I've been slightly snowed under at work this past week, and until someone makes the canny decision to become my personal di Medici family and begin subsidizing my efforts here at Malcontent Central, the people who put a sizeable sum of money into my checking account every two weeks will have to take priority. I have New York City rent, assorted credit card bills and the overwhelming desire to upgrade to an XBOX 360 this holiday season to consider; ergo, if I have to put this little experiment of mine on hold for a couple of days at a time here and there, so be it.
That said, a news item came across my desk this morning which was simply too good to allow to pass without making some kind of snotty comment about it.
It would appear that U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo of Colorado has found himself a cause celebre in his ongoing battle to rid America of illegal immigrants. During a recent visit to Palm Beach, he told a crowd of conservative supporters that to witness the dangers of unfettered immigration, it need only travel ninety miles to the south -- to my hometown. Miami, he said, "has become a Third World country."
Needless to say, this opinion was immediately decried as pinheaded and wrong by South Florida's own voice in congress, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a woman who resembles a yapping chiuhuahua both in stature and intelligence. Given that she and Tancredo share a political affiliation -- and that this particular affiliation needs all the party-unity it can get right now -- there probably won't be the usual contrived indignation and dueling press conferences to resolve the matter; instead, Ros-Lehtinen has already offered an olive branch in the form of an invitation to Tancredo. "I invite my friend, Tom, to visit beautiful Miami -- my hometown -- and experience firsthand our hospitality. Miami is a world-class city where diversity is celebrated. Here, people have the opportunity to meet folks from around the globe and honor different cultures," she responded.
I'd like to avoid picking apart the good congresswoman's rosy assessment of the only banana republic on U.S. soil, except to say that if you know anything at all about the way Miami operates, there's a good chance that some form of under-the-table payment from the chamber of commerce is now well on its way to Ros-Lehtinen in return for such kind words. Unfortunately, my level of experience with the city dictates that I, at the very least, elaborate slightly on the points she made.
Yes, Miami is beautiful -- which is precisely why it's become the official ostentatious playground of every worthless but loaded hip-hop star currently tearing up the TRL countdown. It's a place that's so hospitable that several years ago -- after a series of violent attacks -- a decision was made to remove any markings which might denote a vehicle as having been rented locally, lest unwary visitors be targeted and robbed at gunpoint five minutes after leaving the airport. It's a world-class city -- if you believe that the world ends at the southern tip of South America and the eastern edge of the Caribbean. It's a place where diversity has been "celebrated" with three deadly race riots over the past twenty five years. It is indeed a place where people have the opportunity to meet "folks" from around the globe -- and be shot by them.
Believe me, I could go on and on; I have enough stories about the place to fill twenty morgue drawers. But what I'll do instead is refer you to two past columns I've written which deal with the unbridled insanity of life in my hometown. While you read these, I'll just sit back on my couch and think about the image of Tom Tancredo being convinced how wrong he was about Miami by a day of salsa dancing, Cuban coffee, gator attacks, topless sunbathers, never hearing the English language spoken to him -- not once by anyone -- jailhouse visits with indicted city officials, a tour of the "Elian Museum," and a big pile of cocaine.
And that will make me smile.
8/03/06 High Fidel-ity
11/1/06 A History of Violence
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Monday, November 27, 2006
So his Eminent and "Extreme" Holiness Pope Benedict XVI is about to travel to Turkey in what's being billed as his first official visit to a Muslim country. Already gathered to meet him: vast crowds of generally peaceful but highly vocal protesters who are still miffed over the perceived insulting of their religion by the Pope during a speech he made a few months back.
Among those protesters is Husmattin Aycan Alp, a 25-year-old science student from the Turkish city of Izmir, who says that he wants to make his anger toward the Pope's offenses to Islam known because, "I cannot remain silent when the Prophet Mohammed is insulted. I love him more than myself."
After closing my eyes and sighing heavily, I'm going to repeat this -- just in case you missed it: a science student is professing his unwavering love for and allegiance to a 2000-year-old story, all as a show of defiance toward a man who heads a group which once tortured and executed thousands of people simply because they didn't agree with the particulars of its belief in an invisible supreme being -- a man who is now trying to heal wounds and create a "scholarly" dialogue between his faith in where we go after we die and another, very large and increasingly dangerous group's faith in where we go after we die -- neither of which can be proven in any way whatsoever.
If there is a better definition of "absolute fucking insanity," I'm completely unaware of it.
Friday, November 24, 2006
There's a seminal scene in the 1986 movie Aliens which seems frighteningly appropriate right now.
The platoon of Colonial Marines, armed to the teeth with the most technologically-advanced arsenal of firepower known to man, wanders into a nest of deadly, unstoppable creatures. Unfortunately, they don't realize this until it's too late; the walls begin moving, and suddenly the entire scene dissolves into complete chaos as the marines come under attack and begin firing blindly -- screaming for instructions from their commanding officer, who's sitting safely at a control center, frozen, terrified, and watching his troops being picked off one-by-one by an invisible and overwhelming enemy.
The marines are pinned down and desperately looking for a way out, while the commanding officer, shaking, issues timid and impotent instructions. As this is happening, the only person with any sense in the room is yelling at him, "GET YOUR PEOPLE OUT OF THERE!"
This morning, Iraq is reeling after a series of coordinated bombings that killed more than 200 people and wounded at least 250 others.
It was the single deadliest attack since the war began.
I can't express this in strong enough terms: the next person to say that Iraq is better off without Saddam Hussein, or that the media needs to focus on the "good news" coming out of that country, should promptly be handed a weapon and dropped in the middle of Sadr City.
There simply isn't a word in the English language for what Iraq has degenerated into. "Hell" comes to mind -- but maybe a more apt description is "nothing;" Iraq as we've known it has ceased to exist.
I seem to remember that toward the end of Aliens, that commanding officer redeems himself as best he can by paying a terrible but necessary price for his arrogance. Needless to say, nothing so just will happen in this case.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
A couple of days ago, I mentioned the fact that I look at music the way I look at politics: if the same number of people from each side of the aisle holds your opinion in equal disdain, then you must be doing something right (Shut Up. Listen. Learn./11.19.06). I bring this up, because it's dawned on me that yesterday's little treatise on Michael Richards probably sounded to many like I was trying to let him off the hook for what was more than likely obvious racist behavior. Granted, my fears about the chilling effect of allowing the masses to use the ubiquitous "Offense-o-Meter" to dictate what is and isn't acceptable art may have pushed me slightly left of center -- a position I'd imagine people have become used to seeing me stake out -- but I still was seemingly willing to give intolerance a pass, and most true liberals will tell you that intolerance of any kind simply cannot be tolerated.
So, allow me to inflame the typically good company on the left just a little more by making a statement which leaves no room whatsoever for protean interpretations:
I have no -- as in zero -- problem with the idea of profiling at America's airports.
A couple of days ago, six Muslim imams were pulled off of a flight as it sat on the ground in Minneapolis. This happened because another passenger expressed concern about what he deemed to be their suspicious behavior -- an assessment which admittedly may or may not have been trustworthy. The clerics were briefly taken into custody and searched with K9 units before being cut loose and sent on their merry way to serve Allah in the fashion of their choosing. Needless to say, 24 hours later they were back at the ticket counter of U.S. Airways -- this time, armed ironically with America's own weapons of mass distraction: TV news crews. The imams screamed to the heavens that they had been discriminated against; that they were the victims of obvious religious profiling and persecution; that this is America, and anyone in a position of authority who succumbs to prejudice and the stereotyping of Islam should be called before a series of suggested congressional hearings into the matter.
One word of advice for the Democrats controlling the incoming 110th U.S. Congress: don't even think about it.
If you're looking for delicate prose from me on this one, you won't get it; by all means scroll down and read some of the more articulate material I've cranked out over the past several days. This is simply too much of a no-brainer to merit a flowery analytical argument, and any belief to the contrary is just wrong.
