Wednesday, June 30, 2010

This Bleeding Heart

First Devo. Now PiL.

Yes, Old Home Week continues, but not as simple nostalgia. More aesthetic reinforcement. While I wouldn't rank Devo's latest effort with their early work, their new satirical assault pleases me no end. There's something awfully absurd about fiftysomething men wearing matching uniforms with masks, yet it speaks to me -- not only as a mask fetishist, but as an older artist back on stage.

Public Image Ltd's current tour offers similar tonic. As I've said too many times, John Lydon is an early and lasting inspiration. Now at 54, Lydon leads a tight version of PiL, albeit not the classic quartet (which would be an interesting reunion). Gone is the fuck you brashness of youth; Lydon has ripened into a mature performer while retaining some old moves as signatures. He seems to really enjoy himself, despite his admitted stage fright. Lydon flirts with self-parody, as do all aging musicians and singers in one form or another. Yet Lydon's confidence, openness, and playfulness keeps everything on his terms. Like Robert Crumb, you really can't parody the guy.

Here's a recent appearance on Fallon. I wonder how many of those bopping kids knew what PiL was before the taping. All that's missing are some go-go cages and mini-skirted dancers to complete the Hullaballoo vibe. Still, a great set, and one can only imagine the mix had Richard Branson successfully convinced Devo to make Lydon their lead singer in 1978. I don't see John wearing a mask, though.

I really identify with this segment, as I tend to behave the same way in NYC, the architectural critique most especially. When Lydon says he can't relate to modern shit, I think he's referring more to shit than to modernism. But maybe he hates the whole package. Given how our owners view us, that's probably the only loving option left.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Are We Not Penned?

Over ten thousand people in Toronto's streets, expressing displeasure with the status quo. That's always uplifting to see, especially in this corporate age where passivity is encouraged, surrender rewarded. There's no question that millions more worldwide oppose current power arrangements, but the question of resistance remains tangled.

We saw two forms in Toronto as the G-20 (following the G8) discussed how best to run the globe, minus democratic input. The majority of protestors were peaceful, traditional, fenced into zones surrounded by paramilitary units. The Black Bloc did its thing, racing down streets, smashing windows, Days of Rage tactics that gave the cops a chance to test new methods of violent control, since the majority refused to give them that pleasure. (Doubtless there were agent provocateurs, but how much does it take to whip these kids into a property-damage frenzy?) To paraphrase Madeline Albright, what good are hi-tech weapons if you can't use them?

Neither form accomplished much. The peaceful were corralled, the violent impotent. I doubt that G-20 delegates gave them more than a passing thought. Why should they? The owners and their employees are well-guarded, their isolation from the mass planned well in advance. Global capital reigns supreme, however shaky in spots. But even those areas are not seriously challenged. The Terror Wars cost trillions, yet few lift a finger. With no real structural alternative in the offing, much less a deep grassroots movement to animate and define it, consumers are left scrambling about, trying to find their place in the machine.

This is why global elites meet in large population areas. Other than some placard waving, they face no push back, so why hide in some luxurious bunker? It's almost as if they're taunting us, displaying their power and distance while the corporate media treat the better-known figures like celebs in People or Us. Most of us are so conditioned to watching richer people walk, talk, and play that it barely registers anymore. It's almost as if it isn't happening, and given present reality, that's probably for the best.

Devo predicted long ago that humans would de-evolve as corporate feudalism ran everything into the ground. Thirty years later, it's hard to argue with their musical/satirical prophesy. Now the spuds have returned with a new album, Something For Everybody, which rubs our noses further into info-glut madness. Devo has made a handsome living from film/TV/ad/video game soundtracks, so they know of what they speak. Here are two initial segments showing Devo's current vision.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Personality Crisis

The beauty of living in Fantasy Nation is that consumers can say anything pro- or anti-government, and it doesn't fucking matter. Holds zero weight. Has absolutely no bearing or influence on actual policy. We yell from our cages, maybe rattle the bars, and then it's back to whatever cultural distraction keeps us locked in. The envy of the world.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal's Rolling Stone routine, Don Rickles in camo, has liberals aflutter. Progs are predictably outraged by McChrystal's affront to Their President, citing dead documents like the Constitution, respect for the seal, the flag, the nation state itself. Liberals love to prove their superior patriotism, and this executive dust-up lends them a small stage to show their allegiance.

