Thursday, April 26, 2007

Reclaiming "Elite"

I love Bill Maher. Just not in "that way." Here, he sets the record straight on why the Bush Administration can't seem to find its ass with both hands and a compass.


Descent into Madness, Part Deux (Or, "Oh, Sure. Blame Us.")

In his book, People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, Dr. M. Scott Peck starts his third chapter, entitled The Encounter with Evil in Everyday Life, relating the case of Roger and his parents. Roger was a troubled teen who'd been referred to Peck by the juvenile authorities as part of his probationary conditions. Now, Roger was in treatment with Peck and had been settled into a strict, but caring Catholic boys' school run by the Dominican brotherhood, where he seemed quite happy. When a minor rules infraction forced a parent-teacher conference, Roger's parents panicked and called Peck, claiming the school wasn't working out, that the Dominicans had failed to "fix" Roger's problems.

They told Peck they planned to pull Roger out of the Catholic school and find another, stricter school for him. Peck begged the parents not to do this. He was happily situated, was getting good grades, had a solid support system amongst the brothers who ran the school, and moving him somewhere new -- particularly under an iron-fisted authority -- would be a huge mistake. He didn't hear from Roger or his parents for several months. Eventually, he received a letter from Roger's parents, telling him they had "followed your advice" and had pulled Roger out of the Catholic school and had enrolled him in the military boarding academy.

Peck concludes the section on Roger and his parents by enumerating the number of lies Roger's parents must have told themselves and each other to have convinced themselves that the untrue was now true. "Not one lie," Peck writes, "not even two lies, but three lies, all twisted around each other in a single short sentence. It is, I suppose, a form of genius that one can almost admire for its perversity. " Peck's entire book is dedicated to many such cases, where seemly average, ordinary people manipulate and obfuscate truth into falsehood, bending facts into outright lies in order that they may continue down their unrighteous paths without the trivial burden of principles and ethics to weigh them down. Peck has a name for this. He calls it "evil."

It's not like that kind of activity is new to us, certainly. For the past seven years, many of us have been consistently amazed at the boldness and audacity of the lies that has come from the White House. We learned long ago that there were no limits on how outrageously or wantonly Bush, Cheney, Rove, and Rice would go in their attempts to deceive and manipulate. Still, today might have taken the cake.

President George W. Bush stood in the rose garden of the White House a couple of days ago, and used the election results of 2006 as the excuse for his surge in Iraq. You can watch the MSNCB clip yourself. Or, if you'd rather read the words over and over, because, well, you just can't wrap your brains around them, let me quote for you:

"Last November the American people said they were frustrated and wanted change in our strategy in Iraq. I listened. Today General David Petraeus is carrying out a strategy that is dramatically different from our previous course. But the American people did not vote for failure, and that is precisely what the Democratic leadership’s bill would guarantee."

Okay, I admit it. He's actually managed to surprise me. Somehow, when my back was turned, George W. Bush managed to steal yet another election. That election back in November, that was OUR election. That was the one where we told him to get lost, that he was the lamest of lame ducks, and that we were counting the days (see countdown in sidebar) until he crawled back under his Crawford rock and never darkened our door again. Now, he's actually using those election results as a mandate for his further mismanagement of the war he's bungled from Day One. Much to our surprise and consternation, we've somehow managed to become responsible for perpetuating this illegal war of lies. I have no idea what to say to this.

Here's the scary part. Folks... I think he believes it. No, really... watch him.... He's absolutely sincere. This is what his people have told him. They've told him that we weren't really voting against him or the Iraqi war, we just wanted a little strategy change. And because -- and the more I see him, the more I believe it -- he's a) not very bright, and b) in the process of losing what little mind he has left, he bought into it.

It's official. This man is clinically insane.

"Remember the rug?"


P.S. Special thanks to TPM Cafe for the original post that inspired this one, and the Huffington Post for linking to it in the first place.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Dancing Fools

If you're Los Angeles-based, here's an interesting little something to do this weekend. Meh-tropolis Dance Theatre is performing at the Del Rey Theatre at Loyola University this weekend. Meh-tropolis' artistic director is Sarah Harkness, who choreographed me in a show about a year and a half ago. She actually made me look good. (Sing? Yes. Act? You betcha. Dance? Uhh... not so much.) So you can imagine what she and her other choreographers can do with REAL dancers. I've brought people (some of them near kicking and screaming) to Meh-tropolis performances, and they never failed to gush afterward. <- not hyperbole, I swear!

