Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Life Is A Beautiful, Precious Flower

It's been brought to my attention that Charles Johnson, the Mud King of the Widdle Gween Nerfball tribe, is upset with my contention that I received a death threat at his fine site many years ago. "Man up," ChazJo growled, beating his chest as his followers grunted their approval. "Prove it, or retract it."

I've also received several emails from what I suspect are Nerfballers, daring me to do the same thing. So, in the interest of full clarity, and because I want to get back to some actual work, here's the deal.

There was never a death threat made against "Dennis Perrin." This is because "Dennis Perrin" didn't use his real name when commenting at ChazJo's joint. "Dennis Perrin" used a single, anonymous tag -- a rare practice online, I'll concede, but what the hell, you only live once. What that tag was I have no idea, since I posted there maybe five years ago, two computers and three hard drives in the past.

I knew very little about that site's politics at the time, as I was relatively new to the Web, so I thought I could argue from a different perspective in good faith. Umm, right. My biggest mistake was insisting that the Palestinians are human, which is science fiction to Chazzy's tribe. Several commenters told me to leave, and one said that if I didn't, he'd track my IP address and "hunt" me down, encouraged by a few others. Now, whether this was possible or not, I don't know, but as I said in my earlier post, I figured, fuck it, and moved on.

When someone says they're gonna hunt you down, I don't picture them arriving at your door with a gift basket and a warm smile. So, yes, I took that as a death threat. Again, how serious it was, I haven't the faintest, and at this late date, I really don't care.

Chaz and his tribe took a tiny part of a much larger post (which mostly slammed liberals), and blew it up to blood libel status, as if my main focus was them. Life must be molasses slow in those parts. Still, I can see why ChazzyJ's a bit touchy on the subject of death threats, given that more explicit things have been posted there, forcing him to paper over the mess, lest people get the impression that Chaz attracts a rather unstable crowd.

And that, dear readers, is that. Hoo haw, and who gives a shit.

I'll leave the final sentiments to William Shatner, who in this clip may very well be talking to a group of Nerfballers. The Spanish subtitles are for my Central American audience. Hola, compañeros y compañeras!


Monday, October 29, 2007

Surrender At History's End

Tribal mindsets are tough to crack. When it comes to American politics, it's nearly impossible.

An obvious statement, you say. Well, yes, it may seem fairly obvious on the surface, but when you really dig into a collected group of online commenters, this observation accelerates and is reinforced with crashing cymbals, hammered pianos, breaking glass, and endless piles of flung horseshit. It's enough to send one screaming to the happy world of comedy writing. And if you've ever written comedy, you know just how happy that world can be.

Years ago, before I began blogging, I surfed through numerous sites, looking for opinions and attitudes that might inspire me to comment. Back then, I spent most of my time at right wing blogs, soaking in the hysteria and hatred, getting a feel for various rooms. When I joined the, er, "conversation," I usually did so with my actual politics, and of course I was immediately attacked, getting it from all sides. The commenters never addressed my actual arguments; they simply went after me personally, telling me that I was insane, anti-American, pro-Saddam, probably a fag, or better yet, transsexual. Once they read certain key words, their brains clicked into auto-assault mode, and nothing, n-o-t-h-i-n-g, could stem or alter their spewing. At Little Green Footballs, several commenters bluntly advised me to leave the site, or they would track me down via my IP address and kill me. Probably hot air, but there are plenty of crazy people in the world, and arguing at an anti-Arab racist site wasn't worth taking the risk, however slight.

I then drifted to less nutty rightist sites, places where supposedly "intelligent" exchanges were encouraged and cherished. This time I presented myself as a classical conservative, someone steeped in Burke, Hayek, Albert Jay Nock, with flashes of Ayn Rand for spice. Having spent years reading right wing history, and the many writers and philosophers who influenced and defined it, the arguments came easily, and once in character, I could and did spend hours, sometimes days, battling over concepts of private property, "real" anti-Communism, as opposed to the phony, sell-out-to-the-Soviets kind, whether or not religion had a central place in a conservative world, and so on.

It was a kick, but even among these people, there was uncertainty, and a real lack of knowledge about their own political tradition. When I brought up figures like Westbrook Pegler or James Burnham, most commenters had no idea who these people were. I recall one silly spat with an older woman (or so she claimed) who insisted that George Will, her favorite columnist, got his start at National Review. I corrected her: Though Will contributed a few things to Buckley's mag in 1970, his first regular column, "Letter From a Whig," appeared at the then-obscure American Spectator in 1971, before he had a steady gig at National Review. The woman said I was mistaken, despite the fact that I provided links and sources to prove my point, while she simply offered her opinion. She finally told me that I was helping to kill the conservative movement, then disappeared into the ether.

Around the time my first blog appeared, I had left the rightosphere to read the rising libloggers. I rarely commented at these sites, and when I did, it was usually under my real name. I would go undercover if I felt I could get more out of an exchange, or if I wanted to argue from a different position. Still, this was rare, and when I dove into the blog world myself, I saw little reason to speak at other sites when I had a place of my own to tend. For the last three years, this has more or less been the case.

Recently, as part of my research for "Savage Mules," I pulled from storage several of my liberal masks, and went to various, well-populated lib sites to test the present Dem waters. I won't identify those blogs I visited, or what I specifically said, but trust me, there are a lot of frightened, angry Dems out there. A lot. And in my recent study, most of these liberals are very hostile to any left opinion that doesn't ultimately end with voting for the Dems, no matter what. Now, conceptually, I already knew this, and have posted many critiques of online libs. But when one engages them directly, this awareness assumes a junky, tattered shape, and you soon realize that if these people represent "progressive" America, then we are in for a very shitty future, to the degree one even exists.

