Sunday, October 29, 2006

Veruca Assault

As much as my passion -- not to mention my respect -- for the news business has plummeted over the past several years, there is one fact about the job which I never take for granted: for the most part, it requires very little contact with the general public. Field producers are often called upon not only to interact with the average man on the street, but occasionally to placate, cajole, strong-arm, sweet-talk or perform whatever other action might be necessary to get him to say or do what will make their story work so that they can get it done and return to the important business of drinking themselves to death. Show producers on the other hand don't typically have this problem; for the most part -- barring mammoth stories like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina or the Runaway Bride -- we're lucky enough to stay safely locked in an air-conditioned building with hot and cold running coffee, a constant supply of Fritos and the obligatory secret bathroom tucked away in some remote corner where you can sit for hours undisturbed should it become necessary to do so.

One of the more memorable moments from the infancy of my career, in fact, involves a particular morning when I sat with one of my managers in an empty conference room and watched him delete -- one by one -- every single suggestion, rant, complaint and compliment which had been left on the station's viewer comment line. His words to me when the speaker-phone finally proclaimed that the message box was empty: "If they have the time to call us, we don't really want them watching anyway." Although the extreme nature of this point-of-view was specific to the newsroom in which we worked -- you'd have to see the on-air product to truly understand -- for someone who had always believed Sartre's claim about hell being "other people," this was nothing short of a revelation. It was the moment that I felt as if I had finally found a brotherhood which would accept and laud my misanthropy, rather than look upon it with the usual amount of scornful disapproval.

I had found a home among the assholes.

Despite the fact that I'm often accused of proudly exhibiting the interpersonal skills of a 13-year-old runaway, I admit to a certain envy of those who have the ability to deal with people they don't much like without having every interaction with those people end in a fist fight. This is one of the reasons -- one of the many -- that I hold my wife in such high esteem; unlike me, she has the ability not simply to deal with people in a perfunctory fashion, but to actually make it seem as if each individual she interacts with is the only person on the planet. A cynic like myself would see this kind of behavior as a natural talent for manipulation, and would admire it as such; normal people would just say she's incredibly nice. Whether it's the Jedi Mind Trick, genuine concern for others or some combination of the two, her ability to put people at ease and her desire to make them comfortable is preternaturally unparalleled.

This is important, being that she's in the hospitality industry.

Jayne is a manager at one of New York City's most stylish, hip and expensive hotels. This means that for ten hours a day -- sometimes more -- she willingly caters to the every little whim of a clientele which generally sees nothing ridiculous about the entire concept of chihuahuas in handbags. She does this with style, grace and a sense of responsibility that I sometimes find perplexing, and other times flat-out horrifying. There's no shortage of irony to the fact that many of the celebrities I thoroughly despise and openly skewer are the same ones my wife bends over backward for, in an effort to ensure that their bottled water is specifically Fiji and is always chilled to exactly 43-degrees.

Many an evening has Jayne come home, kicked off her high-heels to reveal scarred and inconspicuously bandaged feet, and regaled me with stories of the obscene demands of one spoiled, self-obsessed uber-celeb or another -- and the figurative mountains she and her staff are forced to climb to make sure those demands are met. One hugely popular female singer refuses to allow anyone other than her manager to look at or address her, books a separate suite for her dog and insists that the entire menu be reworked to reflect her incredibly exacting tastes; One young TV star will settle for nothing less than having an entire upper floor to himself, while his staff of handlers is forced to double-up in a pocket of smaller rooms far below. Some throw angry fits if they find unapproved colors of M&Ms in their complimentary Nambe' bowls; some lock the cleaning staff out for a week and leave the room looking as if they'd exploded a hand-grenade under the bed. They have fifteen pages of requirements; they have a thirty person entourage. And they expect nothing less than unwavering compliance from my wife and her staff of underpaid and overwhelmed wage-slaves.

Although heaping the requisite amount of derision on it in private, my wife rationalizes the acceptance of -- and acquiescence to -- such an offensive sense of entitlement by reminding herself and others of the obvious: these people are paying good money for the right to demand anything they want, and it's her job to ensure that they get whatever that might happen to be.

It would be a purely Quixotic gesture to suggest that anyone capable of making such juvenile stipulations -- anyone so psychotically intolerant of even the most infinitesimal inconvenience -- is inherently undeserving of having those stipulations met; of course it's true -- and of course the realization that it's true changes absolutely nothing. It does however bring up a fact which becomes indisputable when you consider that not every celebrity who walks through the doors of my wife's place of work insists that the entire world -- and everyone in it -- accept that reality is his or her own private fantasy and act accordingly.

That fact: making a lot of money doesn't make you a bad person -- making a lot of demands does.

The other night I showed up at the end of Jayne's shift to meet her for dinner. As we walked out the doors and away from the hotel -- safe in the knowledge that in the penthouse high above us, the hugely popular singer's life would be free of the catastrophe of sub-standard chicken salad for at least one more night -- there was an old woman sitting on the sidewalk. She was hunched over silently with her back against a wall.

In her hand was a small sign; it read, "Lost job. Have three children. Need money for food. Anything will help."

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

There's No "I" in Oprah


***INTERNAL MEMO//NOT FOR RELEASE***

From the Law Offices of Jeremy, Jameson, North and Hartley

Beverly Hills, California

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

RE: Oprah Winfrey/Harpo Inc. Copyright and Trademark Rulings



We are pleased to report that as of 9:00am PDT this morning, the proposed copyright and trademark implementation initiated on behalf of our client has been ruled official and legally binding (O. Winfrey Petition, Case #0598672, CA Superior Court/Part 53). As discussed, being that a favorable designation from the client (or authorized association with the client) carries with it certain benefits -- both social and financial -- and said designation lends the recipient an unparalleled level of legitimacy with a vast market which would otherwise be untapped by the recipient, from this point forward the following is true: said recipients of this "hallowed blessing" (the official term to be used forthwith) will be considered the intellectual and industrial property of the client and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Harpo Inc.

The current breakdown -- which can and will be adjusted for time, favored status and general rises to and falls from grace -- is as follows:


Oprah's Friend Gayle(c)(tm) // Gayle King, who for some time has been familiar to the general public strictly by the designation "Oprah's Friend Gayle" will now be known by that name and only that name, both professionally and personally. This will replace any previous monicker which may have been applied to her -- including but not limited to: "Oprah's Girlfriend Gayle," "Oprah's Lesbian Lover Gayle," "That Bitch Who Looks Like Whitney Houston Fresh Out of Rehab," "The Sycophant," and "Who?"

Note: if at any time the client chooses to admit the truth about her sexuality, Oprah's Friend Gayle's(c)(tm) name will immediately and legally become "Gayle, the Woman Who Makes it Okay for You to Admit that You're a Lesbian and Leave Behind Your Family and Constricting Life in Suburbia, Girlfriend(c)(tm)."

Oprah's Favorite Chef(c)(tm) // Henceforth, this copyrighted and trademarked label will be applied to the woman formerly known as Rachael Ray and will be exclusively used by her in all professional and personal interactions. It has been brought to this firm and its client's attention that the beneficiary of this hallowed blessing recently began taping a talk show which bears her erstwhile monicker. As a concession, the client will allow the name of the show to be changed to "The Rachael Ray Show, Which Owes its Entire Existence to the Good Nature of Oprah and the Fact that Miss Ray is, in Fact, Oprah's Favorite Chef." It is also the client's wish that Oprah's Favorite Chef(c)(tm) be reminded by this firm that her contract remains legally binding and that the client is under no obligation to return her soul.

Oprah's Designer(c)(tm) // From this point forward -- as a matter of simplification -- the designer who most recently has been known to the general public as "Nate Berkus, Oprah's Designer" will relinquish the proper-name portion of that title, as it barely matters anyway. Oprah's Designer(c)(tm) will also agree to be addressed simply as "Girlfriend" by the client for the remainder of his existence or until the client tires of his bold use of Feng Shui, whichever comes first.

Barack Obama, Oprah's Candidate(c)(tm) // The client acknowledges the unfortunate necessity for the future presidential contender currently known as Barack Obama, the Junior Senator from Illinois, to retain his proper name. However, the client wishes for this firm to remind the Senator -- upon his inevitable election -- to whom he owes his political fortunes. The client expects an appointment to a cabinet post in the Obama administration befitting her role in his incredible appeal to middle-class soccer moms across the country; it is her wish that she be granted the post of Secretary of State or higher, as this rise to power will be necessary to facilitate the coming of the Christ-Child and the client's eventual war with the Nazarene.

