Wednesday, December 31, 2008

As Happy As Can Be

A quick shout to all of you who helped make this a very good year for me, writin' wise and otherwise. "Savage Mules" did much, much better than expected, and continues to sell. It would've been nice to actually have a reading or a debate to help promote it, but I've been down this bitchy road before. So enough of that, and let's see what we can do in Obama's first year.

I've selected our annual Bad Movie New Year's Eve fest, and I'm confident that Leonard Pinth-Garnell would approve. I won't give too much away, as I plan to write a review. But know that tonight, me and mine will be enjoying films featuring Moms Mabley, David Hasselhoff, Slappy White, Telly Savalas, Jennifer Tilly, and John Murray, who imitates his older brother Bill from "Meatballs" and "Stripes." I'm already rubbing my calloused hands in anticipation.

One film just missed this year's cut -- "Collision Course" with Jay Leno and Pat Morita as a mismatched pair of cops. Judging from the trailer, I may have erred in not getting this, but there's always next year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Chants Encounter

Just returned from an inspired, if freezing, protest against Israel's assault on Gaza. I worked with the main local peace group several years ago, performing stand-up at fundraisers and the like, but most of the members I dealt with were into "peace" as an abstract concept. There was little in the way of geopolitical discussion, especially when it came to Israel/Palestine, but also Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Terror Wars in general. The people I spoke to merely wanted "peace" because, apparently, that's a good thing, which it is. But "peace" cannot exist outside of political arrangements -- not for masses of people, anyway -- so any effort in that direction requires a deeper understanding of prevailing institutions. For many of these members, that essentially translated into voting for Democrats. What else is new?

When I received word of the protest, I was immediately skeptical, if not cynical about it. Great, that's all we need -- a bunch of old hippies croaking out "Give Peace A Chance," urging drivers to honk their horns before returning home to herbal tea and NPR. So I had no plans to attend. But then a political list mate of mine emailed, suggesting that I go. Who knows? Maybe I'd meet at least one person who shared the same views, but felt it important to add their body to the throng. Given what Gazans are currently experiencing, a brief drive to a protest site isn't too much to ask. This swayed me, even though I was prepared for the standard peacenik routine.

While the usual suspects were indeed present, there were many more whom I never saw at one of these peace gatherings, primarily young Palestinian and Lebanese women who were very energetic, making me feel like the old farts I'd mocked. Still, it was bracing. Mothers and their children, young Muslims, a smattering of college kids, secular Arab and Jewish activists, all on pretty much the same page. A cabbie kept driving past us, flashing a thumb's down when not flipping us off. He was met with waves and smiles. Most other people were either indifferent or supportive, peace signs reaching out of SUV windows.

I had a nice discussion with a local Palestinian activist and a young Israeli woman who works with her. They were filled with genuine human spirit, warming my creaky bones in the face of winter cold. There was the ancient, "What do we want?! PEACE! When do we want it?! NOW!" chant (it's clearly time for some new material), but a few of the younger people spoke, including the Israeli woman, who gave a heartfelt speech about Israeli/Palestinian cooperation, which was met with nodding heads and applause. It lightened this craggy fuck's load a bit, despite the ongoing misery in Gaza. I must get away from the keyboard more often.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Killing Floor Expands

Friend Richard Seymour does some heavy lifting in a thankless area, namely, setting the record straight regarding Hamas. Or about as straight as one can get amid the slanders and lies. Like another heavy lifter, Chris Floyd, I too have no love for Hamas' religious views and practices. But then, I live inside an imperial state, not under its boot, so I cannot say how I would act or think were I languishing in Gaza-like conditions. It's easy for Westerners to project their "elevated" values on the distant poor, the dispossessed, the murdered and maimed. It's also obscene to do so when their taxes are literally killing those who fail to live up to such "civilized" standards. Yet, many in the West behave this way with little shame or care. Another perk of imperial existence.

It's interesting to note how all the excuses for slaughtering Palestinians when the PLO was Hitler are now being used to tar Hamas. They reject compromise, are bottomless Jew haters, are addicted to death, want to drive Israel into the sea, etc. Naturally, being human beings, there are Palestinians who match these descriptions (just as there are Israelis who view Palestinians as dogs, pigs, insects, and cancers). But accurate labeling isn't the goal here; finding excuses to justify attacks that were pre-planned is the overall point. Again, this goes back to the PLO period, when Fatah offers of two-state negotiation, beginning in 1976, were not only rejected by Israel, but were often answered with air strikes. When the PLO kept offering to talk, Israel found ways to undermine Palestinian moderation, from helping anti-PLO Muslims gain political/military traction (which led to Hamas), to outright attempts at physical annihilation, like the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Now that Fatah has been reduced to Israeli-client status, the same bloody playbook is being used against Hamas, and will be used against whoever succeeds them.

This has been a Zionist goal from well before the formation of Israel in 1948. As Ze'ev Jabotinsky put it in his seminal "The Iron Wall" from 1923, "Culturally [the Palestinians] are 500 years behind us, spiritually they do not have our endurance or our strength of will . . . They look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie." Thus, "we conclude that we cannot promise anything to the Arabs of the Land of Israel or the Arab countries. Their voluntary agreement is out of the question." Jabotinsky was an inspiration to and godfather of modern Israeli rejectionism, primarily for those on the Israeli right, but not excluding more "moderate" Zionist currents. The bottom line is that Palestinians have never been part of the equation. They've been in the way, and their ongoing existence and resistance provide Israeli hardliners the fuel needed to openly kill and marginalize them. What is happening now in Gaza is merely the latest chapter of this barbarous narrative. Judging from official Israeli statements, this narrative is hardly near its end.

