Saturday, July 30, 2005


Took a month off from American Fan, and now I'm back, posting today about the rise in extreme cage fighting in the Midwest. In a culture of war, aggression, hypocrisy, denial and barely controlled chaos, spectacles like these are to be expected, and actually cut right through the bullshit. Which is why, I suspect, so many young men commit to it. It gives them some measure of control in a world where they have none, and some kind of meaning where solid definitions are elusive. Plus, some guys just like kicking the crap outta each other. And if they can do it for fast dough, well then . . .

As for Red State and son, we're off to the bowling alley for more wretched pop music and Warner Bros. cartoons. We plan to knock down pins as well.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Went bowling with the boy the other day. This is now, more or less, a weekly outing for the two of us, a chance for us to practice without really keeping score. He just likes to have fun, but I tend to take it far too seriously. Goes back to my younger jock days. If I'm playing something, I go all out. It's more about pushing myself to achieve a sharper game than burying an opponent, but I know that sometimes it seems like I'm trying crush the competition.

Not with my son, however. I simply enjoy sharing this time with him. And he gets such a kick out of bowling, as he does most things. His enthusiasm is free of snark and cynicism. This gladdens me, which is nice, since these days I can use all the gladdening I can grab.

The only bad thing about the bowling alley is the horrible Top 40 music that constantly blasts from the ceiling speakers. Occasionally a minor classic is heard, but mostly it's contemporary pap, and I wonder who in the hell seriously enjoys this trash. Again, it might be age, but these repetitive, timid arrangements make me yearn for such pop masters as Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond, even early Carole King. But this is not my time, and the alley, being filled as it is with younger folk, goes with what they know and apparently like. What can you do?

Over the lanes, from left to right wall, are maybe five large screens, and when my son and I bowl, the screens usually show endless loops of Warner Bros. cartoons, a fair number of which are from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. There's no audio, so the antics of Porky Pig and Bugs Bunny are presented in pantomime. What's the point of this? Visual distraction between rolls? And the audio of, say, Ashlee Simpson screeching combined with the visual of Foghorn Leghorn beating a dog with a bat is a little unnerving. With all this going on, I seriously doubt that I'll ever bowl 300.

The other thing I noticed about the cartoons shown is how the period references must fly right past those trapped in the present. If I took an informal poll on the spot, I seriously doubt that few if any bowlers would recognize caricatures of Fred Allen, Gene Krupa, Heddy Lamarr, Claudette Colbert, William Powell or Jack Benny. Yet these forgotten celebs and many of their equally forgotten peers are sent up and parodied on those big screens every time we bowl there. The only reason I notice is that I've seen most if not all of those classic cartoons countless times. Plus, I'm a yesteryear geek. Throw a Marie Dressler ref my way and I won't go glassy eyed. I say this not to brag but to show how lonely it is in situations like that. Those cartoons are like ghosts operating on a very narrow frequency. And if you pick it up, as I do, you share that cultural isolation.

Last week I saw Robert Clampett's "Book Revue," a 1946 cartoon where Daffy Duck operates in a world where book covers come to life. I know this cartoon very well, so having the sound off did nothing to diminish it. I could lip read what was being said, and I spoke along, which prompted my son to ask, "Hey Dad, what are you saying?"

"Well, see that cartoon up there?"


"That's one of my favorite Looney Tunes. I know pretty much all the words by heart."


"Sure. Watch."

And I began to act out some of the dialogue, eliciting a few stares from the people bowling next to us. Then my son asked me why Daffy Duck was dressed so weird.

"He's imitating a comedian from that time named Danny Kaye, who was very popular back then."

"And who's that small guy?"

I looked up. "Oh, that's Frank Sinatra, only they made him book-sized for this."

The boy looked at me with his crooked smile. "You're funny, Dad!" He then went back to pick up a spare.

I watched the cartoon till the end, when the Big Bad Wolf is tossed into Dante's Inferno, causing Daffy Kaye and the inhabitants of Book Town (Benny Goodman and Jimmy Durante among them) to dance in celebration. The racket becomes so great that the Wolf emerges from Hell to tell them all to stop. After shaking his fist, he becomes very fey and delivers the closing line, taken from comedian Joe Besser: "Y'cwazies."

Yeah, Dad's funny all right. Just not "ha ha" funny.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


Stepped out of the shower this morning, saw a fat slow fly buzzing through the steam.

"Taking a sauna?" I asked.

The fly, a grubby winged cow, kept hitting the fogged mirror, leaving little marks. Again again again. "I know how you feel," I told it before exiting. Flicked off the light, left the door open. No matter -- the fly repeatedly collided with the mirror, and I understood the karmic and comic pointlessness of this. Perhaps the fly will leave the bathroom and eventually find its way back outside to the lush green that surrounds me. Or maybe it so loves meaningless repetitive action that it'll keep going till it drops dead in the sink. Either way, I understand.

