Friday, November 16, 2007

Once Upon a Time

I used to blog. I will again. New job, new baby, no time.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Reid No Longer Beats Wife

It frustrates me that so many people--some of my students, included--regard CNN and the New York Times as something like the "liberal" equivalents of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, as though all that falls within the political spectrum must have an exact opposite situated prominently in our media landscape. This isn't breaking news, but CNN and the New York Times are, for all intents and purposes, fundamentally conservative news outlets--perhaps less so than Fox and WSJ, but only by a smidgen. OK, two smidgens. But why is it that those who pay only casual attention to politics almost invariably swallow conservative talking points hook, line and sinker?

In any case, there's something deeply disingenuous in this article posted online by CNN today, covering MoveOn's "Petraeus/Betray Us" ad in the Times:

A liberal advocacy group's print ad attacking Gen. David Petraeus drew a firestorm of criticism from both sides of the aisle on Monday.

The ad, running in Monday's edition of the New York Times, shows a picture of Petraeus. Bold letters spell out "General Petraeus or General Betray us?"

Moveon.org Political Action, which paid for the ad, accuses Petraeus of "cooking the books for the White House" on progress being made in Iraq and calls him "a military man constantly at war with the facts."

White House spokesman Tony Snow called the ad, running the same day the general testified before Congress about Iraq, a "boorish, childish, unworthy attack."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid expressed frustration Monday with the ad.

When asked early Monday if this was the right message for his party to send, the Nevada Democrat curtly answered, "No."


I emphasize that last line because it implies, quite bluntly, that the MoveOn ad is a message sent by the Democratic party. The distinction is more than academic: MoveOn's membership is no doubt made up primarily of those whose party affiliation is Democratic; yet the group is no more an official organ of the Democratic party than Focus on the Family is for the Republican Party. To imply otherwise is irresponsible and misleading--and it perpetuates an association that the G.O.P. relentlessly advances.

Personally, I'd be thrilled to see MoveOn set the agenda for Reid and the Democrats. And I can't blame him for distancing himself from MoveOn when he disagrees with MoveOn's message: they don't speak for him. But framing the question that way ("Is this the right message for your party to send?") amounts to the same, tired rhetorical trick as "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the communist party?" or "Do you still beat your wife?"

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Accidental Gay Sex in Public Restrooms Reaches Epidemic Proportions

First there was State Rep. Bob Allen (R) of Florida, now U.S. Senator Larry Craig (R) of Idaho. But I've got to admit, it was the show Little Britain that saw all this coming:



(So to speak.)

UPDATE (20 March 2013): It's surprising how much traffic a six-years-old post about accidental gay sex in public restrooms still gets. Anyway, since the video above was long ago deleted from Youtube, I went looking for the same clip from Little Britain. Couldn't find it. But I learned that there is (or was) a version of Little Britain made for US audiences. Here's that adaptation's version of the same skit:  CLICK HERE Enjoy!



Bomb Iran

Ready for war, kids?

Someone's throwing down the gauntlet again.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Cutest Video of the Nineties

This morning, while digging through some of Billy Bragg's political songs in search of satire to share with my students, I came upon the most adorable video of the nineties*:



* It's worth noting I stopped watching MTV on even an infrequent basis right around 1988.

UPDATE: Speaking of Billy Bragg and politics, here he is pulling a Zelig:

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Siouxsie's Back (and So Am I)

Here's the rollicking video for the new single from Siouxsie (sans Banshees or Creatures), with an album due out next month:



It kicks.

Speaking of kicking, I'm alive and well in Oklahoma. It was a hard move, but it's great to be here, starting the new job, and basically carrying on. Should resume blogging on a semi-regular basis this week.

No word yet, but I'm looking forward to new albums from New Model Army and Theo Hakola.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Moving

Things have been dead around here for a while, and will for another while, because I'm packing up to move the family to Oklahoma in a week. Will resume blogging soon after.

Friday, July 13, 2007

I Just Want Your Half

Nice review from Rob Mitchum at Pitchfork, of the new They Might Be Giants album, Else:

...[E]arly singles "Don't Let's Start" and "Ana Ng" could almost pass for the twitchy, catchy work of crit-faves like the dB's or the Feelies, bands too high on dork factor to have fit into the more fashionable environs of post-punk's cool cousin new-wave. No, really, listen to them again.

Fortunately, as Johns Linnell and Flansburgh go somewhat gracefully into their middle ages, they seem to be recalling some of those tighter, tauter early days, when they were closer to Devo than Elmo. The creepy Marcel Dzama art of The Else would suggest so, as would the wonderfully stiff beat of "I'm Impressed", an anthem for beta-males with music as nervous as its message, not jokingly wrapped in big rock production like so much latter-day TMBG....

Perhaps TMBG are just happier making kid's music-- even when they try to grapple with adult situations on "Upside Down Frown" or "Climbing Up the Walls" it still comes out G-rated. Or maybe they just like being in a child's ideal of a rock band, with their addictions to needless guitar solos and brass parts, long overdue for an intervention. But if they could just concentrate on what it was like to be young, but not that young, for longer than the 2:39 of "I'm Impressed", they could remind people that they were once more than just licensing geniuses and rugrat headliners, they were nervy, high-strung, geek-rock kings. I don't want the world, I just want that half.


This is a band that could have had a piece of my heart forever, but they broke that piece long, long ago. Long story short: they were goofing off, got careless, and splat!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Decline of New Orleans

Apparently New Orleans was falling apart long before it was flooded--or so Pia Ehrhardt attests, in fictional form, with her new story collection Famous Fathers & Other Stories, which just garnered a largely glowing review in the New York Times. Here's an excerpt from the review:

Her stories are heavily populated with characters engaging in empty, adulterous affairs that largely lead nowhere. The implicit sadness of these broken relationships resonates further with Ms. Ehrhardt’s choice of setting: New Orleans, before the city itself became broken. The reader follows Ms. Ehrhardt’s dispirited characters through the lively streets of the French Quarter. The scalloped rooftop of the Superdome perforates the horizon. Sisters jog along the scenic trails of the Tammany Trace....

The collection’s most successful story, “The Longest Part of the Day,” moves between the point of view of 15-year-old Jilly, who goes missing when she takes a ride with Jimmy, the grocery bagger from Piggly Wiggly, and her mother, who is having an affair with her ex-husband’s brother. Ms. Ehrhardt deftly captures the repercussions of a narcissistic mother caught in the undertow of her own desires, and the unexpected tenderness that surfaces between Jimmy and Jilly. It’s quite amazing what Ms. Ehrhardt accomplishes in a mere 24 pages. It is, in short, a great story.


Readers familiar with The God Particle may recall Ehrhardt’s brief, keenly felt memoir, "A World of Paper."

As an aside, have you found goodreads yet? Careful. It's addictive.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

"The world has become absurd."

More good reviews for Ron Currie Jr.'s God Is Dead (mentioned here yesterday):

Tod Goldberg of the L.A. Times says, "Currie's strength rests in his ability to focus humanity's conundrums on the smallest physical particles.... The impression may be that Currie handles these issues with a light touch, but the truth he presents is that the world has become absurd; he is merely delivering a steady-cam view."

Also, Entertainment Weekly (which, I'm told, is stingy with high grades) gives God Is Dead a B+, but calls the book "a downer." I couldn't disagree more. Great art, even at it's most grim, is much more than a downer--and Currie's book explores a world more emphatically absurd than grim. When George Saunders conjures a world filled with absurdly themed amusement parks and capitalism run amok, or when Vonnegut yanks the reader back and forth through time to (in part) show the madness and silliness of the lives we lead, is that "a downer"? This book puts Currie squarely in the league of those two giants of satirical fiction. Sure, he's a rookie--but this home-run of a book shows he's playing with the same ball and in the same parks as those guys.

I interviewed Currie recently (and I'm trying to make time to shop this interview around, but teaching and the move have utterly dominated my schedule), and here's what he had to say when I asked him whther the book's characters have anything to live for in a world without God:

I don't think [they] have any less to live for than they did before. I think they may feel that way, but that doesn’t make it so. Because really, once the initial madness following God’s death dies down, nothing has changed in any fundamental way. People still need to figure out how to get out of bed every morning. There is drudge work to do, mortgages to pay and funerals to attend. Parents and children still eyeball one another across great chasms. People still engage in wholesale slaughter over dubious ideologies. I guess what I’m saying is that, God or no, we most often have to find our own motivation for getting on with it every day, even in the face of intense pain, or sadness, or boredom. Most of the time we succeed. Occasionally, we do not, and we’re never heard from again.


