Friday, August 31, 2007

Friday Night Live

A rushed gig, but a gig nonetheless. I'll be Richard Bey's guest tonight on WWRL-AM New York, talking about one of my favorite topics, the Iraq War. I'll be on at 8:15 EST. Go here, then hit the "Listen Live" radio tower on the upper right hand side. See you there . . .

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Reply!




I've been emotionally physically mentally creatively buried of late -- just shitloads of sand and gravel constantly coming down. I'm working on a number of things, this humble blog being only one, and I've been very remiss in answering all of my mail. So, if you've sent a query, and I haven't addressed it, please do so now, and I will try -- try -- to deal with each and every one.

I'd rather mail out blenders instead, but the postage would kill me.

Savior Of The Men's Room



Somewhere, in the bowels of MSNBC, Tucker Carlson explains his interviewing technique to a pair of female interns.

CARLSON: So then I said, Senator Clinton, if I want to know about the women's vote, I'll ask one.

INTERN 1: (chuckles) I get it. 'Cause Hillary's ugly and looks like a man.

INTERN 2: Yeah, and she talks like a man, too, like most lesbians.

INTERN 1: Gosh, Mr. Carlson, it's no wonder why you're one of the hotter cable news personalities!

CARLSON: Now, girls, take it easy. Remember, I'm married.

INTERN 2: Yeah -- married to funny!

BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP

INTERN 1: What's that?

CARLSON: Err, umm, it's a special MSNBC inner-office cell. Probably Scarborough, looking for an opening to his show.

INTERN 1: You help him and do your own show? Wow! You're really amazing!

CARLSON: Yeah. Uh, excuse me, ladies.

Carlson finds an empty office, closes the door, and takes the call.

CARLSON: Yes commissioner?

POLICE COMMISSIONER: Straight Man! Thank God I found you. We have an emergency situation at a men's room next to the Bissell Park soccer field. Looks like Leather Chap's back in town.

CARLSON: Up to his old tricks, eh? Well, it's time to flush that fruit once and for all.

PC: Are you familiar with that men's room?

CARLSON: Yes. It's the same place where cable news celebrity Tucker Carlson takes his son.

PC: Good Lord!

CARLSON: No need to panic, commissioner. I'll handle it. Better send along a SWAT team for support, just in case it gets messy.

PC: Anything you want, Straight Man!

CARLSON: Good. I'm off!

Within seconds, Tucker Carlson sheds his news persona and changes into the one and only, Straight Man! When he arrives at the park's public men's room, he sees two boys sobbing outside.

STRAIGHT MAN: Say there, fellas! Why the waterworks?

BOY 1: There's a weird guy in there, Straight Man! He looked at me funny.

BOY 2: He offered us mints!

SM: Mints?! In a men's room?! Stand back, boys -- I got this covered.

Straight Man enters the bathroom and immediately spots Leather Chap, a devious homosexual who wears nothing but black leather and sports a thick, handlebar moustache.

LEATHER CHAP: Be still, my fragile heart! Are you my caped crusader?

SM: The only crusade you'll see is a crusade of hetero-justice!

LC: Always the drama queen, Straight Boy. Why don't you relax, come over here, and let me "bother" you for awhile.

SM: I have a better idea. How about I smash your head into the wall!

Straight Man grabs Leather Chap by the neck and repeatedly drives his head into the tile wall until the queer menace falls to his knees, semi-conscious. Suddenly, three SWAT officers burst through the men's room door, weapons trained on Leather Chap.

SM: You're just in time, men! I've done the hard scrubbing, so why don't you mop this mess up!

OFFICER 1: It'll be a pleasure, Straight Man. All right, pervo -- let's go.

LC: (angrily coming to) I'll swing you yet, Straight Man! You hear me! Swing! Swing!

SM: Sell it in the prison shower, Chappie.

Straight Man emerges from the men's room, triumphant.

BOY 2: Thanks, Straight Man! You made it safe to poop again!

SM: Just doing my job, son. But remember: there's nothing wrong with homosexuality, just so long as it's practiced behind a locked door in a sound-proof, windowless room.

BOYS: (in unison) Yaaay!

What further challenges face our hero -- The Uriniator? Seat Cover Slim? Porcelain Bus Driver? Whatever the men's room threat, Straight Man will be there to keep the innocent from being bothered. And now, this . . .

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Watch For Falling Anvils

Still out of it, I'm afraid. I'll go into greater detail soon, hopefully tomorrow, but for now, I simply don't have the head necessary to write what I want to write.

Blarrrrgh.

Here's a Brit docu on the great Tex Avery:



And here:



Here, too:



And here and of course here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Camp Swampy

Deluged and exhausted, so give me another day to sort out the crap in my head, which looks something like this:

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sunday Drive

The teen and I are about to leave for Indy, to help bury my grandmother, Mickey Cannaday, who died late-Wednesday afternoon. Not that we'll do any shovel work, of course, but we'll assist in spirit, alongside many relatives from my mother's side of the family.

Mickey would be 84 today. She died in her sleep after laying down to take a pre-dinner nap. Not a bad way to go -- in your sleep, in your own bed. Mickey was not sick, wasn't battling any prolonged illness, and still had her wits about her. The only thing afflicting her was osteoporosis, which made her a walking 7, and which she cursed as she made her way to a chair, where she'd sit straight up and engage you.

I last saw her just a few weeks ago, when I was in Indy for my father's wife's birthday bash. Not only was Mickey mentally alert, she went off on Bush, the war, how much she supported Barack Obama's campaign, and related topics. She was a New Deal Democrat, remained true to the faith, which rankled plenty of people on my mother's side, the majority of whom are pretty rightwing. Mickey didn't care, and seemed to take great pleasure in reminding them how awful and criminally idiotic the Bush administration is. My grandmother and I didn't agree about everything, but I did respect her political passion, though I didn't have the heart to tell her that my next book is an attack (laff-filled!) on the Dems as a war party. Yet, somehow, I don't think she'd mind. Mickey was secure in her beliefs, and a brash little tome by her grandson would do little to shake her up.

My sister and mother suggested that I write Mickey's obit for the Indy Star, which I did, keeping the tone serious but not somber. I was slightly amazed by all the social work and activism Mickey performed throughout her life, her main concern being women who are domestically abused. She helped to run various support centers for women who had no where else to go, and did what she could to get political support for her efforts. Good on her. She did much more, but that, to me, is her true highlight.

I'll be gone for a couple of days, so no new posts until Tuesday. Aloha.

ALSO: My friends Barry Crimmins and Karen Crist mourn the loss of their beloved dog, Lloyd, who died Saturday morning from cancer. They gave Lloyd the best care and the deepest love any sentient being could ever desire, especially when facing the end. My heart goes out to them.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sing It Loud & Proud

If tomorrow all the things were gone,
I’d worked for all my life.


And I had to start again,
with just my children and my wife.


I’d thank my lucky stars,
to be livin' here today.


‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom,
and they can’t take that away.


And I’m proud to be an American,
where at least I know I’m free.


And I wont forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.


And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.


'Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dog Daze




One of the lingering passions from my youth, football, I cannot seem to shake. Each year, around this time, I begin to anticipate the coming NFL season -- the NCAA, not so much, though living in a football-crazed town like Ann Arbor, the college game is impossible to avoid, and by late October, I'm tapping into that vein as well. Blame my upbringing and decades of conditioning. As much as I hate the ugly, braying culture that surrounds it, I do, God help me, enjoy watching large padded men beat the living shit out of each other.

I played the game as a kid, albeit briefly. I really didn't have the body for football (baseball was my best sport, basketball my true love), but I gave what I could, usually playing safety, where I sized up a runner or receiver, built some steam and drilled them, or them me, depending on the size or caliber of player. There's nothing like having a large wide receiver run right over you to the end zone. You just want to stay on the grass, stare up at the clouds through your face mask, so as to avoid the inevitable trash talking on the sideline. But then there were those moments when I clocked a runner, occasionally forcing a fumble, and soaked up the adrenaline rush that followed. There's a reason why football players act nuts on-field: the primal energy is too much to contain. Mix in steroids and related growth hormones, and the screams, shaking heads, and pumping fists take on a life of their own.

