam said, according to the article by Lisa DePaulo in the July issue that goes on sale June 28.

"'He said, "I wish things were like when Ronald Reagan was still president,"' said one of the soldiers who guarded him."

Too bad the ex-prez isn't around to stand trial with his old Iraqi pal. But then, that part of Saddam's tyranny isn't going to be brought up in court, 'else co-conspirators like Rumsfeld would be in the dock. Still, it's nice to see a mass murderer fondly recall one of his own. Old criminals are among the most sentimental -- think of all that they share!

I wonder if Saddam, while smoking a cigar, laughs to himself, knowing that many of the brutal tactics he endorsed and which landed him in jail are currently being carried out by some of the same thugs who once worked for him.

"I understand that these men need jobs," Saddam reportedly told an American guard. "But they are wasting their talents. Torture is an art, and you Americans don't understand our methods of extracting information, or simply making the dogs wish they had never been born. If only Cheney would release me, I would be of enormous help to you. I would show you how it's done and how to hide it. I'd end this insurgency in a week. But he and his president are blinded by their arrogance. This is a pity. Only my dear, departed friend Reagan truly understood."

Monday, June 20, 2005


One of the bonuses to having a 9-year-old son (along with the fact that I'm crazy about the kid) is that middle-aged men like me can indulge in boyhood pastimes without appearing regressive or Comic Book Guy pathetic. "I'm doing it for my son," is the stated excuse, which is mostly true, but in my case, I get a huge kick out of being a boy, too.

Friday, he and I went to the first showing of "Batman Begins," and it was simply fantastic, which surprised me, though happily so. Now, I'm a big Bats fan to begin with. I've loved the Dark Knight since I was a kid, in all of his various manifestations (yes, Adam West included). I enjoyed Tim Burton's first two films, esp "Batman Returns," which I thought at the time was probably the closest a live-action Bats would get to honoring the original dark premise. No more. Christopher Nolan's film blows Burton out of the Batcave. It's serious, intense. It's the way the Batman should be shown, the way most of us Bat fans longed for him to be shown.

Christian Bale is by far the best Batman, making Michael Keaton seem mannered by comparison (and let's not address Val Kilmer and George Clooney). Behind the mask Bale has the psychotic stare of a guy so haunted by guilt and extreme anger that he dresses like bat in order to find whatever peace there is left for him to find. Bruce Wayne's a twisted guy, and Bale is the first actor to show how deep Wayne's mania truly runs. In one dramatic scene, where Batman is interrogating a corrupt cop by dropping him some 17 stories from a wire, then yanking him back up to receive more questioning, you really see this at work. I was thrown by how insane Batman is in this scene. He's actually frightening. Christopher Nolan shot it in such a way that Bats seems more like a demon than a man, and I thought, phew, this may to too much for my son. I softly asked him if this scene bothered him, and he replied with a smile, "No Dad. It's totally cool."

Yeah. It was.

Some critics, while praising the film, have complained that the fight scenes are too confusing, that you really can't tell what's going on. Not so. Again, Nolan outdoes his predecessors. If you've ever been in a fight, a bout or have simply sparred, you know how blurred everything seems. A flash of arm, brief slice of a kick, grappling, pushing, spinning, sweeping, it all appears chaotic to the eye. It's this sensation that Nolan beautifully captures. No Hollywood choreography here. In real life, Batman would fight with economy and employ the sparest, deadliest moves in his arsenal. I also liked how spooked the crooks get when hunting Batman (actually, it's more like he's hunting them). Even though they're armed, they feel at a disadvantage, shaking with fear, anticipating their punishment. One guy stalks an alley. Head darts around and up. Then two gloved hands emerge from the shadows and quickly pull him from sight. A scream, a thump, then silence.

That's how Batman operates.

There's so much more to "Begins" -- Bruce Wayne's training with the League of Shadows, the slow creation of his ultimate persona, the Scarecrow's hallucinogenic fear spray (the effects of which are like extremely potent LSD), the ragged edges of Batman's beginning, from the hazy, out-of-focus Bat Signal to the watery low-tech Batcave. Some of the dialogue is the standard black & white/good vs. evil comic book proclamations. But no matter. Overall, Nolan has re-energized the character, and there's a hint at the end of the film of who Batman will face next. Given Nolan's touch here, I expect this next foe to be even crazier than the Dark Knight.