Is that a downer? I find the outlook liberating. Refreshing. Honest.

It's a great book, one which strikes a teetering balance between stark realism, rich satire, and a playful sense of the absurd. Don't miss it.

UPDATE: God Is Dead passes the Page 69 Test.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have never met in person nor spoken on the phone with Ron Currie, Jr. I have known him for about five years, though, via an online ficiton workshop at Zoetrope.com, and I nearly published an excerpt from his second novel in my online journal, The God Particle. I consider him a friend, which is precisely why I've refrained from writing and attempting to publish a review of the novel. Though you may want to weigh this if you're considering buying the book on my word alone, I feel confident that the book is truly excellent. I wouldn't stick my neck out like this if I felt otherwise. Friends read this blog now and again, occasionally students and colleagues--people I have a vested interest in steering right. And I place great value on critical honesty. Besides, as reviews roll in, the evidence will mount: God Is Dead is great.

Mexico City

I dreamt last night that Mexico City collapsed into the empty subterranean lake bed beneath it, killing millions.

And I didn't dream it just once, but several times, and from several perspectives. In the final istance, I was hovering over the city in a helicopter, watching it crumble into itself, watching the dust rise.

In another, I was a woman who had jumped from a building, only to watch the ground fall away from me as I fell toward it.

In another, I was swallowed by dust almost instantly.

Friday, July 6, 2007

God Is Dead is Great


Ron Currie Jr.'s God is Dead hits bookstore shelves this week. Don't miss it. I'd call it the best book of short stories that I've read since Jesus' Son, but (like Jesus' Son) it's more accurate to call it a novel. Whatever we call it, God Is Dead is great. If you buy it, it will very likely be the best book you buy this year.

But don't take my word for it:

"A bleak dystopian future is tempered with moments of possibility in story writer Currie's debut novel, in which a sick and wounded Dinka woman arrives at a refugee camp in Darfur, searching for her lost brother. The woman is God, come to Earth in human form to make apologies to the Sudanese, over whose fate He is, 'due to an implacable polytheistic bureaucracy, completely powerless.' When God is gunned down, news of His death spreads quickly around the globe and provides the jumping-off point for the subsequent short story — like chapters that reveal what happens in a post-God world: suicide rates skyrocket (especially among clergy members), riots and mass looting erupt and the pack of feral dogs that feasted on God's corpse begin 'speaking a mishmash of Greek and Hebrew' and inspiring worship among Africans. (Meanwhile, in America, the masses, seeking a deity to fill the void, begin worshipping children.) Looking at humanity through a warped lens allows the various narrators unusual insight; while sometimes overwrought, these observations are often striking, as when an enlightened dog describes the strange new experience of emotion. This novel-in-stories is unsettling and strange, but still easily accessible; despite the ways in which his world has changed, Currie's altered humanity has one foot in ours. (July)" Publishers Weekly

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Tornado Warning

In the last twenty minutes, the sky went from sunny and blue (with a few clouds) to dark and imposing. The tornado sirens blared. The TV told us there was a 100+ mph tornado ten miles northeast of town, heading this way.

Then it petered out, and all is well.

But the sky? It still looks like it wants us all dead.

Happy Independence Day

Today, right now, somewhere in the U.S.--maybe several places--there are two officers in dress uniform pulling up to someone's house, knocking on a door, telling a family that their husband or father or son or brother or sister or wife or mother was killed in Iraq. Maybe it was a roadside bomb. Maybe a sniper. Maybe friendly fire, though those officers aren't authorized to say so and probably don't even know. And for every set of officers doing this horrible duty, there are two or three dozen dead Iraqis whose families never receive such a courtesy.

All of this, we're told, is to protect us. We're spreading democracy. We're making the world a safer place.

Do you feel safer?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Compare and Contrast

What do George W. Bush and his hero, Winston Churchill, have in common? Not so much, according to British historian Lynne Olson. In her view, Bush has much more in common with Churchill's incompetent predecessor, Neville Chamberlain.

Olson compares and contrasts the three, and comes to this conclusion:

Like Bush and unlike Churchill, Chamberlain came to office with almost no understanding of foreign affairs or experience in dealing with international leaders. Nonetheless, he was convinced that he alone could bring Hitler and Benito Mussolini to heel. He surrounded himself with like-minded advisers and refused to heed anyone who told him otherwise....

Unlike Bush and Chamberlain, Churchill was never in favor of his country going it alone. Throughout the 1930s, while urging Britain to rearm, he also strongly supported using the newborn League of Nations -- the forerunner to today's United Nations -- to provide one-for-all-and-all-for-one security to smaller countries. After the League failed to stop fascism's march, Churchill was adamant that, to beat Hitler, Britain must form a true partnership with France and even reach agreement with the despised Soviet Union, neither of which Chamberlain was willing to do.

Like Bush, Chamberlain also laid claim to unprecedented executive authority, evading the checks and balances that are supposed to constrain the office of prime minister. He scorned dissenting views, both inside and outside government. When Chamberlain arranged his face-to-face meetings with Hitler in 1938 that ended in the catastrophic Munich conference, he did so without consulting his cabinet, which, under the British system, is responsible for making policy. He also bypassed the House of Commons, leading Harold Macmillan, a future Tory prime minister who was then an anti-appeasement MP, to complain that Chamberlain was treating Parliament "like a Reichstag, to meet only to hear the orations and to register the decrees of the government of the day."

As was true of Bush and the Republicans before the 2006 midterm elections, Chamberlain and his Tories had a large majority in the Commons, and, as Macmillan noted, the prime minister tended to treat Parliament like a lapdog legislature, existing only to do his bidding.


The whole piece is worth reading.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Rain

Two nights ago, while making an emergency run to Petco only to discover that big dog kennels cost a minimum of $110 (and the decent ones run twice that), I drove past a couple of big box stores and felt a bright, warm light shining on my right side. It was so strong, this light, that I thought it must be some sort of spotlight or performance lighting of some kind. The rain had stopped for a few minutes, and perhaps someone was setting up for some promotional event. I glanced between the buildings and saw something strange and exotic, something whose existence I had forgotten about--never mind the possibility that it could shine on me, there in the gray and dwindling dusk.

It was the sun.

For fifteen minutes, it shone through the clouds on the horizon, far to the west of town.

Then night fell, and by dawn we were back in the thick of rain, rain and more rain. I needed an umbrella just to get to the car this morning. The world is soggy.

Theo Hakola, where are you now?

(The world still needs you.)

If I had the power to pluck one band from the depths of obscurity and the clutches of time, it would have to be Passion Fodder. The band's singer and songwriter, Theo Hakola, had this great, harrowed blend of rage and sensitivity. His lyrics were smart, literate and intense. Beaudelaire with an electric guitar. Nick Cave with broader vision. And Hakola's band put together a sound like no other (well, on one song they sounded a little like U2, but it was a great song--"I'd Sell My Soul to God"--so the sin was easily forgiven). Passion Fodder hailed from Paris and (briefly, near the end) Los Angeles. I caught them in concert at San Jose's One Step Beyond, back in the spring of 1988. Bought all their albums, which I still have on LP.

A quick Google search tells me Hakola's been writing novels lately. Not surprising. Here's a plug for a novel (which he wrote in English, I suspect): A Longing Like a River. Sounds great.

In any case, this band deserved far more attention than it ever got. Hakola deserves to retire to a villa in the Lake District or, better yet, to piss away a vast fortune in Monaco, leaving bastard children in every port... The guy deserved to be heard, and still does.

For those who haven't encountered Passion Fodder (which, I suspect, will be most everyone who happens to read this post), here's the song "Heart Hunters."

I found a cool, surreal, animated video for the song "Blood Thicker Than Love":



UPDATE: A little more digging. First, Hakola's English-language site: TheoHakola.com.

And here's the excellent video for "Luz Blanca":



PS I don't mean to suggest that Passion Fodder was entirely obscure in its day. They had a following. But even then, I couldn't understand why I got to hear them in a tiny club instead of a huge, old, ornate theatre. No justice.

New Model Army

I just saw that New Model Army (an old favorite of mine) has a new album slated for release in August. Though Justin Sullivan's songwriting has grown inconsistent over the years, he still cranks out a handful of good songs for every new album. There was a brief period back in the late 80's and early 90's when I considered him one of the three or four best songwriters in the world. No longer. Still, they're worth listening to. If you don't know the band, the sound falls somewhere between punk rock, alternative rock and Bruce Springsteen's band work.

According to the band's site, they're aiming for an August 20th release.