Michael Vick's recent legal problems, topped by his guilty plea, supposedly besmirches football's Good Name. Those poor kids who bought Number 7 Falcons jerseys -- what do we tell them? That their favorite NFL QB, a man who can execute perfect flips over defensive linemen and land in the end zone on two feet, forced pit bulls to fight to the death? For money? For amusement? And if a dog didn't fight with sufficient brutality, Number 7 would shoot, drown, or hang it?

All Ricky Williams did was smoke weed and study holistic medicine, and the league painted him as criminal and ran him off to Canada. How does Williams look now, especially given his vegetarianism? Compared to Vick, Ricky Williams is St. Francis of Assisi. Yet, there's little chance that Williams will play again in the NFL, while even the harshest Vick basher admits that Number 7 will probably return to the league after whatever legal punishment he receives.

So, kids, remember: if you're going to flout a league's rules, make sure that it's connected somehow to violence -- the more theatrical, the better. Introspection via cannabis is not only for losers, it's for the weak and gutless. Curse Vick all you like, but it takes balls and serious concentration to wrap a noose around a young dog's neck and hoist it up to die, while you and your entourage crack jokes and laugh as the pup takes its final breath. And, apparently, Vick also smokes weed, but did this stop him from arranging and overseeing deadly pit brawls? I don't know what strain of grass Ricky Williams smokes, but it doesn't have the psycho-zip of Vick's private stash.

(It now looks as if authorities will euthanize the 53 pit bulls seized from Vick's kennels. Vick would not be allowed to kill them himself, for obvious PR reasons, but what about Ted Nugent?)

For NFL fans to bemoan Vick's sick pastime is really too much to take. The game they revere is twisted and fucked-up on so many levels, not only in a violent sense, but in its simultaneous homoerotic/queer-fear makeup, that denouncing Vick for deviancy is decidedly relativistic, and in many cases, simply racist, based on the impassioned rhetoric I've heard spewed by white sports radio hosts and callers alike. There's nothing like a Bad Millionaire Negro to set off white boys toiling in cubicles for shit pay. Worse for them, Vick doesn't care what they think. Yeah, he may be heading for jail, but it'll be a short sentence, and when he's released, Vick will still be rich and famous, while the anonymous white fans grow fat in their human veal crates, counting the hours until they can get drunk and crazy, only to return hungover to their private hells the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that . . .

I suppose I'm a hypocrite, since I recognize all this and still watch the games. But truth be told, today's football brings me little joy. It's too mechanized, too corporate, too predictable. My continuing interest in the NFL is tied more to nostalgia than anything bright and new. There are elements of the modern game I appreciate, like a Peyton Manning two-minute drill, or LaDainian Tomlinson carving up defenses with apparent ease and true physical grace. I especially like it when LT plays in the Chargers' retro-AFL gear:




For a few moments I can go back to the kind of football played in that rebel league -- a wide-open game, complete with trick plays, lots of passing, colorful uniforms, and a brash attitude that had more to do with showing the musty NFL a new kind of football than with empty, narcissistic preening. The days before steroids, nightclub shootings, and off-season dog fighting. Yes, I'm getting old and those days are long past. But every once in a while, when my son and I throw the pigskin in our front yard (the boy has a hell of an arm, but lacks any jock mentality), I go back to his age in my head, and pretend that I'm John Hadl, or Len Dawson, or Daryle Lamonica, or Joe Namath, hitting Lance Alworth, Otis Taylor, Fred Biletnikoff, or Don Maynard deep for a quick six.

"Who are all those guys, Dad?"

"Players I grew up watching."

Or maybe I never grew up at all. Go long, kid.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Who Plays Joan Baez?

Unlike many people of my generation, and the one just before it, I'm not religio-crazy for Bob Dylan. There's a lot of his music that I like, primarily his early electric period of the mid-60s, but I've never regarded Dylan as some kind of folk mystic or pop shaman. Dude penned some clever, catchy lyrics, and pulled a musical 180 on his devoted flock when he was at his acoustic peak, which is cool, but I don't see the godhead angle at all. My blindness, perhaps.

That said, I'm looking forward to Todd Haynes' upcoming Dylan biopic, "I'm Not There", in which several actors play the legend at various points in his career. The most intriguing casting has to be Cate Blanchett as Dylan from my favorite period of the mid-60s. In the clip below, she does look like Dylan, but her voice is a little too reedy to be accurate. The real surprise in this clip, however, is David Cross as Allen Ginsberg. Cross is a deadringer for the poet, until he talks, and then he's David Cross from "Mr. Show". Ginsberg's voice is hard to capture, but Cross doesn't even try, not here anyway. Still, I wonder why he never did Ginsberg till now. He has the look nailed.

For the real Dylan, and the real Ginsberg, I highly recommend Martin Scorsese's documentary, "No Direction Home". If you love music, you'll love that, or my name isn't Neal Cassady.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Lobbing Smears




When something that supposedly doesn't exist affects how people in the real world behave, does this signify its actual existence, or merely the paranoia of those who hate?

I ask this tangled question after reading a recent New York Times story in which the concept of an "Israeli lobby" was dismissed by Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman, whose latest book, "The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control" apparently lays the issue to rest. And yet, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, whose co-authored book, "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" is about to be released, have had appearances in New York, Washington, and Chicago turned down or canceled, due to the touchiness of their topic.

Coincidence? Justice? A shift in rhetorical taste? Whatever the cause, it cannot have anything to do with, say, external pressure from Foxman and like-minded others, can it?

Of course not. Only conspiracy theorists would make such an argument, for as we all know, there are no pro-Israel pressure groups and individuals who go after those critical of Israeli aggression and occupation. Just ask Norman Finkelstein.

No less an expert than Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America informed me personally that not only is there no Israeli lobby, but that the US government is hostile to Israeli interests and undermines Israel whenever it can. This is why, during our debate later that same evening, Klein repeatedly interrupted me or tried to drown me out with a steady stream of non-sequitors and slams. What choice did he have, operating from such a powerless position? When I reminded him that I respected his speaking time and merely asked that he respect mine, Klein gruffly replied, "Tough."

See what Israeli supporters must do to find openings in this hostile environment? All tactics are on the table.

Funny thing is, I concur with the Lobby Deniers to a certain degree. Yes, there are pro-Israel groups whose main purpose is to maintain if not strengthen the economic/military status quo between Washington and Tel Aviv. And yes, some of these groups, alongside individuals sympathetic to their agendas, attempt to influence public debate about Israeli policies, up to and including targeting and sliming politicians, academics, and writers who don't toe their party lines. All of that is beyond debate. The question is, does Israel wag the US, or is Israel no more than a willing participant in overall US foreign policy?

My personal view is the latter, with a few caveats here and there. US elites have a far broader global perspective than just dealing with Israel's concerns, and this is especially true in the Middle East. How else to explain why the US has strong alliances with Israel and Saudi Arabia simultaneously, as well as with Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan? Of course, Israel plays an active role in this regional policy, which in the past included its silent backing of Saddam when he waged war against Iran in the 1980s. (There was also Israel's activity in Central American affairs at that same time, but that's another region for another day.) Yet for the most part, Israel doesn't run this policy, at least when it affects interests outside of the West Bank, Gaza, and southern Lebanon. And even in those closer conflicts, Washington has influenced Israel more than the other way around. So, no, I don't buy into the Zionist Occupation Government idea. US elites operate according to their perceived interests; and since 1967, Israel has been an active partner in many of their pursuits.

This is not to say that John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt believe exclusively in the Big Bad Israel Lobby idea, either, though based on their paper, they do take the lobby more seriously than do I. Sharing the same stage with John Mearsheimer at YearlyKos, I listened closely to his presentation, and while I had several disagreements with John, I didn't find his argument to be conspiratorial, much less anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish, or even anti-Israel. Indeed, John made it clear several times that he supports the right of Israel to exist, and that his criticisms were based on his concern for Israel's future, rather than some desire to see the Jewish state driven into the sea. As I've noted before, if anything, John was overly careful and cautious, but the facts are what they are, and no amount of throat-clearing can place Israel's war on the Palestinians in a positive light. To the more zealous Israel supporters, simply presenting the factual picture is blood libel and a call for pogroms. No matter how polite or conservative John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt are, the zealous will never be placated, for they know what people like Mearsheimer and Walt "really" think.