They'll also rally to a Dem president, regardless of how awful he or she is. Had Joe Lieberman ever found his way into the Oval Office, those liberals who now hate him (after voting to put him a heartbeat away in 2000, and wishing he was there through 2008) would defend Lieberman from nefarious GOP plots. The comic potential of this is so rich that I wish it had happened. The fix would be too glaring to deny, which would take denial to another, hopefully entertaining level.

The kicker, of course, is that all these righteous gyrations are meaningless. Political karaoke. Flexing in the mirror. Countless online libs insist that Obama "should" say this, "ought" to do that, dreaming up scenarios that may offer temporary balm, but have no relation to reality. They seem to think that administration figures not only read their recommendations, but might seriously consider and act on them. We're all in this together, right?

Many liberals mention Harry Truman's firing of Douglas MacArthur over Korean policy. Now that's how a kick-ass Commander-in-Chief rolls! That Truman and MacArthur differed tactically, primarily over the use of nuclear weapons (MacArthur was for it, Truman batted around the option with aides), is beside the point. That Truman helped oversee mass murder and vast destruction in the North, reducing much of it to smoldering rubble, forcing survivors to live in caves, is the back story. Harry stood up to Doug, as Barack must do with Stan. Afghanistan is the subplot.

Efforts to paint McChrystal as a knuckle-dragging Nazi who hates hippies is a typical liberal defense mechanism. But let's say it's an accurate portrayal. If so, why did McChrystal vote for Obama? Why does he get along so well with Hillary? Aren't they the two leading hate objects of the far right? Surely McChrystal was secretly for McCain/Palin. Why did he think that an Obama administration would pave the way to a Fourth Reich?

Beats me. This country is so fucking crazy that any combination of beliefs and actions makes brutal sense. A perk of aging is being less and less surprised. Some call this cynicism. I prefer experience.

Whether McChrystal stays or goes, eats raw crow or rallies his storm troopers, the Terror Wars continue. The machine keeps running. Personality clashes like this are media sidelights. Page Six for the powerless mass.

ALSO: Friend and elegant carnivore IOZ gets to the heart.

ENCORE: McChrystal out, Petraeus in. Change gets ever more changy.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Perrin's Index

Actual amount of British Petroleum's $20 billion compensation fund that will go to victims of the oil spill: $7,636

Estimated amount of BP's $20 billion that will be used to sway elected officials: $222 million

Percentage of Americans who think the oil spill can be cleaned up with elbow grease: 89

Percentage of Americans upset about the oil spill, but go about their days figuring what's the point: 99

Estimated final pullout date for US troops in Afghanistan: April 29, 2075

Minimum number of dead Afghan civilians that count as collateral errors: 8

Minutes per hour US troops suppress hatred of Afghans: 23

Number of wild dogs establishing loose hierarchies in abandoned strip malls: 1,820

Chance that you'll strike it rich through a cosmic anomaly: 1 in 9 trillion

Chance that your breakfast burrito contains fecal matter: 1 in 3

Percentage of high school students who would seek elected office for the sex: 78

Percentage of college students who would kill a loved one in exchange for a high-paying career after graduation: 84

Odds that you've killed someone, but just don't remember: 10:1

Number of Americans since 2006 hospitalized after hammering nails with their foreheads: 592

Number of times since taking office Barack Obama has excused himself to go to the bathroom in order to privately weep: 14

Percentage of male NFL fans who fellate other men while intoxicated: 27

Percentage of male Dallas Cowboy fans who do this: 63

Estimated age when Miley Cyrus leaves the public eye for good: 50

Chance that Lady Gaga will die from an alligator attack: 3 in 32

Chance that a real planet of the apes will eventually appear: 5 in 70,000

Percentage of these apes possessing cybernetic features: 18

Odds that God made grasshoppers in his image: 40:1

Minutes per day Americans consider wearing a cape: 2

Chance that American exceptionalism will die peacefully: 0

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sever Notion

When accused of bias against the young, I flinch. Really? Do I emit that vibe? I hope not, because that's nowhere near the truth.