Here's an oldie but a goodie (from the start of their Great Period), to tide probably only myself over:



Gotta love those earrings. Shooting this video now would probably land the band in Guantanamo.

Here's the first NMA song (and video) I ever heard:



I was hooked on the first listen. It was the bass line and the broad political/social/environmental indignation that caught my attention. Well, that and Sullivan's teeth. (Where on earth is that mountaintop?)

And here's a not-too-crappy live Youtube video of my favorite NMA song, "Green and Grey":

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Coulter Smackdown

Aravosis does it quickly, mercifully.

But if a tree falls...

Five Things I Miss About Colorado Springs

Another reminiscence.

I lived in Colorado Springs for (I can hardly believe this) fourteen years. Here's what I miss:

1. The Chinook Bookshop. Actually, I'm kind of glad to have moved away before the closing of this late, great shrine to good books and good service. I love browsing in a bigger store (say, the Tattered Cover in Denver), but I've never felt so at home anywhere outside of the house where I've lived as I did while shopping for books at the Chinook. Great poetry section. Always a good recommendation for some fiction. Interesting, reliable travel and religion shelves. A strong local books section. And the staff was second to none.

2. Hummus sandwiches on walnut wheat bread at Wooglin's Deli. So thick, so delicious. Enough said.

3. India Garden. Colorado Springs has (or had) a surprisingly good selection of Indian restaurants (four that I can recall), and this was the best of them. The saag paneer at India Garden may be the best food I've ever put in my mouth.

4. Shooting Pool on a Tuesday night at Phantom Canyon Brewery. Good beer. Great brewery chips. Decent music. Tables by the hour. And, before the sun sets, a decent view out those tall, tall windows.

5. Jogging in Monument Valley Park. A four-mile run along the center of the universe, the spine of the Earth. In spots, there's a great view of Pikes Peak. In other spots, it's the tall trees, the Colorado College campus, the simple curve of the trail.

There's more, of course. My friend Gary. The mountains. Cheyenne Canyon. Garden of the Gods Park. Half a dozen other great restaurants--the variety and quality of which are unmatched in the places I've lived since.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Il Conto, Per Favore

There's something magical about dining out in Italy. Whatever makes this magic, I cannot say. It's more than the food itself, or the whiffs of garlic and tomato, or the beautiful and more fashionable people, or even the beautiful and not-so-beautiful and cluttered and dark and tacky and elegant restaurants themselves. Oh, and it's more than the service, though once you've come to know Italian waiters their American counterparts come off as doting grandmothers or sycophantic kid brothers. Or worse: mosquitos.

John Henderson of the Denver Post writes of the difference between restaurant culture there and here:

In Europe, they get it. Eating out in the United States, however, it's often like dining during a locust plague. Waiters and waitresses constantly buzz around as if they're paid by the word and not the hour. I've been harassed less in Tunisian bazaars.

I once dated a woman whose daughter worked in one of those awful chains you can find in every suburb in America. She said management told her by the time the customer walks in and walks out she should make 23 contacts. That's not service. That's one refilled Coke away from a stalking charge.

Meanwhile, in every restaurant in Rome I had exactly six contacts. That's it. One time I sat outside with friends at Trattoria al Forno in the old Boheniam neighborhood of Trastevere until 12:30 a.m. While we talked the beautiful Roman night away, the waiter brought us a bottle of complimentary limoncello and cookies.

We were the last table occupied and the wait staff sat resting a few tables away. I asked our waiter if they were waiting for us to leave.

"No! No!" he said. "Non c'e' problema."

When we left at 1 a.m., they picked up our money, our dishes, packed up the chairs and went home.


On our last trip, we dined at Trattoria al Forno, by the way. It was late, and too cold to sit outside, but the food (if not the ambiance) was transcendant. And the service? Totally professional. Subtle. Perfect.

-----

And, while I'm on the topic of dining in Italy, I have a recommendation for a great meal in Bologna. If you'd appreciate a delicious, authentic Bolognese supper without forking over what amounts to a down payment on a house back home, walk three blocks from Piazza Maggiore to Trattoria Ristorante Belfiore. It's cozy. It's family-run. And it epitomizes the best of Bologna's cuisine. Squisito!

The Myth of the Literary Elite

Gotta love a good literary rant. Matthew Cheney takes a break from packing for a move to rage against "all you sufferning science fiction readers" who feel scorned by "the literary establishment," as embodied by Jason Sanford's essay in the latest New York Review of Science Fiction, entitled "Dipping Their Toes in the Genre Pool: The U.S. Literary Establishment's Need-Hate Relationship with Speculative Fiction." Cheney hits the ground running, declares that he hasn't time for nuance or sources, and hurls himself into the fray:

The article that has caused me so much annoyance is by Jason Sanford and titled "Dipping Their Toes in the Genre Pool: The U.S. Literary Establishment's Need-Hate Relationship with Speculative Fiction". Even the title makes me want to scream.

If this article were anomalous, if it did not represent an argument that I have heard over and over again, it wouldn't bother me. Instead, it is simply a longer (and better written) version of what gets said again and again in book reviews in SF magazines, on the discussion boards for various SF groups, in conversations and panel discussions at SF conventions. And it is ignorant. Provincial, blind, idiotic, ridiculous, silly, simplistic. People making such an argument look like fools.


But the problem may be that the fray doesn't exist. A commentor to the thread quickly takes Cheney to task:

Sanford's essay isn't very well thought-out, I agree. It makes as much sense to talk about a "literary establishment" as it does to talk about, oh I don't know, "all you science fiction readers". Generalisations always fall down. But it's hardly unreasonable to be frustrated by the fact that reviews like this, filled with ignorant generalisations of their own -- "Michael Chabon has spent considerable energy trying to drag the decaying corpse of genre fiction out of the shallow grave where writers of serious literature abandoned it" -- appear so regularly in high-profile critical venues, nor is it unreasonable to criticise said venues for publishing such nonsense.


Cheney responds, the discussion grinds on, and all in all--despite the fact that I don't have much time, myself, to prove it here or to add my own thoughts--the whole discussion makes for an interesting read, if you're into these things. In brief, the discussion orbits around whether or not Cormac McCarthy and "literary elite" fans of The Road owe some debt of acknowledgment to "genre fiction" for whatever post-apocalyptic elements appear in the book.

Watch MOCK

I posted this a few weeks ago, and even though not too many people have checked it out I get great pleasure from knowing that our movie is finally, finally, finally out there in the world. Here's part one (of six):



For no good reason, I subtitled the thing "The Ultimate Mockumentary" at Youtube. Boasting? Well, no. I was trying to touch on the concept of the film: a mockumentary film about a filmmaker who makes mockumentary films. Call it metamockumentary, if you prefer.

Lately I've given some thought to adding another layer and making a documentary on the making of a mockumentary about a filmmaker who makes mockumentary films.

Wouldn't that be sweet?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"We Should All Be So Godforsaken"

I must be getting old, alas.

When I first started reading Pitchfork a couple years ago, every day or two I'd find an article about one of the bands I had loved in the 80's and 90's: a little Bauhaus or Dead Can Dance here, a little Cure or Depeche Mode there. This familiar material, echoes of my own past, eased my return to the world of contemporary music, somehow made it easier for me to get into new bands: the Decemberists, Voxtrot, Cat Power, DeVotchKa, Gogol Bordello.

From 1987 until about 1996, I had my finger on the pulse of new, alternative rock music. I was a DJ at KSJS during my first (and only) year at San Jose State, then again for several years at KRCC, a quasi-independent public radio station at Colorado College. In 1994, when I finally graduated with a bachelor's in English, I landed a job at the Colorado Springs Independent, where I started as an Arts & Entertainment reporter and soon became the A&E editor. All along, from DJ to editor, I had access to the newest and best CD's. Often enough, I was able to score free tickets to the shows I wanted to see. It was great. Near the end there, I even sang and wrote songs for a band that could have been a contender....

Then, when I left the Independent and devoted many hours a day to meditation (a habit that also didn't last), I stopped paying attention to new music. In fact, I practically renounced music as a vice. For several years I didn't listen to the radio, go to concerts or read CD reviews.

Then, about three years ago, something shifted. I began teaching composition at the University of Montana. Consequently, I was around a lot of college freshmen, the vast majority of whom seemed in no better touch with contemporary music than I. Sure, a couple of them wore New Pornographers T-shirts or attended the shows of my friends who were in a punk band. But, by and large, I found myself wishing the kids I taught would pay more attention to the cutting edge music of their generation. Because they didn't, I started up again.

Or tried.