We have a limited amount of resources to secure our nation's airports and hopefully keep killers out of the skies, which even someone as tired of hearing the 9/11 argument as myself concedes is the last place you want those killers to be. There are people out there who still want to murder Americans, and not only are they determined as hell, but as our sweeping, knee-jerk reaction to the "epiphany" that liquid explosives pose a threat to passenger safety proves -- they're at least one step ahead of us at all times. Fortunately, we have one advantage over these terrorists; Unfortunately, we're content to pretend that this advantage doesn't exist, for fear that someone's feelings might get hurt.
The people who want us dead are all Muslim.
A vast majority of Arabs are Muslim.
Not all Muslims want to blow up planes.
However, anyone willing to blow up a plane with him or herself still onboard, is almost certainly Muslim.
Do the math, and the logical conclusion is irrefutable.
One of the most gargantuan lies we've been told since 9/11 is that this isn't a war of cultures; on the contrary, that's exactly what it is. It is a fundamentalist religious culture which considers us heretical enemies of the one true God, and therefore dangerous and unworthy to exist upon his Earth. It considers us not only an abomination, but one which has humiliated and subjugated it simply by virtue of the fact that it has become the dominant way of life on the planet. As a good friend of mine once put it so beautifully, as far as Muslim fundamentalists are concerned, this is not World War III; it's World War I. It is the same war that's been going on since the dawn of time, between a theocracy bent on never moving past the first century and enslaving or destroying those who oppose it, and the forces of modernism and enlightenment. All one has to do to understand this fact is to look at the reaction to a harmless set of cartoons in Denmark, or a beauty pageant in Nigeria, or an absurd comment from a silly little man in the Vatican.
To appease this kind of thinking is not only ridiculous, it's reprehensible; and yet that's exactly what we do. For all of his swaggering anti-terrorist bluster, our president has never been willing to acknowledge the simple truth that is at the root of almost all anti-American terrorism at the beginning of the 21st century: Islam is dangerous.
Instead of admitting the obvious and acting accordingly -- with at the very least the slightest hint of vigilance -- we give a sheepish smile and pretend that there are a whole host of other factors at play in deciding who does and doesn't become a vehemently anti-American mass murderer: economic, psychological, social, etc. Once again though, we ignore the one common denominator that we know beyond a shadow of a doubt links these killers: their belief in Allah and the glory of martyrdom, as preached in the Koran.
These six imams not only represent that belief -- they are its arbiters. Whether they subscribe openly to the idea that the west should be put asunder doesn't matter in the least when it comes time to walk through an airport metal detector and board a plane with 220 other people. It's just good police-work to give them a second look.
In a perfect utopian society, this kind of suspicion wouldn't be necessary; then again, in a perfect utopian society, one would hope that a group of people wouldn't exist that is willing to kill and destroy in this life in favor of a supposed reward in an unseen and unproven afterlife.
It comes down to this: whether it's political-correctness or simple self-deception, our willingness to ignore the incredibly obvious is a luxury that no one can afford.
And my right to continue breathing trumps your right to be slightly inconvenienced and have your feelings hurt.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Anyone who writes -- certainly anyone who wishes to pursue writing as a career -- will tell you that the first few words are always the most difficult. The opening volley in the battle to get the attention of readers can't be overestimated, and therefore choosing the proper way to begin a novel, volume, essay or column becomes a Herculean task -- and one which can reduce even the most assured and veteran of scribes to tears.
So with that in mind -- and after much internal contention -- allow me to begin by simply coming right to the point.
You obviously wouldn't be able to tell from where you are, but after typing that word I put my laptop aside, got up from the couch and walked to the refrigerator to pour myself a glass of iced-tea before returning to my computer a minute or so later. What's important about this isn't what happened during the short interval -- it's what didn't happen. The world didn't explode. Lives weren't lost. Hordes of people didn't pour out onto 125th street, or the corner of Florence and Normandie, or MLK boulevards all across the land to engage in weeping and gnashing of teeth at the assured knowledge that they would immediately be returned to a life of indentured servitude. The universe, as far as I know, didn't collapse in on itself, sucking reality -- or at the very least, a substantial portion of the population -- into a giant black hole of nothingness.
The reason of course is simple: despite whatever heft, whatever power to destroy or dehumanize, that we've unwisely granted a single word -- any word -- in the end it is still just a word, and nothing more.
Except that in the most advanced and preeminent culture to ever exist upon this Earth, in the early days of the 21st century, it isn't just a word. On the contrary, the word "nigger" holds an unparalleled level of ascendancy in our society. There's no better testament to the truth of this statement than the fact that otherwise educated, intelligent people -- the type who normally would rather step on a live land mine than be taken for an idiot -- will gladly allow themselves to be reduced to spouting the vernacular of a four-year-old to avoid speaking it.
No matter the alternative's power to offend and instigate, is there anything -- anything -- more painfully ridiculous than a grown man or woman saying, "The N-word?" It's an absurd verbal tip-toe that not only proves that there is apparently no safe context in which the actual word can be uttered, but also that there exists an unspoken implication that those whom one would expect to be angered by the use of such a word are so stupid that they can't discern between the desire to dehumanize and subjugate and the need to openly discuss, and therefore should be protected from hearing the word altogether -- for the good of everyone. This latter possibility -- an indictment of an entire culture, whether out of condescension or outright fear -- is infinitely more offensive than the utterance of any one word.
Unless you've returned from a mission to the International Space Station within the past fifteen minutes, you're well aware of the curious case of Michael Richards and his bizarre obscenity and racial-slur-laced tirade against a group of black hecklers. It happened last Friday night at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles, and if you believe a media hype machine that's more than happy to feign the necessary level of ratings-driven contrived outrage -- the Earth has stood still since.
Admittedly, it's tough to get past the image of Richards -- TV's Kramer for God's sake -- yelling at the top of his lungs that his tormenters are "niggers" who would've been lynched fifty years ago. Once you do however, you realize that there are a whole lot of issues which come into play regarding both the incident and its aftermath; one man yelling bad words like a child throwing a temper tantrum may be the least of the problems.
I've mentioned on more than one occasion the tenuous and obviously subjective nature of offense and being offended --as well as the dangers inherent in acquiescing to the demands and restrictions of those who take offense, essentially putting the power to censor in their hands. Needless to say, if we strived to create a world in which no one was offended or insulted and everyone was consistently made "comfortable," it would be a totalitarian society where nothing worthwhile is ever spoken or expressed.
Which brings us to Kramer.
What he said was indeed insulting -- it was certainly stupid -- but did it prove him a racist?
Michael Richards, from what I've read, fits the stand-up comic stereotype in every sense of the word -- despite the fact that he isn't technically a stand-up comic. He's insecure and overly-serious about his craft -- which makes him ironically arrogant. He's occasionally difficult to work with. He has more issues than Time magazine and considers himself to be a mildly tortured artist. In other words, he's the furthest thing from the character he played for eight years, whom we all loved so wildly. Hence, the first problem: the expectation that Michael Richards is somehow not a human being and is a television character. The real Richards allowed a couple of people talking at a show to fluster him so badly, that he lashed out and verbally brutalized them in the strongest way possible. I've said before that I believe that -- although ill-advised -- it's entirely possible to spout racist language without actually being a racist per se. The argument for this belief is simple: there are times when a person can become so enraged that he or she wants to say the most hideously damaging thing possible. The aim is to inflict pain -- as much as you can; calling someone a name that you know will devastate and demean as nothing else will is nothing more than the verbal equivalent of punching someone in the face. In that case, the offender may not need diversity training as much as he or she needs an anger management course.
Another thing to consider is this: Michael Richards is a graduate of the Andy Kaufman school of comedy. According to popular legend, he was one of the handful of people who were in on Kaufman's notorious joke during his appearance on the TV show Fridays in the mid-80s -- the tense and far-from-funny incident in which Kaufman supposedly went "off-book" for the entire show, improvising his lines, throwing the cast into disarray and eventually disrupting the live show by getting into a fist-fight with Richards. Kaufman was less a comedian than he was a terrorist; his brand of performance art was sowing uncomfortable confusion and anarchic dischord. It was this very volatility and unpredictability that made him brilliant beyond words. The point is, it's entirely possible that Richards was hoping to do what a comic mind -- like Kaufman's -- is supposed to do: incite, instigate and in some cases, infuriate. Lenny Bruce did it back in the 60s -- typically, using the word "nigger" more often than an NWA song; Kaufman did it in the 80s; it could very well be that Richards is hoping to do it for a new generation.