Like my son said, totally cool.

Saturday, June 18, 2005


Mega-apogs for the dearth of posts of late. With the encouragement of several people in and out of the publishing world, I'm submerging into a new book, my first serious attempt in years. It's a prequel of sorts to the manuscript I finished a few years ago which received some serious interest from several editors, but which I ultimately pulled and shelved as they tried to steer me into a dopey commercial direction that undermined my original concept. I won't go into all the particulars now, but this new effort is gonna require a lot of emotional stamina as I'm essentially ripping open my chest for all to see.

I've been told that what I'm attempting is commercial-ready. If so, then I can proceed without all the busy extra hands smudging my text (though they'll be there at some point -- perils of the trade). Just know that your humble blogger will be pouring out words at an accelerated rate, and this may affect Red State Son to some degree. But then, maybe not. This space serves as my safety-valve, and from the mail I receive, a lot of you enjoy and appreciate me blowing off steam. Given the project before me, I'll need this space more than ever. Just know that when I'm not tapping out rants here, I'll be filling countless notebook pages in longhand, switching from pencil to pen depending on mood or narrative turn. For what I have to dig up and lay out, a keyboard is useless. In time you'll see why.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


Another inspiring story about winning Iraqi hearts & minds, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

What's made clear by this and other reports is that the Iraqi insurgency has significant popular support. Guerrillas move more or less freely, strike, and if not killed, blend back into the populace. This is nothing new in human history, and it's become a deadly daily reality in Iraq. Little wonder that American troops are treating Iraqi citizens like shit. When not angry about their buddies getting killed, they're frightened for themselves, and so respecting the cultural sensibilities and personal liberties of Iraqis are not high on their to-do list.

It's what some call "liberation."

Naturally, such bullying helps to strengthen support for the insurgency, which means more attacks on American and Iraqi troops, which then leads to more house invasions, more throwing civilians against walls at gunpoint or dragging them off to prison, which then helps to further strengthen support for the insurgency, which means . . .

I'd like to ask those who support this ongoing occupation "for the good of the Iraqis," where is the tunnel's light here? The longer we occupy, the worse it gets. Are you hoping that the insurgents will finally throw up their hands and say, "Oh mighty Americans! We are no match for you! We surrender! Please don't torture us too hard! And not in the face if you can help it!"

Of course, they'd be saying this in Arabic, which most American troops don't understand, and which is another gallon of fuel for the insurgency.

As Joy Division's Ian Curtis once put it, where will it end?

It's not easy for many Americans to be so hated. A good number of us simply cannot understand or accept that in Iraq, this is the reality. Even though the majority of Iraqis want us gone, including those who seek a secular route, like the trade union movement (I exclude the Kurds in the north, who obviously feel differently, though trouble in paradise brews), many stateside commentators insist that US troops should remain in Iraq until . . . well, they never really say, at least not in realistic terms.

No matter. We're Americans. We know what's best for Iraqis. Why they're not kissing our asses in gratitude is, frankly, the rankest of insults, but perhaps in time they'll see that our occupation is a benevolent one. And there'll be plenty of time for them to see that, assuming they survive it.

READ: My pal Jon Schwarz's takes and links regarding the Downing Street memo, which I believe has something to do with what I ranted about above.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Beating It

"This case is the ultimate sizzling shit pile of American society: It is what our culture of gross celebrity worship looks like when it comes out the other end. A pop star gone sideways under the lights, maggots nibbling at his fortune, hourly underpants updates on cable, industry insiders trading phone numbers over drinks, and boy orgasms. And people like me writing about it all. We're the worst America has to offer -- and we're all here."

So wrote Matt Taibbi about the Michael Jackson trial. He's right: the Jacko circus is made to order for a society so drenched in corruption, violence, torture, denial and hypocrisy, and it took an obvious toll on Taibbi's sensibilities as well, if this motel guest book entry is any indication (prompting the always-smirking Gawker to toss some wet pasta his way). I followed the three-ring event sporadically, trying my best not to get sucked in. But yesterday, when it was announced that the jury had reached a verdict, I, like millions of other voyeurs, promptly dashed to the TV, knowing that the cable news nets would be wall-to-wall Jacko.

