Friday, May 30, 2008

The Droog Demographic

When I joined the Army all those years ago, the recruiting pitch pushed education. If you were a good soldier and put aside some of your monthly pay, Sam would match it and set you up for college upon discharge, assuming you weren't already studying on the government's dime.

Now, this was a few years after the final helicopter ride out of Saigon, so the military brain trust didn't highlight the glories of battle. Films like "The Deer Hunter" and "Coming Home" were popular, with "Apocalypse Now" adding its hallucinogenic vision of the recent war, so American youth, by and large, wasn't biting any gung ho bait. Join the Army and expand your mind, or at least increase your vocabulary rent-free, was the dominant lure. The military would always attract psychos, whatever the era, so there was no need to sweeten their hooks.

Our Drill Sergeants hated this approach, which they were duty-bound to mention now and then. Since most were Vietnam combat vets, still smarting over how the war ended, they were more interested in reclaiming U.S. imperial primacy, and instilling this mindset among we raw recruits. One particular DS ranted about paying the commies back for their "temporary" victory in Southeast Asia, predicting an invasion of Cuba, which would reinvigorate American martial spirit, green-lighting a slew of actions throughout Central America, then facing revolutions and radical challenges to the land-owners' rule.

"They say America is a paper tiger. Bullshit!" he'd yell as we crawled through mud under barbed wire. "In the next war, we're gonna finish what we should've been allowed to finish in 'Nam!"

"YES DRILL SERGEANT!" was our only authorized reply.

Given what arrived under Reagan (begun by Carter, who remains, as I put it in "Savage Mules," America's most underrated and unappreciated imperialist), that DS was somewhat visionary. If he's still around, or even in uniform, I'm sure he's pleased with the ongoing Army shift away from education to kicking Arab ass instead. And now I see that the military has made the inevitable link with the mixed martial arts scene, which they are eager to promote so to snare even more young lunkheads who thrive on the sadistic. Sort of like the police recruiting violent gang members in "A Clockwork Orange," only with far cooler weapons. (My pal Rob Payne explains.)

This makes perfect sense. Not only is MMA perhaps the fastest growing American sport, its popularity reaches deep into the demographic salivated over by military recruiters. I know. As I've sometimes reminisced, I was once part of this demographic, before it had a marketable identity.

There was a time in my life when fighting was everything. That's all I thought about. Had a heavy bag hanging in my basement, on which I whaled daily. Was part of a group of guys who felt the same, and we sparred constantly, wearing little or no protection. Sometimes these minor bouts would turn serious, and we'd have to be pulled off each other. Other times we'd hang in parking lots looking to pick fights with guys who strutted a little too confidently. We were young, stupid, arrogant, suppressing our confusion and fear with a flurry of kicks and punches.

We didn't have MMA back then, not in an official sense, anyway. I'm certain that we would've flocked to it, though. A few of us competed in karate tournaments, but these were rigid, tame affairs. You were only allowed to strike between the waist and the shoulders, and points were erased if you scored with multiple hits. The officials wanted single strikes, after which they yelled "Point!" and you had to step away from your opponent. First one to three points won.

We detested this arrangement, so we conducted our own mini-tournaments, usually in someone's garage or my basement. It was fight club before Fight Club (minus the conscious anti-consumerism), and like I said, we went all out. For us, the pain of getting hit was electrifying and addictive. It was an immediate connection to something real, uncomplicated, clear. As direct an experience as you can have short of killing something.

I understood why there were guys who lived to fight in alleys and bars. That's probably all they had, and have. In these increasingly savage times, it's obvious that this need endures. The military certainly isn't blind to this. Facing recruitment shortages and the need to maintain what morale exists, promoting human dog fighting seems a sure bet, in the short run, anyway. Who knows what it'll take to encourage droogie self-exploitation down the crumbling road . . .

Thursday, May 29, 2008

What The Mouthpiece Saw

Scott McClellan's tell-all tome burns through our narrow political spectrum, providing cheap entertainment as the Bush regime fades from view. I love rat-leaving-the-sinking-ship memoirs, insider trash about former masters and the wretched behavior they assumed was private and off the record. It's a hallowed American genre, and who better to dish than a former administration mouthpiece like McClellan? I've yet to read the entire book (I'm saving it for beach reading, along with "The Kelvin Adjunct," and "Bacon Grease Days") but the excerpts I've seen so far tantalize:

*Scooter Libby's late night frolics with hirsute teen girls, watching them smear hummus on each other's fuzzy faces while Libby masturbated into specimen cups, "to ensure future generations of greatness," as Libby often put it.

*Karl Rove's ghastly halitosis which, in McClellan's words, "inspired President Bush to reminisce about the Mexican prostitutes he frequented in his youth, speaking in a strained Spanish accent while dancing around Rove, snapping his fingers."

*Al Gore being bribed into conceding Florida in 2000, using secret funds channeled through the Saudi royal family and delivered personally to Gore by Merv Griffin.

*Ari Fleischer gargling with peroxide before each press briefing, having McClellan pinch his nipples for luck while clapping his hands and saying, "Groovemaster's comin' to get ya!"

*Dick Cheney's penchant for handing subordinates pornographic playing cards, then smirking, "That's me in the mask."

*Barbara Bush disrupting a cabinet meeting by letting loose her pet Gila Monsters, Candy and Spank, on the conference table, warning Colin Powell and Condi Rice that the lizards loved "dark meat" before serenading her "babies" with a strange lullaby about sun-baked rocks.

*President Bush's obsession with sodomizing Saddam Hussein. According to McClellan, "For weeks before the invasion, the president went into intimate detail about how he would, in his words, 'Fuck that sand merchant's shit pipe,' complete with humping gestures, graphic sex talk, and always ending with a very theatrical fake orgasm, his face twisted with pleasure, his tongue darting back and forth. Afterward, the president would mime zipping up his pants, then say to whoever was in the room, 'That's the plan, anyway.'"

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Professor Cheap Laff's Study Period

Wanna feel old real fast? Try discussing comedy with 12- and 13-year-olds.

