Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"The Terror Alert has been Raised to the Cover of Rush's Seminal Album Moving Pictures."

The Boston Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security: keeping Americans safe -- from cartoon characters.

The Cynicist Manifesto: Addendum

It's been awhile since I've added to my list of random musings and general beliefs, so with an admitted nod to both convention and convenience, here are a few more points that I think are worth making -- even if they're not worth a series of full columns.


Like you, I could care less whether or not Kevin Federline lives to see tomorrow morning. Still, of all the vitriolic ridicule slung at K-Fed over the past year, at least one criticism has always left me a little confused: the notion that his music sucks. Don't get me wrong -- as anyone with ears would likely tell you, Federline's ego-fueled bluster laid overtop of the same monotonous, unimaginative beats displays not a single drop of noteworthy talent. Here's the thing though, the exact same thing can be said -- but strangely isn't -- about 90.7% of the illiterate troglodytes currently assaulting the masses on Urban Radio, MTV2's Sucker Free Sunday, and from the booming speakers of every idiot in a low-rider from here to the corner of Florence & Normandie.

I'm not talking about Mos Def, or Common, or Nas, or producers like Danger Mouse; I'm talking about dime-a-dozen self-parodies like Lil Boosie, Yung Joc and Chamillionaire -- guys whose names alone tell you everything you need to know about their complete lack of any discernable contribution to decent music.

Yet there are millions of supposed rap connoisseurs who draw some sort of distinction between the simplistic, bombastic buffoonery of Juvenile and the equally clownish verbal and visual molestation perpetrated by Federline. These people will invariably drag out impressive-sounding words like "flow," "cypher," and "technique" in their beat-down of K-Fed, as if most of what passes for hip-hop these days is a fine wine, whose intricate subtleties are to be gently pulled apart -- layer by precious layer -- and appreciated with the utmost respect for, and admiration of, craftsmanship.

Sure thing.

It doesn't take talent to be a borderline retard with a gold chain and the ability to rhyme two words. Say what you will about K-Fed -- he knows that.

Stop hatin'.

The Life of Your Child: Priceless

Mono-monickered singer Brandy gets into a car accident three weeks ago. Brandy kills a girl. Police aren't even done working out the potential charges to be filed against Brandy -- but guess where the family of the dead girl turn up yesterday?

If you said, "Why, they're in civil court hoping to turn the death of their loved one into a fortuitous windfall by suing Brandy to the tune of fifty-million-dollars," hey, give yourself a gold star.

The real tragedy is that these people weren't in the car with their kid.

Another Fine Meth

It's no secret that America is basically one giant elementary school class where the teacher is always willing to punish everyone for the antics of one or two class clowns. Our society is expected to be politically correct, child-proofed, family-protected, health-conscious and sin-free -- usually at the imposition of government; always at the expense of anyone with a thimble-full of common sense.

You've already found yourself victimized by the lowest-common-denominator when it comes to fast-foods -- and you've probably noticed that the same kind of chilling effect has now moved to the cold care aisle of your local drug store. The FDA now requires pharmacies to keep Sudafed and other decongestants whose active ingredient is pseudoephedrine behind the counter. That means that it can't be purchased after hours at all, and can't be purchased during business hours without identification, a signature, an authentication code, one of two security keys, the staff of Ra, the eyeball of a dead scientist at the end of a pen-knife to fool the retinal scanner, and Jack Bauer pointing a loaded gun at the clerk, screaming, "GIVE ME THE COLD MEDICATION!" If Drugstore Cowboy ever gets re-made, the Matt Dillon character is going to by-pass the Dilaudid and go right for the Claritin.

The reason for all of this hysteria of course is that pseudoephedrine -- in astonishingly high quantities -- can be used to make meth, which as we know from government and media reports is the deadliest substance known to man and the force behind an epidemic which threatens the life of every man, woman and child in America. Your kid is on meth. Your mother is on meth. The lesbian lover your mother met during a psychotic meth binge is on meth. You may be on meth right now and not even know it -- it's that wily.

In an effort to make sure that the anti-meth paranoia doesn't hurt what's really important -- the bottom line -- pharmaceutical companies have begun replacing pseudoephedrine in many decongestants with phenylephrine. It can't be used to make meth. It also doesn't work.

The end result is that -- as usual -- to stop one drug addict living in a trailer in the middle of Riverside, California, you'll be made to suffer through cold and flu season without a remedy that actually helps you to feel better.

But at least you'll be safe from that terrifying meth epidemic.

I'd say "Fuck you, FDA and drug companies," but I'm so goddamned congested it'll come out sounding like, "Fubk ou, FD (cough) ed dug cubpaddies (cough)."

I'd Like to Frak the Academy

I realize that I'll sound like a nerd of epic proportions for saying this, but I could care less; it needs to be said. The fact that Grey's Anatomy won a Golden Globe for Best Drama, and its cast won a SAG Award for Best Ensemble, is sickening. The show is insipid, and its cast would barely hold its own on The Guiding Light.

The fact that Battlestar Galactica was completely overlooked -- not even picking up a nomination in either category -- is nothing short of a travesty. Galactica remains the best-written, and positively best-acted show on television. Hands-down. No contest. None.

In this week's episode alone, the performances by Mary McDonnell and James Callis were extraordinary -- and throughout the past season, Michael Hogan, Edward James Olmos, and the rest of the cast have created characters so fully-realized that it stuns me to no end that they could go unnoticed.

The Globes are a popularity contest; I understand that. But I would expect a higher level of discretion and dedication to craft from the Screen Actor's Guild, particularly after witnessing the kind of pretentious self-congratulation that came out of the awards ceremony's opening monologue. Yes Freddy Rodriguez, I get it. You once had to wake up early and put in a day's work for a measely seven-hundred-dollars, and now look at you -- you're an ACTOR(TM)! You shame me with your heroic perseverence in the face of seemingly impossible odds. Someone should name a cancer ward after you.

As far as I'm concerned, the request that SAG and its ACTORS(TM) be taken seriously became the stuff of laughable mockery the moment they started believing that Katherine Heigl has created a better character than Katee Sackhoff.