Yesterday, I wrote how pleasantly surprised I was to see a popular liblog like Firedoglake tackle the Gaza crisis. This engagement is spreading throughout the libsphere, a big break from the relative liberal silence over Israel's 2006 assault on Lebanon. Jane Hamsher speaks to this shift, which I'm happy to see happening. How deep it is and what shape it will take once Obama's sworn in remains open to question. However, as bizarre as it might seem, I feel a tad optimistic on this front. Let's see where it goes.


The wife claims to know yours truly. Anybody recognize this guy?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Why We Pay Taxes

Heavy rain and lightning deprived the Obamas of electricity for 11 hours, sending their Hawaiian vacation into the dark. Not to worry. The Marines kept his communication lines open, and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann reported that Obama was in one of the "most secure places, so he'll be OK."

Oh, thank God. It wouldn't do for our new Dear Leader to operate by candlelight, eating everything in the freezer before it spoils. Yes, it might give him a taste of what average Americans must endure in far less posh surroundings; but since Obama is a transformative, historical figure, he shouldn't suffer inconvenience of any kind. That's the beauty of imperial hierarchy, a power arrangement that attracts countless servants and apologists, all trying to get a whiff of what the Obamas are doubtless by now taking as their due. That creates its own energy, whether or not the lights are on.

At the other end of this arrangement lie those who have nothing to offer save their pitiful lives, and even those are at best negligible. What the Obamas briefly encountered is a daily reality for the Gazans, minus the plumbing, food, access to medicine and doctors. But lack of electricity is the least of Gaza's problems at the moment. Once again, in "self defense," Israeli F-16s are pounding the hell out of Gaza, hitting numerous civilian targets, killing and maiming hundreds, while the IDF prepares for a ground invasion. These war crimes, so routine by this point that raised eyebrows are the strongest reaction you'll see among cultivated Westerners, are supposedly in reaction to the Qassam rockets fired on nearby towns by Hamas. That this barrage did little damage is beside the point. The Palestinians cannot show any sign of resistance, no matter how tactically effective or advisable it may be. They are an inferior race, cockroaches, malignant tumors, and the slightest hint of pushing back will provoke a massive response by the superior race, whose commitment to democracy and freedom glows in divine light -- or the light from terror bombing, which to many is the same thing.

According to the Israeli discussion list I belong to, Israeli commentators on national TV are not only hailing this fresh round of mass murder, but are calling for much more. The Israeli right is naturally pleased. Some Israeli doves hastily demonstrated against the attacks, but it appears that they're in the minority. The bottom line is that Israel can and will slaughter as many Gazans as it desires, and no one will stop them. A few editorialists will counsel "restraint," which in this context is like urging an ax murderer to use a hatchet instead. But in the end, it won't really matter. The US openly backs these atrocities, using American tax dollars to help finance the bloodshed. You, me, and every American has Palestinian blood on our hands, which are about to become a darker crimson.

So, what are we gonna do about it? Our incoming Savior is part of this barbarous consensus, as is his assembled staff -- most notably our next Secretary of State, a longtime supporter of Israeli aggression. When Israel attacked Lebanon in 2006, most American "progressives" barely made a peep about it on their blogs and elsewhere, and this was with the hated Bush in the White House. What do you think they'll do or say once Obama wears the crown? My guess is very little, if anything at all, but I'm willing to be proven horribly wrong. Indeed, I was surprised and pleased to see a top liblog like Firedoglake actually mention the Israeli attacks, not once but in several posts. Many of FDL's comment threads are filled with disgust and anger toward the IDF, which is a huge step in libbyland. Where this will lead I've no idea. But it is something. Meanwhile, the carnage continues.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Forgotten Laughter

Here's a serious blast from the distant past for me: Ray Combs' "Tonight Show" debut, from October 1986. I've mentioned this set a few times over the years, but I haven't seen the entire segment in ages. I had moved back to NYC by this point, abandoning the LA sitcom temptation to starve in the West Village. But I was still writing for Ray, his celebrity heating up around this time. As you'll see, Ray killed. He not only got a standing ovation, but he was brought to the panel to sit with Johnny Carson, thus joining a very elite club of first-timers who joined Johnny after their sets (Letterman and Steven Wright among them).

Two of Ray’s jokes are mine -- the Love Boat, and arguing with schizophrenics. Both did quite well with the audience, which still warms my heart. The latter joke, which I wrote the day before this appearance and read to Ray over the phone, provoked a 3 AM call from veteran stand-up and Letterman pal George Miller, who was then headlining in Oklahoma City. Miller accused me of stealing his material. This was bullshit; his act did zero for me. When I patiently broke it down for him, it turned out that Miller felt he had a corner on certain premises, not specific jokes. His demented ego was that big. Miller soon retreated and admitted that he was mistaken. I never heard from him again.

