Thursday, May 31, 2007

More or Less



ROPER Arrest him!

ALICE Yes!

MORE For what?

ALICE He's dangerous!

ROPER For libel; he's a spy.

MARGARET Father, that man's bad.

MORE There's no law against that.

ROPER There is! God's law!

MORE Then God can arrest him.

ROPER Sophistication upon sophistication!

MORE No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal.

ROPER Then you set man's law above God's!

MORE No, far below; but let me
draw your attention to a fact--I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of the law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God...

ALICE While you talk, he's gone!

MORE And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

ROPER So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

MORE Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

ROPER I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

MORE Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you--where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast--man's laws, not God's--and if you cut them down--and you're just the man to do it--d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

--"A Man For All Seasons", by Robert Bolt



Wake up and smell the vitriol.

Darth Cheney, the Sith Lord of the White House, spoke at West Point the other day. Yes, it's hard to believe, but a man who took five deferments to avoid serving in Vietnam, had the chutzpah to stand before the 978 new graduates of the US Military Academy and pontificate about serving admirably in combat. Shameless. Anyway, here's the money quote:

As Army officers on duty in the war on terror, you will now face enemies who oppose and despise everything you know to be right, every notion of upright conduct and character, and every belief you consider worth fighting for and living for. Capture one of these killers, and he'll be quick to demand the protections of the Geneva Convention and the Constitution of the United States. Yet when they wage attacks or take captives, their delicate sensibilities seem to fall away.


In short: All's fair in Love 'n' War, and I love war!

Fuck the Geneva Convention, and fuck the Constitution of the United States. Oh yeah, and fuck all of you stupid jarheads, too. If you dumb white trash assholes get captured in Iran--er, Iraq, don't come crying to us when those sand niggers put a drill through your eye.

Huh, I wonder if 24 is on tonight? I hope it's not a repeat.



Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Legacy



Go to hell, Jerry.

As a recovering ex-Catholic who still believes in God but not the church, I didn't waste my tears on Jerry Falwell. If there's any justice, his soul should be impaled on a pitchfork right now. Still, even though his physical carcass is gone, his hateful malignancy is still alive. No, he didn't do it all by himself, but Falwell helped give religious intolerance clout, legitimacy, and a new car smell. It won't go away.

Here's the evidence:

Poland's conservative government took its drive to curb what it sees as homosexual propaganda to the small screen on Monday, taking aim at Tinky Winky and the other Teletubbies.

Ewa Sowinska, government-appointed children rights watchdog, told a local magazine published on Monday that she was concerned the popular BBC children's show promoted homosexuality.

She said she would ask psychologists to advise if this was the case.

In comments reminiscent of criticism by the late US evangelist Jerry Falwell, she was quoted as saying: "I noticed (Tinky Winky) has a lady's purse, but I didn't realize he's a boy."

"At first I thought the purse would be a burden for this Teletubby ... Later I learned that this may have a homosexual undertone."


Never mind about that child-molesting priest hiding in plain sight at the parish, boys and girls. It's Tinky Winky you should be worried about. That's right, a midget wearing a fuzzy purple costume in a make-believe world is a threat to children. (The beloved kiddy icon is probably carrying the dreaded Origin of Species in his purse) If you take a Bible and beat yourself over the head with it repeatedly, this ridiculous hallucination will make perfect sense. If it doesn't, get a bigger Bible.

Falwell's dead, but his legacy lives on. God help us.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Laws



SATAN, n. One of the Creator's lamentable mistakes, repented in sashcloth and axes. Being instated as an archangel, Satan made himself multifariously objectionable and was finally expelled from Heaven. Halfway in his descent he paused, bent his head in thought a moment and at last went back. "There is one favor that I should like to ask," said he.

"Name it."

"Man, I understand, is about to be created. He will need laws."

"What, wretch! you his appointed adversary, charged from the dawn of eternity with hatred of his soul — you ask for the right to make his laws?"

"Pardon; what I have to ask is that he be permitted to make them himself."

It was so ordered.

--"The Devil's Dictionary," by Ambrose Bierce.

In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court upheld a ban on a late-term abortion method and gave hope to the nation’s abortion opponents in their 30-year crusade to overturn Roe v. Wade. The new ruling was the first time the court approved abortion restrictions that contain no exception to protect a mother’s health.

In other words, you're on your own, ladies.

Good luck.



Sunday, May 27, 2007

Blackout



It's an ugly paradox.

In a racist culture that brutalizes and marginalizes them, people of color have died in white men's wars throughout history because that was the only way to finance a piece of the American Dream. Sure, it's inequitable and dangerous, but I know too many brothers and sisters that were able to get good jobs and buy houses only because they enlisted. My father was able to open his barber shop because he earned a degree during his time spent in the Navy in World War II. The military has always been the biggest employer for minorities.

Of course, the nasty contradictions staring African-American soldiers in the face were as clear as a "White Only" sign. It was a bitter joke to fight and die for "freedom" overseas when you couldn't even shit in the same place as a white man. Every black man during the turbulent years of the 60s knew what Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali meant when he defiantly said, "No Viet Cong ever called me nigger." The struggle of people of color wasn't just confined to the United States. It was global.