I've talked to bugs since I was kid. I know they're cold, emotionless, that they possess no mercy for each other and exist to procreate then die. But there are times when I swear a few picked up my vibe. That fly this morning knew I had no intention of swatting it. I gave off no aggressive signals. Why would I? It has so little time as it is. When I worked construction I was always sickened by the casual cruelty of the other workers, for whom violence of one kind or another was a common reflex. They'd stomp on grasshoppers and swipe at butterflies, laughing and snorting all the while. I once asked an older guy why he did it. What was the point? He looked at me and sneered, "What th'fuck's wrong with you, kid? You a retard or sumthin'?"


Over the past two days I've written and erased several posts about the terror blasts in Egypt, the recent bombing in Iraq, the shameless bloodlust displayed by several media personalities, and I simply couldn't finish them. I kept hitting the fogged mirror, thinking that the continual impact would somehow force me to find some unique insight or to simply finish. But clearly, this was not the case.

I mean, what more can I add to someone like Bo Dietl, whose recent appearance on Neil Cavuto's Fox show was simultaneously one of the funniest and most depressing things I've seen in weeks. Crooks and Liars has the clip (Windows Media required), and it's a good one, in a man-are-we-fucked kind of way. I know that Dietl's been around for a while, that he's a longtime reg on Don Imus's show. But I don't listen to racist queer-baiting fantasy cowboys who make kids with cancer shovel horse shit, so I've missed Dietl's act there. And while I'm happy for that, I do see his appeal: he's completely and unapologetically out of his mind. Plus, he sounds like a minor "Sopranos" character, which is a nice crossover feature. In an age of assassins, buttonmen make the best terror experts.

Then there's John Gibson, whom Steve Gilliard grilled this morn. This guy's been coming unglued for some time, but with the news that the Brazilian kid, Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot five times in the head by British cops was not in any way connected to the recent terror bombings, Gibson went full-Dietl, minus the laughs. As he happily put it, "So for the moment, all's well. Just catch the four bombers. Five in the noggin is fine. Don't complain that sounds barbaric. We're fighting barbaric."

Gibson is the corp media equivalent to those sadistic construction workers from my youth, though I doubt he'd last 12 seconds in a fight with any one of them. But then, Gibson's job is to transmit his murderous fantasies to millions who share the dream. Mussing his big blown hair isn't part of the deal.

Gibson and Dietl are but two in a rising rancid chorus. As the occupation of Iraq continues to fall apart into civil war and more bombs go off God-knows-where-next, this rancid chorus will spit out filthier, bloodier songs that'll descend into shrieks and screams if they haven't already. There's no getting away from it. No hiding place that's totally safe. American culture is becoming increasingly barbarous, which guarantees that the cycle of killing will continue.

(Caught some young militant Muslims on CNN yesterday, uttering the vilest shit. They, Gibson and Dietl have a lot in common. No fogged mirror here.)

Can I keep up with all this? Sure, if I strip away my emotions and work clinically. Do I want to keep up with all this? Fuck no. But as I've said over again, I have no choice.

Unlike Gilliard, Billmon and others, I cannot post several times a day about everything that happens. That's their racket and they're damn good at it. There's no need for me to rehash their insights, to the extent that I agree with them (which I do much of the time). So, as I promised over a week ago, but have yet to honor, I'm gonna stick to broader concepts and themes, mixing up and blending timelines and outlooks. Because if we're seriously on a brutally chaotic road, then I desire to control what chaos I can.

Damn fly just hit my screen. Attention whore.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


For a nation so in love with violence, and in some areas, damn proud of it, you'd think that we'd be gorging daily on the carnage coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm not talking about those wire photos where grieving men and women are shown crying over their slaughtered relatives -- I mean the sizzling slaughter itself: severed limbs, heads blown apart, internal organs spilled and baking in the sun, endless rivers of blood. That's just the Iraqis and Afghans, targets and pawns in a savage outdoor video game (rated M, natch). There are also our boys and girls, killed, mangled, maimed, shattered, mentally and emotionally damaged, fucked up perhaps forever at an early age. Don't we want to see the price they pay? Shouldn't we take long looks at their dead bodies, blasted brains, psychic traumas?