I wasn't a fan of Ray's overall shtick; some of the phony showbiz crap he pulls here drove me nuts (and out of LA). Still, he liked my material. It lent him whatever "edge" Ray presumably possessed. Most times my jokes seemed out of place with Ray's more crowd-pleasing bits. Looking back, it made sense. Get the audience on your side, then slip in some different tastes. Ray could hook an audience within seconds. He had the gift, which he eventually squandered before his inglorious end. Various people continually suggest that I write a book or a film about Ray, but I'm not sure who would be interested in his sad story. Ray was merely one of countless talents who got a taste of the big time, then fell to the bloody pavement, swept aside, forgotten by many. Here he is at the launching point.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Keep Walkin', Buñuel

An old coffee ad once promised, "The best part of waking up, is Folgers in your cup." That may or may not be true. I haven't really studied the evidence. But it's got to be better than waking up with loose fabric blocking your windpipe.

The other morning, while stretching my aching arms and legs in bed, I took a deep breath and sucked in a piece of blanket that clearly was waiting for an opening to get me -- the opening in this case being my mouth. The day before, I vigorously shook this blanket outside, trying to rid it of schmootz, not thinking that I might be angering the bed covering, primarily since it's an inanimate object lacking a central nervous system, mode of language, memories, regrets, loved ones long gone.

That'll teach me. I should have heeded the lesson of "Planet of the Apes": don't travel to Earth's future if you can help it. God knows what the hell you'll find there. Well, that's human arrogance. Obviously, we as a species have a long way to go.

Anyway, the blanket bit went right down my air hole, and I leapt out of bed, gagging and grabbing my throat. The wife, immersed in Albert Goldman's "The Lives of John Lennon," paid me no mind. My actions differed little from my attempts to initiate sex, and she wasn't in the mood for love, especially while reading about Yoko throwing cat shit at John's head as he snorted heroin off a plaster cast of Harry Nilsson's dick, "Green Acres" blasting from the TV, and baby Sean urinating on the wall, his nanny applauding his creativity.


"Not now, dear."

"GAFFFRRNT! GEGA . . .GURN . . . GAH . . ."

"Oh, put a sock in it!"

She nearly guessed right. But it seemed too late. Oxygen was leaving my brain. The winter morning light swirled around, taking me to an earlier time.

Lord, how I preferred Burger Chef to McDonald's and White Castle. After two bites, their burgers became sloppy, slippery messes, dripping all over your clothes, attracting stray dogs that licked their crusty muzzles, staring at you unblinking, perhaps confusing you for the burger, which was why it made sense to carry an aluminum bat when eating Burger Chef cuisine. Also, my father told me about the facts of life while in a Burger Chef parking lot. Dad tried to explain the mechanics of intercourse between large bites of a Super Chef, but the sloshy mess and crowd of dogs howling and scratching at our car windows made Dad's lesson erratic and hard to follow. This would influence my first attempts to score with Lisa Hudson, whose grip on her aluminum bat tightened with each clumsy pass. But that's another post.

Falling to my knees, I somehow gagged enough to loosen the cloth; and with all the breath I could muster, I finally coughed it out, retching and nearly puking in the process.

"Now, that's more like it," said the wife, flinging Goldman's book aside. "Sing one of your sea ditties, then we'll 'see' what happens."

What a crazy world. I guess that's why they call it "Christmas."

Friday, December 19, 2008

SNL's Classic Coke Year

Cocaine was many a comic's milk during the early-1980s. Several stand-ups I knew or partied with preferred the powder to just about anything else, booze included. I stuck my nose in a few times. Blow was never really my speed, which left me out of many conversations and frenzied back-and-forths.

Being a pothead writer in a roomful of snorting, sniffling comedians put me in another space altogether. While I waxed conceptual, the others were grinding their teeth, zipping from bit to bit, skimming the surface of their minds before pushing their faces against mirrors, glass tables, and in one case, a dirty tile floor.

I thought back to those coked-out times while watching "SNL: The Complete Fourth Season." It was the original SNL's most famous year, 1978-79, a season where comedy was rock and roll, drug humor at its peak, cocaine the main engine. I don't know if another American comedy show ever referenced coke use the way SNL did that year. You certainly wouldn't see that now, which dates these episodes in a weird nostalgic way.

When researching Michael O'Donoghue's biography, many of the writers I interviewed told the same stories about blow in the SNL offices; how it fueled them on Tuesday nights as they shaped scripts for the Wednesday read-through; how the show's hotness guaranteed a steady supply of coke, and so on. You definitely see the results in this seven DVD set.

Some of the humor is cheap. Much of it is inspired, though a certain meanness comes through. When you watch these shows in bulk, comic aggression is immediate. Little wonder that Tina Fey says she would've been frightened to work on the original SNL. It wasn't for the faint-hearted.

While the fourth season featured fan favorites like The Nerds, The Samurai, and The Coneheads, there was an abundance of strange, subtle, conceptual humor as well. John Belushi and Gilda Radner were the most popular faces onscreen, their entrances eliciting applause and yells, but the rest of the cast did solid work, the ensemble's chemistry so tight that it seemed nonexistent.