So what happens when the black pawns refuse to play this game of imperialistic chess anymore?

In a fascinating and provocative essay, Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson explains how and why enlistments of African-Americans are at their lowest numbers since the all-volunteer military was created in 1973. "This is not a black people's war," an African-American veteran of the Iraq war said. "This is not a poor people's war. This is an oilman's war."

Gregory Black is a retired Navy diver who created the website Black Military World.com. Black says that quote is representative of how African-American veterans feel about the Iraq invasion and occupation.

"African-Americans detest this war," Black said yesterday in a phone interview. "Everybody kind of knows the truth behind this war. It's a cash cow for the military defense industry, when you look at the money these contractors are making. African-Americans saw this at the beginning of the war and now the rest of the country has figured it out. It's not benefiting us in the least."

Asked about the reference to an "oilman's war," Black said, "It's basically about oil, basically about money. It's an economic war." He said veterans are saying they are tired and burned out. "Guys are saying we're halfway around the world fighting people of color under the guise of democracy and we can't see how it's benefited anyone," Black said. "It's hard to fight halfway around the world for people's freedom when you're not sure you have it at home."


People of color wearing khakis and carrying guns are the hired help, that's all. To the aristocracy, the soldiers are no different than the faceless non-entities who wash the cars, mow the lawn, and clean up the stinking mess in the kid's diapers. Yeah, I hear all sort of noise about "supporting the troops", but you and I know that's code for "Hell, no, I ain't going."

Except African-Americans have translated the code, too. "In 2000," Jackson reported, "23.5 percent of Army recruits were African-American. By 2005, the percentage dropped to 13.9 percent. National Public Radio this week quoted a Pentagon statistic that said that African-American propensity to join the military had dropped to 9 percent."

Hell, no, I ain't going.

Black said that he still believes "without a shadow of a doubt" that the military still provides one of the best opportunities for African-Americans to advance in a nation where civilian opportunities remain checkered. But he said the military may underestimate how young people are absorbing the horrific images in Iraq's chaos. Pentagon officials largely attribute the drop in African-American interest in the armed forces to "influencers," parents, coaches, ministers, and school counselors who urge youth not to enlist.

"I think some of that is true," Black said. "But I taught ROTC in high school, and the kids themselves are a lot smarter about this stuff. They see the news and they can't justify going into a fight for something they have no faith in."


I remember seeing a poster that read: "What If They Gave A War And Nobody Came?" Still, it's a good thing for the military that there's enough poor whites in this country to make up the difference, huh?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Happy Memorial Day



Do you know what gets me angry?

As fucked as the damned war is gonna be for the United States both in the short and long term, it's godawful for the soldiers trapped in this--repeat after me--quagmire.

What happens when the military is finally, and irrevocably, broken? That seems to be a grim and inescapable reality that too many people are tap dancing around. (Fox News: "The war? Let's ignore it, and hope it goes away--Hey, Lindsay Lohan snorting coke again! Ooooh, shiny! Details at 11.")

What happens when you can't stop the desertions? What happens when a few stray grenades drop (oops) into officer's tents? What happens when a guy on his third tour decides to swallow his gun instead? What happens when an entire barracks gets taken out?

What happens when you run out of soldiers?

Maybe if you think of soldiers as collateral damage, it's no big deal. "Fuck 'em, those grunts knew what the deal was."

But when you remember they're human, then there is another word we can use:

Genocide.

Don't believe me? Take a look:

Happy Memorial Day.

(Thanks to Hubris Sonic from The News Blog for the reality check. The photograph is by Aaron Huey.)

Friday, May 25, 2007

The End



How is The Great Capitulation by the Democrats going to affect the war?

O.K., usually I think I'm outnumbered by the smart people out there such as the armies of smug pundits, professional talking heads, columnists, and bloggers but let me toss in my two cents:

Who the hell knows?

I don't believe that anybody knows what is going to happen because nobody knows how fucking bad the war in Iraq is going to get. Not Really. We can't use World War II or Vietnam as reference points anymore. It's not going to be "bad", and we've already gone w-a-a-a-y beyond "worse". If you say "FUBAR", then maybe you're getting close.

And how it goes down is going to dictate what's next.

Look at the mid-term elections in 2006 as an example. In spite of themselves, the Democrats won a major (but undeserved) victory getting seats in the House and Senate because the majority of the voters already know the war in Iraq is lost and they want us out of there. Period. "Jesus, the Republicans don't wanna do it, maybe the other guys will," a disgusted, used-to-be undecided voter said to himself. It's a winning lottery ticket that the spineless Democrats don't want to cash in.

Meanwhile, as they're busy making up their minds and trying to grow a backbone, people are dying.

So what happens next when the slaughter reaches unprecedented levels? After all, the projected 2000 soldiers and [fill-in-the-blank] Iraqis by 2009 is a conservative estimate. What will be the fatal straw that will break the Army's back? Politicians can afford to be patient because it doesn't affect them personally. But it's different for the grieving families going to the filthy, under-staffed hospitals where the soldiers are warehoused and the endless funerals ignored by Fox News.