Recently, I was invited to give a presentation at my son's middle school, a great hands-on, grassroots learning annex where jocks are nowhere in sight. Which is a good thing for most of the boys who go there, as they would be dog meat in a traditional setting, their arty-nerdy interests and appearances an inviting target for blockheaded dopes doomed to an adulthood of getting loaded at tailgaters, their guts expanding through cheap beer and cheese fries. The teachers are young, committed, and socially aware, and the kids have the same set of teachers for all three years, making the process more personal and in-depth. My son's never been happier in a school environment, and that alone is worth the early morning drive.

One of his teachers asked if I would be interested in a give-and-take session with two classes of kids, showing them various types of comedy, then discussing what it meant to them, if it meant anything at all. I was delighted and inspired to do so, and began thumbing through my numerous comedy DVDs for examples of satire, slapstick, absurdity, and anything that was just plain funny -- at least to me. I decided to keep the presentation loose, in case something went flat, or if the kids turned on me with sharpened rulers. Provided with a large set and DVD player, I arranged my clips and met with each class for an hour.

After introducing myself and giving my background, I asked the kids who they thought was funny. In both classes the overwhelming answers were Dave Chappelle and Carlos Mencia, with Dane Cook coming in third. They then asked if I had any clips featuring these three comics, which I didn't, and anyway, I wanted to show them bits that they had never seen before. You know, stretch them a bit. They appeared disappointed, but learning shouldn't always be fun, even if it's comedy. Especially if it's comedy.

To illustrate a recurring visual joke, I showed a clip from "Everybody Hates Chris," in which the young Chris Rock's dad threatens a local chain snatcher with a baseball bat in increasingly silly settings. The kids loved that, then requested that I show the entire episode. Given how the next example went, I probably should have.

Andy Kaufman bombed. Flat out bombed. I showed a different routine in each class, and they simply didn't get it. "Was that guy in showbiz?" one boy asked me. ""Cause he looked nervous like he shouldn't be up there." I explained that the "nervousness" was an act, part of Kaufman's character. Another boy added, "What's with the lip-syncing to the record? That's not funny. That's stupid." I tried to tell him that this was not traditional comedy, that Kaufman would take everyday things and twist them around, like a children's record. Blank stares. "He sucks." Time to move on.

Chappelle and Mencia kept coming up, so I asked the kids what was it about their comedy that they liked. Almost all who responded said the racial humor, and we talked about that for a while, discussing what constitutes "good" racial humor from simple racist comedy. We know that white comics can be racist, but what about African-American and Latino comics? Can they also be racist? The classes, which were racially mixed, essentially agreed that anyone can say offensive things, regardless of skin color, but that whites had to be more careful than anyone else in this area.

"Why's that?" I asked.

"History," replied a white boy, his classmates shaking their heads affirmatively.

What kind of communist indoctrination goes on in that school?!

This was easily the best part of the day. The kids were really attentive for the first time, and I remembered that I had Richard Pryor's "SNL" stint with me, which I hadn't planned to show, but it seemed the perfect segue.

"How many here have heard of Richard Pryor?"

Not a hand.

"No one?"


I explained who Pryor was, his style of humor, and how he influenced comics like Chappelle, Mencia, and Rock. This was breaking news to the kids. They naturally thought that their favorite comedians appeared out of nowhere, so I was keen to show them how The Master set the tone for subsequent generations. A couple of the teaching assistants looked nervous when I slipped the disc into the player, and I assured them that this was toned-down Pryor from 1975 broadcast TV. There would be no serious profanity (not that these kids don't already freely curse), and it would give the students a decent introduction to Pryor's power and range.

I screened two different monologues for each class, the first of which Pryor talked about his troubles with women and booze, and his out-of-control acid trip; the second one a dialogue between a wino and a junkie. The kids were fascinated and quiet. Pryor can still command one's attention, so electric his delivery. But they didn't laugh much, and afterward shrugged their shoulders when I asked what they thought. It was a bit frustrating, and within minutes the kids were restless once again.

One girl noticed I had "The Best of Will Ferrell," which I brought along for back up. A wise move, it turned out, as the girl asked if the disc had the "Cowbell" sketch. I said that it did, and the kids immediately demanded that I play it.

"But you've all seen it. Don't you want to watch a Ferrell sketch you're not so familiar with?"


I relented, letting the hour end with the kids howling to Ferrell's clanging. Not sure what they learned from that, but it is a funny bit, and sometimes you just have to laugh without thinking. Besides, these kids will face enough serious shit in life, sooner than later. If they gotta have more cowbell, give it to them.

Afterward, a few students thanked me for the clips, even the stuff they hated, like Kaufman and the "Puttin' On The Ritz" segment from "Young Frankenstein," which I thought would kill, but died. My son, who seemed pleased with his old man's presentation, couldn't understand why his classmates failed to laugh at that classic scene, but added, "It's probably best that you didn't show any 'Fridays.'"

Smart lad.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

BANG! Just Kidding

There's an old bit, conceived by Paul Krassner, later borrowed and blown up by Terry Southern in his rollicking story, "The Blood of a Wig," where on the Air Force One ride back to Washington from Dallas, newly-sworn in President Lyndon Johnson is hunched over JFK's open casket. Jackie Kennedy wanders in and notices that LBJ has his pants down and is fucking her dead husband's neck wound.

"'Great God,' she cries, 'how heinous! It must be a case of . . . of . . . NECK-ROPHILIA!'"

One can view this routine from several angles; I see it simply as an extension of LBJ's hatred and contempt for the Kennedys, that now he was the Top who'd do the fucking, extending this death ritual to Vietnam itself. But usually the main reaction is disgust, and that's fine, too.

