Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bumping Into Ghosts

More from my magical memory tour. Here I revisit my father's old nightclub. He featured all kinds of music, from The Archies (I was disappointed that Betty and Veronica were hippies), to Gary Lewis and the Playboys, to Faith, a mid-70s local rock band that had an intense following, to country legend Dottie West. It remains one of my favorite haunts from my youth, as you'll see. You'll also notice that my friend Jim has trouble with the camera's off-switch, though we could pass it off as an artistic choice.

This is the only house where I had any real fun. There were bad times, too, especially when the IRS targeted my father and threw our world into chaos. But this place holds some happy memories for me. As we were taping this, a stray pit bull was crouched and growling to my left. An animal control truck suddenly appeared, chasing the dog through the nearby housing development. None of this broke my narrative stride. Training, baby.

The greatest record store of my life: Second Time Around. Exposed me to my generation's "Sgt. Pepper" -- "Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols." I return here every time I hear the opening boots and beat of "Holidays In The Sun." An electric shock that charged me back then, and remains with me still.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Owning It

Finally, a liberal attempt to distance Obama from the "warmonger" label, so that liberals of the Media Matters stripe can support policies that presumably lack Bush's taint. As MM recently put it:

"While reporting on President Obama's announcement of a new strategy for American involvement in Afghanistan, several media outlets have revived the label 'Obama's war,' despite the fact that the conflict began more than seven years ago under President Bush, who was criticized for alleged mismanagement of the conflict and diversion of resources to Iraq."

Note the neutral, bloodless language. "American involvement in Afghanistan," which sounds like we're overseeing some benign project, not propping up a corrupt Kabul regime while blowing the living fuck out of civilians and further driving their country into poverty and chaos. "Obama's war" in quotation marks, as if Afghanistan isn't on his plate and can never truly be, because whatever happens there is Bush's fault, even though his "mismanagement of the conflict and diversion of resources to Iraq" is, according to MM, "alleged."

I don't think that anyone seriously paying attention would consider Bush's crimes as "alleged," yet the crusaders at MM, in an inspired but doomed effort to soften Obama's imperial mandate, don't even poke the real meat of Bush's murderous legacy. They revert to the old liberal mantra that Iraq was the "wrong war" (albeit supported by many leading Dems, including our current Vice President and Secretary of State) and that the real tragedy was "taking our eye off the ball" in Afghanistan, the Good War. By this logic, Afghanistan is indeed Obama's war, and should be, because Bush bungled the noble enterprise by invading Iraq. The MM writers are so knotted trying to exonerate Obama that they cannot simply say, "At last, a Commander in Chief who understands where the real terrorist threat lies," or similar mainstream pabulum.

The reason for this is simple: the Afghan war is going badly and getting worse, as Obama is about to add another 21,000 warm bodies to the killing fields. How this doesn't make Afghanistan Obama's war I've no fucking clue, but liberals, being smarter than those crazy conservatives, usually find ways to avoid speaking plainly about what stares everyone right in the face. Besides, Obama's already killed civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, so he now runs the slaughterhouse, the cries from which cannot be denied, only ignored, explained away, or laid at the feet of George W. Bush, who like Bill Clinton before him, will serve as a diversion to those devoted to his successor.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Phantom Tour

Here's some stuff shot by my dear friend Jim Buck, during our little reunion weekend in Indy. They're pretty self-explanatory, and short, which is good in a shit economy. There'll be more of these brief bits over the next few days, and as always, I appreciate your feedback.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hoosier Boy

I'm off to Indy for a pseudo-Kamakaze Radio reunion. Won't be back until Monday. But don't worry -- I'll shoot plenty of video, so you won't miss a thing. I may even shoot some of Indiana's flat terrain while driving, 'cause I know a lot of you can't get enough of that.

Just to prove that I don't hate all contemporary comedy, here are a few shorts I like, featuring Andy Samberg, who along with his Lonely Island partners Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, produce some of the best material on the current SNL. Enjoy. See you early next week.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Before I Knew Better

Pity The Fool

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

No Room For The Weak

He couldn't shake her stare. She seemed starved for love, and expressed this hunger through a long, penetrating stare. If she wasn't so beautiful, the stare would frighten him, send him running through plate glass. Fortunately, her French country features softened the stare's effect, making it soothing, alluring.

Her personality was something else. She fancied herself smart, but was the dullest middlebrow, broadly gesturing while talking out of her ass which, when mute, was a fine ass, its firm features distorted only when she spoke. She had a BA in literature from a major university, but her knowledge was by-the-numbers, memorized in a specific, set order. She never allowed her learning to seep into her mind, take its own course, kick up whatever imagination she possessed. She was too aware that others were aware, mostly of her good looks, but also of her self-advertised importance, thus she left nothing to chance, and couldn't even if she wanted to.

