Monday, October 31, 2005

The Undead

What a perfect time of year for US elites to wage war on each other. Far from being "Fitzmas," which so many online libs are currently celebrating, it's more like Fitzoween, where the ghouls and zombies who rule us remove their human masks and expose the twisted visages they normally show each other. It's beginning to remind me of "Underworld," an entertaining but not terribly deep horror flick in which vampires and werewolves try to wipe each other out in a nocturnal battle of dark damned souls. And though, unfortunately, there's no real life counterpart to Kate Beckinsale's petite but powerful vampire assassin, there's still the spectacle of Scooter Libby being dragged before the High Tribunal, while Karl Rove and Dick Cheney await the midnight rap at the door.

Those heartened by Patrick Fitzgerald's promise that more action's on the way might keep in mind who's going after whom here -- Fitz is no Billy Jack taking on a bunch of redneck thugs and their political sponsors. He represents another wing of the American power structure, and when government officials fuck with powerful institutions like the CIA, and then lie about it to the FBI, payback is assured. Recall that Watergate was primarily about one part of American power, the Dems, responding to criminal subversion and attacks from another part, the GOP. But Lycan Lord Richard Nixon underestimated his sleepless foes; the evil he sent out came back to torture him, and by early-1974 late night howls from the Oval Office were commonplace as aides sought some kind of cover.

What's happening is not a People's Crusade but a ruling order row. Cheney and his minions overstepped, and now it appears that they will pay. But remember that this is all played out over our heads, without our input, in places we'll never see. Root for Fitz all you wish, but understand that you are merely spectators to a systemic cleansing ritual. The ghouls are trying to reestablish the unholy balance that the zombies hoped to destroy.

Indictments bring only so much pain. I suggest silver bullets filled with holy water.

Friday, October 28, 2005


On CNN as news broke about the Libby indictment, Paul Begala, Beltway fixture and apologist for all things Clinton, smiled and spoke somewhat excitedly about his time advising Clinton during Monicagate. He said how Clinton's inner-circle decided to attack Ken Starr as a sex-obsessed political partisan, and then offered advice to the current administration on how it can affect some anti-Patrick Fitzgerald spin.

Corruption is the life blood of American politics, esp at the federal level. This is taken as a given by those who benefit and profit from said corruption, so much so that they don't even view it as such. It's simple political normalcy. That Begala can speak so casually and positively about his own experience defending a corrupt president, and then toss a few ideas across the crooked aisle for good measure without anyone on CNN at least questioning his intentions shows just how fixed the whole game is, and that this is totally acceptable to those who presume to "inform" the public.

So, Libby's indicted and forced to resign, and word is that Karl Rove may be next. Huzzah. For the moment, this political scandal, like most others, is about personalities and not the system that encouraged and rewarded their deceit. If Fitzgerald goes after Cheney or even W., then maybe we get a deeper look into the squalid well. But if Iran/contra taught us anything, it's that those at the top know how to protect themselves, while those who get pinched (to the degree that they do) can later find professional redemption. Ask Ollie North and Elliott Abrams.

Maybe a year or two down the road, MSNBC, in its ongoing effort to balance conservatives with howling reactionaries, will award Libby with his own primetime show -- "Double Talk with Scooter Libby."

It's how the game works. Perfectly normal.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Charles Rocket

Was found dead in a field near his Connecticut home. He was 56.

The police claim that Rocket killed himself by slitting his own throat. I suppose that is possible, but man, what a grisly ragged way to exit. Maybe there's some deeper meaning here that hasn't been discerned. You don't often come across suicides like Rocket's.

Part of the first "Saturday Night Live" cast to succeed the original show in 1980, Rocket was pushed by producer Jean Doumanian to be her break-out star. He was tall, thin and very telegenic, and in those early episodes he displayed some comic talent, though oftentimes it was buried under unnecessary mugging and a pseudo-Bill Murray impression. With the swift ascension of 19-year-old featured player Eddie Murphy, Rocket, and pretty much the rest of that cast, was relegated to SNL's back seat. After 12 wildly-uneven episodes, NBC fired Doumanian and soon got rid of everyone except Murphy and Joe Piscopo. Rocket's big opportunity ended before it really had a chance to grow.