He Who Has No Name // Henceforth, the author and blasphemer formerly known as James Frey shall cease to exist in a figurative sense and shall be banished from public consciousness.

Tom Cruise // It is the client's prudent decision that her name in no way be associated with Tom Cruise. This decision is legal and binding.

Dr. Phil, the Ingrate(c)(tm) // The client acknowledges a lapse in oversight which has allowed the one-time recipient of the hallowed blessing to succeed despite having no continued attachment to her. She will not make the same mistake again, and wishes for the firm to take measures to ensure that Dr. Phil, the Ingrate(c)(tm), his wife and son are all "dealt with" at the firm's earliest convenience.

Caveats and Codicils

The client officially lays copyrighted and trademarked legal claim to the following:

* The term "Girlfriend," and all sassy uses of it.

* Weight-loss of any kind.

* The entire depth of human experience, as the client insists that she is not only understanding of any and all interpersonal situations, but is in fact the progenitor of said situations and can provide unequalled validation to those who experience them subsequently.

Any unauthorized use or application of the preceding will result in immediate legal action, which this firm is empowered to take on behalf of the client. Punishment will be swift and without mercy.

Day 6

A linguist once wrote that Cellar Door is the most beautiful two-word combination in the English language.

I beg to differ.

The most beautiful two-words in any language, are Jack Bauer.

The trailer for the new season of 24 is finally here.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The New Black


Now in stores, My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade.

Thankfully, it's everything I had hoped it would be; namely, it's the first rock album in quite awhile -- certainly since the iPod came to cultural prominence -- that I've purchased and immediately listened to in its entirety over and over.

It's clever without being whiny; ambitious without being overly self-indulgent; powerful without being pretentious. It's both brash and brainy.

It pays homage to everything from Pink Floyd's The Wall, to Queen's A Night at the Opera to The Beatles Sgt. Pepper to -- of all glorious things -- Cabaret (complete with a guest appearance by Liza Minnelli).

Mostly though, it marks the ascendency of what was once a pretty good band to one that can now count themselves among some of the best the genre has had to offer throughout the decades.

It's basically a really fucking great record.

Frak Yeah!

I never thought I'd do something this silly here, but you're going to have to indulge my nerdgasm over this week's episode of Battlestar Galactica. Not only was it the single best episode of the best show on television, it contained the absolute goddamned most bad-ass action sequence I've ever seen on the small screen.

The scene probably requires a little bit of set-up, but I'm not going to bother -- other than to say that it involves a surprising and drastic measure taken during an astonishing rescue mission.

This one is basically for my own benefit and the benefit of all the fans of this spectacular show.

Watch and be amazed.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

And Now, A Special Sunday Morning Message for Hollywood from Chez's Evil Twin, Garth*


Alright, I'm gonna try and keep this clean since -- you know -- it's Sunday. I know that doesn't mean anything to you pagan, child-sacrificing fuckers out there in La-La Land, but it still means something to the rest of us God-fearing folk.

Listen...

You guys have been bitching up a storm recently about the fact that nobody goes to the movies anymore. Box office receipts are down; audiences are apathetic; no one seems to appreciate the joyous communal experience of gathering at the local theater with every single living soul within a twenty mile radius to take in whatever blockbuster you've spent millions of advertising dollars shoving down our throats beginning six months prior to the opening of the fucking thing -- uh, sorry freakin' thing.

I'm here to tell you why that is.

On your end, yeah, I'm sorry to break it to you but the product usually sucks. For every one truly decent movie you clowns are churning out between putting your faces into big piles of cocaine on your desks -- there are twenty that I wouldn't watch if you strapped me to a chair and held my eyes open like in that Clockwork Orange Julius movie or whatever the hell it was called. I mean DEAR GOD -- you douchebags haven't had a consistent string of original ideas since the 70s; now everything's either a sequel or a two-hour version of a half-hour TV show -- or worse, a fucking... oops... a freakin' five minute sketch on Saturday Night Live. By the way, don't even bother calling 90% of those Will Ferrell vehicles "new." That's horseshit and you know it. They're all the same movie created around the same character in a different costume. While you're at it, how about declaring a moratorium on computer-animated movies with talking anything. Cars, animals, shrubbery, toilets, toys, dildos, Walter Fucking Mondale -- whatever. We see them for what they are: cynical attempts to get our ADD-medicated kids to drag our beleaguered asses to the theaters.

You're probably single-handedly responsible for more child murders in this country than post-partum depression.

So...

After a dismal, unmemorable movie year filled with the kind of dreck I just described, what have you given us to look forward to?

A movie that literally sounds like a freakin' joke on Family Guy:

Transformers: A Michael Bay Film.

Hold on a second.

(Begins laughing out loud to the point where he can't catch his breath. This goes on for several minutes.)

HOLY SHIT.

What the hell were you people thinking?

Did you not know that the trailer alone was gonna provoke unrestrained laughter from the audience? This is a live-action version of the stupidest cartoon ever, with a budget the size of the gross national product of the Netherlands, directed by the unmitigated hack who foisted Bad Boys 2 and The Island on us.

Who green-lit this shit?

GOD, it makes my fucking brain hurt.

Fuck you Hollywood.

Just fuck you.

(Shakes his head and walks away for a moment, grunting with displeasure -- before finally returning.)

Okay, now on to another important reason no one's going to the movies anymore -- and unfortunately for you Hollywood, this is something you can't control.

So last night I went to see The Departed -- a decent movie to be sure, although quite frankly it was hard for me to tell, what with the fucking bitch sitting two seats over from me talking on her cell phone; the 107-year-old man wandering the aisles of the sold-out show calling out to his family trying to locate them in the middle of the fucking movie; the line around the goddamned block to buy an eight-dollar bucket of stale popcorn; the Upper East Side JAP stereotype to my right reacting with requisite shock to every single obvious plot twist; the eight-foot-tall center for the Knicks sitting directly in front of my wife; and the piece-de-fucking-resistance: waiting in line for ten minutes to get into the bathroom following the show -- then being shoved into the urinal by a blind man trying to get into one of the stalls.

In case I didn't make myself clear, that would be A BLIND MAN AT A FUCKING MOVIE.

Remember the old days, when you used to sell us on how those big productions you were cranking out just had to be experienced on the big screen to be fully appreciated?

Well guess what you assholes -- this was the first time that my wife the porn star and I walked out of a fucking theater and looked at each other saying, "We really need to see that at home on our big-screen TV with the home-theater surround-sound to get the full effect."

Our home: where it's just two very happy people sitting on the comfortable couch with a front-row seat, great food and drink, a bathroom ten steps away -- and not another fucking person in sight.

Seriously Hollywood, follow Soderbergh's example and release movies on DVD and Pay-Per-View the same date you release them in the theaters -- that way most of us can skip the fucking nightmarish 9th circle of hell that is going to a movie at the theater these days.

Please?

If I give you some cocaine?

(*As always, the views and opinions of Garth do not necessarily represent those of Chez -- who in fact has a great respect for the elderly, the blind, JAP stereotypes, the New York Knicks and Walter Mondale.)

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Final Act


A while back I wrote about an ill-fated trip to Livingston, Texas (Things to Do in Texas When You're Dead, 8/25/06) to interview a death row inmate named Justin Fuller. Despite all of the effort put into that excruciating day-trip, it ended futilely, with a tape of little more than digital static -- the result of an accident involving the camera, which happened before my crew and I even got out of the airport in Houston.

Fuller was executed a little more than 24 hours after our pointless interview.

What I neglected to mention, is that the show -- as always -- must go on.

We still needed to complete our story on lethal injection, which meant that we returned to the Polunsky Unit's Death Row two weeks later. This time we interviewed a young inmate named Michael Dewayne Johnson, and strictly from the somewhat soulless perspective of a television news producer -- I was glad we did.

Johnson was, as I remarked to my anchor after the interview, "our star."

He was fresh-faced and attractive.

He was funny, fiery and friendly.

He was smart, charismatic and eminently likable.

What was most frightening however, is that he was above all believable. During the interview, Michael Johnson produced a signed affidavit -- a confession that he claimed proved the assertion that he'd been making in court for almost ten years: that his accomplice shot a 27-year-old gas station attendant in 1995, and that he was sitting in the car the entire time and knew nothing of what was happening until he heard the gun go off. That accomplice, a man named David Vest, rolled on Johnson while in custody and offered up his friend as the shooter in exchange for an eight year prison sentence (a deal I thought to be unbelievably inequitable, regardless of who pulled the trigger).