I got called on this during my NYC stint, after bitching about tepid bits and lax execution. Were performers more original when I was twentysomething? I was asked. In some areas, yes, decidedly so. Experimentation and explosion of forms resonated with numerous comics, though only a few made the conceptual leap to fresher ground. Once commodification expanded, comedy became yet another product, cranked out for mass consumption. An old radical slogan, Capitalism Is Killing Music, while true, could easily have been applied to comedy. Most comics not only welcomed this, they happily marched to the Flavor-Aid vats, party cups in hand.

What I've experienced so far in New York confirms this. Not that there aren't funny young people, but the form is so rigid and one-dimensional that it's nearly impossible to create something new. This also applies to sketch comedy. I spent one evening at UCB's Sketchfest, taking in young comedy groups, and I was shocked by their timidity, lack of social awareness, reliance on catchphrases, and glaring predictability (a Mad Men parody with stale drinking jokes; a "weird" sketch turns into the Twilight Zone, complete with familiar theme music -- this is 2010, right?). These were ostensibly the best groups in town, and much of their material was obvious and strained. Yet the young audience loved it. What's my problem?

I went to Sketchfest wanting to be wowed. Knock me on my aging ass. Shatter my brainpan. Make me pine for the comfort of Hee-Haw. If you won't be experimental when young, at what point will you ignore the rules? Judging from the jokes and repeated catchphrases, these kids are looking for an SNL or kindred pre-chewed gig where they can plug into the machine and get paid. Understandable. Were I their age, I'd probably do the same thing. What career choice do they have? The pigs have won and maintain control. If you can't write swine humor, your options are limited. Excuse me if I find this depressing.

What really pissed me off was the cartoon performance art display in the East Village. Penny's Open Mic is advertised as a freeform celebration of personal expression. No heckling allowed, sympathetic applause encouraged. We're all in it together. What bullshit. The front end of the show was loaded with Penny's friends and cronies, all of whom went well over the seven minute limit and received no light. After one egregious example, a young woman who sang amusing songs while jumping in and out of the audience, pushed 15 minutes, I yelled out, "Seven more minutes!" Penny responded that this was a special case, that her friend was going to Edinburgh Festival Fringe and needed the stage time. She then hit up the audience for donations, the first of many pleas.

It was a clumsy con job, and soon many people left. On the way out, I told the ticket taker that this was the most dishonest open mic I'd yet seen. She smiled, raised her pierced eyebrows, said nothing. Tattooed hustlers used to work carnivals. Now they operate near Avenue A. At least the tourists will feel at home.

Grumbling aside, none of this has any negative effect on The Project. I merely yearn for material that pushes and challenges, for there's plenty of creative energy in those spaces. I hear LA has a more expansive scene. I look forward to finding out. Until then, it's NYC through the fall and possibly the end of the year. For all my complaints, I still love that motherfucking city. So much so it drives me mad.

BETWEEN COASTS: Bob Odenkirk, who knows a few things about comedy, says that Chicago is the place to be.

"The things going on in improv and sketch and theatre in Chicago, that’s not duplicated anywhere. That amount of people, experiment, and honest excitement about what you’re doing as opposed to just career enhancement. If you go to New York and L.A., it’s just so much more about, 'How this can get me from here to there,' instead of, 'Let’s all do this cool thing.'"

Hmmm. Chicago, eh?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bomb Shelter Fun

Ray Combs warned me that the Village Lantern had become a death march, its anarchic fire extinguished. I didn't believe him until I experienced it myself. Same comics, same room, much different atmosphere. Somber. Defeated. A decaying stench in the air. Nearly every act crawled onto the stage, expecting to bomb. And most did. Amateur night in a German bunker.

