Thursday, June 30, 2005

A LONG WEEKEND. I suppose I could put it down to a slow news week. The big stories have been few: one butt-ugly WTC tower being replaced by another butt-ugly WTC tower; further fist-shaking about the memorial therein (I say have David Allan Coe do twenty-minute-on-the-hour sets in the lobby and leave it at that); a Presidential speech and Congressional babbling. Who wants to read about that, let alone write about it?

But the plain fact is I'm burnt. Between a work schedule that never lets up, the demands of human beings (Christ, they're always trying to talk to you and get you to talk), and nightly wrestling matches with the Angel of Death (at least that's who he says he is, though I could swear I saw him in a Bumfight video), I have been hard-pressed to find tranquility enough to recollect emotion, or even to collect stray thoughts and ball them into blogposts.

So, with apologies for the slow pace of production, I am getting the fuck off the merry-go-round for a few days. I'm going to New Hampshire to visit Editor Downs and his family, and eat pie and walk in the woods. I am not much of a tree-hugger, but on the excellent chance that I will have a nervous breakdown in the maddening cricket-encrusted silence, a tree will be useful to cling to when I feel as if I am about to fall off the earth.

See you Tuesday. Meantime have a glorious Fourth and remember, when the roaring madness of the times gets you down, the immortal words of Neil Young: "Got people here down on their knees and prayin'/Hawks and doves are circlin' in the rain/Got rock 'n' roll, got country music playin'/If you hate us, you just don't know what you're sayin'."

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

SIDESHOW. I didn't watch the Leader's address on TV, so I cannot rate it for stagecraft any more than I could a speech of Lincoln's or Millard Fillmore's. I will say that I was misled to expect that Bush would overtly echo the anti-liberal-traitor theme foreshadowed by his operatives. The Ft. Bragg setting, and the President's call for Fourth of July flags 'n' fan mail for the troops, were clearly meant to tie support for the Iraq adventure to support for the troops. But such devices were already old news in the days of "Pride Integrity Guts" buttons and yellow ribbons. The hardcore supporters will enjoy them, but the White House cannot seriously expect these gestures to restore the faith many citizens have lost in the occupation.

This is a little disappointing, because it left the President without a bold gambit to revive public faith in his plan, leaving him only a restatement of familiar talking points: 9-11, international cooperation, madman Saddam, 9-11, Iraqi sovereignty, and 9-11.

You can see how useless this regurgitation is from the nostalgic commentary of the President's more reliable supporters, such as K.J. Lopez: "He always nails that freedom thing--let freedom ring," etc. Yes, the fans love it when The Boss does the old songs. But we have been hearing freedom ring, and mission statements, and success stories (flowers strewn in the path of beloved conquerors and so forth), for a couple of years now, and from the looks of things, this cheerful litany has ceased to work.

So the sanest way to view tonight's speech is as an aside. The President is now focused on reforming (or destroying, depending of your point of view) America's politics, finances, and judiciary. From that point of view, the Iraq occupation is a nuisance, a constant reminder of how this Administration's peculiar obsessions do not coincide with this nation's needs. So a few hours were set aside for a few soothing words to momentarily defuse a small groundswell of non-support. Time well spent, in this Administration's view, if it muddies these particular waters for another little while, leaving the wrecking crew to do its work undistubed. Like most of us, they live day to day, looking for the main chance.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

HOW ROVE CAN YOU GO? Lately, the temperature in the conservative fever-ward has been climbing like a Neopolitan busboy at Monte Carlo with a stolen dinner jacket.

OpinionJournal has picked up Karl Rove's "Traitors among us!" tone, complaining that Americans are turning against the war because of their tireless attendance upon the words of Edward Kennedy and Chuck Hagel. OpinionJournal is where the Crazy Jesus Lady stores her scrawls and shopping bags, and even on good days hosts some pretty deranged commentary, but lines like "Where the terrorists are gaining ground is in Washington, D.C." really represent a new low.

Of course, the New York Post has never had any guardrails whatsoever, but even Murdoch's Money-Pitbull is straining its already well-stretched leash. The Post decreed on Sunday that the Supreme Court's Kelo decision was all the work of "liberals." I thought Ward Churchill was the Face of Liberalism – when did Anthony Kennedy get the job? In January the Post ran Ryan Sager's complaint that liberals all hate Wal-Mart; maybe now that the Post has decided that liberals actually want to give people's homes to private developers – the sort of thing Wal-Mart thrives on -- perhaps the paper will print a retraction.

Or maybe they'll just go a little crazier. On Monday the Post declared two museums proposed for the World Trade Center to be a threat to our way of life:
What if, some years from now, a latter-day Andres Serrano turns up at the Drawing Center's new home at Ground Zero, with an American flag submerged in a tub of urine — calling it, say, "Piss Flag"? Or with an image of the Twin Towers covered in cow manure?

Could such outrageous "art" be banned from the site?

If that sounds ridiculous, just think back a few years — to Serrano's "Piss Christ." Or to the Brooklyn Museum's 1999 exhibit, "Sensation" — featuring the Virgin Mary covered in elephant dung…

Let's face it: New Yorkers are known for abusing the First Amendment… Once the IFC and Drawing Center are up and running, there'll be no stopping them.
If either of the institutions has planned an installation that shows Michael Moore pointing at the burning Twin Towers and laughing, the Post has not shared this scoop with its readers. Apparently the whole tsimmis is based on the revelation that one of the IFC guys worked for George Soros, and that the WTC exhibit might include information about other atrocities that could not be so easily exploited by Republicans as 9-11.

Free Republic concurs in its usual guttural roar: "The liberal parasites of New York are not capable of recognition of bravery, of sacrife....the liberal trash of your state is only concerned WITH SELF, encouraged on by their witch of a so-called Senator…" etc.

But we expect it from them. It's the mainstreaming of such froth that's noteworthy. What's up? Well, the Leader is expected to defend his Iraq policy on TV tonight – flanked by soldiers, we hear. Some of the President's cheerleaders are calling on him to better explain his policies; others want more inspiring rah-rah.

But, given the advance work done by his press functionaries, I expect the message will involve less explainin' and more traitor-baitin'. What else does he have left, really?

UPDATE: Kevin Drum has noticed an uptick in the crazy meter, too, though he (probably wisely) refrains from drawing conclusions.

Monday, June 27, 2005

SHORTER JAMES LILEKS, PART #34,701: I don't know why you people want to see movies by that child-molester Woody Allen when I have these perfectly good matchbooks here. Plus which, being a lifelong New Yorker, Allen doesn't understand 9-11.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

QUOTE OF THE DAY -- PERHAPS EVEN QUOTE OF THE WEEK! The newly invigorated Poor Man points us to a blog maintained by the President of GoDaddy. I liked GoDaddy's Super Bowl ad, but this guy's posting on Guantanamo Bay contains another sort of outrage entirely -- an unexpected gloss on the "Gitmo is not as bad as [insert atrocity here]" gambit:
Compared to those Americans and others who were forced to jump to their death on 9-11, the detainees at Gitmo really don't have it so bad...
But maybe those detainees should be forced to jump from a tall building, because they might have had something to do with the WTC attacks -- or they might not; maybe they're in there for parking tickets; we'll probably never know, but hey, how about that 9-11? Coming soon: Gitmo compared favorably to Hiroshima!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

FUTURISM IS EASY.
...no one can really stop the perfect storm. That's why it's important for mid-career journalists to get their hands dirty in using the technology of the personal media revolution instead of thinking about how and where to learn about it. Become a 'doer' of the word instead of a 'hearer' only. Learning is always accelerated by experience, so those who feel their careers slipping away need to get involved. Start a blog. Build a Web page. Pick up a camera. Play a video game. Get close to young people who are comfortable using technology, and ask questions. Read a book, or better yet, go online and look around for tutorials. They're everywhere. Most of all, don't let fear get in the way. It's only technology. DO something!

-- Some Guy at some website.

BROWN: What up, G. I'm Brown from the Sun. Are you Winslow Cosloy?

THE HAMMER: (offering awkward soul shake) What it is. Yeah, I'm Winslow, but call me The Hammer.

BROWN: Hammer, my editor says you can hook me up, so to speak, with the New Journalism.

THE HAMMER: That's THEE Hammer, dude. And it's Citizen Journalism. (busts out Playstation 2) Let's play The Simpsons: Road Rage 2.

BROWN: What, may I ask, will that achieve?