The bottom line is that I'm well aware of the banality -- even the likability -- of evil; however, my anchor and I left death row that day burying a certain amount of our well-worn cynicism and truly wanting to believe the man we'd just spent a half-hour talking to through a thick sheet of glass.

That was one month ago.

This morning Michael Dewayne Johnson is dead.

He didn't however die at the hands of Texas's executioner -- he died at the hands of himself.

Just fifteen hours before he was scheduled to be taken to the death chamber where a cocktail of chemicals would be pumped into his body, ending his life -- he pulled a hidden metal blade from somewhere in his cell and slashed his own throat and his own wrists.

Guards say that just moments before, he had been upbeat and jovial -- cracking jokes and showing off his trademark boyishly mischevious grin.

In his final moments, as his life ebbed out of him and onto the floor of his tiny windowless cell -- he scrawled a message on the wall in his own blood.

That final, gory epitaph read simply, "I didn't shoot him."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Cynicist Manifesto: Addendum #3


I believe what internet clips of game shows and cartoons have taught me -- that everyone in Japan is completely insane.

The Cynicist Manifesto

The Cynicist Manifesto: Addendum

The Cynicist Manifesto: Addendum #2

The Downward Spiral


Ten U.S. servicemen have been killed in the last 24 hours in Iraq, which brings the total to 2,775 American men and women dead -- not to mention the thousands and thousands of innocent Iraqis killed in both the war and the aftermath of sectarian violence that's plunged most of that country into chaos.

The NATO commander in Afghanistan is now saying that mistakes made in the prosecuting of that war have given rise to the resurgence of the Taliban.

I swear, I'd like to argue against the path that this administration has taken in a thoughtful and articulate way -- and I have on occasion.

But right now, all I can think to say is: Dear God, our shit-for-brains president and his cadre of myopic minions are seriously the most tragically incompetent fucking idiots currently walking this increasingly hostile planet.

I Want My Bitter Hatred of MTV

As you've probably noticed, the "Nightly Middle Finger to MTV" segment is on hiatus for a little while. According to its publicist, it's in rehab recovering from "exhaustion."

It'll return as soon as it feels better.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Take This Poll & Shove It


There have been a lot of popular myths in our culture throughout the years: Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, the female G-spot, "Ghetto-Fabulous," the existence of Dane Cook's talent etc.

There probably hasn't been a more dangerous and widely-accepted myth however, than the belief that voting in a governmental election is a fundamental right which should be availed of at any cost; and that encouraging people to vote -- regardless of their knowledge of the candidates, issues or the correct direction to turn the knob to get out of their front door -- is always a good idea.

During the 2004 presidential campaign, P. Diddy -- a man who knows as much about politics as I know about flying the space shuttle -- launched the single most laughable get-out-the-vote drive in modern history. "Vote or Die" was memorable not only for its painfully ambiguous slogan and those silly t-shirts which bore it, but also for its attempt to convince a generation whose primary cultural influences were Paris Hilton and Ashton Kutcher to exercise their God-given right to alter the course of American history by pressing a single button (and doing almost nothing else).

Understand something -- I in no way want a decision which will affect every man, woman and child in America left in the hands of someone whose last experience with the electoral process was texting TRL for the 132nd time to ensure that L'il Jon & The West Side Boyz remain at the top of the countdown.

It's unfair though to target just Diddy and the relatively few over whom he holds sway.

The fact is that as of today we're three short weeks away from the mid-term elections, and as expected, the vote-at-all-costs campaigns are well underway. They're on TV, on the radio and on the internet -- and they all repeat the same message: "It doesn't matter who you vote for, just vote."

Except that it does matter who you vote for; as we've come to understand all-too-well over the past few years, it matters a great deal.

Voting is indeed a right, but it's also a privilege -- and one which shouldn't be taken lightly; encouraging people to vote without also encouraging them to learn about who and what they're voting for is nothing short of criminally irresponsible.

So here's a different message: if you have no idea what the candidates stand for and what the issues are, do this country a favor and stay home on November 7th.

Because there's nothing more dangerous than an idiot with a ballot -- except maybe the idiot that person elects.

Dumbing Up That Hill

As I was saying -- the idiot that person elects?

I rest my case.

Post Script


Last week, I mentioned a phenomenon which has seen a rise to power in recent years in this country -- one which I generically termed "Validation Through Democracy;" it's the idea that the larger the group to adhere to a given belief, the more likely that belief is deemed to be accurate.

In reading this week's New York Magazine cover story on the brilliant and hysterical Stephen Colbert, I see that he's coined a far better and more-clever term for this curiosity; he calls it "Wikiality" -- a reference of course to Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopedia which allows itself to be collectively edited by the masses.

Wikiality specifically refers to a reality which exists simply because enough people agree that it does.

To paraphrase Bo "The Bandit" Darville, Colbert makes the rest of us look like we're all running in place.

Monday, October 16, 2006

End of the Century


Last night, a New York City institution went out with one last scream to the heavens and one last fist raised in defiance.

CBGB, the legendary club which for 33 years has been a literal and figurative Petri dish, nurturing the bands that gave birth to the punk scene -- The Ramones, Blondie, The Talking Heads -- as well as thousands more since, rolled down its battered steel gate for the last time after a final performance from Patti Smith.

The tiny, dark and grimy space -- covered wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling with the stickers, posters and graffiti of the bands who played there -- is now the musical equivalent of Tutankhamen's tomb.

CBGB will live on in the hearts and minds of the hundreds of thousands who crowded through its doors to worship at the temple of rock and roll. But it will never be about so many incredible nights as it will be about one night; that one night in which you saw a band, had a conversation or met a person you'll never forget.

For me, that person I met at CBGB was my wife, Jayne.

So much history.

So many memories.

So long old friend.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

On the Offensive


If you work for a large company, as I do, there's an excellent chance that at some point or another you've had to sit through that dreaded waste of time known as the Diversity Meeting. This typically involves a group comprised of you and your equally disinterested co-workers, sitting around a conference table littered with the remains of the management-sanctioned free lunch while being lectured by the highly-paid company lawyer about the need for each of you to never -- under any circumstances -- tell a joke whose punchline is "throw them a basketball."

In the television news business, a certain thickness-of-skin is not only encouraged but expected; most of us have the kind of gallows humor which simply isn't tolerated among polite society, and although I don't doubt that many other professions are wont to make this same claim, few others willingly travel to foreign countries to get shot at. Your average news junkie is of a pretty twisted breed. Years ago, a close friend of mine who works for NBC in Miami put into words a truth which I'd always understood, but never quite knew how to articulate; he said it in the most perfectly economical and gloriously revelatory way: "The qualities that make you a good newsperson make you a lousy human being." They're definitely the same qualities that make you a God-awful employee; I for one have never envied a man or woman whose job is to manage a room full of bitter skeptics and cynics -- the kind of people who argue simply for the sake of arguing. True, there's idealism amongst them -- amongst us -- but it's usually the kind that's wielded with a fierce vengeance, as opposed to the more socially-acceptable brand of idealism which, to the average newsperson, brings to mind the doe-eyed, slack-jawed and completely out of touch with reality.

The fact is, if ever there was a business in which one is expected to "suck it up" when it comes to being offended by every little thing -- news is it.

This is the age of the frivolous lawsuit however, and the pretense of concern for diversity persists in any large company -- more as a way of covering the corporation's ass and giving its management a certain level of plausible deniability than actually hoping to see a workplace where every type of citizenry is represented and can live free from persecution.

Hence, the Diversity Meeting.

I personally don't offend easily, and I can never quite understand people who do -- which means that I'm a corporate lawyer's arch-enemy. It's not that I walk around the office making racist or sexist jokes or keep an open copy of Hustler on my desk; it's simply that I can tell the difference between a comment from a rational person who intends to offend no one -- even if his or her words might indeed do just that -- and a cruel remark from an ignorant fuck who not only doesn't realize what he's saying, but doesn't care either way. I understand that many will claim that it's this latter type of person for whom diversity training was created, but the fact remains that the focus of these classes is generally on the need not simply for anyone to offend, but for anyone to be offended -- as if a broad stroke can somehow lessen or even eliminate the myriad little things you can say or do that might send a co-worker into apoplexy. It's as if in the office -- as in life -- we're trying to create a world in which no one is ever offended by anything.

And therein lies the irony.

By preaching the gospel of diversity -- by insisting that every person's every little hang-up be respected and that no one ever be made to feel the least bit uncomfortable -- we create a completely homogenous workplace which is actually devoid of any real diversity. True tolerance of the uniqueness of each culture and personality would allow for the occasional insensitive act or rude comment. That's not what we're after though -- not these days; instead, corporations are attempting to stave off ludicrous lawsuits by opportunistic employees and in doing so are catering to the culture of victimization which now holds us all hostage.