I thought of LBJ's neck-rophilia recently after Hillary Clinton hinted that since Obama may receive the Bobby Kennedy Ambassador Hotel kitchen special, it might be wise for her to stick around and play Hubert Humphrey -- or maybe Richard Nixon, I wasn't quite sure which. Naturally, Hillary's comment drew opprobrium across the board, and she backed away, apologizing in the standard Beltway manner. But since American elections are largely apolitical affairs, the media squeezed every possible drop from the RFK gaffe, with Fox News doing its part, parsing Hillary's remark in a segment featuring intellectual heavyweights Eric Shawn and Liz Trotta, whose knee-slapping exchange I'm sure most of you have seen:

TROTTA: "And now we have what some are reading as a suggestion that somebody knock off Osama, uh Obama. Well, both, if we could." (LAUGHS)

SHAWN: "Talk about how you really feel."

Smoking the first serious black presidential candidate? Now that's comedy, especially when you look back not only to RFK, but to Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Fred Hampton. Killing black leaders is not only a funny premise, it's wholly American as well. Not that Obama has anything really in common with those three African-American martyrs, given that he has elite corporate support and vows to keep the imperial state in working order. To many whites, Obama remains an uppity Negro who has the tasteless nerve to possibly be elected president. Mix in his Ay-rab name, which sounds to white ears like Osama, therefore making them one-in-the-same, and you can see why some people find shooting Obama no big deal, or at least a tacky joke that one can excuse due to campaign fatigue, which Trotta did.

I haven't seen nor heard of Liz Trotta in a long time. I tangled with her once, on Larry Josephson's WNYC radio show in New York. This was during the first Gulf War, which Trotta supported and haughtily defended. Siding with the state meant that Trotta didn't need facts or historical perspective to make her bloody case, and she quickly became miffed with me as I took apart each of her points, correcting her history, and showing her for the ignorant blowhard she was and clearly remains. It got so bad that the liberal Josephson sided with Trotta a few times (including when she slandered Chomsky), I suppose to make her feel less isolated. Finally, Trotta, angry with my impertinence, demanded to know where I went to school and what I studied. Objective reality wasn't working for her, so she went after me personally, a textbook tactic. I told her that it didn't matter where I studied; either my arguments where true or false, and it was her job to prove me wrong solely on that basis. Besides, I was just a concerned citizen who took an active interest in national affairs. Trotta sniffed at that, as only Certified Experts should be allowed to publicly discuss the big issues.

Trotta's Kill Obama jape is an organic feature of our murderous empire. It's not only a nod to violent American history, it helps to condition the public to the idea that certain figures deserve to be assassinated. There's a tremendous amount of Obama hate already brewing out there, and once he's the official Dem nominee, the "national discourse" should become even more twisted -- all in good fun, of course.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Do The Distraction!

Over the past few days, my in-box has received several outraged statements from liberals appalled by Michael Savage's mocking of Ted Kennedy's cancerous condition. Seems the radio howler played "California Über Alles" by Dead Kennedys, a 1979 punk attack on Governor Jerry Brown's "Zen fascism" which, in Savage's swirling mind, apparently extends to Kennedy today, the band's name an added twist of the musical knife.

Feh. I've seen worse.

Savage celebrates himself as a "satirist" that liberals just don't get or appreciate. And the funny thing is, he's mostly right -- or in Savage's case, far-right. Anyone who takes this clown seriously deserves all the anguish and anger they put upon themselves. Savage is a dancing bear for reactionary, proto-fascist Americans, a rather large demographic that helps Savage clean up financially and prosper professionally. When liberals like the ones at Media Matters get upset with Savage, or O'Reilly, or Hannity, or Coulter, they become part of the right wing scenario, playing their scripted roles as over-sensitive nellies who shudder at every lunatic remark. This not only encourages and justifies the Michael Savages of the world, it further enhances the media distraction from systemic crime and theft, which is peachy cool for our owners. Let the rubes squabble over bad taste and sick jokes! Just keep them away from what's really going on.

A solid racket, that.

Still, if Media Matters must comment on Savage's musical bit, why not remind readers that Dead Kennedys updated "California Über Alles" when Ronald Reagan was elected, calling the new version "We've Got A Bigger Problem Now." Hippie baiting was replaced with an assault on the corporate-fascist right:

I am Emperor Ronald Reagan
Born again with fascist cravings
Still, you made me president

Human rights will soon go 'way
I am now your Shah today
Now I command all of you
Now you're going to pray in school
I'll make sure they're Christian too

California Über alles
Über alles California . . .

You'll go quietly to boot camp
They'll shoot you dead, make you a man
Don't you worry, it's for a cause
Feeding global corporations' claws

Die on our brand new poison gas
El Salvador or Afghanistan
Making money for President Reagan
And all the friends of President Reagan

Somehow, I doubt that Savage would approve of this version, much less play it while celebrating himself as a punk rocker. But you never know how a screwy dancing bear will ultimately slam and stage dive. Part of the overall routine.

By the way, the above cut comes from "In God We Trust, Inc." which features a cover shot of Jesus nailed to a crucifix of money, complemented on the backside by an illustration of two old white women, smiling and pointing to a Klan cross-burning where the Ayatollah Khomeini makes a cameo appearance. Again, this is no attack on California liberals, so it's unlikely that Savage would adopt it as his own. There is, however, a song on that album that does fit Savage: "Nazi Punks Fuck Off."

Brief, fast, to the point. Wholly appropriate. Doesn't anyone at Media Matters listen to classic punk?

And here are the DK's again, recording "We've Got A Bigger Problem Now." Let's see the dancing bear twist to this.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Death Is An Illusion

Observe American politics long enough, and not only will you get a series of brain-splintering migraines and endure several phases of depression and despair, you'll notice how little reality changes.

Now that Obama has the nomination all but locked up, and is drawing Springsteen-sized crowds where followers shriek and faint, liberal pundits and scribes are asking the age-old question: Is Conservatism Dead? One glance at John McCain and the answer seems obvious. But McCain's not really the problem -- not yet, anyway. At the moment, he's trying to wipe Bush's bloody shit from his face in an effort to appear "fresh," while reaching out to those skeptical reactionaries who believe that McCain's not quite crazy enough for them. We'll see how they feel come Fall.