The answer, in the mainstream at least, is decidedly no (there are sites which show all this and more, but they are not linked to larger, proper outlets). This is nothing new -- pretty much every overseas war has been sanitized for domestic consumption, including Vietnam which, contrary to popular myth, was not shown graphically on American TV news (see Dan Hallin's extensively researched book on this topic, "The Uncensored War"). Americans prefer their conflicts to remain abstract, to the degree they choose to think about it at all. Indeed, it's hard to find in one's daily life any real discussion about the current war. Whenever I casually mentioned Iraq to, say, other parents at my son's school, they averted their eyes and changed the subject. And I don't overhear people talking about our deepening quagmire at the grocery store, at the pool, or at the bowling alley. Given the amount of money we're pumping into this madness, one might expect some discussion in a supposedly "free" country. There are no restrictions against it, that I know of -- why the general silence?

Yes, there are the military families who have no choice but to face the facts, esp if death or permanent injury is involved. And there are the parents of kids who are being hounded by military recruiters, sometimes in high school hallways. Many have told the military to keep its hands off their children. But these are direct experiences. Unavoidable. However, for the large number of Americans who don't have an immediate stake in the war, there are plenty of diversions to occupy them so they don't have to think about occupation.

The corporate media's doing its part, filtering and air-brushing the daily death and destruction so as not to scare away consumers or advertisers. Barbara Bedway of Editor and Publisher has a good piece on this form of soft censorship. As David Swanson, a photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer who's spent time in Iraq, put it, "It's war, whether you agree to it or not ... death needs to be shown. You have to know what you might lose before you commit so many lives. A country needs to be reminded that an 18-year-old has just died, and that Memorial Day and Veterans' Day are not just days for picnics at the beach."

Presumably, yes, that should be the case. But it isn't, and probably won't be.

Personally, I've watched as much graphic imagery from Iraq and Afghanistan as I can take, and then pushed past that. As a critic of this war, I feel that I should immerse myself as deeply as I can from my stateside perch, no matter how sickening it gets. And it does sicken. I got through about 3/4 of a beheading vid before I shut it off, my hands cold with sweat, my brain buzzing as if soaked in bad speed. In fact, watching a hostage be butchered like a goat made me swear off graven images for several days. But I came back, and looked at more. And I keep looking, watching, taking in what is being done in our name, ostensibly in defense of our "values."

I say this not to posture or pose, but to be straight up. I cannot stand violence, and some of this shit has given me nightmares (I cannot imagine what goes through the minds of soldiers and Marines in the thick, much less of those civilians trapped in between). But as long as this madness continues, I feel compelled to be as graphically aware of it as possible.

I think that the majority of American adults should have their faces crammed into this barbarism. No filters, no blinking, no turning away.

But that's the concerned citizen in me. Realistically, I know that the majority prefers its "reality" played out between commercials in primetime.

But if you have any curiosity about the Real Deal, check out Iraq combat vet Paul Rieckhoff's recent post at Operation Truth, then watch the graphic vid attached. It's not the worst I've seen, but then, when it comes to human beings exploding, "not the worst" is a slender category.

OH: Just noticed that Arianna touched on the same topic today. Read her, too.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Happy Birthday Mom

Wanted to take a brief break from my ranting to wish my mother, Ramona Corey, a very happy birthday.

(That's Beatrice Straight above, who here looks a lot like Mom.)

Mom's quite passionate about a variety of things. I recall her intense enthusiasm when I played baseball as a kid (and for all sports, esp Indy racing), her love of Motown and Broadway tunes (my first exposure to both -- I was probably one of the few straight boys in central Indiana who liked Barbra Streisand, who Mom played often and loud), and her laughter. When I was much younger, I remember the parties my parents threw, and I could tell from my bedroom that Mom was the center of the action. She would get all dressed up for these gatherings, made sure that the music rocked (pop and soul 45s stacked high), and punctuated each burst of laughter with a theatrical drag from her cigarette, which was usually in a holder (she's long since become a militant anti-smoker). I always loved my Mom's playful, theatrical side, and suspect that's where I get mine. I also suspect that I got my writing bug from her, since Mom loves to write and read. So thank you for that, Mom, though I'm sure there are many out there who wish I'd caught a different bug.

A magical memory I have from one of my Mom's birthdays happened on this day in 1969. Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had landed on the moon, and there was a lag as they prepped to take their historic lunar walk. It was late, I was nine, and we were at Mom's parents' house where I slept in a back bedroom. Then, in the dark, I was awoken and told to come to the TV room. I was barely conscious as I watched the grainy black and white image from the moon's surface as Armstrong stepped onto it. Everyone in the room was hushed but excited. It all seemed so dreamlike, but I recall Mom smiling at me and saying that I'd remember this moment for the rest of my life. And I have.