Case in point:

Chances are you're aware of the curious case of Andrea Mackris; she's now -- as far as I can tell -- the wealthiest television news producer in the world. A couple of years ago, she was at the center of one of the most ridiculous non-stories in America. Her claim to fame rested solely on the fact that she was the recipient of the laugh-out-loud funniest sexual advances since the invention of the loofa: She was talked dirty to by Bill O'Reilly. Obviously, I won't defend O'Reilly -- he's basically little more than a harmless Vaudevillian boob, with an audience whose median age is dead -- but it's safe to say that if he weren't a television host and were instead Bill the Burger King Manager, his lustful telephone propositions involving showers and falafels probably would've been met with a hearty laugh followed by a dial-tone, rather than a tape recorder and a multi-million dollar out-of-court settlement. Mackris saw her chance to cash in and took it -- ensuring that she need never work in this business again. Unfortunately, those she left behind are forced to pay the price for her opportunism. It would've been easy to simply go to management and inform them of Big Bill's sexual self-absorption (or even more to the point, just tell Bill himself to stick his falafel up his ass) but instead she got rich -- and what's worse, it's safe to say that O'Reilly's boorish behavior hasn't changed one bit since the Mackris Affair.

It's also safe to say that no amount of mandatory diversity training in the world would accomplish what public humiliation failed to; it would simply be what it always is: an ineffectual gesture meant to mitigate the responsible, allay the offended and project the illusion of actual, honest concern to all.

But hey, the free lunch is always nice.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Where Is My Mind?


The First Night


"Hi. My name is Piper. I'm going to be your nurse tonight."

The voice seems to come from out of the endless darkness.

"How are you feeling?"

More than hear myself respond, I simply feel the groan bubble up from the back of my throat, creating a harsh tremor; the vibration makes my head pound harder. I'm having trouble keeping my eyes open, so I can barely bring the lithe image into focus as it glides around my bed -- careful to avoid the machines, and the tubes which hook me to them.

Once again the voice comes from nowhere.

"Are you in pain?"

I exhale and somehow manage a feeble word.

"Yes."

"How bad -- on a scale from one to ten?"

I have no idea how to answer that. Much worse than a bad hangover; slightly better than if I'd just been shot in the head storming the beach at Normandy. I'm not quite sure how that translates into a numerical figure.

"Seven," I say.

I open my eyes a little wider and the hazy blur sweeping around me comes into focus. I can still barely make out the features though: Short, young, possibly attractive, long hair; a girl -- the kind I'd rather not have seeing me this way. I'm not sure exactly how I look, but judging by the blasts of crimson on the neck of my gown and the crusted blood on my chin, I doubt I'm ready for the cover of GQ.

For some reason, there's an image in my head I don't understand -- a view of the 59th Street Bridge lit up at night; a view of the FDR running perpendicular to it.

I let my eyelids drift downward and allow the world to go black.

"Okay, I'm going to give you a shot of morphine," comes the voice again.

Everything seems to disappear for a moment; there's silence -- followed by a sudden thrust of liquid fire which consumes my arm from the inside out. I gasp loudly and my body jerks up from the bed, pulling the IV tubes taut. My eyes are open wide. My heart begins racing violently. I can hear the beep of the electronic monitor sounding faster and faster -- keeping time with each pulse of blood through my veins.

"What's happening?" I can barely get the words out.

Piper has her hand on my chest now, trying to push my body back down onto the bed. "You're having a reaction to the morphine. Just give it a minute."

I can't breathe; I'm trying, but I can't.

I look directly at the young nurse's face, which I can still barely make out, despite being just inches from mine. Her head is now nothing more than a black silhouette against what looks like an empty gun-metal sky. Wherever I am, there's very little light. Even with my eyes open, all I see are slightly differing shades of muted grays and blacks -- except for that view.

"Help me," I cough. "Please."

Her hand still pushes gently on my chest, as my heart-rate begins to slow -- the beeping of the monitor subsiding with each pulse. My body relaxes back onto the bed; I take a deep breath. I'm numb. The pain is gone.

"Can I ask you something?" I manage.

"Of course."

"Am I alive?"

The silhouette remains inches away from my face. After a moment, a sliver of gray seems to grow in the center of it; it takes me an eternity to realize that it's a smile.

"Yes, you're alive."

I close my eyes again and fall back into the blackness.


Eight Hours Earlier


My eyes flutter open; the room spins briefly, then comes into a soft focus. I hold my hand up to block out the bright light streaming in through the waiting room windows. Outside, the sun is rising over the East River and New York City is waking to what will surely be a gorgeous day. I unfortunately will be having none of it; my schedule's full for the next several hours.

I stretch slightly -- rolling my shoulders -- and turn my head to the left. The softness of my wife's hair envelops my nose and I breathe deeply, reaching my right hand around her face and running my fingers through the dark brown tousle. I can feel her breath on my arm as her head continues to rest on my shoulder. Across the room, my mother and father sit facing me; they're wearing anxious smiles.

"You were out pretty good there," my father says.

"Yeah, I suppose so."

"Can we get you anything?"

"How about a ride home?"

"Nope, can't do that son."

I lift my arm to glance at my watch and it pulls the line on the IV I'm attached to; I'd better get used to this kind of restricted movement. It's just after 10:30am; I've been waiting here along with my parents, my wife and her parents for the past four hours. My surgery was scheduled to begin just before seven. So far the only eventful things that have happened to me since my arrival involve me trading in my clothes for a flimsy hospital gown, getting hooked up to a saline drip and answering some questions about my past drug use. I fail to see how anything I did to destroy my mind and body six years ago has anything to do with why I'm here today. Then again, I was stupid enough to carpet-bomb my bloodstream with an awe-inspiring arsenal of opiates for an extended period of time; I'm obviously not very bright.

My wife nuzzles her head into my neck and turns to look up at me.

"Are you alright?"

I pause for a moment, realizing that I have a responsibility to be steadfast -- strong. "Yeah, I'm okay," I say with an easy smile -- one which I hope distracts from the terror in my eyes.

I'm having a brain tumor removed today.

It's approximately the size of a pinball and has rested itself directly atop my pituitary gland, where it's begun destroying the nerve-center which controls my body's hormone output. My entire physical being has essentially been going haywire since it moved in and decided to do to my head what The Who used to do to their hotel rooms.

I became aware of the unwanted guest in my brain about three weeks ago; that was when the headache began. It was manageable at first -- although unusual because a full-night's sleep did nothing to make it subside. I took Advil. I went to work. I tried to ignore it. And then it got worse -- much worse.

By just after noon, I could barely move; it felt as if someone were hitting me in the face with a sledgehammer each time blood pumped into my brain. I slowly shuffled over to my supervisor's office and explained the situation to him -- that I was in excruciating pain. I told him that I was going home.

The following eighteen hours were indescribable. The headache continued to get worse, no matter how many Advil I took or how much I tried to relax. By the time the sun went down and my bedroom was submerged in darkness, the pain was so bad that it felt like my sinuses were being eaten by bacteria from the inside out. I truly assumed that at some point I would reach up and find a new hole in my face -- the escape route for whatever was devouring my flesh.

I moaned loudly during the night, unable to sleep and instead counting off the hours to sunrise -- when I could drag my racked body into Lower Manhattan to see my doctor. I had convinced myself that a trip to the emergency room for a headache would simply end with a six-hour stay in a busy waiting room; it would do far more harm than good.

As it turned out, my doctor did little to help me; she gave me a prescription for a codeine painkiller and ordered a CT scan for the following day.

When I got back home from her office, I downed six of the pills and drifted off -- the pain ebbing only slightly.

The next day, the suffering continued. The CT scan showed nothing.

It was the day after that -- the fouth day of extraordinary agony -- that I was sent in for an MRI.

It was then that I finally found out what was happening to me.

"Well, I can tell you what's wrong with you," the technician said.

I just stared at him -- my eyes opening and closing in slow-motion. I seemed to be fading in and out of consciousness as my body tried to shut itself down to escape the perpetual torture.

"You've got a brain tumor," he continued. "And it's hemorrhaging into your head."

"Am I going to die?" I asked.

"No. It doesn't look to be cancerous."