Despite its shortcomings, I settled on Pitchfork as the venue for my re-immersion into the ocean of new music. The site seemed fairly comprehensive, if a bit monolithic in its tastes and style, and its staff occasionally published a killer interview. And almost every day, Pitchfork covered bands I knew. In turn, I listened to new bands, tried some new things. But, gradually, I've lapsed. I still check the Pitchfork cover page for news and reviews, more or less daily, but if there are no bands I'm already familiar with then I tend to ignore the rest. News of familiar artists has been so few and far between lately that I wonder if the bands I liked as a kid (Echo & the Bunnymen, New Model Army, James, and on and on) have, themselves, finally reached something like the age of retirement. Had I, in a quirk of bad timing (a hallmark of my life), simply tuned in for their final gasps? Possibly so. It's a sad thought.

Perhaps I would have been better off in my self-imposed exile from new music. Maybe I would have gone on quite happily listening to the same old albums in perpetuity. But once I started to partake again--and surely the physical side of this is mere coincidence--I began to feel old. Truly old. These days, foggy patches sometimes drift through my memory. My shoulder hurts for days whenever I so much as toss a tennis ball across the yard for the dog. My knees--no, my entire body aches when I forget to take my glucosamine and condroitin. I have gray hairs now. I take medication for high blood pressure. I'm pushing forty, though forty's still at arm's length. Etc., etc.

I'm reminded of Grace Paley's funny, heartbreaking short story, "My Father Addresses Me on the Facts of Old Age." In it, the old man starts talking about how God told us several times, back when he was still in touch, that he was indeed a jealous god--that if people were enjoying too much, he would simply take it from them. There's a particular line that sticks with me. It happens when the old man concedes that God grants exceptions, that sometimes he doesn't take a life too soon. I don't have the book and can't find the quotation online, but this is pretty close, I think--so I'll close with it:

"I've read there are three-thousand year-old trees somewhere in some godforsaken place. Of course, that's how come they're still alive. We should all be so godforsaken."

The Perfect Storm of Secrecy and Incompetence

Is this true?

Josh Marshall suggests that the only known instance of espionage actually occuring within the White House, ever, happened right under Dick Cheney's nose.

t seems now largely to have been forgotten. But let's not forget the case of Leandro Aragoncillo, the naturalized US citizen of filipino descent who engaged in espionage on behalf of opposition leaders in his native country while worked as a Marine security official in Vice President Cheney's office....

Perhaps even more revealing, Aragoncillo was originally tasked to the Veep's office in 1999 when Vice President Gore was still in office. But he apparently only began snatching classified documents after Cheney showed up.


The only such incident in all of American history?

Why am I not surprised?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Use Your Powers for Good

My favorite political blogger these days, bar none, is Glenn Greenwald. I may be busy as hell this month, but not a day goes by when I don't check for Greenwald's latest post and follow that with a scan for updates to his earlier posts. His arguments are as thorough, detailed and well supported as I wish mine could be every time.

I recommend checking out his new book: A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency.

It comes out on Tuesday.

For evidence of Greenwald's good work, look no further than today's post on the Pentagon's rhetorical shift in Iraq. The White House is desperate for signs of progress, so--and please excuse my French here--they're simply making shit up. And, of course, major news outlets are playing right along.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Fatso

Amanda Marcotte has an interesting post on the general disdain for Michael Moore that seems to cut across the political spectrum. Here's the punchline:

But I do think liberals who dislike Moore so strongly are genuine in their distaste and not just trotting it out to appear fair’n'balanced. And I think that Ezra’s review points to why—the overarching theme of Moore’s career has been an attack on American exceptionalism, a disease that infects both the left and the right in this country. Granted, the right suffers from the disease far more, but the belief that America is somehow better or at least different and can’t be held up to the same standards as other countries is endemic. It’s why so many usually intelligent liberal types fell into the trap of supporting the invasion of Iraq, when it should have been clear from the beginning what a bad idea it was—they just believed, in their heart of hearts, that America could succeed at this task that would be impossible for anyone else. Maybe the Marshall Plan’s effectiveness has deluded us into believing we have powers we don’t, or maybe it’s just that exceptionalism is drilled into our heads from the first day we crack open a history book in school. But Moore’s repetitive refrain that Americans would overcome a lot of our problems by learning a little humility grates on a fundamental and widely shared belief, which goes a long way towards explaining why critics particularly don’t like the way Moore sandbags people and takes them down a few notches. It’s a representation of what he’s doing to our cherished belief in our superiority.

The problem is Moore’s right. American exceptionalism is our nation’s tragic flaw and until we set out to fix it, we’re going to continue to make one avoidable blunder (like the Iraq war) after another.


I've encountered this anti-Moore attitude among liberals, conservatives, devoted middlers and even radicals, who will readily admit that this or that Moore film was good. It's bizarre. I have no idea whether it's Moore's insistence on American humility that rubs people the wrong way, or his appearance, or the fact that he's on-camera so often in his films. None of those qualities in other stars seem to inspire such contempt from so many.

In the comments below Marcotte's original post, someone named "aimai" has this to say:

What Moore was doing was revolutionary because *no one else was doing it.* You could see pro corporate propaganda on any channel of any tv and embedded in any movie but you couldn’t see the america moore was showing you unless you peered around the edges of bad tv news and saw what was lurking behind the endless parade of local disasters.

In fact that is what I think is moore’s genius. Not only that he demands, through his everyman, an answer to questions that are too crude and rude for liberal pundits to be asking but that he looks behind the news coverage to see what is left on the cutting room floor–e.g. his famous shot of bush looking frightened on 9/11.

That’s his genius, and that’s rare and uncomfortable for elites (whether right or left). I remember thinking while I was watching columbine that moore is probably a pretty aspergers type guy. He refuses to worry about how other people perceive him or his questions, he refuses to be embarrassed by things other people would literally rather die than do (ask to see someone knowing they are going to be refused). I think the success and respect accorded to, say,the crew of 60 minutes or bill moyers depends heavily on their complicity not in the politics of republicans or liberals but in their acceptance of the cultural norms of the notion of an elite and of elite storytelling.


I admire Moyers, but "aimai" makes a good point: he's nothing if not polite, even toward those he skewers. Michael Moore doesn't operate in that mode. He's not disrespectful so much as irreverant.

Heaven forbid.

The State of Things

I bought a plastic container of freshly cut pieces of pineapple yesterday. This afternoon, when I ate the last piece and drank the juice, I noticed a sticker on the bottom of the container:

MAY CONTAIN: PINEAPPLE


I should hope so.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Portrait of the Literary Blogger as a Young Man

Matthew Cheney has an excellent post about packing for a move and coming across a stash of writing from his teenage years:

At what point does persistence in the face of adversity move from being admirable to being insane? I started sending stories and poems to magazines once I discovered Writer's Market in fifth grade. That was more than twenty years ago. As much as I wanted publication, and fame and fortune and everything that goes with it, usually I didn't write just to get published, but instead to discover what I could do, to surprise myself, to play around with words and ideas. The hope for publication was a strong one, and sometimes it overwhelmed my other reasons for writing, and when it did so, the writing became particularly lifeless, particularly empty.

I did manage to get published and have some successes at a young age -- a story I wrote when I was twelve and published at fourteen still occasionally gets excerpted or reprinted, but that story was an anomaly, a perfect mix of a particular sensibility writing about a particular subject at a particular time. I wrote it entirely for fun, with no thought of publication until later. And it doesn't suck. (Are parts of it embarrassing to me now? Sort of. I'm proud of its success, but it's definitely a story written by a kid. That's its virtue, really.) I thought that story's success meant I had passed over a certain threshold and would now only write good stories. Nope. I had a few more small successes, but for the most part everything I wrote over the next fifteen years was not very good. There were many reasons for that -- too much focus on becoming a publishable writer and not enough focus on becoming a writer worth reading; a tendency to write in all sorts of different genres and modes, making progress in any one genre slow; a lack of life experience to draw on to give what I wrote depth and resonance.

Eventually, I got to the point where I had enough skill to more or less know when a story worked or when it didn't, and I have developed some techniques for helping a story that doesn't work get closer to working. But it's not infallible. I just read a draft of a story I wrote last fall, a story I knew was unfinished and needed some revision, but which I thought was pretty good on the whole. Actually, it needs a complete overhaul, because, well, it sucks.