The writers are heavy as extras and bit players, and they too blend in nicely. It was a moment when fame and satire uneasily coexisted, though it was clear which way SNL would ultimately go. When a program generates the ratings and revenue that SNL did that year, satire is inevitably bled dry, or left to find its own way home. It's hard to attack the system when your brand is all over the media. Still, given corporate reality, SNL's fourth season delivered its share of hard hits, some of which made the audience gasp or groan, depending how tasteless a joke was perceived. As O'Donoghue put it, making people laugh is the lowest form of comedy.

The most popular player that season was also the biggest distraction. Coming off the enormous success of "Animal House," and riding high with The Blues Brothers, John Belushi had bigger things in mind other than SNL. There are scenes where Belushi simply phones it in, his casual, indifferent approach a huge contrast to his earlier, more focused work. Belushi's star was getting brighter. His celebrity overshadowed the show, something the writers played with and Belushi made mild fun of, but clearly his foot was out the door.

When Kate Jackson of "Charlie's Angels" hosted, Belushi, spent from partying, sweated profusely, his voice gravelly, his timing shot. When Richard Benjamin hosted, Belushi didn't show up at all. He claimed to have an ear infection and remained in LA. Occasionally through the fourth year, Belushi nailed a character or scene, employing some of his old magic. But Belushi the Legend was taking over, driving him to his final destination.

In contrast, Gilda Radner performed at an inspired level, her comedic gifts shining in sketch after sketch. She remains perhaps the most natural cast member SNL ever featured (along with Eddie Murphy), and no matter the material or character, Gilda made it work and work well. There's a warm energy to her performances, even when she played Candy Slice, the drunk, drugged out punk singer based loosely on Patti Smith.

Candy Slice is rude, obnoxious, barely cogent, yet in Gilda's hands, she's also vulnerable and somewhat sweet. It's as if Judy Miller, Gilda's energetic little girl character, grew up to become queen of CBGB. Gilda threw herself physically into Candy's music, an uncompromised energy that mined both parody and rock. She suffered from bulimia during this period, her body rail thin, but Gilda's power demolished such restrictions. She could smash through a wall if she willed it.

This season was also Bill Murray's coming out party. Having struggled in his early SNL days, Murray attained his comic balance through the third season, and by the fourth year, he moved to the show's upper tier. Like Gilda, Murray made his work seem effortless, though his energy was decidedly odder, at times potentially explosive.

His lounge singer Nick is the best example of this, as he aggressively entertained whatever small room would have him and his accompanist on piano, Paul Shaffer. As Nick, Murray runs high to low, soft to loud, and there's never a false or clumsy transition from one mood to the next. Plus, no one butchered a song quite as well as Nick, though his commitment to the material is sincere.

The rest of the cast kept a steady beat. Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd remained as precise as ever (though Aykroyd was moving away from his conceptual roots toward a broader comic persona). Laraine Newman's chameleon mode of comedy was still strong, despite her seemingly brittle appearance. But perhaps the biggest surprise is Garrett Morris.

Often dismissed or overlooked in SNL retrospectives, Morris delivered a number of fine performances during this season. From a smooth-talking convict locked in a family's hall closet, to a stuttering singer in a production of "Porky and Bess," to his most famous character (developed with Brian Doyle-Murray), Chico Escuela, the Dominican baseball player-turned-announcer, Morris held his own on such contested turf. On the Walter Matthau show, Morris beautifully sings Mozart. He doesn't get the love he deserves, but Garrett Morris had some serious chops. Trouble was, he had to take what he could get among more celebrated talents.

The writing was eclectic and individualized, something you don't see on SNL anymore. In the original years, geeks like me could tell which writer conceived which bit. Lorne Michaels drew upon diverse voices to give the show a unique flavor.

Jim Downey's "What If?" (what if Eleanor Roosevelt could fly? what if Superman grew up in Nazi Germany?) shared time with Tom Schiller's "Bad" productions and original films. Anne Beatts and Rosie Shuster not only worked on The Nerds, they turned Buck Henry into Uncle Roy, a middle-aged pedophile babysitter who channeled his desires through "childhood" games like Invisible Leg Doctor and Undress Dolly with a Vacuum Cleaner. Walter Williams pumped out numerous Mr. Bill shorts.

But perhaps the best-known writers that year were Al Franken and Tom Davis, who regularly appeared in their own show-within-a-show. These bits are often very funny, if sometimes harsh, a razor wire Bob and Ray.

A couple of times, Franken and Davis announce that they are communist revolutionaries working to overthrow the US government. In one bit, they illustrate bourgeois political corruption, ending in assassination; in another, they try to undermine our imperialist culture by using massage-oriented porn. Each of these scenes are sponsored by the Communist Party -- "The Shah's Not Our Friend" -- complete with large hammer and sickle. Of all the things Norm Coleman could've used against Al Franken in the Minnesota Senate race, I'm surprised he didn't put these images in a commercial. Oh sure, Franken would say it was satire, but was it really . . .?

For me, the most inspired, original writing in the fourth season came from Don Novello and Brian McConnachie. Novello was best known as Father Guido Sarducci, the Vatican gossip columnist, whose absurdist takes on the Catholic Church still resonate. But Novello also authored two running, slice-of-life sketches: Olympia Cafe and Scotch Boutique. The former was more popular, its "cheeseburger, cheeseburger, no Coke, Pepsi" becoming a national catchphrase. Yet despite that covering, the Olympia Cafe pieces were subtly acted, Novello's attention to detail well defined.