Of course, Rocket did himself no favors by uttering "fuck" at the end of a later episode. Given NBC's basement ratings at the time, and the horrid state of its flagship late night show, tossing an f-bomb on live TV was not the best career move for Rocket. While he did recover and worked pretty steadily in film and TV for years afterward, Rocket never realized the true stardom that was predicted for him when he reached SNL.

I never thought that Rocket was a first-rate comic actor. As I said, he had some moves, but usually he was saddled with subpar material and had a tendency to overdo it. His small role in "Dances With Wolves" showed that he had potential as a serious actor, and I've seen him in B-flicks where hints of a dramatic side were dropped here and there. On an episode of "thirtysomething", playing a famous actor doing a PSA for DAA, the ad agency run by the evil Miles Drentell (the wonderful Dave Clennon), Rocket was perfect in his depiction of a celebrity prick, which culminated in his nearly tearing the head off Timothy Busfield's Elliott (if you don't know who all these "thirtysomething" characters are, consider yourself lucky -- me, I'm a "t-something" geek, much to the wife's chagrin). Yet despite these flashes of dramatic promise, Rocket languished as a minor character actor.

Maybe that's why he ended his life -- the realization that, in his mid-50s, being a minor character actor was as good as it would get. It wouldn't be the first time that a despondent performer checked out because of an unfulfilled career. But then I saw that in the early-1970s, Rocket attended the Rhode Island School of Design, the famous art school that gave us Talking Heads (whose drummer Chris Frantz knew Rocket), Martin Mull, Gus Van Sant and cartoonist Roz Chast. Even if he'd hit the end of the Hollywood line, Rocket was no dopey waiter-turned-actor. Surely he could imagine a creative alternative for his later years.

But this is all speculation. Whatever drove him to it, Rocket endured what had to be some unbelievably painful final moments, which suggests that he possessed a dark sense of tragedy as well.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Happy Birthday

To me.

Dead Celebs who share this cake & candles day: Jacque Tati, Peter Tosh, and John Lennon (Sean Lennon, too, but he's alive and not really a celeb -- is he?).

I normally don't get all that reflective on my birthday, but this year, for some reason, is different. I'm in my mid-40s inching toward five-0, so that might have something to do with it. In any case, please indulge me as I veer wildly about today. I'd planned to post some extended riffs on the Great Caliphate Threat that's about to engulf us (or so says the prez), and some added thoughts about the worsening state of sports fan conduct, but all that can wait another day or two. That's the beauty of insanity -- it's never dated.

Recently, I was offered a TV writing gig for a parody show that may or may not fly. We'll see. But it brought back memories of the days when I worked in NYC clubs, first as a stand-up, then as a joke writer and sometime improviser. Back then I deeply lived and breathed comedy. I was crazy ambitious, and within a year of moving to New York, I hooked up with a couple of guys who were writing for Letterman and we used to hang out at Saturday Night Live's Fri night camera blocking rehearsals (where the cast members s-l-o-w-l-y run through each sketch while the director decides which camera angle to use). It was like a dream. SNL was everything to me as a teen, and here I was, 23-years-old, walking around Studio 8H, mixing with and talking to cast members and writers, getting an up-close glimpse at how the show was done. The whole thing was heady and intimidating, esp when sitting around with performers like Terri Garr and Robin Williams, talking with a lump in my throat to Monty Python's Michael Palin (who put his arm around me to calm me down), and sharing an elevator with Jerry Lewis and his little dog (whose muzzle Lewis pushed near my face -- "You wanna pet my dawwwg?" he said in The Kid's high voice). A year earlier I was writing and performing for a sketch comedy group in a tiny Indianapolis theater. And then this. I couldn't fucking believe it.

Still, getting a staff writing position on Letterman or SNL was next to impossible, esp Letterman, most of whose writers were Harvard Lampoon vets. A very inside gig, and tough to crack for a high school grad from the Midwest. I had two different agents submit me to Letterman three separate times, and while my stuff got read, and I talked to then-head writer Steve O'Donnell, that gig just wasn't in the cards. After one of my concepts that I submitted appeared on the show -- Dave Starts a Showbiz Rumor -- I began to realize that comic theft was a common practice, and that the people writing for these shows, while extremely witty and smart, were some of the most cynical people you'd never want to meet. Not long after that, I went out to LA for six months, lived for a time with Ray Combs and his family, wrote for Ray while interviewing for jobs on various sitcoms, the prospect of which depressed me. Nothing dampens one's comedy spirit faster than sucking the same air as a sitcom producer. They truly are a reptilian breed.