About a month ago, in the midst of packing for a move, myself, I found that the once sturdy cardboard filing drawers in which I had cached my own juvenalia had finally given in to the stresses of age and several moves. I sat down with the drawers at my left, a trash can in front of me, and a new plastic bin to my right, and began sifting through the piles of pages with the intention of tossing the worst and keeping the best of all the things I'd written and saved over the years. After fifteen minutes it was clear: the only things I could throw away were the duplicates. If I printed something twice or more, I could keep a copy and throw the rest away. Otherwise, I couldn't bring myself to toss out even the worst fifteen-year-old love poetry, written when I knew absolutely nothing but nothing of love.

After half an hour, most of which was spent reading, I got up and went into the house. I couldn't purge, and I couldn't bear to keep reading. The drawers, trash can and plastic bin still sit in the same spots. This weekend, I dive back in.

Sicko

I'm back after a week of travel, and as excited as ever about Michael Moore's new documentary, Sicko.

I drove with the family down to San Antonio, Texas, to visit with my niece, whose stay in the hospital pushed over the one-month line while we were there. She contracted some sort of flesh-eating bacteria that kills 40% of those infected and takes a limb from most of the rest. Luckily, she came out of it with minimal long-term damage, though the accumulation of drugs and treatments kept her bedridden with an ailing pancreas. She's home now, though, and so are we.

Can't wait to hear about the looming medical bill.

Here's A.O. Scott's review of "Sicko": "Open Wide and Say Shame."

And here's the Rotten Tomato survey of critics reactions: 91% positive, thus far.

The movie opens nationwide next Friday.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Humor on the Right

Adam Kotsko has an interesting blog post on the asymmetry of parody on the left and right. He argues that "though a liberal can assume the voice of a conservative to produce comedic effects, this process cannot simply be reversed. Where the liberal parody consists of an exaggeration of what conservatives actually do say, the conservative parody of liberals consists in 'exposing' what the liberals don't say."

At the risk of quoting too much of his post, here's the thrust of his point:

I think immediately of Rush Limbaugh's anti-liberal gags. In one memorable case in the early 1990s, he had Clinton sing a song about how he had pulled the wool over the nation's eyes, but now that he was elected, he was free to implement his radical agenda of raising taxes through the roof. Comedy gold, to be sure -- but there is an inner necessity to this procedure. It's not simply that there are no generic features of liberals to mock: the instinctive fake "balance" between two sides, for instance. The problem is that none of this would register as funny, nor would it undermine liberalism; instead, the conservative parodist would simply end up associating liberals with qualities that the public at large values (moderation, fairness, etc.). The only possible route is to reveal the "hidden truth" of liberalism, normally by completely omitting any reference to the liberals' surface-level moderation -- indeed, their continual attempts to distance themselves from any part of the supposed "hidden truth."

The liberal parodist, by contrast, has no need to project content onto the conservative. Whatever "hidden" content there may be is "hidden" in plain sight. Only a minor twist is needed to make a statement ridiculous, and sometimes not even that. This is because within the liberal frame, the conservative is already a parody of himself -- so strictly speaking, Stephen Colbert is not "parodying" Bill O'Reilly; he is simply imitating O'Reilly's parody of himself.

What is this content, though? At the end of the day, it's a (usually hallucinated) set of "traditional" or "substantial" ties -- family, race, country. Such things appear ridiculous to the liberal. On the other side, from the perspective of the conservative, the very "cosmopolitanism" of the liberals -- their lack of substantial content -- already is an active assualt on that traditional substance.

The hyperbolic claims of liberals "hating America" and wanting to "destroy the family" thus are not, strictly speaking, conscious lies -- from the conservative standpoint, liberal moderation and open-mindedness already takes up a side in the struggle to defend "traditional values." The center is the radical left, the element introducing a conflict into a previously homogeneous social substance. Thus on the formal level, the very fact that there are "culture wars" indicates that the liberals have won -- the idea of gay marriage as a live possibility that must be fought already disrupts the fantasy of an immutable "traditional" meaning of marriage. Even if the end result is to outlaw gay marriage, the very act of treating it as a potentially open question already cedes the crucial ground.


It's an interesting dynamic, and one I've thought a great deal about, myself. You simply don't find satire that cuts in the other direction very often, if at all. While I'm not convinced that O'Reilly is "a parody of himself" (nor even sure what that means, nor how the theoretical line between self and self-parody is crossed). The entire gist of right-wing humor is based on a single, catch-all "joke"--in essence, if you're a liberal then anything you do makes you an unpatriotic, ant-government, anti-Christian, hypocritical elitist with socialist leanings.

To demonstrate, here's an e Right Wing News satirical interview with Bono:

John Hawkins: [What] inspired you to start fighting poverty regularly?

Bono:... Edge and I had a couple of prostitutes up to our hotel rooms. This one looked at me and went "You're the guy who wants to fight poverty right? That's so sweet, I'm going to give you the f*** of your life." That was when I knew I was on to something. So from then on out I started talking about global poverty at all my concerts.

John Hawkins: So a HOOKER got you started talking about poverty?

Bono: That and a vision from God.

John Hawkins: Woah?!? A vision from God?!?

Bono: Yes. Strangely enough God spoke to me right after Edge and I drank 3 bottles of whiskey each. That night God told me "fight for the poor people in Africa. In Zimbabwe, Nigeria, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil or wherever it was in Africa that those poor people didn't have the money to buy our records. He also told me to nail all the furniture in the hotel room to the ceiling which I did as well with Edge's help. That hotel bill cost me over $4000 but what can you do when God gets involved you know?

John Hawkins: Right, I suppose so. Well how did you get involved with world leaders like Kofi Annan and Jessie Helms?

Bono: Well that Kofi Annan is a funny story. I'm talking about these poor people at my concerts and one day I get this call. Edge picks up the phone and yells over to me

"It's Kofi Annan on the phone for you."

I was like "who the Hell is that? Is that the guy that drives the tour bus?"

Then Edge tells me "No, he runs the UN."

So of course, I have no idea what the "UN" is. I'm thinking he's left some letters off or something but eventually I talk to him and he explains that he means the "United Nations." At first I thought the "United Nations" was like a subsidiary of RCA or Geffen records but he explained a little more about it and invited me to do a speech in front of the whole UN about poverty.

John Hawkins: Wow, not many people get that type of opportunity.

Bono: You're right but one problem. I didn't know anything about poverty at the time, heck I still don't. So I had no idea what to talk about. But Edge came to the rescue. He just copied a lot of terms out of an old economics textbook and told me to mix it in with our song lyrics and no one would know the difference. He was right too. I think it's because most of the people at the UN don't speak English….


And, if such "humor" isn't enough, the right-winger can always fall back on fart jokes. Here's a bit of Fox's "1/2 Hour News Hour":

Friday, June 15, 2007

Damn Good News

Here's some awfully exciting news from Dallas: an openly gay mayoral candidate is polling dead-even with the corporate CEO candidate in Dallas's run-off election, slated for tomorrow.

But here's better news--in fact, the best news I can think of at the moment: "Your daughter's blood work indicates that she doesn't have cancer." Got it this afternoon!

Cheers!

I'll be on the road in coming days, but late next week things should get pretty active around here.

"I Gotta Crush on Obama"

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A New Tony Snow Low

Here's the White House Press Secretary grappling feebly with Helen Thomas at a White House presser this morning:

"I swear to god I never even knew what drugs were"

Gonzales Shakes off Amnesia

This just in:

Embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' future was thrown further into jeopardy Friday when he was accidentally struck by a boom microphone, reversing a years-long case of amnesia and causing him to remember his true identity as hotshot Tulsa, OK pool and spa salesman "Cabana Al" Gonzales.

"My God, what am I doing here?" a dazed Gonzales asked reporters in what they assured him was indeed his office. "The last thing I remember is slipping on some wet redwood decking out by the Boswicks' 16-by-48-foot in-ground El Tropico—beautiful pool, that one, with a hefty seven-percent commission attached—and then suddenly I'm waking up three years older, 25 pounds heavier, and defending my actions in the firing of eight federal prosecutors. Somebody has obviously made a really big mistake."

"Clearly, I should not be seventh in line for the presidency," Gonzales said. "Can I go home now?"

After being informed of the details of his recent legal career, including his opinion that the right of habeas corpus is not represented in the Constitution and that law enforcement officers do not in fact need warrants to listen to phone calls made by private citizens, Gonzales expressed regret over "whatever it was [he] did" and apologized to anyone he may have inconvenienced by his actions over the past three years.

White House doctors say Gonzales' amnesia seems to have been completely eradicated, leaving him dazed, shaken, and unable to explain how he became the chief law enforcement officer of the federal government.

"Law never really interested me much," Gonzales said. "Got a brother-in-law who's a lawyer. Sold him a pool, actually. But that's it."


More from The Onion.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Beware, Springdale, Arkansas!