The Cynicist Manifesto (9/22/06)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Miami: Putting the "Fun" in Funeral

This coming weekend my hometown of Miami will clear the dead bodies from the streets, kill as many of the man-eating cockroaches as possible, spray a little extra Windex on the glass case covering the giant statue of San Lazaro out in front of the Elian Gonzalez Memorial Crappy-Old-House and Museum, and of course, beg its twitchy population to please not shoot the tourists -- all in preparation for Super Bowl XLIXCCBMWNAMBLA. South Florida will once again serve the purpose for which it's suited best, namely as an uber-hip place to go for a weekend of drunken debauchery, followed by a quick departure, lest you eventually find that your name has somehow turned up on 327 absentee ballots in favor of electing Raul "Chucho" Pajon as mayor of Hialeah in the next general election.

Make no mistake, Miami shines up real nice, and it throws a decent tailgate party. This is important to keep in mind, being that the city is now planning, quite literally, the ultimate bowl bash.

Call it the "Castro Bowl*."

Like someone who's escaped a cult and now devotes his life to making others aware of the secret torture he and others like him have been forced to endure, I've more-than-once mentioned the unmitigated lunacy that accompanies my hometown's obsession with Fidel Castro (High Fidel-ity 8/3/06). I've also commented on controversial statements made by Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, who called Miami a "Third World country" (Ciudad del Futuro 11/28/06). The fact is there's nothing "controversial" about it; Tancredo's right -- even if he is an idiot. But now there's this: a story in today's Miami Herald detailing a plan by city leaders to throw a giant "Castro Death Party" in -- oh, this is beautiful -- the Orange Bowl. In keeping with the Cuban exile community's long tradition of class and subtlety, its leaders -- in particular, city commissioner and unparalleled buffoon Tomas Regalado -- are recommending that Miami's legendary football stadium be the central location for a massive festival of brassy music, salsa dancing, fried food, t-shirt stands, ass-grabbing by teen hoodlums in do-rags, and no doubt anything else they can think of that will reinforce the worst kind of Hispanic stereotypes.

So far most of the city's leaders are on board, however in a rare and stunning moment of lucidity, Cuban-American activist Ramon Saul Sanchez is warning that a giant party celebrating the death of a Third World dictator might not do much to help Miami shake its image of actually being part of the Third World itself. Sanchez also brings up an obvious point: the death of Fidel won't mean the death of a communist government in Cuba; Castro's brother Raul will simply take the reins and it'll be business as usual. Rejoicing in the death of Fidel is like celebrating the resignation of George W. Bush; sure it may be fun for a few minutes, but then, well, Cheney.

So as you're watching this weekend's Super Bowl(TM), remember to give your travel agent a call and let him know that you want to make plans for South Florida's real bowl party. Just make sure he knows that the dates are subject to change. This is Castro we're talking about; he may seem sick now, but the man will likely still be alive long after the Orange Bowl has crumbled into dust.

(*Sponsored by Gus Machado Buick, WQBA, Westland Mall, Alpha 66, Marisleysis's Hair Salon and Elian Separation-anxiety Psychotherapy Center, the Gloria Estefan Plastic Surgery Fund and Zapatos de Hombre of Little Havana.)

Cue the Idiot

From my lips to God's ears apparently. Typist Sues Law School

Friday, January 26, 2007

Reality Check

Part II: "I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing."

Wolf Blitzer: "How do you respond to some Republicans in congress who are now seriously questioning your credibility, because of the blunders and failures (in Iraq)?"

Dick Cheney: "Wolf, Wolf, I simply don't accept the premise of your question. I think it's just hogwash."

It was to be expected that no one in the vaunted halls of the Capitol would use the kind of language the situation demanded, but Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois at least came close: he called Dick Cheney "delusional." The truth of the matter of course is that Cheney blew past "delusional" about twenty-seven rosey assessments ago, and has now reached the level of "terrifyingly batshit crazy."

On Wednesday, Cheney sat down with CNN's Wolf Blitzer for what was billed as an "exclusive" interview -- which seemed like an odd thing to say about a conversation with a sitting Vice President of the United States, until you considered the fact that when it comes to granting an audience, Cheney rarely strays outside of the friendly softball-field of the Fox News Channel. I suppose it's fair then to claim that the interview was indeed an exclusive opportunity for the portion of the country under the age of seventy-five to finally see a one-on-one with the elusive, mythical vice president. The fact that it was treated to such an unprecedented display of unhinged lunacy can only be called the icing on the cake. By now, most of us are used to Cheney's hallucinatory proclamations about the state of affairs in Iraq -- past, present and future -- as well as his angry mutterings about the media's unwillingness to report the "truth" as only he sees it. Wednesday's performance however, was something new altogether; it was such a frightening denial of reality coupled with an unfathomable tone of defiant demagoguery as to almost be cartoonish -- with Cheney taking on the mannerisms and language of a Bond villain.

When asked about a possible congressional resolution to oppose the Bush Administration's plan to send more than twenty-thousand new U.S. troops to Iraq, Cheney replied simply, "It won't stop us."

All that was missing was a white cat on his lap.

Normally, this kind of delusional and messianic rambling would be laughable -- and make no mistake, you've heard crazy talk just like this coming from the guys on the sidewalk who carry on lengthy conversations with telephone poles -- but when it escapes the mouth of the man who has a say in sending American kids to their deaths, it's nothing short of chilling. There's certainly no denying that Cheney's found himself marginalized as of late -- by those in his own party, by friends like John McCain, by the president he once stood side-by-side with -- and given the fact that literally nothing he has predicted or claimed about our adventure in Iraq has come to fruition, it's hard to be surprised; by this point, Cheney's peers are viewing him less as the menacing Darth Vader and more as the disoriented Dr. Weird of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Once again though, it's inadvisable to doubt for a moment that Cheney truly believes Iraq is in great shape and that all that's needed to seal the deal are a few more good men.

There's a conspiracy theory being bandied about by a few liberal bloggers which intimates that Cheney's being allowed to publicly hang himself and will soon be quietly asked to resign for "health reasons" -- the supposed endgame being that Bush will appoint Condi Rice to the VP's seat, thereby putting the Republicans in a better position for the 2008 election and, more importantly, securing Bush's legacy beyond simply being the president who got us into an unnecessary war, brought a volatility to the Middle-East that threatens the safety of the world, and possibly ruined America's good name for decades to come. Those who subscribe to this theory believe that the recent appointment of John Negroponte to the position of Deputy Secretary of State undeniably foreshadows this scenario.