After nearly going nuts in LA, I fled back to New York, renounced comedy as a profession, began writing media criticism for an East Village rag called Downtown (run by an old hippie out of the back of a copy shop -- the guy was convinced that the government was reading his rag, and would tone down my weekly blasts so as not to piss off the powers that be) while clipping newspaper stories for FAIR, which at that time operated in a tiny office in lower Manhattan.

The wife's somewhat convinced that I fear success. I could've easily had a job on a Top Ten sitcom back in the day (which, once you snag, pretty much guarantees a lifetime of steady work), yet I sabotaged every opportunity. She might be right. There are times when I regret not taking the leap, even though that would've meant writing cute one-liners for the girls on "The Facts of Life." I read profiles of up-and-coming comics, and I wonder what might have been. I suspect that I would have become extremely dark and cynical, succumbing to the horrid LA comedy writer cliché. When I see the Paulie G. character on Lisa Kudrow's marvelous HBO series "The Comeback" (which I'm sorry to see canceled -- buy the DVD box set!), I'm convinced that's who I would be today -- a fat, hate-filled gag writer who phones it in for a bunch of fresh-faced flesh tarts jumping around a soundstage while the tourists in the studio audience are told to laugh by the warm-up comic and to clap by the flashing APPLAUSE sign over their heads.

Not to be. Not for me.

Well, enough of this. I wanna spend the rest of the day with the fam -- my boy and I are going out to buy some music and maybe a couple of movies. Then a light dinner and homemade apple pie, just the four of us. When I look at them, I realize that I made the right decision those many years ago.

It's gonna be a good day.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Liberation Update

BAGHDAD (October 2) -- Eight-year-old Rudenah al-Hillali cried as the two American soldiers led her father into their apartment with a rifle barrel at his back and forced the family to stand in a corner at gunpoint.

"She was scared," said her father, Issam Abdul Jabbar al-Hillali, adding that the soldiers refused to let him give Rudenah water.

Al-Hillali said Army Pfc. John N. Lee and Spec. Timothy I. Barron claimed to be Marines searching for weapons. But once inside his house, he said, they used a knife to pry open a briefcase filled with money and eventually stole $2,000 in cash, silver and other valuables.

Although Army officials found some of the missing items in the soldiers' possession and they admitted to robbing houses under the guise of looking for illegal weapons, the Army dismissed the charges. In exchange, Barron said, both soldiers agreed to leave the military.

Using previously undisclosed Army records, the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News found that dozens of soldiers have been accused of crimes against Iraqis since the first troops deployed for Iraq. But despite strong evidence and convictions in some cases, only a small percentage resulted in punishments nearing those that civilian justice systems routinely impose for such crimes.

In a number of other cases, there was no evidence that thorough or timely criminal investigations were conducted. Other cases weren't prosecuted, and still others resulted in dismissals, light jail sentences or no jail sentence at all.

"I've been surprised at some of the lenient sentences," said Gary Solis, a former military judge and prosecutor who teaches military law at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. "I have an uneasy suspicion that it relates to the nationality of the victim."

[. . .]

The Daily News examination found that soldiers accused of property crimes or violations of military rules sometimes were dealt with more harshly than soldiers convicted of beating, robbing and even killing Iraqis.

[. . .]

Al-Hillali, whose home in Baghdad was ransacked by the two American soldiers, said the robbery changed his family's "thought picture of Americans" and left his daughter, now 10, traumatized.

"Even now, when Rudenah sees Americans, she gets very scared. She hides in the car," he said, adding that she became hysterical again in July when U.S. soldiers took cover near their house.

"She thought they had come back to our house."

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Uh, Those Guys, Whoever They Were

Couldn't help myself. I read Hitchens' latest at Slate, concerning the recent Bali terror bombings. As with most of his output these days, it was a slog, the eyes trying mightily to trudge through so much clotted prose and reasoning. But after hacking away miles of twisted vines and vegetation, I came to this:

"East Timor was for many years, and quite rightly, a signature cause of the Noam Chomsky 'left.' The near-genocide of its people is an eternal stain on Indonesia and on the Western states that were complicit or silent."