The main hive is unhappy with Hillary, but after eight years of Bush, she will more than do. Husband Bill is still revered and treated like a rock/porn star. Al Gore, of course, is even more popular, and there are those liberals who still believe that Mr. Nobel will enter the presidential race. I've read several President Gore fantasies, either as the next chief executive, or as a parallel universe president who took office in 2001, stopped the 9/11 attacks, didn't invade Iraq, spread peace and prosperity where he could, and saved the planet from ecological destruction. No mention of Joseph Lieberman in those scenarios. Gore was Batman sans a neocon Robin.

Critique either these fantasies or the corrupt system that make them necessary, and the liberals will vomit all over you. You are insane, in need of professional help, a Naderite, a Bush supporter, a Christo-fascist, or at the very least a very stupid person who doesn't understand the Two Party System. Is it perfect? No, they'll concede. But that's all there is, all there could conceivably be, so shut the fuck up, vote Dem early and often, and focus all of your critical energies on Michelle Malkin and David Horowitz.

James Wolcott once compared liberal bloggers to 18th century pamphleteers, and indeed there are similarities, primarily in the Publish Yourself realm. But many of those early polemicists were radical democrats who saw a world beyond that of Crown and Church. That world had yet to exist, but this didn't stop them from pushing for its realization in the face of tremendous opposition and derision. They were told by the liberals of their day that direct democracy was a boy's dream, that the radicals needed to grow up and get with the existing program. A world beyond Crown and Church? Tosh, pish-posh, and twaddle.

Today's liberals, many of them, anyway, cannot see a world beyond that of Global Corporate Order, which is why they'll continually serve one of the GCO's control mechanisms, the Democrats. The corporate mules know of and count on this acquiescence every election season. And you wonder why Hillary smiles so much.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sketches Of Pain

Still deep in the manuscript, with no end in immediate sight. I'll post a few times in the coming week, just because I need a break from dealing with Democratic crimes and deceit. I'm trying to make this an entertaining read, but given the source material, it's not gonna be easy. The savage mules are kicking my ass.

Quick presidential Dem tidbit: Do you know why Jimmy Carter refused to offer Vietnam reparations for our murderous destruction of their country? Because "the destruction was mutual."

When you consider what the Vietnamese did to our cities and towns, you have to applaud Carter for standing up for America. And to think some people consider him a bad president!

Also, if you have HBO, please watch tonight's episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." It's directed by my friend Tom Kramer. Funny guy. Funny show.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mulch Clogs The Minuet

Following American sports is usually a depressing pastime. I've written before about the dim-witted trogs who populate sports radio, from the hosts right down to the angriest caller, most often a middle-aged white guy who's tired of being oppressed by Political Correctness, who shows excessive scorn for rich black athletes who don't behave as he would like, who's always ready to question the sexuality of those who aren't as masculine (over the phone) as he.

A cardboard cut-out? If you think so, then you must not listen to much sports radio. I do. Why? I don't know. Something connected to my youth, I suppose, when sports excited and inspired me. I still enjoy a lot of games played inside the lines. It's the horseshit that swirls around the games and personalities that drive me mad.

It's been all downhill since Roberto Clemente died.

Recently, in a vain attempt to find some angle from which to enjoy the World Series, I openly backed the Colorado Rockies, as it appeared they would play the Cleveland Indians. There was no way I could root for the Red Sambos, however much I respect that team's talent; plus, the Rox were playing great baseball, sweeping their first two playoff series. This inspired some concerned readers to inform me of the Rox's locker room messianic revivals, their rightist mindset, the fact that they play on Coors Field. How could I support a team like that? I replied that I was already aware of Colorado's Bible-thumpin', snake handlin' ways, but in order to watch the Fall Classic, I must have a team to pull for, or at least a team to despise. Cleveland made that choice simple.

Well, the Sambos tanked Mets-style, and Rox got the Red Sox instead. Now who do I root for? No one. Forget it. I'm done with baseball until the next All Star break. I mean, who can choose between two collections of right wing holy rollers? Mix in pro-war/anti-dissent assholes like Curt Schilling (who once hinted on Jim Rome's show that antiwar protesters should be beaten -- and no, it wasn't a gag), and it quickly becomes the Who Cares? series. After Boston's utter demolition of the Rox last night (Josh Beckett paints corners with a razor), it may be a short Fuck It series as well.

The NBA season starts in a week. The NFL is in full swing. 'Tis heaven to be alive.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

All The Children Are Insane

Fire continues to spread across Southern California, prompting residents and concerned onlookers to plead with President Bush for some kind of help.

But the president remained firm.

"We cannot stop these fires and just go home," Bush told a gathering of confused reporters. "These fires must stay the course until their job is finished. Do I mourn the extensive property damage, the personal misery, the half million residents forced to flee their homes? Of course I do. I pray for them every 10 minutes. But God has a bigger plan, and this administration will not stand in the Lord's way."

President Bush then looked upward and began speaking in tongues. The Secret Service ushered him from the room as the reporters stared at each other in stunned silence.

Turkey shelled Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq yesterday, according to a Turkish government official. This came in retaliation for a rebel ambush on Sunday, which killed 12 Turkish soldiers and led to the capture of eight others. Secretary of State Rice deplored Turkey's action, saying that it violates U.S. sovereignty in the region. "If the government of Turkey wants to bomb someone," Rice said, "do a sister a favor and hit Iran already. Wait -- did I say that or think that? Umm, excuse me, I have a very important meeting I forgot about until just now. Yes, very important, high profile . . ."