THE HAMMER: That's what's wack about you MSM types. You're all about, like, what comes next, or why somebody did something! Don't stress it. Just read the board.

(THE HAMMER points out bulletin board which reads:

DEMOCRACY IS WINNING
AGAINST WAR=AGAINST AMERICA
DEMOCRATS=AGAINST WAR
THE SIMPSONS IS RAD
FREE MARKET RULEZ
GITMO IS NICE

Next to this is tacked up a picture of Andrew Sullivan with horns drawn onto his forehead and the words BYE QUEER scrawled underneath.)


BROWN: Are we supposed to work these angles into our stories?

THE HAMMER: I dunno. I just like stare at them every morning and then everything just flows. But gaming builds up your journalism muscles! Good eye-hand coordination, son. Like, if I was on the street, and news came around the corner? I would be so on it.

BROWN: So where do we get our information?

THE HAMMER: Check my bookmarks. Dude, sure you don't want to play? When Homer goes "D'oh" it's rilly funny.

(BROWN checks computer)

BROWN: This "Butt Trumpet" guy just seems to link to other bloggers and call people traitors.

THE HAMMER: He's rilly funny. Score! I runned over Moe.

BROWN: Do any of these people do any actual reporting?

THE HAMMER: Butt Trumpet interviewed me once! It was awesome. We talked about Star Wars and what a dick Lucas is. Do you like Jar Jar Binks? I hate him.

BROWN: But I don't understand. If they don't report, and they apparently can't write, then what's the point?

THE HAMMER: (clicking off the game)The point is it's distributed journalism! 'Cause like if you have just one or two old dudes like you, with your lame clothes and no iPod, saying "Blah blah, this is the news," then it's like propaganda. But if you got a thousand dudes like me, totally pimped out with camcorders and digital cameras and Rios, and we're all linking to Glenn Reynolds, that's, like, a revolution.

BROWN: Sounds like a flash mob to me.

THE HAMMER: Flash mob? Oh yeah, my older brother was into that. He's so old. You're, like, even older. You better get out of here, you're getting old-man smell in my house.

(The Hammer later writes about the incident with MUCH INAPPROPRIATE CAPITALIZATION, a picture of Nosferatu with stink lines radiating from his armpits and captioned "Brown from the Sun," and pictures of pretty girls in Eastern European peasant costumes, holding up signs saying BROWN MUST GO! Brown is later replaced at the Sun by JimZ of the Ass Farts blog, who draws salary for weeks without submitting any work, though he writes every day in his blog about what a bunch of assholes he works with at the Sun.)
UNHAPPY IS THE LAND THAT NEEDS A HERO. I see Senator Durbin has finally bowed to political necessity and retracted his perfectly sensible comments of last week.

Some chest-beating types are calling Durbin's retraction a defeat for "the leftie blogosphere," as it has "cut them off at the knees." Because I am a grown man, the forced recantation of a professional vote-grubber does not cut me, particularly, at the knees or anywhere else.

I still assert that Durbin's original remarks are unobjectionable to people who do not misread them, willfully or otherwise. That a sufficient number of people pretended to be offended, and stirred the ill-informed to actual offense, to score a political hit doesn't change that.

Common sense is its own reward.
TRUE DAT: A SUMMER HOLIDAY. I'm watching this AFI "100 Years of Movie Quotes" thing. It's pretty cute, in the usual AFI see-how-fun-we-are-bite-me-Henry-Langlois way, and fifty seconds of White Heat is better than no White Heat at all. But though a few of the stories and a very few of the commentators are interesting (who knew Chris Sarandon was so well-spoken?), it's faintly disgusting to see so many great movies ground down into sound bites, however potent. And of course Top Tennitis is a disease of our age that may not be as harmful as increasingly bold governmental lying, but is all the more distressing to sensitive temperments such as mine for its very puerility, because we imagine that when future generations (if there are any) look back at us, they will be appalled by our great crimes, but they will be contemptuous of our peccadilloes, and it is the contempt that stings. Atrocity, statistic, etc; the oceans of blood spilled in the Terror of the French Revolution are literally awesome, and supercede our capacity for revulsion, but the Carmagnole and the Marriage Federal finger the pit of the stomach.

My natural reaction, of course, is to replicate this nightmare on my own arty-farty terms. Yes, I'm throwing a meme, boys and girls. Head for the hills! Or descend with me into the warm, soothing muck.

The theme is quotes. We all have favorites, but I'm going to pitch this high and inside. I would like to know what your truest quotes are. Let me explain. Some quotes you like because they're poetic or amusing or charming. They sound good to you. Some, though, stick with you because they really reflect your beliefs, and have done so through whatever life experiences you've had.

The true-quotes become obvious when you think about them in that light. You realize that these little scraps of mental paper have become your watchwords, the identifying labels on your ego. To name them is not always a pleasing thing, I have found, because those labels usually floated onto your ego long ago and only stuck because you never cared to brush them off. They have the persistence of habits, and most habits are bad. So they sting to note. But that sting is what makes this such an elevating enterprise! Let me open:

'Tis a terrible thing to be lonesome, but it's far worse to go mixing with the fools of the earth.
-- J. M. Synge, The Playboy of the Western World

A writer is someone for whom writing is harder than it is for other people.
-- Thomas Mann

For even honest folk may act like sinners
Unless they've had their customary dinners

-- Bertolt Brecht, The Threepenny Opera (as translated by Marc Blitzstein)

GREAT POETS DIE IN STEAMING POTS OF SHIT
-- Charles Bukowski, story title

And if you're lonesome, ah-ha... Listen to a friend's Judy Garland album at Carnegie Hall... Big nelly-queen audience, lotta tsuris, lotta dues... her dues, their dues, tell us about the dues... 'Don't worry, we'll sing 'em all and we're gonna stay here all night...' Then came the line that really did me in... "'Cause I never want to go home!" Whew, and they don't wanna go home either... because nobody wants to go back to their room alone... "Ma, gimme a glass of water, 'cause I don't want the water, all I want is the water with your hand attached to glass with your arm attached to the hand and stay there... and don't sneak out, 'cause when you wake up I wanna see you there, and if you stay there I'll drink as much water as you want me to drink." Later.
-- Lenny Bruce, Live at the Curran

Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this end she must come. Make her laugh at that.
-- William Shakespeare, Hamlet

You know talent is an aphrodisiac
They don't stock it on the shelves
Some people say opposites attract
And some people just love themselves

-- Loudon Wainwright III, "Aphrodisiac"

We are living in the future
I'll tell you how I know
I read it in the paper
Fifteen years ago
We're all riding rocket ships
And talking with our minds
We're wearing turquoise jewelry
And standing in soup lines

-- John Prine, "Living In The Future"

If I'd asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for a better horse.
-- Henry Ford (almost certainly apocryphal)

It's no longer a world of men, Machine.
-- David Mamet, Glengarry Glen Ross

I play it the company way
Executive policy is by me O.K.
(How can you get anywhere?) Junior, have no fear,
Whoever the company fires, I will still be here

-- Frank Loesser, "The Company Way" (from How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying)

Man hands misery to man
It deepens like a coastal shelf
Get out as early as you can
And don't have any kids yourself.

-- Philip Larkin, "This Be The Verse"

I don’t wanna have to shout it out
I don’t want my hair to fall out
I don’t wanna be filled with doubt
I don’t wanna be a good boy scout
I don’t wanna have to learn to count
I don’t wanna have the biggest amount
I don’t wanna grow up

-- Tom Waits and K. Brennan, "I Don't Want to Grow Up"

You can't take life too seriously. Otherwise it doesn't pay to live.
-- Joey Ramone, New York Times interview, 1978

The whole world's a circus if you know how to look at it.
-- Charles Beaumont and Ben Hecht, The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao
Excuse me now while I throw myself upon the couch to re-read Reader's Block.

(PS: No invites. All are welcome, in comments or in their own blogs.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

CULTURE CLOWNS: A PROGRESS REPORT. Roger L. Simon -- perhaps dreaming of the day when Victor Davis Hanson and his troops will march boldly into the Ministry of Culture, kick Michael Eisner off his throne, and install Simon as Commissar -- is trying to pump up a new book about how the Hollywood Ten had it coming. Movie attendance is down, gloats Simon; the beast is weak, der Tag is at hand! His readers agree that the "Hwood Communist Party" is headed for the ash-heap of history except for Team Incredibles of the Christ, Batman Begins (with reservations: "Since it's contemporary Hollywood, though, there's nary a kaffiyah, an 'Allah Akbar' nor a fifth-column media figure to be had"), and, oddly, the Coen Brothers -- though this last seems a case of some softhearted comrade trying to sneak personal favorites out of the camps, despite the Coens' lack of Party bona-fides. Is exceptionalism, Comrade!