I concede however that Richards is no Kaufman or Bruce, as his schtick at the Laugh Factory may very well have proven.
But then there is the most disturbing aspect of this entire controversy -- yes, even more disturbing than a lanky middle-aged man spending three minutes shouting bad words: the chilling affect which is already being trumpeted as a direct and desirable consequence of Richards's actions. It was expected that the NAACP would hold a news conference along with Najee Ali of L.A.'s Project Islamic HOPE -- an opportunistic idiot who never met a camera he didn't like -- to demand that Richards be banished to pop-culture oblivion. What no one expected was for Laugh Factory owner Jamie Masada to not only bow to the unnecessarily sweeping outrage of the angry mob, but to proudly announce that he was banning all offensive material at his club from this point on, and that Michael Richards was not welcome back at the Laugh Factory until the black community approves. I'll repeat that in case the draconian severity of these measures didn't sink in: the owner of a facility which acts as a stage for artists is going to allow one facet of the population to dictate what is and is not acceptable humor. Forgive me for speaking in soundbites, but art should never be subject to democracy. Ever.
It's worth mentioning that Masada is the man who initially introduced a young boy and his family to his personal friend, Michael Jackson; that family eventually wound up accusing Jackson of child molestation. It's obvious Masada's judgment isn't exactly stellar -- a point which will once again be proven when audiences looking for decent, wholesome entertainment (if such people exist in Los Angeles) are still willing to flock to the Laugh Factory, but good comics avoid it like a double-bill with Carrot-Top.
There are other issues which can and should be up for debate in the wake of this indisputably prototypical celebrity controversy, circa 2006 (just ask Mel Gibson): the somewhat disconcerting fact that almost everything we do these days -- all acts noble or unscrupulous -- are documented on video. Everything you do can be seen and videotaped by someone. Also, the thoroughly ludicrous nature of issuing a prepared and almost certainly insincere apology in an effort to appease the masses and subdue their bloodlust -- the masses who are, by the way, not owed a damn thing.
All that's missing from this story is a trip to rehab.
Still, in the end, it all goes back to that one -- as Harvard Law professor Randall Kennedy calls it -- "troublesome little word;" the one we do not speak of; the one we're afraid of, and afraid can consume us as a culture.
It's time we started really talking about the "N-word;" we can start by actually being able to say it.
(My good friend and fantastic writer Steve Bunche has his own take on this, which is slightly different and infinitely more visceral and hilarious than mine. Please do yourself a favor and take a minute to give it a look at The Vault of Buncheness: KKKramer Kommits Kareer Suicide.)
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Just about everyone has that moment.
It typically comes during the formative years, and its sheer weight cannot be overstated, simply because -- upon reflection later in life -- it will always be held in the kind of esteem and spoken of with the kind of reverence typically reserved for a first kiss or a conversion to Christ. I'm speaking of course of that single, epiphanic event which inarguably determines if not the final outcome of your musical tastes, then at the very least the path that will be taken to eventually arrive at that point. It is the juncture which often decides whether you'll spend entire evenings passionately arguing the merits of the new Secret Machines album, or debating the necessity of Muse's existence were it not for the fact that Radiohead doesn't write actual songs anymore -- or think to yourself that you might pick up that new Mariah Carey record at some point; whether you'll seduce a potential lover with a mix playlist that includes Jeff Buckley, Marvin Gaye, Zero 7 and Protection-era Massive Attack, then inevitably have mind-blowing sex with that person to the Deftones' Change (in the House of Flies) -- or half-heartedly try to decide between Kenny G and Enigma should you actually convince someone of the opposite sex to spend an evening with you in a manner that doesn't involve chloroform and a tube-sock.
To put it simply, it will decide whether or not you suck.
As I sit here typing these words, I'm listening to the new Army of Anyone record. For the unfamiliar, the band features the DeLeo brothers (formerly of Stone Temple Pilots) and Richard Patrick (lead singer of Filter). It's the kind of album which will in no way align the planets, but as good, melodic rock records go, it more than serves its purpose. I owe the fact that this is currently being played in my home to one person, and one person only. His name is Robert Rivero. I haven't seen him since the sixth grade, which is coincidentally the same year I met him.
Up until the point that Robert Rivero entered my life, my music had come from the same source as my Toughskins jeans -- Sears. And as with those jeans, the authority deciding the specifics of what I would be listening to was my mother. Thankfully, my mother had pretty decent taste in music -- when it came to what she herself listened to. With the exception of the sage purchase of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours album however, the music she foisted upon me showed no such keen judgment. In fact, as I think back to a small stack of records that included Leo Sayer, Abba and a pre-ironically-hip Bee-Gees, I realize that my mother owes her current freedom only to that era's liberal child abuse laws.
When Robert Rivero stumbled into class on the first day of school in 1979 however -- eyes mere bloodshot slits, dressed in the ubiquitous stoner uniform of a Led Zeppelin t-shirt, torn jeans and suede chukka-boots -- everything changed. He and I made friends quickly and within a month or so, much to my parents' abject horror, Robert was influencing everything from the way I looked and acted to, most importantly, what I listened to. In an ultimately pathetic vision-quest to be more Rivero-like, I would put my allowance toward the purchase of vinyl and beg regularly to be chauffeured to the mall to pick up AC/DC's Highway to Hell or Sabbath's Paranoid. I had fantasies of running into Abba on the street and setting them on fire in an effort to demonstrate my unwavering allegiance to Jimmy Page, and -- by proxy -- Satan.
The irony however, is that it was through the attempt to emulate someone else that I learned to make my own decisions; it was through an influential kinship with someone my own age that I learned to develop tastes and appreciations that were independent of my parents. It also, as I mentioned before and can't stress enough, started me down the passionate musical road which I continue traveling to this day.
The titular "Highway to Hell" perhaps.
About a month ago, I voiced my considerable like for the new My Chemical Romance album The Black Parade. That opinion still stands -- in fact, after repeated listens I can honestly say that I like it even more than I did when I first wrote about it. As that post was quick and to the point -- as opposed to some which are long, rambling and take forever to make their point, like this one for instance -- I didn't expect much in the way of reaction. I was wrong. Given the responses that I received, both on the comment page and via e-mail, you would've thought that I had suggested replacing every other noun in the pledge of allegiance with the words "pee-pee pants." What surprised me most was the implication by many that the enjoyment of MCR was somehow beneath me -- that it was unexpected for someone who considers himself an independent thinker to support a band that was so obviously populist.
And that's what led me to feel the need to make my musical tastes clear.
My first job in broadcasting was as a DJ at WVUM, the radio station at the University of Miami. Before finding my place as the host of a show which was essentially talk and opinion, I made the rounds in the general DJ pool, where I played a combination of my own choices and the songs and bands which the program director had deemed worthy of broadcast. I'll probably make my first pro-mainstream statement regarding my likes and dislikes (aside from my MCR jones of course) by saying that most of what the program director picked was shit. In fact, most of what's played on college radio in general -- then and now -- is shit. Although there are many fantastic bands on tiny labels which certainly deserve to be heard, there are three times as many bands that are on tiny labels with good goddamned reason. A message for college radio kids: playing bands that are so far underground that they've never even heard of themselves doesn't make you cool, it makes you desperate to appear cool, which in turn makes you suck.
Likewise, abandoning a band simply because they evolve, get a major-label deal, or suddenly achieve some measure of success merely shows that you weren't half as interested in the band as you were in how the band made you feel about yourself. Once again, this makes you suck.
I look at music the way I look at politics: if an equal number of people from both sides of the aisle -- in this case, the pop-lovers and the indie kids -- hold you in the same disdain, you're probably doing something right.