It's in this area where cable news really shines. Celebrity crime sagas are guaranteed ratings boosters (as are defendants who become celebrities), and the more sordid the charges, the higher the viewership. This also allows lawyers and assorted legal "experts" to strut and squawk over one another, dispensing empty opinions and making errant predictions, or anything that'll keep viewers from zapping elsewhere. On CNN, OJ trial celeb Robert Shapiro confidently told Wolf Blitzer that Jackson would be found guilty, and that the fallen pop star would not "beat it." Oh, you knew that Shapiro had waited a long time to use that line. So when the endless Not Guiltys were rattled off, Shapiro had to shift to his B material, saying that Jackson would be "moonwalking" out of court a free man.

Remember, this is what passes for "news."

I didn't watch the evening cable chat wrap-ups, but if I were a segment producer, I'd insist that guests insert Jackson song and album titles into the discussion:

"So, Susan, is this a 'Bad' verdict?"

"More 'Off The Wall,' Chris."

"How about you, Roger. Does this verdict make Jackson 'Invincible'?"

"Well Chris, I think 'HIStory' will be the judge of that."

"Coming up next: Is Michael Jackson a 'Smooth Criminal' or an innocent 'Man in the Mirror'? We won't stop 'til you get enough . . ."

Did Jackson get away with it? Given all the stories and testimony over the years, I'd guess that yes he did. Big time. Even the jurors who acquitted him said that they thought Jackson has probably molested boys, but that in this specific case, the prosecution couldn't prove it. Maureen Orth digs into the grittiest details of all this in the July edition of Vanity Fair, for those who can stand such nastiness (and if you can, there's more to enjoy). And like everything else in our national Neverland, the more powerful you are, the more you can fuck over others with virtual impunity. It's an old and obvious lesson, one of the glories of democracy, but it takes a Michael Jackson molestation trial to help remind us how lucky we are. As simple as A-B-C.

Saturday, June 11, 2005


One of my old haunts, busted. (Jeez, I remember when it first opened in the mid-80s on Avenue A, in the back of a dry cleaners -- you had to brush past the plastic-wrapped shirts and jackets to get to the vids.) Via Steve Gilliard.

I'm not surprised. In my day, Kim's was filled with bootleggish vids, esp in their Hong Kong and Japanese sections. But who cared -- it was the only store in Manhattan where you could find Ringo Lam's most obscure efforts, and all of Beat Takeshi's work. They carried racist cartoons from the 30s-40s, porn classics from the 70s (in "Pee-wee's Room," christened after Paul Reubens was caught jerking off in a Florida adult theater), and every extremely bad comedy and musical from just about every period. They stocked British comedies that were never shown stateside, like "Bottom," with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson, a low-rent slapstick Beckett sitcom featuring two extremely crude losers.

It was through Kim's that my wife and I began our Bad Movie New Year's Party, which we still honor (though in this part of Michigan it's harder to find that one deliciously awful film that helps ease us into another year). If it wasn't for Kim's, I doubt I would've seen "Roller Boogie" with Linda Blair or "Viva Knievel" with Evel Knievel as himself, Lauren Hutton as his squeeze, and Gene Kelly as his alcoholic mechanic/mentor. It was at Kim's where I first discovered "Can't Stop The Music" starring the Village People, a lovely and hilarious disco disaster flick my family watches every Thanksgiving (much better than the Macy's parade).

Kim's staff was famous for being smug, aloof assholes who'd openly comment on your choice of film ("Oh, you prefer that version"). An old friend of mine, Justine, worked there between writing gigs, and while she fit right in, hers was a subtler form of contempt. Justine was very smart and funny, and she could take apart someone without them even knowing it. And of course she had to fuck with me. After a dry spell, she started writing TV pieces for the Sunday Times, then joined the staff of US magazine. But before she quit Kim's, she messed with my membership file card so whenever I rented something, the clerk in question would stifle a laugh at my expense. One day I finally asked a clerk why she was laughing.

"You really wanna know?"


She showed me my card. Justine had scrawled in big black letters under my name, PORN FREAK!!!

You don't get that kind of service at Hollywood or Blockbuster.

Locally, there's Liberty Video, which is as close to Kim's as I suppose I'll get. It's a U-Mich cineaste scene, and they do carry some obscure stuff ("Cool As Ice" where Vanilla Ice fights crime, and a video from 1970 where Charles Bukowski reads for a bunch of hippie college students in SoCal.) The Liberty clerks do the Kim's pose as well, but it's not quite the same. More bootleg than original.