He talked himself into loving her, or wanting to love her. Having barely finished high school, he lacked the stamp giving him automatic entry into her world. But as he had with other gated crowds, he found a way in, using his humor like a knife, waving it close to their throats but never nicking flesh. This usually worked, giving said crowd a sense of danger, yet nothing too threatening.

He learned early on how highly-educated people like the idea of losing control, since much of their world is planned and routine. But they rarely try it themselves, preferring a lesser fool to lose control for them. This was his function; and for a time he was happily foolish, as it brought him close to women he'd have no chance of meeting were he truly himself.

The middlebrow with the stare was his favorite.

He cornered her a few times at parties, making her laugh then making her sigh with some bullshit prose he lifted from minor poets. He kissed her slowly, deeply, felt her small body rise to his, pressing against his thick frame. He'd get her to the point of finding a room, then she'd back off, mumble excuses, brush at her blouse as if to erase him. She had a boyfriend, though he was never around, and she only mentioned him when aroused and ready to cheat.

Finally, he grew tired of her game. He assailed her passive-aggressive behavior, laying down an ultimatum. Was she in or out? He knew this would give her an easy exit, for she was not the type of woman who responded to ultimatums, primarily those issued by lesser fools. She acted as if nothing had happened between them, that it was all in his head. He accepted this, but remained angry, wanting to shake and force her to confess her desire.

She married a guy she grew to like, some businessman who would never challenge her or take her to places where she could let go. She appeared happy on the surface, the same dull smile in every picture posted online. But he knew she was in a boring hell, surrounded by sleepwalkers and those killing time. That was her punishment for cowardice, for not taking the leap with him. It was there in her smile, but also her stare, the one feature he'd always treasure, no matter how dead it became.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ride Shotgun With Me

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Janitor TV

Saturday, March 21, 2009

When The Mess Was Young

Friday, March 20, 2009

Code Mute

In yesterday's vid spiel, I mentioned the lack of serious anger over the ongoing financial rape we continue to tolerate. Here's a perfect illustration of what I mean. Code Pink appeared at the AIG hearing conducted by the House Financial Services Subcommittee, waving some signs expressing their displeasure. Chair Paul Kanjorski admonished Medea Benjamin and friends, ordering them to behave or be thrown out. So how do these "radicals" react? By meekly surrendering their signs and keeping their mouths shut. Pitiful.

If you fancy yourself a radical activist, and you want to bring whatever heat you can to a given situation, do you submit so easily? These motherfuckers are robbing you in broad daylight. The political class represented by Kanjorski (and Barney Frank, who backed Kanjorski) is looking for ways to help the financial class overcome this PR debacle, and hearings are usually the best method of repair. How do you think Iran/Contra became a footnote? All the more reason for Code Pink or whomever to disrupt this slow-motion charade and force them to drag you out.

What the fuck happened to civil disobedience? Class war is openly being waged on us. We may not win, but at least go down fighting, and perhaps put some fear in these criminals. I wonder if Bush or McCain were in the White House, Code Pink would be so polite and obedient. It appears that Obama has liberals and some leftists right where he wants them -- to the degree that he gives them any thought, of course.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Part Of The Problem

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I Like To Watch

Went to see "Watchmen" again, alone on an early afternoon, and I was slightly surprised by the incredibly small audience. Only slightly, though. I may be a "Watchmen" freak, but clearly this is a minority taste. After a decent opening for a nearly three-hour film, ticket sales for Zack Snyder's adaptation dropped by two-thirds; and while "Watchmen" will make money over the long haul, it doesn't have the legs of "The Dark Knight," or other, more familiar fare.

None of which bothers me. I don't have a stake in the film's profits. I've contributed twice to the cup, and will again should Snyder's even-longer director's cut appear in July. And then there's the special edition DVD set, and maybe a Rorschach mask, though I'm much closer in temperament and body type to Nite Owl II (who, let us not forget, has mad sex with Silk Spectre II). So to those like comedian Patton Oswalt, one of the film's most vocal champions, I've done my part to help "Watchmen" along. But again, we are a small, geek collective. There's only so much to give.

As I watched the film a second time, sinking deeper into the experience, now that I know what Snyder kept and changed, I realized what a weird, off-putting mainstream vehicle "Watchmen" truly is. If you have no prior knowledge of the book or the characters, it must come off as bizarre if not boring. And to those who flocked to see "Watchmen" the first weekend, expecting a typical superhero popcorn flick, it doubtless confused and angered them, poisoning word of mouth.