For some reason, this energized me. I couldn't wait to get on stage. Not that I expected big laughs, or any laughs for that matter. It was a chance to confront old demons, to rip through the deadness and make my mark, whatever that is. I'm still experimenting with style and tone. My material lurches from satire to autobiographical rants. I haven't found the right mix, but I'm getting there.

Part of the problem, which you'll see below, is my combativeness. When I was a kid, stand up beat the shit out of me, and I lacked the arsenal and nerve to resist. So I quit. This time around -- early on, anyway -- I'm looking to hit it before it hits me. This is wrong. There is no need to come out swinging. The next phase in July will be different.

Here's my Lantern set, again mostly improvised. The fascism reference is aimed at a young comic who misused it earlier. Otherwise I wouldn't have mentioned it. The rest explains itself, clenched fists and all.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Friends And Influences

Ideally, there are moments in your life where beauty, sadness, memory and inspiration merge to make you smile, cry, and reflect. I felt this wonderful sensation last night and it lingers still. Comedy needn't always be angry and bitter, a release valve for one's darkness. It can also make you glad to be alive, extending and enriching your life in the process.

I experienced this directly at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, where Tom Davis talked about his comedy career. I hadn't seen Tom in the flesh for some time, though we've kept in touch through email. Of all the original SNL vets, Tom is one of the gentlest and sweetest men to emerge from that show, in direct contrast to his and Al Franken's slash-and-burn comic sensibility. He reminds me of Flaubert's dictum: Be orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your art. Tom would be the first to confess that his life hasn't always been orderly, but his art has decidedly been violent, sometimes shockingly so.

As the audience settled in, a tall older man with a ball cap pulled over his white hair walked toward me.


He looked up. "Dennis! Hey man! How are you!"

We embraced, Chevy kissing my cheek.

"So glad you could make it!"

"Wouldn't miss it."

The lights dimmed.

"God bless Michael," he whispered, patting my arm, finding his seat. When these guys see me, they see O'Donoghue, whom they still adore, Chevy especially. I remain happy that I ignored my publisher's pleas to write an Albert Goldman-type bio. It may have sold more copies, complementing Bob Woodward's necro-porn take on Belushi, yet I wouldn't have received the love and respect from my comedy heroes that continually blesses my life. I've made some stupid fucking decisions over time, but my creative approach to Mr. Mike wasn't one of them.

Stage lights came up, and out walked Tom to enthusiastic applause. I had been told months ago that Tom is dying of cancer, but this was kept quiet, at least to a larger circle. You really saw it when Tom emerged -- gaunt, gray hair falling out, a certain brittleness in his step. It was heartbreaking. Yet Tom seemed energized, smiling, waving to the audience. He was assisted by Carl Arnheiter, a UCB regular who's interviewed numerous comic figures both here and in LA.

The conversation was light, informal. Tom read a bit from his memoir, 39 Years of Short-Term Memory Loss, then called for Chevy to join him on stage. They talked about the political material written with Franken and Dan Aykroyd for the 1976 presidential election, followed by a screening of the Ford/Carter debate sketch from the Karen Black show. Chevy, while funny, deferred to Tom, saying it was his night and soon returned to the audience. The rest of the program shifted between Tom's remembrances and more classic SNL clips.

In the middle of all this, Tom commented on his appearance. He announced that he was dying, that the warmth he felt from the crowd inspired him to share information that to now was relatively private. This hushed the audience, happy expressions turning sad. But Tom had none of it. He's clearly at peace with his condition, cracking jokes about cancer and the approaching end. After screening perhaps his and Franken's most celebrated sketch, Aykroyd's Julia Child bleeding to death, Tom called it a night. The crowd, led by Chevy, gave him a standing ovation.

In the crush afterward, Chevy took me to see Tom, whose eyes lit up when we met. "This is my friend Dennis Perrin," Tom said to the young comics surrounding him, throwing his arms around me, squeezing tight. I wanted to cry, but Tom was so upbeat that I shared his enthusiasm.