Friday, June 10, 2005


There's been a lot of online chat about the rightwinger mindset, their fear, their hatred, their bottomless insecurity. Their love of authority which they insist is "freedom." My pal Jon Schwarz linked to some discussions, adding his own thoughts. James Wolcott does the same, guiding us to Lance Mannion's take on James Lileks, who is doing his utmost to keep Minneapolis free from Islamic tyranny.

I haven't checked out Lileks in some time. And for good reason -- the guy is insufferable and an extremely precious writer. Even when he does his Sgt. Rock routine, chewing through a cyber-cigar while mowing down the Arab hordes, a hint of potpourri rises from his sentences. He's too self-conscious to go Method.

In late 2003, one of the editors at Minneapolis City Pages asked me to essentially write a hit piece on Lileks. I'd never been a gun for hire, so the idea intrigued me. Plus, the editor offered a pretty decent check, which is always a plus. But there was one problem: until that moment, I'd never heard of Lileks. Had no idea who he was. So I began reading his blog, The Bleat, and digging though his archives. Why City Pages wanted to whack him was beyond me -- he seemed at best a mediocre blogger with severe lit pretension. And yes, he was another smug battle boy who probably wouldn't last three days in boot camp. Yet it was a paying gig, so I accepted, then spent the better part of five weeks absorbing Lileks's various war rants and cutesy-coo house husband hymns before spilling out my response.

It's not one of my favorite pieces. There's very little passion evident, it goes on too long, and really, who the fuck cares about James Lileks? I sure didn't, and it shows. But the check arrived on time and didn't bounce, so I thought, what the hell, that's that, time to move on, and please God don't ever let me see another Bleat.

What amazed me was how seriously Lileks is taken in the warblog world. Within a day of my piece appearing online, numerous battle boys began firing their cap pistols my way. How dare I criticize the poet laureate of the swivelchair crowd! Clearly, my piece was inspired by an all-encompassing jealousy of Lileks's superior gifts. Why else would I write it? The ever-perceptive Roger Simon surmised that my real motive was acquiring some online celebrity at Lileks's expense. Because when you get right to it, there's no faster track to fame than knocking James Lileks in a Midwestern weekly.

The simple truth that I wrote the piece for money seemed to elude everyone, esp Simon, who I believe knows something about getting paid to type. The massive projection thrown at me for that article was instructive, and reinforces some of the points made above by Jon Schwarz, Wolcott, and Mannion. The warbloggers who came after me addressed very little of what I actually wrote, preferring instead to talk about my alleged "insecurity" and need to be noticed. If nothing else, my Lileks piece served as a Rorschach test for them, the results of which were revealing.

Looking back, I should've been much harder on Lileks. And had I known beforehand that he hangs with the anti-Arab racists at Little Green Footballs, I would've. Maybe that's because I secretly desire to kill ragheads myself, if only in my dreams. Perhaps Roger Simon's therapist can help.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Ape Shit

Just posted some musings about the mentality of sports fans over at my other site, American Fan. Thought my non-sports readers here might find something of interest.

Once the Detroit Pistons finish their postseason run, I'll be doing more of this kind of writing there, complete with a design overhaul and other items. As for Red State Son, well, the happiness never ends.


Wednesday, June 08, 2005


"The U.S. continues to suffer terrible embarrassment and a blow to our reputation . . . because of reports concerning abuses of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo."

So said Jimmy Carter Tues at something called "Human Rights Defenders on the Frontlines of Freedom: Advancing Security and the Rule of Law." Ever the pragmatist, Carter kept his critique on tactical grounds, showing concern for "our reputation" over, from what I've seen, the actual beaten flesh reality of torture on the ground. In other words, Carter is primarily distressed by the negative PR effect torture has on America's self-advertised "good name." Typical technocrat working well within the mainstream frame. But I'm certain, though I've yet to check (there's only so much poison I can ingest in a day), that warbloggers and lib hawks will respond with the standard "treason" takes, how Carter is un-American, a pussy, a girl, etc.

