Friday, October 31, 2008

Election Weekend Viewing

WHISKERS OVER WASHINGTON (1957) Crushed by his resounding defeat to FDR in the 1936 presidential election, a bitter Alf Landon (Kirk Douglas) retreats to his Kansas farm where, after a heavy night of drinking, he's befriended by a talking rat, Cyrus (voice of Desi Arnaz). The vermin promises to help Landon exact his revenge on the Washington establishment by raising a rat army that will overthrow the government, and install Landon as Rat King. The plan goes horribly awry when the rats are bottled up in tedious Senate subcommittee hearings about grain subsidies. Cyrus finds new life in the New Deal and is made head of the National Recovery Administration, while Landon retreats once again, spending the rest of his life trying to raise a moth army. WHISKERS OVER WASHINGTON is seen as a precursor of sorts to WILLARD, though strangely enough, its biggest influence was on SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS.

LET ME MAKE THIS PERFECTLY CLEAR (1978) A powerful alien gamma ray turns the entire US population into bad Richard Nixon impersonators -- save for Laurie Threet (Tatum O'Neal), a singing high school dropout who must make her way across the country to find the secret switch in Washington which will reverse the alien spell. The majority of the film shows Threet encountering Nixons at every turn, and she escapes each potential trap by posing as Nancy Sinatra, serenading the Nixons with such hits as "Sugar Town" and "Some Velvet Morning," a duet she performs with a mechanic-turned-Nixon, Steve Hushman (William Shatner), in an elaborate June Taylor number staged atop a huge tape recorder. By the time Threet reaches Washington, the aliens (Frank Gorshin and Scatman Crothers) have grown bored, and turn America into France, ending on a close up of Jerry Lewis swallowing a glass and yelling "Mon Dieu!" at a baguette. Two years later, this film was parodied in the gay porno classic, LET ME MAKE THIS PERFECTLY HARD.

LINCOLN WAS A JEW (1938) A curious, 22-minute animated film from Walt Disney, which disappeared after Pearl Harbor, but made a minor comeback in the 1960s. Donald Duck is hit in the head by rampaging union strikers and imagines that he travels back in time to Lincoln's White House. There Donald discovers the "hidden truth" about the so-called Honest Abe, from drinking the blood of abolitionists to bizarre late night Satanic rituals in the bedroom that would later bear Lincoln's name. After Lincoln tells Donald that he's going to free the slaves so that they can be used as muscle against white Christians, clearing the way for a United Zionist States, Donald returns to the present and helps lead a military crusade against the Soviet Union, causing Lincoln in Hell to vow ultimate revenge. Reportedly, this short was a favorite of Curtis LeMay's, who screened it for George Wallace, earning him the VP slot on the American Independent Party's 1968 ticket.

THE HONKIEST MILITANT IN AMERIKA (1971) Dejected loner Leigh Harry Oswood (Don Knotts) decides to kill the popular, charismatic President Caroway (Hugh O'Brian) in order to win the heart of Janet Pickin (Ruta Lee), a swinging file clerk who barely knows that Oswood exists. Having no experience with firearms, Oswood buys his way into the Black Panthers, promising Comrade Africa (Sherman Helmsley) his novelty stamp collection in exchange for paramilitary training. An FBI agent gone rogue, Africa strings Oswood along, resulting in numerous slapstick situations, from having to eat a disassembled M-16, to practicing the raised fist salute in a very tiny room, causing the ceiling to collapse. Soon, Oswood falls in love with Sistah Shasta (Leslie Uggams), a Maoist militant who's even clumsier than Oswood. They run off together and open a belt repair shop in San Jose, where Oswood gets involved with a right wing LSD cult, inspiring him to battle fluoridation, holding the city council hostage using an inbred Great Dane strapped with dynamite.

THE MAN WHO SAID "MAYBE" (1988) Low budget documentary look at Rep. Conner Kaye of Florida, regarded as the most indecisive Congressman in US history. So baffled by choice is Kaye, that during staff meetings, he often pretends to be a tall plant in the corner, or an obnoxious character called Victor, who drinks openly from a whiskey bottle and threatens to kill anyone who looks him in the eye. Amazingly, Kaye's constant waffling makes him popular with his constituents, remnants of a secret government population transfer experiment in the 1950s, and he is continually re-elected, oftentimes unopposed. The film falls apart once Kaye realizes he's being filmed, running down alleys, crawling under beds, jumping off porches, and ends with stock footage of a Venus Flytrap snaring a bee.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Heavy Mental Solos

A close friend pointed to the racist plot to kill Obama as evidence that not only are there crazy crackers out there, cleaning their weapons, prepping for the defining act, but that my digs at Obamanation are misplaced. "What America are you looking at?" he recently asked me. I smiled, then asked him the same question.