"You wanna get a drink somewhere?" he asked.

"You can drink?"

"Not as much as I used to, but yeah, I still like a taste."

Chevy couldn't join us, said his goodbyes and left. Tom, his friend Lindsay who assists him, me, Carl Arnheiter, and several other friends and admirers went off to find a nearby pub.

As we walked, Tom and I talked about many things. I asked how long he has. "I don't know. Maybe a year. I feel real good lately so who knows."

"So it's irreversible?"

Tom smiled. "Yeah. It's in my bones. What are you gonna do?"

At the pub our party took up a long table. I sat opposite Tom and Lindsay, and he began quizzing me about SNL sketches, whether this or that piece still held up, was any good, etc. I asked him about the Mardi Gras show. Tom laughed, telling us how truly crazy that week was in New Orleans, that the show barely got on the air and tanked when it did. He then asked me about my stand up, and I shared a bit of the Black Muslims on acid routine, which Tom loved. There are few sensations more humbling than making a comedy influence laugh. That I can make a dying hero happy for even a moment is beyond my ability to describe it.

It was getting late. I told Tom I had to go. He stood up, came around the table and hugged me tightly. I kissed his cheek and said that I loved him. "I love you, too," he replied, then invited me to his place upstate when I'm next in town. I hope I can make it in time. I'd hate this to be my final meeting with Tom. But if it is, it was a warm, beautiful goodbye.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Duck Variations

With the Bowery gig canceled, Ray Combs suggested we hit a new mic in the Drama Bookshop's basement near Times Square. Sure. I've always liked basement stages, the darker and grimier the better. This space lacked leaking pipes and rats scurrying across the stage, but it was intimate, church-like, rows of metal chairs on a cool concrete floor. Most of the comics sat alone, silent, checking notes. No one smiled or laughed, save for me and Ray, trading quiet observations.

The young emcee went through the standard motions, how's everybody, you ready for comedy? etc. The first performer was a thin Black improv actor who ripped through three short scenes where he spoke to invisible antagonists, staring into space as if hearing their replies. A few people nervously chuckled, but I suppressed deep laughter, shoulders heaving. Not that the guy was especially funny -- I still don't know what the fuck he was talking about. I just loved his daring. He tried something different. You don't see much of that on these stages.

After him, a string of the usual suspects, though not as aggressively sad and angry as those I encountered the night before. Their material had some conceptual meaning. One guy, I discovered later, was polishing his set for an upcoming Letterman appearance. Cute bits, nothing terribly edgy or cutting. I suspect he'll do fine. After his nearly-ready for TV set, it was me, introduced by the emcee as Dennis Perry.

How Perrin reads as Perry I don't know, but this has happened before. Perhaps poor penmanship on my part. I grabbed the mic, gestured to the Black actor, telling him how much I liked his set, calling him Coltrane, which he found funny. The stark stage inspired a riff about a children's play I said I once appeared in, Lucky Duck Goes To Guantanamo. I played Colonel Mallard, a sadistic bird with a sentimental streak. All good so far. It flowed and felt great. Then I decided to try a bit conceived two hours before, unwritten, not fully thought out, but stuck in my craw.

The New York Times ran a piece about the Facebook generation at war in Afghanistan. Twentysomething soldiers ordering Predator drone strikes far from the front lines. It was an upbeat report about mechanized murder, however "unfortunate" some stray drone blasts might be. Apart from the casual acceptance of death (well, it is inevitable, so acceptance signifies maturity), what struck me was the Facebook angle. Here's a place where young people cannot spell, use numerals for words, and are incapable of constructing simple declarative sentences. Yet these are the kids launching lethal drones. Another symptom of our dying empire.