I've never fully understood this reaction to Carter. Despite his "human rights" talk while president, Carter actively supported state terror in the Americas and south Asia, and helped to kick-start our glorious alliance with Osama bin-Laden and Pakistan's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Afghanistan. His wimp rep seems to stem primarily from the Iran hostage crisis, where he was essentially hog-tied. Why didn't he nuke Tehran? rightwingers then complained. Ronald Reagan would've! Well, I seriously doubt that -- but I do remember that call being quite popular at the time. And of course Iran and the domestic "malaise" it stirred played a significant part in Carter's 1980 defeat.

(And far from nuking Iran for hostage-taking, Reagan later shipped arms to the mullahs in exchange for the release of other hostages, presumably politically correct ones. It was all part of something then-called the Iran/contra scandal that only us old timers seem to recall.)

Since that time, Carter's wimp/traitor rep has been carefully cultivated and employed whenever the former president speaks out about this or that. Again, I wonder why. After all, Carter, ignoring the pleas of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, pumped money and arms into the Salvadoran security forces that were responsible for the majority of bloodshed in that country, including the assassination of Romero himself. Carter also replenished the Indonesian military with a steady supply of weapons as Suharto continued wiping out a sizable chunk of the East Timorese population. It was under Carter's watch where the most reactionary, backward and violent elements in the Muslim world were recruited to attack the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan. Osama happily took part, choosing as one of his first targets a co-ed elementary school. Terrorist attacks on children by Islamic extremists were then seen by American patriots as "freedom fighting," and Carter was no different. Yet, these same people today view the guy as the weakest of sisters (as well as taking no responsibility for linking arms with the likes of Bin Laden, to the degree any of them will admit it).

I'm tempted to say that our domestic Phalange either possess situational ethics which can shift with each political breeze, or that they have some kind of emotional turbulence which requires that an enemy dedicated to their destruction always be present. But I'm still not sure. Either way, I don't see how Carter, given his bloody resume, vexes them so.

As for our national rep being tarnished through torture and abuse, well, if some sadistic fuck pleads innocent long enough, he or she will soon believe that this is so, or will at least find a way to minimize the larger effects of his or her brutality. It appears that Carter is taking the second route, for which his patriotic hecklers should thank him. He is, in essence, trying to cover their sorry red asses.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

See Right Through Ever'thing

The Supreme Court's anti-weed decision is nothing new, nor surprising. Six of the justices agree that the state has the right to criminalize private behavior, in this case, smoking gage for medicinal purposes. It's supposedly another Drug War victory, a federal stand against hopheaded freaks and their terrorist sponsors. At least, that's how some dope warriors will spin it. And assorted cops and prosecutors nationwide will doubtless view the Court's decision as a green light for further repression (though the DEA appears, at least publicly, less gung ho on busting cancer patients). But people will keep smoking, whether they're sick or not. Though its power is very real and can destroy lives, the state does have limitations, and it's in these areas where a thick skunk scent is usually present.

Still, it seems comical that at this late date we're dealing with shit like this, esp given the larger and more pressing horrors of the world. But systems of control are self-perpetuating, as are the delusions that keep them humming. And criminalizing marijuana requires massive delusion and lying by those who seek control. To be expected. To paraphrase Bill Hicks, alcohol and cigarettes do nothing creative for you and accelerate your chances for death, yet they're legal. Weed, on the other hand, opens a door in your mind and lets you see how you are getting royally fucked on a regular basis, yet it's illegal. Coincidence . . .?

Terry Southern poetically expressed this sentiment in his short story "Red-Dirt Marijuana." Set in rural Texas, a white teen boy, Harold, is secretly cleaning, sorting and jarring cannabis buds with a middle-aged black man, C.K., who works various jobs on Harold's family farm. C.K. gives his views on the uses of weed, which Harold has never experienced. After listening to C.K.'s rhapsodies, an obvious question arises.

"'How come it's against the law if it's so all-fired good?' asked Harold.

"'Well, now, I use to study 'bout that myself,' said C.K., tightening the lid of the fruit-jar and giving it a pat. 'It ain't because it make young boys like you sick, I tell you that much!'

"C.K. put the fruit-jar beside the shell box, placing it neatly, carefully centering the two just in front of him, and seeming to consider the question while he was doing it.

"'I tell you what it is,' he said then, 'it's 'cause a man see too much when he git high, that's what. He see right through ever'thing . . . You understan' what I say?'