"Western states." Hmm. Wonder who Hitch means here. Spain? Iceland? Just which "Western state" does he have in mind?

It couldn't be the really big powerful rich one that's spreading freedom all over the globe, could it? Because as Hitch never ceases to remind us, that "Western state" isn't imperialist, so how could it be "complicit" in the near-genocide of the Timorese people?

I know -- Scotland!


Saw this via Lindsay Beyerstein, and I must say, it do not suu-prize me:

"Republican lawmakers are drafting new legislation that will make marriage a requirement for motherhood in the state of Indiana, including specific criminal penalties for unmarried women who do become pregnant 'by means other than sexual intercourse.'

"According to a draft of the recommended change in state law, every woman in Indiana seeking to become a mother through assisted reproduction therapy such as in vitro fertilization, sperm donation, and egg donation, must first file for a 'petition for parentage' in their local county probate court."

Now, I don't know how much legal traction this proposed legislation will have, but I'm sure there's plenty of political/religious support for it. We're talking Indiana, after all.

For years relatives asked me, sometimes defensively, why I left Indiana to live in New York City. I always tried to be diplomatic and gentle, for voicing the honest bottom line reason for my exile would doubtless hurt their feelings. But I suspect they knew all along.

Looking back to my teens and the years just before I fled, Indiana had some open pockets, places where you didn't have to be a reactionary in order to pass. Of course, this was just before Ronald Reagan's first term, when the concept of cultural diversity wasn't seen as an insidious commie plot. From 1980 on, however, Hoosier rightists took control and pulled the state in their direction. And judging from the election results over the past 25 years, a majority of Hoosiers went happily along, God bless 'em.

So, if you like endless strip malls, fundamentalist Christians and the rightwing of the Republican Party, you might be a Hoosier.

Saturday, October 01, 2005


So Judith Miller's out of jail. Huzzah. Three cheers for da freedom of da prass. Hubba hubba and a ringa-ding-ding.

Scratch that. Honestly, I couldn't really give a shit. Just looking at that twisted pompous face is enough to send me packing to TV Land, where prettier visuals from my empty youth flash 24/7. I cruise the blogs and see extended discussions about Miller's upcoming testimony and whether or not confidential sources should be protected and so on and etcetera, and none of it stirs me. I know that it should, on some level at least. I mean, I am a former professional Media Critic who for years spoke profoundly about such topics on stage, radio and TV. Why don't I care? What the fuck's wrong with me?

Well, for one thing, there's no shortage of bloggers and yakkers who find the minutiae of Millergate oh so fascinating, so there's really no need for my added voice. Plus, I'm simply tired of showing, yet again, that our Free Press is largely inept when not utterly corrupt; that profits and prestige mean more than informing the public and energizing democratic discourse. When in doubt, go back and read any chapter from Chomsky and Herman's "Manufacturing Consent." That'll pretty much tell you all you need to know.

Oh, Mistah Son! How cynical you is! Naw -- more fatigued than anything else. I read this crap daily and it's like having wet cement poured into my head. After a few hours my face crashes on the keyboard and I call for one of the kids to help the old man up.

"What's with Dad?"

"He's reading the press and blogs again."

"Why doesn't he just stick to porn like most men his age?"

"Dunno. Glutton for pain, I guess."

There is a dilemma I'm wrestling with this weekend: who do I want to see make the American League playoffs? In these final days of the regular season, three teams are vying for two spots -- the Red Sox, Yankees and Indians. Now, I'm not a fan of any of these teams, and my lesser evil formula just isn't cooking. I can't stand the Red Sox because of their racist legacy and the insanity of their fans. I despise the Yankees because I'm a Mets fan, and as we know, Mets fans are far more logical and less insane than Yankee fans. And I cannot root for the Indians because they insist on wearing that racist Chief Wahoo, red Sambo symbol, which Indian fans embrace as an emblem of cultural defiance. What to do? I suppose I could curse the Twins and the A's for having a subpar season, but that would be like cursing the New York Times for employing hacks like Judith Miller. A waste of time, esp when greener acres beckon.