In idle moments I like to imagine Simon attending a barbecue with his readership. "Waaaaiitt a minute... yew done wrote a movie fer Woody Allen and Bette Midler???" (Grill-tipping, fire-spreading, rebel yells as the Boys light out for Warren Bell's place.)

The McCarthy book itself gets a fuller treatment at "libertarian" (excuse me, I can't say that word without laughing anymore) magazine Reason, where Cathy Young explains that while McCarthyism was a bad thing -- though, perhaps to protect herself from Durbinization, she adds that "it's absurd to treat the blacklist as somehow equivalent to the Soviet purges" -- blacklisting was kinda sorta not so bad because the Communists that got blacklisted (along with a lot of other guys, too, but let's not nitpick) were worse: though they committed no crimes but thought crimes, they said good things about bad people, and their tragic legacy is "today's celebrity radicals" who "blast American policies while ignoring the evil of a Saddam Hussein."

I have addressed this imbecilic point of view back in the old Alicubi days, when Jonah Goldberg and, sadly, Kevin Drum fell (well, Kevin fell, Goldberg just grabbed his knees and cannonballed) into the same fallacy:
Goldberg says that McCarthy was a "lout" but essentially justified because Communist agents were afoot in America. He brushes off the prosecutions, official or otherwise, that disemployed many citizens who had committed no crimes. "When they denounce McCarythism," he writes, "they are working on the clear assumption that McCarthyism victimized only innocent people. That is a lie. And it also a lie that the USA Patriot Act is being used solely to punish innocent people."

This is a breathtaking switcheroo: a complaint against the prosecution of innocents is answered by the fact that some people are not innocent...

...it is interesting that no one much questions another large, unspoken idea here --that being a Communist made one fair game even if no espionage or other crime had taken place. McCarthy's whole schtick was enabled by the notion that there could be such a thing as a thought crime -- that if you thought Marx was right, you could be taken down, whether you collaborated in espionage or merely believed in the widespread redistribution of wealth. Even [Drum], in his generally thoughtful consideration of Goldberg, says, "It is not McCarthyism to accuse a communist of being a communist." It's actually something much worse, because our freedoms aren't worth much if we do not have the right to be wrong.
Hey, that wasn't bad. Maybe I should take a month off and just recycle my greatest hits. But that's hardly a testimony to my own skills; American Constitutional values age very well -- though their enemies, as we have seen, work very hard to sell us on an alternative philosophy.

UPDATE. Comments are, as usual, very interesting (Simon may have the numbers, but alicublog has the guns!), but FMGuru drops some especially sharp science: "[The decline in opening grosses] has everything to do with plasma screens and dumbasses talking on cell phones, and nothing to do with The People rising up against the corrupt Quisling coastal elites... H'wood is one of the most brutally capitalist places in America..." The correct response to this home truth would be "D'uh!" if so many flattery-driven numbskulls were not impervious to common sense. Well, we few remaining thinking people (yes, but I need a majority!) can enjoy it, at least.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

BUILDING A MYSTERY. Reader Chris V pointed out to me this article at the Liberty Film Festival site Libertas , and it's a pleasant surprise. I've had fun with these guys before, but fair is fair and I have to commend Jason Apuzzo for chiding fellow-travellers for "evaluating films exclusively on the basis of their ideological content, or ideological implications." Hear, hear, buy that man a beer!

In fact Apuzzo goes further than I would:
So when my conservative friends know or care to know more about film, or when they know more about the arts in general, then I’ll accept their opining about Star Wars more than I do now. When my conservative friends can tell me who Tyrone Power is, or something about Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, or Wagner’s Ring-cycle, or maybe what the difference is between motion-control and motion-capture … then maybe I’ll be more patient when they fulminate about Jar Jar Binks...
Now I think this is in the right direction but a little too narrow. More knowledge of whatever one is talking about is always a good thing. But do you really have to know Final Cut Pro to judge films?

Well, like the guy in the old joke said, it couldn't hoit. Some critics have learned enough about the process to go out and make their own movies, and the criticism of Fielding and Nabokov is at least as much fun to read as their novels.

But a lot of very fine critics never played the game at all, and have still had useful things to say. So what do they have in common with the critic/creators?

This reminds me of the bit in The Bad and the Beautiful where Kirk Douglas' mogul decides to take over as director of a film from a difficult old von Sternberg type. The old director wonders: does the mogul have the humility to make a film?

That's an interesting word: what kind of humility? The easiest call would be a simple lack of hubris, which the Douglas character has in spades, but given that a lot of fine artists are monsters of ego themselves (so was von Sternberg, come to think of it), I believe the writers might have been thinking of something else. Or maybe only I'm thinking it. Well, here goes in any case:

Anything worth looking at or listening to carries some sort of mystery. Skills get that mystery from a creator's brain to the audience, ideally in decent enough shape to be recognized. But ten tons of skill and a platoon of genii may be employed in a waste of time -- that happens a lot. When Martin Scorsese and the cream of Hollywood make a crap film, what was missing or betrayed? The obscure object, to borrow a phrase.

The thing that makes a piece of work worthwhile is the mystery, but that's doesn't mean an inspired fauve who doesn't know what he's doing can put it over without skills. (Usually.) The talented, trained people who get that thing on the stage or the page or the screen must be good with their tools, but they must also be working to realize the mystery, whether they would think to say so or, as with some hard-bitten old magicians, would rather portray themselves as clock-punchers trying to keep up their pay grade. You see the total absorption of great craftsmen at work: is it all for the money, do you think? Anyone who has worked on a production of any kind knows what it feels like when magic is being made -- or failing to be made. Audiences know it too.

And so do critics. The best of these try to trace the evidence of what is put before them back to the places where it went right, or wrong. To do this, they have to learn about what they're watching or listening to. Some of them get very technical about it -- others, less so. But they all know what they're looking for and will dig through a ton of information to get as close as they can to it, and try like hell to do it justice in the review.

So it's kind of a self-sharpening process. You try to get better at whatever technique you've got in order to give shape to something that is otherwise insubstantial.

This is where humility comes in. When I look at a work of art, I am always hoping for something more than a pleasing agglomeration of whatever materials were used. A pleasing agglomeration would be nice, of course, and often I consider myself lucky to get even that -- and wander the gallery or squint balefully at the screen, grumbling to myself about the decline of standards and so forth.

But sometimes I get much more, enough to lift me out of myself. Whatever garbage I brought with me into the experience gets pushed aside. Suddenly I'm not looking at paint or film or words -- though I might go back later and try to figure out how the hell the guy did it. The mystery has been realized. Whether it was Michael Moore or Jason Apuzzo who had made it, I would happily -- and, I would hope, eloquently if I chose to do it in writing -- doff my hat to him. And if you know me, you know that's humility, baby.

This is where ideologically-minded critics go wrong. They aren't at all interested in the mystery. When I read their poli-sci reviews, I can see that they're trying to assess the impact of the work in question -- as if it were a social program or an economic stimulus package -- on something they are pleased to call The Culture. In that sense, their work is indeed technical, and they often know their own grim metrics very well. But it has nothing to do with humility, or mystery, or art.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

FATHER'S DAY. My dad died when I was little. They didn't know at the time, but the tumor that gave him a coronary at 40 came out of the genetic syndrome that I struggle with to this day, passed down through uncounted Edroso generations.

The absence of a father shifts much weight upon the mother, and mine had a very tough job. She kept my sister and me in line, alright. She was harsh, maybe too harsh, but around this time of year you won't hear me say so, because I'm too busy defending her, in an indirect way that she probably wouldn't recognize, from the crackpot idea, revived in recent years with the help of right-wing think tanks, that only Ozzie and Harriet families are true. There are all kinds of ways a person can be fucked up. Mine was a two-hander rather than a four-hander. In the eyes of the Maggie Gallaghers of the world, who reduce all things, my hard-working, beleaguered mother might as well have been a gay divorcee or a crack whore. That's not the only reason I hate Maggie Gallagher, but in the last ditch it's probably the big one.