The idea that the American rightwing is gasping for air is of course nothing new. We've been down this well-trodden road many times. Eyal Press in The Nation and George Packer in The New Yorker acknowledge this in their respective semi-obituaries; yet each flashes some hope that perhaps this time, reactionaries are finished for a generation, their ideas rejected by the masses worn down by Bush-era failures, the young embracing the Dems as the force of the future. It all sounds perfect, which is why many liberal bloggers are clicking their heels together in an effort to make it so. Why, we're in the middle of profound political change!, they type, confident that Obama will glide into the White House to usher in a New Progressive Era, assuming that the mean old Beltway media which hates Democrats doesn't destroy his coronation.

There are numerous adults, some of whom have advanced college degrees, who honestly believe this ahistorical crap. In a way, you can't blame them. The US they fantasize about is so far from their actual political grasp that daydreams and reveries are about all they have left. The people who own the country encourage this playtime, as it keeps the system itself free of radical scrutiny while keeping consumers focused on personalities, promise-givers, entertainers, and would-be saviors. The Obama Show is merely the latest version of this, and the elites lined up behind Barack have chosen wisely. The cat really caresses a tune. Compared to him, McCain is like a fading Milton Berle telling ancient stolen jokes on a later version of "Hollywood Squares." Still, Americans are just lunatic enough to elect this bad comic over the mellow singer their betters prefer, but those are the risks when you allow the public to ratify political decisions made above their heads. Either way, we're still fucked, which would be fine if it was at all pleasurable. Instead, we have to kill the pain through relentless masturbation, and stroking to Obama makes the process of getting reamed a little easier to take.

The American rightwing is not dead: it has temporarily lost its voice, and will return full-throated in due course. Pray to the souls of JFK and Bobby, rub your liberal lamps in the hopes that a progressive genie will emerge, buy tubs of lube for the Fall campaign. In the end, it really doesn't matter. Reactionaries are a permanent American feature, at least until America inevitably crumbles, and then the Real Fun will begin.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hanshan's Silent Dusk

When the Real World becomes too much, and you cannot endure another assault on the senses, your best bet is to cut-up a number of news stories, mix them together, then edit them down to a single narrative. It clears up so much. Here's my second attempt to find the hidden truth, culled from three AP wire reports.

"Rescue workers resumed the search for Hillary Nouri Clinton's female supporters on government rooftops and street corners, China told 'Good Morning America.' The large militiamen from Oregon and Kentucky entered the sprawling Daschle district tomorrow or the next day, reaching for symbolic aftershocks after spending a night sleeping before a crowd of several hundred Mahdi pandas. The district erupted into tipping point caucus skirmishes between jittery forestry officials and Yingxiu slog delegates. 'Regardless of McCain DNA uneasiness, hopes for the nomination destroyed endangered Clinton fighters struggling to find shelter,' the Hydropower Times reported Tuesday. But prime Democratic insiders wanted to end the cremation of survivors and help to restore order before every vote is counted.

"Backed by tanks and frightened animals, Obama is on track to bury bodies quickly and impose control over the compromise scene. Thousands of government warnings in Chinese largely stayed in bastion states patrolled by voter Humvees and raspy race forces seeking American health care. Superdelegates are 'very likely to be alive,' said former President Clinton, demanding that Democrats coalesce behind a political corpse. But 50,000 uncommitted adults awoke in open cars, persuading the New York senator's remaining soldiers to surrender their weapons before dawn. 'That doesn't mean we're going to do it,' declared Clinton's national mourning director. 'There are a lot of loyal troops who have improbable positions, and won't refrain from burned out attacks.' Still, samples will be taken from enough of them to process every crippling vote, gaining control for the nominee-in-waiting, the strongest attempt yet to honor unquestioned government violence at a practical political pace."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Forget About It

Remembering massacres can be a lively, after-dinner game, like charades used to be in pre-plasma HD screen days. The problem often is, how many massacres does the average American recall, or even know about in the first place?

That's always the tough part -- getting friends and family on the same, blood-soaked page, especially when the topic is US-backed or inflicted massacres. Usually you'll get a blank stare, an incredulous sneer, a shocked, offended dismissal. But if you're persistent enough, you can win a few bucks through bets while helping to educate those close to you. I've collected a modest amount of dough on Vietnam alone, the enormous body count of which still surprises a lot of people, primarily those who think Abe Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt teamed up to take on Attila Hitler, or whoever was running Vietnam in the 1920s.

Hyperbole? Hardly. Large numbers of Americans have no clue about their own history, and to the degree that faint concepts of yesteryear flash in their heads, names and events tend to blur into each other, creating fantastic scenarios that would be exciting if at all true. I encounter this quite often. One game I like to play with local college students who work as cashiers is quiz them about historical events based on the amount I owe. Only last week at Trader Joe's, my bill came to exactly $18.60. "Eighteen sixty," I said to the friendly young woman, "an election year. Do you know who won the presidency then?"

"Uhh, umm, 1860? You were alive, right? So you probably know."

"Well, I was alive in 1960, just barely. But I'm talking about a century before that."

She hemmed and hawed a bit more.

"Jimmy Carter?"

"Not quite. Here's a clue: he's on the five dollar bill."

"I don't see much cash. Everybody uses debit cards."

"Okay. He's also on the penny. Had a beard? Wore a stovepipe hat? Got shot in a theater?"

She smiled. "Oh, right! Him. You know, history's not my major."

Clearly. If my bill had been $20.00, maybe her response would've been more informed. Then again . . .

I say this not to be a prick, but to illustrate how randomly one can gauge the dearth of historical understanding in the general population. Even supposedly "educated" people lack basic facts about the American experience (many online liberals seem to think that imperialism and torture began with Bush), and I suspect that this ignorance is deepening, not ebbing. Good news for those who rule and tax us, and a boon to Obama's campaign, where history is a hazy line to a present dream filled with hope and promise. To paraphrase Umberto Eco, Obama stitches together a series of surfaces to create the impression of depth. And it's working beautifully so far.