Two hours later, my wife and I were at New York Presbyterian/Cornell Medical Center on the Upper East Side. She was in tears; I was being prepped for surgery. It was only at the last minute that a young doctor in a smart suit pulled aside the curtain to my little room, took a look at my MRI and brought everything to a grinding halt. He said that I was a perfect candidate for a minimally-invasive tumor removal technique which would involve neurosurgeons entering my head through my nose rather than cutting open my skull. He ordered me put on blood-platelets to stop the hemorrhage, Vicodin to kill the pain, and steroids to shrink the tumor as much as possible. He scheduled me for surgery in three weeks.

Today.

Now.

In the far corner of the waiting room there's a young Orthodox Jew and his mother, sitting and filling out paperwork. Moments ago, she was casually brushing off his shoulders as he rocked in his seat -- reading the Torah, probably for the twentieth time this week. He tried to pull away from her, but she refused to relent -- no doubt wanting him to be clean and presentable, should he wind up face to face with Yahweh in a few hours. It was the kind of stereotype which is always associated with New York City, but which is hard to believe actually exists.

My parents and Jayne's parents seem to be enjoying the surreal distraction.

It's then that the doors open, and the nurse walks in and calls my name.

My wife begins to cry as I stand up. My family walks toward me and, one-at-a-time, gives me what I can only hope will not be one last hug. I pull away and shuffle toward the door, my wife holding my hand. She turns my head toward her face a final time and allows me a parting look at her smile -- the view I'll take with me into oblivion. She looks like she's about to collapse, so I put my arms around her, once again pulling the IV line, and hold her tightly.

"I love you. Don't worry; I'll see you in a few hours."

She runs her hand down my face. "Come back to me," she says.

"Always."

I squeeze her hand one last time, wave at my family, and allow the door to the waiting room to close behind me. I follow the nurse down the long hall -- concentrating on the little swishing sounds my hospital-provided footies are making on the tile floor. I try to think of my wife. My heart is beginning to pound. I take deep breaths.

"Don't I get a gurney or something?"

The nurse glances over her shoulder. "No, we need to keep you awake and alert to go over the final paperwork; you need to sign it before we can get underway."

"Lovely," I say. "So I guess a shot of liquid Valium is pretty much out of the question then?"

"We'll get you something as soon as we get you into the O.R."

WE'RE not the ones who are about to have a fucking brain tumor cut out of OUR head lady.

After a few more steps, we arrive at a set of angry, steel double-doors. Yellow and black stickers warn potential interlopers that they are about to enter an operational neuro-surgical theater, and should proceed with caution. Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

I'm reading the warning when I feel something brush against my arm. I glance down and see a manila file folder open -- several thick sheets of paper visible within.

"I need you to sign where marked please."

The blood in my veins feels as if it's being pumped through a firehose; it's making my whole body shake. I'm terrified beyond words. Without paying any real attention, I numbly sign each slip of paper and hand the folder back to the nurse. She gives me a carefully rehearsed smile and turns to face me completely.

"Ready?"

I say nothing.

With that, she spins briskly around and the steel doors open inward -- revealing a sight which causes me to immediately fight the urge to vomit. I can suddenly hear the blood thrumming in my ears as my heart pumps it at a painful rate. I begin to shake uncontrollably.

The operating theater is massive. It has a high ceiling from which hang rows of halogen spotlights. They augment the long flourescent bulbs already bathing the entire room in harsh white light. There's movement everywhere; technicians and nurses busy themselves in preparation for the procedure -- adjusting electronic machinery, placing vials of chemicals in rows and lining up trays of scalpels and knives whose blades gleam in the bright light beaming down from above.

I see the computer monitor which will be used to track the progress as the surgeon inserts the camera and micro-instruments up toward my brain. It sits at the head of the room's centerpiece: a large bed, with padded arms that extend outward so that the entire thing resembles a crucifix -- or the bed on which deathrow inmates are executed by lethal injection.

I'm shaking to the point where it's now visibly noticeable.

"We'll give you something to calm you in just a second," one of the attendants says as he brushes past me.

I'm about to collapse onto the cold floor.

I hear someone ask where my neurosurgeon is; no one seems to know.

I want to close my eyes and disappear.

A nurse seems to appear from out of nowhere on my left and touches my arm. "We need to get you up on the bed; are you ready?"

I don't answer, choosing instead to simply crawl onto the crucifix and lie down on my back like a good little martyr.

"Spread your arms please," I hear someone ask.

I do as I'm told -- taking a deep breath and somehow pulling a few small words up from deep inside of me.

"Can I please have something to calm me?" I say, barely above a whisper.

A nurse on either side of me grabs one of my arms and straps it down to the furthest end of the transom until both are secure. I can literally hear the sound of each powerful heartbeat.

Someone touches me -- straightening out the fingers of my left hand. "Take a deep breath; this is going to hurt," he says -- and then slides a needle into the soft skin of my wrist. I clench my teeth and muffle a scream. The chaos and movement continue around me, seemingly oblivious to my presence. I just want to vanish from here. I just want to sleep.

I glance over to my left again, and there's a heavy IV line protruding from the needle in my wrist; I can see the shank deep inside my vein. The person who just inserted it seems to be examining his handiwork.

He turns his face toward me.

"I'm going to give you something to relax you -- okay?"

I turn my head away from him and face forward -- toward the ceiling. The brightness from the halogen bulbs burns my eyes; I close them and think of my wife's face. I wish she were here.

I suddenly feel something cold push into my vein, beginning at the wrist and moving quickly up my arm.

I see my wife's face.


The light begins to burn my eyes once again -- only this time my eyes aren't open.


I float for a moment. The chaos and noise around me disappears. There's complete silence.


Everything stops.



I see my wife's face.



Somewhere, the order is given for the Faster-Than-Light jump.




The world goes white in a blinding flash.




I feel the bed shake as it slams through a set of double doors. I'm coughing violently and I can't breathe through my nose. I see my wife's face, only now it's speaking to me.

"You're alright; you made it," it says. "We have to go. They say we can't stay through the night in ICU." I'm not sure who she's talking about. I have no idea where I am. She kisses me and then disappears from sight.

The bed jolts as it hits another set of double doors and enters a darkened room, coming to rest directly in front of a large floor-to-ceiling window. The view beyond is spectacular -- if it's actually real and not simply my imagination. It's a bridge, and a highway with cars streaking along it. The sun has just set, and the skeletal structure of the bridge has come alive with pinpoint lights.

I hear several voices speaking; the volume of their words rising and falling. I get only bits and pieces.

"...a history of drug use..."

"...successful operation..."

"...should be alright..."

Then there's silence. I'm alone -- with only the view of the bridge and the highway, the beeping of the machines and an unmistakable song floating through my head. It's Radiohead's Lucky.

An eternity goes by.

I hear someone approach from out of my view -- feel the changes in the air.

I close my eyes.

The voice seems to come from out of the darkness.

"Hi. My name is Piper. I'm going to be your nurse tonight."


To Be Continued

Where Is My Mind? (Part 2) -- 12.26.06

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I Love This Town

So this plane crash -- the one into the New York City highrise -- happened four blocks from my apartment.

Been standing outside on the sidewalk with the rest of the Upper East Siders taking in the craziness.

I might have to call my broker. Call me a racist, but -- you know -- when the planes start moving into the neighborhood, that's when it's time to move out.

Your Homework Assignment


My little dissertation on the perils of religious indoctrination got a surprisingly impressive response. Under normal circumstances, I'd avail myself of some of my more whorish qualities and attempt to milk the attention for all it's worth by continuing to write about my issues with religion, but the acid is just now starting to kick in and I'll be damned if I remember what it was I was going to say.

What I will do however, is hand over the reins to someone who can argue the point far more articulately than I ever could.

A couple of years back, Sam Harris wrote an astounding polemic on the dangers of religion and how -- all things considered -- the world is better off without it. The End of Faith took the entire concept of Christianity, Islam, Judaism etc. and ripped it to shreds with undeniable poise and unassailable logic.

Now Sam has written a new book, and it's just as brilliant. It's called Letter to a Christian Nation and it is exactly as the name describes: a treatise directed solely at those who put their trust in the Bible, Jesus and the assorted teachings that go with them.

It's short (you can read it in under an hour). It's small (you can carry it around in your pocket). Its reasoning is irrefutable by any sane human being.

Upon reading it -- if they should -- your Christian friends' only defense will be to put their fingers in their ears and make loud noises.

They will challenge its assertions with the usual fervor and the usual arguments.

They'll also be wrong.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Cynicist Manifesto: Addendum #2


I believe that although "Assless Chaps" remains the funniest two-word phrase in the English language, "Sippy-Cup" is a close second.