The U.S. government's terrorist watch list has swelled to more than 755,000 names, according to the Government Accountability Office. While critics say that the massive number of names is suspect and could undermine legitimate anti-terror operations, some think the list isn't long enough. Republican presidential hopeful Rudolph Giuliani boasted that he could name at least a million terrorist suspects "off the top of my head," then proceeded to do just that for his staff and reporters covering his campaign. "Let's see, there's Abu Assan, a mechanic in Queens, then this guy Foogie from White Plains, who looked at me funny a few years ago, and then there's, oh, what's his name, Khalid, Kassar, I can't quite remember, but he's really sick and wears a soiled turban, so he's on the list . . ." Giuliani continued for nine hours, occasionally phoning his wife for more names.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could total $2.4 trillion over the next decade, some $8,000 per man, woman, and child in the country. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat from Illinois, said that the "number is so big, it boggles the mind. But, what the hell, we'll authorize it anyway." Emanuel added that in order to make sure that American children contribute their fair share, some child labor laws may be relaxed until "the war is won, or the kid turns 18, in which case he or she can enlist in the military, or whatever."

In a surprise move that has the magazine world reeling, John Podhoretz will become the new editor of Commentary, the right-wing Israeli publication based in New York. Podhoretz's father, Norman, ran Commentary for 35 years, retiring from his post in 1995, so the selection of the younger Podhoretz came as a complete surprise. "It's almost as stunning as when Christie Hefner took over Playboy," confessed a family friend who vigorously insisted on anonymity. "John's the Ivanka Trump of neoconservatism," said another friend, hiding her face with a big brown shopping bag. "I know he's looking forward to engaging Commentary's 23 loyal readers."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Tank Boy

Deep in the writing tank for the next few days, so nothing from me till maybe Wednesday or Thursday. Depends on mood, exhaustion, or breaking news. Besides, there are plenty of people screaming online. One less shout will not lower the din all that much. You know where to go should you need righteous noise. For me, the noise is in my aching head.

Here's a funny spoof of the early 80s "SNL" and "Fridays" from a later version of "SCTV." Better than "Fridays'" spoof of "SCTV," but on the same level as "SNL's" spoof of "SNL," with touches of "Mad TV's" spoof of "In Living Color," and elements of "The Kids In The Hall's" spoof of "The State." "Mr. Show's" spoof of "Exit 57" can be seen here and there.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Moment, Please

Among the many beautiful features that make America the classy, sassy lady she is, the unflinching ability to recognize wrong is near the top of the list -- just so long as the wrongness is seen in others.

The recent resolution backed by Democratic honchos condemning Turkey's mass murder of Armenians is quickly losing appeal in the House, but you have to marvel at the Dem effort, led by that fine humanitarian, Nancy Pelosi. Who says that Madam Speaker is afraid to tackle the tough issues? Oh, sure, there's that Iraq thing, and a criminal administration, and a possible attack on Iran, and a host of other problems. But by God, Speaker Pelosi knows where she stands when it comes to century-old mass graves on the other side of the world -- at least when she thinks there are enough votes to make this stand stick. But if the votes aren't there, well, one can push only so much morality in a day. I mean, they crucified Christ and shot JFK, right? So there are limits.

What I find particularly soothing is how elite Americans see genocide everywhere except in their own mirrors. Considering the countless millions of people the U.S. and its friends have slaughtered since the beginning of our noble existence, you'd think that we might critically review our own acts of mass murder before pointing fingers at other nations. But that's what's great about America: we don't! Yes, we may have made some "mistakes" and "errors" in our previous judgment; and sure, this probably resulted in unspeakable carnage and misery. But we did all this for "honorable" reasons. Not like those filthy Turks or those slimy Japanese. When was the last time they apologized for anything?

When it comes to Turkey, the Dems don't need to travel too far back to find war crimes to denounce. In the early 90s, the Turkish state engaged in a savage land and air campaign against the Kurds, killing tens of thousands, destroying over 3,000 villages, creating some two million refugees. But don't hold your breath waiting for that resolution. President Bill Clinton, whose wife, I understand, is running for a major office, backed that campaign with generous military aid. And why not? It was the "honorable" thing to do.

Nobel Laureate, Academy Award winner, and two-time national spelling bee champ Al Gore insists, once again, that he will not run for president in '08. Think that'll stop dizzy liberals from fantasizing about Gore running anyway? No chance. They could take the man at his word, consider the financial mountain he'd have to surmount in record time, plus recognize the plain fact that Gore is in a great professional place. Why the fuck would he want to inherit Bush's many catastrophes? The media gloss Gore presently enjoys would disappear overnight, and then liberals would have to defend their hero's inevitable crimes, which would doubtless include bombing poor people in smaller countries. Not that liberals couldn't or wouldn't defend killing those who don't speak American, but after eight years of crying about the "unique" awfulness of the Republicans, there may be a catch in their throats when President Gore is doing the honors. Nothing they couldn't get past, of course.

Condoleezza Rice, while in Bethlehem, said the following, apparently without irony:

"Being here at the birthplace of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has been a very special and moving experience. It is also, I think, a personal reminder that the prince of peace is still with us."

Or as Rush Limbaugh might call the Holy Land peacenik, that "phony Savior." Blessed are the peacemakers? Tell it to Osama, Jesus!

Not to brag or anything, but I did pick the Colorado Rockies to go all the way at the beginning of baseball's playoffs. (If you don't believe me, just ask my friend Barry Crimmins, who's still trying to figure out what happened to his beloved Yankees.) The Rockies have been playing so loose and with such confidence, it seemed as if no one could stop them. And no one has as yet: 7-0 in the post-season, and waiting for the American League champ to emerge. Unless the Red Sox pull another major comeback, it looks as though the Rockies will play the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.