No, people aren't going to be patient, quiet, or polite.

People are gonna be pissed.

2009?

I don't think it's going to take that long.

And I'm scared to death. Because I don't know what's going to happen next.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Neverending War



Lynn Woolsey (D--CA) was the first member of Congress to demand that President Bush bring the troops home and is a co-founder of the "Out of Iraq Caucus". Of course, after the Democrats meek and disastrous capitulation, she's pissed:

“The American public voted Democrats into power for one simple reason - they trusted us to act boldly to hold this President accountable and to bring our troops home. So far we are failing the very trust that they have placed in us. But more importantly, every day that we allow this occupation to continue we are failing our brave young men and women who are serving honorably and professionally in Iraq. And we are failing their families here at home, who, while struggling to keep their lives and families together, are forced to worry whether their loved ones will come home alive, and if so in what condition.

“Today is not an opportunity to claim victory, or to give bellicose speeches for partisan gain. Today is an opportunity to grieve for the soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for this President’s failed Iraq policy, to stand by our nation’s sons and daughters who suffer through the irreparable physical and mental wounds of war, and to grieve for the lives that we will continue to lose so long as this President refuses to bring our troops home, and continues to send our young men and women to die for his failure.”




A tip of the hat to Nicole Belle at Crooks and Liars.

The Full Monica



Pretty.

Stupid.

Obedient.

The perfect Republican woman.

Superstition



O.K., this shit is embarrassing.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A House committee launched an inquiry Tuesday over a former museum administrator's claim that the Smithsonian Institution toned down a climate change exhibit for fear of angering Congress and the Bush administration.

The inquiry comes a day after The Associated Press reported that Robert Sullivan, a former associate director at the National Museum of Natural History, said Smithsonian officials softened last year's ''Arctic: A Friend Acting Strangely'' exhibit.

Among other things, the exhibit's text was rewritten to inject more uncertainty into the relationship between human activity and climate change, Sullivan said.

The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming sent a letter to the Smithsonian requesting all letters and e-mails about the exhibit.

The committee chairman, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., wrote to Acting Smithsonian Secretary Cristian Samper, saying, ''It would be a tragedy if one of our nation's most revered scientific institutions were somehow complicit'' in an effort to deny scientific consensus on climate change.


It's not just a "tragedy", it's suicidal.

As Kurt Vonnegut observed, "Science is magic that works." To believe otherwise wastes valuable time, makes us dumber, and drags the United States culturally and economically to the status of a third-rate country.

Do you think Bush is still pissed off about that C- he got in biology?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Barbra




Amazing.

Barbra Streisand's luminescent ascension from a skinny Jewish kid from Brooklyn to a widely-admired and enduring cultural touchstone is quite amazing. Still, whenever a star's career lasts for decades, there's an unfortunate tendency to take them for granted. Oddly enough, there's also more than a few sneering idiots (Uh-huh, Matt and Trey, you guys) who loudly resent Streisand's success, and think she's a musical anachronism who should be exiled in Aunt Gertrude's attic.

Let's take a step back and review, shall we?

Streisand has won two Oscars, four Emmys, nine Golden Globes, eight Grammys, a Tony, and two Cable Ace awards. As of 2007, her CD sales rank her as one of the top-selling female artists in the United States. Last year, Streisand's "farewell" tour (yeah, sure) was so popular the Spartans from 300 couldn't have stopped her loyal fans from buying tickets.

Quite a has-been, huh?

Streisand's bravery shouldn't be discounted either. Remember, her career began during the time when Carl Reiner was originally going to be the star of The Dick Van Dyke Show before some schmuck at CBS decided that Reiner was "too ethnic". In an era that slavishly idealizes blond-haired, blue-eyed, Nordic goddesses, Streisand didn't get a nose job and was always proud of her Jewish identity. (Please don't get me started on how the Oscars shamefully ignored Yentl, O.K.?)

You know what? Streisand's a mensch. Although she left Brooklyn years ago, Brooklyn's never left her. Amazing.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jerry Falwell (1933-2007)



"Even leaving out of account the remarkable arrogance that assumed that the ways and morals of others were inferior to those of Christians, and that they therefore had every right, and could use any means, to change them, the collision between cultures--and the schizophrenia in the mind of Christendom--had rendered the domain of morals as chartless as the sea once was, and as treacherous as the sea still is. It is not too much to say that whoever wishes to become a truly moral human being (and let us not ask whether or not this is possible; I think we must believe that it is possible) must first divorce himself from all the prohibitions, crimes, and hypocrisies of the Christian church. If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him."
--James Baldwin, from The Fire Next Time.

Tough Guys In Cages



There are guys who play tough in the movies.

You know who they are. They’re the guys who think six months in the gym and a David Mamet screenplay makes them tough.

And then there are tough guys who happen to do movies for a living. One of the best of them was Burt Lancaster. He became a star in 1947's Brute Force, a nasty prison noir directed by Jules Dassin. Burt plays Joe Collins, the toughest inmate in the cell block, and he’s planning to get the hell out.