All I know about the father I can't remember was that he worked hard but had trouble keeping work. His father had been a sailor, had come to America and married a Hungarian woman he met on the trip, had opened a cafe for longshoremen in what is now called Chelsea, had taken the money he made and moved the family to Bridgeport. Connecticut. There my father grew, went to school, worked in factories, and could not find (perhaps for some of the same reasons as I have) a direction in life. He waited as long as he could to get married, but finally succumbed to a factory girl from Canada who lived with her Aunt. They were both in their thirties, which was strange for that era. My sister and I were born downtown. Dad moved us into a tract house on the North End, and was driving trucks part-time for General Electric when he died.

I grew up in that little house, and felt bad that he wasn't around, and fought tooth and nail with my old lady, but I never imagined that a government program promoting marriage would have made our life, or hers, any better. That thought never occurred to us, as we were growing up in an era before people had totally lost their minds. The men my mother knew -- in a dying factory town crushed by poverty and resentment -- would have made lousy fathers, and I think my mother knew that. That may not have been her only reason, but I'm sure it was a factor. And I'm sure a marriage counsellor sent by Uncle Sam -- in his current, psychotic incarnation -- would not have seen that at all, and would have informed her that if she didn't get some fool to marry her tout suite, we wouldn't get any food money. (Have I mentioned that I hate Maggie Gallagher?)

I went on to become the shell-shocked dispenser of eloquent outrage that you know. Had some proto-Bush managed to force upon my mother an unemployed, abusive, drunken husband, who knows what graveyard I might be inhabiting at the present moment.

Well, I would marginally prefer to be here than nowhere (though I have always thought it a tragedy that she lacked the social support to abort me -- how much better off we all would have been!). And as long as I am here, on the weekend containing this greeting-card holiday, I would like to thank my long-dead father. Not for the grisley accident of my birth, of course, but for the jam he showed in trying to keep my family alive. He was not an up-and-comer, it seems. He went from job to job, and never got far in any of them. But, bless him, he kept on plugging. He worked long and hard on the little house we occupied; sweat and headaches -- symptoms of pheochromocytoma, we now know -- did not stop him. He took whatever work he could get, from whatever employer would have him. He did his bit right up till the night he collapsed on the living room floor. And if he could have gotten up and soldiered on from there, I know he would have.

Dad, I don't know what you would have thought of the mess I've made of my life. I expect you would spend a few moments comparing it to the mess you made of your own. I would have loved to have heard your assessment, but alas, that can never be. I mostly think of you when I'm in the hospital, having my body cavity checked for your legacy.

But I also think of you when I'm trying to make important decisions -- not because I'm wondering what you would decide (your decisions, it would seem, were crap), but because I recognize that you also had to make decisions just like these, and that your excitement and anguish might have been like mine, because we were both born male, and the same kind of absurd expectations were placed on both of us.

And sometimes when I am very happy -- when I am flying down Grand Avenue in Brooklyn on my bike, or when I have written something of which I'm especially proud -- I think of you then, too; partly because I know that your hard life kept many such pleasures from you, but also because I know that at times, despite all your troubles, you were happy -- because I see your happiness in some old, crinkle-edged, black and white pictures of you, when you were playing cards with your friends, or when you were dandling me on your lap -- and I imagine -- I hope -- that my joy reaches back and touches you.

But if, as I suspect, there is no reality but the present one, then I will imagine my happiness is your bequest. It is a stretch to imagine it in a way -- you were, they all tell me, very simple, so how would you understand my precious, literary epiphanies, or approve my bohemian rambles, my extramarital sex, my pleasure in opposition? But in reality, it is no stretch at all. The simplest man will want for his son a better life than he had, no matter what it entails. A guy I went to high school with became an obviously gay clergyman. His father was an old-fashioned Italian shopkeeper. He was very butch, but in the face of his son's behavior, of which he could not have completely approved, he was very understanding, even meek. Come to think of it, every gay man I grew up with got the same confused but loving approval from his father. Is this just a coastal, evil Blue State thing? Or are fathers a lot more accepting than we give them credit for?

Well, Pop, in honor of the occasion, I will try to be happy. It is not such a bad goal, paticularly with so many forces arrayed against it. In fact, in your honor, I will keep it up as long as I can. I won't live in a tract house. I won't die of an undiagnosed tumor. I won't cave in and have children. And as you avoided expectations for so long, until they engulfed you, I will avoid them longer still. And as long I can outfox them, even unto death, my victory will be yours.

Roy Bernard Edroso Sr. 1920-1960. In pace requiescat.

Friday, June 17, 2005

AGAINST INTERPRETATION. Senator Durbin:
When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here [at Guantanamo Bay]--I almost hesitate to put them in the [Congressional] Record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report:
On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. . . . On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.
If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.
I'm not much for long quotes, but had to make an exception here. Durbin's remarks been widely excerpted to malicious effect, but not very much reported in full (as they were at DailyKos). To anyone who can read, their meaning should be clear: Americans, were they to learn what the FBI agent reported at Guantanamo, would not recognize those actions as consonant with their values. (Maybe some basic civics is required, too.)

So how, then, did Durbin's remarks come to be so widely portrayed as a condemnation of the American armed forces, or a comparison of the United States to Nazi Germany? Cynical as I am, I wouldn't blame the ability of the American people to read, or even to think straight. They haven't, for the most part, been given Durbin's words to read -- not without outrageous editing and misrepresentation and clouds of hot gas to distort them, anyway.

I fear that, while we are still able to grasp basic rhetoric and plain facts, the shrieking, clanking commentary machine that is always going off around us makes it too hard to hear.

UPDATE. I have been reading my commenters, and they make me sad. Not because they don't see the problem, but because they underline it: you must use a very limited species of language if you are going to tell the truth, otherwise the sense erasers of the Right will seize upon your wrongspeak and negate your whole point.

With all respect, fuck that noise, and fuck the dizzy notion that the Left is the primary purveyor of Political Correctness in this sick, sad era. Fuck that shit in the spirit of Lenny Bruce, Shirley Chisholm, Bill Hicks, Randy Newman, Adny Shernoff, Malcolm X, Mojo Nixon, Jocelyn Elders, Abbie Hoffman, and, sure, while we're at it, Colonel Nathan R. Jessep in A Few Good Men, and Howard Dean. Fuck 'em, in other words, if they can't take a joke. Or the truth. You want to paint the corners, trying to put the truth over in a squiggly way, you go right on ahead. Maybe that's more mature, but it looks to me like playing the other team's game in your own ballpark.

(UPDATED for clarity --like that would help! What do I know about the ephus pitch? Nothing, my friends.)
MIND OF A LUNATIC. I have got to cut back on the cocaine and cough syrup (a combo known to us drug cognoscenti as "bleeding ulcers in your esophagus"). Every TV news show I watch, every paper I read, every blog I accidentally select while surfing for hardcore pornography, seems to have been created by a committee of screeching gibbons and howling, feral dogs.

Hugh Hewitt, for example, reads like a Fafblog parody of himself. First there is the right-wing society page, Larry-King-Meets-George-Lincoln-Rockwell part:
Now the new Chris Muir strip is up. The only reason Muir isn't widely syndicated is MSM bias.

Michelle Malkin is the hardest working, smartest woman journalist without a television show in America. Take, for example, just this one post on Durbin. Which tells you a lot about MSM bias. She celebrated her first anniversary as a blogger this week. May she celebrate her first anniversary as a television host next July. Memo to MSNBC: Ratings with Michelle, or straight-lining with Olbermann?
Why don't you stupid, evil bastards listen to my program recommendations? Further down, Senator Durbin's recent rhetorical device -- easy to understand and inoffensive if your head is not filled with screaming, paranoid delusions -- invites from the radio host and spiritual advisor to Jim Lileks a torrent of abuse ("weasel," "anti-American," "Durbin's statements, and the statements of those defending him, are giving direct aid to the enemy," etc) and more finger-waggin' and fist-shakin' at -- hello, white whale off starboard! -- the MSM:
I can't see any of the bigs coming to the conclusion that the vast, vast majority of Americans have come to, which is that Durbin is a pathetic and repulsive political hack who should exit immediately after a lengthy and detailed apology.
What tracking poll is Hewitt reading? Do you find Senator Durbin a.) a pathetic and repulsive political hack, b.) pathetic and repulsive but not a hack, c.) a repulsive hack with just a soupçon of pathos, or d.) very sassy?