So, without further ado -- and in appropriate stream-of-consciousness fashion -- here's the music that I love and hate...
My three "desert island" albums are, in no particular order: Radiohead's OK Computer, Jeff Buckley's Grace, and Coltrane's A Love Supreme. Buckley's Grace contains probably the most beautiful song -- and certainly best cover -- ever recorded: Hallelujah. OK Computer meanwhile is the best rock album of the 90s (yes, better than Nirvana's Nevermind). Although Nirvana are a vastly more important band than the Foo Fighters, they are not, in fact, a better band; when their bodies of work are compared side-by-side, Foo Fighters are an infinitely better band. There's a reason that pop music is pop music: it's pleasing to the ear; as such, I'd rather truly enjoy Neil Young's gorgeous Harvest Moon album than have to trudge my way through his nauseatingly self-indulgent Arc album, which consists of nothing but noise. Hip-hop right now is little more than noise -- unlistenable noise being shouted by mindless dipshits with a lot of money, and I'd probably give up the brilliant work of Mos Def, Public Enemy, Outkast, A Tribe Called Quest, Ice T, Slick Rick, the Beastie Boys and others if it meant that the cultural virus known as today's rap could be completely eradicated. If you think this is racist, you're probably a tool. Tool is one of the best and most instrumentally complex bands in the world right now, however, song-for-song I prefer A Perfect Circle. Perfect Circle is R.E.M.'s best song from Michael Stipe's pre-intelligible stage, Sweetness Follows is their best post-intelligible song. R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People is one of the 10 best albums of the 1990s. Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend is one of the top 25 albums of the 1990s, despite containing only three really great songs. Every Matthew Sweet album contains only three great songs, tops, but those songs are typically better than other artists' entire discographies. People who claim that vinyl is better than compact disc or digital music should be treated with leeches and trepanation the next time they get sick. AC/DC should've broken up after Bon Scott died from choking on his own vomit. I'll never forgive Rick Rubin for turning the Cult into a latter-day AC/DC on their worthless Electric album. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's Howl album, although brilliant, should've come from another band; their original incarnation, doing Jesus & Mary Chainian psychedelia, filled a much-needed hole in the musical landscape. BRMC -- then and now -- are one of the coolest bands on the planet; the others that come to mind are Girls Against Boys, Queens of the Stone Age, and the Dandy Warhols. I'm in love with the Dandys' Zia McCabe, and not just because she occasionally performs topless. Liz Phair's old material is great. Liz Phair's new material is average. Whether Liz Phair's material is great or average doesn't matter, because there's no one in rock n' roll that I'd more like to have sex with. Gwen Stefani used to be both adorable and the singer for a really decent band, No Doubt -- she's now a hip-hop anime character. Gwen Stefani's Hollaback Girl is one of the worst songs in the history of recorded music; it makes me wish I'd been born deaf. Fergalicious by Fergie is equally bad. Jennifer Lopez's disappearance from the music business is proof that there may in fact be a benevolent god. Despite the underlying Christian message of their music, Switchfoot are actually a pretty likable band. You can like a band's music but hate the band itself (Good Charlotte). You can like a band but hate their music (Happy Mondays). Oasis are music's biggest assholes who also write great songs; they also have the distinction of being the only band whose b-sides are actually better, by and large, than the material on their albums. The Red Hot Chili Peppers may be the last great rock n' roll band with any kind of longevity. U2 may very well contradict my last statement. Upon further reflection, yes, Green Day's American Idiot was that good. Billy Joel has recorded more phenomenal music than any other single artist working right now; although The Nylon Curtain is his best album, Zanzibar is his most underrated song. Cheap Trick are rock's most underrated band. The Grateful Dead are rock's most overrated band. I never get tired of hearing the Stones' Gimme Shelter, the New Pornographers' Use It, Crazy Town & Orgy's Black Cloud, Gnarls Barkley's Crazy, Fiona Apple's Sullen Girl, and Zero 7's Destiny (or the entire Simple Things album for that matter). I got tired of hearing the White Stripes midway through their debut album and actually believe that Jack White's new band, The Raconteurs, are far better. No one is better than Tom Waits. Elvis Presley has always been overrated. Elvis Costello cannot be overrated. Somehow, New Order released their best album two decades into their career; Get Ready is shockingly good. There is nothing, NOTHING, better than a playlist which includes Coltrane, Monk, Mingus, Miles, Brubeck and Jimmy Scott. The debut Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy album and, more recently, the debut N*E*R*D album contradict what I said earlier about hip-hop. Generally speaking, both blues and funk are types of music played by brilliant musicians who can't write a song for shit. Faux-punk music would probably be tolerable if it didn't try to bill itself as punk. When Avril Lavigne was labeled "punk," Joe Strummer, in a final show of defiance, died. Sid Vicious was an idiot; Johnny Rotten was anything but. The Pistols were gods regardless. Every night I thank God for Henry Rollins. I want Debussy to be the last thing I hear before I die; Clair de Lune is perfection. I want Nine Inch Nails to be the last thing I hear before I kill; The Fragile is a masterpiece. I loathe Missy Elliott. I miss Elliott Smith. I miss Husker Du. I miss the Replacements. I miss the Smashing Pumpkins while simultaneously not missing Billy Corgan. I will never, NEVER, be able to figure out why Jonatha Brooke isn't huge; stop reading this immediately and buy everything she's ever released. I will never be able to figure out why Ken Andrews isn't huge; buy the Year of the Rabbit album immediately. Abandoned Pools are the best band you've never heard of, besides possibly The Start. David Baerwald's A Secret Silken World is the best song you've never heard. Sloan rule. I believe that the Sneaker Pimps are actually better without Kelli Dayton. I believe that Brian Warner/Marilyn Manson is a fucking genius. I believe that Charlie Benante of Anthrax can drum circles around Lars Ulrich of Metallica. Buddy Rich can drum circles around both of them. Greg Dulli has never sung a bad song, whether it's a cover or an original -- whether he's fronting the Afghan Whigs, the Twilight Singers or solo. Surprisingly, Motley Crue's cover of the Tubes' White Punks on Dope isn't half bad. Unsurprisingly, Motley Crue's cover of Street Fighting Man is terrible. There has never been a good reggaeton song, and there never will be. Madonna should be killed on principle. Killing Joke's Night Time album is probably still my favorite record of the 80s. The Killing Moon from Echo & the Bunnymen is probably the best song of the 80s. The Cure was always better than the Smiths. You can tell a lot about a person by his or her preference in Cure material: my favorite Cure songs are Burn from The Crow soundtrack, The Kiss, and anything from Disintegration; I have no use for Friday I'm in Love. I loved Gang of Four the first time around, which is why I can't take two seconds of the wholly derivative crap that Franz Ferdinand churns out. Sometimes it isn't about the music, so much as where it takes you when you listen to it -- this is why I can listen to Trespassers William's Different Stars album and Thievery Corporation's The Mirror Conspiracy over and over again. Liam Howlett should've kept Prodigy intact. Big Audio Dynamite and Faith No More are both vastly underrated, and contributed more to the sound of modern music than anyone willingly gives them credit for. 1992 was the last truly great year for music. Were it not for the greatness of Pearl Jam, the death of Andrew Wood and the collapse of Mother Love Bone would have been one of the biggest losses to rock n' roll ever. Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash were too fucking cool to live. Prince, David Bowie, Trent Reznor and possibly Todd Rundgren may be the only musical geniuses still living. Perry Farrell isn't half the musical genius he thinks he is. Ritual de lo Habitual was Jane's Addiction's best album; their last album Strays was a good rock album, but not a good Jane's Addiction album. Ministry's Psalm 69 is the best non-metal metal album ever recorded. John Doe's Meet John Doe is the best non-country country album ever recorded. Everything you've heard about Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is true. Lou Barlow is indeed the King of Sadness. Steely Dan's Deacon Blues is one of the coolest songs ever recorded; Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street is as well, if for no other reason than the first note of one of the best and most understated guitar solos around. Five strings, ten fingers, countless great songs, one name: Van Halen. Earth, Wind & Fire are gods. Joni Mitchell's Blue is beautiful beyond words. Duncan Sheik has a place in my heart for covering Joni Mitchell's Court & Spark, Jeff Buckley's masterpiece, Lover, You Should've Come Over, and Radiohead's gorgeous Fake Plastic Trees. Nessun Dorma, from Turandot -- particularly when sung by Pavarotti -- always makes me cry, ALWAYS. The Beatles were, in fact, the best band in music history.