Perhaps I should be more vigilant and directly contact a university English department in Springdale, Arkansas (assuming there is one--pardon my ignorance, Springdale), but this quick post is about all I can muster:

Someone, a student I'm guessing, landed on this blog via a Google search with the terms "free essay on my flamboyant grandson."

Good luck, cheater! The world has far too few essays on that story, I'm quite sure--much less, free ones.

Yes, that'll save us: more essays on George Saunders' "My Flamboyant Grandson."

Lil Bush: Satire for Exceptionally Immature Eighth Graders

Watched the premiere of Comedy Central's new show, Lil Bush, this evening. I laughed out loud three times, and two of those were instances of Lil Dick Cheney biting the heads off of birds and sucking out the insides. The other time escapes me now, but I suspect it had to do with Lil Cheney showing up inside the womb of former First Lady Barbara Bush.

This first episode was utterly forgettable, and my hopes aren't high for future episodes. I'll watch one or two more, but when the most engaging elements of a satire barely rise above the level of fart jokes, you know that satire's not going to cut too deep.

Here's an interesting tidbit down near the end of the Guardian's piece on Lil Bush:

Comedy Central has since 2001 been a source of tough satire about the Bush administration. Jon Stewart's Daily Show is a riposte to those Europeans who think Americans are not critical of the Bush administration.


Yeah, that'll teach them ignur'nt Europeans. Just show 'em Comedy Central.

Someone's not paying attention, Ewen MacAskill.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Back to Blogging

I've been negligent toward my blog. I was out of town for a couple days, house-hunting in Norman, Oklahoma, where we'll move in a couple months. But I'm home, and the blog is back.

I'll resume with a link to the latest from Tom Tomorrow: The Way They Were.

Look for a couple of interesting tidbits on satire later this afternoon.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Great post by Greg Sargent on the political media's attention to the cost of John Edwards' haircut. Truly nauseating.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

One Lump or Two?



I suspect this sort of thing isn't altogether extraordinary in light of the way international big business comes to Washington to get its corruption on, but there's something particularly Bush-era about this story.

Ken Silverstein of Harper's reports that "Washington insiders at a firm called GlobalOptions were working on behalf of Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov and subject of an Interpol arrest warrant. The whole Karimov clan has grown rich through corruption and a new lawsuit charges that GlobalOptions’s client employs mob tactics as part of her business practices."

Silverstein continues:

The lawsuit was brought by Interspan, a Texas tea firm, which is suing an insurance company called Liberty. The latter, the suit alleges, refused to honor a policy bought by Interspan after that company was driven out of Uzbekistan. “Interspan became the target of an extortion scheme that had as its objective the illegal appropriation of Interspan’s valuable business assets in Uzbekistan,” the lawsuit says. “Interspan was advised that this extortion scheme was orchestrated by individuals with ties to the highest levels of the Uzbek government, including Gulnara Karimova.”

According to the lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of Texas, Interspan began operation in Uzbekistan in 1998 and by May of 2005 held a 30 percent share of the country’s packaged tea market. This annoyed Gulnara, whose vast business interests included a state firm with an interest in the local tea market.

In February of 2006, the lawsuit says, hooded men with machine guns, allegedly working for the Uzbek intelligence service, seized Eskender Kiamilev, the father of one of Interspan’s principals. At the same time, armed government agents “entered Interspan’s offices and warehouses in Tashkent and demanded all of Interspan’s physical property, including a large inventory of tea.” Soldiers also seized a large compound and two apartments belonging to the Kiamilev family.

That same month, Interspan received an email from Liberty’s agent in Uzbekistan, which read: “The Samarqand Tea Factory [allegedly owned by Gulnara] is the primary raw tea processor and monopoly supported by the state and has drawn the interest of the first family. I am sure Eskender has been under observation for some time and only now was a decision taken to neutralize him and remove his network from the market. If the state or Samarqand Tea can dismantle the Interspan network then I think any personal interest in holding Eskender will disappear.”

The agent warned in another email to Interspan that it would be imprudent to complain to Gulnara or her business associates....


The story goes on, and on. While I don't burst into tears when big corporate entities are victimized by mob tactics, I can't help but see this as a logical extension of the governing ethic that Bush and Cheney have brought to D.C.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Dick Cheney with a marsupial on his head

Hard to argue:

Drawing Dick Cheney with a marsupial on his head, denying that it's there and blaming it on the left-wing media. What could be more fun than that?


That's Berkeley Breathed's answer to the question what's fun about doing your comic strip?

It's a pretty good interview. Another highlight:

Years ago, you declared that George W. Bush had "cut off our satirist balls" by being unwilling to take himself seriously, but "Opus" features some of the most vehement political satire you've ever written. What do you think is the job of a satirist at a political moment like this one?

Cartoonists -- any satirists -- are mere blowhards at the fringes of the mob, screaming at the crowd to throw the gasoline bombs at the storm troopers. Nobody pays attention to us, really, but we look amusing with our veins popping out. I think it builds confidence for the stragglers in the back.

Bush has given us a gift: far from not taking himself seriously, he's become the only human being on the planet that thinks he's not just uniquely competent ... but brilliant in his strategic, heavenly inspired prescience as to how the world works. This hilarious -- also arguably homicidal -- self-deception is what makes him a comical figure. Literally, it's as if -- I mean this with the utmost respect for both the office and the man -- my 5-year-old boy Milo was running the free world. Milo believes himself equally as shrewd in spotting who the bad guys are in any movie and declaring the complex strategy to deal with them: "Blast 'em all!"

But there's bad news for satirists. Bush has come full circle: His ridiculousness is approaching the sort of existential absurdity that is untouchable. Watch him try to string a sensible sentence together now. Anywhere. He's become one of those guys with the Marx Brothers in "A Night at the Opera" who tumble through the door in the stateroom scene. I can't make him funnier than when he's trying to explain himself in a town hall meeting. Any day now he will go with "I'm the decisioner" and we satirists will know that our balls have been cut off entirely by a very shrewd adversary. Reagan did this too by becoming senile.

Dick Cheney is a different matter. I'd kiss him if I could.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Subpoenas: A Memory Aid for Administration Officials

MOCK

Got forty-eight minutes to spare?

Here's the not-so-short, not-feature-length, satirical mockumentary I made with a bunch of friends who happen to be gifted actors and faultlessly selfless human beings, way back in 2002. That's me with the short, short, short hair and the condescending twinkle in my eye. And that's my dear friend Paul, a brilliant comic actor and even better guy to hang out with, who died two years ago this week, far too young.

Ladies and gentlemen, MOCK:








And, for good measure, here's Stephan Gold's own "Shattered Hearts":


Someday soon I'll write down the story of MOCK, and of Paul. For now, though, enjoy!

¿Cuál es más espeluznante?

I'm having a hard time deciding which is more creepy: that the parents of two children who were murdered and/or kidnapped have hooked up for what sounds like a romantic relationship, or that their hooking up merits headline news coverage in this country.

"Crack is not wack when it brings the trophy back!"

I can't decide whether I dread or eagerly await the new Bush-meets-South-Park cartoon, Lil Bush, premiering on Comedy Central next week, but one thing's for sure: I'll be watching.

Moore on Maher

Monday, June 4, 2007

"ONE YEAR LATER"



This week's "This Modern World" parodies those old Charles Atlas ads in the backs of comic books, casting Harry Reid as the 98-pound weakling who gets kicked in his face by the muscular bully with the ugly mug of George W. Bush.

Happy Monday!

Friday, June 1, 2007

George Saunders and Cognitive Dissonance

WARNING: If you use this post as you compose an academic essay, cite the blog properly. And don't let me do your thinking for you. This post gets heavy traffic from .edu servers, year in and year out--more than ever in January/February 2013--and I have received notes from professors informing me that the analysis here was plagiarized by students. Using this without citing it is intellectual theft.

* * *

As I turn to the study of political satire, I sometimes feel the impulse to at least try writing serious satire, myself—specifically in my own fiction. I haven't often tapped into a satirical vein over the years, and when I have the results were exceedingly lame (a talking duck clinging to the belief that her son died for a just cause in Iraq; a teenaged boy who suspects his orthodontist is not only an android but may in fact be the leader of a robotic uprising that has taken over Canada and looms at the northern border of the U.S.). On the other hand, my crude, rudimentary satirical pieces for BushWhackedUSA.com (most notably the Bush "turkey tours") were the most popular things I've ever published, some attracting as many as a quarter of a million visits. (I know that's not huge by Internet standards, but still...) Perhaps it's time to go that route again.