In a land of some 300 million people, disparate perceptions are inevitable. And that's just the basic wiring. Mix in countless layers of lies, delusions, fantasies, and propaganda, and individual takes fly in every possible direction. You need only watch this wretched campaign to know that. Right wing fears about Obama are mostly insane, and I wonder how many reactionaries honestly believe their own rhetoric. Liberals of course are living in the clouds, counting down to ecstasy, though some still chew their fingers, convinced that the GOP will steal the election. I tell those who've expressed this fear to me that only close elections can be stolen. And I don't think next Tuesday is gonna be all that close. Sure, anything can happen, since electoral theft is a sturdy American tradition. But McCain would have to reach from outer space to fix this thing in his favor.

That there are violent rednecks who despise Obama is certainly no shock. Liberal sites have featured numerous videos of stupid white people spouting racist garbage, and this won't end with Obama's victory. Once he's in, we'll see more and more white anger and insecurity, which online libs will use to inspire further support for Their President. If open racists didn't make it so easy for them, liberals would have to dig through right wing sites, looking for any scrap of usable hatred in order to justify their acquiescence. Indeed, far from being appalled by racist speech, many liberals court it, waving BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA like a red flag in a maddened bull's face. His name alone inspires fear!

Cynical is the least of it. We passed cynical ages ago.

So what "America" are we living in? It seems to me that Obama is either demonized or deified -- a dance of competing illusions. Then again, I had peyote for breakfast, and my spirit guide, a child in a wrestler's mask, is flooding my brain with luminous visions, revealing a path where time collapses and cascades to old cartoon music. Your hallucinations may vary.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Avert Thy Mule Eyes

Here's a pleasant surprise -- a review of "Savage Mules" before Obama's celestial coronation. Thanks to Manan Ahmed for posting it, and to Steve Marlowe for the nice words. A taste:

"But so long as Perrin continues roasting sacred animals, and literally kicking high-rolling apparatchiks’ asses, he should count himself, and we also should count him, among our treasures. A rare thing in these times, truth. And a rarer thing is one who will tell it, as he sees it, and challenge those who disbelieve to prove him wrong."


Monday, October 27, 2008

Want Fries With Your Vote?

Driving through the neighborhood, under Douglas Sirk fall leaves and bright blue sky, I noticed that the small cluster of McCain/Palin households near the main road no longer had their yard signs. When the signs first appeared, I thought, how could Ann Arbor stand such a thing? I mistakenly assumed that this meant trouble for Obama, forgetting that McCain wrote off Michigan long ago. Those households were simply showing their defiance to the local liberal consensus, a weak middle finger before McCain goes down in flames.

"Looks like they've given up," I said to the teen, who still hears everything while listening to her iPod.

"They didn't take those signs down," she replied. "Some guy I know stole them."

"What? Why?"

"He hates McCain."

"Boo fucking hoo. That doesn't give him the right to take people's property."

"You used to say that property is theft."

"Yeah, about 300 hundred years ago. Way before you were born."

"What difference does it make? McCain's gonna lose big."

"Probably. But what that kid did was pointless."

"I agree. It's kinda stupid. But that's America for you."

No doubt. Now that our neighborhood has been cleansed of lingering McCain/Palin contamination, we can enjoy one hundred percent unanimity as the Obama Age approaches.

What a fucking bore. Everywhere I drive, it's Obama/Biden, Obama '08, Obama Save My Soul. Forget McCain/Palin -- I haven't seen a single Nader, McKinney, or even Bob Barr sign or bumpersticker. Given the local mood, a Nader bumpersticker would probably get your car keyed or dented. Just as well. While I still admire Nader and agree with most of what he says (he recently decimated the Constitution Party nominee on C-SPAN, with Chris Hedges moderating, and I imagined him on the same stage as Obama and McCain, kicking their asses), Nader's running for himself, unconnected to any semblance of a dissident party, much less a grassroots movement.

What the corporate parties did to him in 2000 was cowardly and unconscionable, yet it made sense. Why allow Nader to gain any national traction with a message that undercuts the corporate fix? Both the Dems and the Repubs made sure that Nader would be utterly marginalized by election day, and while Jonestown libs still believe that Nader deprived them of a glorious Gore administration, the owners and their employees did their job well. Since then, doubters and dissenters have been herded back into the corporate fold, told that Obama is the Agent of Approved CHANGE, and they've gone happily along, leaping to bite that ripe bait. The demolition of an earlier, momentary challenge is pretty much complete.