The problem with these expectations is that "Watchmen" really isn't a superhero story. It's a meditation on power, political and personal corruption, the morality of the end justifying the means, which in this case entails mass murder on a global scale, all wrapped in an alternate timeline where, among many twists, the US wins the Vietnam War, a victory that keeps Americans from going crazy, as Edward Blake observes. Being The Comedian, Blake was clearly joking. Despite that Cold War prize, Americans of the "Watchmen" world are already around the bend. Mixed in among them are a handful of adults who dress in masks and costumes and assault and kill criminals and psychos, when not turning on each other.

I don't know if any version of "Watchmen" could grab a mass audience. When one of your main characters talks about the futility and meaninglessness of human existence while on Mars, you're not going to appeal to the Good vs. Evil demographic. As my friend Dwayne, another "Watchmen" nut, told me, the one thing we can be grateful for is that Zack Snyder always stays true to his source material. In the hands of a more "creative" director, who knows what kind of "Watchmen" we would've gotten. A better version? Maybe. But a truly better version would have to be much longer and more detailed. In that case, I definitely would want someone loyal to the original story. Imagine Joel Schumacher's cut.

Here are the opening credits to "Watchmen," a montage that even the film's critics lauded. Snyder does a nice job establishing the alternate history, and perfectly captures the look of the original Minutemen. The first Nite Owl, the first mask you see, doesn't appear as dorky as he does in the book, though he was an especially savage fighter. I could've used more Silhouette, the sleek dyke who falls to the prejudice of her time. I've never understood Mothman, who as you'll see goes insane. His costume makes no sense. Then again, he was crazy. And poor Dollar Bill. Another victim of a useless cape. And no body armor. You can get hurt going out like that.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Next Mickey Rourke

Friday, March 13, 2009

Critical Condition

Of the countless American conceits (Americans as a "forgiving people" always makes me laugh), the notion that "critical thinking" is valued remains the most curious. This myth's allure is obvious and pleasing, much like white people who've convinced themselves that they're not racist. Playing pretend is an American specialty, with billions spent to encourage and reinforce the fantasy. Perhaps for the best. If we behaved as we really are, who knows how deep the meat chute would run?

Also, playing pretend helps weed out non-believers and tourists. One's rise or fall depends largely on how well you internalize the narrative. To write for the New York Times, for example, you have to seriously believe that the United States is a force for Good in the world, sometimes mistaken, but always sincere. I've known or chatted up a smattering of Timespeople, and while privately they were some of the most cynical types I've ever met, none of their personal critiques would appear in the Times, simply because they'd never dare submit such nonsense. And these are supposedly the "smart ones," those who set the journalistic/critical/aesthetic standard.

Given this, what does "critical thinking" actually mean? Linda Elder, president of the Foundation for Critical Thinking, laid it out recently in the Christian Science Monitor:

"Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking that aims to take the reasoning we all do naturally to a higher level. It is the art of analyzing and evaluating with the goal of improving thought."

Within this generalization lies the essential truth: "critical thinking," as understood by educated Americans, isn't literally about "improving thought," but improving and streamlining acceptable thought -- that is, if you want to matter inside the PR mills. Actual critical thinking may help you if you're in science or medicine, but in politics and media, it's the crassest leper's bell, painted purple, wired for symphonic sound. Yet the concept of "critical thinking" is very much in fashion, as was the New Seriousness after the Towers fell. Obama is the main symbol of this conceit, his sexy, rolled-up sleeve spirit there to inspire the rest of us.

Of course, apart from some minor remodeling and a slightly better soundtrack, nothing substantial will change, simply because too many people don't want substantial change. One of the benefits of our financial meltdown is how attractive it makes the status quo look by comparison. Oh, there's plenty of gab about "excess" and "frugality," but at bottom, numerous people, especially educated ones, want to maintain whatever perks they've enjoyed, and will do what they must to protect what they have left.

Such degraded conditions are anathema to real critical thinking -- if anything, this inspires further devotion to the main narratives. Think all those reporters who've lost their jobs are gonna become an army of I. F. Stones? It's a nice idea, and if probable, I'd certainly champion it. But as you can see, there's no money or honor in such tawdry pursuits. If you want to eat using your words, become really good at selling shit. That's where critical minds are most needed. As Elder put it: "When making a decision, [critical thinking] is the difference between weighing information to come to a logical conclusion and making snap judgments without understanding the information."