I was nudged into these thoughts by a recent AP story about mass graves being unearthed in South Korea, showing that in 1950-51, the US-backed South regime slaughtered untold thousands of citizens, many of whom, women and children included, were killed execution-style, then dumped into trenches. It's the kind of human rights nightmare that, had it been attributed to Saddam or Milosevic, would be denounced as fascist terrorism. Yet so far I've seen no serious American commentary about what these mass graves mean, given that the US was in charge of the South Korean military that committed the massacres. Of course, defenders could point out that South Korea was at war with the North, and that grisly actions were bound to occur. But Saddam and Milosevic used the same reasoning to explain their killing fields, and I don't recall many stateside commentators who accepted that as a reasonable defense.

The standard imperial double standard aside, the following excerpt from the AP report shows that, for all of the new openness about Korean history, there still remains an -- inadvertent? -- playing down of the madness:

"The mass executions — intended to keep possible southern leftists from reinforcing the northerners — were carried out over mere weeks and were largely hidden from history for a half-century. They were 'the most tragic and brutal chapter of the Korean War,' said historian Kim Dong-choon, a member of a 2-year-old government commission investigating the killings."

Mass executions are indeed savage, but even in this awful case, these killings were hardly the "most tragic and brutal chapter of the Korean War." US air strikes went far beyond shooting someone in the back of the head. The US firebombed Korean villages and towns into smoldering graves, dropping hundreds of tons of napalm in the effort, killing millions. On top of all that, the Truman administration seriously debated using nuclear weapons in Korea (the insane Douglas MacArthur, who proposed that the US drop up to 30 nuclear bombs, was thankfully kept outside of the inner-policy debates). As I put it in "Savage Mules": "In the end, nuclear weapons were not used, and really weren’t necessary. Destruction of the Korean peninsula, North and South, was so vast, the death toll so high, that all nukes would have added was a radioactive exclamation point."

This aerial destruction built upon the firebombing of Japanese cities at the end of World War II, and set the stage for the murderous assaults on Vietnam. But then, that's old news. More importantly, how long do you think Ashlee Simpson will stay married?

ALSO: Chris Floyd, who you should be reading on a regular basis, gives his thoughts on a similar theme.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Clowntime Is Over

Comedy geeks like yours truly experienced a nice rush this week with the release of SNL's third season DVD box set. While not as mesmerizing to me as the show's second season, there's still a lot of great material and performances to enjoy and appreciate here. And like SNL's second year, the third season brings back many memories, not all happy, but formative to the kind of writer I eventually became, and who dances for your amusement.

In the summer of 1977, just before the third season premiered, I hooked up with my first comedy partner of sorts, a tall kid named Steve. We met in my last weeks of high school, each of us isolated and scorned for being weird, nerdy, and related teen crimes. Turned out that Steve was a Monty Python fan, so we'd sit in his bedroom and listen to Python records until we memorized each bit, then we'd perform them for each other. It was around this time that I bought my first National Lampoon album, "The Missing White House Tapes," which savaged Nixon, Ford, the Senate, and the media, and featured the pre-SNL Chevy Chase and John Belushi. Steve and I wore that record out, though many of the political references and jokes sailed over our young heads. No matter. It was cutting-edge comedy at a time when Carol Burnett was still considered the acme of the sketch form, and we absorbed as much of it as we could.

But a rift eventually emerged, when another local kid, Randy Clayton, told me that a teen sketch comedy show, "Beyond Our Control," was holding auditions for the upcoming season. "BOC" aired on WNDU in South Bend, Indiana, early Saturday nights, and was a regional comedy staple. Randy was in the previous season's cast, which made him instantly cool in our high school drama department, an elevated status that Randy did not reject. What 18-year-old kid would? Randy's on the far left, playing a host of a talk show which, if memory serves, dissected clips from "Gilligan's Island" for hidden meanings and dark symbolism.

I had performed some original comedy bits in drama class, and read some Weekend Update-ish news reports on the school radio station (one of which, where I stated that First Daughter Amy Carter had been raped by the family dog was expecting a White House litter, got me suspended from the air), and Randy thought I'd be perfect for "BOC." When I told this to Steve, he naturally wanted to audition as well, and so we worked on material in preparation for the big day.

I loved "BOC." I still remember two of my favorite bits, both commercial parodies. The first advertised The O'Possum Plant, which grew in your front yard, blossomed, then ran out into the road, freezing in a car's headlights before being run over. The second was a take on a then-ubiquitous PSA about respecting one's family heritage. A man comes home from work to discover that his mother is telling his children about the old country, which mortifies him as he's assimilated into the WASP community and doesn't want anyone to know his ethnicity. But his wife calms him down, and he begins to see the positive side to being proud of his past. "BOC" played this exactly the same way, until the shot of the man's mother, which reveals her to be a giant ant, emitting insect squeaks as the human children smile and nod along. That still makes me laugh, and I stole that image for my first book, "Love Gravy," which mercifully went unpublished.

The "BOC" auditions took place on a Saturday afternoon in large rehearsal hall in South Bend. It was a mob scene, with strange accents and funny voices coming from various corners and small rooms. Steve and I were steered in different directions, so I never saw him audition. I was taken to a room and sat in front of a long table where several "BOC" regulars quizzed me about my comic tastes. For some reason, they were playing "The Album Of The Soundtrack Of The Trailer Of The Film Of Monty Python And The Holy Grail," so I confessed my love for the Pythons, as well as for SNL and the Lampoon. They gave me a script to read. I can't remember what it was, but I belted it out, perhaps a bit too much, yet they laughed, which was all that mattered. They then asked if I had any original material, which I did -- a few of the fake news bits from the school radio show (sans the Amy Carter joke), and a commercial parody for ON, a new bug spray.

Two men are sitting in a boat, fishing.

1ST MAN: This is terrible. I haven't had a bite all day.

2ND MAN: I know. This lake must be fished out.

1ST MAN: No -- I mean, I haven't had a mosquito bite all day. This bug repellent is too effective. What's fishing without the bug bites?!

Then a pitchman in a suit wades out to the boat and sprays the men with a can of ON, which attracts mosquitoes while facilitating a tan. In the next shot, the men are covered by clouds of mosquitoes, welts on their faces, as the first man yells over the buzzing din, "Now this is more like it!"