Yes, the new My Chemical Romance album is fucking great.
And no, I will never be able to repay Robert Rivero.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
My strongest memory is of the victory parade.
On a cool late afternoon in February of 1997, Fred Goldman and his family walked out of a courthouse which sits on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, clasped their hands together and raised them in victory. For the first time since their beloved's death three years earlier, they cried tears of triumph and vindication -- tears that were clearly visible even a hundred feet away, simply because they reflected the Southern California sunset. The crowd of thousands -- made up mostly of news crews from every conceivable point on the map -- applauded and cheered them; it was a rare surrender of all objectivity in favor of a momentary show of solidarity with these people whose suffering the reporters, photographers and producers had documented nonstop since the night of Ron Goldman's brutal murder on June 12th, 1994.
Fred Goldman and his family turned and strided with newfound confidence along the street which ran parallel to the courthouse, away from that sunset and toward a new dawn. They had done it. In spite of the miscarriage of justice of unfathomable proportions that was the criminal trial two years earlier -- the one which pitted the people of California not so much against the defendant as against his team of legal wizards, whose talent for misdirection and obfuscation was unparalleled -- they had finally won.
They had beaten O.J. Simpson.
A civil jury had unanimously ruled that Simpson was responsible for the deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson -- and Goldman patriarch Fred's only son, Ron. The award: $33.5 million total.
Photographer Glen Shimada and myself were supposed to be doing something else that afternoon; we were supposed to be on a shoot in Long Beach. We were diverted oceanside by a frantic call from our assignment desk telling us that a verdict had been reached, and would be announced shortly -- and that we were to get to the courthouse as quickly as possible to meet our reporter, Harvey Levin. As the impromptu Goldman victory parade marched on, Glen and I followed closely behind the family as part of the procession. It would be fifteen minutes later that Harvey would seek us out and, in typically crazed and kinetic fashion, scream that he had secured the first interview with the Goldmans' attorney -- the man who had done the seemingly impossible -- Dan Petrocelli.
A half-hour after that harried pronouncement, Harvey was seated face-to-face with Petrocelli, asking him how he did it; how he managed to slay the giant; how he convinced one group of people to hold Simpson responsible for an act of which another group of people said he wasn't guilty. Then he asked the million dollar question, or actually, the 33.5 million dollar question: how was anyone going to force O.J. Simpson to pay the money that he now owed to the Goldman family?
And that was when the conversation went deathly silent.
I have a confession to make -- a seemingly appropriate gesture, given the nature of the subject matter.
I've always been thoroughly fascinated by the O.J. Simpson case.
Despite the legitimate claims by many that at the time it represented journalism's lowest point, I was captivated -- like so many were -- by the intricacies, timelines, characters and theories which took center stage in America's collective consciousness for months into years during the mid-90s. I was never naive enough to believe that Simpson -- as deluded, begrudging and outright hostile as he was -- would quietly and graciously accept the civil jury's judgment and hand a over small fortune to those he considered his tormentors. What I never expected however, was that he would spend the next nine years egregiously flaunting his disregard not only for the Goldman family, but for the memory of his ex-wife and the general consensus of the vast majority of the population which considers him little more than an escaped killer.
As the saying goes, "When you're walking on eggs -- don't hop." Well, O.J. Simpson has spent nearly the past decade doing more hopping than the Easter Bunny. His behavior has been occasionally strange and sickening (pretending to stab a camera with a banana), occasionally violent (threatening a man during a traffic confrontation), and more often than not, simply sociopathic (taping a pay-per-view special called "Juiced" in which he plays a practical joke on a used car dealer by attempting to sell him a white Ford Bronco).
There's obviously an argument to be made that O.J. doesn't really need to tread lightly; he got away with murder. Double jeopardy precludes the state from ever trying him on the necessary charges again. But if you knew that millions of people believed that you were guilty of a crime, and still owed a small fortune because a jury knew it to be true, wouldn't you at the very least avoid the subject in mixed company?
O.J. has not only accepted his position as America's Most Notorious, he's reveled in it and assumed intellectual property rights.
This is what, in some ways, makes the heavily-publicized and heavily-criticized new book and television special "If I Did It, Here's What Happened," nothing more than the next logical step in O.J. Simpson's quest to become the most loathed human being to not also be responsible for the deaths of six-million Jews.
If the incessant and admittedly unsettling promotion is to be believed, the television interview at least will usher in the final triumph of post-modern meta-reality -- a stroke of Victor/Victorian genius, with O.J. playing the part of a killer pretending to be an innocent man pretending to be a killer.
The commercials feature a seemingly tortured and tormented Simpson, breaking under the intense questioning of his inquisitor and publisher Judith Regan (a dual-role for which she was born). He speaks not in hypotheticals but in apparent absolutes: about the amount of blood at the scene, the feeling of nearly decapitating two people, one of whom, a woman he once loved, etc. And yet Simpson insists he's doing nothing more than assuming a fictional identity -- albeit one which bears his familiar name -- and stepping into an alternate reality; he's essentially playing a game of "what if." The show's title even hints at the schizophrenic nature of its implication; it's a grammatically-incorrect pairing of two opposing assertions.
The word "surreal" doesn't even begin to cover it all.
Although plenty of venom has been directed toward O.J. for willingly stooping to new levels of murderous whoredom, those who purport to hold themselves to a higher standard of discourse have saved much of their fury for his apparent pimp, Regan. She is after all the one holding the purse strings in this miasma -- agreeing to pay Simpson an undisclosed sum for his "hypothetical" admission of guilt (a sum which O.J. is rumored to have promised to spend immediately, rather than allow Goldman and family to get a crack at it). I surely admit to having initially decried both Regan's actions and mere existence as the reason the rest of the country despises the relatively small slice of land which I happen to call home: New York City. However, Regan's defense seems to be that after nine long years, she's succeeded where others have failed; she believes that she's trapped an unwitting and narcissistic Simpson into saying the words that America has demanded from him: "I did it." The fact that Simpson may believe that he isn't in fact issuing a true confession is relevant only in that it both makes the "gotcha" factor that much sweeter and stands as a testament to his frightening sociopathy.
The question though is obvious: what's really gained by a confession that amounts to nothing more than Simpson once again taunting an impotent legal system and a frustrated family?
Doesn't it do more harm than good?
During the period between the criminal trial verdict and the supposed vindication of the civil trial decision, Harvey Levin would storm into the KCBS newsroom in Los Angeles every other day claiming to have uncovered the "bombshell" that would prove O.J. Simpson's guilt. He did some excellent investigative reporting -- better than excellent in fact. In the end however, it accomplished nothing; Simpson was still free to come and go as he pleased.
He remains free to this day and will continue to -- free to issue confessions, real or hypothetical, that will change absolutely nothing.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
This morning, after an earthquake at sea and at least a good hour or so of breathless hype from every network on the dial, what was purported to be a terrifying tsunami rushing toward a frightened Asian population crashed ashore in Japan.
As a sixteen inch wave.
Another crisis averted by Godzilla.
I love this business.
Monday, November 13, 2006
I've been busy as hell over the past couple of days and may continue to be through the middle of the week, so I may not be able to put together anything lengthy or worthwhile until then.
That said, allow me to rape the always brilliant Bill Maher for good material to pass along. Last Friday on Real Time he ran a hysterical "look back" at the Republicans we lost last week. He did it in the style of those uber-reverent memorial montages often seen during Academy Awards shows.
He called it, appropriately, "A Farewell to Douchebags."