After our panel, John, Juan Cole, his wife Shahin, and myself went to John's favorite restaurant in Chicago's Chinatown, and enjoyed a delicious, 3-hour dinner together. We talked about many topics, with Juan and John locking horns over the role of oil companies in the Iraq invasion. (Juan believes there was some pressure from big oil to invade, while John said that he has yet to see any compelling evidence that this was so. I land somewhere in between. Centrist!) Naturally, Israel took up a lot of our time, and all four of us debated various aspects of US Middle Eastern policy and its relation to Israel and the Palestinians. But I never, ever, got the impression that John Mearsheimer held a single anti-Semitic idea in his head. If anything, John is a foreign policy conservative -- not a neocon, a mindset that appalls him, but an old school American intellectual concerned for the fate of his country.

Now, there are those who, having read my many thoughts on the Middle East over the years, and who've sent me numerous noxious emails in that time, will not or cannot believe anything I say in defense of John Mearsheimer. To be expected, and I won't bother trying to correct them. Just know that I've been around real anti-Semites since my youth (I encountered a lot of Jew hatred in, of all places, the US Army), so I recognize that walk and talk, and John Mearsheimer simply doesn't display it. Not in my direct experience, anyway. In fact, I heard more anti-Jewish slander coming from the mouth of writer Sidney Zion, a self-described Israel supporter, who at the Tarrytown debate last year drunkenly told an Israeli from Haifa, "Fuck you, Jew-boy!" Somehow, Mort Klein, sitting next to Zion, found nothing wrong with that remark. I wonder what he thinks of John Mearsheimer . . .

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Connections




Barry Crimmins is one of the funniest and sharpest minds I've ever encountered -- and I've rubbed shoulders, traded quips, shared drinks, and talked at length with some pretty heavy hitters in the American comedy world (along with a few Brits like Michael Palin and Rik Mayall). Chatting with Barry is a treat, the bonus being that unlike most comics, Barry feels no need to top you, to have the last one-liner. This is partly due to the fact that Barry can talk sports and politics, from the politics of sports, to the blood sport of politics, but mostly because Barry is down-to-earth. I've rarely come across a comic who shares his feelings as freely as does Barry. Most comedians see that as weakness. It happens to be Barry's strength, and it informs his humor and satire.

Recently, Barry and his partner Karen received news that their dog, Lloyd, has a malignant tumor on his heart. This devastated them both, for Lloyd is not only like a child to them, he is their closest friend. Barry has written a series of posts devoted to Lloyd, and they are extremely loving and heartfelt. They remind you of what we're supposedly about, apart from the lies, cheating, torture, killing, (dog fighting), and theft that makes up a day's news reading. Take a moment today and read them. Trust me, it's better for you than the New York Times.

And while I'm recommending heartfelt posts, here's the wife's beautiful portrait of our son. She captured the boy as he really is: a positive light in this damp shit world.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Them's Fightin' Words!




So said new friend Michael Cohen to me in a cheerful email received yesterday. Seems Mike was a bit thrown by my reply to his "civil" war doublespeak, where on the one hand the Iraq war is "defensible," depending on who's leading the defense, but on the other hand is bad because George Bush and the neocons fucked up what could have been, should have been, a humanitarian display of American goodwill. In short, the standard lib hawk squawk in the rear-view mirror. As you know, I took issue with this posturing, and Mike didn't appreciate my thoughts.

For discretion's sake, I won't reprint Mike's email. However, it's a howler, filled with self-pity and a veiled threat against me physically, though Mike, being the humble warrior that he is, decided to let me off the hook. So it seems that I won't be socked in the goddamned face and will not stay plastered, to quote another pseudo-intellectual tough guy. But I will reprint my response, just for the record, in case my body is one day found in a ditch, wrapped in back issues of The Washington Monthly.

"Well, Mr. Cohen, any resemblance to Eichmann [to whom Mike thought I was referring] is in your head. I was referring to the specific 'banality of evil' meaning. If I wanted to compare you to Eichmann, or to anyone else for that matter, I would do so, openly and directly. You don't rate such a comparison.

"As for the crowbar reference, that's called a 'metaphor.' I have no interest nor desire to see you knee-capped. I happen to abhor violence. But I thought the illustration of such a mindset would bring down to earth and strip bare the lofty concepts you have about the Correct Uses of imperial violence, something that is very real, non-metaphorical, and does more than break people's kneecaps. From the mail I've received, it seemed to have worked. If you can find a comfort zone where you can talk safely about the 'defensible cases' and 'good arguments' about cluster bombing civilians, that's your problem. But don't expect to flaunt this pose in public and not be called on it."

So that's that. For now, anyway. Mike's not all that bright, but he is energetic and clearly ambitious, and this, as we Americans appreciate, is all that matters. In his latest Democracy Arsenal post, Mike gives a well-oiled handjob to tortured imperial thinker Michael Ignatieff, one of Mike's "favorite public intellectuals." Under the rather self-revealing title, "In Defense Of Being Wrong," Mike tells us that "Ignatieff like many Americans was wrong about Iraq, but while his judgment was wrong, his intentions were pure."

Keep stroking, Mike. The crowbar is under lock and key.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Civilly Yours




It's easy to deride a state apologist like Michael Cohen, and I'm sure he's heard it all. Well, not all -- I bet he hasn't heard "sock-chewing puppyfucker" after making yet another dishonest point. But I'm confident that Cohen has weathered his share of verbal abuse. That he doesn't understand why anyone would take emotional issue with his statements is another matter, perhaps one that he and his therapist might address.

I had never heard of Cohen until Jon Schwarz took apart his rather interesting interpretation about how the US ended up in Iraq. And after reading some of his posts at Democracy Arsenal (I prefer Ballistic Freedom, or Kick-Ass Liberty), I can see why someone who knows a few things about the history of US foreign policy, and who isn't tied to an elite group of "experts," might get a touch testy with him. Cohen's bio states that he is a "corporate communication professional in New York," i.e. a professional liar and PR pimp, and that he is "also a senior fellow at the New America Foundation where he helms the Privatization of Foreign Policy Initiative," which seems redundant, since US imperialism is largely in private hands already. But at least we know the type of person we're dealing with, a person who believes that the US has every right to wage war, either militarily or economic, the only question being, Is It The Right Move For Us At A Given Time? Cohen thinks that invading Iraq was not the Right Move, especially in the manner chosen by the Bush administration. Oh, there's a humanitarian scenario where busting up Iraq and killing untold thousands of people would be acceptable, most likely under the gaze of a DLC-approved president. But Bush's approach is what we're stuck with, and now we must figure a way out of his bloody mess.

Don't you love the technocratic detachment imperial wonks like Cohen display? When you read people like him, you truly begin to understand Hannah Arendt's phrase "banality of evil." Of course, Cohen doesn't help his supposed "war critic" stance when he says, "Like it or not, there was a defensible case for war in Iraq," or "There is a good argument to be made for going to war against Iran and North Korea" -- not that Cohen necessarily advocates such actions, but he can appreciate those who do, especially if they "advance the debate" and refrain from personal attacks.

In that same spirit, I can make a "good argument" for breaking Cohen's kneecaps with a crowbar. This doesn't mean I support breaking Cohen's kneecaps with a crowbar, but I can see a rational reason why someone might want to, and I would be more than happy to engage them in a lively debate about breaking Cohen's kneecaps with a crowbar, just so long as the discussion remains civil.

But I won't make that argument today. Besides, Jon will soon respond to Cohen's latest spin-job, and Jon is even more civil and polite than I could ever hope to be. Jon also grows Portobello mushrooms in his closet, makes his own seltzer water, and derives immense culinary pleasure from eating a ball of almond paste, so that might help to explain his easy-going ways. For me, it's nearly time for a pint of ale and a turkey sandwich with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo, followed by punching my heavy bag while listening to early Black Sabbath. Civility takes many forms. Who's to judge?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Placebo Loft For Rent

First Tom Snyder. Then Merv Griffin. Now "The 1/2 Hour News Hour".

When will the dying end?!

Truth be told, I had no idea that Fox's flat attempt to mimic "The Daily Show" was still on the air. If you don't watch a certain show, does it exist? Not for me, and now not for the Old Glory humpin' yahoos who found this piece of shit funny or "contrarian."