Hey, I was 17. But then, so were most of the "BOC" gang, and they loved the bit. One of them took several pictures of me, then dismissed me, saying that they would soon be in touch.

I was walking on air. Problem was, I discovered that in order to be on "BOC," you had to still be in high school, a requirement of Junior Achievement which sponsored the show. Having just graduated, I was of course ineligible, but I wasn't about to tell them that, especially when I learned that I was hired as a writer and cast member for the upcoming season. I wanted that gig so badly that lying about my school status was a no-brainer, in every sense of the word. I thought I'd gotten away with it, too, when I received a letter inviting me to the first staff dinner to discuss ideas for the show. But the day of the dinner, I got the inevitable phone call from a very pissed off man who lectured me about deceit. And that was that. No "BOC" for me.

As for my friend Steve, who had another year of school and was eligible, his audition didn't go very well; and when he heard that I'd gotten hired, he was glum and bitchy, and our friendship wasn't the same. Even after I was dumped, Steve held "BOC" against me, and before long, we ceased being pals. I never saw him again.

We did watch the first five or six shows of SNL's third season together before our split, and viewing those installments now takes me back to his small living room in North Webster, Indiana, his incredibly conservative father sneering at our geekiness. I don't know what happened to Steve, or even if he's still alive, but I retain a fondness for our friendship, the first time I met someone who was as crazy about comedy as was I. It was nice to be weird with another weirdo, especially at such an insecure stage.

With all this talk about comedy geeks, I cannot let you face the weekend without some visual delights. Here's the first five minutes of "Mr. Mike's Mondo Video," an uneven effort, but as pure as O'Donoghue would ever get creatively. NBC, which commissioned "Mondo," rejected it upon delivery, and it was transferred to film and released in theaters, where it tanked. One of the things that appalled the network was the cat swimming segment, featuring "Mondo" writer Dirk Wittenborn as the coach. Definitely not PETA-friendly. Neither, I'm sure, is the image of Michael holding a gun in a room full of rabbits, but it pleases me, as do the two masked figures walking toward the camera in the opening credits. There's not enough comedy with masks these days.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fear Of A Black Prez

Barack Obama tries and largely succeeds in convincing his followers and hangers-on that we are living in a post-racial time; that it's all about ideals, values, and common interests, not grievances nor negative feelings from the long dead past. It's a soothing, effective narrative, especially for race-challenged white liberals seeking absolution, but also for those white fence-sitters who remain skeptical of, if not frightened by, Obama's message.

Then there are those whites who, no matter how softly and sweetly Obama sells it, cannot get past the man's skin tone and "un-American" name. For them, there is no post-racial time, since all they see is race and the stereotypes and hysteria that feed their perceptions. There are countless white people like this, spread throughout the country. I'm sure you've known or met your share. I certainly have. Hell, I'm related to some of them.

Obama's rallies appear to be uplifiting, inspirational events, so it must be a culture shock of sorts when his young, mostly white, field volunteers encounter open racism and violent emotional rejection. Kevin Merida reports in the Washington Post that Obama campaigners in Pennsylvania and Indiana met with all manner of grassroots ugliness, no surprise to us political veterans, but clearly upsetting to those kids fanning out across the fruited plain, stars in their eyes, Obama's stirring words of "hope" in their heads. From Pittsburgh to Kokomo, and various points in between, Obama's children are getting a raw, rancid taste of white-fear Americana, people who simply will not vote for a black man, especially one who is perceived by many as a Muslim agent of a foreign enemy like Hamas. But this is not limited to blue collar rubes and suburban hausfraus. As Merida put it:

"Karen Seifert, a volunteer from New York, was outside of the largest polling location in Lackawanna County, Pa., on primary day when she was pressed by a Clinton volunteer to explain her backing of Obama. 'I trust him,' Seifert replied. According to Seifert, the woman pointed to Obama's face on Seifert's T-shirt and said: 'He's a half-breed and he's a Muslim. How can you trust that?'"

I don't know if that actually occurred, but it rings true for me. I've read some lunatic attacks on Obama by loyal Hillary-heads, taking their cues from the Clintons themselves, no strangers to race-based innuendo. As Bernardo expressed in "West Side Story," right before he and the Sharks broke into a roof-top dance number, "In America, anything is possible."

I feel somewhat bad for those kids, but this experience will season them and help open their eyes to the insanity that lies just beneath the American "democratic" veneer. I did my share of door-to-door canvassing back in the day, the most challenging effort on behalf of SANE/Freeze, which pushed for a nuclear freeze between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Me and another young lefty (a Michael Harrington disciple) went through a couple of Long Island neighborhoods in the early-80s, and it was brutal. For every signature or promise of money we got, there were at least 10 angry assholes who called us Soviet stooges, chased us off their property with promises of violence, or slammed the door in our faces. One right winger I remember was calmer. He told us that we were playing the Soviet game, and that if we really loved America, we'd work for Jack Kemp. He then gave us some articles by Kemp, mostly economics, but some national security stuff, and I admired how he canvassed us without leaving his home.

Naturally, the Obama campaign is playing down any racist incidents. They're going to have a tough enough time luring uneasy whites as it is, so bemoaning ground-level bigotry is decidedly out. As we saw with Jeremiah Wright, a lot of whites don't want to hear about black suffering, and tend to get nasty and defensive when faced with these critiques. If Obama manages to win the presidency, it will of course be historical. But it will also stoke the hysterical, who'll have four ripe years to refine their hatred.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

America Wants To Know

The three remaining presidential candidates (okay, actually two, but the third fading one kept bugging and trying to shame us into including her, phoning us at all hours, and who needs that headache) were asked about their reactions to the devastating earthquake that rocked China and killed over ten thousand people.

JOHN McCAIN: It's a tragedy, obviously. But you must remember that the gook doesn't feel pain the way we do. Those rice eaters are so used to misery that what would cripple you and me only makes the gooks smile and ask for more. Plus, ten thousand dead isn't so bad in a country of one billion. More Americans die annually from electric eel shocks than Chinks do from earthquakes, so if anything, Americans are the real victims of this catastrophe. And as president, I'll cut down on electric eel attacks in our waters.