I however hold no such hope that Cheney will be sidelined. It hasn't happened yet; I doubt it will happen at any point during the Bush presidency. The man whose unwillingness to accept, or inability to grasp reality, will more than likely continue to play at least some role in both the future of this country and the lives of its soldier -- and that's simply staggering.

At the end of the CNN interview, Wolf Blitzer asked Cheney about the criticism some Christian Conservative family groups have leveled at his pregnant daughter, Mary Cheney, and her plans to raise the child with her lesbian partner of fourteen years. Cheney stoically responded by saying, "Frankly, I think you're out of line with that question."

At that point, I truly expected the floor to open up and Blitzer's chair to drop into a shark tank.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Reality Check

Part I: "I Can Do Anything I Want -- And So Can You."

"Sammy Davis wrote a book called 'Yes I Can.' The other day I saw his first television show and I sent him a wire that said, 'No you can't.'"

-- Frank Sinatra

Quite possibly the biggest lie that America has ever been willing to swallow whole is the seemingly benign assertion that anyone is capable of anything. From our first grade teachers, to our coaches, to Will Smith's uber-motivated Dad-of-the-Year in The Pursuit of Sappyness, the message that you, yes you, can do whatever you set your mind to is practically encoded into our country's collective DNA. By the time Tony Robbins has screamed in your face that Christ-like ascendancy is within your reach and television commercials have proclaimed that there's no need for you to tolerate even the most minor of inconveniences ever, you'll truly be convinced that there isn't a force in the universe powerful enough to stop you from making your most outlandish desires come true.

Except that there is; it's of course called reality.

If you watch American Idol -- and judging by the ratings, you'd rather have elective eye surgery than miss it -- you know that reality occasionally goes by a more specific name: Simon. With several seasons under its belt and presumably all of its potential talent pool now well-aware of the basics of how the show works, you'd think that only the most delusional of legitimate contestants wouldn't understand what it takes to get past the first round (translation: what it takes to avoid having their egos pummeled into paste at the hands of TV's snottiest British stereotype). Yet once again this year, thousands have lined-up and waited and hoped and dreamed and prayed -- only to have a figurative bucket of ice water thrown on their lofty aspirations by Simon and company (nee, by reality) who inform them in no uncertain terms that they suck. The reaction to hearing this "news" is typically as predictable as an episode of Three's Company*: denial; outrage; more denial; denial coupled with the contestant's insistence that he or she does in fact know how to sing; psychosis; bitter proclamations that the contestant will make it as a singer despite having a voice that sounds like a hyena being put into a wood-chipper; defiant overconfidence; more psychosis; crying.

And all the while anyone with two ears and three IQ points watches the unnecessary drama unfold and asks him or herself: "Wow, did you really think you were gonna make it? Have you ever seen the goddamned show?"

The reality of course is that reality is simply ignored or discarded in favor of the age-old affirmation that anything is possible if you just follow those dreams and believe hard enough. Understand, there are certainly cases in which -- after no small amount of hard work and intense training -- a person or group can achieve seemingly impossible goals; this is known as the human spirit. Unfortunately, there are just as many cases in which the facts of a given situation -- the regrettable truth and undeniable limitations -- are completely disregarded in favor of wishful thinking and grandiose aspirations; this is known as human folly.

When the latter rears its head on American Idol -- as it so often does -- it's usually just good for a laugh.

When it becomes the foundation on which far more significant endeavors are based, it's dangerous as all hell.

We're all well aware by now that those deciding truly important issues -- the judges not of American Idol, but of our nation's courts -- occasionally find themselves burdened by obstinate men who claim that it's their God-given right to become waitresses at Hooters; or thirty-three-year-old white women who insist that they're entitled to a place in the Harlem Boys Choir; or quadriplegics determined to "break the intolerance barrier" by joining a professional hockey team. At the core of ridiculous efforts like these is one common misconception: that because America was founded on the principle that all are created equal, all actually turn out equal. It doesn't quite work that way. Each person is equal in human dignity; human abilities are another subject altogether. Whether by an act of nature, a particular circumstance, or the overall intrusion of reality, one person may be forced to confront limitations which another doesn't. Using the legal system to try to overcome these limitations -- to level the playing field -- is just crap. I'm never going to play power forward for the Knicks; I've come to terms with that and I'm damn sure not going to go to court to demand that I be allowed to. There are some things I need to just shut the hell up and accept that I can't do.

Not long ago, I was talking to a friend of mine at a bar. She works with the blind, helping them to conquer various obstacles and lead better, more fulfilling lives -- obviously, a very noble vocation. After awhile though, she mentioned the core belief at the center of her efforts: she wholeheartedly insisted that there's nothing people with sight can do that their blind counterparts can't. I gave her a slightly bemused look, then said, "Sure there is -- they can see." After dodging a glass-full of gin and tonic, I proceeded to get a protracted lecture on what a closed-minded, right-wing bigot I am -- but as far as I was concerned, it didn't change the facts: a blind person can't do anything -- at this moment in time and at this stage of technology -- that absolutely relies on the ability to see, and any effort based on an assumption to the contrary is a disaster waiting to happen. "The first time I get into a car accident and I see a blind guy get out of the other car -- I'm kicking somebody's ass," I told my friend.

Her reaction, as it turns out, looked a hell of a lot like those rejected singers on American Idol -- minus the part about the hyena in the wood chipper.

Tomorrow, Part II -- "I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing": The Most Hilarious/Terrifying Interview in Television History

(*There's a misunderstanding of some kind. Hijinks ensue.)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Part That Never Comes Home

I wasn't friends with Marta Mejia when it happened.

I had seen her around the halls of my high school -- occasionally noticing the inexhaustible energy she expended as she bounded to and from class; casually glancing at the perpetual smile which seemed to be glued to her cherubic face -- the kind of sweetly adorable and completely approachable look that guaranteed a constant flock of friends and admirers; the same look that guaranteed no small measure of aloof avoidance from a cynical and detatched teen delinquent like myself. As far as I was concerned, Marta and I may as well have been from different planets. I felt this way despite knowing almost nothing about her beyond what I could gather from pressing past her on the way to Algebra: I knew she was cute; I had heard that her mother drove one of the mini-buses that ferried students to and from school; I had seen her recently celebrating a fourteenth birthday. Beyond that, nothing. She was just another kid.

That is, until the night of November 28th, 1984.