Elder may not have been describing branding, but hers is an accurate definition. It takes a discerning, disciplined mind to read demo reports and successfully translate that into marketing terms. Team Obama showed how it was done in 2008, bringing us to this present, passive stage. From the looks of things, most seem content with the arrangement, which shows the true power of "critical" thought. And to think that people once bothered to read books.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tiptoe Through The Carnage

The one person who took any action against war criminal George W. Bush has been sentenced to three years in prison.

Once again: Throw a shoe at your country's occupier and miss -- jail. Invade another country, unleash cluster bombs and chemical weapons, torture, help incite bloody sectarian war using domestic death squads and foreign mercenaries, the death toll somewhere around a million -- retire in material comfort, guarded 'round the clock.

Still curious why Obama plans to keep Bush's perks in place?

Oh, but this is an old story, so fucking old that it's a cliché wrapped inside a newspaper. Besides, how many Americans really care about Muntadhar al-Zeidi? (I do hope that Rick Perlstein's happy.) We've got our own problems.

Michael McLendon's ballistic freak out in Alabama is the most recent feature of the New Depression; and while murderous rampages are as American as bad spelling, historical ignorance, and obesity, McLendon appeared especially vexed due to financial stress. Why merely smoke yourself when you can drag nearly a dozen others into oblivion? It's sort of like a shared calling plan, only the minutes are extremely limited and terror-filled. And being loyal, McLendon didn't forget his family, killing his mother, aunt, uncle and grandparents in the bargain.

I guess McLendon couldn't wait for Obama's magic to kick in. Well, more socialism for the rest of us!

How is it that so many people who know a killer never see it coming? The guy's always "quiet" and "polite." Then, out of nowhere --- THRRRRRP! Zero to 90 in five seconds. Surely there must be some early sign of snapping. McLendon apparently kept a People Who Wronged Me list. I wonder if he ever said to an imagined tormentor, "You're on the list!" If so, there's another catchphrase that'll clear schools and get you questioned by police. I only pray that some twisted soul isn't planning to initiate a mass killing by uttering, "Yes we can!"

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Laffs Amid The Rubble

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

An Even Simpler Means

To bring "Watchmen" to the masses.

The Hah-rah

Monday, March 9, 2009

Needing Mustard

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Cape Town

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mr. Comedy Expert

Potato Head Blues

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Calling All Quicksand

A recurring question readers ask is, When will I appear on TV -- Maddow, Olbermann, Maher, Stewart -- and rave on camera as I do in this humble space? For some reason, a number of you assume I'd be an entertaining diversion, a different flavor from the standard fare. There was a time when I did do this, when I truly desired a spotlight. That urge has faded steadily as I age, and while I recently discussed with Maher's producer the possibility of me appearing on "Real Time," I honestly don't see it happening.

There are several reasons for this, the most obvious being that chat show producers don't want my opinions fouling their programs. I accept this, for that's probably what would happen. Another obvious reason is that I'm not well-known, which added to my opinions makes me even less desirable to bookers. Of course, many political bloggers do get air time, but they're usually allied with the corporate parties, and are well-versed in prearranged discussion points, making everyone's job easier. Then again, I'm not really a political blogger, not as it's generally understood, and I'm becoming less and less of one. That's a good thing.

Oh, I'll kvetch about current conditions, to the degree that I'm stirred, anyway. But my interests are changing, perhaps de-evolving, whatever that might mean. The ceaseless diatribes blasting from our screens are meaningless to me, and I'm confused as to why anyone would voluntarily endure it, much less want to participate. Professional advancement is the only rational angle I can see, yet even there, some confusion remains. When Chomsky told me ages ago that he wanted to no part of mainstream media, and didn't even watch it, I thought he was posing. I worked with a group that continually tried to get Noam on the air, believing that everyone wanted exposure, including me. Now I see what Noam was talking about.

A local reader has kindly offered to upload a bunch of old videos of me arguing politics on TV, something I hope to do this week. Should this happen, you'll soon see a much younger me yapping with the rest of the pack, suit, tie, combed hair, clean-shaven face. I really want to share my C-SPAN appearance when I was massively hung-over, a huge zit on my forehead, plowing through my points while the host turned her nose away from me, no doubt sickened by the booze stench rising from my pores. That was one of the longest hours of my life, captured on videotape for posterity, or until C-SPAN tapes a Senate hearing on sewage reform over it.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

American Psycho

Here's the bald face of imperialism. The video speaks for itself. I knew some prime assholes when I was in the Army, but this guy's beyond belief. Remember, they hate us for our freedom. (Found at Lenin's Tomb.)