The Cynicist Manifesto

The Cynicist Manifesto: Addendum

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Jesus Loves Me, This I Know, for My Parents Tell Me So


There are times when living in this city isn't simply tolerable but downright wonderful. Yesterday, my wife and I spent the afternoon wandering through the labyrinthian Museum of Natural History, taking in the myriad exhibits on the science of the universe and mankind's growth throughout the millennia. We followed this up with a walk through a street fair in the kind of crisp air which can only herald the dawn of autumn, then an evening at my agent's place on the Upper West Side, drinking wine on the terrace and watching twilight descend over the city in shades of blue and purple, providing a view which was beautifully augmented by the rise of a giant and glowing full moon.

This morning, I dragged myself out of bed, threw on a leather coat and wandered out onto a relatively quiet York Avenue to grab a cup of coffee and a few provisions for the refrigerator. Given that I had no intention of straying very far from my apartment, I neglected to bring along my iPod, an accoutrement which is attached to my person with the regularity of a soldier's sidearm. The lack of Dave Brubeck flowing into my head (the perfect soundtrack to a Sunday morning in Manhattan, I believe) of course meant that my ears were open to the sounds of the city itself.

It meant that I was able to listen to and fully appreciate the conversations taking place outside of St. Monica's Catholic Church on East 79th Street.

On the steps of the church sat a mother and what I assume were her two young children; she was explaining to them Christ's inarguable plan for their lives. Not far away, I strode alongside a family which had apparently just exited Sunday mass; the children were -- as children do -- innocently questioning the dogma which the priest had just laid out for them in no uncertain terms. It made me smile and shake my head, a somewhat ironic gesture for a somewhat ironic moment.

Here were a group of children -- willing to no doubt thoroughly buy into the existence of Santa Claus -- asking logical questions about a professed truth which even to their young minds seemed incomprehensible. Their parents' predictable response to this curiosity?

Just trust us -- you have to believe because that's the way it is.

Suffice to say, it took me back.

As it's Sunday, perhaps a confession is in order: I was raised in a Christian household.

To many, this will come as absolutely no surprise. It takes a fierce knowledge of -- and an even fiercer indoctrination to -- a given belief to eventually wage war against its tenets in any meaningful way. At some point -- exactly when, I can't recall -- I made a personal decision that religion in general and Christianity in particular, was nothing more than absurdist wishful thinking and that in this day and age, it's more likely to get you killed by those with equal but opposite views of the hereafter than it is to create a more ethical and moral Earth for the totality of mankind to reside upon.

Needless to say, a majority of America and the world disagrees with me, which as far as I'm concerned in no way substantiates its opposing position. For some reason, we've come to accept Validation Through Democracy, the idea that the larger the group to adhere to a belief, the more likely it is for that belief to be accurate. Obviously, this is nonsense; it's entirely possible for a very large group of people to believe something that is completely false. At the risk of proving Godwin's Law, it's important to remember that Hitler once had the overwhelming support of his people.

Many of those who are true believers in the concept of religion, of course, are parents. It is also, of course, these parents who instill their religious beliefs in their children, essentially creating an inherited fear of God in the same way an inherited eye-color, acquiescence to the parents' ideas of right and wrong, and even the parents' political beliefs are passed along. The end result is that religion becomes simply another ill-fitting hand-me-down. As I witnessed first-hand on the street today, kids will believe whatever their parents tell them: insist that they must be "saved" and accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior and it will take years for them to believe otherwise (that is, if they ever do, as opposed to simply passing down to their own kids the beliefs they themselves never thought to question).

If you'd like a frightening example of the dangers of this kind of indoctrination, go see the new documentary Jesus Camp. True, the film highlights only the most fervent of Christian extremists, but make no mistake that the ambition of these extremists is to claim the United States of America for Christ. They want nothing less than the dawn of a new theocracy, and -- to borrow a line from George Benson by way of Whitney Houston -- they believe the children are their future.

The film focuses on the "Kids on Fire" camp which is located, ironically, at Devil's Lake, North Dakota. While there, children are forcefully instructed how to become "Christian Warriors," the eventual frontline in the battle to win the hearts, minds and souls of America. It's essentially a Jedi camp for Fundamentalist Christians, with a rather unassuming pastor named Becky Fischer playing the part of Yoda. Some of the film's most trenchant images are of children -- most under the age of ten -- weeping openly, speaking in tongues, praying before a large cardboard stand-up of George W. Bush (an image, coincidentally, with roughly the same IQ as the real President Bush), and talking about their initial desire to be "saved" because, at the astute age of five, they realized that they simply needed something "more" in their lives.

It would all be hilarious, if it weren't so utterly disturbing.

Some have seen the movie and called the tactics and methods used on these children nothing short of brainwashing. Unfortunately, it's simply parents doing what many parents do: passing their beliefs down to their children and giving them no other real option. Kids generally want to please their parents during their formative years, so if, as a parent, you tell your kids that they should believe the sun revolves around the Earth -- or that they need to be saved by Jesus Christ -- you can be all but assured that that's exactly what they'll do.

Understand, neither Pastor Becky Fischer nor the mothers and fathers who send their children to Camp Kids on Fire care one bit about my opinions or beliefs; to them, I'm to be at the very least pitied for what will surely be an eternity in hell, or, at most, despised for openly wishing to inflict my belief in logic and reason on the rest of the planet, which would inevitably turn it away from their "One True God."

This leads me to confession number two: For a very short time (not even a full year, for reasons which should be obvious) I went to a Fundamentalist Southern-Baptist school.

For the record, my parents sent me to Dade Christian School not because they were zealots or in fact subscribed at all to the school's extremist take on Christianity; I went there because it was right up the street from my home as a teenager and because it actually did offer an excellent education. Unfortunately, with that education came indoctrination. Dade Christian was -- and still is, unless raided by the ATF at some point -- the kind of school which force-fed students Evangelical dogma to the point of exerting a chilling level of control over not just their lives in school, but at home as well. Children weren't allowed to hold hands -- in school or out -- dance, attend rock concerts or generally do the things that normal kids often do. Important to mention at this point is the fact that the students who either truly believed the teachings of the school or simply hoped to ingratiate themselves with the teachers could be counted on to report the behavior of those kids who broke the rules outside of the school gates back to the almighty administration. Dade Christian School operated as if it were an occupied city, complete with traitorous spies and a Vichy student government.

It goes without saying that I was less than popular with the occupying force, acting as the metaphorical insurgent who wandered the streets painting a giant red V over each Bible verse.

The clash of beliefs however reached critical mass in the wake of a tragedy.

A few years before enrolling at Dade Christian, I became friends with a young girl who lived up the street from me. Her name was Debby, and she and I would meet most afternoons to play kickball and generally get into trouble. We had both recently passed the point in life where boys and girls loathed each other, which meant that there was an odd but undeniable undertone of intimate curiosity to our relationship. We liked each other -- quite a bit in fact. We had the kind of relationship which was tinged with a level of youthful discovery that in retrospect brings a bittersweet smile to my face.

At some point, however, it just stopped. She still lived up the street from me, but for a reason unknown to me at the time she simply seemed to disappear.

It was later, during my first day at Dade Christian, that I ran into Debby again. She was warm and kind to me, but strangely distant. I did my best to put it out of my head; I figured I would need all of my mental faculties to resist the school's relentless day-to-day prosyletism.

Debby and I never really talked again -- we never got the chance to.

A few months after my encounter with her, there was a fire not far from my house. I awoke to the sound of firetrucks screaming past my window and quickly rushed outside to see what was going on, running after the trucks until I saw what exactly had dragged them to my quiet neighborhood in the middle of the night.

Debby's home was on fire.

I stood silently, bathed in flashes of deep red as the lights from the trucks created a chaos of long shadows and violent bursts of color. I watched Debby's mother -- whom I'd never actually spoken to -- cry loudly and collapse into a firefighter's arms. I never saw Debby come out. The reason is that she didn't.

I walked home numb, a lack of feeling which lasted well into the next day at school. It was there -- surrounded by tearful students and teachers, comforting each other with the knowledge that Debby was in a better place -- that something overcame me. My numbness was replaced by something else: sheer fucking rage. I didn't doubt the honesty or sincerity of those who grieved at Dade Christian School, I did however doubt that they ever knew the Debby that I did; they never saw the truly beautiful young girl underneath the thick topcoat of artifice with which they had covered her through the perpetual insistence that there was something wrong with her, that she needed to be "saved," and needed to denounce her humanity, herself. To those who truly believed the teachings I was inundated with daily, Debby was simply another lucky Christian soul gone to heaven.