So happy birthday Mom! Stay passionate, and know that I love you.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Over the weekend, the wife and I watched "Network," Sidney Lumet's film from Paddy Chayefsky's screenplay. We hadn't seen it in years, and never together, so this was a fresh viewing of sorts. And man, I'd forgotten just how prescient "Network" was and how powerful it remains. And as politically sharp as Chayefsky's script is, it is a pure acting vehicle. Every main character is given a speech, which in less-able hands would be intolerable, but here is simply mesmerizing. Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway (years before she was reduced to projects like "Honk If You're Horny" with Pauly Shore), William Holden, Robert Duvall, and esp Beatrice Straight, blaze beautifully. "Network" is one of the best, if not the best, films to accurately depict late-20th century corporate capitalism and that system's ability to commodify and sell pretty much anything -- including anti-capitalism.

(An SLA-type terrorist group gets its own weekly show, "The Mao Tse-Tung Hour." Today, "Osama's Commandos"?)

The wife and I differ over one scene -- where corporate boss Arthur Jensen, played by Ned Beatty, delivers a fire and brimstone sermon about the nature of global corporate rule to Finch's Howard Beale, TV newscaster turned primetime prophet. I think Beatty's wonderful in this scene, but the wife doesn't believe that Beatty pulled it off. We tossed around names of those who might've played a better, more intimidating Jensen, so long as they were working in the mid-70s (no time travel casting). I finally came up with Orson Welles.

"Yes!" the wife responded. "Welles would've been perfect! Especially with the sermonizing and the fluctuation of tones."

"Yeah, he would be great," I said, "but probably impossible to direct. I can hear him telling Lumet, 'I'm sorry Sidney, but this speech makes no sense! I wouldn't direct an actor in Shakespeare with a speech like this!' It would take them three months to film that scene with Welles."

Still, I think Beatty hit it right.

What follows is Jensen's speech, and a sound file so you may sermonize along.

At this point in the film, Beale has gotten his mass of viewers to stop a business deal his network's parent company has with the Saudis, which causes major problems for the parent company. So Jensen gently guides Beale into a large, darkened boardroom to explain the facts of nature.

(Listen here.)

Jensen: You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won't have it! Is that clear?! You think you've merely stopped a business deal -- that is not the case! The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back. It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity. It is ecological balance. You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West! There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, Reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and YOU WILL ATONE!

Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale?

You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen, and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state -- Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale! It has been since man crawled out of the slime. And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that perfect world in which there's no war and famine, oppression or brutality -- one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused.

And I have chosen you, Mr. Beale, to preach this evangel.

Beale: Why me?

Jensen: Because you're on television, dummy. Sixty million people watch you every night of the week, Monday through Friday.

Beale: I have seen the face of God.

Jensen: You just might be right, Mr. Beale.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Patriot Games

Is the Karl Rove-A-Thon still running? After reading 6,754 articles and blogposts about his latest vile behavior, I had to check out and let others do the squawking. Not that there's nothing to bitch about, mind you -- Rove's a filthy political beast and richly deserves every single blow he receives (whether it registers with him or not is another issue). The mere sight of the man reminds one of the sheer depravity of American corporate rule, that porcine white face squinting with the coarsest self-regard. So yeah, Rove should be stripped to his briefs and run out of DC, pelted with garbage as he retreats.

That's the humanitarian response. Others may have harsher ideas.

Still, even if Rove is forced to resign or is otherwise punished, the criminal state keeps moving. The machine is bigger than transitory figures like Rove who spent his entire adult life trying, and mostly succeeding, to harness it for his personal political gain. Which is why I don't get all excited about feeding frenzies like this one -- Rove could be anybody up for demonization. He's merely the latest political celeb who's been caught pushing his advantage. Nothing new, and he won't be the last. Some libs, like the must-read Billmon, dream of Rove being charged with treason and/or espionage. As highly entertaining as that would be, I wouldn't plan the "Fry Rove" parties just yet.

Like Billmon, many of the libs I've read these past few days are throwing around terms like "treason" and "traitor" to describe Rove's apparent outing of Valerie Plame. I understand this on one level -- piss off the uber-patriots who've rendered unto Karl what is Karl's by throwing the "anti-American" slander back at them. It's not the most sophisticated polemical tactic, but it does hold some short-term charm: force the Repubs to look in the mirror, then smash the mirror over their heads. I can see the attraction in that.

But, ultimately, where does this tactic take us? In the grand scheme, Rove is nobody. Yes, he'll rake in serious bucks on the lecture circuit when not privately advising future reactionaries running for office. Rove's made the system work for him. But get rid of Rove, and what remains? That's right, kids -- this corrupt, violent, hypocritical system! As I type, little Karl Roves are practicing their moves, anticipating the day when they too can push arrogant dimwits into higher office. And they'll probably succeed. Why? Again, this system, this arrangement, nurtures and rewards political animals like them. Banishing Rove won't dissuade them; they'll see it as another opening. American corporate politics is a high-risk racket. This is well-understood by those looking to exploit it. Indeed, it's part of the thrill.