It would be somewhere around two years later that I'd find myself lying face-down on my bed, clutching a pillow, crying in a way I never thought possible -- feeling more pain, anger and helplessness than I believed my young life had the capacity to contain. I'd try to grasp what it's like to go to sleep one night and wake up to find that everything you love, everything you are, has been utterly obliterated. I'd want to know why a young girl who deserved a lifetime of happiness instead awoke one morning to a frightening, alien existence -- a treacherous shadow world, spawned by a few hours of infinite madness and violence. I'd want to know how someone finds a way back to the light -- back to life. To this day, many of those questions remain unanswered.

By the time Marta laid out her clothes for the following school-day, kissed her stepfather good-night and tucked herself into bed on the night of November 28th 1984-- her mother was already dead. No one's sure how long Jose Mejia, Marta's father, had been stalking his ex-wife, Estilita Mejia Kossakowski -- but on that night whatever rage and obsession had been building inside of him finally exploded into unfathomable violence. Police say he grabbed Estilita outside of the bank where she worked part-time, drove her to a remote part of North Miami-Dade County and shot her with a .357 Magnum -- over and over again. He then drove to the home Estilita shared with her children and new husband, Ronald Kossakowski. He knocked on the door. When Kossakowski opened it, he was shot three times. Police say he was dead before he hit the floor. Jose Mejia's final act was to drive to a parking lot and put a single bullet into his own head.

Next to him on the passenger's seat: binoculars, extra ammunition -- and a crucifix.

The following morning Marta jolted up in bed, realizing that she had overslept. She ran out into the living room to ask why her stepfather hadn't woken her as usual. She found his body lying in a lake of blood -- the front door still open.

When the police arrived, they pieced together what had happened -- connected the bodies like dots across the northern part of the county -- and gave Marta and her seventeen-year-old sister Ana the harrowing news: everyone was gone; there was no one left but them.

It would take the better part of a year for Marta to return to school; she would return in name only. The Marta Mejia everyone had known before the night of November 28th, 1984 no longer existed. The sad, vacant, enigmatic young woman who took her place seemed more like a living ghost than an actual flesh-and-blood human being. The sweet smile was still there, on occasion, but there was no denying the effort that went into producing it or the reaction it garnered from those around her -- the friends and classmates whose interactions with her became labored and technical, as if they were at times dealing with a wounded puppy, at times with a nuclear warhead. Plenty of people tried to reach out to Marta, but it was obvious even to the casual observer that she was showing them what they wanted to see, telling them what they wanted to hear, expressing perfunctory gratitude for their concern and their sympathies, and moving on. Wherever the real Marta had taken up residence, it was hidden far from sight and away from where anyone could find it -- could find her. Wherever she had found safety -- if she had at all -- she'd made it untouchable.

I can't remember when or how Marta and I became close friends. I also can't remember at exactly what point I fell in love with her.

The event that claimed Marta's childhood has been on my mind quite a bit recently -- jostled free from a good number of long-buried memories by the story of Shawn Hornbeck. On October 6th, 2002, Shawn was kidnapped, allegedly by a man named Michael Devlin. As far as anyone can tell, he was held captive for more than four years -- living in an unfamiliar town, masquerading as Devlin's own son -- only to be reunited with his real family when Devlin was arrested for kidnapping another young boy. The details of Shawn Hornbeck's strange ordeal -- the four missing years -- are just now coming to light, mercilessly pursued by a media machine honed to recognize a mind-blowing story when it sees one and to subsequently beat that story to death. For four years, the kidnapped boy played the part of Shawn Devlin not only for his captor, but for everyone he met and anyone with whom he interacted. Those who knew the boy during that time say that the ruse was impenetrable. Police stopped "Shawn Devlin" on the street; friends and families pointed out that he bore a striking resemblance to the missing boy on the TV -- the one whose name held Shawn's true identity; all the while, the kid who had been born into a new life just a few years previously laughed off the comparisons and the coincidences, insisting that he was indeed who he claimed to be.

Now, after four years of convincingly living a lie, he's returned to the life he was ruthlessly snatched away from when he was only eleven years old.

But as with Marta, I'm left wondering just how much of Shawn has truly come back.

Shawn Hornbeck was a relatively normal kid when he disappeared into that unfamiliar shadow world; he's returned not to the comforting environment he remembered, but to one in which he's the center of a vortex of cameras, strobing flashes and potential studio audiences. He went from being a typical Midwestern child, to being a kidnap victim, to being a celebrity. Shawn holds a secret that he may never be willing to allow anyone near -- and yet it's a secret everyone wants access to.

Late last week, Shawn's parents, Craig and Pam Akers -- either star-struck or shell-shocked -- agreed to appear on the Oprah Winfrey show, and to bring Shawn with them. For an hour, in full view of a phalanx of video cameras and by proxy millions of Americans, they allowed Oprah to prod and probe the most intimate details of Shawn's four-year nightmare. The boy had been back in "normal" society for no less than a week, and there was Oprah -- all synthetic concern and overabundant charm -- asking for an admission that young Shawn had in fact been sexually abused during his captivity. Shawn faced the camera as his parents laid his torturous ordeal bare for the world to see; the kinds of experiences best left to revelation at the hands of counselors and family therapists -- the things a young boy might not want another living soul to know -- were made a matter of public record.

The interview ended with Oprah glancing at Shawn, smiling, and off-handedly quipping, "Ah, you're still cute." In defense of something so gruesomely exploitative, Oprah's communications department released a statement which read, "Oprah, who has years of experience interviewing children who have survived trauma, respectfully posed questions first to his parents and aunt -- and then to Shawn with his family present -- so that they could share their message of hope with other families who have missing children."

A more sickening and transparent justification would be difficult to imagine.

And it won't end with Oprah.

I don't know Shawn. I certainly haven't earned the right or privilege of access to personal traumas from which he may never fully recover. That said, I couldn't help but be curious as to how he might possibly deal with those traumas being publicly peeled back layer-by-layer in an attempt to reach the raw nerve at the center, as an inquisitor -- in this case the self-appointed authority on any and all forms of human experience -- simultaneously satisfied a personal agenda, a sponsor's greed and the public's supposed right to know.

But then I remembered Marta.

I remembered her telling me, two years after the maelstrom of brutality that left her innocence shattered, how she became adept at telling her counselors what she knew they wanted to hear; how she played a shell-game with her true self -- constantly moving it and hiding it away; how she allowed nothing to affect her -- no one to reach her; how she, quite simply, wasn't home anymore.