Burt was one of those actors who was just as rugged behind the camera as he was in front of it. Therefore, he’s able to invest his Joe Collins character with a solid bedrock of strength and integrity that a fraud like Tom Cruise can’t. Burt’s sweaty charisma is so strong, you can see why the other prisoners listen to Joe. In a scary, malignant tumor of a performance, Hume Cronyn is Captain Munsey, the head of the prison guards, a sadistic son of a bitch, and Joe’s nemesis.

The Granddaddy of the brutal men-behind-bars genre, Brute Force holds up impressively well. A defiant and outspoken survivor of the Hollywood Blacklist in the 1950s, Dassin directs this gripping drama with a barely-suppressed rage, and he leaves you no doubt as to where his sympathies lie. Most of the convicts are idealized Good Men Who Made A Bad (boo hoo) Mistake, while the prison guards are faceless thugs in uniform that get horny beating up people. Does it work? Hell, yeah.

On one level, Brute Force is a raw, in-your-face melodrama. On another, it’s a political metaphor of individuals fighting against an oppressive regime. Either way, you can’t lose.

Criterion's “Brand New & Improved!” DVD of Brute Force is beautiful. The print has been so well-scrubbed it gleams, the commentary features a fascinating conversation with film noir experts Alain Silver and James Ursini, and there’s a booklet with an essay by film critic Michael Atkinson. It’s a first class, handsomely-designed edition, and Brute Force deserves it.

Brute Force is the tough old guy in jail the other inmates leave alone because even though he ain't got no teeth, he's ready to tear your throat out. Sure, Jules Dassin's classic film is over fifty years old, but it can still hurt you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Losing Game



You’re a little bit bigger
you could be smaller
you could be thinner
if you could get taller
just a little less
make you a little more
give you that little look
they’re looking for
if you go out
where they say to go in
it’s a losing game
you don’t want to win

"The Losing Game"
, a song by Cosy Sheriden

Monday, May 14, 2007

Heroes



If the word "hero" could sue for defamation of character, it would.

If it walked into a lawyer's office and said, "that's it, I've had enough!" I wouldn't blame it. Have you seen how people are defining heroism these days?

A trash-mouthed idiot in the NFL whose fame and skill in selling overpriced sneakers are the only things keeping him out of jail will be called a "hero" for scoring the winning touchdown. A has-been ex-actor selling his new sitcom will blubber to Oprah about his "heroism" in surviving three bad marriages, a drug overdose and a weekend spent in jail. Eat a big, steaming bowl of bugs on “Survivor” and your mother will call you "heroic". Hell, I heard the H-word more than once when President Bush borrowed Tom Cruise’s costume from Top Gun and smirked, “Mission Accomplished.”

With so much slander going on is it any wonder people are confused? It's a good thing there are people like Jessica Lynch to show us what real heroes are. Testifying during a congressional hearing investigating the death of Pat Tillman by “friendly fire”, Lynch became a real hero because she refused to go along with the bullshit.

“They made me out to be this little girl Rambo from the hills of West Virginia who went down fighting,” the former POW told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “It was just not true.” Joined by Pat Tillman’s mother and brother, she urged Congress to hold the government accountable for its “deliberate and calculated lies.”

That's what heroism is. In this celebrity-obsessed culture, singers, athletes and movie stars are elevated to the status of heroes for simply doing their jobs. But entertaining us doesn't mean they're making a difference in our lives. All they're doing is taking our minds away from the problems that are still there after the song or game or movie is over.

Jessica Lynch is a hero. A gutless punk like George Tenet getting rich pimping his book At the Center of the Storm isn’t. I remember seeing a poster that read, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

So, to paraphrase one of my favorite songs, Tenet’s bullshit is so bright, I got to wear shades.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Boxed Out



Bill Simmons ( ESPN columnist and author of Now I Can Die In Piece) had a few words to say about the growing decline of boxing, and why more young African-American athletes don’t want to be prizefighters anymore:

“Sure, it’s a completely corrupt sport that lacks any semblance of organization, but that’s been the case since, well, forever. The bigger issue? Lack of star power. American kids don’t grow up hoping to become the next Ali or Sugar Ray anymore; they’re hoping to become the next LeBron, Griffey, Brady or Tiger. The thought of getting smacked in the head for 20 years, soaked by the Don Kings of the world, then ending up with slurred speech and a constant tremor doesn’t sound too enticing. Fifty years ago, before anyone knew better, Allen Iverson might have been the deadliest middleweight alive and ended up broke and incoherent. In 2007, he’s worth tens of millions and there’s a chance he’ll be able to hold an articulate conversation when he’s 70.

“Which scenario sounds more appealing to an inner-city kid with serious athletic chops? Take a guess. It’s ironic that Muhammad Ali–once upon a time our most popular athlete and a boxing ambassador–damaged the credibility of the sport more than anyone else by turning into a quivering mess. Maybe he is a great man, maybe he had a great career, maybe he was the warrior of warriors, but nobody wants to end up like him.”