Hewitt also gives you emails of denunciation that you can cut out and forward, but, alas, no paper dolls of the bogeymen inhabitants of his scarifying dream world that you can cut out and burn in a cleansing fire.

Then there's culture scold/restaurant reviewer Steve Cuozzo in the New York Post, who takes off from an understandable disappointment at the "temporary" WTC memorial our political hacks will install near Ground Zero, and careens into a mad fear that StoryCorps -- the perfectly benign oral historians whose booths you may have noticed at Grand Central Station and elsewhere, and who will create the temp project -- may take this appointment as "an invitation to blame America."

Why, besides chemical imbalance, does Cuozzo imagine this? Because StoryCorp's founder, Steve Ismay, is on NPR. And because his programming shows that Ismay is "fascinated" with "grotesque corners of American life." Hey, me too -- why do you think I spend more time on these guys that their own shrinks do? But I must divert my eyes awhile. Maybe this weekend I'll turn my life right around.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

TODAY'S CRAZY JESUS LADY IS AS CRAZY, AS JESUS, AND AS LADY AS EVER -- the theme, such as it is, is that PBS does great art and history, but cannot be trusted to do great art and history without Crazy Jesus Lady oversight because what it really wants to do is hurt Baby America. I felt real pangs of tenderness for the brain-damaged old witch when she started peopling her little doll playhouse with famous actors ("Angelina Jolie as Juliet, Kathleen Turner as Lady Macbeth, Alec Baldwin as Big Daddy..."). Don't let her near James Caan with a sledgehammer, that's all I can say.

I must draw your attention to one luscious passage:
Not just Republicans, but Democrats. I doubt you could find a Democratic senator who, forced to announce the truth, standing at the gates of heaven and being questioned by St Peter, would not, on being asked, "By the way, is PBS liberal?" answer, "Of course." Or, "Yes, but don't tell Tom Delay I knew."
The graf is its own little abnormal psychology textbook, but I remain fixated on her notion of Senators brought before St. Peter to answer questions like "Is PBS liberal?" (The correct answer, of course, is, "None of your fucking business, Pope-Boy. Now fetch me a taxi to Hell so I can catch happy hour with Oscar Levant.") And surely CJL must realize that, upon achieving sighting distance of the Throne of Peter, any modern Senator would burst into flame. At least.
IMAGINE THESE LINKS AS THE SCENES OF HORROR AT THE CLIMAX OF THE MAGIC FLUTE, AND AVERT YOUR EYES. The writers of The Corner have been removed to a new address. One imagines it padded, and attended by Union soldiers with soothing rattles and dolls, as in The Searchers ("It's hard to believe they're Right!" "They ain't Right - any more!")

Seriously, they've gotten even worse: Warren Bell is the new Jonah Goldberg! The displaced trickster-god of The Corner alternates between japes such as this --
When The Wall Street Journal runs those pictures (line drawing versions of photos) of people, their longtime policy has been to make the subject look about fifteen or twenty years younger. Don't you think it'd be awesome if they did that with Michael Jackson, showing him as a black guy?
-- and rubber-doll wrestling of the sort described here previously, but infinitely sadder: Responding to the Human Events "Dangerous Books" tsimmis, Goldberg opens, "Jon Chait asserts -- simply for the sake of offering insults -- that the contributors in particular and conservatives in general cannot 'distinguish between seminal works of social science and totalitarian manifestos' simply because both sorts of books show up on the same list. But he must know that, say, Robert George knows the difference between The Communist Manifesto and John Dewey's Democracy and Education...."

How should Chait, or any reader, know this, one wishes to ask, when the article in question makes no such distinction and Bad-Book Judge George published no dissenting opinion? But the rules of the rubber-doll match allow no animated opponents, and Goldberg achieves maximum thrash very well on his own:
Of coursebooks can be dangerous. Everything important, everything with the power to change mens' minds can be dangerous...

I disagree with those who would lump Darwin with Freud and Marx. But I don't think one can glibly say that just because the book was scientifically correct (speaking broadly, we've discovered lots of new things since then) and pioneering, doesn't mean it can't also be harmful. Darwinism certainly led to many horrors and abuses across the ideological spectrum...
Et eccch. After a while the Michael Jackson jokes come as a relief. You know when John Derbyshire and Rick Brookhiser step in as Voices of Reason, things are pretty dire.

While the soldiers are cleaning up shreds of rubber doll in Jonah's corner of The Corner, elsewhere the ravings are nearly as bad:
IF I WERE AN IRAQI I would have every reason to assume American troops will be there as long as it takes, since George W. Bush won an incredibly hard-fought election making precisely this case at great potential risk and cost to himself.

CONSERVATISM STANDS ATHWART HISTORY yelling stop -- and puts you on another road, sometimes a u-turn, sometimes just a different road. But you get somewhere. The Dems would just have you sit and stare at their Bill Pryor/etc. talking points.

LET'S BUILD A GIANT AIRSHIP. Let's face it: The 80s even had the best toys. It was Christmas morning in America.
Et ultima ecch. Or maybe not yet: "Given [your] opinions about the unseriousness of U.S. foreign policy and the value of euthenasia," says John Podhoretz to John Derbyshire (!!!), "you really ought to have voted for Kerry."

Finally -- for this night! And they must reanimate this dead night a hundred times! -- they descend into what I guess among this crowd must pass for porn. Oh dear, I can imagine Buckley muttering as his servant laces him into his leather vest, they'll never get the young people this way.

Hayek, wake up, they have gone mad! Somebody open a window.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

MY PLAN INVOLVES A LARGE GOB OF CAMPHOR IN HOT WATER, AND PRAYERS TO ST. JUDE. This interesting Washington Times column asks, with an nearly audible tone of optimism, "Health costs leveling off?" Health costs are not the same thing as health care costs, of course, and sharper eyes than my own probably stopped reading there, but, fool that I am, I rushed forward in search of good news.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports health care costs rose 7 1/2 percent in 2004, well under the 11.4 percent rise in 2002. The BLS also reports cost increases for employers for health insurance per employee per hour worked has slowed even more. From March 2001 to March 2002, those costs rose 11 percent; from March 2002 to March 2004, it rose 9 percent each year. But from March 2004 to December 2004, it rose only 3 percent.
That's encouraging. What, I wondered, forced down the price of a colonoscopy? "...health-care costs are being held down by the marketplace, partly in response to health-care legislation passed in the last four years." Ah, the ol' Invisible Hand! I read on:
For one thing, employers offer and employees are choosing health-savings accounts and high-deductible health insurance in greater numbers. HSAs were given a big boost in the Medicare prescription drug bill passed in late 2003. Indeed that was why most Republicans voted for a bill that included the biggest new entitlement program since Medicare was passed in 1965.
Biggest new entitlement program! Someone got rooked with this deal -- fortunately, it was the American people, those suckers, not the possessors of high-deductable insurance!

Or maybe there's enough losing to go around. Self Employed Web explains: "...rising medical costs push an employer’s health insurance premiums higher every year. As a result, many small businesses don’t offer any medical coverage to employees. And many self-employed people can’t afford coverage. But just as with your homeowners insurance, one way to save money on your medical insurance is to increase your deductible..."

Clients of such insurance could be exposed for thousands of dollars in charges if something goes wrong. But on the bright side, tax breaks are included, and tax breaks make everything better.

Well, I suppose it's a bit much at this late date to hope for a revival of those Cadillac healthcare plans of my youth, where you showed a card and the doctors took care of you for practically nothing -- just as it's a little late to dream of job security, an ever-increasing standard of living, etc. What was the name of that country where we had all that, anyone remember?

Oh, health (care) costs are also being contained by "health insurance policies that encourage healthy behavior." Some of them include gym memberships, apparently.

So the costs are being contained by higher charges for services, and by us trying really hard not to get sick.

Hell, that's how I've been keeping my health care costs down all along!

UPDATE. Some nice parsing of the Times' numbo-jumbo by WatchfulBabbler in comments. BTW, while the Washington Times prescribes Not Getting Sick to those worried about health care costs, John Tierney at the New York Times prescribes Not Getting Old as Social Security reform, citing septagenarian cyclists as proof that the fogeys are parasiting off a "form of welfare." Jesse at Pandagon correctly rejoins that Tierney's geezer Olympians are statistical outliers. What fascinates me is the growing consensus among compassionate conservatives that illness and old age can be willed away through gumption. Pull away the years, and the tumors, by your very bootstraps, slaves!