BARACK OBAMA: From its Great Wall to its rich tradition of philosophical wisdom, China has shown over the centuries the spirit and determination that makes great nations greater, its people hard working and humble, its cuisine embraced and consumed by millions worldwide. However, let this earthquake be a reminder that no nation is greater than God's will, and that China's currency manipulation and domestic subsidies gives it an unfair trade advantage and has led to U.S. job losses. As president, I will build upon this earthquake to increase tariffs on Chinese goods, and push the Chinese toward voluntary reform -- once they dig out, that is.

HILLARY CLINTON: This earthquake is a lot like Senator Obama's campaign -- selfish, vain, elitist, and out of touch with hard working white Americans. The news reports tell us that over ten thousand Chinese citizens have died, but if Senator Obama were president, that death toll would easily be tripled. I am the only candidate with serious foreign earthquake experience. I know how to assess Richter scale numbers and will keep up to the minute with revised body counts and estimates. That's what hard working white Americans, and those black people who for whatever reason still support me, want and deserve in their president, which I already am, and have been for some time.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Having to rely on a 17-year-old for most non-typing online assistance, I won't pretend to comprehend most aspects of Web interaction. But recently, after watching a brain-freezing amount of Bloggingheads-TV, I can say this: the suffocating political culture of cable chatter has made the shift online, and I pray to Kali that it is a temporary affliction, though my spider sense tells me the opposite.

Now, I realize that I'm a relative latecomer to this dreary party, which carbon dates me in real time; yet once exposed to Bloggingheads, time itself slows to a virtual crawl, and you wonder how such a lumbering beast continues to draw slow breaths. All right -- I know the reason: Bloggingheads is yet another media gate being watched and kept by those who control political discourse. It is a 7-Eleven of received opinion where pre-chewed tropes are always on special. Liberal versus Conservative, that late-20th century media concept, smothers acceptable topics as the B-heads compete to see who can first put viewers asleep, or at least lull them into glazed stupors. You won't hear any political or social opinion that would offend a Time editor or MSNBC segment producer. The participants understand and accept this arrangement -- the price of admission -- and so drone on and on about the present American condition, or at least what passes for it in their blogheads.

A recent exchange that prepped me for a nice nap occurred between Rick Perlstein and David Frum as they pondered the effects of the ongoing Democratic primary season. Is it hurting or helping the Party? Frum believed that the mules may very well blow the general election, which he already conceded to the Dems, based on whom the GOP coughed up. Perlstein, weird frozen smile in place, saw both sides of the question, a little of this, a sprinkle of that, while Frum grimaced and did his best to appear tortured. Neither shed new light on the topic, and I doubt that was ever on the agenda. How interesting would it be if someone, oh, I don't know who, answered:

"Well, I hope the primary season does hurt the Democratic Party, or at least wounds it enough so we can track it down and seal-bat it into submission once and for all. Once that's done, we can then turn on the GOP, which shouldn't be hard, given its unbalanced nominee and the Party's weakened state.

"HA! Just kidding! I mean, what would we do without our major parties? Why, sites like this would be obsolete! That won't do. Besides, the big money will paper over any intra-party differences or weaknesses, as the parties are corporate power's political wing, so us even broaching the idea of primary-related damage is a complete waste of time, at least until the food riots begin stateside. Maybe then we'll have something to 'chew over,' eh? Oh yeah!"

One suggestion: Since blophead discourse is so dreary and predictable, why not spice up the visuals a taste -- maybe extremely large cowboy hats, bobble-eye glasses, or some plasma-screen backdrop of random images: dachshunds jumping through flaming hoops; wheelchair basketball in torrential rain; Bollywood go-go dancers dodging sniper fire; praying mantis cannibalism; time-lapse montages of melting ice caps, small towns collapsing into irradiated dust, expanding poverty, rising garbage dumps, white phosphorus on dark skin, with Nuremberg rallies, party conventions, and gay MILF porn flashing subliminally throughout. What better way to make extended gas tax talk entertaining?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Inside Hillary's Bunker

Exclusive NEW footage leaked from the Clinton campaign by defeatist, backstabbing staffers, via my fellow resister, IOZ.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The White Stuff

One of the joys of living in a liberal campus town is talking to white liberals about the issues that animate them. Of late, it's been Jeremiah Wright who, as I'm sure you know, is not very popular among the pale, NPR crowd, what with his insane rambling about American "terror" and reminders of institutional racism. I heard more of this lib anguish yesterday while chatting about the primaries with a local Dem I see now and then. He just couldn't understand why black people would be upset about their history and present condition, given that Barack Obama may be the first African-American president.

Of course, the guy is an Obama supporter, which apparently gives him the freedom to question the motivations of blacks who complain just a bit too much about racism. Stop whining and assimilate!, he more or less told them through me. White people are sick and tired of listening to your crap! It was an astonishing moment, as I had not until that instant guessed that this guy harbored such feelings. But it further underlines my belief that Obama is the perfect candidate for race-challenged liberals, since Obama makes them comfortable in their grayish-pink skins, and does not pester them with tales of racism and oppression. This will become more evident now that Obama has nailed down the nomination.

Naturally, those white libs who scoff at the very idea of institutional racism, especially the kind that may implicate them, will have no problem branding McCain as an old, race-baiting reactionary. That's perfectly fine (although it is remarkable how far McCain's stock has fallen among liberals, given that less than a decade ago, he was perhaps their favorite Repub). Indeed, it's why many of them conflate Rev. Wright with nutjobs like John Hagee -- in their world, you have to be crazy to cry about conditions that don't affect them. I saw it on that liberal's face yesterday when I defended some of Wright's statements. He closed his eyes and made snoring noises, then smirked and waved away arguments he had no desire to rebut. I was a bit surprised by this, but I really shouldn't have been. The only way Obama carries a large white vote in November is by letting his white supporters off the historical hook. There are worse electoral strategies, but few carry such extremely smug, self-flattering baggage.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Caddies Wear No Pants

I'm not much of a golf fan, but if The Masters allowed golfers to play with no shirt and no shoes while smoking heaters, I might watch more often.