Good. I'd root for the Rockies either way, but going against the Indians with their racist, Red Sambo image will add a little emotion to my cheering. Cleveland's symbol is a disgrace. That it's embraced by the Tribe faithful is even worse. Would you Indian fans proudly display a similar caricature if it represented a black man or a Jew? I hope not. But then, Cleveland's so hungry for a title, they'd slap Stepin Fetchit on their caps if it would help.

Go Rockies. Make it 11-0.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Here's The Deal

From now until the end of November, this space may get a bit erratic, posting-wise. There may be days without original musings or tortured screeds. There'll definitely be visual padding up the fazool -- cultural, comedic, even political tidbits for your approval and amusement. In short, this space will not go dark while I finish my manuscript.

It should go dark. It might in the later stages of sleepless rewrites and feverish editing. I won't know until I get there. But truth be told, I like this access, even though it drives me insane most weeks. I'm amazed and humbled by the increasingly large readership I've drawn. Simply put, I don't want to fuck with those numbers, nor do I want to lose the many passionate, intelligent correspondents and online friends who enjoy what I do and regularly interact with me. But overall, I want a place to vent, to blow off some creative steam after a day's or late night's writing. So, for now, we'll keep this toy train chug-chug-chugging.

As always, my blogroll provides for all of your political, cultural and polemical needs. You know the regulars, but now I'd like to introduce some newer additions, a couple of whom have already made their b'roll debuts, Toby Hayse and Rob Payne. If you haven't checked them out, please do. Toby's a bit more playful than Rob, a musician who's developing into a fine essayist, but both are worth reading. Also, old friend Ian Garrick Mason has started a blog of his own, Archipelagoes, for your high-end cultural needs.

Today's additions include Blue Girl In A Red State, whom I met at the newcritics party in New York last summer. Blue Girl's been very nice to me at her place, so I wish to return the gesture and add her here. Then there's Who Is IOZ?, a sharp, very funny writer who needles everyone, including many leading libloggers, which spares me the task. Finally, James Wolcott, who writes for some obscure magazine, I forget the name, but Jim is an up-and-coming essayist and author, and I think we're gonna hear a lot from this kid in the future.

Today's visual filler comes from the strange, dark period of "SNL," circa 1980-81. This was when Jean Doumanian took over the show from Lorne Michaels, and in 12 head-scratching installments, nearly put the franchise out of business. That took some doing, considering the impact "SNL" had then made. Some young soul has that entire season on tape, and is posting a bunch of Doumanian-era sketches at YouTube. I don't know how long they'll stay up, given NBC's touchiness about copyright issues, but these may fly under the Peacock's radar. Then again, this season of "SNL" is usually air-brushed from most retrospectives, so these bits may silently disappear after all.

"Jean Doumanian? Never heard of her. The show went straight from Gilda Radner and Bill Murray to Martin Short and Billy Crystal. Everyone knows that."

Here are two sketches (bootleg quality) from the Malcolm McDowell show, November 22, 1980.

The first, "Leather Weather," features Denny Dillon and Charles Rocket, and it represents the level of humor that year. It's not a bad premise, and I like the image of Rocket chained to a map. But Dillon's Mae West impression is all wrong -- she needed to be really nasty and abusive, and the punishment she metes out is comically tame. If you're gonna do dominatrix humor, get into it. Make it hurt. I once dated a professional dominatrix, so believe me when I tell you, Dillon's portrayal is pure vanilla.

Next is considered perhaps the worst sketch in "SNL's" history. That might be up for debate, but I remember "Jack the Stripper" being really bad when it originally aired, and watching it again for the first time in 27 years hasn't changed my perception. This is one truly mind-boggling sketch, worthy of Leonard Pinth-Garnell. Gilbert Gottfried's old English woman is a very cheap imitation of Monty Python's Pepperpots. And Joe Piscopo's . . . um, whatever it is, didn't help save the bit. Malcolm McDowell makes a valiant effort to pull this thing out of the mud, but he was overwhelmed and outnumbered. See if you can make it all the way through.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ride My See-Saw

Still in the deep recesses of this quick-turn-around tome, with even deeper levels just ahead. I'd forgotten just how heavy a book-in-progress feels, though this is nothing compared to "Mr. Mike." That was competitive weightlifting in the middle of a demolition derby while the crowd threw bottles and D-batteries at my head. I came very close to writing Phil Hartman's bio, and had feelers for one about Chris Farley, but neither happened and I'm happy for that. Imagine the fun writing about those two performers' final hours!

I woke very early this morning from my typical weirdo dreams that would make David Chase blush with timidity, and scanned several lefty and righty blogs and sites that I normally never visit. I won't identify the people and places involved, simply because I lack the energy to do a lot of linking, but man, what a depressing gamut of opinions and intelligence that's out there. Some of these people are certifiable, a few of whom you've probably read or are familiar with. Not me, not with any regularity, that is. And the comments! So much barely-repressed anger, so many full-blown fantasies of violence and revenge for whatever slight, ideological failing, or thought crime -- I confess I was sucked in by it all. It fascinates and sickens me, and serves as a reminder of just how fucking crazy people can be, especially when their politics are based on stereotypes, not only of themselves but of The Enemy. Simulacrum Nuremberg rallies for the enraged disconnected. I like to humor myself by believing that many of these anonymous lunatics are intentional parodies, that no one can be that psychotic.

Hoo ha. Joke's on me.