Looking back at some of the show's clips, I think the main problem was not enough racist humor, specifically, anti-Arab bashing. Sure, the "1/2 Hour" gang had nothing nice to say about radical jihadists. Who does? But if they'd taken a few pages from the P.J. O'Rourke National Lampoon, where Arabs were called sand niggers, wogs, towelheads, camel fuckers, and the like, perhaps "1/2 Hour" would've gained some ratings traction. O'Rourke understood that when it comes to rightwing comedy, you can't skimp on racist insults. That's what a lot of white male readers enjoyed, and this was a time when sliming Arabs and Muslims wasn't as cool as it is now! For all of its supposed hatred of Political Correctness, "The 1/2 Hour News Hour" seems to have choked on a large piece of organic tofu. Next time, dress Rush Limbaugh in a Saudi royal costume and have him run all over the stage, screaming "Arabic" gibberish, waving a large prop sword. Rightwing comedy gold.

The one thing that "1/2 Hour" did right was to feature washed-up comic and born-again reactionary Dennis Miller. There's a myth that at one time, Miller was actually smart and funny. It was only when he began blowing Bush that his humor dried up. Not so. I've known and know comics and writers who worked with and for Miller in those days, and they tell me that he was an empty-headed hack even then. None of these guys are surprised by the current Miller. They merely wonder what took him so long to reveal his true self.

Here's a fine example of what I mean. The only problem with this bit is that Miller wasn't drenched by buckets of goat piss at the end, in a homage to Judy Carne on "Laugh-In". Borrow from the classics, and make it your own.

Fiver Gets Politicized



Jon Schwarz, when not weeping for the umpteenth time over the bunnies in "Watership Down," occasionally knocks the ball so far out of the park, he is accused of steroid use. Well, I seriously doubt that Barry Bonds can match Jon when it comes to exposing the lies used to sell the Iraq invasion (which I suppose makes me a racist, but damn it, someone has to state the obvious). His latest post is must-must reading. If you haven't seen it yet, stop looking at this empty collection of words and get over there now. Then spread it around where you can. Let's see if all you who lurve Glenn Greenwald (and yes, I got all of your lay-off-Glenn mails) can convince your hero to link to Jon, who does Greenwald about ten times better with this. Go on! Get busy!

UPDATE: Greenwald linked to Jon's outstanding post. Keep hope alive, or something or other . . .

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Shit Sandwich

Open wide, mules. You can deny it all you like, yet, in the end, you'll gladly, happily, take a big, heaping bite.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Grim All Over




Watched a rather odd double feature over the weekend: Hal Hartley's "Fay Grim" and Steven Okazaki's "White Light Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki". It was a random pairing, as I came across Okazaki's film on HBO while channel-surfing, and the wife brought home Hartley's sequel to "Henry Fool" from the library. Although these offerings are very different, I did notice a connection of sorts --

Fay Grim: A fictional concept of how the world really works.

White Light Black Rain: How the world really works.

Hartley's film was the more baffling one, especially since, until quite recently, I didn't even know it existed. I was introduced to Hartley's work through a lefty cinephile I dated in the late-80s/early 90s, the robust dawn of "indie" features and the metro-hipsters who appreciated them. In this rarefied atmosphere, I met critics like J. Hoberman and Manohla Dargis, both of whom seemed to be at every premiere, no matter how tiny or fringe. And then there was Hartley and his crowd, in my direct experience the actors Martin Donovan and Adrienne Shelly, among several others. I didn't know enough about Hartley's work at the time to be wowed or overly-impressed; and Hartley himself was fairly distant, observing his surroundings rather than engaging those in front of him.

Then I saw "Trust" and "Simple Men", and instantly connected to Hartley's vision. Like Hartley in person, his films were distant, reserved, analytical. Passion, to the degree it was present, was muted, almost kabuki-ish when displayed. Hartley's screened reality is antiseptic, filled with detached wordplay and some genuinely clever observations and one-liners. Normally, not my cup of Flavor Aid. But, back then, it spoke to me; and when "Henry Fool" was released, I thought, and still think, that Hartley finally put it all together in a single package. "Henry Fool" is as close as Hartley will let you come. Plus, any plotline that features a garbage man who writes mind-bending poetry has me hooked from the git-go.

Was there a sequel anywhere in "Henry Fool"? I suppose one can extend anything, but I didn't see it. Yet, nearly a decade later, Hartley brings back the old gang to comment on, of all things, our post-9/11 world. Why he thought these characters were the best vehicles to make his cultural/political points about this savage age, I've no clue. "Fay Grim" does begin with some promise, humorously updating the lives of those touched by Henry Fool. But as the film slogs on, and it does begin to slog early on, you are left wondering how a Queens-based, former party girl like Fay adapts so readily to global espionage and the specter of jihad. It's so absurd that I thought the whole thing was a sadistic joke thrown at Hartely's fans. But I don't think Hartley sees "Fay Grim" as a joke. It's too self-involved to laugh at others, much less at itself. This is Hartley's statement about Us and Them, complete with a scene where Henry argues with an Osama bin-Laden figure hiding in Turkey. Again, this scenario seemed ridiculous. How the hell did a drunken, self-destructive no-talent like Henry end up not only sharing a space with bin-Laden, but berating him in front of his minions without suffering any punishment? Is Henry Fool that magnetic and insightful a man? We are led to believe so, for even Fay, after all the bullshit she suffers via Henry, still loves him, wants to be with him, and is denied her wish at the end.

Jeff Goldblum's turn as a nihilistic CIA operative has its moments. But I preferred the Israeli agent, a beautiful woman (played by Saffron Burrows) who justifies her violent actions as a defense of civilization. There are elements of American life she enjoys, even admires; but at bottom, as she informs Fay, Americans are too soft to deal with what the Israelis view as threatening. For her, it's all or nothing. Masada in a mini-skirt.

The wife, who had her own personal (non-romantic) moment with Hartley, and who knew and had worked with some of his stable, sat with me for the last half-hour of "Fay Grim". And oh, how she laughed! When the thing mercifully ended, I threw up my hands and yelled, "What the fuck was that?!" The wife kept laughing, only this time at me. When it comes to films, shows, or music she deems as awful, but that I might like or appreciate, the old lady does not show mercy, and really lets me have it. Even when I agree that I've wasted my time with something, she drives the point further home and does not let me forget it. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Afterward, I was curious to see what some of the bigger critics thought of "Fay Grim". The New York Times' Stephen Holden did not like it, but for reasons I hadn't really considered. He ended his review thus:

"But 'Fay Grim' gets so carried away with the intricacies of its plot that it gets lost in its own excessive cleverness. In the decade since 'Henry Fool,' it implies, fear has driven the United States stark raving mad."

It does? Somehow, I missed that angle. It made me want to watch "Fay Grim" again -- well, almost. The New Yorker's Anthony Lane does a better job dissecting the film, and thanks to him, I can allow Fay, Henry, and the rest of the Fool crowd to fade from my mind.

There's no chance that "White Light Black Rain" will fade from my mind anytime soon. It is one of the most gut-wrenching films I've ever seen. The newly-released color footage of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors showing their graphic wounds against the backdrop of rubble and ash is hard to stomach, especially the children, who are crying from the pain. But what is perhaps more unsettling is how unemotional many of the present-day witnesses appear. The Japanese survivors tell stories about the blasts with no real embellishment, and this sharpens the horror they suffered and saw, for we have to engage our own imagination to fully grasp what being nuked is like. (In Nagasaki, the winds were 1000 mph, and the ground temperature was 9000 degrees. Think about that when you're having a rough day.) The Americans who helped to design the bombs, and who dropped them, seem to feel little guilt about their deeds, with the minor exception of one veteran, who appears to have done some serious thinking about his role in history. Yes, they were young men caught up in the war and the racist "Jap" propaganda of that time, so I'm sure incinerating a few hundred thousand buck-toothed animals didn't mean all that much back then. Remember Pearl Harbor, and all that. Plus, they were told that the bombings would end the war, which indeed was true. But these guys didn't come across as monsters, and I cannot believe that, at some point in time, they haven't seriously meditated on the mass murder they helped to unleash. Yet, how deep can one go without hitting some kind of emotional snare? Only those who were in on it can really say; and in "White Light Black Rain", they're not talking, not on that front, anyway.

There are those who, when faced with a film like this, dismiss any concept of Japanese suffering. What about the Rape of Nanking?! What about the inhuman treatment of Allied POWs?! Yeah, nuking civilians is rough, but hey, they had it coming. After all, they allowed their leaders to drag them into war. What did they expect after bombing Pearl Harbor? (Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo Jima" dramatizes what the average Japanese draftee actually endured and viewed the imperial higher-ups.)