Even as brutal as football is, at least the NFL doesn't make the players wear leather helmets anymore. Yeah, I used to be a fan, but I can't stand to see any more ex-boxers turned into zombies. Poor white and African-American men who want an athletic career can find easier--and more profitable--ways to make money. Oh, Bill? There ain't no "maybes". Ali did have a great career, and he is a great man. Now more than ever. It'd be easy for Ali to stay out of sight so he won't make people like you uncomfortable. If going out in public in spite of his debilitating condition isn't bravery, what is?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Black Is Beautiful



In ESPN magazine this week, sportscaster Stuart Scott was asked how he felt about the infamous Don Imus controversy:

"On a scale of 1 to 10, it's a 27. There are already too many signals in our society that blond hair and blue eyes are all-American beauty. It's hard enough for me to make sure that my two beautiful girls with black hair that doesn't lie straight understand their beauty is also all-American. When Don Imus calls black hair 'nappy', he's including them. And to call the Rutgers players 'hos'--these are classy, intelligent women whom any parent would be proud of--is deplorable. Imus didn't just say something stupid; it wasn't poor word choice. He also reflected what and who he is."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Monsters, Inc.


After meeting a few real-life mobsters, Mario Puzo said he deeply regretted how his novel The Godfather romanticized the Mafia. (Of course, Puzo said this long after he cashed the checks.) The movie adaptation certainly added a bright polish to the myth.

To his credit, David Chase never made this mistake with The Sopranos.

Yeah, the show has been on too damned long, and there are times during this season where it feels as though Chase is a lost tourist at a fork in the road with an unreliable map. Still, in spite of a few bad episodes, Chase has never made the error of forgetting who Tony Soprano and his crew are, and what they do for a living. O.K., I know some longtime viewers who love HBO’s critically-acclaimed drama and like to think that those wacky guys with guns up in New Jersey are just like them. Hey, Tony gets panic attacks, AJ is a spoiled brat who won’t listen to Carmella, and Uncle Junior is going senile. Don’t they sound normal?

They’re not.

In a horrifying scene on The Sopranos, we saw a pissed-off and boozed-up Christopher shoot his Hollywood pal J.T. Dolan in the face. For nothing. At that moment, Chase brutally reminded us what America’s Favorite Mobsters really are: Monsters.

They’re monsters who lie, steal, and kill people. Sure, the majority of the people they whack are other gangsters. But don’t think they would hesitate to smash a brick up against your head if you happened to scuff their shoes. It’d be no different to these thugs than stepping on a cockroach, and they wouldn’t give a fuck. They’re sadists, psychos, murderers. Monsters.

Too bad J.T. forgot that.

Be scared for Dr. Melfi. Very scared.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Just Say No




One object I had in placing Bartleby so handy to me behind the screen, was to avail myself of his services on such trivial occasions. It was on the third day, I think, of his being with me, and before any necessity had arisen for having his own writing examined, that, being much hurried to complete a small affair I had in hand, I abruptly called to Bartleby. In my haste and natural expectancy of instant compliance, I sat with my head bent over the original on my desk, and my right hand sideways, and somewhat nervously extended with the copy, so that immediately upon emerging from his retreat, Bartleby might snatch it and proceed to business without the least delay.

In this very attitude did I sit when I called to him, rapidly stating what it was I wanted him to do—namely, to examine a small paper with me. Imagine my surprise, nay, my consternation, when without moving from his privacy, Bartleby in a singularly mild, firm voice, replied, “I would prefer not to.”

I sat awhile in perfect silence, rallying my stunned faculties. Immediately it occurred to me that my ears had deceived me, or Bartleby had entirely misunderstood my meaning. I repeated my request in the clearest tone I could assume. But in quite as clear a one came the previous reply, “I would prefer not to.”

“Prefer not to,” echoed I, rising in high excitement, and crossing the room with a stride. “What do you mean? Are you moon-struck? I want you to help me compare this sheet here—take it,” and I thrust it towards him.

“I would prefer not to,” said he.

"Bartleby, the Scrivener"
, by Herman Melville

Poem: "What Are Big Girls Made Of?" by Marge Piercy



The construction of a woman:
a woman is not made of flesh
of bone and sinew
belly and breasts, elbows and liver and toe.
She is manufactured like a sports sedan.
She is retooled, refitted and redesigned
every decade.
Cecile had been seduction itself in college.
She wriggled through bars like a satin eel,
her hips and ass promising, her mouth pursed
in the dark red lipstick of desire.

She visited in '68 still wearing skirts
tight to the knees, dark red lipstick,
while I danced through Manhattan in mini skirt,
lipstick pale as apricot milk,
hair loose as a horse's mane. Oh dear,
I thought in my superiority of the moment,
whatever has happened to poor Cecile?
She was out of fashion, out of the game,
disqualified, disdained, dis-
membered from the club of desire.