So, what have we learned from this post? That sleep-deprived web surfing in the early hours is not a healthy pastime? That we in America are so depoliticized and powerless that we have to invent our own political realities and identities online? Beats me. It's noon as I type this, and already I'm thinking of having a stiff drink and blasting The Moody Blues from my speakers -- their early faster stuff, I mean.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Whirligig Your Meaning

As much as I'd love to sit here and gab with all you fine people, I do have a book deadline pressing on my brain, and for the next few days (days? he's hallucinating again) I must write about the sorry state of the Dems and their confused but loyal followers. Yes indeed, I sense this effort will be a big, big seller in liblog land. I feel it here, and late at night here. Of course, that could also be age, so you never really know.

Thanks to all for the warm birthday greetings, but I must draw the line at actual presents, so Sarah G. in Tampa, please don't send me a boa constrictor. My life's crazy enough as it is, plus, the cats might object.

And to Jon Schwarz, Mr. Mini-Intifada or whatever that thing's called: CHARGE YOUR FUCKING PHONE. Having a conversation with Jon goes something like this --

JON: Hello, this is Jon.

ME: Hey man. What's up?

JON: Hi! Well, I was just rolling some almond paste and BZZZZZZZZZZTTTTHHHAAWWWRRRRZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

(End of conversation.)

Have you noticed some of the rumblings over the 40th anniversary of Che Guevara's death? I'm not the world's biggest expert on all matters Che, but was he really the sadistic monster that many online have painted? His ending was certainly anti-climatic -- emaciated, starving, outnumbered and outgunned, shot in the head and placed on display. Not exactly a balls-to-the-wall epic exit. And while I concede that anyone is capable of anything, especially where violence is concerned, I wonder why there's such animated insistence that Che was one of the world's most vicious beasts. Is it the t-shirts? The coffee mugs? The embroidered berets? I'm all for consumer awareness, but some of the hysterical rants about Che's murderous legacy are decidedly over-the-top and politically selective.

I mean, how does Che's body count stack up against, say, Ríos Montt's in Guatemala? Or Roberto D'Aubuisson's in El Salvador? Was Che as brutal as Colombian death squads, or more so? How about the contras in Nicaragua? Did Che come anywhere near the charnel house efforts of Lyndon Johnson? Richard Nixon? Ronald Reagan? George W. Bush? Hell, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton killed more innocents than Che could even dream about in the jungle.

When it comes to venerating icons, my take is the same across the board:

See you in a day or two.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Birthday Boys

John Lennon would be 67 today, and while I'm two decades shy of that number (and still breathing), I share the same birthday with the lead singer of the Plastic Ono Band. When I was younger, and being a huge fan of Lennon's, this natal connection meant a lot to me. Over time, having read or seen various accounts of his life, most tellingly from his first wife Cynthia and oldest son Julian, my enthusiasm waned, for who wanted to identify with such a lousy husband and distant father, a rich narcissist lost in his own sheltered world?

Recently, friends highly recommended that I watch "The U.S. vs. John Lennon," the documentary about the U.S. government's surveillance of Lennon and attempts to have him deported. I didn't think much about the film until the wife gave me the DVD as an early birthday present, and I can see why my friends embraced it -- "The U.S. vs. John Lennon" is not only a sharp historical look at the American state's paranoia over and hatred of dissent during the Vietnam era, it reminds us that these state features have never gone away. In fact, as you may have noticed, the state has only been strengthened since that time. "Imagine" that.

I knew about the harassment of Lennon before watching this film, but I didn't realize how deep this campaign ran. When Lennon used his celebrity and popularity to help spring from jail the radical John Sinclair, the powers-that-be became very concerned about what Lennon would do next. Unlike Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Angela Davis, or even the Weather Underground, Lennon's appeal crossed over to apolitical types; and if he could wake them up, or worse, radicalize them, that would be a bad thing for those higher-ups already shaken by the growing opposition to the Vietnam war. So J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, in concert with the Nixon White House, began spying on Lennon and Yoko Ono, assembling a fat file on their every movement and personal associations. They weren't about to let some long-haired dope-smoking limey fag and his Jap wife fuck with their domestic power. This is confirmed in the film by G. Gordon Liddy, who takes pride in that operation which Nixon not only knew about, but obsessed over.

Watching the many clips of Lennon speaking against the war and in favor of the New Left, most interestingly on the old "Mike Douglas Show," which aired every weekday afternoon to a large audience, you can see why Hoover, Nixon, Liddy and their cronies and toadies loathed and feared the ex-Beatle. Lennon was articulate and witty, at times a touch self-righteous, but never so much that he lost sight of the main point. It's amazing, looking back, how many people he reached with his political views. Think about how Lennon would be treated in today's slime-coated media environment. His opposition to war might inspire a fresh orgy of outraged patriots burning and smashing Beatle CDs. His and Ono's theatrical stunts would be mocked from Fox News on down through the rightwing blogosphere (some liberal sites as well). And is there any question that the Bush White House would have him under surveillance?

"Senator Clinton, will you join all God-fearing Americans in denouncing the treason of John Lennon?"

"Well, as a God-fearing Christian myself, I don't endorse everything Mr. Lennon says about this glorious country. I only hope that the American people can find a way to 'Come Together'."

Not a pretty scenario.

There are many criticisms one can make of John Lennon, but you have to hand it to the guy: he could've sat back, counted his money, recorded pop hit after pop hit and kept his mouth shut, like his former bandmate, Paul McCartney. But not only did he speak out, he said things that made liberals nervous or angry, as in his infamous encounter with the journalist Gloria Emerson. Not bad for a working-class kid abandoned by his parents at an early age and raised by his aunt. It's no wonder Lennon had the anger that he did, and his autodidactic understanding of the world ruffled many refined feathers, like Emerson's. That's definitely something I can identify with.