Naturally the Ole Perfesser concurs with Tierney, perhaps expecting that his own, inevitable transhumanist apotheosis into an immortal robot-lawyer will moot all need for government assistance.
JUST US. I don't know if Michael Jackson is innocent, but I know he was found innocent, and there I intend to let the matter rest.

One of former Mayor Ed Koch's very few attractive habits was this: whenever a famous and contentious trial -- Bernard Goetz's, Larry Davis' etc. -- came to an end, he would say, "The people have spoken," and say no more about it.

That shows an admirable (though, alas, rare) understanding that criminal justice is not the same thing as politics, especially the debased sort of politics we have nowadays. The disposition of an accused citizen's case, and life, is a far more important and delicate thing than the hog-calling contests that decide our political leadership.

I will add that, in this as in every celebrity trial, the ignorant presumption of even intelligent people as to the guilt or innocence of the accused is breathtaking. If I were to divide the world into two types of people (and I sort of do), it would comprise the kind who would rather see the guilty freed than the innocent sentenced, and the other, lesser kind.

Monday, June 13, 2005

SLANDERRIFIC! Smears and spin work in similar ways. In both cases, the important thing is to get the story in play. Useful idiots will then do the heavy lifting for you.

To distinguish Ed Klein's The Truth About Hillary from the other 2,000 Hillary-is-Evil books released in the past year, someone leaked to Drudge the pre-publication money shot that Bill Clinton actually raped his wife, with Chelsea the wicked deed's poisoned fruit -- by which assertion Klein proves that the proverbial barrel has a false bottom, by means of which one can indeed sink lower if one is sufficiently motivated.

That such a slander would find a home at Drudge's place is of course no surprise. But, while the story seems crude, I perceive subtleties in the placement; perhaps, being of the sort that is always looking for the Good in his fellow man, I just wish to regard the story's facilitators as brilliantly evil rather than as simple thugs.

Whoever promulgated this filth seems to have taken the measure of the blogosphere, and judged that, while the more popular wingnuts certainly could not credit this story, they would yet be forced by that compulsive self-indentification which defines their type to prove, even as they discredited the tale, that they hated Hillary at least as much as the next wingnut; and, lest someone think that defending the Clintons from a lie were the same thing as defending the Clintons from such proven crimes as the murder of Vincent Foster etc., they would use the occasion for a vigorous Clinton-bashing. These slurgasms might excite among their Clinton-obsessed readers feelings of nostalgia and gratitude, and would perhaps move them to buy the gosh-darned book jes' to see what the feller was sayin'.

See, there really is no downside to saying anything at all, even the frankly unbelievable, about the Clintons. Except, of course, maybe they'll run out of slurs one day. Maybe these guys have a trade organization set up to prevent that.

Captain's Quarters does a nice job, flattering its readers by declaring that "vitriol" against the Clintons has "mostly disappear[ed]" in recent years (in which case he should maybe tell Arthur Finkelstein he's wasting his time), and concluding that the real villains in this case are anonymous sources and Klein's former employer, Newsweek magazine ("small wonder we end up with Qu'ran-flushing frauds from the magazine now").

Ankle Biting Pundits (tipped by Perfesser Mabuse hisself) are even better. The whole thing, they surmise, is a "trap" to get conservatives to overreact and thereby make Hillary look sympathetic. Besides, Clintons spread dirty stories, not clean-fingered conservatives such as ABP -- as, I guess, this dirty Clinton story is supposed to prove. (PS Juanita told the truth.) Altogether too brief a posting -- but fortunately for us, ABP has commenters, some of whom attack Hillary for being around when bad things were written about her, the fucking martyr ("I wonder how many episodes of 'Oh poor me' we are going to have to endure?? Like her little fainting spell awhile back...").

But my favorite (so far -- this thing is only getting started, and so many celebrated imbeciles have yet to weigh in) is Conservative Cat, who doesn't buy the rape part of the story, but does buy the part where Bill jokes about raping Hillary: "This is evidence of aggravated tackiness, not sexual assault. Not only is tackiness not at all surprising from Bill, we've already spent millions of tax dollars to prove that he is not a credible resource when it comes to stories about his own sexual activities." So this horrible, merely-half-true rape story is -- like so much else, for such people -- all about President Peckersnot. Semioticians and cryptographers will especially go for this haunting paragraph:
So, the only mystery here is why the Clintons would dignify the episode with any sort of rage. Of course, the only rage evidence we have is attributed to an anonymous source, which as we have seen is not exactly the best criterion for accuracy.
Who is trying to make it look like the Clintons are actually angry about starring in Ed Klein's lurid, public rape fantasy? We can't say, but it has something to do with MSM lies! For the Clintons never stop laughing at Ron Brown's death long enough to feel rage!

If, 100 years from now, people aren't getting doctorates in Clinton Studies (a branch of Abnormal Psychology), I will be very surprised.

SHORTER JAMES LILEKS: Why are all those Gitmo prisoners complaining? I had to watch Beyond The Sea! With gospel singers, yet!
SUMMER HOLIDAY #1. I grow weary focusing on the ludicrous when the glorious is all around us, bathed in warm sunshine. Over the coming days I will, among the usual road apple analyses, pay tributes to ten (10) great summer pleasures of the cultural variety, time-tested and road-ready.

Artifact the First:

The Dictators, Go Girl Crazy!

Why aren’t they doing VH1 tributes to The Miamis or the Shirts or Just Water? They used to play CBGB back when, just like Talking Heads and the Ramones and Blondie, and they were pretty good. Well, they weren’t quite in the same artistic or social frame as the punk bands that did become famous, epochal, world-historic and all that. They were just a lot of goofy, trashy fun. Listen to their stuff if you can find it, and you might think, damn, maybe someone could have made something of this.

If the Dictators had to rely on Hilly Krystal, maybe they wouldn’t have gotten any further than a CB’s compilation album, either. But they had some of those back-door connections that, alas, have since been bricked off by that dolorous professionalism which has made all radioland a single conduit of soothing sludge. Around the time Sire Records was desperately giving a here-goes-nothin’ to a bunch of Hilly’s faves, the Dictators were on CBS Records. And when the CBs guys were just idolizing the Stooges and Blue Öyster Cult, the Dictators were playing shows with them.

From the current perspective, it is hard to imagine why grown men would have signed the Dictators. They had a young, suburban, pop-culture-soaked perspective, just as we expect all up and coming bands to have now. But youth and suburbia and pop culture were a great deal different then. Drugs and sex didn’t have to be approached obliquely or ironically. Everyone knew what the kids were up to, and it was mainstream culture’s job to ignore it and kid culture’s job to celebrate and enable it. The old and the new lived in the same space: your parents’ living room was cool if your parents weren’t home and you could get laid and wasted in it while the Strawberries and the Joe Franklin Show were playing in the background. You didn’t have to take things too serious. And you didn’t have to watch what you said about anything.

Now, in the rock culture of that time, you could just hint at this and everyone would get the message and things would be cool. What kept anyone else from making Go Girl Crazy! was – I guess – a self-preservation instinct. Most people don’t do everything they can conceivably get away with, especially not right out the gate; they save up their slack for special occasions when their social selves fail them, after which they will shamefacedly admit that they "fucked up." Then they’ll retrench, kiss a little extra ass, and thereafter try to keep the car on the road.

Go Girl Crazy! betrays no shame or even foreboding of shame. Fucking up seems, to them, a positive virtue. As it happened, the Dictators did have something in common with the CBGB bohemians they stood among but not of: they didn’t give a shit, and they thought they were smart enough to get away with it.

For example: It was one thing for the Stones to do "Brown Sugar." It was an outrage if you listened to the lyrics, but who could make out the lyrics? Besides, Mick had sex with black girls and gave Merry Clayton a job and all those hippies were down with Black Power anyway.

In contrast, the Dictators were whiter than White Castle (fucking look at them) and sang – in an intermittent, absurdly incompetent pseudo-Caribbean dialect -- about having sex with black girls as what it would necessarily be for most guys like them: a grotesque fantasy. "Religion will save you/Civilization’s at hand… Her clothes come from Ghana and she prays to the East/She doesn’t take the white man’s flak/I still drink my soda but I’m getting confused/sometimes I wish I was black."

For some reason you can’t find these lyrics online.