If you can catch the performances, April 26 through April 28, you won't be sorry. The Del Rey is a really nice theatre -- big enough to have a true "theatre" ambience, but with that close, intimate feeling that small university theatres have. Tickets are $10 dollars a pop. TEN DOLLARS, people. You can't even see a movie for ten dollars, and nothing good is playing anyway.

Come... rediscover live dance theatre. I promise you won't be sorry.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Descent into Madness

And this, my friends, is where the President of the United States simply begins to unravel, row by unsavory little row, until all that's left is a little pile of crinkled yarn and a padded cell.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

When the World is So Unbearably Sad...

... words seem so hard to come by. (UPDATE: I did manage to express myself a little more specifically on this topic on, in my article, THE TAO OF "I DON'T WANT TO KNOW.")

My heart aches for the parents and loved ones who lost their children in Virginia on Monday. How they will survive this, what will sustain them, I can only barely imagine. I could just kick the news media for giving that utter waste of human DNA that did this horrible thing the publicity and press saturation he so desperately wanted and could never have attained another way. I beseech you all to forget this loser asswipe and only to remember the lives of those he took, of people who were so far above him in every possible respect, he doesn't deserve to share the same memory space.

But most of all, I'd like to humbly request that everybody who wants to blame Virginia Tech administration and security for the way they handled the situation following the dorm shootings to kindly sit down and shut the hell up. The gift of 20/20 hindsight in such a case is invaluable. Unfortunately, the administrators of the University, who apparently had misplaced their divining rods and crystal balls, failed to predict that the guy who killed two people in a dorm would come back TWO HOURS LATER, and attack people in several classrooms, a half-mile away. Neither I nor you nor any reasonable, sane person could have, would have anticipated such an insane, brutal turn of events. People in charge do the best they can under difficult circumstances, like trying to figure out how to deal with a double homicide in one of their dorms. Trying to assuage our grief and desperation at their expense, by blaming them for choices they made in an unimaginably horrific scenario seems so unnecessarily petty and mean as to be almost -- dare I say it? -- evil.

Everybody's a fucking strategic genius once the shooting's stopped, and I don't know about you all, but I've got no stomach for Tuesday-morning quarterbacking at the moment.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

To Don Imus: We Don't Cotton To That Kinda Talk Round These Here Parts.

(Unless, of course, you're a multi-platinum rapper, or a self-styled civil rights icon, but that's another blog post, surely.)

CBS has announced that Don Imus won't be returning to his radio program in two weeks after all. His suspension just turned into a termination. Lots of folks have something to say about that, some of it fair, some of it unfair, some of legally and constitutionally wrong, and some of it scarily and pointedly right.

Rosie O'Donnell told her audience on The View that Imus should be protected under the First Amendment, and therefore should be untouchable (presumably beyond his suspension). As a point of law, of course, this is poppycock. Protection under the First Amendment means that the United States government can't come into the game and fire or otherwise persecute Don Imus for his remarks. But there is no law forbidding the company(ies) that Imus works for from firing him because his behavior fails to represent the image they choose to portray. CBS and MSNBC were as justified in letting Imus go as the several newspapers who dropped Ann Coulter's column after she referred to Democratic presidential candidate, Senator John Edwards, as a faggot. Racist, homophobic, anti-semitic, mysoginistic slurs might be protected speech under the Constitution, but that doesn't mean that one gets to use them with impunity. If you make a remark that is bound to be controversial or offensive, you'd best be sure that, a) you own the network you're broadcasting for, and/or b) it is such a matter of conviction and passion for you that you're prepared to get the boot for it.

For both CBS and MSNBC, sponsorship was the issue. Proctor and Gamble threatened to pull their ad dollars if Imus continued, as did Staples and other large corporate sponsors. Unfortunately for Imus, though the two networks might have liked to hang in there for him, the bottom line would not permit it. And that's the industry, honey bunch.

The most intelligent remarks I've heard so far -- and the ones that, frankly, scare the daylights out of me, have been from Newsweek columnist Mark Starr, who believe that, while Imus should be taken to task for his despicable remarks, we all bear a bit of the burden for creating the cultural climate that allowed him (and Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh, and Al Sharpton, for that matter) to believe for an instant that such a thing was permissable to say. In his column, entitled Imus is Us, Starr writes:

"It is our dubious taste that has spawned America's prevailing entertainment culture. We have countenanced the insult industry into which talk radio has devolved. We have allowed humiliation to become a centerpiece of network TV
programming. And we encourage cutting-edge humor, without much concern that women and minorities endure most of those cuts. These dubious entertainments all share one currency: unabashed delight in cruelty and debasement."
Amen, brother. From Jackass to Borat to Fear Factor, we have slowly gravitated toward the degradation of others to provide us with entertainment. Twenty years ago, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly would never have been given a platform for their hate-spewing diatribes. Howard Stern (whom I actually kind of like, in very small doses) would be working as a certified public accountant in Paramus, New Jersey. Ann Coulter would have spent her entire adult life working as a hat-check girl at some trendy Washington, D.C. restaurant, waiting for some wealthy lobbyist to come and sweep her off her feet.