Personally, I don't see the point to political yard signs. Yes, it announces your preference, but it also solidifies your spectator status. All you are doing is providing free ad space to corporate candidates and parties. If one charged a party with yard rental fees, I'd understand the allure. But instead, people willingly display brand names that have little if any real connection to their personal lives. It's analagous to wearing NFL or NBA gear -- which is fine, if you like the look. I just wonder how long it will be before we simply cut to the chase and have bar codes tattooed to our foreheads.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I Have Seen The Future

When Bippy Meant Something

Merciful Zeus, please end this election, if only so Tina Fey can shelve her annoying Sarah Palin impression. Every age gets the satire it deserves, and from the looks of things, we are in a cheap, plasticine era. Can't be avoided, I suppose. With attention spans at an all time low, and shrinking further as I type this, only the broadest, shallowest bits will resonate, at least between texting and shuffling iPod playlists. Fey's resemblance to Palin is essentially the joke, since Palin herself is a self-parody. Actually, Fey's impression would've been perfect for the original "Laugh-In" -- "You betcha!" replacing "Sock it to me!" as the reigning catchphrase. Plus, Fey could dance as Palin in a star spangled bikini, with right wing talking points written all over her body. Clearly, Fey was born too late to realize her full comic/go-go potential.

Being a craggy old fuck, I've been watching comedy from earlier election years, including "Laugh-In" from 1968. The satire, if it can be called that, is pretty surface oriented, with plenty of George Wallace jokes, the Sarah Palin of his day. Vietnam is mentioned as well, hard to avoid given the ferociousness of that period, yet it's lightly joked about, lost in a blizzard of sex and pot jokes. "Laugh-In's" material runs from corny to bizarre, and flies by so fast, you can't really get a hold of any one gag. But it is pretty to look at -- all those groovy day-glo colors and mod mod clothes. Also, Lorne Michaels was a writer for "Laugh-In," so there's somewhat of a connection between that show and Tina Fey, at least in my dizzy mind. What else am I supposed to think about: the election?

Compared to "Laugh-In," "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" was Haskell Wexler channeling Laurel and Hardy. Michaels has said that he wanted to write for the Smothers Brothers rather than "Laugh-In," and I can see why. It's a much deeper show, the comedy very much of its moment, some of it quite edgy for a prime time slot. I've received a DVD box set of the best of the Smothers' third season, 1968-69, their final year before getting yanked by CBS suits. It's a real tonic for sad suckers like me, and I'll write a full review of it very soon. Some of the material is obviously dated, but when watched in context, these shows remind you what is possible satirically, and given some of the bits that aired, it's no surprise that the Smothers' got so much heat from political and network forces. The television landscape of that time wasn't as cluttered as it is now, so the Smothers Brothers stood out even more. They made themselves ripe targets for reaction, but at least they went down performing material they believed in.

Naturally, I've gone through my "Fridays" bootlegs, rewatching their take on the 1980 election. John Roarke played Ronald Reagan and John Anderson, while writer Fred Raker played Jimmy Carter. (That same year on SNL, no one played Carter. Dan Aykroyd left the show, and instead of replacing him, they went with Laraine Newman as wife Rosalynn, who campaigned for her husband while he barricaded himself in the White House, obsessed with the Iran hostage crisis.) "Fridays" skewered all three candidates -- Reagan as a clueless militarist, Anderson as a wide-eyed nagging nerd, and Carter as a smooth con man, always smiling no matter how dirty his tactics. Perhaps the best bit takes place in a men's room, where Reagan and Carter accidentally meet while campaigning, then get into a nasty debate, using urinals as podiums while people wander in and out, disgusted by both. "Fridays" went into more political depth than SNL even pretends to plumb today. Some of the material on recent shows has been incredibly inane and pointless, like John McCain challenging Obama to a pie eating contest. Have SNL's writers stopped doing drugs? Or is this merely Vicodin comedy?

It'll be interesting to see how present-day parodists deal with the Obama administration. So far, they've given us really nothing. Fred Armisen's impression on SNL is not only bad, the writers have found no satirical hook. You'd think that a fiftysomething Repub like Jim Downey might have some angle on Obama, out of partisan hatred if nothing else. Liberals are too swoony at the moment to write any decent attacks on the next imperial manager, a condition I'm sure will continue well past Obama's coronation.