Stating that Rove is a "traitor," while momentarily bracing, is in the end pointless. What is Rove a traitor to -- the American corporate state? Hardly. He epitomizes the status quo. Has he then undercut our dear American values? Depends on what "values" you're referring to. If you mean Mom & Dad & Apple Pie, then I guess the answer is yes. But again, Rove has no use for such quaint concepts of Americana, save for election-year imagery and propaganda. The "America" romanticized by flag-waving liberals doesn't exist where Rove and his like operate. So to say that he's betrayed something that he doesn't even believe in means nothing in the real world. And it serves as a poor substitute for real analysis and criticism, which is needed now more than ever.

Patriotism is a state religion used by elites as a form of control, and embraced by the powerless as a substitute for politics. People who consider themselves "progressives" should demystify this state of affairs, not help to prop it up. The Karl Rove circus is an excellent place to do so.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

A New Hope

Greetings America!

Something is missing from our effort in Iraq -- apart from protective armor, that is!

But seriously, given the many problems our soldiers and Marines face in this war, and with military recruitment at an all time low, something special is needed and needed now. When you look back at all of our previous conflicts, invasions, incursions, police actions, coups, subversions of elected governments, weapons and drug smuggling on the black market in order to help finance secret wars, there was one unifying strand:

Mr. Bob Hope.

When Bob Hope hit a war zone stage, a fighting man knew that America cared enough to send the very best in entertainment: Lola Falana, Joey Heatherton, Johnny Bench, Anita Bryant, Yakov Smirnoff, Brooke Shields. Sadly, all our boys get today are Al Franken and Colin Quinn.

Not quite the same, is it?

That's why, with the help of CryoPreserve Inc. and the good people at NASA, we are proud to announce the triumphant return of Bob Hope!!

Now, this show, set to take place in Baghdad's Green Zone on Thanksgiving (and taped for broadcast on NBC a week later), will be a little different. See, Bob was cryogenically frozen in 2003 and, frankly, without his custom-designed freezer (set at a comfortable -120°C)

Bob would simply fall apart. Literally. I mean, the guy would be three minutes into his act before the first body part dropped off. So, Bob will have to stay in his freezer while onstage. And of course, Bob will remain unconscious. There's no way he could physically operate in that sub-zero environment. But despite these limitations, we've found a way to bring Bob's unique humor to a new generation of warriors!

Audio tapes of Bob's previous shows in Korea, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic and Saudi Arabia will be edited and revised by veteran gag writers Sol Manklebaum and Izzy Blitzstein to include topical references and fresh jokes, fleshed out with the vocal talents of master impressionist, Mr. Fred Travalena! Here are a few samples:

*"Hey, it's great to be in [Baghdad]. You know why they call it [Baghdad] don't ya? The only way [the dads here] can [make it with the moms] is to [put a bag over the dads' heads] so they [don't have to look] at [the moms' faces]!"

*"Speaking of [car bombs], the other day I asked my cabbie the fastest way to [Paradise] and he said 'Drive two miles straight ahead, take the first left, then [detonate a large amount of potassium chlorate]. You can't miss it.'"

*"And fellas, just to give you a taste of what you're fighting for, I've brought along with me the beautiful and talented Miss [Jessica Simpson]! Grrrrowwllll! Yeah, [Jessica]'s a real classy lady! I've never seen a nicer [pair of Fallujas on a] gal!"

*"How 'bout that [Zarqawi] character, huh? He's one tough [terror mastermind]. I'll tell ya, if you work for him, you better watch your [throat]!"

*"They say that [the Humvee] is a stylish [High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle]. Where I come from, they call a [light tactical transport] like that 'Sir.'"

*"I'm not sayin' that [Abu Ghraib] is bad, but last night I saw a [hooded prisoner] light his [holding cell] using [the electrodes on his body]!"

And that's just the monologue!

Yes, Bob Hope is back and has his new act down "cold"! You'll be "frozen" with laughter! So join Bob, his freezer, and his special guests, Jessica Simpson, Travis Tritt, and the Philadelphia Eagle cheerleaders for a Thanksgiving feast that will provide a bounty . . . of patriotic smiles!

"Hope's Chillin'" will air December 2 at 8 PM on NBC.

"Hi, this is Bob [Highway of Death] Hope, inviting you to [blow up] the town with me and my guests. I haven't had this much fun since [Bill O'Reilly] put [falafel] in my [kevlar]."