Look at pictures in French fashion
magazines of the 18th century:
century of the ultimate lady
fantasy wrought of silk and corseting.
Paniers bring her hips out three feet
each way, while the waist is pinched
and the belly flattened under wood.
The breasts are stuffed up and out
offered like apples in a bowl.
The tiny foot is encased in a slipper
never meant for walking.
On top is a grandiose headache:
hair like a museum piece, daily
ornamented with ribbons, vases,
grottoes, mountains, frigates in full
sail, balloons, baboons, the fancy
of a hairdresser turned loose.
The hats were rococo wedding cakes
that would dim the Las Vegas strip.
Here is a woman forced into shape
rigid exoskeleton torturing flesh:
a woman made of pain.

How superior we are now: see the modern woman
thin as a blade of scissors.
She runs on a treadmill every morning,
fits herself into machines of weights
and pulleys to heave and grunt,
an image in her mind she can never
approximate, a body of rosy
glass that never wrinkles,
never grows, never fades. She
sits at the table closing her eyes to food
hungry, always hungry:
a woman made of pain.

A cat or dog approaches another,
they sniff noses. They sniff asses.
They bristle or lick. They fall
in love as often as we do,
as passionately. But they fall
in love or lust with furry flesh,
not hoop skirts or push up bras
rib removal or liposuction.
It is not for male or female dogs
that poodles are clipped
to topiary hedges.

If only we could like each other raw.
If only we could love ourselves
like healthy babies burbling in our arms.
If only we were not programmed and reprogrammed
to need what is sold us.
Why should we want to live inside ads?
Why should we want to scourge our softness
to straight lines like a Mondrian painting?
Why should we punish each other with scorn
as if to have a large ass
were worse than being greedy or mean?

When will women not be compelled
to view their bodies as science projects,
gardens to be weeded,
dogs to be trained?
When will a woman cease
to be made of pain?

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Muzak



Years ago, the rock ‘n’ roll guitarist Ted Nugent announced that he was planning on buying the company that owns Muzak. Why? So he could destroy it. “After being tortured in my dentist’s office, waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles or having that damned noise oozing out of a telephone while the bitch puts me on hold, I’ve had enough,” he explained. But he was unsuccessful.

When I first heard this, even though I initially dismissed it as a stupid publicity stunt, I was sorry he didn’t succeed. “Better luck next time, Ted,” I thought to myself. But now, I’m not so sure.

Surprisingly, considering Mr. Nugent’s right-wing opinions of everything from abortion rights, affirmative action and gun control, this was one of the few times where I found myself in complete agreement with something he said. Muzak has always hugely annoyed me throughout the years because I thought it was a dishonest perversion of a musician’s original vision; a simple-minded shortcut for lazy idiots who preferred skimming through a Cliff’s Notes pamphlet than reading the real thing to avoid struggling with all those sinister words. It’s like choosing to eat baby food instead of steak, or doing the nasty with a blow-up doll.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that I actually missed listening to Musak. Don’t get me wrong: listening to a gooey, coma-inducing version of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” feels like somebody is pouring a gallon of maple syrup into my ears. But it’s preferable to the equivalent of an used car salesman trying to sell me something. Even at its worst, Muzak gave you a few minutes of pleasure, reminding you of a favorite song you forgotten. In spite of yourself, you (almost) enjoyed it. Now, unfortunately, instead of a pleasant memory, you get a sales pitch. And that’s what you’re hearing in place of Muzak these days. Instead of phony music, you’re hearing and seeing omnipresent liars trying to sell you cell phones, magazine subscriptions, car insurance, free samples of Viagra or whatever and it’s not just annoying, it’s incredibly intrusive. What’s made it worse is you’re trapped because while you’re waiting to wash your clothes, buy your groceries or get your car fixed, there’s a television yelling at you.

And it isn’t just television anymore. How many times have you’ve been tortured by pop-ups and Spam while sitting at the PC? Going to the movies, instead of trailers you’re seeing commercials that you can’t shut off with your TV remote. If Nugent picked up his cell phone today, he wouldn’t hear that “damned noise”. He’d hear a robotic voice telling him about a great new long distance plan. This is a big media genie that doesn’t want to go back into the bottle and I don’t know what we can do about it.

Lately, I keeping thinking about a scene in the science-fiction movie Minority Report where corporate intrusion into our lives had gotten so bad, even Tom Cruise’s box of breakfast cereal tried to sell him something. Doesn’t seem like a fantasy anymore, does it? Before, just to get some peace and quiet, you needed a portable CD player. Now, you need a sensory deprivation tank. Maybe we’ll be safe for a little while before we inevitably become a vast herd of obedient Neos with sockets in the back of our necks plugged into the global version of Wal-Mart.

Ted, I think you and me owe Muzak an apology.

Ouch



God help me, I saw this on Syberpunk the other day:

"This is one of the most bizarre video games I've ever seen, and so of course it must be Japanese.
The object of the game appears simple, you have to jam a big plastic finger up someone's rear end. Why? I have no idea.
Built into the cabinet is a bent over backside, and on the screen in front of you appears the expression of the person as you shove the finger inside. The harder you shove the finger inside, the more points you score.