My anger finally exploded just a few days later, during the memorial service held for my friend at the New Testament Baptist Church, which ran Dade Christian School. It was there that something so hideous happened that I have no doubt of its impact on my view of religion since. During the service, the silver-haired pastor -- a man who looked as if he came right out of Central Casting -- stood on the stage and uttered these words:

"Perhaps something good can come from Debby's death. Perhaps it can teach you all that you can be taken from this world at any moment, and that you cannot take your immortal soul for granted. You have to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior now, because there may not be a tomorrow."

He then urged those who were saved or wished to be to come up to the stage to bear witness for all of those in the crowd.

It was at that moment that I got up and walked out.

I was in the outer lobby of the church, pacing and shaking with what I feared was an uncontrollable fury, when one of my teachers, one I happened to like, came out to find me. She asked me if I was alright, and that was when I let everything inside me come bursting out.

I tried to keep my voice down, but I wound up seething and spitting anger through clenched teeth. I told her that what was going on just behind those double-doors was wrong. I told her that she couldn't possibly condone that kind of macabre exploitation of a student who sat in one of her classes just days ago. I told her that there was no reason for Debby's death, nor the death of any other kid, and that justifying or rationalizing that kind of tragedy was simply outrageous. I told her she couldn't possibly believe in a god that would allow such groundless suffering. I told her the death of a young girl was just fucking wrong.

And then I cried.

Rather than defend the grotesque spectacle taking place just a few feet from us, the teacher simply nodded her head in acknowledgement.

But there were others who didn't, who wouldn't, They were children -- like the baleful faces at Camp Kids on Fire -- who have been the targets of so much religious agitprop throughout their formative years, from parents who believe that they're doing God's will, that they truly believe that the death of one of their own would offer a silver lining in the form of an object lesson from on high. At the risk of being too provocative, you have to ask yourself: If this kind of manipulation of children were coming from anyone but those who preach the dominion of Jesus, would we as a nation tolerate it?

Yesterday, my wife and I visited the Museum of Natural History. As we took in the exhibits on the earliest incarnation of the universe, the earliest incarnation of man, and the fossils which act as a concrete testament to the existence of dinosaurs, it dawned on me that there are children in this country who believe none of it. They deny proven fact because their parents do. They've learned to demand nothing less than a new age of unreason.

Which is nothing compared to demanding that the death of one of them be accepted as the unquestionable work of a god who operates in ways we're not meant to understand.

The best we can hope for, is that they grow out of it.

Friday, October 06, 2006

My Nightly Middle Finger to MTV


Muse.

Hysteria.

Look for the homage to the opening scene from The Wall.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

You've Come a Long Way Baby


The man who proves that the Hitler Youth may have provided better career preparation than previously thought, Pope Benedict XVI, is expected to make an important announcement tomorrow.

He'll reportedly decree that babies who die before having a chance to be baptized will in fact be granted entry into the Kingdom of Heaven.

This isn't so much a dogmatic decision as a promotional one; the Catholic Church doesn't want to be seen as cruel and exclusory in the eyes of the entire country of Africa, which it's consistently targeted for conversion to the one true superstition, and which has an infant mortality rate somewhere around 99% (the other 1% being those children who are adopted by Madonna).

It's worth mentioning however that although the belief that unbaptized children can't enter heaven and instead wind up stuck in limbo was never officially endorsed by the Vatican, it was taught in Catholic schools and churches around the world under the supervision of the archbishops and cardinals for decades.

Thankfully, the pope -- in his infinite infallibility -- is now going to clear up all the confusion, which will no doubt be a huge relief to all those mothers giving birth to dead babies in Sudan.

Oh Yeah, and One More Thing...


Is there any way we can declare an Amber Alert each time one of these celebrities kidnaps a kid from Africa.

Only somebody as painfully self-obsessed as Madonna would believe that the life she can offer a child -- any child -- is somehow better than the care that same child could receive somewhere else.

Anyone who argues that Madonna's act was unselfish: you heard all about her doing it, didn't you? And has sincerity ever been in her repertoire? When was the last time she didn't do something for the sake of cheap publicity?

For the record, if the question comes down to what's best for a child: living in a hole, eating a spoonful of Red Cross grain every two days and probably dying of AIDS by the age of four -- or being raised by Madonna...

I think the answer is obvious.

The Cynicist Manifesto: Addendum


Some additions to my list of random beliefs from a couple of weeks ago.

What's Up (with) Doc?

Throughout George W. Bush's presidency, several of his cabinet members have held Ph.ds; Samuel Bodman, Rod Paige, and Paul Wolfowitz just to name a few. Yet only one member of Team Bush has consistently been referred to as "Doctor." That person of course is Condoleezza Rice.

I believe that in actuality, the predisposition by the media and others to refer to the Secretary of State as Doctor Condoleezza Rice is less a show of respect than it is a display of condescension; anyone else would be -- and has been -- regarded as being not unworthy of such reverence, but rather self-assured enough to where such silly obeisance wouldn't matter.

I also firmly believe that Condi proves the point that although education is vastly important, it's no replacement for common-sense; and anyone who's spent the past several years making excuses for -- and being a subordinate to -- an idiot like Bush, doesn't deserve the goddamned title anyway.

Mother Fucker

I believe that Madonna can haughtily take home all the children she wants from Africa -- it's not going to make her the least bit relevant. And for the record: Africa is not a giant fucking puppy farm where uber-liberal celebrity shitheads can come take their pick of the litter and pretend that they're doing the world a favor.

Sound and Fury

I believe that people who make the CH-CH-CH-CH-CHSHHHHHHHHH sound while they think (typically accompanied by the twiddling of a pencil) need to be shot.

My Nightly Middle Finger to MTV


Death Cab for Cutie.

The New Year.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

All Talking, No Points


I'm going to do my damndest to make this my final political post for a few days, but I make no guarantees seeing as how the Foley fiasco is not only equal parts hysterical and infuriating, but quite simply a goldmine of quality material.

That said, it would seem that as expected, Ken Mehlman is putting his fax-machine into overdrive in an effort to not so much circle the wagons as rally the troops. The past 24 hours have seen the usual Right-Wing provocateurs bloviating as one -- rattling off a carefully-coordinated series of GOP talking points designed to stop the hemorrhaging of public support. The strategy is familiar by now: Attack. Confuse and distract. Claim the moral high-ground despite having relinquished it long ago. Pretend that nothing has changed.

The problem though, is that almost everything has changed, and the tactics which once worked so well for the Republicans -- from the hysterical buffoonery of the Fox News Channel to the overwrought schtick of Limbaugh and Drudge to Tony Snow-Job himself -- now seems almost pitiful. It's like the bully standing up and attempting to regain his fearsome dominion after being badly humiliated on the playground; it just don't fly anymore.

The Conservative mouthpieces have decided that the best way to deal with this crisis of both political and moral authority is to claim that the young targets of Foley's advances deserve to share in the blame for this miasma (which is like blaming a rape victim for being attacked); to engage in misdirection by questioning the timing of the scandal and indignantly wondering aloud whether it was a Democratic hit-job (which is like blaming the police for discovering that you committed a crime); and to downplay this fucking travesty as if it were much ado about nothing by reminding America of every Democratic congressional scandal since the signing of the Declaration of Independence (which is like blaming everyone else).

The difference once again though, is that this time all of that hot air is just that -- hot air and little else. These kinds of arguments -- despite being patently absurd -- used to strike fear into the hearts of the GOP's political enemies. This time however, I think it's safe to say that many are seeing them in a whole new way.

This time, they look like exactly what they are.

Desperate, deplorable bullshit.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word

So Foley now says that he was molested by a priest.

That's it kids; as of this moment, we're in uncharted territory.

I have a feeling we may soon be hearing about UFO abduction and sexual slavery at the hands of rogue Scientologists (technically one and the same).

But as his lawyer says, it's all part of Foley's "recovery." Yes, that's it -- holding a news conference one day into rehab to publicly blame anything and everything other than yourself is always the first step toward getting better.

Redemption, here he comes.

I never thought I'd say this, but I'm fucking speechless.

Once Again, a Word from Chez's Evil Twin, Garth*


Rehab?

Rehab?

You gotta be fucking kidding me.

Alright, I think it's about time the common-sense fairy came down from on high and clued you in on something there asshole: rehab is for the benefit of alcoholics and drug addicts; it's not for the benefit of shameless fucking pederasts who abuse their exalted positions in government and betray the trust of both the constituents they bullshit and the young pages they lasciviously covet.