You can read many of these and related sentiments at Salon, attached to an interview with Steven Okazaki. And I addressed this mentality in response to the late Steve Gilliard, who argued that nuking Japan was the right and just thing to do. Few pro-nukers are objective when it comes to collective punishment, for if they were, then we Americans would doubtless be atop the Must Nuke list. But that could never be, could it?

I confess that I couldn't finish watching "White Light Black Rain". I got about two-thirds in before being overwhelmed. It wasn't so much the gruesome imagery, melted faces, charred figures of young children, and worse, but that such savagery is very much a part of us. This reality is getting to me more and more, even though it's hardly news. I suspect that I'm becoming like those soft Americans that Hal Hartley's Israeli agent disdains. How about you?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Death Swine

While parts of this are a touch too literal-minded for my taste, I like the overall tone. Homemade disgust with our empire should be encouraged and widely-distributed.

Friday, August 10, 2007

We Met In Florence, In The Rain

Blue Cheer. Summertime Blues. Beat Club.

Pretty much sums up me today.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Powerlessness




Contempt and disgust for the Dems and their daily blood and bullshit rain often twists my mind. I get petty, nasty, rude, and the more I get that way, the more I fuel my darker self. But this is no healthy, constructive path to better political understanding, much less an effective means to persuade. At its worst, it's self-indulgence, a walled-off playpen littered with broken toys. Meanwhile, deceit and murder from above rage on, canceling out my screams.

One of the downsides to blogging, apart from having to sit down and type, is the personality trap: becoming obsessed with how others perceive the madness. I am as guilty on this front as anyone you can mention. It saps my energy and distracts me from deeper, better work ("Like my upcoming book!" he said, staring at the roses in the sink). Lately, I've been on a personality-bashing spree of sorts, chiefly against Digby and Glenn Greenwald, and my direct exposure to the Kossacks further honed my irritation. But last night, a tiny light flashed in my brain and told me to pull back a bit. Reassess. Recharge. Redirect. And if you know anything about lights in the brain, you understand that they must be obeyed.

Then I came across this passage at Digby's, and it enhanced what my brain's light told me. Referring to attacks on her pro-Dem position, and her confusion about her party loyalty in the wake of the FISA vote, Digby wrote:

"Arthur [Silber] and some others have recently called me out for being a ridiculous and useful idiot for the Democrats and it's hard to argue with them. It's certainly not that I cheerlead them for these police state votes, but it is true that I continue to support Democrats generally. I honestly don't know what else to do."

Well. I've had my problems with libs like Digby, but I can't remember one as prominent as her simply admitting the awful truth: "I honestly don't know what else to do." No spin. No excuses. No apologia. Just a direct admission that the whole game is fixed, and that we are truly fucked.

As Jon Schwarz recently told me, reality will make a radical out of Digby yet. Let's hope so, anyway.

Still, Digby tries to hang on to the crumbling lib Dem ledge:

"I am not by philosophy or temperament a 'bring down the state' kind of person and that tends to make me look for reason in unreasonable actions and try to affect change through the political channels that currently exist. Persuasion, education, discussion, blah, blah, blah. And I'm not a naïf. I know craven politicians are craven and suspect them of selling out to any number of interests for any number of reasons. So, I'll tend to try to find ways to change their political calculations under the assumption that they have no real substance to begin with."

Noble, if confused and hopelessly romantic. Yet, this is progress. Whether her position evolves and toughens into something more effective than trying to light candles in a windstorm remains to be seen. Digby has a large, loyal readership. If she can turn the political corner and convince her readers to do the same, that would be a good thing. We must change minds and perceptions before we can even begin to change our dismal political reality.

So, with that in mind, I hereby pledge to lay off Digby and others like her, and will try to persuade libloggers like them to further explore these emerging instincts and growing levels of awareness. As for Greenwald, well, that's a tougher sell. Unlike Digby, Greenwald doesn't appear very introspective, especially now that he's a major liblog celeb. Why change when countless fans tell you that you're great? On the other hand, Digby receives the same kind of adulation across the 'sphere, and she's still able to search her mind and heart and admit her powerlessness. And once you admit your powerlessness under this system, a genuine power can then take root, power that requires care and nurturing to grow into something tangible, power that can then be flexed. We all have this within us. Call it class awareness or a spiritual awakening or personal deprogramming. Or call it nothing. It doesn't need a name; it simply needs our mutual commitment.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Our National Pastime

Screened "War Made Easy" the other night, and while it's infuriating and frustrating to watch, I highly recommend that you do just that. The docu is based on the book by my old FAIR colleague and friend Norman Solomon, who is the film's featured speaker, and is narrated by the reactionaries' favorite Hollywood celeb, Sean Penn. Not only does "War Made Easy" show the utter contempt both the Repubs and Dems have for average Americans, it demolishes any lingering notion that our corporate media is somehow "leftist." Not exactly pressing news, but reminders are always welcome.

The trailer gives you the film's flavor:



And here's a nice segment about Sen. Wayne Morse, who voted against US plans to attack Vietnam, based on, dare I say it, actual, constitutional grounds. What a dinosaur.

Kos'd Out

Although I promised to write about the social highlights of YearlyKos, I'm simply burnt on that topic. I think you've gotten the idea how it went, at least from my end, so I'll leave it there. However, I will say that someone who attended our panel forwarded some rather interesting information about behind-the-scenes bullshit that allegedly took place. If I can nail this down, I'll share it with you. Until then, let's move on.

Oh yeah -- I just finalized a book deal with Verso. It will focus on the Democrats' role in US war making, and is scheduled to appear in the Spring of '08. More later.

Mr. Question Person




As you know, I do not allow comments on my site. I've given my reasons for this before, and I stick by them, especially these days, when I'm deluged with all manner of baited mail. But this doesn't mean that, from time to time, I won't answer queries directed to me at other sites, and today happens to be one of those days.

A certain Steve B, commenting over at Jon Schwarz's Little Revolt, or whatever it's called, takes issue with my critique of Glenn Greenwald's recent Salon piece about the Dems. Says Steve B:

"What's your beef with Glenn Greenwald? The piece you link to, after all, was pointing out the Democrats' complicity in war and wiretapping, a point you've made yourself many times. No, he doesn't go to the root of the problem, but we all have different levels of understanding, and Glenn seems to be coming along nicely. Another year or two of this shit, and he might even become a Marxist.

"Is it that he gets all dewy-eyed about the Constitution? Not much harm in that. Appealing to an idea of what America should be rather than what it actually is has served many movements, from civil rights to gay rights, quite well. Myself, I try to strike a balance between cynicism and idealism - yes, the country is fucked up, but at its core, there are some good ideals, if we actually lived up to them, and appealing to those ideals seems to be one way of getting folks up off the couch and doing something."

Excellent, honest points. Let's go over them.

What's my beef with Greenwald? Well, I really don't have one, not in a serious, lasting sense, anyway. Yes, he slammed those Dems who helped Bush on the FISA vote, but his concern, as you rightly say, does not go to the problem's root. If Greenwald were right out of grad school, I would chalk this up to youthful naiveté: the kid has yet to get wet. But the guy looks close to middle-aged, and I doubt he started having political thoughts when he began blogging a few years ago. True, we all have different levels of understanding, but I'm sorry, at this late date and at Greenwald's age, scratching one's head over an utterly predictable, systemic vote is just not going to fly -- not with me, and I hope not with you, either. As I said in my post, liberals like Greenwald act shocked when the Dems do something that they've always done, namely, help screw tighter the political vise while enabling reactionary elements among ruling circles. This is the Dems' main purpose, and if someone supposedly fluent in law can't see it, then frankly, he's worthless as a political commentator.

You suggest that Greenwald "gets all dewy-eyed about the Constitution," and how this is a good thing. I don't know if Greenwald was writing political commentary during Bill Clinton's two administrations, but if he was, do you suppose he had the same concern for constitutional liberties then that he ostensibly has now? Recall that Clinton, primarily though the passage of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act in 1996, but also through his expansion of police state measures (explosion of SWAT and Delta teams and accelerated prison building), attack on habeas corpus, approval of roving wiretaps, among other forms of state control, set the table for what we're now seeing. Think FISA, or for that matter, the Patriot Act, came out of nowhere? That dismemberment of the Constitution is an exclusive Republican feature? Let's also throw in one of the most open violations of the Fourth Amendment, the federal assault and mass murder at Waco, an assault that many liberals still celebrate. Where was the dewy-eyed love of the Constitution then? Bill Clinton did more to undermine that supposedly sacred document than most other presidents before him, and allowed George W. Bush to build on that. And yet, Clinton remains a liberal hero.