"From the brochure:

'This is a fun game of spanking the people that make your life miserable. When you spank the character that you choose to punish, the face expression of the character will change as they scream and twitch in pain. The funny face expressions will make people laugh and relieve stress.'

"Riiiight. Well in any case it has made me laugh. Although I don't understand why they call it "spanking", since you're actually shoving a finger in someones butthole.

"More from the brochure:

"Characters include: Ex Girlfriend, Ex Boyfriend, Gangster, Mother-In-Law, Gold Digger, Prostitute, Child Molester, Con Artist."

Uh, mmm. O.K.

The game is called "Boong-Ga Boong-Ga". Now, I don't sound narrow-minded or xenophobic, but this is goddamned crazy!

I hope Fox doesn't turn it into a reality TV show.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Last Samurai



Although Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Kiki’s Delivery Service) is often called the “Walt Disney of anime”, I think it’s a lazy, inaccurate and backhanded compliment.

The late Uncle Walt, an artistic and financial genius, chose the wrong side in the Art vs. Commerce debate and shamelessly turned his beloved cartoon icons into corporate used car salesmen. Whenever I see Mickey Mouse, I can feel his gloved, four-fingered hand smoothly reaching into my back pocket.

Not Miyazaki. A rigorous 67 years old, the visionary founder of the prestigious Studio Ghibli is a fiery, tough-minded curmudgeon raging against the dying of the light. Interviewed by The New Yorker, Miyazaki said he wanted to live long enough “to see the sea rise over Tokyo” as punishment for mankind’s desecration of the planet. Whoa. Don’t be fooled by his gray hair and the thick-lensed glasses, the old samurai’s sword is still sharp.

Or was. Tales of Earthsea, adapted from the classic science-fiction series by Ursula K. LeGuin, is Studio Ghibli's next film. But it's being directed by Goro Miyazaki, Hayao's son. I haven't heard the dreaded word "retirement" yet. Still, that's what it sounds like.

Howl’s Moving Castle
, a smart and elegant adaptation of the children’s book by British fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones, is most likely the last animated feature Miyazaki will direct. Watch it again so you'll realize what a huge loss his departure is going to be.

The English-dubbed DVD (Buena Vista Home Entertainment) features the voices of Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner, Jean Simmons and Billy Crystal. All of these actors, by the way, sound like they’re at a party they don’t want to leave. (Hey, you wanna make actors happy? Give ‘em a good script and they’ll roll over and let you rub their stomachs.)

In Howl’s Moving Castle, the castle itself is this huge, noisy, ugly Thingamajig that lumbers slowly across the countryside on a pair of metallic chicken legs(!). Try to imagine what would happen if the ghost of Rube Goldberg possessed a hallucinating Frank Lloyd Wright. Oh yeah, when needed, it’s able to travel hundreds of miles in seconds just by turning a multi-colored knob by the door. The cunning sorcery animating the castle is courtesy of Calcifer (a witty Billy Crystal, the long-lost Marx Brother), a wisecracking fire demon. Howl himself (Christian Bale, catching up on the fun he didn’t get to have in Batman Begins) is an outlaw wizard overflowing with an arrogant flamboyance and sensuality. He’s a mystical Ziggy Stardust.

My favorite character, however, is Sophie (voiced exquisitely by both Emily Mortimer and the great Jean Simmons). She’s the quiet, strong-willed emotional bedrock in Howl’s Moving Castle that keeps it solidly grounded in reality. Whether it’s Wendy taking Peter’s hand and flying out her window, Alice falling down the rabbit hole or Dorothy taking the 5:15 Twister to Oz, these exercises in fantasy only work when we have a human but not-so-ordinary tour guide.

Sophie, a timid 18-year-old girl is transformed into an old woman by the jealous Witch of the Waste (a wonderful Lauren Bacall, richly savoring her words like spoonfuls of caviar.) On her perilous journey to break the curse in a strange world of wizards, jelly-bodied malignant spirits and war, Sophie discovers that she’s braver than she realized. Sophie is a nuanced, full-bodied heroine who feels more genuine than a flesh and blood cartoon like Paris Hilton.

When too many animated features are poorly-disguised toy catalogues, Howl’s Moving Castle doesn’t want to sell you T-shirts, bedsheets or video games. It just wants you to sit down for two hours, and believe that magic is real.

Boy, that was great, Uncle Miyazaki!

Tell us another story—please?

What?

Poem: "Sonnet 73", by William Shakesphere



That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Cesca



Cesca Janece Waterfield is a Jacqueline-of-All-Trades blessed by the Goddess on the day She was passing out talent. Presently living in Virginia, Cesca's a photographer, a prolific newspaper columnist, feminist activist, and editor of the erotic publication Eve In Hand. Oh, did I mention she's a musician, too? (Sweetbriar, Premium Roots Rock) Is she good? You're kidding, right?

Cesca's songs are melodic gems, and her voice has the elegant muscularity of a dancer, soaring from a bluesy, fat-bottomed growl to the quiet shudder of a wish dying. Yeah, you'll hear echoes of Patsy, Chrissie, and Joni, but Cesca is a fearless musical trailblazer who doesn't sound like anybody else.