All the rehab and 12-stepping in the world won't stop you from being a fucking scumbag. You checking into rehab for your problem is like going to a proctologist when your head hurts -- although in your case maybe that's a bad anaolgy.

Jesus, who's your sponsor gonna be -- Pat O'Brien?

Foley, I really hope you're paying your lawyer a hell of a lot of money; he deserves it for being able to keep a straight fucking face while asking people to pray for you and remember all the great things you've done for America. I've got to figure he's talking about all those times you fought to keep kids safe from sexual predators just like you.

Hold on just one second.

(Takes a moment to laugh uncontrollably at the thought of Mark Foley cowering in the corner of his hospital room, sobbing like a baby.)

Okay -- just had to do that.

You're not an alcoholic.

You're not fucking mentally ill for Christ's sake.

You're not sick.

What you are, is guilty.

You want to make amends? Start by taking responsibility instead of hiding out and blaming all of this on your double life -- on your "secret drinking problem." Dear God is that a load of shit. You pompous ass; how dumb do you think we are?

You did this.

You're 100% to blame, you lecherous, hypocritical fuck. You don't need rehab or help or understanding; at the very least you need a jail cell, and at most you need to be shamed into killing yourself.

Got it?

By the way, I fucking hated that whole Rock & Sock Connection.

Oh wait, that was Mick Foley?

Whatever.

Douche.

(*The views and opinions expressed by Garth do not necessarily reflect those of Chez, who in fact wishes Mark Foley nothing but the best as he begins his new bid for office. With his extensive experience in both politics and pedophilia -- he should have no trouble being elected the next President of NAMBLA.)

Monday, October 02, 2006

My Nightly Middle Finger to MTV


Last week I divulged my strange yet unquestionable fondness for My Chemical Romance.

Their upcoming release, The Black Parade, is a grand, ambitious concept album that the band hopes will evoke memories of Queen's A Night at the Opera, Pink Floyd's The Wall and of course -- Sgt. Pepper (Use Your Illusion I & II -- not so much).

It'll be surprising and revelatory, bloated with self-importance, or some combination of both.

The bottom line though: the first single is fucking great.

Tonight's pick is the new video from MCR, Welcome to the Black Parade.

The Party's Over


Quick -- how do you save a drowning elephant?

What at first glance seems like the set-up for a rather sophomoric joke is actually a question the Republican Party is no doubt taking very seriously right now. If you know the answer, I'm sure Ken Melhman would love to hear from you; until recently, he hasn't faced a crisis that a hundred GOP fax-machines with perfectly-coordinated talking points couldn't get him out of.

I freely admit to gleaning a noticeable amount of enjoyment from the downturn in the fortunes of the party which has kept an unchallenged stranglehold on this country for the past six years. However, that sense of political schadenfreude is less a result of policy than it is a result of pretension. This has been said by many, but it bears repeating simply by virtue of the fact that it cannot be emphasized enough: there hasn't been a political party in general or an administration in particular of my generation which has so thoroughly cloaked itself in the kind of monumentally arrogant sense of entitlement and self-righteous hubris as the current governing body. The Republicans have operated as an unwavering, power-mad juggernaut -- a monstrous political machine -- that has acted with impunity and contemptibly crushed dissent by means of suggestion and innuendo, treachery and character assassination; it has done so through the ignorance of a Vichy press corps -- too frightened, starstruck or easily manipulated to adhere to its journalistic obligation -- and through the complicity of its own private media outlet. The ruling party has consistently behaved as if half of the country -- the half comprised of those who disagree with it -- doesn't exist, and it has done so simply because it is the ruling party; it has done so, because it can.

At this point, watching the swaggering schoolyard bully fall -- watching the machine collapse in a confused mess -- is nothing more than human nature.

The recent perfect storm of scandal, discredit and revelation will not spell the end of the Republican Party, nor should it. It will however give the GOP the chance to purge itself of the blustering demagogues who've spent the last several years corrupting the party's once-good name; whether or not it chooses to actually do this remains to be seen.

So how do you save a drowning elephant?

You can't.

It can only save itself -- but chances are, if it believed that it could walk on water to begin with, it may not have the smarts to do that.

Breaking News


Gunman shoots three an then kills himself inside an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania.

You know the cops are gonna want to talk to Lukas Haas.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

I'm Mark Foley, and I Approved this Message

Foley for Congress Commercial -- Take One

Sweeping Music/Opening Montage of Patriotic Images -- Dissolve to Foley on Capitol Steps


Hello, I'm Congressman Mark Foley.

I'd like to talk to you about something that's important to all of us.

Our children.

Throughout my distinguished career, I've always made children a priority. From my work as the head of the Congressional Caucus on Children's Issues, to my personal, hands-on experience with teenage boys, I've always...

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Foley for Congress Commercial -- Take Two

Sweeping Music/Opening Montage of Patriotic Images -- Dissolve to Foley on Capitol Steps


Hello, I'm Congressman Mark Foley.

I'd like to take a minute to talk to you about something that's important to all of us.

Our children.

Throughout my distinguished career, I've always made the well-being of children a priority. I got head from children with issues...

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Foley for Congress Commercial -- Take Three

Sweeping Music/Opening Montage of Patriotic Images -- Dissolve to Foley on Capitol Steps


Hello, I'm Congressman Mark Foley.

I... uh... I forgot my lines, can I get a page to bring them to me?

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Foley for Congress Commercial -- Take Four

Sweeping Music/Opening Montage of Patriotic Images -- Dissolve to Foley on Capitol Steps


Hello, I'm Congressman Mark Foley.

We all want our children to grow up healthy and strong -- especially our young boys. Mmmmm... young boys.

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Foley for Congress Commercial -- Take Five

Sweeping Music/Opening Montage of Patriotic Images -- Dissolve to Foley on Capitol Steps


Hello, I'm Congressman Mark Foley and I'm from Florida.

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Foley for Congress Commercial -- Take Five

Sweeping Music/Opening Montage of Patriotic Images -- Dissolve to Foley on Capitol Steps


Hi there folks, I'm Mark Foley... and I'm running for Archbishop.

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Foley for Congress Commercial -- Take Six

Sweeping Music/Opening Montage of Patriotic Images -- Dissolve to Foley on Capitol Steps


Hey, that fat bastard Hastert said it was okay!

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Foley for Congress Commercial -- Take Seven

Sweeping Music/Opening Montage of Patriotic Images -- Dissolve to Foley on Capitol Steps


Hi folks, I'm Mark Foley... and the only thing I fuck harder than male congressional pages, is the Republican Party...

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Foley for Congress Commercial -- Take Eight

Music: The Miracles' (I'm Just A) Love Machine/Opening Montage of Mark Foley in Bermuda Dancing with Jim McGreevey and Various Shirtless Boys -- Dissolve to Foley Sitting at Office Computer (Right Hand is Hidden from View)


Hi, I'm Mark Foley.

So I secretly lust after teenage boys... so what. The truth is that as a Republican, as long as I self-righteously stand against the twin-scourges of abortion and gay marriage... and of course fight to keep a feeding tube stuck down the throat of any Floridian who happens to be in a persistent vegetative state... the rest of my brain-dead constituency will be sure to keep my political career going in some form or another. Sure, I had to tender an obligatory resignation. I'll lay low for awhile, then reappear and issue a heartfelt mea culpa wherein I say something about having sinned against God and looking for forgiveness and blah, blah, blah. The Florida voters and the GOP will probably give me another chance. I mean, come on... the guys at the top of my party's food chain knew what I was doing and kept it quiet. I know we're religious and all, but who would've thought we'd officially adopt so much Catholic Church doctrine.

Look... our party's given you George W. Bush, Tom DeLay, Rick Santorum, Duke Cunningham and a guy who tells Patrick Leahy to go fuck himself and shoots old men in the face. Our unopposed rule has seen the 9/11 attacks, two wars, the loss of our respect and moral authority around the globe, too many scandals to mention, and the drowning of New Orleans. Yet look who's still in control. You guys are like the victims of spousal abuse... you just keep making excuses and coming back for more. You let this happen.

So vote for me, or don't. Remember, this is Florida... I'll get elected regardless.

Music Swell -- Voice Over

"This message brought to you by Boy Scout Veterans for Truth."

Contact Mark Foley at www.myspace.com/congressman4boyz

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(I realize I said that I would be taking a few days off, but come on -- this whole scandal is the equivalent of a really awesome birthday gift; I'm sure the Democrats think so too. After years of its seemingly bottomless wellspring of arrogance, it's both satisfying and hysterical to watch the self-immolation of the entire Republican Party.)