If Greenwald protested all this in real time, then good for him. But based on what I read by him now, I seriously doubt that he raised much of a fuss. Very few liberals did. So, when leading libloggers like Greenwald acknowledge the systemic reasons for our awful condition, reasons that are pretty easy to look up, then perhaps I'll take his avowed concern for the Constitution more seriously. Until then, he's part of the problem.

Hope that answers your question!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

My Kos Cameo

So far, I've neither seen nor heard any recording of yours truly at YearlyKos in Chicago, but I can be briefly spotted in this Talking Points Memo video of Max Blumenthal, outside the Time party for the chattering class. At the 3:54 point, you'll see a bearded, shadowy figure in black, just to Max's right. That's me. I arrived incredibly late with Juan and Shahin Cole, which was a good thing, because based on what we saw inside, the party was a white-collar snooze. We left maybe a couple of minutes afterward. More on this and other YKos social functions tomorrow.

Kos-a Nostra




"What? You're not staying for the candidates? Hillary? Obama?"

The nice, sincere woman, whose name I didn't catch, seemed truly perplexed that I would leave Chicago and YearlyKos before catching Hillary and the gang LIVE! ONSTAGE!, courting the blogger vote.

I confess the thought occurred to me. After all, how many times will I get a chance to see, in the flesh, those who presume to rule us? But I had already checked out of the hotel, since the Kos people only paid for one night, so sticking around would come out of my pocket, and I didn't feel like paying for the privilege to be pandered to.

The woman above was one of maybe a half dozen people who had seen my panel the day before, and were incredibly supportive of what I, Juan, Manan, and John expressed and tackled. Even the Kos diarist, Cosmic Debris, liked what I said, and gave me a self-published book of essays and art by other Kos diarists.

There was love in that lobby. Who says I'm a bitter old sectarian?

Well, plenty of people, that's who. As is usually the case when I post something critical about liberals or Democrats, I receive mail informing me that I'm a rightwinger, a Naderite, a racist, a self-righteous purist, etc. When I deign to answer some of the more literate critics, I ask them how many years have they put in toiling for the Dems? How many envelopes have they stuffed? How many doors have they knocked? How many phonebanks have they worked? Because my experience on that front goes back to 1980, my first presidential campaign. I've worked I don't know how many unpaid hours trying to elect Dems over the past quarter century, so I feel completely comfortable blasting the mule party for what it actually is. I've seen it from the inside, at various levels, and know a little something about how Dems think and operate.

Oh, but this year is different. This time around, the netroots are pushing the leading Dems into the Correct Direction. Because, when you lay it out, libloggers carry much more weight than, say, AT&T, or Reynolds American, or Goldman Sachs, or General Dynamics, or Honeywell, or Aflac. Who needs corporate cash when Digby and Atrios have your back?

I won't say that all of the YearlyKossacks are this deluded. Despite their general conformity concerning the Dems, we are talking about a diverse group of people and different levels of awareness. Still, there was the air that somehow, some way, libloggers are making a difference -- perhaps not a large difference, but that some kind of online momentum is building to '08 and beyond. I'm sure there's some truth to this. The top prez candidates came to court them, after all. But in the larger picture, libs who blog on behalf of Dems are a sweat drop in the big corporate tank. They help with the party's propaganda, maybe flog a serious issue here and there, but that's about it. Meanwhile, the corporate gravy train plows right over them on its way to finance Hillary, Obama, or whoever big business thinks can advance its private interests.

Indeed, if anything was missing at YearlyKos, it was anti-corporate agitation and awareness. Which is not surprising, given that the major liblogs rarely go after the companies that help keep their beloved party solvent. For without those big bucks and the various interests tied to them, the Dems pretty much cease to exist. Fine by me, but sadly, that's not going to happen in my lifetime. The Dem elites will continue to gorge on corporate money and favors, assuming, quite correctly, that most of their voting base will look past this piggery in the hopes that some crumbs will fall to the ground.

About the harshest criticism libloggers will toss at their rulers is that the Dems have no spine or simply capitulate to GOP wishes without really knowing what's at stake. I heard this from several people at YKos when word of the FISA vote spread around. "What's wrong with them? Don't they get it?" Oh, they get it all right. They understand exactly what they're doing. They wouldn't be in the position to authorize expansive, domestic wiretapping if they "didn't get it." The Dems have a spine: it simply curves rightward when the imperial state needs bolstering.

When faced with this stark, unflinching reality, libloggers avert their eyes and pretend that the Dems suffer from some weird, personality defect. Hey, I suppose it's better than dealing with the harsh facts of corporate capitalism and state power. But for sheer dizziness, few libloggers can match the spinning mind of Glenn Greenwald. In his Salon piece tsk-tsking the Dems for, once again, caving in to Bush (will they ever learn?), Greenwald lets fly a real howler:

"There are many mythologies about what are the defining beliefs and motivations of bloggers and their readers and the attendees at Yearly Kos. One of the principal myths is that it is all driven by a familiar and easily defined ideological agenda and/or a partisan attachment to the Democratic Party. That is all false."

Of course there was no "partisan attachment" to the Democrats at YKos. That explains why there were so many Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, and Birchers present, flacking their varied ideologies. So what's the Real Truth behind the convention?

"The common, defining political principle here -- what resonates far more powerfully than any other idea -- is a fervent and passionate belief in our country's constitutional framework, the core liberties it secures, and the checks and balances it offers as a safeguard against tyrannical power. Those who fail to defend that framework, or worse, those who are passively or actively complicit in its further erosion, are all equally culpable."

With amber waves of grain, from sea to shining sea. Children, if you want a career writing for the corporate media, read Glenn Greenwald as often as you can. Few do it better than he, hand over heart, moist eyes fixed on Old Glory. Sniff.

Coming Next: The people you meet, or don't meet, at a liberal gathering.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Kos It Was There




To say I was wary about attending YearlyKos is a tad understated. I'm not part of that blogworld; I don't play first-name footsie with all the lib faves; I'm not looking to belong to or redeem the Democratic Party. If Juan Cole wasn't my link to the convention, I would be suspicious, if not worried that somehow I was slipping. But it was Juan who invited me to be on his panel, and despite our many disagreements (don't get us started on Clinton's bombing of Serbia), Juan accepts me for who I am -- such as I am, that is.

I hadn't been to Chicago in 16 years. It's not one of my favorite cities, for various reasons, but mostly because it always felt provincial to me. I've been told by friends who've lived there that I'm full of shit, that my years in New York corrupted me. Maybe so. But in my eyes, Chicago could never match NYC for energy, creativity, and attitude. If I'm going to live in a big city, I want it to be like nothing else. New York, for all of its mall-ification and tourist pandering over the past few years, is that kind of city. Compared to that, Chicago is an oversized Columbus, Ohio.

Still, when I got off the train in the middle of town, I happily plugged into Chicago's vibe. I suppose living in a small campus town has made me hungry for any city energy, or perhaps I'm just older and less judgmental about these things. But I liked walking those wide Chicago streets; my city mind clicked on, and I was back in my preferred element, even though I had no idea where I was going. It didn't matter. There are plenty of sights to see, and I had some time to kill before I could check into the hotel.

Eventually, I hailed a cab, though it took me about twenty minutes to find one. I thought it would be a short ride, since I assumed that the Hyatt McCormick was somewhere in the cluster of midtown. Turns out the place is down by Lake Michigan, amid a bunch of new construction and nearly-finished high rises and office buildings. The Hyatt is an obscenely large space, resembling Bruce McCall's sprawling portraits. It's also very bland and impersonal; cold, remote. Whoever designed it was not thinking in intimate terms. And judging from the newer buildings rising nearby, that area of Chicago will soon become a flat stretch of uninspired architecture that would make Tom Wolfe rightly gag.

Oh, 21st century -- have you no character?