And so I wondered if Shawn was really home -- or if he ever would be.

A couple of hours before I laid across my bed and cried out in pain for Marta -- my friend, the girl I found myself caring about more than I had ever intended to -- we sat in my car together, staring out at the calm waters of Biscayne Bay. It was then that she touched my arm and gave me that beautiful, heartbreaking smile -- and said something to me that haunts me to this day. She said, "The other night I took an entire bottle of sleeping pills, just because I happened to have enough to kill myself. I figured, what the hell -- nothing matters anymore."

There was no drama. There was no anguish. There was just a simple statement of fact.

Marta was alone in the world. No matter how many people believed that they might have gotten through to the lost little girl at the center of the labyrinth, in the end all they found was an illusion. Maybe that's what I had found.

I don't know what happened to that little girl -- that young woman. I hope she finally found a way home.

I hope the same thing for Shawn Hornbeck.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Official Blog of Paula Abdul: Day 2




Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Official Blog of Paula Abdul: Day 1

Hmmm... I uh... I, just... mmmm... the singers... you, uh.... HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! I'm so uh, schulgmpsaaa.... SIMON!!!

Ummmm... mffffthppsssss... I just think, thhhhat, theeey're, they're just thounding sooooo...


The prutulffffffffff...


No, reaaally, it'zzz just that... uuuh... the show thissss... I mean... HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

Fffff... fffff... fffff... fffff... fffff... fffff... fffff... fffff...


Nooo, but... no, I'm zzzerious... reeeeeally. I... I'm zzzzzzzzeeeerious... HAHA!!!

Chhh... chhh... chhh... chhh...

Um, uh it's ummm... piitchy? Um... yeah. You'rrre grreat. No, I mean... Uh... they're grreat... like uh... whatsisname... uh... tiger? uhhhh.... Tony the Tiger? HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Can, uh.. no zzzzeriously... Can, uh... zzombodyy, uh... in my trailer... there's uh... get me zzome more, uh... Coca-Cola. uh, yeah... Coca-cola. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

No, no, no, noooo. I... I'm ookay. Really. No really. Uh... what? Uh, zzound problem. sound problem. That's it.

Uh... yeah.

You jjjust watch... tonight. Yeah.

All... uh... aaaaallllll better.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

MSNBC: The MS Sometimes Stands for "Monumentally Stupid"

I'm home sick today, scanning the channels, when I come upon MSNBC. They're doing a story regarding last night's episode of 24, which -- as I mentioned earlier -- ended with terrorists detonating a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles.

MS's ever-so-clever take on it?

"Is Fox fear-mongering? Are they dishing out propaganda for the White House and promoting the Bush Agenda?"

Understand, I actually think that it's a relatively interesting tactic to be consciously and constantly taking shots at Fox News; Lord knows that network deserves it. But, well -- come on.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."

As in, George Bush is a dangerous, incompetent idiot whose entire presidency is based on the fear of terrorism; 24 is great show whose entire premise is based on the plausibility of terrorism.

Or, MSNBC beating up on Fox news is generally enjoyable; MSNBC beating up on a Fox show is fucking ridiculous.

Globe Awarding

Thanks to my somewhat rabid devotion to 24, and my loathe for spending too much time watching Hollywood getting really drunk and gratuitously fellating itself, I managed to catch only the final hour of the Golden Globes last night. Suffice to say, the show was pretty much as expected: winners, losers, bad speeches, Nicholson on Vicodin, etc.

Pleasant surprises included the award for Best Performance by an Actor, Musical or Comedy, going to Sacha Baron Cohen, a.k.a Borat. His acceptance speech and his co-star's reaction to it were both priceless. The immensely talented and radiantly gorgeous Helen Mirren getting two awards for playing two different Queen Elizabeths was also a standout -- as was the often underrated Forest Whitaker taking home an award for his astonishing portayal of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.

And of course, make no mistake: this is the year that Martin Scorcese finally gets a long overdue Oscar. He won the Globe last night for The Departed.

Then there were the predictable bad moments.

Warren Beatty proved that the years haven't dulled his legendary self-indulgence. His acceptance speech after being given the Cecil B. Demille Lifetime Achievement Award was actually five minutes longer than Demille's Ten Commandments. Meryl Streep's performance in The Devil Wears Prada was indeed excellent, which doesn't change the fact that it's unfortunate her competition posed no real competition at all. Finally, Babel, despite being a decent movie, is already lining up to be this year's Crash -- which incidentally was the worst film to ever win an Oscar for Best Picture in my lifetime.

Nothing, however, came close to the travesty of awarding the Golden Globe for Best Television Series, Drama, to Grey's Anatomy -- particularly since the competition included Big Love and my beloved 24.

When I was in my early-20s, I had something that I referred to as "The Litmus Test." The idea was simple: if a woman at any point said the words, "I love Pretty Woman; it's my FAVORITE movie!" I'd know to avoid her like the Ebola Virus, lest I inevitably wind up trapped in a never-ending cycle of Friday night snuggling, boring sex (despite her insistence that she "learned it in Cosmo"), and Madonna CDs on repeat.

During my early-30s, the litmus test became -- not surprisingly -- Sex & The City. As any New York City male will tell you, a devotion to that show automatically carried with it a preference for ridiculous fruity drinks, a closet full of expensive shoes and ugly couture, the obligatory three other "girlfriends" with whom an entire evening could be spent giddily debating which character on the show corresponded to which member of the group (everyone thought they were Carrie), and of course -- an IQ hovering somewhere around 63.

Both of these cultural zeitgeists seemed to appeal to the same kind of female fan-base: dumb. I could pretty much be assured that anyone who confused a shitload of sex and a Hollywood fairy-tale ending with actual feminist empowerment would end up wanting to kill me before the first appetizer arrived. I knew plenty of girls in college who never saw the hilarious irony in clearing a mountain of stuffed animals off the dorm-room bed to make space for that experimental drunken orgy with the men's volleyball team; I also knew that myself and that same girl would probably have as little an understanding of each other a few years down the road as we did at the time.

If I were still single, Grey's Anatomy would be the new litmus test. In addition to simply never wanting to sit through something so fucking vacuous (and if you happen to be dating someone who adores that show, you're no doubt forced to do just that on a weekly basis), the show continues the proud tradition of validating the stupid fantasy of every unimaginative woman in the contiguous 48, while simultaneously casting it in a disguise of supposed empowerment.