Scotch Boutique displayed even more precision. A store that sells only scotch tape opens in a dying mall. At first seen as a ridiculous idea, the Boutique soon prospers, selling tape to the other store owners so they can put up their Going Out of Business signs. These pieces ran through the entire season, forming an extended narrative as opposed to recurring one-liners and character turns. Scotch Boutique was an intelligent look at people confronting failure and loss. There were no jokes, only situations, each more dire than the last. Those pieces are perhaps the most poignant work to ever air on SNL.

Brian McConnachie's work defies easy definition. A National Lampoon vet, McConnachie established himself quickly on SNL, writing ethereal bits that sometimes confused other staffers, Lorne Michaels included.

In "Name The Bats," two game show contestants are locked inside a barn where they must give the bats swooping down on them proper names -- not based on their species, but actual human names. But the contestants are so traumatized by the bat assault they can barely breathe.

In "The Spirits of Christmas," an alcoholic is visited on Christmas Eve by three animated figures from booze bottles who take human form. They teach him the true meaning of the holidays: getting so drunk that you can't find your ass with both hands. It's a somber little piece, with Elliott Gould as the boozer.

In "Cochise At Oxford," the Apache leader enrolls at the august English university, maintaining a stony silence as the professor, played by Eric Idle, gives a bizarre lecture about Thomas Hardy's furniture inflating and expanding, sending Hardy running out of his house in fear.

McConnachie was invited back for SNL's fifth season, but declined, citing the nasty, coke-fueled atmosphere in the offices. He later joined "SCTV," where he won a writing Emmy.

Then there's the music. Devo, Kate Bush, Peter Tosh, Doobie Brothers, Rickie Lee Jones, Talking Heads, Van Morrison, Bette Midler, Ornette Coleman, Eubie Blake and Gregory Hines. The Chieftains play inspired Irish folk music on the Margot Kidder show. Rick Nelson reprises his early pop hits. Frank Zappa is somewhat underwhelming, as he essentially gave up on his hosted show after dress rehearsal. The same goes for The Rolling Stones, who despite the hype, deliver a tepid, strained set.

The Blues Brothers naturally kill, backed by serious R&B studio veterans. But the most electric performance is delivered by The Grateful Dead, a band I never much cared for. On the first Buck Henry show, however, the Dead came alive, Jerry Garcia's stoned smile while playing through "Casey Jones" and "Good Lovin'" putting me at ease to enjoy the music. Of course, it could just be me getting older, a condition, if you've made it this far down the page, we now all share.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Card Shark

The other day, I argued that those liberals amused by the shoes thrown at Bush would never be so casual if the same thing happened to Obama. Liberal fave Rick Perlstein bears me out on this. Not content to wait for Obama's duck and dodge, Perlstein admonished his tribe for showing such little respect for the Holy Presidential Seal.

"Liberals should not make light of or license the physical assault on the leader of a sovereign state, no matter how much he's deservedly hated. This is not how we do politics, unless we're in favor something tending toward anarchy, or fascism.

"This seems open and shut to me: the Iraqi journalist should go to jail for a rather long time."

To Perlstein, the real criminal at that Baghdad press conference was Muntathar al-Zaidi, who was dragged off to be beaten and tortured for his anarcho-fascist behavior. I mean, throwing shoes? Isn't that how the Third Reich got started? Bush, on the other hand, has every right to stand before the Iraqis and lecture them on the glories of democracy. As a "leader of a sovereign state," Bush's mass murder and support for torture in Iraq is legally if not morally sanctioned, or at least undeserving of such crude expressions like flying shoes. I'm certain that if Indonesia's Suharto had shoes thrown at him by a Timorese journalist who lost friends and family in that US-backed genocide, Perlstein would take the same, sensible stand.

Perlstein reminds us that many American liberals are fond of the imperial state, and will defend it against ungrateful recipients of our sometimes misguided, but generally benevolent interventions. Why else would Perlstein call for al-Zaidi's prolonged incarceration, while Bush, however "deservedly hated," can walk freely from the country where his bloody fingerprints are everywhere? Too bad John Wayne Gacy wasn't a head of state. He'd have been free to continue his murderous clown act, with the likes of Rick Perlstein honking his horn out of respect for the office. Recall, too, that Gacy was a Democrat, which would've made Perlstein's job even easier.

I explore all this and more in my next book, "Savage Clowns: The Democrats and Endless Crawlspace."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Freedom's Wings

Yes, Bush ably dodged the shoes. Muntathar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi who showed how participatory journalism works, telegraphed his move by yelling at Bush before throwing his footwear. Perhaps al-Zaidi will learn from his error and perfect his technique for when President Obama visits -- that is, if he isn't beaten and tortured into submission first.

Loved Bush's statement about how "freedom" works, echoing Donald Rumsfeld's casual take on the looting and rioting that occurred after the US invasion of Iraq. Of course, if any American tried the same thing, the penalty would be severe, since attacking the imperial manager is a serious felony. Not to worry. American journos, especially those covering the White House, are too well conditioned to ever make an al-Zaidi move. Their job is to kiss and polish the president's shoes, not throw their own.