And,if there's justice in this American Idol world, I can see countless little girls asking for guitars as Christmas, graduation, or birthday presents so they can sound like Cesca. Hey, that's how it starts.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Going Backwards



Forget about Stephen King and his fake boogeymen. If you want to have the shit scared out of you, then read this nightmare scenario by David Michael Green, a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York:

"One day you’re gonna wake up in a hostile world where your country no longer has any friends. There will be governments of other countries – former long-standing allies – that cannot afford to have anything to do with you, lest their publics angrily remove them from office for collaborating with a country as hated as yours. Nor will those governments trust yours anyway. They will perhaps possess intelligence that could save your life, but they will not share it. They will possess forces that could help you survive real security threats, but they will not provide them. Your country will have become an international pariah, the South Africa of the twenty-first century."

You can read the rest of Professor Green's terrifying essay here.

This canary-in-a-coal-mine memo was from Alternative Brain. And thanks for the sleepless nights, guys. But, then again, you can't see the oncoming train with your eyes closed.

Patti



Patti Smith.

Poet.
Activist.
The High Priestess of Punk.

What else is there to say?

Patti Smith is a honest-to-God legend who, by her presence, ennobles Rock and Roll. Whenever I'm arguing with skeptical unbelievers that this music isn't just a noisy playground of one-hit wonders, Patti is one of the first musicians I point to. Proudly.

So, when my beloved wife informed me that Patti Smith was playing at a local club, what did I do? I said "no" because I didn't want to pay $100 for a ticket. Afterwards, when it was too late, do you know what I said to myself?

"Idiot."

Damn. You'd think I would have learned my lesson from the time I refused to see Muddy Waters at a concert a year before he died because I said, "I'll see him next time."

Idiot.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Poem: "The Journey", by Mary Oliver



One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Darwin's Revenge

"If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing."
--Anatole France, understanding the difference between lies, damned lies, and statistics

Seeing these pasty-faced lumps of Whitebread Privilage on stage stuffed in expensive, ill-fitting suits made me wonder (and not for the first time) how mankind ever graduated from the primordial jambalaya.

Goddamn



"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.' ".
--Dr. Isaac Asimov, proving to us that nothing has changed.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Fanboy Smut

ironman_l.jpg
Oh sure, an old, stained, well-used copy of Maxim will do the job, but this photograph of the upcoming Iron Man movie starring Robert Downey, Jr. is guaranteed to raise a Happy Tent in the trousers of fanboys everywhere.

"Timmy? What are you doing in there?"

"Nuthin', Ma!"

Crisis

"This is notoriously a time of crises, most of them false. A crisis is a turning point, and the affairs of the world don't turn as radically or as often as the daily newspapers would have us believe. Every so often, though, we've stopped dead by a crisis that we recognize at once as the genuine article; we recognize it not by its size (false crises can be made to look as big as real ones) but because in the course of it, for a measurable, anguished period--sometimes only minutes, sometimes, rarely as much as a day--nothing happens. Truly nothing. It is the moment of stasis between a deed that has been performed and must be responded to and the deed that will respond to it. At a false turning point, we nearly always know, within limits, what will happen next; at a true turning point, we not only know nothing, we know (something much more extraordinary and more terrifying) that nobody knows. Truly nobody."
--an editorial from The New Yorker

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Freakshow




Ick.

Remember freak shows? For a quarter, voyeurs from small towns would eagerly gawk at the bearded lady, the World's Fattest Man, midgets, Siamese twins and Zippy the Pinhead.

"Oh wow, lookit that, Ma!"

"Not so loud, Timmy. It can hear you. Pass the popcorn."

But we've moved on from those barbaric times. We're civilized. Who goes to nasty old circuses now? That’s so twentieth century. Besides, why stare at physical deformities when it’s more fun to peel off a loser’s emotional scabs in front of everybody? Now that’s entertainment!

Today, the freak show comes to you.

Hey, isn't American Idol on tonight?

Oh, don't be fooled into thinking it's just a big and loud talent contest where bad singers disfigure good R&B/Rock 'n' Roll songs and induce migraines. No, it's a sleazy, lowbrow carnival where pop music's Axis of Evil gleefully crushes the dreams of anyone foolish enough to step inside.

And how could you forget William Hung? Ick.

Is American Idol any worse than those daytime TV shows where you can watch the obese lesbian ex-nun having a incestuous relationship with her HIV+ step-brother who's in jail for stabbing their blind grandmother to death?

Sure it is. At least Jerry doesn't ask his victims to sing for their supper.

"Sweet Jesus, ain't she terrible? Sounds like somebody's torturing a cat, huh? Pass the popcorn."

And, of course, the noisy carnage drowns out a national dialogue on topics like Iraq or rising gas prices or the sudden uselessness of the FDA. We're more interested in hearing about what Sanjaya's doing now. As Neal Postman wrote in Amusing Ourselves To Death, “Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.”

Hey, whatever happened to Clay what's-his-name?