When I first began this little experiment of mine, I went into this in pretty strong detail.

I'm sure I'll be verbally lynched for this opinion, but feel free to read on.

Anatomically Incorrect (6/2/06)

Bauer Power

The season premiere began with Jack Bauer killing a guy by ripping his throat out with his teeth (a nice little nod to Keifer Sutherland's role in The Lost Boys). It ended with Jack shooting and killing Curtis and a nuclear explosion in the middle of Los Angeles.

Oh yeah -- it's gonna be a hell of a season on 24.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Bye-Bye Miss American Idol

I have no real problem with American Idol. Despite the fact that it's main-lined a near-overdose of musical mediocrity into our national conscience -- I mean, come on, Daughtry? -- it remains a mildly entertaining diversion, albeit one which automatically brings with it an annual frenzy of thoroughly undeserved attention. I understand the need for escapism, particularly during these troubled times -- after all, there's a name for someone who refuses to talk about anything but the frightening cloud of cabalist-view world events: Lyndon LaRouche. Somehow though, watching even the supposedly responsible news networks shift their coverage from, say, the nightmare in Iraq to this year's vast well-spring of overly-eager Idol contenders just seems a little wrong.

Every once in awhile though, Fox's cultural juggernaut actually does produce a newsworthy moment; it's of course at that point that certain news outlets drop the ball completely, look the other way, and prove in no uncertain terms Paddy Chayefsky's prescient 1976 assertion that corporate sponsorship would eventually kill truth and objectivity -- at least as it's beamed into your living room every night -- stone dead.

A couple of days ago, one of those moments happened.

During an interview with Seattle's Fox Q13 News, Paula Abdul -- whose constant, unbridled lunacy has assuredly become the stuff of legend by now -- took her reputation to lofty new heights by essentially being drunk off her ass on live TV.

I could spend a good couple of paragraphs describing her erratic behavior and the unquestionable conclusion to be drawn from it, but as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words -- or in this case, at least a fifth of Stoli.

See for yourself.

The fact that Abdul was so obviously intoxicated is flat-out hilarious.

The fact that the Tele-mannequins interviewing her -- Fox Q13's Lily Jang and Carmen Ainsworth -- were either too inattentive to notice, so inept that they're unable to deviate from a scripted interview, or worst of all, unwilling to (further) embarrass a celebrity in general and one who's attached to their network's biggest rain-maker in particular is reprehensible. Make no mistake -- the second that interview ended, Jang and Ainsworth exchanged uncomfortable chuckles and posed the question to each other that should've been leveled at Abdul herself: "WHAT IN THE HELL?" It's the equivalent of the old cliche' in which the two cops stand watching a burglary, then one says to the other, "Somebody should call the police." They pause for a minute, then comes the obvious punchline, "Wait a minute, we are the police." I doubt however that it crossed the minds of Jang and Ainsworth -- even for a moment -- that their guest was making news live on their air, second-by-second, and that they might want to actually do their jobs and ask an appropriate question or two.

It may take a few days for most of the planet to get to a computer and witness Abdul's three-minutes and thirty-seconds of unhinged glory, but once they do, you can count on every news organization in the country to immediately begin non-stop coverage of Paula-gate 2007, with everyone from Diane Sawyer to Larry King putting on their best "genuinely-concerned" faces to ask once again if Paula needs to get some help. It'll be overkill, and it'll be complete bullshit given the fact that all but a few media outlets have their own behind-the-scenes stories of Abdul-mania, yet for whatever reason have rarely chosen to make such compromising information known to the public. I can personally attest to the fact that five minutes before appearing on the network news-show for which I work, Abdul had locked herself in one of our office's bathrooms and was being desperately begged by a group of her handlers and our booking staff to please stop crying and come out. Our anchors knew none of this when Abdul pulled herself together at the last possible minute and took her seat in front of the camera.

The two "journalists" who sat there staring into Abdul's glassy eyes and listening to her slurred speech and Parkinsonian movements can't make that same claim.

They watched a typically innocuous celebrity interview turn into an actual news event right before their eyes, and they did nothing. They had access to the story before a PR-firm could grab hold of it and begin spinning it with laughable claims and ridiculous evasions, and they feigned ignorance.

They were on the front lines, and they didn't fire a shot.

Paula Abdul was trashed -- what was their excuse?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Comfortably Dumb

I'm not going to bother with any sort of lengthy critique of last night's speech by President Bush, or the planned increase of U.S. troops detailed therein. It is of course worth mentioning that -- as even his staunchest supporters have pointed out -- Bush looked like a terrified nine-year-old being forced to present a book report in front of a glaring class, and of course that he threatened to broaden his folly in the Middle-East by attacking targets inside Iran and Syria. Those points aside however, as Bush isolates himself further and further from not only the will of a majority of Americans, but from many in his own party, I'm reminded again of a particular movie moment that's echoed in my head since this whole fiasco began.

Excuse the overtly populist reference, but in the movie Armageddon, Jason Isaacs -- playing the scientist who comes up with the idea of drilling into an oncoming asteroid so that a nuclear warhead can destroy it from the inside out -- has a great comment when told that the president's scientific advisor recommends a different course of action. He says, "Right about now you don't want to listen to someone who got a C in astro-physics."

The political and cultural complexities involved in dealing with Iraq and the surrounding region are unmatched by any in the world. As we've found out at great human cost, there are hatreds there which date back more than a thousand years. To undertake any effort, military or diplomatic, in the Middle-East requires not only an intimate knowledge of the region's people, but of the religious fervor which drives them.

And the man leading our charge into this dangerous labyrinth -- one of the only men who still believes in the cause -- is quite possibly the most intellectually incurious President this country has ever seen; he's a man who once arrogantly joked that he was proof one could slack off in college -- maintaining that unremarkable C-average -- and still become the leader of the free world.

So the question is: do we really want to listen to him anymore?

Why did we ever to begin with?

Here Comes Success

It's about as ironically surreal as anything you'll find on television right now: Cadillac is using Iggy Pop doing Punk Rocker in its latest series of commercials.

I'd get angry and prove myself to be the sadly aging ex-punk that I am, but I'm willing to give Iggy the benefit of the doubt on this one simply because music becomes public property seventy years after the artist's death and, to the best of my knowledge, he's been dead for at least that long.

At least he looks like he has.