Friday, July 08, 2005

No Stoppage

The reactions to the London bombings are pretty much what you'd expect, and if you read this humble blog, then I'm sure that you've seen what others are saying at the larger sites. Most are picking through the debris for something sharp to throw at their enemies. My post from yesterday was no different, I confess. I was and remain sickened by the carnage unleashed on London's working people and their children, but I'm also sickened by the Swivelchair Commandos who are flapping their arms about "resolve" and screeching for more violence, so long, of course, that they are out of harm's way.

Some liberal commentators like Kevin Drum and one of my faves Billmon called for a brief ceasefire in the online polemical war out of respect for the dead and dying. This is a noble gesture and I'm sure it's genuine, but it is ultimately meaningless, esp now. I agree with Max Sawicky -- we need to keep talking, debating and trying to find some political answers to this madness. And yes, fights will and should break out. Part of the process in such a blood-soaked time as ours. No one I know of called for a moment of silence after the razing of Fallujah, or when the realities of our torture policy emerged. Iraqis and Afghans are dying everyday from a variety of sources, and that hasn't kept bloggers from speaking out. But when we in the West get hit, everything must stop. Is it me, or do even our better minds fall victim to Western exceptionalism?

And man, am I sick and fucking tired of the "fighting fascism" pose adopted by so many lib hawks and their reactionary cousins. If you want to slam anyone for not taking the present madness seriously, then slam them for this childish maneuver, because it has no real meaning save to feed some gladitorial fantasy. If we are indeed engaged with a fascist enemy, then we have ourselves to blame for it. I know that at times like this historical context is frowned upon when not simply spat at, but it cannot be denied and anyone who's read about the region's history knows it to be true: we in the West enabled these retail fascists and gave them the traction they needed to operate. The very people who we now fear and despise were once called "freedom fighters" by none other than Ronald Reagan and his followers. These clerical thugs were financed and encouraged to rip apart the emerging secular society in Afghanistan, and the only people who protested this at the time were fringe communist groups like the Spartacist League and assorted others. I recall in a Mother Jones profile of David Horowitz (one of the first pieces to examine his turn to the hard right) a photo of Horowitz wearing a t-shirt that showed a mujahideen guerrilla waving a rifle. I would love to find that photo now and send it all over the Web. It speaks volumes about what was the "patriotic" position during that period. It also shows us how disposable such positions are when the needs of power, and thus those who worship it, change.

Amazingly, but not surprisingly, Horowitz today tracks the London bombings back to the Iranian revolution of 1979. Apart from the fact that that was a Shi'a power grab (and no one I've seen is suggesting that the Shi'a were behind the latest terror attacks), note that Horowitz completely ignores Afghanistan and Western support for the likes of Bin Laden. To do so would mean that Horowitz would have to answer for his previous pro-Bin Laden stance, and that ain't gonna happen, not while Scaife is footing his bill. Horowitz has airbrushed that part of his history from existence. If anyone out there has access to that Mother Jones photo, let me know or put it up yourself. I think that David needs some reminding.

I have seen former-Bin Laden fans acknowledge their older position, and usually without apology. Just after 9/11, on Canadian TV, Charles Krauthammer, in a debate with Tariq Ali, admitted that he did indeed support the murderous and backward mujahideen. Of course, given that Krauthammer wrote a lot at the time in defense of Bin Ladenist forces under the title "Reagan Doctrine," this would now be nearly-impossible to deny. But Krauthammer would not criticize his earlier position. He said it was the act of an American patriot fighting the Soviet Union. He then threw some anti-Castro crack at Ali who immediately responded that he'd rather be friends with Castro than with Osama bin Laden. Krauthammer had no comeback to that.

On on on it goes. So, what do we do now? Jesus, there's so much to deal with at so many levels. I'll try to do my small part in the coming days and weeks, for the madness won't be ending anytime soon. For the moment, though, continue to mourn the dead in London, Afghanistan and Iraq, and attempt to keep the vile animals from dragging their bodies across the Web in an effort to whip up more insanity. That can't be done in silence.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Standing in the supermarket checkout line earlier today, I saw a teaser on the current Good Housekeeping's cover that promised to reveal the secrets of "cheering up" inside. As much as I need cheering up these days, I seriously doubt that GH is gonna help, esp with a beaming Joan Lunden staring at me. Recalling how happy Lunden was on "Good Morning America" when the US began bombing Iraqis in '91 (she actually giggled with excitement), I don't think GH's version of "cheer" is quite what I'm looking for.

But I do find interesting, as well as depressing, how the corporate media insists that we be happy. You see this a lot on daytime TV, from commercials to female-friendly talk shows. So many smiles, so much empty, mindless chatter, that if you had just emerged from a 15-year coma then went directly to Tony Danza's show, you'd have no idea just how fucked the country presently is.