The early easy laughter was replaced by stares. Instead of pulling out of this undeveloped premise, I dove deeper in, complaining about the misuse of acronyms. Suddenly, I was less a comic and more a community college English professor facing an unresponsive class. The walls closed in as I sought escape, jumping quickly to a bit about how Don't Drink The Kool-Aid was a marketing injustice, since Jim Jones killed his flock with the Kool-Aid knockoff, Flavor-Aid. It's as if Jonestown perished from poisoned Pepsi, but afterward people said Don't Drink The Coke. The richer competitor receives even more publicity without having snuffed a soul. This the young crowd liked, so I cut my losses and ended the set.

Later on the street, Ray eased my nerves a bit by saying that new unformed bits rarely work on first delivery, and that the basement room was largely unkind to the other comics as well (Ray excepted, who hilariously zeroed in on a woman voicing her disapproval, exposing her smugness, raising in her the briefest of smiles, more than anyone else got from her). I thought I had bombed, which is no big deal, as this is going to happen along the way. But Ray noted that I hit the audience with too many references, trying to explain the ones that didn't click. He was right. Either do them and don't explain, or don't do them at all.

I went back to my hotel, had a drink and watched the tape. It wasn't as bad as I thought, but the dry patch in the middle made me wince, which is why I'm not posting it today. Maybe as a bonus feature on the Blu-ray release of Lucky Duck Goes To Guantanamo II: Colonel Mallard's Bagram Surprise.

NEXT: Fake Bohemians Are Real Assholes.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Project Resumes

"You a civilian?"

For a moment I felt thrown into an Army dream. Get back in uniform. You're not through serving. Civilian life is the dream, soldier.

I stared back, raised my eyebrows.

"Are you a comic, I mean."


The guy seemed confused, almost offended.

"Did you perform?"

"About two hours ago."

"And you're still here? You're not a real comic. Real comics never stay to watch the other acts."

I shrugged my shoulders. I wanted to say that I believe in comedy solidarity, that I would want a few peers to remain to watch me grind. But this was his set. So I smiled, leaned back and waited for him to get on with it.

His was an arrogant vibe. He spoke disdainfully of the college kids he apparently entertains, but his material was wafer thin, more anger than premise. I thought, fuck, if this guy can get campus gigs, what's my problem?

Thankfully, this was near the end of the show. The parade of pissed off white guys wrestling with serious self-esteem issues made my head throb. I know that comics are largely maladjusted, and lord knows I have my demons. But most of these acts were closer to primal scream therapy than twisting reality for laughs. I may have to revise this solidarity thing.

What do young white American men have to be angry about? Many of these gigs are comedy versions of sports radio, where self-pitying Caucasians moan about political correctness, how they are cheated, stifled and denied their rightful place at life's table. "Is this what it's come to?" a wild-haired comic screamed at me last night. "Is this how my life ends!"

I felt like replying, that's up to you, pal. The economy blows, the political system's fixed, the empire is dying, but you still have white skin privilege. I've cleaned toilets alongside poor Hondurans who never complained about their status. They worked hard and played hard. They lived their lives because they had no choice. That you go on stage to bitch about your shitty white life is pretty insulting, and not in the funny Don Rickles sense, either.

Who wants to watch comics degrade themselves, telling the audience that they're fools for sitting through it? I've lost count of how many comedians preface a joke with "This isn't very good," and when it bombs add, "Yeah, I knew that sucked." It's like a singer saying "This next song is pretty bad, but I'm gonna sing it anyway." Unless it's part of a larger concept commenting on cheap entertainment, I don't see the aesthetic point to this.

So much anxiety and dread going nowhere. It's either that, or neutering your act to fit those corporate slots still available. Where this leaves me I've no clue, but we'll see what transpires. Here's my set from the Ten Eleven on Ave. C, about 90% of which was improvised. There are some rough patches, but overall not bad, especially after a long lay-off. The other comics preferred sitting in the back, afraid to be skewered perhaps. Given their howling pain, you'd think they'd feel deserving of abuse.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Premise Hunt

Leaving for NYC on Friday. This will be the third visit since The Project began, the first in over a month. Too much lag time. I hope to accelerate these trips over the summer and into the fall. Champing at the bit bruises my gums.