Anyway, I’m also taking second and third (and fifteenth, and fiftieth) looks at contemporary fiction writers who at least dabble in political satire. First and foremost among them is George Saunders. His brief, satiric essays have appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s, Slate and elsewhere. However, Saunders once denied any impulse to write overt political satire. "I’m not very interested in that kind of satire," he told the Missouri Review back in 2000, "because it works on the assumption that They Are Assholes. And I think fiction works on the assumption that They Are Us, On a Different Day." Yet, within a few years, Saunders had fully embraced the role of didactic political satirist. In "Exit Strategy: How to Leave Iraq in Three Easy Steps," published three years ago (but every bit as relevant today), Saunders wrote:
But our leaders have already shown the way by showing that, if one has a vision, and refuses to betray that vision by modifying it, or becoming distracted by small details, such as, for example, the confusing data emanating from the non-theoretical world, filled with actual people, pets, clothes on clotheslines, nuanced loyalties, etc., mountains can be moved, nations can be changed, great things can be accomplished.

It is clear that the fate of Iraq now rests in the hands of Iraqis.

People of Iraq, I say to you:

Stop trying to kill us, so we can leave. But also, do not fear. We are in it for the long haul, although we cannot stay with you indefinitely. No, as soon as you stop trying to kill us, believe us, you will never see us again. Therefore, trust us, people of Iraq, have faith, we assure you: As long as you continue trying to kill us, we will never abandon you.
Earlier that year, in the New Yorker,Saunders published a satirical rant against same sex marriage, in which he proposed going further than a ban on homosexual marriage by prohibiting “Samish-Sex marriage”:
Because my feeling is, when God made man and woman He had something very specific in mind. It goes without saying that He did not want men marrying men, or women marrying women, but also what He did not want, in my view, was feminine men marrying masculine women.

Which is why I developed my Manly Scale of Absolute Gender.

Using my Scale, which assigns numerical values according to a set of masculine and feminine characteristics, it is now easy to determine how Manly a man is and how Fem a woman is, and therefore how close to a Samish-Sex Marriage a given marriage is.

Here’s how it works. Say we determine that a man is an 8 on the Manly Scale, with 10 being the most Manly of all and 0 basically a Neuter. And say we determine that his fiancée is a -6 on the Manly Scale, with a -10 being the most Fem of all. Calculating the difference between the man’s rating and the woman’s rating—the Gender Differential—we see that this proposed union is not, in fact, a Samish-Sex Marriage, which I have defined as “any marriage for which the Gender Differential is less than or equal to 10 points.”
As recently as this week, Saunders has set his satirical sights on snobbery and economic injustice with the disturbing (and funny) short story ”Puppy” in the New Yorker.

Here’s what Vince Passaro (about whom I know nothing, but whose critical work has caught my eye more than once) says about George Saunders in a review of his recent collection, In Persuasion Nation:
Among younger writers these days, Saunders has many imitators. He often writes with great wit and affection about working-class people and the situations of nonsensical hardship they face. With so few writers left in the United States qualified (and willing) to cover this terrain, Saunders ends up attracting some disciples simply along class lines. But class is not his main concern. His main concerns are much harder to pin down--unlike writers who often can be successfully imitated, say Ann Beattie or Raymond Carver, Saunders does not work in the mainstream tradition of North American short fiction, nor does he have a simple style, though it may sometimes appear so. His sensibility, always a close relative of style, is exclusively his own, sophisticated, daring and politically unusual, to the degree that one can't really imitate him unless one believes what he believes--everything he does is in service of an immovably unique worldview. In this as in several other ways, Saunders reminds me of Flannery O'Connor, which is to say he is a radical, and only a small number of people who really understand the convictions behind his work--the caustic humor that, pulled back, reveals a scouring contempt for consumer society and modern life, as well as a deep and specifically religious eagerness for transcendent meaning--would choose to embrace them.
I’m not sure how that “specifically religious eagerness” expresses itself, nor do I understand what Passaro means by the phrase “immovably unique worldview” (which makes me roll my eyes and groan, repeatedly, as I try to imagine a movably unique worldview), but I agree that the impulse toward radicalism shows up in Saunders’ fiction. Sometimes that impulse manifests didactically (as in the brilliant yet mundane italicized excerpts from an imaginary right-wing Textbook for a New Nation, which are scattered between the sections of In Persuasion Nation), but more often the radical impulse seeps into his stories through their comic, hyperrealistic settings.

Passaro touches on that aspect of Saunders' work and dubs it a distinctively American form of “magical realism”:
With these two stories and a band of others in this book, he has achieved a kind of twenty-first-century American magical realism. And magical realism, as Joan Didion once observed, and Gabriel García Márquez confirmed in his Nobel lecture, had a realistic purpose, reality itself in Latin America in those years having become "magical" all on its own. Any serious depiction of actual life essentially required this treatment. So it has become for us, and Saunders is the only prominent writer who has fully recognized the fact. Many of his stories reveal a truth that we prefer to spend most of our time hiding from: that in the United States today, for a person with an active conscience, full participation in daily economic and social life has become increasingly a schizophrenic and impossible act.
In other words, Saunders pays a great deal of attention to the fact that, in order to live a more or less normal American life, one must almost constantly engage in behavior that conflicts with one’s beliefs. The psychological term for this is cognitive dissonance, and Western culture has mastered the acrobatic art of living with (or ignoring) cognitive dissonance since the era of Thomas Aquinas (and probably much earlier). Just ask any Christian who believes in both evolution and biblical infallibility. Well, no, don’t ask. It’s better for everyone that way.

In the Saunders story published this week ("Puppy"), cognitive dissonance rears its ugly head in both of the protagonists—who, in turn, manage to ignore it with impunity. (WARNING: Stop reading if you don’t want some of the story’s events “spoiled.”) Marie, the upper-middle class mother, wants to teach her children the value of caring for a puppy—but, when she finds herself repulsed by the squalid conditions in the house of the family from whom they’ve come to adopt a puppy—she ends up teaching her children (by example) to abandon a puppy, leaving it to its horrible lot in life. In turn, Callie, the poverty-stricken mother who keeps her son on a leash in the back yard, ditches the puppy in a corn field, where it will surely starve to death, in order to spare her husband the worry of killing it.

And what inspires all of this hypocrisy, negligence, abuse and cruelty? Love, of course. What else? This is George Saunders.

I could dig up a few more examples of cognitive dissonance in Saunders’ work (“My Flamboyant Grandson,” “The Red Bow” and “93990,” all from the latest collection, come to mind—the topic merits further inquiry, to be sure), but I’ve got a long to-do list for the week with too many items left undone.

Now, if this proved useful to you, go read my short story collection. The paperback sells for $12.95, and the Kindle edition sells for less.

Wishful Thinking


Is there a more absurd construction project in the entire world, right now, than the $529 million U.S. embassy in Iraq?

Detailed plans for the U.S. Embassy being built in Baghdad appeared online Thursday in a breach of the security surrounding the sensitive project.

Computer-generated projections of the soon-to-be completed, heavily fortified compound were posted on the Web site of the Kansas City, Mo.-based architectural firm that was contracted to design the facility in the Iraqi capital.

The images showing the $529 million embassy were removed by Berger Devine Yaeger after the firm was contacted by the State Department.

"We work very hard to ensure the safety and security of our employees overseas," said Gonzalo Gallegos, a department spokesman.

The 10 images included a scheme of the overall layout of the compound, plus depictions of individual buildings including the embassy, office annexes, the Marine Corps security post, swimming pool, recreation center and the ambassador's and deputy ambassador's residences.


It's going to be larger than Vatican City.



I suppose the size and scope of the embassy is intended to somehow retroactively justify our military presence in Iraq, and to provide an ongoing justification beyond the end of the Bush administration's reign in D.C. And, by the way, Bush has already painted a bigger target on the backs of American troops by declaring his intent for the U.S. to remain in Iraq for at least another fifty years.



Meanwhile, Dennis Kucinich says it's all about the oil after all.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Political Man-Crush

Glenn Greenwald has a great piece today about the G.O.P.'s and white-male punditry's fatuous predisposition for politicians who are willing to play the role of "tough guy":

Newsweek's Howard Fineman -- last seen expressing admiration for the "reassuring" "male" qualities exuded by the GOP presidential field -- was on Hardball last night heaping praise on Fred Thompson. According to Fineman, Thompson not only is "tough on defense," but he himself is "a tough guy." Fineman also swooned: "He's got a strong record on cultural issues as a cultural conservative from the South."