Friday, November 10, 2006
From 1978 -- when Daryl Gates assumed command of it -- until today, the Los Angeles Police Department has had a reputation for being one of the most brutal police forces on the planet.
This isn't funny.
The FBI is now investigating another allegation of police brutality, thanks to the videotaped beating of a gang-member on a Hollywood street.
This isn't funny either.
But, the detailed information regarding the private organization which has taken upon itself the gargantuan task of monitoring the LAPD?
COPWATCH, c/o Chuco's Justice Center, 235 W. Martin Luther King Blvd. LA, CA 90037
(A slightly more serious take on this story can be found in the comment section.)
Despite my incessant complaining about the current state of the television news industry and the utter failings of so many who exist under its banner, there are still plenty of dedicated journalists who hold our monumental responsibility as sacrosanct -- and never give an inch in that regard.
Today, unfortunately, there is one less.
Ed Bradley was everything true journalists aspire to be: Intelligent. Thought-provoking. Honest. Compassionate. Tenacious. Unafraid.
But unlike those who can call themselves his equal in those respects, Ed Bradley had something else -- a very special quality -- that no one else could touch, and it showed in every single story he did.
He was just so damn cool.
He had a class, dignity and style that elevated him to what I believe was the very top of the heap -- the finest American journalist of his lifetime, and certainly the last of his kind.
Understand that for all of my caustic outrage and righteous indignation, I accept that my role in this business is and always has been -- at least on some level -- to turn murders into music videos. Bradley would have none of that. Though he was as down to Earth as they come, he was far above the fray of what television news has become over the years.
That's why he was always one of my heroes. And why he will be sorely missed.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
America is apparently not unlike an alcoholic: it had to hit rock-bottom before it was finally willing to ask for help.
Yesterday, Americans went to the polls in near-record numbers, and this morning the political landscape has undergone such a monumental change as to appear unrecognizable; this simply is not the same country it was at this time yesterday morning.
To downplay the extraordinary seismic impact of what has happened would be to dismiss the collective will of millions, yet amazingly, that's precisely what a few of the usual talking heads in the now wounded and limping Republican party are doing. A few hours ago, Tom Delay made the rounds on national television and -- when asked if he accepted that the country was demanding a different direction in Iraq and an end to the kind of scandals in which he himself played such an unquestionable role -- pulled off one of the most impressive feats of self-delusion seen outside of a padded room: he said that the Democrats didn't win, the Republicans simply took a hit because they didn't get their message across. He said that America is a nation with conservative values and the GOP is, and always will be, its national party.
I'll have to assume someone just unearthed him from a time-capsule buried back in 2002.
No administration has ever made its message more crystal clear. Bush, Cheney and their minions repeat the same statements more often than an autistic nine-year-old.
Let's recap though:
The Democrats now control the House, and when all the votes are counted will more than likely control the Senate as well.
They won an assured victory in the House despite redistricting changes made during the past twelve years of Republican rule -- changes which meant that the campaigns for many seats weren't as genuinely competitive as they were during the Republican Revolution of 1994.
In Rhode Island, Senator Lincoln Chafee -- despite having a 63% approval rating, and being an extremely moderate Republican -- was voted out; exit polls showed that voters were willing to sacrifice him to ensure that the overall balance of power was tipped.
The Democrats knocked off more than a dozen incumbent members of the House, and as many as six in the Senate -- winning seats in states throughout the Midwest which have traditionally voted Republican. They basically redefined what can and can't be considered a "Red State."
And finally this fact: not a single Democratic incumbent was defeated last night -- not one representative, senator or governor.
If that isn't winning, I have no idea what the hell is.
But here's what made me breathe a sigh of relief -- for the first time in a very long time -- after hearing Delay's hallucinatory comments: he doesn't matter anymore.
For the first time since George W. Bush took office, the usual pompously preening suspects of the GOP are nothing more than paper tigers. Rush has been neutered. Rove has been pummeled. The God-fearing theocrats have been, for the most part, left out in the cold. O'Reilly and Hannity now in some strange way resemble nothing more than a couple of yapping chihuahuas.
The fearsome schoolyard bully has fallen.
Those on the right, who have governed unopposed -- monopolizing the agenda which has steered us toward oblivion -- now understand that they are not the only residents of this great nation.
And what of their leader, the Naked Emperor, the man whose arrogant and uncontested rule has in just six short years cost this country the lives of 3,000 of its sons and daughters in Iraq, an entire American city at home, and the respect of most of the world?
The former King George is already begrudgingly making conciliatory gestures and talking loudly of bipartisanship -- because for the first time in his painful presidency, he has absolutely no fucking choice. He will have to find a way to table his leviathan hubris and learn to listen.
The noise the voters just made is loud enough that even he might be able to hear it.
Nothing substantial has changed yet, and it remains to be seen if the Democrats can and will do as they've promised. But simply by winning, they've brought accountability to an administration which sorely needs it if this country is to survive.
It took hitting rock bottom, but America finally asked for help -- and as any alcoholic knows, that's the most important step.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
A few years back, my wife and I, and one of our closest friends, undertook an adventure which wound up becoming one of the seminal events in each of our lives: we went on a three-week, cross-country road trip. We started in Miami, drove all the way out to Los Angeles, then back. During our journey, we stopped in several major cities -- New Orleans, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Vegas -- but also in the tiniest of tiny towns. It was during the time spent taking-in the smaller blips on the map that most of our fondest memories were created. From an unforgettable conversation with a teenage check-out girl in Erick, Oklahoma -- one that involved my inability to understand the concept of grasshoppers stuck in the grill of our SUV, to stumbling upon an impromptu dance by a group of Native American children in Holbrook, Arizona, to the purchase of a souvenir coconut head in Ocala, Florida, to a drunken 4th-of-July celebration in Odessa, Texas -- the entire experience opened my eyes to the astonishing beauty of my homeland. It's something I wouldn't trade for anything in the world.
We saw so many strikingly different kinds of terrain -- met so many wonderfully different kinds of people.
As we pushed inward from the coast, into the heartland of America, we did however notice one particular image which seemed to assert itself inescapably everywhere we traveled (aside from Elvis, whose face -- thin or bloated -- adorns every kind of memoribilia imaginable from sea to shining sea).
That image, is the cross.
You don't fully comprehend or appreciate America's unquestioning adoption of the Christian faith until you realize that a whole lot of people obviously believe there is no landscape so pristine or flawless in its own right as to avoid being improved upon by the insinuation of the ancient torture device on which Jesus was supposedly executed. Whether on a major highway or a lone, isolated road, crosses can be seen everywhere -- in all variations of shape and size. They are made of wood and stabbed into otherwise empty fields; they adorn the tops of steeples which dot the topography; and in the otherwise unremarkable roadside town of Britten, Texas -- they are made of corrugated steel, and literally pierce the sky at a height of 190 feet.
Needless to say, we had to stop.
My friend would later perfectly articulate the overwhelming sense that each of us had while standing in the shadow of a cross the size of a building. "The effect is fearsome and oppressive, a symbol not of love and acceptance and forgiveness, but of domination. Looking up at it, you expect to see a zeppelin moored to its top, illuminated by giant search lights," he'd write. My mind, on the other hand, couldn't shake a much more succinct term for what we were witnessing in the middle of the expansive Texas plains: Industrialized Jesus. We'd witnessed hundreds of franchises of Christianity throughout our journey, and would no doubt witness many more still; this one just happened to be the biggest -- the Jesus Christ Super-Center.
After the requisite time necessary to fully document the giant cross on film -- on the chance that someone back home might not believe the existence of such an object -- we pressed on, continuing our southwestern route through the United States. This course, took us nowhere near Colorado Springs, Colorado -- a place which might have been a required destination should we for any reason have desired to see the true fulmination of the Industrialized Jesus concept. It's there that we would have found the New Life Church, a mammoth structure dubbed, with all possible lack-of-subtlety, a "Mega-Church." It seats thousands and could be mistaken for a shopping mall were it not for that ubiquitous cross making it perfectly clear that what's being sold inside is salvation. Up until yesterday, it was also the religious seat of arguably the single most powerful Evangelical Christian in the country: Reverend Ted Haggard.