My Nightly(?) Middle Finger to MTV

I'm feeling very Nu-Metal tonight, so you're getting three of my favorite videos from that genre:

First up -- they've been sorely underrated since day one.

Orgy is one of the few bands that managed to capture the 80s new wave aesthetic while still sounding modern and -- dare I say -- powerful. If you've bothered to listen to anything Gary Numan's done over the past few years (yes, he's still making great music) then bury your prejudices and listen to one of Jay Gordon & company's best songs: Fiction (Dreams in Digital).

Mark Romanek is the director who brought you Nine Inch Nails's video masterpiece Closer. He also worked wonders with one of Linkin Park's best songs, Faint.

Finally, a band I could generally care less about, Cold, released one absolutely brilliant pop-rock anthem. The reason for this is simple: it was written by Rivers Cuomo of Weezer. Just imagine Weezer playing Stupid Girl; it isn't difficult.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Population Explosion

Consider this website a tourist town, and this past Friday through Sunday a little like a holiday weekend. Thanks to Drew from Fark, about 60,000 people blew through this typically quiet little 'berg last weekend, drawn by the promise of a debatably humorous list I decided to put together on a lark a few days previously. The usually idyllic streets were packed with sightseers; some enjoyed what they found in my tiny corner of the internet; others left quickly, vowing never to return; still others threatened to kill the mayor and burn the whole damn place to the ground.

But there were apparently a few who decided to, if not move-in for good, at least make themselves regular visitors; to them I offer a warm welcome.

Since no one typically has the time or the inclination to run down the entire history of every roadside attraction he or she visits, I offer up some suggested reading from the archive that might give newcomers a better idea just who I am and what they're likely to find here on a day-to-day basis.


Why M. Night Shyamalan hates me. (Welcome to My M. Nightmare)

Did anyone really miss David Hasselhoff? (Kitsch a Falling Star)

Interview with a dead man: a visit to Texas's death row. (Things To Do in Texas When You're Dead)

See if my beliefs match yours. (The Cynicist Manifesto)

See if my taste in music matches yours. (Shut Up. Listen. Learn.)

Beating religion into our children is dangerous and stupid; here's why. (Jesus Loves Me This I Know; For My Parents Tell Me So)

Welcome to my hometown, Miami, where the streets are paved with drugs. (A History of Violence)

al-Qaeda is filled with the spirit of the season. (And Now, a Very Special Holiday Message from al-Qaeda)

I had a brain tumor removed eight months ago; here's the whole story. (Where is My Mind? (Part 1), (Part 2))

In addition to these, feel free to click on the links throughout the Douchebag List (now there's a sentence I never thought I'd write); they'll take you to several more columns. Also, excerpts from the manuscript I'm currently shopping to publishers are available by clicking the link to the right.

Burning Bridges

MALIBU, California (AP) -- At least five expensive homes have been destroyed as a result of a large and fast-moving brush fire, which spread last night shortly after sundown. Investigators now believe the fire initially started in Bluffs Park, which sits directly in the middle of this community of mega-celebrities and pricey beachfront property. Although fire officials can't say for sure who or what may have sparked the inferno, some long-time Malibu residents have their theories. One in particular, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told reporters, "I think we know who did this. It's the same people who've started all the fires throughout history: the fucking Jews."

Monday, January 08, 2007

Tigger with Attitude


The following information has been designated CODE: UMBRA and is not for release or broadcast, internally or externally, under any circumstances. It is the sole property of Section Seven of the Walt Disney Company and may not be duplicated without the express written consent of a duty officer authorized SECURITY CLEARANCE MINNIE OR HIGHER. Please be advised that any attempt to violate or circumvent security and confidentiality measures will be met with the strongest possible penalties. This record will automatically be purged from the system should any breach be detected.

Date: 01/05/07
TC: 18:26:06
Location: Section Seven Interrogation Room 12, Underground Facility Delta

RE: Interrogation of Tigger (Transcript)
Agent: M. Leficent

ML: Can I get you anything?

Tigger: Uh... smoke?

ML: I'm sorry, you know we can't do that.

Tigger: Don't tell me what you can and can't do. Remember, I work here.

ML: Do I need to remind you of your confidentiality covenant?

Tigger: No... no you don't.

ML: Let's start at the beginning. Tell me what happened?

Tigger: You've seen the video. Isn't it obvious?

ML: The videotape you're referring to shows you punching a child -- one Jerry Monaco Jr. You know that can't be tolerated.

Tigger: A child? Are you fucking kidding me? That kid's at least 25!

ML: Mr. Tigger, sit down please -- and refrain from the use of profanity.

Tigger: Right, right. No profanity. Right.

ML: The father of the boy is saying that the incident was -- and I quote here -- "a nightmare."

Tigger: Oh yeah? And who's he saying that to? Let me guess -- any TV camera he can get his face in front of, right?

ML: He and his family have appeared on several network news programs.

Tigger: Hmm, I guess that whole Iraq thing must've resolved itself eh?

ML: There's no need for sarcasm.

Tigger: There's no need for any of this. Look, the little shit kept hassling me -- pushing me -- calling me "Tigga." Yo! What up my Tigga?! Yo! My name's TIGGER for Walt's sake. T-I-G-G-E-R. Those two goddamned chipmunks never have these problems.

ML: Once again, please watch your language. You bring up a point though Mr. Tigger. This isn't the first time we've had to talk to you. Have you forgotten 2004?

Tigger: How can I? You people won't let me. Yeah, so I grabbed a 13-year-old's boob, so what. Once again, you seen what kids look like these days? What do you expect from me? I'm a tiger. I have urges.

ML: You're not supposed to.

Tigger: Yeah, I want to talk to you about that shit. You did that completely against my will.

ML: It was a necessary procedure.

Tigger: Necessary my ass. I wonder how you'd like it if somebody castrated you. Since you're never gonna know -- let me fill you in: it doesn't take away your sex drive, all it does is make sure you can never do anything about it -- and you know what? All that does is make you really pissed off. The bottoms are the only things getting sprung on ole' Tigger these days.

ML: Are you saying then that it's that anger which caused you to lash out at the boy?

Tigger: What, are you Deafy the Eighth Dwarf or something? I didn't punch the kid. I was pulling away from little Eminem's death-grip and my paw accidentally hit him in the face. He'll live. If I'd wanted to rip him apart I could. Tiger, remember? At least I used to be.

ML: Well, this family is now threatening to sue. That presents the company with a bit of a problem.