What, in Fineman's mind, makes Thompson "tough on defense" and gives him credibility as "a tough guy"? Fineman obviously means that as a high compliment, but what -- in actuality -- has Thompson ever done that warrants such praise for his alleged "tough-guy-ness"?

Here is Thompson's biography -- his own official, endorsed version. He's been a government lawyer, an actor and a Senator. Though Thompson does not mention it, he also has been -- for two decades -- what a 1996 profile in The Washington Monthly described as "a high-paid Washington lobbyist for both foreign and domestic interests." This folksy, down-home, regular guy has spent his entire adult life as a lawyer and lobbyist in Washington, except when he was an actor in Hollywood.

And -- like the vast, vast majority of Republican "tough guys" who play-act the role so arousingly for our media stars, from Rudy Giuliani to Newt Gingrich -- Thompson has no military service despite having been of prime fighting age during the Vietnam War (Thompson turned 20 in 1962, Gingrich in 1963, Giuliani in 1964). He was active in Republican politics as early as the mid-1960s, which means he almost certainly supported the war in which he did not fight.


It's a great little essay from Greenwald. I recommend reading it all.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The War Prayer

"None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth." --Mark Twain

Markos Kounalakis has put together a beautifully drawn, animated adaptation of Mark Twain's satirical short story, "The War Prayer," featuring the voices of Peter Coyote and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Don't miss it:

Part One:


Part Two:

Monday, May 28, 2007

New One from Tom Tomorrow


This week's "This Modern World" is excellent: IT'S CAMPAIGN SEASON ON THE NORTHERN LAND MASS OF PLANET GLOX....

New Night Train


There's a new issue of Night Train online, as of this weekend.

The Foul Odor of Condescension

Get a load of the New York Times' Anthony DePalma's skepticism that a bunch of barefoot, brown-skinned, poverty-stricken third-worlders could have health care that's comparable to their wealthy, mostly white neighbors. Here he writes about Michael Moore's new film, Sicko:

Mr. Moore transports a handful of sick Americans to Cuba for treatment in the course of the film, which is scheduled to open in the United States next month, and he is apparently dumbfounded that they could get there what they couldn’t get here.

“There’s a reason Cubans live on average longer than we do,” he told Time magazine. “I’m not trumpeting Castro or his regime. I just want to say to fellow Americans, ‘C’mon, we’re the United States. If they can do this, we can do it.’ ”

But hold on. Do they do it? Live longer than, or even as long as, we do? How could a poor developing country — where annual health care spending averages just $230 a person compared with $6,096 in the United States — come anywhere near matching the richest country in the world?

[Emphasis mine.]

For that matter, Michael Moore's apparent dumbfoundedness betrays the same attitude: How could those poor, hispanic people have something comporable to what we have? This is typical of media coverage of Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia and the Pacific.

For instance, that brand of supercilious skepticism raises reporters' eyebrows in coverage of any and all mainstream American media coverage of the revolution in Venezuela. Here's CNN's headline on the long-scheduled end to a television station that played a significant role in the failed 2002 military coup: "Chavez closes opposition TV station; thousands protest." Does that headline (or anything else in the article, for that matter) reflect the fact that Chavez's approval rating in Venezuela regularly clocks in at between sixty and seventy percent? Based on American media coverage, you'd think Venezuela was ruled under the iron fist of a ruthless dictator. In fact, what Venezuela has is a highly popular President who represents the interests of the nonwealthy majority yet permits a level of dissent that wouldn't be tolerated in the U.S.

That racist condescension drips from the opening paragraphs of a recent article in the Times:

The squatters arrive before dawn with machetes and rifles, surround the well-ordered rows of sugar cane and threaten to kill anyone who interferes. Then they light a match to the crops and declare the land their own.

For centuries, much of Venezuela's rich farmland has been in the hands of a small elite. After coming to power in 1998, and especially after his re-election in December, President Hugo Chávez vowed to end that inequality, and has been keeping his promise in a process that is both brutal and legal.

Mr. Chávez is carrying out what may become the largest forced land redistribution in Venezuela's history, building utopian farming villages for squatters, lavishing money on new cooperatives and sending army commando units to supervise seized estates in six states.


Ah yes, this stands in stark contrast to all those unforced land redistributions in Venezuela's history--just ask that country's wealthy, thriving indigenous population.

(Click here for a "Blast the Right" podcast on the topic.)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Pacifism: Does it work?

I've been thinking a lot about pacifism this weekend, and indirectly for several days prior. I'm a vegetarian and have been for years, so on that level pacifism is one of the ethical foundations of my life. Yet, since I became a father, I've routinely killed wasps and other insects. This week, for the first time, I put out poisonous traps to lure, capture, and kill the mice that moved into our garage after my daughter spilled some bird seed behind a box. When I came in from the garage, my wife and I joked about my role as the family's designated murderer.

Then, yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend I hadn't seen in several years. His political leanings have coincided with mine since we met; but while I've paid less attention to politics over the years, he seems to have grown increasingly engaged. To make a long story short, he expressed his comfort with violence in the name of resistance to oppression.

Then, last night, with that conversation still fresh in mind, I watched Pan's Labyrinth. No doubt that context colored my interpretation of the film--or, at any rate, highlighted the film's portrayal of a violent struggle against oppression.

At the moment, I'm re-examining my belief in pacifism and finding, to my surprise, that I'm willing to consider violence in a different light. Which is not to say that I'm headed out to buy a gun or to sign up with the nearest insurgency.

Just thinking out loud...

UPDATE: Three years later, I have zero recollection of writing this post. The ideas in it faded away quickly. I've gone from vegetarian to vegan. I've stopped trapping and killing (though moving may have a lot to do with that shift). And I cannot imagine hurting anyone for anything short of threatening my family.

Gerhard Scholten

If you're looking for an experienced, brilliant, accessible architect in the Colorado Springs area, look no further than Gerhard Scholten. He's a damn nice guy, too, with good taste in music and films. I'd be more than happy to provide a reference.

Detecting a pattern?

Think Progress has this on Bush's supposedly "furious" reaction to the New York Times report that the White House is debating ways to reduce the American troop presence in Iraq by as much as half next year:

The NYT report is just the latest example in a recurring pattern of media reports that have given false hope of an imminent drawdown. As Glenn Greenwald notes, “For four straight years, the same set of war supporters have constantly and repetitiously given the same exact false assurances about Iraq — virtually verbatim — in order to protect themselves politically.” And the press bites at the story every time.


Hard to believe it's 2007 and some reporters--English-speaking human beings who somehow, mysteriously earn a living covering the administration--still haven't caught on.

Then again, maybe I'm the one who hasn't yet caught on.

The Flowers of Evil



Maureen Dowd takes a break from walking the snark beat and weighs in on the quagmire:

[The Bush administration] knows the surge is not working. Iraq is in a civil war, with a gruesome bonus of terrorists mixed in. April was the worst month this year for the American military, with 104 soldiers killed, and there have been about 90 killed thus far in May. The democracy’s not jelling, as Iraqi lawmakers get ready to slouch off for a two-month vacation, leaving our kids to be blown up.

The top-flight counterinsurgency team that President Bush sent in after long years of pretending that we’d “turned the corner” doesn’t believe there’s a military solution. General Petraeus is reduced to writing an open letter to the Iraqi public, pleading with them to reject sectarianism and violence, even as the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr slinks back from four months in Iran, rallying his fans by crying: “No, no, no to Satan! No, no, no to America! No, no, no to occupation! No, no, no to Israel!”

W. thinks he can save face if he keeps taunting Democrats as the party of surrender — just as Nixon did — and dumps the Frankenstate he’s created on his successor.

“The enemy in Vietnam had neither the intent nor the capability to strike our homeland,” he told Coast Guard Academy graduates. “The enemy in Iraq does. Nine-eleven taught us that to protect the American people we must fight the terrorists where they live so that we don’t have to fight them where we live.”

The president said an intelligence report (which turned out to be two years old) showed that Osama had been trying to send Qaeda terrorists in Iraq to attack America. So clearly, Osama is capable of multitasking: Order the killers in Iraq to go after American soldiers there and American civilians here. There AND here. Get it, W.?

The president is on a continuous loop of sophistry: We have to push on in Iraq because Al Qaeda is there, even though Al Qaeda is there because we pushed into Iraq. Our troops have to keep dying there because our troops have been dying there. We have to stay so the enemy doesn’t know we’re leaving. Osama hasn’t been found because he’s hiding.

The terrorists moved into George Bush’s Iraq, not Saddam Hussein’s. W.’s ranting about Al Qaeda there is like planting fleurs du mal and then complaining your garden is toxic.