But our lust for the outrageous and the indelicate has led us to a morning where a group of young, accomplished women who undoubtedly have done better in school than Don Imus ever hoped to do (he was a failure in every other profession he ever attempted, according to his biography) were denegrated and referred to as black prostitutes, in spite of their stellar GPAs and the spirited athletic performance that led them to face the best women's college basketball team in the country. Starr's point -- Imus was wrong, but he got the chance to be so publicly, vilely, openly wrong because we gave it to him. The fact is, Don Imus has been Don Imus for the past 122 years (only a mild exaggeration, I assure you). Ann Coulter was every bit Ann Coulter when those newspapers signed contracts with her to print her sordid, poorly written little missives on topics about which she knew next to nothing besides what her uber-conservative daddies told her. For years these types of comments -- insulting, debasing, crude, hateful -- came spewing from Imus' mic and Coulter's computer. Is it really fair of us to suddenly go all Claude Rains on them and suddenly mutter, "I'm shocked, shocked to find gambling going on here?"

Perhaps it's time for our pendulum to start swinging back to a more rational time, when you had to have a better gripe against someone than the color of their skin, the texture of their hair, your opinions on their sexuality. As I've said before, there's so much to discuss without resorting to personal attacks. I may loathe Dick Cheney's smirking countenance, but I'm also inclined to believe that, hey, man -- that's just the way he looks. He can't help that. Being the type of politician whose moral and ethical boundaries are so shady that even the ultra-conservatives who helped elect him and his boss in '04 won't tolerate him being their keynote speaker at their graduation -- that, he could help.

So, now that we've drawn this line in the sand, let's see if we can keep it going -- maybe even apply it to other areas where we've been lacking in our communications skills... like the war in Iraq, maybe... or the firing of Alberto Gonzales... ya know... like that.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bad News Is Good News.

Don't get me wrong. I'm really happy for Larry Birkhead. I'm happy for DannieLynn Smith. I am. I hope that father and daughter are reunited at the earliest possible opportunity. I'm really glad that Howard K. Stern wasn't the biological father of the baby -- if for no other reason than her personal safety. I mean, Stern may not be responsible for the deaths of Anna Nicole Smith and her son, Daniel, but at the very least, he is the biggest freakin' jonah I've ever seen. To the best of our knowledge, no one has dropped dead in Larry Birkhead's presence in the past two years or so, and I feel better about the baby's odds for survival because of it.

Here's my problem with CNN's cover page. A glance at this screen shot of CNN will document what I believe is the problem with today' cultural environment. Please note big picture and headline of Larry Birkhead, arms raised in celebratory glee. Please note also that, in little tiny letters to the left of the screen, three news items appear regarding an insurgent uprising in Baghdad, Congressional subpoenas issued to the Attorney General's office for documents, and Bush's unwillingness to pull his head out of his ass and deal with the fact that he's already lost his war.

CNN knows what the American people want. And what they want is dead Anna Nicole Smith and her baby and her baby's daddy. What they don't want is Iraqi insurgency. Nor do they pine for discussions of what the attorney general knew and when he knew it, regarding 8 wrongfully dismissed US attorneys. And they especially don't want to hear about the sniping battles between the White House and the Congress when it comes to war funding and landmark withdrawal dates.

The sad fact of it is this: What the American people want to hear is of no fucking relevance whatsoever. The trouble with what happened to the news in the early 80s, when networks and newspapers began turning newsgathering into a for-profit operation is that it forces journalists and editors to tailor stories to suit what people want to hear. Because I gaurantee you that nobody wanted to hear that five little guys broke into and burgalized the Democratic National headquarters in the Watergate building in 1972. Nobody wanted to hear that in 1951 that thirteen black families were bringing a class action suit against the Topeka, KS school board in order to get their children access to the same education to which their white contemporaries were entitled. And I'm pretty damn positive that nobody really cared much when, after a hard day's work, a young black seamstress named Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955.