The friendly, robotic clerk at the front desk informed me that my room wouldn't be ready for another hour. So I followed some of the Kossacks, immediately identifiable by the large plastic badges hanging around their necks, to the convention area. As I strolled along, more and more bloggers appeared, many of whom were sitting on the floor, tap tap tapping away at their laptops. Then, as if on cue, Kos himself emerged from the crowd, elfin grin on his small face. When we crossed paths, Kos looked directly at me and smiled, nodding hello. I'm certain he had no idea who I was, for if he did, I doubt he'd be as jovial. In any event, Kos looked pleased, and why not? His little political empire is expanding, and the bustle of bloggers tapping and chatting under his name must be sweet music to his ears. The guy has certainly arrived, I'll give him that.

After walking for what seemed like carpeted miles, I found the registration area and went to formalize my arrival. The woman at the counter confirmed my place on the afternoon panel, gave me my personal plastic badge, along with a YearlyKos tote bag filled with all kinds of crap. Now I was part of the scene, though I immediately noticed a blue ribbon adorning my badge that read "Speaker." Looking around, I saw different colored ribbons on various badges. Orange was for attendees, bloggers who were not on panels. Green was for the media. And, naturally, blue was for we "experts" who would shed light and wisdom from our various perches.

From the jump, I was pissed off and dismayed. Why the fuck was there color-coded distinctions at a supposedly "democratic" convention? I thought the whole point to blogging was to democratize political expression, to allow people who didn't attend an Ivy League school or had friends in the corporate media to reach a wide audience with their views and concerns. But at YearlyKos, we were immediately categorized. A hierarchy of sorts was established, and this was reinforced when I dropped in on the "Blogs and the MSM: From Clash to Civilization" panel taking place in the big ballroom.

On stage sat Jay Carney of Time, Jill Filipovic of Feministe, Mike Allen of Politico (and formerly of Time), and liblog demi-god Glenn Greenwald of Salon. The Nation's Ari Melber moderated. In order to enhance the panel's importance, their images were magnified to Oz-like proportions on large screens flanking their table. When I walked in, Greenwald was droning on about responsible media, the duty of journalists in a democracy, or some such shit. It was the same tired, clichéd pap I've heard at practically every mainstream media panel I've ever attended. And here it was again, only presented in "cutting edge" wrapping. Nothing about the corporate structure of "news" and how that limits and distorts actual journalism, unless they tackled this before I showed up. But given the remarks made in my presence, I seriously doubt that topic was ever broached.

There were two lines of questioners at microphones in the audience, and it was clear that Melber wanted to move things along at a swift pace. Now, I understand that as a moderator, you don't want a questioner to give a speech. It takes up time and limits the access of others. I get that, having been in the same position myself. But there appeared to be some hostility to those bloggers on the floor who had critical things to say. After all, if their opinions mattered, they'd be on the panel, right? Of course, if one praised the panel for its insight and journalistic courage, no question was required for speaking rights. Hail the experts, and you can talk away.

I'd seen enough, and went to check into my room to prepare for my panel.

The Kos people set me up nicely. It was a large room on the 31st floor with two beds, which was more than I needed, but hey, they were picking up the tab, so what did I care? The view of Lake Michigan was stunning, especially that sunny afternoon. Dozens of boats cut through the water, and off in the distance behind them sailed a large tanker. This vista calmed me a bit, though given my acrophobia, I had to stand away from the window. Looking directly down to the courtyard was out of the question.

I rifled through the tote bag given to me downstairs. It was filled mostly with Dem party hand-outs, the latest issue of The Nation, and a few knick-knacks like a One bracelet that promoted an anti-poverty organization. I slipped that on in the spirit of camaraderie, then read some of the hand-outs. The bigger bloggers and various Dem congresspeople attending the convention were referred to as "our netroots heroes," once again reinforcing the We and You concept. Far from breaking down elitist walls, YearlyKos was adding a large wing to their media mansion. Bow down, you simple bloggers from wherever, and celebrate your online superiors. It's the "progressive" thing to do.

I gathered my notes, then went downstairs a little early to tour more of the convention. Of course, I wore my blue ribbon badge, more to see if anyone knew who the hell I was than to establish my speaking primacy. I admit, I was curious. I felt out of place, and wondered if any of these bloggers read my stuff. I received a few nods and smiles from those who noticed my ribbon, but I think that had more to do with me being an "expert" than from any knowledge of who I am and what I write. Indeed, a couple of people I briefly talked to knew nothing about my blog; but when I said I was on a panel with Juan Cole, their eyes lit up. "Juan Cole is awesome! You know him?!"



Not long after this, Juan himself appeared, alongside his wife, Shahin. We greeted each other and began to make our way to our panel, when we came upon Sidney and Max Blumenthal, who were walking in the opposite direction with Sidney's sister and I believe his wife, though I wasn't really sure since we weren't formally introduced. Max made a beeline for Juan, shaking his hand and telling him how much he loved Juan's work. Juan then introduced me to Max, who shook my hand with a brief, "Oh, hi" before turning his full attention to Juan. Max's aunt introduced herself, and she noticed that I was staring at her large Hillary sticker.

"Do you like Hillary? she asked.

"No, not really."

"Why not?"

"It's probably best not to go into it here." I didn't want to start a conversation about how much I dislike the Dems with someone from the Blumenthal clan, especially right before I was due to speak.

"Well, who do you like?"

"Actually, I'd like to see another system, to be honest."

"Well, that's not gonna happen."

Not with people like you in the way, I thought to myself.

"Give me one name. Just one."

"If you insist, I'll go with Kucinich."

"Ewww." Her face scrunched. "He does have a beautiful wife, however."

Marrying Elizabeth was perhaps the best move Dennis Kucinich ever made. "You may think I'm insane, but look who I snagged!"

Sidney stepped forward to shake hands and introduce himself. He was pleasant but stiff, and his skin looks like it's polished. We chatted very briefly before Juan told everyone that we had a panel to attend. We said our so-longs and parted, but I couldn't help watching the Blumenthals as they walked regally away. They are political royalty within Dem circles, and I would later see Max constantly fawned over by young, white, male libs like himself. He clearly enjoyed their veneration.

In contrast, our panel seemed pushed to the side, an afterthought to the grander Kos netroots stages. The panel before us bled into our time, forcing us to start late. Then we discovered we had no moderator, so Juan assumed that role, and he and I essentially bussed the panel table, clearly away used water cups and coffee containers. There was no fresh water for us; we had to make do with what was left over from the previous panel. It was a disheveled start, but the audience quickly filed in and filled up the seats, with more standing in the back and to the side. Once things settled down, Juan welcomed everyone, and the panel kicked off, with us speaking in alphabetical order.

Manan Ahmed got the party started with a direct, detailed critique of Barack Obama's statements about bombing Pakistan. Manan gave a meticulous power point presentation illustrating just how craven and idiotic Obama's remarks were. Unlike the fantasy Pakistan that Obama depicted, where President Pervez Musharraf is dragging his heels on fighting extremism, and it might take US air strikes to focus his attention, the Pakistani army is currently battling extremists in the North Waziristan region, fighting that is comparable to what's happening in Iraq. Also, US has already hit Pakistan, on November 10, 2006, shelling a madrassa in Bajaur which resulted in zero al-Qaeda dead, but did manage to kill some of the seminary's children.

Manan's presentation made those wearing Obama buttons shift a bit in their seats and look down to the floor. I thought there might be some audible disagreement from them, given that we were on Dem party turf, and Obama love was all over the Kos convention. But they said nothing. Not a murmur that I could hear, anyway. Manan so thoroughly dismantled Obama's speech that his supporters had no real come back to it. I doubt they know much more about Pakistan than does their hero, but after Manan's talk, they should have a better idea now. Sometimes, learning can be a painful experience, but in the end, we're all winners.

Juan took the podium next, and gave a very animated, at times funny, talk about what possibly lies ahead in Iraq. Juan insists, and I largely disagree with him, that US troops will be withdrawn by '09 at the latest, leaving Iraq to whatever fate then befalls it. In Juan's view, the Sunnis, after a bloodbath, will once again control Baghdad, and that a new Ba'ath Party will most likely be created. The Shias will retreat to the south, and the Kurds will go about their business in the north, ready to fight should the Sunnis attempt any incursion on their turf. In other words, Iraq will roughly be what it more or less was after the first Gulf War, minus Saddam and his sons, of course. I don't think that a Hillary Clinton administration would oversee such a pull-out, given Hillary's past militarist posturing. She may now say that the war should end, but this, as the New York Times reported on Saturday, is a calculated rhetorical shift to pull in the more "liberal" members of the Dem party, many of whom were at YearlyKos. Should she be elected, I trust that a different, more "pragmatic" strategy will suddenly emerge. We'll see.