Here's an example of what SNL and other shows are missing. This sketch, from Richard Pryor's short-lived NBC show in 1977, depicts Pryor as the first African-American president giving a press conference. Pryor's show was co-produced and directed by John Moffitt, who went on to produce "Fridays," so the political tone is similar. Also note then-unknowns Sandra Bernhard as "Snow White," and Robin Williams as an extra in the back. A rare instance when Bernhard isn't sassy, and Williams doesn't chew all the scenery.

Perhaps the funniest election-oriented bit I've seen so far is this trailer for "Billy Jack Goes To Washington." The film was never released, which is too bad, if these scenes are any indication of the whole thing. And I like how Jean, the pacifist hippie scold played by Tom Laughlin's wife Delores Taylor, gives up nonviolence and kicks some ass for a change. Hey, that's what happens you enter the machine, as Obama will prove soon enough.

Reportedly, Laughlin has been planning a new Billy Jack movie, originally titled, "Billy Jack's Crusade To End The War In Iraq And Restore America To Its Moral Purpose." And no, I didn't make that up. Sometimes the best comedy comes from kung fu half-breed snake dancers with short tempers.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Rotting Costumes Optional

"What's up with your book? Why aren't you out there?"

My father seemed confused by my absence in various media, given that I wrote an election-year book that has sold well. He comes from a sincere place. The old man is a big supporter of mine, not always uncritical, but there should I need a bended ear. I simply told him that most leading liberals and liberal sites want nothing to do with me, that I'm the turd in the Jonestown punch bowl. At first it was the fear of me slamming Obama. Now that the election is essentially over, few want to seriously confront what's coming down the road. Since I back neither candidate, I'm free to say what I wish -- to myself, and to those gathered around my little soapbox. But to a vast crowd ready to celebrate some fantasy deliverance, I'm the last person they want to hear from. Sarah Palin's more welcome in that world than me.

Ah, showbiz. Hasn't it always been thus? A friend of mine associated with the Nation, a dissenter from that mag's Obama worship, told me that no one left of Joe Lieberman wants to hear any shit about the Dems. Not this year, and probably not for the next four as well. Don't believe the hype about holding Obama's feet to the fire once he's elected. After eight years of Bush/Cheney, the traditional presidential honeymoon will linger well past the usual expiration date. For liberals anyway. For reactionaries, the hysterical anti-Obama rhetoric is well underway, and will get more bizarro in due course. And as I've said before, this right wing assault will hand liberals the excuse they need to defend the White House, on patriotic grounds, naturally. Liberals love playing patriot games. One of many features they share with their reactionary cousins.

Of course, right wing and elite support for Obama is growing, which should tell you something about who Senator Change really is and what he actually represents. But for countless pie-eyed loyalists, it won't make a dent. Indeed, those outside of these dancing tribes must weather torrents of shit rain over the next two weeks -- either that, or just ignore the whole fucking mess. I'm seriously leaning toward the latter. In the space of a day, I was exposed to videos of white Americans barely able to conceal their racist fears of Obama, followed by testimonials from Obama's "foot soldiers," posted at Arianna's joint.

"Being a liberal and a young upstart, I always questioned things - especially my superiors. Over the last month I have stopped this habit . . . By and by, the Mother Brain has earned my respect. Instead, I take comfort knowing that my time is not taken for granted; my superiors use me efficiently and intelligently. To me, that matters more than you know."

"The audacity of it: to build a nationwide machine based on the Chicago Machine. Now nobody groan - the Chicago Machine WORKS. We have seen the birth of a huge, wonderful Machine, the new Dem Machine, which will carry us all forward into an Age of Mutuality."

Sweet abandoned mercy. Are we in for some sad absurdist violent times. Thank Jehovah that as an American, I have the right -- no, the duty -- to escape into pop culture diversions from the national abattoir. Maybe I'll see you there. First round's on me.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Comedy Flavoring

Some readers ask if I saw Sarah Palin on SNL last night, and if so, what's my take. I didn't watch it last night, but I did this morning, as her appearance is everywhere online. Buddha bless the webs. It makes monitoring the mainstream so much easier and more convenient. Trust me on this, younger readers. I used to clip newspapers on the floor for FAIR. That was the fucking Stone Age compared to now.

A month ago I predicted that Palin would appear, and she did, right on schedule. It's funny reading liberal reaction to Palin's comic turn. At HuffPost, many are outraged that SNL would promote a threat not only to democracy, but to human existence itself. Thing is, Palin is now a major American celebrity. McCain's upcoming loss should only heighten her heat. She'll be the most famous governor in the country, and this will keep her base excited as she plays to the cameras and makes pop culture appearances. Who else does the GOP have that can currently match Palin on this front?