As the AP headline put it, "Bush's Iraq-Afghan farewell tour marred by dissent." Marred. Yep, that pretty much sums up our domestic media mindset. Meanwhile, American liberals are enjoying a mighty laugh over the shoe toss. Were the same to happen to Obama, libs would be the first to scream foul, angered by the lack of foreign respect for the Leader of The Free World, especially from ungrateful Iraqis, who don't have the decency to finance their own submission, as Obama repeatedly points out.

Depends which shoe is on whose foot.

Elsewhere on the freedom front, we find that the George H.W. Bush/Bill Clinton technique of using pounding, ceaseless music to drive captives mad is commonly employed at Guantanamo Bay, in Iraq and Afghanistan, "to create fear, disorient . . . and prolong capture shock," as Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez explained. The artists whose music is being used to smash prisoners' sanity are so upset with this tactic that at upcoming concerts, they'll observe a moment of silence to show their displeasure.

Exactly what we need -- more silence. And is there any doubt that Muntathar al-Zaidi will soon become intimate with Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made For Walking," a Waco classic? If you can't mix in some obvious pop themes when torturing hajis, then it becomes just another job. You may as well work in a cubicle.

In Afghanistan, where the Good War will soon get a boost courtesy of President Peace (sic), the rape and sexual abuse of boys is apparently taking place right under NATO's nose. A Canadian soldier who was so traumatized by what he witnessed, confessed when he returned home, "I have never been to church since; I stopped believing in God."

Another victory for secularism!

Friday, December 12, 2008

The War At Home

The prospect of a GM or Chrysler collapse has added more tension to this part of Michigan, a place where working people are already being squeezed if not steamrolled by what passes for the economy. I've never seen anything like it in my life, and I suspect it'll get worse. I hope not. I don't know how much more negative weight people around here can endure.

I've never considered myself a Marxist or a communist -- indeed, I've had many nasty fights with those who do. But looking around at the devastation, which isn't hard to find, I can see how one could succumb to the Marxist urge. I thought that the Army radicalized me, which it did, for a time, anyway; but this shit is something else. No wonder mainstream outlets like The Christian Science Monitor are calling on Obama to save capitalism. Being very class conscious, American elites understand how the unmasked face of capital can affect the desperate and powerless. The worker occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago is a warning shot from below. The people above don't want to see more of that.

Let's see how serious Obama's proposed "public works" project ultimately is. I'm not sure where he'll get the money. Perhaps the Saudis and the Chinese can help rebuild parts of Detroit, without doubt the poorest, most decimated city I've ever been in. I've yet to visit Gaza, so my perspective is limited. But a drive through Detroit reveals some pretty ghastly images, and will shatter your car's suspension if you aren't meticulous behind the wheel. The vast number of craters and potholes makes it seem like someone went on a bombing spree, which, in a fiscal sense, is pretty much the case. If GM and Chrysler fold, the bombing will intensify, turning swaths of southeastern Michigan into an economic Afghanistan. Somehow, I doubt the locals will consider that a "good war."

MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE: If my old Army buddy Steve M. is reading this, please phone or email me. I lost your contact info, which is why you haven't heard from me.

When Steve was stationed in Germany, I asked him to send me any Red Army Faction material he could find, which he did, though he disapproved. By this point in my Army life, my barracks room was decorated with photos of Salvadoran rebels, Sandinista supporters, and assorted copies of The Militant. So having some RAF literature lying around merely added to the general theme. Yet, neither our First Sergeant nor our Company Commander said anything about this after an inspection. Different Army. Different times.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Shadows Start To Fall

No guts, no glory -- at least no severance and accrued vacation pay, which is what the 200 workers who occupied the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago demanded, and apparently will receive, if news reports are accurate. Good for them. We may not be living in radical labor times, but that could change quickly if the Republic workers' example spreads, which I hope it does. Direct action usually puts the owners on the spot, and given this shitty economy, it may be the one real weapon workers have left.

For all the liberal squawking about holding Obama's feet to flames, these workers showed how it's done, action that libloggers and commentators would rarely if ever take. Obama made all the right noises about the factory occupation, once again trying to be something for everyone. But the man's not yet in office; let's see how President Change (sic) reacts should workers nationwide confront elite institutions, demanding economic justice, putting their bodies on the line. A single feel-good holiday sit-in is one thing, for just about everybody can relate to those workers' desperation. But two, three, many direct challenges to capital? Obama's good at PR, but a real uprising from below would force his hand. After all, he was Wall Street's choice in the election. I doubt he was financed to play Big Bill Haywood.

Thinking about Bank of America and other corporate welfare cheats, I return to the final moments from "Fight Club," where the glass tower vampires meet their dawn.

Speaking of vampires, I'm enjoying the liberal tussle over Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich who, in Bill Clinton fashion, refuses to go down quietly. Why should he? In a nation of political crooks, routine bribery, and fixed elections, Blagojevich is scarcely out of the mainstream. His real sin is being brazen about his corruption, letting his ego logjam business as usual. At first, some libs suggested that Blagojevich was being set-up by Bush's FBI, because, like, if Democrats cheat or bribe, it's a reaction to Republican blackmail or bullying, not part of their true nature. Maybe Blagojevich was targeted after calling out Bank of America over its withholding of funds to the Republic Windows workers. But like Eliot Spitzer, Blagojevich provided his adversaries plenty of rope to hang him with; and now, many liberals have abandoned the Illinois Gov, insisting that Obama had nothing to do with Blagojevich's inside game.