Part also of their absurd will to power is little-boy chest-thumping about being the next big thing ("I knocked them dead in Dallas/They didn’t know we were Jews"), and members of the master race ("First we check to see what you eat/Then we bend down and smell your feet"), and the inclusion of Handsome Dick Manitoba (billed on the album as "Secret Weapon"), a pro-wrestler manque who steps in from time to time to keep things from getting too slick. Handsome Dick is a treasure. He sounds like he just stumbled into the studio after three hours of barking at passing cars and delivers a stirring oration on his ring supremacy ("I don’t care who ya bring in here, daddio! They’re all comin’ undah the thundah of Manitoba!") and key spot vocals in songs like the magnificent "Two Tub Man" ("I’m never gonna watch Channel 13!" – ridiculous solo break – "Edumacation ain’t for me!" – ridiculous solo break).

Why is this better than Brown Ploppy or Drunks with Guns? (Well, maybe it’s not so much better than Drunks with Guns, but we’ll leave that for a possible future posting.) Why is any particular outrage, up-to-the-minute or antique, memorable?

The weaker, but perfectly valid, of my arguments is songwriting. These songs are idiotic, but, as any fan of Uncle Dave Macon or Roger Miller or – oh sure, let’s bring them back into it – the Ramones knows, that’s not the same thing as bad. On the BÖC model of arena rock as fantasized by nerdish non-combatants, Go Girl Crazy! is as good as it gets. Adny Shernoff still turns a phrase as well as any working songwriter. If you can’t appreciate "That’s the price you have to pay/For eating burgers every day," well, you’re obviously suffering from a cultural deficiency.

The other argument, consonant with our summer-pleasures theme, has to do with an even less substantial commodity than songwriting: fun. The great thing about show business is its transparency. If you believe it, as the acting teachers say, they’ll believe it, provided you’re competent. If you’re fucking miserable, you can project that misery into your audience. And if you’re having fun, your objet d’art will be an objet d’fun.

Professionalism is a tricky subject in rock and roll. Acquire too much of it, and you’re not fun anymore. For the Dictators this wasn’t an issue. They had Sandy fucking Pearlman producing. All they had to do was be who they were. It isn’t as easy as it sounds, but somehow they managed. They didn’t punk out, even by the easy route of irony. Well, assuming snotty and ironic aren’t the same thing. And they aren’t. When Handsome Dick sings, "The fastest car and a movie star are my only goals in life," or Adny sings, "I wanna live a rich life/And I wanna die poor," yeah, it’s funny, but they aren’t kidding. Come to think of it, are there better goals? Oh, yeah yeah, community, society, family – no, seriously: what are they?

Shernoff thinks that the Ramones were more successful than the Dics because they were more focused, but sometimes you find gems in wandering that you won’t find in a hard-target search, and the ramblings of Go Girl Crazy! are sort of picaresque – adventures unified by a single, smartass point of view. All the songs, including the numbskull covers of "I Got You Babe" (as sung by a bunch of hypermacho geeks to one another) and "California Sun," are part of the adventure: a quest for the ultimate good time on a major label’s dime. Ridiculous solos. Too much reverb, at times. Giggling asides. Cars and girls. A sopor for the weekend. Growing up. Throwing up. Being the one not to let your sons become. You may choose not to believe in it, but don’t tell me for a second that it isn’t believable. Set me free; I might know better when I’m older.

Friday, June 10, 2005

FLASHBACK. Daniel Henninger re Medical Marijuana: "Liberalism to cancer patients: Drop dead."

Wait. I thought us liberals were high all the time, marching around Washington Square Park carrying FREE THE WEED signs... yeah, that was awesome... so, those were, in actuality, the conservatives? Like, wow.

Wait, wait. "The Supreme Court's liberal bloc -- Stevens, Ginsburg, Souter and Breyer..." But I thought Ginsburg was a big stoner! What? Oh, Douglas Ginsburg, right, yeah, wow.

"...with the support of Justices Kennedy and Scalia..." Hold on hold on hold ON. WHOA. SCALIA. So... wait a minute...

Never mind.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

DEFINING VICTORY DOWN. You've probably had your fill of happy-Iraqi stories featuring strewn flowers, smiling children with all their limbs intact, puppies, and almost potable water. So have I, but I was drawn to read the latest example in National Review by the oddly constructed front-page link: "Basrans can almost see the arrival of a better tomorrow."

The author, Steven Vincent, "a freelance investigative journalist and art critic," returns to Basra after a year's absence, and the first change he notices is this:
...I can no longer wander the streets, take a cab, or dine in restaurants for fear of being spotted as a foreigner: Kidnapping, by criminal gangs or terrorists, remains a lucrative business.
Well, this could be good news in a way -- our newly-democratized brothers are becoming entrepreneurial, following the Russian Model of post-liberation economic opportunity.

Now that Saddam's fabled rape rooms are gone, Basran women also enjoy a new status:
As the religious parties flex their muscles, their various sheikhs and imams exert a steady, if unlegislated, pressure on women to cover themselves in hejab. Layla once wore Western-style clothing and a scarf; now she has to add a thin black tunic to appease Basra’s guardians of female virtue. “If you don’t abide by their wishes, they will harass you on the street — or worse,” she complains.

“This has become an Iranian city,” contends Salaam Wendy, a Basra native who recently returned to his hometown for the first time since he fled to Canada in 1986. “In the ’70s and ’80s, you used to find bars, nightclubs, casinos — and no women wore hejab. Today, you can’t even find secular books or music CDs, the religious parties have such control of the city. This isn’t the place I remember.”
Possible upside here, too: unbridled capitalism living side-by-side with a revival of traditional values.

Many of the elected leaders -- though our guide is moved to "put 'elected' in quotes in deference to the cynicism of numerous Iraqis" -- are, to a great extent, "party hacks with zero concept of democracy." Plus, "electricity is still three hours on, three off, and sewage remains a nightmare." Unsurprisingly, given this, many of the Basrans to whom Vincent speaks seem less than satisfied, but Vincent hears more optimistic reports from members of the "more prosperous classes" and some elected -- excuse me, "elected" -- leaders. Also, the weather's really nice in Basra this time of year.

It's getting to the point where the Iraq mess -- or miracle, depending on your point of view -- is such a totem for politically-minded commentators that the actual state of its various districts seems absolutely irrelevant, even to the commentators themselves. Much of the country was blown to shit for specious reasons -- but one day it may be an economic powerhouse! Thus, in our age of endless spin, are the vagaries of life, the unpredictable shifts in the fortunes of the great and small, grist for anyone's mill, the product to be shaped into any sort of symbol one likes. Such products may be admired and even bought, but we should not forget that they are for decorative purposes only.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

SHORTER OLE PERFESSER: I'm so mind-bendingly full of shit these days I have to remind people of my fabled "sense of humor."

UPDATE: "...I think that the Singularity is something to take seriously... The main point is that the dangers, in my estimation, don't come from the creation of a godlike (or demonlike) superhuman entity. Or at least, if such an entity exists, the threat won't be because of its intelligence... individuals with powers that would have been until recently regarded as godlike... expand beyond the earth beforehand... Mad! They called me mad!"

He didn't really say that last bit about being mad. But he did gesture dramatically in front of a couple of dynamos, I can tell.

Not liberal, not conservative -- merely transhumanist! Between this shit and his life extension obsession -- and, of course, his awful postings -- what an image of the Perfesser we may piece together: a lawyer who wants to live forever in a world of endless wars.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

STADIUM SHOW. New York Mayor Richie Rich got a kick in the ass this week from Mssrs. Silver and Bruno. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

The West Side Stadium project is in serious trouble now that the Albany bosses have turned against it. The Bloomberg booster section is feeling very wounded. Sighs the Times' Jennifer Steinhauer, the non-vote "call[s] into question whether anyone can build big in New York anymore." She also bemoans the effect of regulations on the Roarkian urge to build, and even drags in the sainted names of Moses and Moynihan -- the former an ur-architect of urban sprawl (whose deserved reputation for fucking up the City has been successfully sloughed onto squeegee men by the City Journal crowd), the latter a lovely, old-fashioned New Yawk pol who was very good at bringing home bacon, and whose ghost may yet pull the planned Penn Station project into reality (which rennaissance was necessitated, of course, by the wrecker legacy of Moses), but whose posthumous opinion of this latest landgrab must eternally remain a mystery.