But news isn't about what people want to know. It's about what they need to know, whether they like it or not. Journalism is -- or should be, at any rate -- about disseminating the truth, however ugly and unappealing it may be. During the first year or two after Watergate broke, I recall several of my mother's Republican friends almost putting their fingers in their ears when a news story would come on television. They didn't want to know. They'd voted for Nixon, trusted him, and they didn't want to know that, far from the strong, empassioned leader he presented himself to be, he was actually just another paranoid, power-mad politician with a foul temper and an even fouler mouth. But the press coverage then didn't care about what Americans wanted to hear. The press then concerned itself with what was news, and a minor break-in which was being covered up at the uppermost levels of government was, for better or worse, news.

There are two prices that we pay for living in a democratic republic. The first is that we pay taxes. We pay taxes, people. It's the price we pay. We pay what we owe -- no more, no less. That's our duty and our responsibility, like it or not. Get over it. The second is that we must be adults and run our government and not let it run us. After 9/11, a vast majority of crybaby scaredycats decided to let George W. Bush be their daddy and protect them from the big, bad world. Aside from the fact that George W. Bush couldn't protect a birthday candle from a strong wind, that is not why we have leadership in this country.

This is why travelling to other countries, especially when one is young, is essential. You realize something when you spend time in Europe. You realize a few things, actually, not the least of which is that European men, while appreciative of a fine pair, are no where near as "beast obsessed" as American men, but that's a subject for another blog post. More importantly, you realize that America is laboring under two major myths.
  • Myth No. 1: America is the greatest nation on earth.
  • Myth No. 2: There is such a thing as national security.

America as a great nation, a fine nation, a nation full of wonderful qualities and attributes. But the greatest? No. Far from it. When 20% of a country's population currently living below the poverty line are children below the age of 15, when 15% of its citizen are not covered by any health insurance plan (an all-time high, even here), when we remain only one of two industrial nations (the other being Japan) to resort to state-sanctioned killing of its criminals, then, my friends, we abdicate the right to call ourselves the greatest nation on Earth. We are the wealthiest, and we are surely one of the most religious, and in light of that, the above statistics are even more damning.

As for national security, a quick trip through any European airport will clue Americans in on what Europeans have known for decades -- national security is an illusory luxury that intelligent people cannot afford. In 1976, I walked through four European airports (Schriphrol in Amsterdam, Heathrow in London, Leonardo da Vinci in Rome, and Barajas in Madrid) and in every single one of them, there were uniformed security men with large, impressive automatic weapons. It was the days of the Bader-Meinhoff and the IRA and Europeans knew that, if the threat didn't come from some outside alien influence, it would certainly come from inside. It could happen in a pub, or on a train or in a marketplace. Precautions were taken, but they did not amount to security. There is no such thing. We are, and always have been, in constant danger of attack. September 11th wasn't a fluke -- it was inevitable, partially because of our hubris and lack of awareness, and partially because such things happen everywhere, so it is insanity to assume that they won't happen here.

These are the bad tidings that Americans need to hear. We are good, but not perfect. Terrible things are happening every day that require our immediate attention. And the time has come for us to stop looking to be taken care of, and start looking to take care. We need to start caring for our children, and our sick and elderly, and we need to wise up and quit acting like cowboys on the open plain. It's the job of journalists to tell us things we find hard to hear, and its our job to hear it.

The big, bad world from which you're seeking protection is the place where we live. That bad news you've been hiding from is actually a good thing -- because it gives us a chance to try and fix the thing that's broken, whether its the weather, or the war, or the White House. The one thing that Americans are really good at is fixing broken stuff and making it work (especially after we're the ones who've broken it). But we can't fix what we don't see, and that's where ugly news comes in.

So, toughen up, America. Embrace the bad news. Put down the copy of Star and the New York Post, and start checking out news sources where Anna Nicole is a page three story, tops. You won't be sorry in the long run.


Who's Supporting Whom? Part Deux

Here's the question of the day: How is America supposed to support the troops when the United States military can't even support its own?

According to this article from Salon, even more evidence exists to indicate that the DoD and White House have a novel notion of how to tackle the lack of manpower they need for their so-called "surge." They'll simply redeploy injured and ill soldiers. Easy. No problem. Because it doesn't matter if American soldiers have the resources to survive and perform in Iraq. All they have to be is bodies. Dead or alive. It doesn't matter. That's what the American military has been reduced to -- providing bodies for the White House. Able or not. Healthy or not. The Department of Defense is now basically George Bush's bitch.

America supporting its troops. With friends like these, who needs enemy combatants?


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Chapter and Verse

As Attorney General Gonzales prepares for his unavoidable collision with the US Congress, I thought he might want to review the standard of conduct that the law sets out for United States judges. After all, if he's going to be so audacious as to claim that eight US judges were fired for poor job performance, he'll most certainly want to hold himself to an equally high measure of behavior, no? Oi.