If you haven't seen "The U.S. vs. John Lennon," rent it, buy it, watch it. Not only is G. Gordon Liddy featured, but also Gore Vidal, John Dean, Walter Cronkite, Bobby Seale, Paul Krassner, Tariq Ali, Angela Davis, George McGovern, Ron Kovic, Geraldo Rivera, Yoko Ono of course, and most surprisingly to me, Noam Chomsky. I didn't know Noam was a Beatles fan, or maybe he was more into Elephant's Memory. You can never tell with Noam. Here's one of my favorite Lennon songs -- lip-synched, unfortunately, but I do like Yoko's little performance piece.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Tears Of A Clown

Several readers forwarded the new Vanity Fair piece by Hitchens and asked if I had read it. If so, what did I think? As I've said many times, I rarely read anything by Hitchens anymore. If I wanted to wallow in sewage, there are plenty of direct alternatives. But this is about his feelings for a dead soldier, I was told. Maybe Hitchens has turned a corner with this piece.

Well, maybe. Anything's possible. So I went to see for myself. Wish I hadn't. It's not the worst thing Hitchens has written, but it's pretty damn close. And given his Greatest Hits of the past six years, that's really saying something.

Hitchens celebrates the brief but heroic legacy of Lieutenant Mark Daily, who was killed last January in Iraq. Now, normally for Hitchens, this would be no big deal. After all, the imperial meatgrinder that he has helped oil and keep humming is a proper place for the likes of the late Lt. Daily. How else are they going to get the brutal training necessary to fight the many wars that Hitchens foresees, wars that Hitchens will doubtless cheerlead with the same blustering gusto? Part of the deal. So stop sobbing and keep firing at anything that moves.

But in Lt. Daily's case, there was a personal connection. Seems that the young Army officer was swayed to enlist in part by the pro-war screeds of Sir Christopher Hitchens himself.

"I don't exaggerate by much when I say that I froze," says Hitch. "I certainly felt a very deep pang of cold dismay. I had just returned from a visit to Iraq with my own son (who is 23, as was young Mr. Daily) and had found myself in a deeply pessimistic frame of mind about the war. Was it possible that I had helped persuade someone I had never met to place himself in the path of an I.E.D.?"

More than just possible. After consulting the words of William Butler Yeats, a secular saint to whom Hitch assures us he cannot creatively equal (another mystery solved), the old boy went to Daily's My Space page. "And there, at the top of the page, was a link to a passage from one of my articles, in which I poured scorn on those who were neutral about the battle for Iraq … I don't remember ever feeling, in every allowable sense of the word, quite so hollow." Hitchens finally contacted Daily's family, who told him how much the young man admired Hitch's work, and had tried to contact him from either Kuwait or Iraq.

"I don't intend to make a parade of my own feelings here," Hitchens tells us early on, then makes a parade of his feelings, a self-pitying procession played with dented instruments. To be expected. Hitchens has affected numerous postures since 9/11, all of which have been financially and professionally lucrative for him. So the "Gee, did I do that?" pose is really no surprise. And judging from the many favorable, tear-stained responses online, the old dear has hit another one out of the park. The misty-eyed pro-war reactionary has feelings. He's even deeper than any of us first imagined.

Naturally, Hitchens wouldn't have written this piece a year or two ago. He would've pissed on anyone who showed the slightest wavering from the glorious crusade. But Christopher understands life in ways that few of us can seriously appreciate, so when it's his turn to weep about human loss, we are all supposed to stop and weep with him. When he describes Lt. Daily's family:

"I had already guessed that this was no gung-ho Orange County Republican clan. It was pretty clear that they could have done without the war, and would have been happier if their son had not gone anywhere near Iraq."

I thought, hey, that sounds familiar. Now where did I hear about a mother whose son was killed in a war that she opposed? Shavan . . . Sheedan . . . oh yeah, Sheehan. Cindy Sheehan. She, too, "could have done without the war, and would have been happier if [her] son had not gone anywhere near Iraq," yet I don't recall Hitchens extending his understanding to that grieving mother. Quite the opposite: Sheehan was "a vulgar producer of her own spectacle," and an "embarrassment to her family"; a "shifty fantasist" spouting "wacko opinions" who should "end her protest."

And so on.

What's different now? I suppose that because the Daily family didn't make the same antiwar noise as Sheehan lends them more dignity. Or that Hitchens, being the moral arbiter of such matters, gets to choose who is wise and who is a fool. Whatever his reasoning, one wonders what his response to the Dailys would have been had their antiwar feelings taken them to the streets and in front of Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas. Well, "wonders" is a dodge. We know exactly what he would have written.

All corpse-choked water under the bullet-pocked bridge. Today, Hitchens confesses:

"As one who used to advocate strongly for the liberation of Iraq (perhaps more strongly than I knew [!!]), I have grown coarsened and sickened by the degeneration of the struggle: by the sordid news of corruption and brutality (Mark Daily told his father how dismayed he was by the failure of leadership at Abu Ghraib) and by the paltry politicians in Washington and Baghdad who squabble for precedence while lifeblood is spent and spilled by young people whose boots they are not fit to clean. It upsets and angers me more than I can safely say . . ."

Does this mean the old war horse has shaken off his blinders? Perhaps. A little late in the day, but possible. Yet, as you've probably discerned by now, I have serious doubts about any true conversion on Hitchens' part; it will take more than this one piece to convince me. But that's my personal view, based on what I know of the man. Your perception may vary. It's a complex world, after all.

Still, I find Hitchens' piggy-backing on a dead American soldier a rather cheap and easy way to express his penance, such as it is. There's the predictable Orwell/Barcelona reference, which suggests that Hitchens still thinks that the invasion of Iraq was undertaken for "noble" purposes, but was "hijacked by goons and thugs, and where betrayal and squalor negated the courage and sacrifice of those who fought on principle."