We do have some enlightened commentary from the New York Press, which has been excellent on the subject:
Whatever the real number of jobs the stadium would create—the Jets claim a dubious 7000—nobody denies that the vast majority will be seasonal, low-paying and without benefits.

Seasonal is the key word here. Even if you grant the project some wildly optimistic projections (35 conventions of three days each, 10 football games, assorted concerts and big ticket events) the stadium will still sit unused and empty almost eight months of the year. When full, the majority of the stadium's economic output is payroll, the majority going to athletes who are unlikely to live in New York full-time. Likewise, most revenue from concessions and merchandise goes to the companies that make them, which tend to be located in the South and Midwest. Money for t-shirts and hot dogs is economic development for Virginia and Pennsylvania, not New York.

As for non-Stadium jobs, the influx of fans and convention-goers just isn't frequent enough to sustain new businesses. The 1994 baseball strike offered stark evidence of this: Sociologist John Zipp studied the impacts of canceled games on retail stores and found that the strike had no significant effect. In fact, in 17 of the 24 cities studied, retail sales increased.
As for the alleged extra income from "events" to be booked under the retractable roof, we are planning to expand the shit out of the Javits Center, an actual, successful venue designed for that sort of thing. (Hey, you think Chuck Schumer talked to Silver about this?)

Remember that when we talk about the West Side Stadium we are talking about a massive tax abatement for the owners-presumptive New Wherever Jets, after a steamrolling process that snatched the Hudson Yards from the real high bidder, Cablevision. This isn't a story of Master Builders brought low by little men, but of power brokers thwarted by power brokers.

This sort of thing goes on all the time in the world of City-soaking corporate juggernauts. Think of Detroit's Comerica Park, built largely with that city's taxpayers' dollars (though not to their profit) at massive expense -- which massive expense just keeps on coming in the form of extra soakage, as reported by Field of Schemes. (FoS is, by the way, an invaluable source of sweet reason on the topic of stadia shenanigans, countervailing the local papers' boosterish bullshit.) To this day Detroit suffers from all sorts of -- what do the freemarket guys call it? Oh yeah -- Unintended Consequences from the Comerica swindle. You think, once ground were broken in this proposed money pit, it'd be different here?

Interestingly, all this crud coincides with some massive early spending by Mayor Rich on his reelection campaign. Our airwaves are flooded with ads showing Real People -- from all walks of life! Of all colors and creeds! Talent vouchers secured! -- extolling the benefits of Bloomberg (the candidate, not the media empire). Some of you readers live here in town, right? How much enthusiasm do you see from actual ordinary people for this guy? What eloquent testimonials have you heard in the streets where these spots were filmed on his behalf?

In a just world, Bloomberg would be worried about assassination, not reelection. But New York is in a bad place right now. There are no fires being lit by any local populists -- how could there be, in a City increasingly populated by transients: rootless careerists, and immigrants who do not plan to stick around -- and so the political center -- not positioned between "left" and "right," but between "this gang" and "that gang" -- however rotten and mushy, yet holds. So you won't see massive uprisings and street demos of citizens hollering for, or against, the stadium in its hour of crisis -- because few believe it makes any difference. On this subject the street is dead. Let the big boys fight it out, we figure; we're busy trying to make ends meet.

We are but spectators at the great board meetings that decide our City's future. Still, given those terms, the recent reversal, and the pique apparent on the Mayor's normally smug face afterwards, was a pretty edifying spectacle.

Monday, June 06, 2005

MY WATERGATE. I’m glad the Mark Felt thing has died down. I will admit that it was a minor pleasure to see Pat Buchanan and Gordon Liddy and, Lord love us, Charlie "Grab ‘em by the balls and their heart and minds will follow" Colson, and their various blogospheric enablers, trying to blow-dry their own soggy reputations by denigrating Felt. (What lover of American political comedy could resist hatchet-man Colson telling Aaron Brown that "the ends don’t justify the means"?)

And it was a considerably less minor pleasure to hear Alberto Gonzalez announce that he would not prosecute Felt for violation of FBI protocols – "The Department has a lot of other priorities," the AG said, and I thought, yeah, it would be pretty hard to secretly intern Deep Throat in one of our neo-gulags right about now.

But the revelation of Felt’s role has mainly been an excuse for a creaky-jointed victory lap of journalistic greybeards who, whatever their achievements or accidental proximity to history in the Golden Age, have been for the most part criminally derelict in the years since Watergate. We have lived to see the New York Times progress from establishment scourge to apologist for its own pro-Administration credulity in the run-up to the Iraq War. (Where be thy Pentagon Papers now? Get you to your publisher’s chamber, and tell him, let him paint the paper an inch thick with Style Sections, to this end journalism has, if not must, come; make him laugh at that.)

What then is the real, enduring legacy of Watergate?

In any case, the whole hero-or-villain discussion is ridiculously irrelevant. All news investigations have mixed motives. They’re about bagmen running around with parcels of information, and hungry journalists trying to make something of them. That’s why we remember the Dreyfus affair for Zola’s "J’Accuse," and not for its coverage in the Revue des Deux Mondes and Le Siecle. That’s why Zola stepped up to perform this public service in the first place, in those days when artists were not exempted on grounds of elitism, as they are now, from national debates. (Actually the attacks on Zola were the model for the you-artists-are-stupid strategy well-used in our own time, but at least back then it was new and obvious in its crudeness.)

That Felt may have been motivated by an institutional grudge is no shock to fans of Larry Cohen’s The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, which suggested the Director’s "reaching beyond the grave" to strike at Nixon. In fact, if I recall aright, having absorbed Watergate as a teenager working in a Subway sandwich shop, blasting the Ervin hearings from a radio as I worked (imagine any fast-food chain employee getting away with that now!), the crisis was as much an entertaining unraveling of a mystery as it was a political paroxysm – in fact, the historical achievement of de-Nixonizing America, pleasurable as that was, is much more remarked upon now than it was at the time. We didn’t like Nixon, but we weren’t rooting for a coup. We did like seeing a famous kingpin, previously thought untouchable, taken down. Who thought of John Dean as a hero?

The real aftermath of Watergate was not, contrary to the poli-sci crowd’s pleadings, so much anti-Republican, or even anti-corruption. It was anti-certainty.

After Watergate came movies like Chinatown and The Parallax View and Shampoo and Executive Action -- and political movements like Howard Jarvis’ Proposition 13 in California-- all based on the idea that the certainties of a previous age were now suspect.

Suspicion was the order of the day, as were movements primed to exploit that suspicion.

Allegedly-liberal Hollywood and the allegedly-conservative Republican Party both profited handsomely from a prosecution that caused Richard Nixon to resign. Think of that! Their successes have much less to do with justice -- and even less to do with politics, at least as it is commonly understood -- than they have to do with exploitations of opportunity.

Though Hollywood has always been America’s dream factory, it has also been properly fitted to produce, as the times require, nightmares. Today America is largely unwilling to toss and turn over the state of the nation, but it is still prone to bad dreams, provided they are about serial killers, boogeymen, terrorists, and environmental disasters -- anything but what faces them in the here and now. These nightmares Hollywood happily continues to supply. If a Michael Moore comes along with a deliverable audience willing to obsess on political malfeasance -- if any artist (including the auteurs whose work is cited above) comes up with a creepy-crawly of whatever sort that might make a buck -- well, so much the better for the nightmare machine! He will have his moment in the sun, and then we will go back to the next version of Kiss The Girls.

And while the GOP was briefly pledged to Nixon – indeed treated him back in the day as a reclaimed son, the outcast who had by God made good – the Party was yet and ever more ardently pledged to victory, and showed it. When it found -- after the Nixon defenestration and the brief, busybody liberal ascendancy that followed it -- a bullshit Libertarian meme left squalling like a newborn babe in its lap, they of course ran with it; and when its operatives found a way – brilliantly, it must be admitted – to somehow link this babe, forever mewling "me, me, me," with millenarian Christianity for the greater good of the Republican voter base, who could blame them for making the most of this fortuitous cross-exploitation?

Despite the recent grumblings of some of the sitcom villains of Watergate, it must be said: if you would seek Mark Felt’s monument, look around you. The inability to nail Reagan for his frankly treasonous Iran-Contra crimes is only one further proof that the myth of WoodStein and a regnant Fourth Estate is just that – a myth. Some powerful constituencies -- not the press, much less the public -- rose to the occasion and took power from it. You want to honor Mark Felt? Or dishonor him? Knock yourself out.