SNL did what SNL has long done -- feature whoever's hot that week. That's the show's function. Satire has nothing to do with it. Everybody feeds on the fix. That's where money and power reside. Dem partisan Alec Baldwin willingly traded japes with Palin, bringing her into the fold. Little wonder she felt free to groove to Amy Poehler's rap about her stated positions. SNL added to Palin's luster. Who wouldn't dance along to that?

I was more taken with the Mark Wahlberg/Andy Samberg plotline. After watching their labored bit, it seems that Wahlberg's bitching all week about Samberg's imitation of him was scripted. Wahlberg's pushing "Max Payne." SNL's all about celeb promotion. Piece writes itself.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I've Got Blisters On Me Fingers

Awfully busy in offline land, thus my lack of uplifting, reassuring posts. Once I'm past this little (and most welcome) patch of activity, I'll return with who the bloody hell knows what. For the moment, here's an interview I just gave about the Dems. (That photo of me is dated. I've chopped off most of my hair, but I still look dopey). My thanks to Doug Lain for reaching out. Not many others are interested in "Savage Mules" or my criticisms of our future overlord and his loyal Wall Street gang. Again, I'll debate anyone on the Dems and war. I'm certainly not hard to find.

And a quick but heartfelt goodbye to Edie Adams, who died yesterday at 81. I knew of her primarily via Ernie Kovacs, her first husband and comedy partner. Adams and Kovacs had great chemistry and timing. I possess some kinescopes of Kovacs' NBC morning show from the mid-50s, which was a loose, improvisational affair. Adams was quick and sharp on that show, and you can see why Kovacs was mad about her. She was also a very talented singer, as evidenced here on the final Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz collaboration from 1960. Note Kovacs on the couch, beaming with pride. Two years later, Kovacs was killed in a car wreck, depriving the world of his comedic genius, and leaving his wife with a massive IRS debt. Knowing that makes this song, "That's All," a bit sadder.

Later in the 60s, Adams became widely-known for her Muriel Cigar commercials. I remember them as a kid, and suffice it to say, I knew what my sexuality was gonna be after watching these spots. In this one, Adams plays triplets. Growl.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Why Do You Support Barack Obama?

"Father always liked Negroes, even when he thought they were cannibals. Plus, he's dead, so that helps." Christopher Buckley

"Like, you can't comprehend the full scope of the man. Dig? He's so far above us, it's -- it's like a god walking among insects, man. Yeah! Wait -- what was I saying?" Dennis Hopper

"Isn't it obvious?" Christopher Hitchens

Monday, October 13, 2008

Dispatch The Ether Trucks

Assuming Obama runs out the clock and wins this thing, which I've no doubt that he will, we need to think about and prepare for the liberal version of social control. Many libs are convinced that "competent" rule is coming, and like most willing slaves, seek ways to justify and beautify their subjugation. Eight years of neocon oil pig rule has them slobbering for professional state management, which their political and financial superiors will be delighted to install. For all the high rhetoric about American "independence," countless consumers are content to follow orders, so long as their rulers give them something warm to chew on, or better, a sense of belonging.

You see this with numerous Obama followers as the election appears to be nearly over. Most reactionaries have given up and are lighting cigarettes in their crumbling bunkers, awaiting occupation. This emboldens online libs, finally given the chance to bellow victoriously, and baby, are they making the most of it. What the hell. It's not as if they have any real political say in the process, so why not mimic their right wing cousins from the early Bush era and yell about their unique love of country, and how they're gonna retake and remake America. There's no point in directly confronting this emotional tide. It's gathering a frenzied speed, and nothing, no matter how accurate or fact-based, will slow it. So, losers like me will spend these final days watching this wave rise and crest, noting its velocity, awaiting its crash. For once Obama's sworn in, the wave will become a cesspool of shattered fantasies, feeding resentment not of Obama and his inner-circle, but of those who said all along that "change" was a sham.

I've seen some liberals prep for such heartache by blaming in advance the right wing media machine which will pressure, if not blackmail, Obama into following its nefarious script. Should the Dems control not only the White House, but the Senate and House as well, one would think that any corruption or authoritarian abuse would be their responsibility. But that's not how it works in much of liblogging land. When the Dems perform their institutional function, i.e. stabilizing the state for corporate interests while further marginalizing the populace, some liberals believe that the mules are being forced into it, that it's not part of the Party's DNA. I'm not sure who will "force" Obama to betray his inner-"progressive" instincts, but I'm certain that numerous libs will explain it to me in due course. I await my education.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Terror The Hippie Ghost

Man oh man -- Bill Ayers must be one happy cat. Even when he was trying to spark a Prairie Fire, his cocksure pose on FBI wanted lists, Ayers didn't get this kind of national attention. For a guy who believes that the Weather experience was more right than wrong, despite its calamitous effect on other dissidents, primarily those who weren't white, being slimed today as a terrorist of yore isn't gonna seriously concern him. Or shouldn't. Obama will be elected, regardless of these increasingly desperate attacks, so Ayers cannot be blamed for tripping him up (depriving Eric Alterman of four years of "Thanks Bill"). Plus, Ayers gets to keep his newly-refreshed People's Warrior cred, at least in his mind. Win/win and all that.