Liberals gotta have an idol to polish, and will move from pedestal to pedestal to find one. Joe Lieberman and Nancy Pelosi were former faves who libs conveniently rejected. Al Gore still resonates, as do the Clintons (always the fucking Clintons). Obama sits atop the marble staircase, countless polishers working 'round the clock. It'll take a full-scale depression or social meltdown to tarnish his rep. Then again, when you embrace someone like Joe Biden, your tolerance for corporate shills must remain high to overcome the cognitive dissonance. Either that, or you're a sucker for private power. Whatever carries you to the midterms.

I'm also amused by the so-called "distress" some progressive Dems have shown over Obama's cabinet appointments. Where are the antiwar voices? Where are the populist lefties? Hoo haw. This scenario's been played so many times that no script is required. Everyone knows their lines. The PDA-types wring their hands, while "pragmatists" like David Corn counsel patience and reserve. But in the end, it doesn't matter what worried liberals think or say, as the final scene is already written. Whining is the sound liberals make before they submit to their rulers. Obama understands this better than anyone. Just leave the pet door to the Party open.

They'll come crawling. Right on cue.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Oblong Taints The Town

Tina toyed with the giants under her spell, but felt her dominance slipping away.

Suzanne and Paula went to great lengths to deny their passion for one another.

Bebe and Nadia rarely took the snipers seriously.

Once vibrant, Karen's lawn parties became stale and routine.

When all else failed, Cassie fell back on what she knew.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Gone Daddy Gone

Sometimes the sole way to remain reasonably sane is embrace absurdity. Let it fracture your mind and knock the candles from your lids. So in that screaming spirit I share "A Show Called Fred," a 1956 London TV effort written by Spike Milligan and featuring Peter Sellers, then a strictly English personality. "Fred" is from another dimension entirely, and aired when the Pythons were still teenagers. Based on the below evidence, I'm sure some of them were watching.

And dig this crazy Mr. Magoo cartoon. I love mass media depictions of beatniks, though it was this type of caricature that sent Ginsberg to India and Kerouac deep into the bottle. Nevertheless, it makes me laugh, and I routinely talk like the mad poets in the crumbling building, another reason we should probably never meet.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Laughing Maniacally On The Inside

Whenever I read Chris Floyd, I feel relief and guilt. I'm relieved that someone is cataloging the crimes of empire, covering places that few people seriously consider, like Somalia. I'm guilty because I don't do enough of this myself. I used to, or at least tried to, especially in my early online days. But after four years of fairly steady blogging, I simply don't feel it anymore. It's not that I don't care or had my outrage gland removed. My teeth remain on edge for many of my waking hours. I merely wonder what's the point of it all.

I suppose my recent malaise stems from the general liberal refusal to engage me over the Dem war machine, people who I know have read "Savage Mules," but want nothing to do with it or me. I'd hoped to engage as many prominent libs as possible, clearing the ground, in a sense, for the next phase of Dem governance. The excuses I received from those few who replied to my queries were naturally Obama-centric, the great mission of making him president more important than my little tome or petty arguments about business-as-usual. I accepted this for a time; but now that Obama's going the way a handful of us predicted, you'd think that this would be a perfect moment to begin debating the approaching era.

Ha. According to "pragmatic" liberals, most noxiously Tim Wise, it's much too soon to pick at the Anointed One. Sure, he's loading his cabinet with well-known commodities like Hillary Clinton, while retaining the services of Robert Gates; but who knows what behind-the-scenes magic Obama is fomenting. It could all be a clever ruse, a necessary cover for whatever progressive moves the Savior-elect has in mind.

Yes, there are actual adults who seem to believe this scenario, or at least want those who remain skeptical to buy it, so debating these fantasymongers would be a waste of time -- assuming they were keen to debate. Most that I know of don't want to hear anything negative about Obama, and I seriously doubt this will CHANGE three months, eight months, two years into his administration, much less when his re-election campaign cranks up. Based on available evidence, the most critical these people will get will be some resigned sighs, shrugged shoulders, and bleats about working within the system, taking what you can get, etc.

In other words, either get with the winning team or shut the fuck up.

But this is all down the road. For now, Obama supporters have the luxury of dreaming about What Might Be. They sure as hell don't want their pink clouds darkened with bad vibes. That turn in the weather is fast approaching as it is.

If the above rambling sounds contradictory, muddled or confused, well, that's pretty much where my head is politically. Some of you feel this is how I am anyway, and you may be right. All the more reason to read Chris Floyd, John Caruso and Bernard Chazelle (both of whom appear regularly at Jon Schwarz's joint), my smirking buddy IOZ, among others. Their tolerance for this bullshit easily surpasses mine, at least for the time being. Maybe I'll get back in the swing once The O Show debuts in late January. Until then, be ready for anything in this space, or nothing at all. He who knows doesn't speak, and he who speaks is usually an asshole -- hopefully waxed and bleached for public consumption.

LINGERING MULE EFFECT: Tom Watson wrote a generous review of my book recently, as did Steven Poole in the London Guardian. A photo of LBJ conducting a staff meeting while taking a dump will be sent to both as a form of thanks.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Holiday Cheer

"I find you to be an insufferable crank, your curdled political ramblings infuriating as much for their pointlessness as their solipsistic denial of reality."