In other words, the real patriots have been stabbed in the back once again.

One can excuse, indeed mourn, an idealistic 23-year-old who believed that the "United States was a force for good in the world, and that it had a duty to the freedom of others," even though this romantic mindset got him killed in the service of geopolitical and corporate piracy. The young are routinely lied to by the old when the cannons begin firing.

But there's no excuse for the nearly 60-year-old Christopher Hitchens, who shamelessly lied to the likes of Mark Daily, and who remains aware enough to know that some of Daily's blood is on his hands. Time will tell whether this piece is a first step toward a deeper recognition, or a cynical final chapter before the next war erupts.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Fridays Sound With Rasta

In order to solidify my role as Aging Culture Nag, here are some musical performances from "Fridays," each set introduced by the great, under-appreciated comedy pro Jack Burns, then associate producer and head writer on the show.

The first, from October 17, 1980, features Split Enz, a New Zealand pop band that was lumped with other pop bands that were supposedly "new wave" -- like Squeeze, for instance, who played this type of music better than the Enz. Still, this is a catchy tune, and I dig the 50s rockabilly suits.

Next, Pat Benatar, from December 5, 1980. I've never been crazy for Benatar's sound, but she reminds me of an old girlfriend in New York, so that must count for something. Here her band righteously rips through their two numbers, and I love watching musicians play like they seriously mean it. Maybe you do, too.

Finally, Devo, from November 7, 1980. "Fridays" was a natural for the spud boys, given their theater of the absurd, and they appeared on the show several times. Here they perform "Whip It," which was then their newest release. But their second song, "Uncontrollable Urge," one of my fave Devo cuts ever, really kicks ass.

And what "Fridays" posting would be complete without a drug sketch? Darrow Igus' Rasta chef, Nat E. Dred, was an instant audience favorite, for obvious reasons. It certainly was the only real recurring character Igus had on the show, which owed a lot, I'm sure, to the fact that Igus was the lone African-American in the cast and among the writers. But Igus also struggled in sketches, at times walking on other actors' lines when not fumbling his delivery. This didn't happen a lot, but looking back on the show, it happened more than it probably should have. Maybe he was nervous (live TV), maybe he hated the material -- who knows. But Igus was smooth as Nat E. Dred, and the audience loved him.

(There's a minor pause at the start, but then it kicks in. Bootlegs -- what are you gonna do?)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

In My Day . . .

Back in the 70s, when American culture was not as crowded and well-lit as today but a lot more interesting, older comics appeared on Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore, Carson, and occasionally Tom Snyder, to moan about the sorry state of contemporary humor. Shecky Greene, Morey Amsterdam, Marty Allen, Buddy Hackett, Totie Fields, at times fixtures like Mickey Rooney, shook their graying heads when discussing the tasteless, profane bits that younger comics found funny. How could the kids laugh at morbid topics like cancer? In their day, mothers-in-law, stupid cousins, and drunks were proper targets. No one with any class did routines about Dresden or Auschwitz. What a sick society had America become. Oh, and Merv, I'll be appearing all next week at the Sands.

One of the main sources of ire was "Saturday Night Live," particularly the first two seasons, when Michael O'Donoghue's dark influence was at its peak. Bob Schiller, visiting his son Tom Schiller, an "SNL" writer and filmmaker, blanched when watching O'Donoghue's classic "Claudine Longet Invitational" being rehearsed. The elder Schiller, who was a staff writer on "I Love Lucy," couldn't believe that Lorne Michaels would allow such filth on the air (for which "SNL" had to apologize the following week in order to avoid a lawsuit -- sigh, those were the days). He later sent a letter to Tom suggesting that O'Donoghue shoot himself, get his laugh, and move on to better material. Writing gags for Fred and Ethel hadn't prepared Schiller for the National Lampoonish era.

Well, time does its thing, calendar pages fall, hour hands spin, metabolism slows, joints ache, backs give out, and now comedy whores like me are the gray-headed scolds, looking askance at today's younger comics. If you were to listen in on me and my old writing partner Jim Buck, or former-"SNL" writer and O'Donoghue partner Nelson Lyon, or satirical mainstay Barry Crimmins, talk about contemporary humor, you'd hear the echoes of Shecky Greene, though from the opposite direction. To us, most of today's comics are too soft, too cute, too tame, too commercial. But we do share with the grayheads of yesteryear contempt for the same outlet: "SNL."

Now, it's no longer news that "SNL" has the satirical edge of a napkin, but to kids like my teen daughter, this is the comedy of their time, even though it comes via a thirty-something-year-old show run by a guy in his 60s. Still, young people watch the thing, as do I on occasion, my fading eyesight made fuzzier by the bad writing and over-acting that is on regular display there. Some of the cast have real talent, and I liked Fred Armisen's short bits on HBO before he got "SNL." But the comedy itself is pretty limp, when not predictable. And the political material is just plain bad, as the writers (including "SNL" old timer Jim Downey, I'm sorry to say) wring every last drop of cliché they can out of well-worn premises. Seth Meyers' jokes about Muslims are as complex and subtle as a Bill O'Reilly meltdown, helped along by the fact that Meyers is the show's head writer. He makes Tina Fey look like Lily Tomlin in her prime.