The last visit, as I reported at the time, was fruitful and uplifting. When I returned to Michigan, everything, apart from my family, seemed dead. I wanted to get back immediately, but couldn't for various reasons. So here I stayed and stewed. Writing, riffing, drinking, sleeping. The wife's been supportive, my son a source of positive energy. Henry just turned 14 and is about 6'2". He's everything I wasn't at his age -- calm, secure, self-confident. I worried about him attending a jock-oriented high school this fall, but I now realize he'll be fine. As Henry ages, my fears about him fade. Projecting my chaotic, violent upbringing on him was wasted energy. He's becoming his own man, and it's beautiful to watch.

So back I go, amid new friends and wary others. Not everyone likes my material or perspective, but then they've only seen a fraction of what I've written. There's so much more to come. At least, that's the plan. I'll be filing reports, so check this space over the weekend and through next week.

Here are some clips from a bygone comic age. The tape's a bit rough, but watchable. You'll recognize most of these comedians, including my good pal and third-base coach, Barry Crimmins. Most surprising is Emo Phillips doing political material. I don't recall him satirizing budget deficits, but this was a different time, back when my stage act consisted of debating professional ideologues and corporate journalists insisting they were objective arbiters of reality. A little Emo flourish might have eased the news to my opponents that Palestinians were of the same species. Their contemptuous laughter may not have seemed so heartless.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Carnage Cruise

Friends and acquaintances are certain that this time, Israel has overstepped. The IDF's assault on the Gaza-bound flotilla provoked waves of anger and protest, even in parts of the US, which for the most part overlooks or excuses Israeli violence. The tide, I've been told, is finally turning.

We'll see. There have been far deadlier spasms of Israeli aggression, but those were primarily attacks on Arab civilians, either in dense urban areas or refugee camps. Numerous poor brown people butchered in the defense of humanity. A tragic but necessary trade-off. This time Israel fucked with those loosely-sponsored by a NATO state with which Israel shares military technology. Most of the dead are Turks, and this is not going over well in Ankara. So really, it's not about numbers of dead (as Stalin reminded us), but who the dead are connected to. And Turkey is not known for passive resistance.

This is not to say that Turkey is warming up its F-35s, for whatever its egregious human rights sins, the Turkish leadership is not insane (they're still open to continued arms sales). The Israelis, on the other hand . . . well, insanity may be too general a description. Military and political setbacks have forced Israeli leaders to alter their expansionist plans, but the expansionist mindset remains. It's a major part of Zionist dreams going back to the 1920s. According to reports from my Israeli news list, these setbacks have maddened many in Israel who believe that they should be allowed to behave as they see fit, and fuck the world if it doesn't agree. There are Israelis who take a saner view, but to date, they are decidedly outnumbered.

Thus it was meant to be. In my early days as a Middle East speaker/debater, I encountered Israelis from left to right, and while they held different views about war and Palestine, all of them said that the Israeli mentality is ultimately suicidal. If there is any hint of a massive defeat or decisive turnaround in Israeli designs, the country may well blow itself up (after destroying those around it) rather than face such indignity. The leftists bemoaned this; the rightists celebrated it. Israelis are drilled from childhood about their uniqueness and divine right to whatever land they consider historically theirs. They are also told that the rest of the planet hates them and longs for their extinction, therefore Israelis must be tougher, stronger, more violent, indeed crazier than their enemies.

You see some of this in Yoav Shamir's excellent documentary, Defamation. Shamir, an Israeli filmmaker, goes off in search of contemporary anti-Semitism. He deals with all sides, from Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League to Norman Finkelstein. Shamir is open and displays a wry sense of humor, but in the end he focuses on the indoctrination of Israeli youth. It's an illuminating journey, one that helps explain the mentality that led to Israel's latest assault, by no means the last one.

If in fact the tide is turning against Israel, and if the suicidal option is at all accurate or realistic, then how far does Israel get pushed before the real madness goes down? Hard to say. I certainly hope that like many lunatic reputations, this one is bullshit. How depressing would it be if Christian fundamentalists were right?