From Chapter 1 of "The Code of Conduct for United States Judges":

Canon 1. A Judge Should Uphold the Integrity and Independence of the Judiciary

Canon 2. A Judge Should Avoid Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety in All Activities

Canon 3.
A Judge Should Perform the Duties of the Office Impartially and Diligently

Canon 4. A Judge May Engage in Extra-Judicial Activities To Improve the Law, the Legal System, and the Administration of Justice

Canon 5. A Judge Should Regulate Extra-Judicial Activities To Minimize the Risk of Conflict with Judicial Duties

Canon 6. A Judge Should Regularly File Reports of Compensation Received for Law-Related and Extra-Judicial Activities

Canon 7. A Judge Should Refrain from Political Activity

Of particular note is the first subparagraph of Canon 3: A judge should be faithful to and maintain professional competence in the law, and should not be swayed by partisan interests, public clamor, or fear of criticism.

Of even greater note is the first paragraph of Canon 2: A judge should respect and comply with the law and should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

Would that the White House and that which we euphemistically refer to as the Justice Department thought enough of their duties to bind themselves by the same ethical canons, perhaps we, the public, would continue to have confidence in the integrity of those institutions.

(Institutions? Say... isn't that where they send crazy people? Hmmm...)


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Thing We Hate

Busy, busy, boys and girls... not much time to post. But I did want to direct your attention to a couple of things that I've been reading lately.

Jennifer Daskal, an advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, has been covering Guantanamo Bay detainees for a couple of years now, and has been attending the hearings in Washington, D.C.. She's written a scary/fascinating/infuriating blog post at Huffington Post about chicanery and skullduggery (two words that, thanks to this current administration, have been reintroduced into common everyday language for the first time since the death of Blackbeard) surrounding the detainees and their treatment at the hands of the bad guys. And by "bad guys," I mean, of course, us.

John McCain, in effort to prove that (in answer to my question of last week) we're the ones who are stupid, is visiting Iraq this week. The purpose for this, I suppose, is so that the Iraqis and American soldiers there can assist him in the removal of his foot which was so tightly wedged in his mouth after he made ridiculous comments regarding the present state of Iraqi security against the insurgents, not once, but twice in the national broadcast media. So, the suspense is killing us. Were there neighborhoods in which McCain could take a casual stroll and travel in an unarmored Humvee? We'll never know. McCain, along with General David Petraeus, was sporting a stylishly cut flak jacket, and packing an entourage that included 150 armed soldiers and no fewer than twenty fully up-armormed Humvees for the delegation (see NY Times photo here). Even so, McCain then appeared in front of news cameras proclaiming that he'd proven last week's idiotic rants of his. The merchants in the marketplace that McCain and his cluster of fools visited had a few choice words about McCain's statements the next day. These are the guys who live there and work there everyday, who aren't treated to the privileges and protection that McCain so callously and casually enjoyed. I guess that answers my question from last week's blog post -- yes, he's stupid, and yes, he thinks that we are. Today, they're off to Anbar, one of the most dangerous regions in Iraq. Frankly -- and I'm not proud I feel this way, people -- I'm not sure what to wish for regarding his safety.

Not sure if this is available only to Salon premium subscribers (Jesus, I wish Salon would just sell advertisements and be done with it!), but the cover story today is on the Democrats' refusal to participate in the dog-and-pony show commonly known as Fox News. I'm not sure what my view is on this -- whether Dems should boycott or not -- but the article lays outthe case for both sides fairly well (while managing to express an opinion about it all at the same time -- how Fox News-like).

Off to work. I'll try and post something new and fancy in the next couple of days. I will say, though, that I've become more and more clear on the fact that ever since 9/11, Americans have allowed their fear and pettiness to blind them. Even people I once considered smart and savvy (comedian Dennis Miller*, rocker Gene Simmons*) have allowed the smallest, most lizard-like parts of their brain run their reason right into the ground. The reality is that America, for all its big talk about liberty and freedom, has become a tyrannical despotism, which is the very thing we claim to be fighting against in other parts of the world.

We have, in short, become the thing we hate.


*Both are huge Bush fans, even today. Miller had the gall to tell Leno that he supported Bush because it had been nearly seven years since America had been attacked by terrorists on Bush's watch -- apparently forgetting that 9/11 was on Bush's watch. Proof positive that Miller may have a big vocabulary and an endless filing cabinet of worthless, obscure references, but deep down, he's just another spineless weakling like the rest of them.