I've been scanning several reactionary sites, none of which I'll name, because the last time I did that, my inbox quickly filled with raw sewage from which strange oily insects emerged, releasing hideous scents. As deluded and nasty as many liberal commenters are, right wing commenters are even crazier, sometimes frighteningly so. Yes, the Web allows people to hide behind brash personas that they would never display in public, yet after reading some of the whacked out shit about Obama and Ayers, I question just how removed many of these people are from their online alter egos. I carry my share of anxiety and misery, to be sure, but a fair number of reactionaries must have ceaseless raging fear in their heads. Perhaps for them, it's sweet, inspiring music. Whatever passes time until the sun burns out.

In addition to the certainty that Obama will forge a nightmare socialist order, which will naturally collude with if not surrender to Chavez and Ahmadinejad, the main reactionary complaint is that Ayers is a terrorist mastermind who shaped Obama's politics along Cuban communist lines. To read some of this madness, you'd think that Ayers was Carlos the Jackal or Abu Nidal. I've yet to see a photoshopped image of Ayers petting a white cat while surveying his terror network, but then, there are only so many hours I can spend online. Suffice it to say that Ayers is serving as a symbol for something else, in some cases as a treasonous liberal archetype, a poster child for The Enemy Within, but in many cases, who the fuck knows. Over the past two days I've seen so much twisted logic and bizarre scenarios that I wonder what world these people are actually experiencing, or think they're experiencing. I mean, isn't real life awful enough? Why the need for even worse alternate realities?

The one right wing complaint I do understand is that Ayers opposed the Vietnam war, which as every true patriot knows was undermined by domestic terrorists and Soviet spies, along with the commie media. I don't know how many reactionaries read me with any regularity, but allow me to settle this on my end -- the US assault on Vietnam wasn't a "mistake" or a bungled attempt to spread "freedom," it was a massive war crime that far exceeded anything placed at the feet of Milosevic or Saddam, two amateurs who got caught doing what the big boys do as a matter of policy. The US had no right to attack Vietnam, which included carpet bombing campaigns, chemical warfare, torture and death squad activity, and that the Vietnamese have basically forgiven us for our mass murder and destruction in their country should shame us even more. But for a lot of Americans, it doesn't, and doubtless never will. We were the real victims of the Vietnam war, or as Jimmy Carter famously put it, the destruction was "mutual."

Bill Ayers actively opposed that criminal war. Good for him. That he and his privileged friends used the war as an excuse to launch Weather violence severely diminishes that opposition. Since Barack Obama is not against imperial war per se, just the kind that isn't managed effectively, he really can't respond to the right on principled grounds, only tactical ones. It'll be interesting to see how reactionaries assess Obama's war making in the coming years. He'll be killing those whom right wingers insist are the enemy, but to them, it'll be for the wrong, insidious reasons. Hmmm. Sounds familiar.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Half Century Of Loyal Service

One year shy, actually. I turn 49 today, a birthday I thought I'd dread, but I woke up this morning in such good spirits that I wanted to share it with you, my ever patient readers, who slog through all manner of sad sorry shit on a regular basis.

But not this day!

I suppose it stems from the wonderful dream I had last night, where I spent my final high school year at an acting school in New York, which would be the New York of the late-70s, home to a vibrant CBGB and those talented kids from "Fame." My then-stepmother, who in real life was much more complicated, to say the least, enrolled me, and I was hanging with bohemian youth, the girls wearing leg warmers and dozens of music buttons on oversized men's sport jackets (I believe I caught a Rezillos in passing). It felt all warm and safe. Aren't the chemicals in our brains something else?! Let's give them a hand!

As I age, I think about a couple of friends who died long ago, Bob and Guy. I was much closer to Bob, who was like an older brother to me, mature, solid, stable. He was one of the few people in my early life who took my artistic dreams seriously. He was always in my corner, even though, as a pseudo-conservative blue collar guy (he was a union steward in the local Jenn-Air factory), he didn't necessarily approve of some my tastes, especially when I got into Devo, Sex Pistols, Elvis Costello, et al. "Gimme Jackson Browne," he'd say in response. Or The Doors. Bob loved The Doors. I'd play "Mongoloid" or "Pretty Vacant" for him, but he simply wouldn't budge. Ah well. Someone had to stick up for the hippies.