Try saying that fast three times.

This is a taste of some of the fan mail I've received since Obama's ascension, and I expect more of the same as we approach that magic date, 1/20/09, the day of liberal deliverance, where Republican duplicity evaporates to reveal a "new dawn," as Obama himself recently put it. New Dawn. Year Zero. Shake the Etch-A-Sketch and start again -- or in Obama's case, apply electrodes to the Clintonite beast and zap it back to life. After watching him trot out his team, it appears that Obama's "new dawn" will emit a familiar old stench.

Some of you who find it painful to read me (yet, not only do you return, you seem to know a lot about my work, going back a year or more) have been blowing me shit about criticizing Obama before he's taken the oath. "What ever happened to the presidential honeymoon?" is a common question. Well, honeymoons are usually filled with consensual fucking, and since I didn't vote for Obama, I don't see why I should voluntarily spread on his behalf. If you want to be fucked by Obama, offer yourself freely, though the line appears a few thousand miles long, so you may want to bring along one of his audio books to keep you stimulated while you wait.

I never hear that it's too early to praise Obama, and there's certainly no shortage of hosannas. Every political carny and wannabe player is flexing and spinning to serve the new imperial manager. Nothing "new" there.

On it rolls. I suppose an upside to this is that I fully expected Obama to go this route, or something very similar, so the word "betrayal" means nothing to me. That I'll have to help pay for his decisions, murder chief among them, diminishes whatever solace I can take in not being surprised.

Do keep those emails coming. I never tire of watching people tie themselves into fantasy knots.

Why was there so much head-scratching over the deadly Wal-Mart stampede? Powerless, atomized people can and often do treat each other horribly, especially if consumer toys are marked down and waved in their faces. Trampling another poor person in order to grab a plasma screen isn't terribly shocking, given how many value property over fellow humans. It's merely a reflection of the larger system, only more honest and direct. Death by sweatshop and death by consumer crush are woven from the same bloody cloth, serving and enriching many of the same people. The only real concern is whether any of it hurts sales. Still, the special edition DVD of "The Incredible Hulk" for nine bucks ain't bad.

Monday, December 1, 2008

An All New Season Of . . .

Back when he sort of mattered, George Will, attacking what he saw as domestic queasiness with war, wondered if Americans would've thrown in the towel had the Civil War been televised. This assumes that 1860s television would've shown graphic images from Gettysburg instead of uplifting propaganda films (Confederate TV doubtless would've aired an early version of "Hee-Haw," using slaves as slapstick props), but Will's main point was that Americans were too soft to be a serious warrior race, so the media had to help shape us were we ever to realize our imperial destiny.

Will's thesis was offered when the US relied on surrogates like the Contras and the Afghan mujahedeen to kill commies, relieving its own citizens of this necessary, national responsibility. Today, Americans are in the thick of many foreign battles, with more to follow, so Will was ahead of the imperial curve, sharpened by the 9/11 attacks. Indeed, those attacks disproved much of Will's argument, as Americans watched the planes endlessly hit hit hit the Towers, their collapse seen from every available angle and speed. Thousands died right before our eyes, and far from making us squeamish, we went batshit insane, well beyond anything Will might've hoped for a quarter century ago. Our malleable minds were ready for shaping, and corporate media outlets performed their institutional function beautifully. It didn't last -- we're Americans after all -- but it wouldn't take much to wind us up again. Indeed, we're long overdue for another national freak out.

According to some, the recent terror attacks in Mumbai are supposedly India's 9/11, a wake-up call to vengeful arms. In the Sunday New York Times, Anand Giridharadas tried to whip up the old magic:

"But what slowly became clear was that this was an attack of especial barbarism, because it was so personal. It was unlike the many strikes of the last many months, bombs left in thronging markets or trains or cars: acts of shrinking cowardice. The new men were not cowards. They seemed to prolong the fight as long as they could. They killed face to face; they wanted to see and speak to their victims; they could taste the violence they made.

“'It is an Indian variant of 9/11, and today India needs to respond the way America did,' Ravi Shankar Prasad, a member of Parliament from the rightist Bharatiya Janata Party, said on television."

Well, if you're gonna use America's 9/11 brand, you may as well go all the way. Look what it's done for us!

Giridharadas' Jim Thompson imitation paints the Mumbai violence in garish colors, as if the attacks came from another world, "especial barbarism" that's alien to civilized minds. Given India's history, from British rule to now (Bernard Chazelle reminds us of the daily economic violence that doesn't merit the Giridharadas touch), you might think that this country of over a billion people has seen worse, however brutal the Mumbai attacks. But this is Terror War time, and the prospect of Pakistani involvement fits nicely with hostilities already brewing against Pakistan, a hot front that our new president has promised to stoke, despite the fading dreams of those peaceniks who still believe Obama is antiwar.

Speaking of which -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Let that roll around in your mouth a bit before uttering it. I don't know about you, but I'm very pleased with this selection. The hollow points are in the chamber; the safety's off; Happy Hour will soon be enforced by law. Minds are being shaped once again. The terrorists in Mumbai played their role, hitting a Westernized target, which is the real outrage. President Change is preparing to play his. And Hillary? Are you fucking kidding me?

READ: Former netroots panel pals Manan and Juan who offer more on this topic.