"'What the heck are you talking about, C.K.?'

"'Well, maybe you too young to know what I talkin' 'bout--but I tell you they's a lotta trickin' an' lyin' go on in the world . . . they's a lotta ole bull-crap go on in the world . . . Well, a man git high, he see right through all them tricks an' lies, an' all that ole bull-crap. He see right through there into the truth of it!'

"'Truth of what?'


"'Dang, you sure talk crazy, C.K.'

"Sho', they got to have it against the law . . . Sho' you take a man high on good gage, he got no use for they ole bull-crap, 'cause he done see through there. Shoot, he lookin' right down into his ver' soul!'"

Seeing right through ever'thing is not officially encouraged. In fact, it's downright anti-American, esp at a time when a whole lotta trickin' an' lyin' is standard procedure. The majority of the Supreme Court understands this, as does anyone in authority committed to increasing their power.

But then again, seeing right into the truth of matters will invariably break your heart. At least music sounds better.

Monday, June 06, 2005


Laughtracks always bugged me, except in the case of "The Flintstones". For some reason the idea of a fake audience roaring at cartoon characters as though they're all in the same room amuses me. It fits. It's the one instance where phony laughs made the product better.

But for live action, laughtracks are regressive. They muddy and cheapen great jokes while bestowing honor on bad jokes. I understand why they're needed. Much of what passes for TV comedy is horribly unfunny (and not in the good way), so viewers must somehow be convinced that what they're watching is hilarious. And while shows like "Malcolm in the Middle" and "Arrested Development" contain no laughter, the majority of shitcoms do. That wonderful scene in "Annie Hall" where Tony Roberts urges a techie on his shitcom staff to ramp up the laughs pretty much said it all. After Roberts asks the techie to insert a round of applause for some wretched line, Woody Allen replies, "What, are they booing on that?"

Why laughtracks, of all topics, today? Well, I've been watching much of the second and third seasons of "M*A*S*H" on DVD, a show that was smothered with canned laughs -- that is, outside of the operating room. Inside, during meatball surgery, fake laughs were forbidden. This was the one real concession that "M*A*S*H" series creators Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds wrenched out of CBS. Apparently, they tried to eliminate laughs altogether, but the network didn't go for that. How else would the audience know that "M*A*S*H" was a comedy? Oh, and CBS also balked at showing any blood during surgery. Not even on the surgeons' gloves. The concept that these were doctors working on war wounded near the frontline made little difference to the network. So an element of unreality found its way into "M*A*S*H"'s operating room after all.

By the third season, some blood was allowed. High ratings open tiny doors. More importantly, you see in the third season how the writing and ensemble work by the cast really began to cook. There's good stuff all through the first and second seasons of "M*A*S*H" (the first season was hampered by a near-total fidelity to Robert Altman's film, which Gelbart and Reynolds eventually dropped), but for me it gels in year three. Larry Gelbart's scripts remain sharper than 99 percent of TV work written today, and he set the tone for the rest of the "M*A*S*H" staff to match or approximate, which they pretty much did.

And now, thanks to DVDs, you can watch "M*A*S*H" minus its laughtrack. You can see what Gelbart and Reynolds wanted to do all along, and it makes the show even better. You can actually hear and enjoy the wordplay, and the mood is much much subtler. I always enjoyed the early "M*A*S*H", but not to this degree. Without laughter it's a superior show.

It's also nice to hear really witty antiwar jokes, one-liners and comebacks. I can't imagine a "M*A*S*H"-type show set in Iraq, not with the original's attitude and outlook. The rightwing media would go nuts, causing the centrist (i.e. "liberal") media to go nuts as well in an effort to duplicate broadcast outrage (ratings help to define moral boundaries). All the more reason for there to be one. The negative publicity alone would put it immediately on the map. It would have to be on HBO where, without old CBS-style restrictions, a deeper graphic horror could frame the humor. The language and imagery would be rougher and more realistic. It's a hit waiting to happen. I think I'll phone my agent . . .