John Mearsheimer followed Juan, and his presentation, about the four possible roads Israel can take with regards to the Palestinians, was extremely sensible to the point of being predictable. John has received acres of abuse since his and Stephen Walt's paper on the Israeli lobby was released, but in person, John's a very polite, friendly, down-to-earth guy. You'd half expect to meet a fire-breathing Jew-hater given some of the attacks he's endured, but as is usually the case in this area, the sliming has little-to-nothing to do with the actual person. If anything, John's too cautious and conservative, for my taste. When he said that of the remaining options left to Israel, the most likely one would be some form of apartheid for the Palestinians, I wanted to interrupt him by saying that this pretty much already happened. But I'm a team player when it comes to panels, and besides, it might come up during Q&A.

Finally, it was me. As I grabbed the podium mike, I said that following three distinguished academics with my more showbiz background left me with only one way to greet the crowd -- "Yo yo yo, YearlyKos, whazzzz upppp!" This got a nice laugh, which I built on by quoting Condi Rice's statement from Ramallah as reported by one of my favorite comedy sources, the New York Times:

"'We believe strongly in the right of people to express themselves and their desires in elections.' But, [Rice] added, once elected, 'you have the obligation to govern responsibly.'"

An even bigger laugh. In comedy, found humor is oftentimes your best friend.

I then delivered the crux of my talk, which I truncated a bit due to time constraints. Essentially, I made two points: 1) Unlike the Vietnam era, where there was an abundance of antiwar satire and comedy, from the National Lampoon to The Committee to The Smothers Brothers (among others), the Iraq era has been satirically deficient, save for a few exceptions like "The Daily Show", which isn't all that cutting, given the horror that surrounds us; and 2) You cannot find mainstream American comics and comedy shows that skewer Israelis and Zionists with the same nasty, at times openly racist, routines that are commonly employed against Arabs and Muslims. Judaism and Jewish culture have been sent up by Jewish comics since vaudeville. But where, I asked the audience, do you see satirical assaults on Israeli Zionists?

No one answered, for the simple reason that this kind of comedy scarcely exists. The Onion has done a few funny bits about Israeli aggression, but try getting that on "The Daily Show", much less "SNL", Leno, Letterman, or Conan.

About halfway through my talk, my throat suddenly went dry. I could not form saliva, and this strained my voice. Juan poured me a glass of water, but after each sentence, I was bone-dry again. I drank so much water, I should have had a ventriloquist dummy on my lap. I had no idea why this was happening. I wasn't nervous, since the crowd was with me from the start. Maybe it was the hotel's air. Later, thinking about this alone, I realized what occurred: the subject matter I was dealing with got to me. I choked up. It was reminiscent of my recent bout with depression, which was connected to all of the crazy shit I'm regularly exposed to. And here it was again, in front of a large audience. This briefly rattled me. But I managed to finish my talk without looking too foolish, then sat down and drank more water.

The Q&A focused mostly on Israel/Palestine, with some bantering about the future of Iraq. Pakistan and Obama did not come up, for obvious reasons, and after a while, Juan specifically asked the crowd for a Pakistan question so Manan could be part of the discussion. One was asked, Manan thoughtfully responded, then it was back to the war and the Israelis and Palestinians.

At one point, both Juan and John agreed that there is no significant counterweight in American politics to that of groups like AIPAC. An older woman from the back began yelling, "That's not true! That's not true!" Since our panel was not afforded mike stands in the audience, Juan invited the woman to take the podium and explain herself. She ran down the aisle like it was "The Price Is Right" as the rest of the crowd applauded her. She gave an impassioned speech about how being Jewish, what Israel is ostensibly doing in her name appalled and saddened her. She said she was part of a Jewish peace group, if memory serves is Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, and that they were doing all they could to counter the effects of AIPAC. Another member in the audience added to this, but said that the main problem was money. No one on the panel wanted to rub in the obvious fact that this group realistically has no shot to diminish AIPAC's political influence, at least not now, and the woman, who engaged a few more people in the audience, eventually went back to her seat.

I thought Juan's invitation to the woman was very democratic, much unlike the rest of YearlyKos, at least when it came to "expert" panels. Our audience was very opinionated and energetic, but before long, Juan shut the whole thing down, noting that we were going overtime. I felt that since we were the last panel, we should've kept going, for at least another half hour. But once Juan made his announcement, the majority of people left. So that was that.

I told Juan that I felt like my talk went off the rails. His eyes widened as he replied, "What? You killed! You had them eating out of your hand." John Mearsheimer seconded this. They saw nothing wrong, so I suppose it went okay. Besides, I'm usually my own worst critic.

There are more stories to tell about YearlyKos, and I will get to some of them tomorrow. For now, my stiff fingers need a break.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Where's My Skull?

Back from Chicago and YearlyKos, and many are the tales I will tell you. But not today (though here's a taste from another observer). So, while I sort out my thoughts and make sense of my notes and process the whole liblogger bash, here's a very funny video by A. Whitney Brown (via our mutual friend Barry Crimmins), formerly of "SNL" and the original "Daily Show" with Craig Kilborn. Whitney's lost none of his edge, and try to imagine Lorne Michaels bringing him back to the Weekend Update desk to deliver the below.

On second thought, don't bother imagining it. Dennis Miller will be asked back sooner than will Whitney. Given the current show's tone, it would be a natural. I can hear the Arab-bashing japes tossed between Miller and Seth Meyers now . . .

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Red State Son Amid The Libs

Leaving early tomorrow morning for Chicago and YearlyKos, so I'm rushing about today, pulling together what stray items remain. Much thanks to those of you who sent me links to Middle East-oriented (Orientalist?) humor. It all helps. And now it appears that C-SPAN may be taping our panel. The last time I appeared on C-SPAN, I had a massive hangover from drinking with Hitchens until 4-or-so-AM, plus, a big zit bulged from my forehead, and my hair was dirty and slicked-back with some weird gel I found in Hitch's bathroom. But I was much younger then, and could handle debating politics and media through a pounding haze. For the YearlyKos panel, it's all business -- funny business of a sort, but sober, professional venting all the same. Should be interesting. I'll post a full report on the panel, convention, and parties come Monday. I know you can't wait.

I wonder how the Obama Boosters will spin their hero's latest attempt to look tough and presidential with his chest-beating about bombing parts of Pakistan. I plan to ask them. They shouldn't be hard to find at a Kos gathering. That also goes for the Hillary Heads. We have much to discuss -- or not, depending on the topic or mood.

My dear friend Barry Crimmins, who's still trying to talk me out of posting at HuffPo (he has good reasons), wrote a fine little essay about the fetishization of the military. As an Army vet, I completely concur with Barry's observations. Indeed, I've written similar posts in the past. It's an area of American culture that remains sacred for far too many people, and it needs to be deflated and reassessed, especially in this savage age.

Here's an interesting debate between Dave Zirin and Katha Pollitt about Michael Vick and dog fighting. I had hoped to write about this subject, but Zirin makes many of my points for me, so there's no point in rehashing them here. I will add that Zirin is right about white sports radio hosts and their angry, bone-headed listeners. Vick may be guilty, and he may be a sadistic asshole, but when you listen to sports radio, hosts and callers seem quicker to condemn bad behavior by black athletes than the knuckleheadedness of white jocks. Racism is part of it, of course, but I think envy and jealousy play a large role as well. And as inhuman as dog fighting certainly is, many of these white fans have no problem with the crippling, nerve-shattering aspects of the NFL, nor with extreme fighting and mixed martial arts, which are becoming increasingly popular, especially among white sports nuts. Violence is fine -- hell, celebrated, so long as humans play the dogs' role.

Over at newcritics, an appreciation of the early, Max Fleischer Popeye cartoons may be read, as a new DVD box set of those black-and-white classics has just been released. Check it out, then enjoy the very first Popeye cartoon from 1933, with a cameo by Betty Boop. This is before Popeye was given his own animated world, so he, Olive Oyl, and Bluto must wander through the surrealist landscape where Fleischer's other characters, like Betty, seemed at home. It's a strange disconnect, but entertaining, and note Betty's pre-Code hula outfit. Hubba Hula kahiko, hey.