Haggard is a man who has spent the past thirty-four years of his life preaching the gospel of Jesus, and the unerrant truth of every aspect of the Bible. Recently, he was the leader of the 30-million-strong National Evangelical Association, and a personal friend and advisor to President Bush -- even participating in weekly conference calls with the White House. He's also been, for some time now, a staunch opponent of gay-marriage, and has worked tirelessly to support ballot amendments which would ban it in eight states this election day.
And that's exactly why, last Thursday, an openly-gay male escort publicly destroyed Reverend Ted Haggard.
What 49-year-old Mike Jones did, was the figurative equivalent of an assassination: he calculated his actions perfectly and timed his shot to inflict maximum damage not simply to Haggard, but to his cause. He claimed to have proof of a three-year affair with the reverend that included not just sex, but regular use of methamphetamines. Before those who would certainly jump to the defense of Haggard could even get their talking points in order -- before the Rush Limbaughs of the world could power up a mic to cry election-year foul -- Jones disarmed them by admitting that political consideration was indeed integral to the timing of his attack; he wanted to expose the hypocrisy of Haggard and the demagogues on the right and specifically chose the moment that would hurt and disillusion them the most. The truth was -- and is -- simply staggering: the leader of America's Evangelical Christians, exposed as a gay drug-user.
Haggard initially denied the accusations -- insisting that he hired Jones for a massage but never had sex with him, and that he bought meth from him but threw it away; although not quite as catchy, both retorts seem destined to become the new "I didn't inhale." Since then however, Haggard has admitted to having a "lifelong sexual problem" -- telling his followers in a letter that he's a "deceiver and a liar," "sexually immoral," and that there is a part of his life which he calls "repulsive and dark."
That sound you hear right now is a whole lot of people gloating with satisfaction.
While the level of hypocrisy and arrogance involved in Haggard's private life versus his self-righteous public crusading is indeed sickening and indefensible -- and there is certainly plenty of legitimate nose-rubbing to be done to Haggard's many intolerant minions -- for some reason, after a reflexive moment of giddy Schadenfreude, the news of this man's downfall and his own reaction to it began to stir a different emotion in me entirely.
Ted Haggard has spent most if not all of his existence living a lie, and he's done so for only one reason: because his unwavering belief in the literal teachings of a 2000-year-old book has taught him that he must. There's a distinct possibility that the reason Haggard found Christ to begin with was because he sincerely hoped that through him, all things were indeed possible -- the suppression of his true feelings and urges being the most pertintent of those things. There are thousands if not millions of Christians out there who hope for the same transformative power of religion. The enrollment in schools which the church claims can "straighten-out" homosexuals is proof of that hope; the success-rate of those schools is proof of its futility.
Many claim that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, does more good than harm; it gives meaning to life and provides its believers a moral compass with which to navigate the world.
Ted Haggard is married, and has five children -- all of whom don't need to concern themselves with angry threats of an impending hell, because they're going through it right now. The person they love and admire the most has devastated them, simply because he could never admit who or what he truly was and is -- because Ted Haggard the fire-and-brimstone preacher has always believed that the true nature of Ted Haggard the man is "immoral, repulsive and dark," when in fact, it is nothing of the kind; it's only the dishonesty that's immoral. A man's relentless submission to superstition has destroyed himself, the family he loves, and more than likely a small part of those who have respected him and held him up as an example.
The biggest tragedy however, might be that Ted Haggard has wasted the one life he was given.
He's done it by lying to himself, and by trying to convince others that they should do likewise.
For that I blame not the believer, but the belief -- the same belief that would lead someone to plant a giant metal cross in the middle of a place that was so beautiful just the way it was.
I'll try to make this quick, if for no other reason than because my doctor says I need to cut back on thinking about modern Hip-Hop if I want my brain to run cleanly after the surgery.
Kanye West is a fucking idiot.
Last week, at the MTV Europe Video Music Awards, upon losing the award for Best Video to a band almost no one in the United States has ever heard of called Justice vs. Simian, Kanye stormed the stage and threw what my mother used to call a temper-tantrum -- back in the days when I referred her not as "my mother,", but rather as "Mommy." At the root of his little tirade was his belief that he, in fact, should've won the award, and that by not giving it to him, the entire MTV awards process lost credibility.
Why did Poor Widdle Kanye believe that he deserved the honor?
Let's let the baby speak for himself:
"My video cost a million-dollars! Pamela Anderson was in it! I was jumping across canyons and shit! I stood on a mountain! I flew a helicopter over Vegas! I did it to be the king of all videos and I wanted to walk home with that award!"
Where to even begin.
In the course of this little experiment of mine, I've brought up two phenomena which seem relevant right about now.
One involves the obscene sense of entitlement many celebrities seem to possess and display -- the absolutely psychotic belief that simply by virtue of who they are, they should never be denied any whim which might enter their underworked and overindulged little heads (Veruca Assault/10.29.06). I mentioned it in reference to the demands placed upon a small hotel staff -- one which has signed non-disclosure agreements to protect these celebrities and prevent just such childish behavior from being made public. It's an entirely different story, however, when that kind of mentality -- in all its hideous glory -- is broadcast live and around-the-globe for every living human being to see. Up next for Kanye: damage control in the form of the obligatory PR-firm-approved insincere apology -- and possibly rehab (of course).
The second phenomenon is a far more pointed one; it's the hilariously juvenile assumption by many rap stars that money directly correlates to quality, and that enough of it can buy class, acceptance, and above all -- respect (Jay-Z/Cristal Collision Course/6.16.06). Only someone who subscribes to that flawed theory could honestly believe that spending a million dollars, casting Pam Anderson (!), and flying over Vegas (!!), would translate into an award being handed out in, of all places, Denmark. Many rappers operate under exactly that faulty logic though -- that obvious excess will prove they've arrived and finally earn them a seat at the big-kids table; it won't, and Baby Kanye's reaction to being snubbed only proves to the world what the detractors of him and his ilk have insisted all along: rap stars can have all the money they want; they'll never be more than little children playing dress-up -- Neanderthals in nice suits.
Put simply, they'll never have an ounce of the kind of class which commands true respect.
(If you want to see Baby Kanye's tantrum, Jenny from IDontLikeYouInThatWay.com has been kind enough to post and mock it appropriately (Kanye Is A Whiny Bitch).)
Friday, November 03, 2006
I don't even know where to begin with the fact that the Reverend Ted Haggard -- mega-church leader, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, fire-and-brimstone indoctrinator of children at Jesus Camp, and personal friend to President Bush -- is now accused of carrying on a three-year affair with a gay male escort which included the regular use of methamphetamine.
Or that Haggard has, at the very least, admitted to hiring the escort for a massage and indeed buying meth from him.
So I won't.
All I can say is this:
Maybe there is a God after all -- and as it turns out, he is, in fact, infinitely just.
I got an e-mail yesterday from Billy Corben, the 28-year-old director of Cocaine Cowboys. He had some truly kind things to say about my post regarding his film, and as I would have hoped, seems like an eminently likeable and decent guy.
Once again, Cocaine Cowboys is now playing in New York, Los Angeles and South Florida; if you get a chance, by all means see it. In fact, do a few lines and then see it; that should no doubt make you feel just like you were there.
Hey, I saw Requiem for a Dream on heroin.
I don't understand what all the fuss was about; I thought it was the feel-good hit of 2001.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
So, despite the deafening cries of millions who believe that Kabbalah strings, photo-ops and the desperate needs of an irrelevant, self-obsessed hag constitute a far more damaging environment in which to raise a child than an impoverished Malawian village, Madonna says that she won't rule out returning to Africa to adopt another child.
You know Madge, it'd be so much easier to just do what your kind has done for centuries: build a gingerbread house in the woods and let them come to you.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
"Beyond the ties of kinship lurks the threat of death, and revenge killings among the cocaine traders certainly contribute to South Florida's crime rate. Drug shootouts are becoming a frequent sight in certain parts of Miami. At a busy intersection in Coral Gables last month, for example, a Mercedes Benz was suddenly surrounded and its 30-year-old Colombian driver killed in a burst of machine-gun fire."