A sidelight: after Larry Gelbart left, "M*A*S*H" began its decline. From the fifth season on the show slowly became earnest, literal, and dull. The snap and anger was replaced with hugging and sharing, and even a softer laughtrack (it set the mood). Now, I'm not against the softer side of human existence. In fact, I very much enjoy it. But "M*A*S*H" was better meaner, for the softer side was more richly portrayed. Being pissed off at mass murder, state lies and bureaucratic folly shows that you care, that you want to protect that which is being destroyed. Early on, Alan Alda and Wayne Rogers played this emotion beautifully. Then, Rogers exited while it was still good, while Alda hung on till the mushy end and got rich.

So check out "M*A*S*H" sans laughter and take in a different show. Me, I gonna see if "Hogan's Heroes" is improved at all without a laughtrack (there's a hint of this in Paul Schrader's "Auto Focus"). I'm betting that John Banner's Schultz is a tragic figure waiting to be appreciated.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Family Feud

Intense race weekend time with my extended family. I won't delve into the emotional particulars (saving all that for my "Running with Scissors"-type book), but let's just say it gets jagged and drains you. Still, there were some bright creative moments and exchanges, and of course the obligatory late-night political squabble.

Not everyone in my family follows political events or world news, but those who do hold pretty strong opinions. For the most part, my family leans right, with a few centrist exceptions. Then there's my Aunt & Uncle who were and I suppose remain somewhat liberal. I haven't explored their every belief. But I do recall growing up with this general impression, which was reinforced by a photo they used to display on their mantle.

My Uncle attended Brown University in the late-60s (he was also the football team's QB) when anti-Vietnam War campus protest was at its height. At his 1969 graduation ceremony, Brown awarded Henry Kissinger an honorary degree. This inspired three-quarters of the graduating class and some faculty to rise and turn their backs to Kissinger, who at the time was soaked in the blood of Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians and Americans. I believe my Aunt snapped the photo of this protest, which for me was an early political inspiration.

Well, time does strange things to people, and today my Aunt & Uncle are staunchly pro-Bush and pro-Iraq War. And they seem to revel in this. When they arrived at the family BBQ on Sun, each wore a Bush/Cheney ballcap, knowing full well that this would be provocative not only to me, but to my father and his wife, who are against Bush's war aims.

I rolled my eyes, made a slight crack and left it at that. I was enjoying a bottle of fine Chilean Merlot, a very rich, creamy brand, nearly Cabernet but not quite, and was in no mood to argue the obvious. Hours passed, night fell, and as some of my relatives began chewing the backyard grass and howling at the stars, I moved to the front of the house where several of my cousins and their mother were discussing a variety of topics. My pro-Bush Aunt joined us, and soon the conversation turned to gay marriage, which my Aunt supports. I asked her how she reconciled this view with her pro-Bush stance, given the admin's utter hostility to same-sex rights. She replied that she didn't agree with everything Bush did, which is fair enough, but then she segued from this directly into Iraq. And then it was on.

Regular readers of this blog can imagine what my line of attack was, so there's no need to recount it. But what struck me about my Aunt's argument was her almost mystical belief that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was undertaken for democratic reasons. She's not alone in this, of course, but she is a lot smarter than many of those who buy the "freedom" line. And that's what killed me and angered me. My Aunt went on about how things were "getting better" in Iraq, that while Bush made many "mistakes," he was generally on the right track, and so on. Absolute liberal fantasy. I countered with a review of the West's regional designs on the Middle East, quoting intel-officials and the like, but none of this mattered. My Aunt's convinced that this bloody, criminal occupation is inspired by the highest ideals, and as seasoned debaters know, you can't dent ideals with facts.

Finally, one of my drunken relatives stumbled into the room and began bellowing about how Bush is a fascist killer, etc. I strongly doubt he knew what he was talking about, but I took his entrance as my exit cue and suggested that my Aunt debate him.

I went outside to get some sweet summer air. Lit a small fat cigar one of my cousins gave me and pondered the exchange. I was more upset than I expected to be, perhaps because my Aunt once represented something different to me. I thought back to that old photo and wondered what the point of it was now. Those liberals who supported the Vietnam War made many of the same arguments that my Aunt was making about Iraq. And while this war is a much different (and potentially far deadlier) imperial exercise, the domestic justifications for the US to pound and rob other countries remain unchanged.

At the end of the party, my Aunt and I embraced and kissed. I do love her, but as I said to her before she left, "You're so smart. Why?" She smiled and said something about the value of differences. Tragic thing is, she's in lockstep with those who despise that very concept.