Every time I see this video of John Daly letting it all hang out, I simply laugh. The white collar sports radio world made big fun of Daly when this emerged, but fuck them. Ol' JD looks like he's having fun. Add a 12-pack of PBR, and I'm in.

Monday, May 5, 2008

This Season's Atrocity

"'Hitler is alive in Burma' reads the words scrawled on a cardboard sign, held aloft by a sweet-faced Ellen Page, the 'Juno' star, in a 90-second human-rights public awareness message that began showing on video-sharing Web sites last week."

So began a recent New York Times piece about yet another Hollywood celeb concern, this time, human rights in Burma. The Burmese Hitler is played by Gen. Than Shwe, the latest but not last Hitler that we'll see, depending on geopolitical or pressure group need. That "Juno's" lovable homeskillet Page probably had no idea who Than Shwe was before the PSA was shot is not important. She's a hot item, and as Jack Healy of the Human Rights Action Center put it, “you have to ‘brand’ it up. It’s the nature of the business now.”

Human rights as Cocoa Puffs, Burger King, and Sunny D., to keep it on the same Page. What better emblem for a dying, erratic empire. Even its humanitarians are scrambling for market share and prominent product placement.

As the Times reports, concern for Burma (or Myanmar, depending on taste) is among the "A-list activist causes, along with Tibet and Darfur," and thus attracts those A-list, and lower letter, celebrities who want to be seen as "concerned" or perhaps "outraged" by the human misery in the aforementioned countries. There's a good reason why the likes of George Clooney, Will Ferrell, and Jennifer Aniston are shedding public tears for Burma, Tibet, and Darfur: it's politically safe and no threat to their careers; plus, it makes them appear humane, an added PR asset in a culture that loves to flaunt "decency" and "goodness," so long as it doesn't interfere with normal business operations.

But what if these enlightened celebs were asked to promote human rights in, say, the Occupied Territories? How many would rush forward, photos of Israeli tanks demolishing Palestinian homes in hand, and denounce starvation and death in Gaza? I'll crawl out on a frail limb here and guess zero. Okay, maybe Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, and I'll toss in Danny Glover as well. But I can't think of many more who would dare portray Palestinians as human rights victims worthy of immediate support and solidarity, while excoriating the Israeli state for its ongoing strangulation of Gaza and continued building of West Bank settlements. There's also the minor fact that as American taxpayers, Hollywood celebs directly finance these atrocities, and so are more responsible for what they subsidize than what is fashionable in a PSA.

I know -- pie in the exploding sky. Wake me when George Clooney narrates a documentary about the reality of Palestinian suffering.

Later in the same Times piece, Jeremy Woodrum, a founder of U.S. Campaign for Burma, emphasized the unique severity of human rights abuses in that country. “When you’re talking about 3,200 villages destroyed and a million and a half refugees, I mean, that’s not everywhere.”

Again, the Palestinian experience could be mentioned here. But I'm thinking also about what happened in Turkish Kurdistan in the early 90s, where over 3,000 villages were wiped out, 2-3 million refugees created, and over 30,000 Kurds killed. I don't recall much celebrity-related concern about that human rights nightmare, financed by American taxpayers and carried out by a NATO ally. But then, it was Bill Clinton who made sure that the Turkish military had all the weapons it needed for these operations, and Hollywood looooved Bill Clinton. Plus, Ellen Page was only 7- or 8-years-old at the time. Turkey's Kurds picked the wrong period to be massacred, but their loss is Burma's gain, so it all evens out.

The Save Burma crowd is really gonna have its hands full after a deadly cyclone reportedly killed some 4,000 residents over the weekend, with a higher body count sure to follow. Military dictatorship (kept in place by China and Western oil concerns like Chevron and Total), a devastating storm, and air-brushed Hollywood A-Listers crying on cue: the Burmese people are getting it from all sides. It's a tragic situation, one of countless tragic situations on the planet. They are clearly in need of help and solidarity, but in the spirit of Hollywood's efforts, I think we should also name the cyclone that ravaged Burma "Hitler." It will help the public grasp what's going on and keep Ellen Page in the picture. "This is one doodle that can be undid." With your generous contributions, of course.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Trip A Dee Doo-Dah

LSD's daddy, Albert Hoffman, recently passed on, entering the minute chemical world he discovered and helped to enhance. I was never that crazy about acid; too intense, too long, too roller-coastery. I much preferred psilocybin, large amounts of which I consumed throughout my 20s, experiencing delightful images and third-eye perceptions, with some occasional anxiety, as one should never really trip on a busy Manhattan street. Still, diving head first into the shifting plasma pool provided more ups than downs, and there are times when I'm nostalgic for those sunny, trippy days in a small boat on a Long Island inlet, the water like glittering mirrors, the trees alive and talking in the warm breeze.

Acid provided some of this, but I had to endure some horrorshow moments, the worst being a Ball State frat party that my friends dragged me to, big, dumb white jocks bending and melting in my face, grunting like drunken animals, jumping and stomping to The Eagles, AC/DC, and Kansas. Not my scene sober, and certainly not a favorable place while peaking on blotter acid. Somehow I held it together until I could crash in the back seat of my friend's old Buick, listening to "Riders On The Storm" over and over again, driving my buddies nuts, but soothing my nerves as I stared at a full moon staring back at me, a giant florescent eye gazing down on creation.

Of course, it's impolite if not irresponsible to speak favorably about such things. In high school, we were constantly told how weed and acid would turn us into zombies, tall tales of madness and violence dispensed by teachers who snuck swigs of booze between classes. Anti-drug movies sharpened the pitch, but few took them seriously, so absurd their scenarios and scare tactics. Here's a beaut I hadn't seen until today. It could also serve as a PETA PSA, perfect for conditioning a generation of straight-edge vegans. (Jon -- are you watching?)

But when it comes to the reality, I leave the last word to the great Bill Hicks.