-- Time Magazine, November 23rd, 1981
"Cocaine is a hell of a drug."
-- Rick James
Miami is a foreign land.
Strangely, this statement holds true whether you're a tourist or a resident. For the uninitiated, the culture shock of being in an American city which is so only by virtue of its accidental geography can be a bit overwhelming. In reality, it's a place where a majority of the population speaks Spanish -- simply because necessity has never dictated it do otherwise -- and where the rules which govern most residents of the United States can seemingly be bent or broken for the right price or political favor. For even the longtime resident meanwhile, the perpetually morphing landscape -- and the transient nature of those who are drawn to an environment which fosters it -- means that it's entirely possible to wake up in a city that's wholly unrecognizable from the one you went to sleep in the night before. This creates an almost constant state of unease and gives the city an undeniable undercurrent of eerie malevolence -- as if someone were constantly and surreptitiously rearranging the furniture in a room that was unfamiliar to begin with.
True story: a couple of years ago, I was back in my hometown, putting it to the use for which the chamber of commerce believes it was intended: a vacation destination. it was a typically hot, humid afternoon and being that I, like all vacationers, was staying on South Beach, I decided to leave the air conditioning and take a walk over to Lincoln Road's Van Dyke Cafe for a bite to eat. I had gotten maybe a half-block from where I was staying when something on the sidewalk in front of me caught my eye. I bent down and picked it up -- turned it over -- held it in my hand. I'm sure I shook my head and that my face registered shock and recognition at what I'd just found.
It was a small plastic zip-lock envelope -- a flat baggie whose contents were perfectly visible. I had seen enough small plastic baggies in my time to know exactly what was likely inside this one; still, I opened it up and gave it a light sniff just to make sure. When it comes to crack cocaine, I've always taken the good advice of Whitney Houston -- crack is wack; but I had no doubt that what I was holding in my hand was indeed that.
I continued to shake my head -- laughed a little -- then tossed the baggie aside and continued on my way.
In my head, one thing repeated over and over: "Miami: Where the Streets are Paved with Drugs."
Amazingly, that small moment was one of my very rare experiences with cocaine of any sort in South Florida; despite my sterling record as a hardcore addict -- it ironically took leaving my home to find what had always been within arm's reach. This is not to say that I was unaware of the prevalence of that particular drug in my hometown throughout my life; there was a time when it reached into the life of every man, woman and child in South Florida. No matter who you were, you understood that there were cocaine, cocaine traffickers, cocaine dealers, and cocaine money all around you.
The bodies piling up in the street were a testament to it.
If you were alive during that time, and lived elsewhere in the country, you were at least tangentially aware of what was going on in Miami during the late 1970s and early 1980s. In November of 1981, Time Magazine -- a publication whose cover had been devoted to the civil war in Beirut no fewer than three times that same year -- proclaimed South Florida a "Paradise Lost," and through words and nightmarish images, conveyed the unmistakable truth about life in my hometown: it was a war-zone on U.S. soil. The battleground was the street. The soldiers were known as the "Cocaine Cowboys." The victims were the innocent people unlucky enough to call South Florida home during that tumultuous period.
By the time Scarface and Miami Vice came along to glamorize Miami's drug trade -- and the bloodshed that went hand-in-hand with it -- the body count was unimaginable; the level of violence was simply staggering. As with all of the best stories that surface -- like dead bodies in canals -- from the murky depths of South Florida, truth is stranger than fiction. It's this fact which makes the new documentary Cocaine Cowboys so hypnotically engrossing and hideously effective. The film chronicles the reality of the early days of cocaine trafficking in the United States, when vicious warring factions fought a bloody battle for control of the movement, distribution and sale of the most expensive and desired crop in the world. Americans wanted it; Colombians and Cubans wanted to provide it, and -- with South Florida as their trade nexus -- would kill anyone who got in their way. The key word here is anyone; unlike the fantasy which movie-goers before, or wanna-be thugs since, have concocted to keep the brutal truth at a comfortable distance -- namely that there's a certain level of moral ambiguity because, well, gangsters really only kill other gangsters -- the Cocaine Cowboys killed innocents almost daily. Armed with the ubiquitous Ingram MAC 10 sub-machine gun, a weapon with too short a barrel to be accurate and too high a firing rate to be useful for anything but a single blast of deadly gunfire, the Cowboys -- whose motto seemed to be "Leave no witnesses" -- regularly killed not only their targets, but any man, woman or child who happened to be nearby. There were shootouts on the highways, between moving cars. There was gunfire in the most exclusive of neighborhoods.
The documentary by South Florida natives Billy Corben and Alfred Spellman has an astonishing level of access to many of the major players (the ones still alive) that turned my hometown into a place where my father worried about going to work, and my mother worried about allowing her young son to leave her side. At the time, my father was transitioning from Metro-Dade cop, to investigative reporter at WCKT TV; a situation which, when it came to being close to the violence, was like going from bad to slightly-less-bad. Many of the reporters and anchors I grew up sitting in front of the television watching are featured in the film -- a few I even went on to work with myself years later. It was their persistence in uncovering the truth despite the constant threat of reprisal, and the non-stop work of much of the Miami and Dade County police forces which finally slowed the bloodshed to a trickle. During the height of that bloodshed however, it seemed like nothing could stop it.
Cocaine Cowboys illustrates, in vivid color, the lengths that the most powerful traffickers of that time -- one, a Colombian woman named Griselda Blanco, known as "The Godmother," the pioneer of the Medellin Cartel in America and a familiar face on South Florida's nightly news -- would go to, to keep the cocaine flowing and plentiful. In addition to the wholesale murder and dismemberment of her enemies, Blanco at one point pulled off a smuggling stunt which was so impressive in both its creativity and irony as to be almost admirable. During the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial celebration -- when much of America was joyously marking two-hundred years of lawful independence -- several countries from around the world dispatched a colorful parade of tall ships to travel up the east coast of the United States. Colombia's official contribution to this armada was a ship called "The Gloria," which -- unknown to the D.E.A. -- was packed with one-thousand kilos of Griselda Blanco's Medellin cocaine.
Street value: forty-million dollars.
This is a woman who named one of her sons Michael Corleone. This is also a woman who ordered armed men to walk into a store in the Dadeland Mall -- which was, and still is, one of the busiest shopping centers in Miami -- and spray machine-gun fire, killing four people; and a woman who ordered her brutal enforcer, Rivi Ayala (who incredibly, is interviewed for the film) to kill everyone inside a townhouse in quiet, suburban Kendall, including the maid and the gardener.
This is what South Florida awoke to, every morning of every day; it was a situation exacerbated by the influx of 125,000 Cuban refugees and a race riot that left eighteen people dead and a good portion of the city in ashes -- both of which happened in the hot summer of 1980.
This is where I grew up.
Over time, the insanity ebbed and tensions calmed. Hollywood arrived and turned the brutality which had so scarred the city's streets and collective psyche into movies and television. When Scarface premiered, there were the white limos of the new generation of opulent drug dealer lining the street in front of the theater; when Miami Vice announced its plan to glamorize the chaos, the chamber of commerce protested the prospect of yet another very public black eye.
The drugs however, never went away -- only the constant drug violence.
The reason for that is simple: the Medellin Cartel rose to prominence and the trade routes were worked out so that an uneasy relative peace could be maintained, mostly because everyone realized that there was enough demand in America to keep everyone very rich and very happy. The birth pangs were over.
People will always want drugs. Period. And as long as that's true, nothing in the world -- no public service campaign, threat of jail-time, or amount of enforcement at our borders -- will stop dealers, traffickers and killers from making sure the people get what they want.
The "War on Drugs" is the ultimate misnomer. It's over; it was lost from the very beginning.
This is coming from someone who was raised on the front-lines -- a place where the streets are still paved with drugs.