Well, it wouldn't take long. Even those who insist that things are fine and that the Iraq occupation is proceeding beautifully know that beneath their smiles rage fear and insecurity. For them exists the other side of the corporate coin -- "reality" shows. Here pent-up anxiety is unleashed and aggressiveness rewarded. Humiliation, envy, jealousy, anger -- these are the sour emotions that currently entertain us. And when you've had your fill of that, it's back to fake smiles and happy people being deliriously happy in a bright hap-happy world.

Much as I'd like to, I can't fully get it away from it. As I've said before, remaining alert means wading through this shit daily, which I do. But there are moments of sanity, of meditation and purpose, where our national sickness can be kept at a temporary distance. And I find that I'm cherishing these moments more than I ever have.

My son and I are in the third week of our summer training regimen. I'm working with him on his basketball skills -- passing drills, half-court sprints, baseline and foul shooting, all of which are helping him sharpen his reflexes and eye/hand coordination. We also throw the football and baseball around, and here his only weakness is the fear of being hit in the face. He flinches less than he did when we started, but he still occasionally closes his eyes just as the ball reaches him.

I understand the desire to close one's eyes. But as I tell him, if you close your eyes, you're guaranteed to get hit.

We also do various stomach crunches, and he's still working on push-ups; his arm strength isn't quite there yet, but he is getting stronger. Some light free weights every few days are helping him. Soon, we'll work on some self-defense techniques. He's entering the period of life where bullies and little thugs start to test you, and I won't let him get pounded on the way I was before I began fighting back. By the time he starts fourth grade this fall, he should be tighter, tougher, quicker with better balance and less fear. As for his old man, fear is what keeps me going.

Pretty sad, yes. But it's the truth. And instead of curling up in the corner of my bedroom, I continue to push my body as far as my middle-aged muscles can stand. Some days I'm so fucking sore that every movement makes me wince (like today). Yet there's a subtle pleasure in this pain. I lack the psychological training to accurately define what this pleasure means, but it's there.

Masochism? Perhaps.

Maybe I'm punishing myself for being afraid of the brutality that surrounds us.

Or maybe I think that by getting stronger, I'll somehow stave off the madness or be ready when it hits.

Or maybe I'm just an aging yakking fool swinging wildly at the inevitable.

Then again, maybe I'll close my eyes, and instead of getting hit, I'll find myself in Tranquility Forest with my own pair of wings, and I'll fly alongside a forever-young Caroline Ellis, humming sugar-drenched pop tunes and dancing atop giant flowers.

Or maybe I've already lost my mind, but happily so. There are worse fates.

Saturday, July 02, 2005


Being Jon Schwarz's friend means you have to work. Jon expects nothing less from a comrade. None of this "each according to his ability" crap -- you gotta bring it when he lays down the challenge. Failure to act consigns you to Jon's withering putdowns and dismissals, and baby, you want no part of that. I've seen the brightest people break down in Jon's shadow, sobbing, openly asking if life is mere suffering. He's that brutal.

So when Jon tossed his latest challenge my way, I took it seriously. My response follows. I only hope Jon finds some mercy in his heart.

Total number of books owned:

I honestly have no idea, but lots, all sizes, widths and ages. Many are still in boxes from our move last year. But the books we have on display sit majestically on the large, unvarnished book shelves my father-in-law built for us years ago. They look like planks taken from a weathered barn and pieced together. I love them.

Also, I'm very multimedia, so you have to add all my old magazines (a lot of National Lampoons from 1971-74), comic books, CDs, records, tapes, laser discs, DVDs and videos. To me, all of these are interchangeable.

Last book bought:

"notes of a dirty old man" by Charles Bukowski.

The first and only Bukowski I own. The local library has so much of his stuff that buying his books seemed a waste of money. But they don't have "notes," which is one of his first collections, written when he was, oh jeez, around my age. Maybe older. Yeah, definitely older . . .

What I like about Bukowski, apart from the fact that, like me, he was an autodidact, is the strange beauty that emerges from much of his writing. He wallowed in the lowest places, yet found and translated the poetry there. Sometimes he forges magic, but it seems like an afterthought. Maybe, in time, I can approach this plane in my serious writing, that is, when I'm much older than I am now.

Last book read:

"Namath" by Mark Kriegel.

Great sports bio that goes deep into the culture of its time. I dashed off a mid-book review of it at American Fan, so I won't repeat all that here. The chapter on Super Bowl 3 is the best account I've read about that epochal event, and Kriegel beautifully describes the slow tragic decline of Namath after he shoved a stinging defeat into the older league's face. At his height, Namath was the AFL, and thus the future of pro football. But his celebrity overshadowed his talent, and his broken body finally gave out when he tried to extend his gridiron life with the Rams. Then came heavy drinking and scattered attempts at showbiz. Kriegel ends the book on an up note, where Namath reconnects with his daughters and finds some solace in his skin. But overall, Kriegel shows us the destructive power of American celebrity and fame, a fantasyland with a million secret graves.