I loved Bob. And when I heard that he had died in a car crash, I fell completely apart. He was traveling through the Southwest with his girlfriend, taking forgotten two-lane highways (he followed an old map, drawn before interstates were built), exploring the lost America. Somewhere in Texas, a drunk teenager swerved across the lane and smashed directly into Bob's jeep. Bob was killed instantly. His girlfriend was thrown into a ditch, suffering bruises and a few cuts. The kid survived as well. Many years later, he looked up Bob's mother, father, and sister to apologize and ask for their forgiveness, which they gave him.

I spent countless hours with Bob and his family, in a small trailer in Lawrence, Indiana, and there was so much love present, I never wanted to leave. We would sit around the kitchen table and tell stories, jokes, sing songs. Bob and his Dad frequently arm wrestled, while his sister, Sherry, did Yul Brenner from "The Ten Commandments" or Tom Laughlin from "Billy Jack." I had never seen a family so comfortable with each other. It seemed like a miracle, given my chaotic surroundings. I soaked in as much as I could. It remains in me to this day. That experience alone makes this life worthwhile.

Bob died at 22. I still think about him, and still love him and his family. I have his Jenn-Air work shirt, which I'm giving to my son, who is 5'7" at 12 and still growing. Bob's name is stitched in bright red, and like my memories of him, it hasn't faded over time.

It's gonna be a warm, sunny day. I'm off to enjoy it. Hope you do the same.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Home Stretch Rituals

Is it possible in the final "debate" for our prospective overlords to spill some blood? Not each other's, of course, but some demonstration of murderous capability. The stage in Nashville was large enough to allow a few chickens to run about, and given the dull, austere atmosphere, crazed clucking and flapping would've animated the proceedings a bit. Obama and McCain would walk around, deliver their pre-scripted sound bites, then suddenly drop the mike, grab a hen, twist off its head, drink its blood, and unleash a primal scream of conquest. A decided ratings bump. YouTube would be swamped for weeks.

Some may think I'm making a satirical, metaphorical point. Not so. I really mean it. All this talk about killing and crushing our invisible enemies intrigues me, and I want to see which one of these guys has the stones to seriously act on it. It's all peachy fine to green light an aerial assault that incinerates dozens of poor children, but damn it, show me something now, a sneak peek at the next savage era. That zombified audience desperately needed stimulation, and ripping apart live chickens while yelling "God Bless America!" might've primed their pumps. Dress the birds up as Osama bin Laden, then ask Obama to show how he would eliminate the supervillian. It may help the undecided who question Obama's killer instinct. As for McCain, who knows? Perhaps the chickens would give him a decent fight. It's bound to be more entertaining than listening to him drone on about crossing state lines to get affordable chemo.

Regular readers know that I avoid CNN and the other cable news nets as much as possible. Whenever I visit these channels, I usually get anxiety attacks from watching the lunatics on display. To paraphrase an old Alexander Cockburn line, these election "analysis" panels lend the impression that American journalists are insane. I know that level-headed journos do exist; I've met my fair share. But in order to grab camera time from Campbell Brown and Anderson Cooper, they must scream and wail and jabber as if they just smoked crystal meth. They are a fitting chorus for our corrupt system, the perfect soundtrack to this demented fantasia.

I think Obama has it won. Of course, I thought the same thing about John Kerry four years ago, so what do I know? I would be shocked but not totally surprised if McCain finds some way to prevail. Remember the country that we inhabit. Anything's possible. Still, I don't see it. McCain's too slippery on economic issues, and this is decidedly the wrong time to appear that way. Obama smiles, tilts his loving head, bats his eyes, and promises to make it better. In a land that loves lies and false hope, he who is more deceptively pure becomes king. McCain looks like a bitter, over-the-hill jester whose material no longer works. Maybe he can entertain the chickens.

I seriously considered going to see "An American Carol" this week, the prospect of really bad comedy tempting my damaged mind. Instead, I found several extensive clips online, including the first ten minutes of the movie, where Leslie Nielsen tells a bunch of patriotic kids the story of Michael Malone, i.e. Michael Moore (Kevin Farley imitating his late brother), whose treason and hatred of America knows no bounds. Part of the tale shows a Girl Scout calling Malone a sack of shit, and jihadists in Afghanistan praising Malone's film work. There's a labored bit about the "proper" way to be a suicide bomber, complete with Arab stereotypes running around, eyes popping out of their bearded heads.