Of the current batch of SNLers, Andy Samberg appears to be the next break-out star. His digital shorts, co-written with Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, have become the show's regular highlight, receiving endless play on YouTube, and in the case of "Dick In A Box," receiving an Emmy as well. These shorts are an extension of what Samberg, Schaffer, and Taccone produced at The Lonely Island, the comedy website where they were discovered. The trio's humor is silly, absurd, and owes a lot to trashy pop culture of the last 30 years. But no one would confuse Samberg for Mort Sahl, or even Jay Leno ("Didya see in the paper today . . ."). Politics and current events are normally not his thing, but this changed somewhat last week, when "SNL" returned for yet another year (I believe NBC has the show locked in through the 2067-68 season, when Lorne's disembodied holo-brain will still call the shots). I'm sure many of you have already seen this, but if not, here's Samberg's gay love song to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

It's a cute bit, not one of Samberg's best, though Fred Armisen's Ahmadinejad is amusing. But really, what's the point of this? That Ahmadinejad hates queers, or simply denies their existence in Iran, and so a gay come-on by Samberg (who's Jewish for added punch) will take the wind out of his twisted sails? Since the intended audience for this short is American, I don't see the satirical hook here. Ahmadinejad's been pilloried, demonized, denounced, and mocked across the American spectrum, in some cases for very good reasons, in others for propagandistic purposes, but anyone paying attention to the political culture has been thoroughly exposed to anti-Ahmadinejad rants of various tones. Samberg's song has the satirical force of a fart joke. But then, maybe Samberg wasn't attempting satire. Hard to tell based on the evidence.

If Samberg truly wanted to skewer Ahmadinejad, I would've advised him to get meaner on the gay front and do something about the oppression and murder of Iranian queers. Maybe have Samberg as a young Iranian gay man with a noose around his neck, about to be hanged, when he launches into the same song, briefly melting the hearts of his executioners, Ahmadinejad among them. Soft, pastoral, fantasy images of Samberg and Ahmadinejad holding hands, laughing, kissing, nuzzling, playing lover's games, cut suddenly short by Samberg being hanged in real time, the camera zooming in on his dead face, a faint smile still evident as Samberg's voice-over whispers "I love you," then immediate black.

I bet Lorne would embrace that!

Or maybe something about the media/political freak out over Ahmadinejad's New York visit. There were plenty of ripe targets that week.

But, I'm an aging man who thinks Terry Southern is still funny.

"Terry who?"


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A Reagan Democrat

While researching my Dem book, I came across this little political nugget: Ronald Reagan delivering a 1948 radio speech in support of Harry Truman and Hubert Humphrey. Reagan also blasts the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act, and goes after Wall Street profiteers. Clearly, this was before that anvil fell on Reagan's head.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Cruising The Caliphate

Many of you have gently chided me in the past for being too hard on Glenn Greenwald, whose readership vastly outnumbers mine, and who is professionally employed by the corporate media. So I seriously doubt that I'm doing more than just bouncing BBs off Greenwald's site. But today I put down my tiny air rifle and side with Glenn, as he's known to busy libloggers everywhere, for he's under whacked-out reactionary assault, and tactical differences are petty in the face of such rabid fear and ugliness.

It seems that Glenn upset a certain Dan Collins, a contributor to Protein Wisdom, which is part of the well-adjusted Pajamas Media family, with the reasonable, scarcely-shocking observation that the Muslim hordes will not turn the U.S. into a Caliphate, and that right-wingers generally over-inflate this supposed threat for obvious political reasons. Of course, being the all-American hetero-warrior he doubtless is, Collins responded with "Hey, Faggot," then crossed out "Faggot" (though you can still read it) and wrote "Stupid" instead.

Ha! Ha! Ha! Get it? I'll give you a moment to finish your laughing jag before I continue.

In the comments area, Collins later "explained" that his "joke" had nothing to do with Glenn being gay, but with Glenn being stupid. Which is why Collins used "Faggot" in the first place -- it was the set-up to the actual punch line. Now, had the punch line been "Faggot," perhaps Glenn would have a legitimate beef. As it stands, Glenn is just being a whiny stupid moron-face who's stupid and dumb and a moron.

And you thought Dennis Miller had the reactionary open mike to himself.

Collins' post inspired like-minded trogs to deluge Glenn with abusive e-mails of their own, one of which Glenn shares. It's the typical far-right fantasy of seeing liberals begging their Muslim masters for mercy before the butcher knife cuts into their throats -- a fantasy that many trogs appear to really get off on. Who do you imagine watches beheading videos online? Liberal faggots? Please. They couldn't handle such seriously hot action. But for swivel-chair commandos, it's all in a day's viewing, and don't be stingy with the banana oil, bro.

None of this should surprise anyone. America is filled with people like Dan Collins, some of whom may be in your own families. I recall a relative of mine arguing in favor of extensive war in the Middle East, saying that if we didn't bomb the Arabs into submission, they would come over here and "fuck us in the ass." That's a direct quote, by the way. I remember that line well because I had no real come back to it. I mean, what do you say to that: "To the contrary, they won't fuck us in the ass"? Not exactly Oxford debate material. Still, the rightwing fascination with homosexual rape and queer-tinged scenarios in general says more about their confused psyches than the actual politics of the real world. I've run into this time and time again. Hell, twenty years ago I heard similar violent and gay-oriented rhetoric from the ex-Dartmouth Review editors and writers I had gotten to know. Back then, it was the Sandinistas who wanted to fuck us in the ass. You'd think that the U.S. has the most tantalizing rear the planet has ever seen, given how many countries desire cramming their dark, uncircumcised pricks deep inside our cheeks. This is why we must kill them before they drop their pants and pull out the bad news. Call it the Tucker Carlson school of international diplomacy.

Ah well. When you live in a madhouse, the screams of the berserk are unavoidable. Just watch your backside, Glenn. Your rightist critics may seek to fuck you before you can fuck them. It's how a patriot truly acts.