Five books that mean a lot to you:

"Myra Breckinridge" by Gore Vidal

The best of Vidal's "inventions." Crisp, funny, unsentimental. Influenced a lot of my early comic writing. Was turned into an incredibly bad film starring Raquel Welch and John Huston which Vidal had nothing to do with. In his series of televised debates with Vidal in 1968, William F. Buckley referred to "Myra" as "pornography" and evidence of Vidal's overall deviance (in addition to his anti-Vietnam war stance, of course). Through it all, Vidal smiled. His savage comic novel had turned America's leading rightwinger into a quacking literary moralist. Vidal responded to one of these attacks by stating that he based Myra's rhetorical style on Buckley's -- passionate, and highly irrelevant. Yet another reason why I love this book: it comes from a time when authors spoke about their work, or used their work as a weapon, on national TV. Dem daze iz gone . . .

"On The Road" by Jack Kerouac

I still own the now-yellowed, beaten-up paperback of "Road" I bought when I was 19. One of the first books that inspired me to write. Looking back, "Road," while seminal, is not one of Kerouac's better efforts. Oh, there's plenty of lush, poetic imagery to be found, some truly inspired riffs. And I love the way the book ends (have it memorized, in fact). But Kerouac was forced by Viking Press to tone down his experimental prose and chop his extensive ruminations into more-easily digested, commercially-viable sentences. "Visions of Cody," which was once part of "Road" and published after Kerouac's death, is closer to what he originally intended. But then, it's doubtful that "Road" would've made the splash it did had it read like "Cody." Sometimes editors make good suggestions. The bastards.

"The Diaries of Dawn Powell, 1931-1965" edited by Tim Page

The inner-thoughts of an original, brilliant mind. Powell's various struggles show us once again that writing is not for the weak. Some of her entries are painful to read, but Powell's prose is so smooth, so penetrating, so witty, that her anguish and insecurities flow into you like the finest narrative. Powell's curse was that she saw the essential core of everything, and could shape her insights into pretty much any form she chose. Most times it was satire, at her best seemingly light but always lethal, and this hurt her commercially and professionally. Also, Powell couldn't adequately censor herself for the sake of her career, so when pushed or poked, she slashed right back. Killing the golden goose, as she once put it, was her bloodsport. Her "Diaries" are a must-read for any writer who takes his/her craft seriously. Dawn Powell died for us.

"Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas" by Hunter S. Thompson

Like "On The Road," Thompson's book had a huge impact on me at an early age, and showed me where writing could go. Many writers imitated the good Doctor's style, but for me, it was his energy, his imagination, that sparked those first fires in my head. In a sense, Thompson nailed himself into a corner with "Fear and Loathing," and he was never really able to blaze a different creative path. He certainly had the talent to do so, but Gonzo made him wealthy and famous, and in our branded world, you stay within the lines. That he ended his life completely in character showed that Thompson understood this rough, if profitable, bargain. The man who wrote "Fear and Loathing" could not die peacefully, and this now gives his masterwork an even sharper edge.

"Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O'Donoghue, The Man Who Made Comedy Dangerous"

This book means a lot to me for some obvious reasons, but none of them are connected to any authorial vanity. Indeed, I give myself at best a B-minus for this effort. When I got this project, I was scared shitless. I had never written a biography before, and I had to deal with a host of people, some of whom were quite famous and powerful, who were burned by Bob Woodward's "Wired," his awful book about John Belushi. Few trusted me and let me know this to my face. There were plenty of nerve-wracking interviews. So I was determined to compose the first real serious study of the National Lampoon and early-"Saturday Night Live," and according to many of those I interviewed, I succeeded. I received a tremendous amount of praise from people who I grew up reading, watching and admiring. I became and remain friends with Nelson Lyon, one of O'Donoghue's closest friends and former writing partner, and Chevy Chase, who's an incredibly sweet, smart guy. So on that front, I scored big.

Commercially, "Mr. Mike" tanked. Had I gone a more lurid route, perhaps I might've garnered some heat. But I didn't want write a Woodward-style book, which shows how removed I was from the genre. "Wired" is still in print. "Mr. Mike," when you can find it, is at the bottom of the remainder bin.

Had I to write "Mr. Mike" again, I would be looser and mess around with the bio form more. I would go a little deeper into O'Donoghue's personal world and be less lit-crit with his humor. But it is what it is -- my first real attempt at writing. I learned a lot from that experience, which, I suppose, is better than nothing.