In perhaps my favorite scene, Trace Adkins plays the Angel of Death, taking Malone to a future Los Angeles, which has been conquered by Al Qaeda and renamed "Bin Laden City." Naturally, there's a statue of Malone, thanking him for unilaterally losing the Terror War. I thought that Al Qaeda was against such graven images, but then LA does corrupt people, so I suppose that gag has some logic. There's a nice moment when JFK appears in Malone's living room to remind him that Camelot's prince was not an antiwar president. If only Kennedy had a copy of "Savage Mules" on him.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Halluci Nation

Last week on Bill Maher's show, Ralph Nader, a welcome tonic following the Obama/McCain war dance, railed against the corporate looting of the country, yelling to the audience that a taxpayers' revolt was quickly approaching. Now, I admire Nader immensely, and do not regret one fiber of my active support for his 2000 campaign. But I must admit that Ralph's attempt to whip up populist anger in an LA TV studio looked kind of pathetic. Then again, I doubt that Eugene Debs would've had better luck, especially sitting next to Tim Daly, co-president of the Creative Coalition, a Hollywood Dem support network. Listening to Daly prattle on would likely drive Debs back into prison, for solitude if nothing else.

I honestly wish that what Nader promised comes true, though I'm not sure what a present-day taxpayers' revolt would even look like. I doubt it'll be angry mobs in the streets, looking to burn down symbols of corporate dominance. First, our police state wouldn't allow it. Second and most importantly, the great mass of Americans have no desire to bring down the system or change it in ways that would require radical actions. The majority want to be left alone with their toys and what money they have stashed away. They want to consume and be entertained as always, pretending that they're not connected to the wider world, or that their choices have real consequences. The proposed $700 billion bailout was simply too much, and this was reflected in Congress' rejection of Bush's plan. Once in a great while, Congress actually stumbles on behalf of the population. But let's not get crazy about what that rejection ultimately represents.

For those who have a stake in flattering the powerless, recent events handed them a pulpit from which to preach about "democracy" reborn, the masses awakening, the elites trembling, and so on. The standard pied piper tune. It's a measure of how depoliticized we are that a speed bump like the Congressional rejection is viewed as the beginning of some kind of revolution. If liberals like William Greider and Al Giordano really believe that a game-changing populist shift is looming, they're either hallucinating or cynically yanking their readers. Because if a serious groundswell is about to erupt, where can it go? What will be its ultimate destination? There's no real alternative support network for such a thing. No opposition party which this energy and anger can animate and empower. There is only one route, and that is right back to the Democrats. And if you are at all conscious, you know exactly what that means.

Too harsh? Think back to a real populist period, say the late-19th century, when massive strikes shut down industry, when millions of working people were politically active, published their own newspapers, and created their own grassroots power centers. The work required to organize and educate workers in those days was especially hard, given the lack of instantaneous technological outreach. Yet it happened, all across the country. The elites of that time did tremble, until they unleashed federal troops on strikers and marchers, mowing them down with gunfire and clubs, throwing organizers in jail, suppressing newspapers. This continued right through the Woodrow Wilson years, a Democrat whom I credit in "Savage Mules" with creating the first modern American police state model, a gift that subsequent elites modified and streamlined to this day. And all along the way, people's political power has been crushed, bought off, or simply steered into the corporate parties.

Call me an asshole, but I don't see anything remotely approaching the collective activism of those earlier years. And yet, according to some liberal scribes, the earth is about to quake with democratic vigor. Frankly, Americans haven't lost enough for a united tear-it-down response. For a great number, there's still a ways to drop. And even then, when they have nothing left to lose, a significant portion will refrain from direct action and place their concerns with demagogues who thrive in moments of despair. Many people don't want to confront it, but our consumer paradise covers all manner of ugly, bigoted, violent sentiments. The reaction to the 9/11 attacks should remind you of that.

I see it all around me, every day. That millions will vote for McCain/Palin tells us that countless Americans are fucked in the head. That millions more look to the warmongering Obama/Biden ticket for salvation confirms that we're simply fucked. I'm all for smashing this fixed arrangement, but fellow inmates, we must first learn to free ourselves. Voting for CHANGE ain't gonna cut it.

SPEAKING OF ANGER: Here's the trailer for "Der Baader Meinhof Komplex," Uli Edel's take on West Germany's Red Army Faction. I don't advocate this type of violent activity, especially when there's no popular support for such action. Still, you gotta admit, the RAF made the Weather Underground look Amish. But then, they were the first generation after Hitler. That's bound to make you a little nuts.