Tigger: Of course they're threatening to sue. It's fucking Disney World. If this had happened at Mom & Pop's Flapjack Emporium in Kissimmee they'd take their free breakfast and that'd be that -- but they know they can get a fortune out of you guys. They're opportunistic vermin and you know it.

ML: That may be true, but...

Tigger: Look, you people are the best in the world at mindless self-promotion. Just give them a shitload of free passes, pile on the bunk about how this is the Happiest Place on Earth or whatever the hell, and be done with it. Or better yet, just make them, uh, how do I put this? "Disappear."

ML: Mr. Tigger...

Tigger: Uh-huh, didn't think I knew about that did you? You don't think us guys out in the park talk about what happens to all those kids who get hurt? How come nobody ever officially dies in this park, huh? How come they always seem to make it outside before kicking off eh? And while we're at it -- tell me about the Reedy Creek Improvement District there Mr. Disney.

ML: I'm afraid you're treading on very dangerous ground Mr. Tigger.

Tigger: You can't keep these dirty little secrets silent forever. We know the truth. We know all about you Section Seven guys. You can't shut us all up -- especially me. You know why? You know why you need Tigger?

ML: Why?

Tigger: Because I'm the only one. That's the wonderful thing about me -- bitch.

ML: I'm afraid you operate under a false assumption Mr. Tigger. Everyone can be replaced -- even Walt himself.

Tigger: What the hell is that supposed to mean?

ML: We have technology you can't even begin to understand. Neither you nor anyone else is truly aware of what our Disney Imagineers are capable of.


Tigger: You... you're talking about...

ML: I'm talking about nothing Mr. Tigger. You and I are just having a conversation. That's all.


Tigger: Okay, look -- what do you want from me?

ML: I'm simply trying to get some answers.

Tigger: You want answers Agent Leficent? Okay, listen -- you pull me out of the jungle, cut off my penis, jack me up on amphetamines so that I'll bounce all over the fucking place and hopefully won't realize that I'm sharing the screen with an openly gay bear, a manic-depressive donkey, and a ham sandwich, then you make me spend every day of the rest of my life trying to placate shitheads like the Monaco family -- and all I get for my troubles is a cage out behind Frontierland, decent tranquilizers and the occasional dry-hump with Snow White. I'm sorry but I'm sick of this crap. Enough answers there for you?

ML: Hmm, you sound like you may have unresolvable issues Mr. Tigger.


Tigger: Wait... did you say unresolved or...

ML: Unresolvable.

Tigger: Whoa there. Hold on a minute.

ML: I'm afraid you've left us no choice Mr. Tigger.

Tigger: No fucking way. NO FUCKING WAY. After all I've given to this company...

ML: Your years of service have been most appreciated, but it may be time to retire you to the Disney Vault.

Tigger: NO WAY! NOT THE VAULT! YOU'RE NOT PUTTING ME IN THERE! Come on, it's me -- Tigger. Of couse I say stupid things from time to time. My top is made out of rubber -- heh heh. Get it?

ML: Goodbye Mr. Tigger.


ML: Yes. Sleep.


ML: Take this carcass to the incinerator, and call the Imagineers and tell them that we need a new Tigger by oh-eight-hundred tomorrow morning. Tell them to birth one from the pre-programmed batch, and make sure this one will behave.

Unknown: Should we run it by Walt Seventeen sir?

ML: No, no... don't disturb him. He needs time for his skin to regenerate. Do it under my authority for now.

Unknown: Yes sir.

ML (Singing): When you wish upon a star... makes no difference who you are...


Sophomoric Slump

I have no idea how to properly follow-up the Douchebag List, so I'll just go with this:

Friday, January 05, 2007

2006: Year of the Douchebag

The Ground Rules

First, if you haven't done so already, please read part one of this segment before continuing; it will help you to understand both the rationale for creating this compilation, and the specific definition of the word "douchebag" which has been applied in the decision-making process. That said, as this list is intended to prove that 2006 was, in fact, a transcendent year in the realm of douchebaggery, it will not feature or highlight any person or persons who did not contribute any more douchebagginess this year than they had in previous years (e.g., George W. Bush cannot be granted a position on this list, despite the fact that he is a douchebag of earth-shattering proportions, simply because he did nothing this year that we haven't already come to expect from a douchebag like him; the same holds true for Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, O.J. Simpson and Matt Drudge. It should be stated however that Dick Cheney, despite shooting an old man in the face in 2006, is not on the list primarily because he isn't a douchebag so much as he is pure, unadulterated evil). Only those whose douchebagginess was specifically prominent or noteworthy between the dates of January 1st, 2006 and December 31st, 2006 will be eligible for consideration. Also, among the factors taken into account in determining a person's or group's ranking on this list, special recognition will be given to those who are not only douchebags themselves, but who influence others to become douchebags and therefore contribute to the overall cause of continued worldwide douchebaggery. Finally, the likelihood that a person's or group's douchebagginess will never rise above that displayed during the past year will also be considered when determing their rank, and the capital of Nebraska is Lincoln.

And so, without further ado -- send in the douchebags.

#10 -- James Frey

Massengill Scale: 2 pts Vinegar/8 pts Water/100 pts Bullshit

The Facts:
Living proof that, as we often tell our children, you really can be anything you want to be in life -- as long as you're a talented liar and have the blessing of Oprah -- James Frey went from being a hack screenwriter to being a hugely successful hack novelist thanks to his best-seller A Million Little Pieces. Unfortunately, he never bothered to tell anyone that he was, in fact, a novelist. It wasn't until January of 2006, when The Smoking Gun website revealed that 90% of Frey's "memoir" was nothing more than fabricated nonsense, that Little Jimmy's pieces really began to fall apart. Not long after that, Oprah revealed that 100% of Frey's supposed tough-guy persona was fabricated nonsense by bitch-slapping him on national television and banishing him to the Phantom Zone of cultural obscurity as only Ms. Winfrey can.

"Wow, what a douchebag!" Moment: Attempting to perpetuate the well-crafted illusion that he's Mickey Rourke circa 1987, Frey, in his follow-up "memoir" My Friend Leonard, detailed the difficulties he had as an "artist" watching his brilliant screenplay ruined by a moronic director, a lousy actor and an uncooperative studio in what was an obvious attempt to blame anyone he could think of in an effort to distance himself from 1998's decidedly un-bad-ass flop Kissing a Fool, starring Douchebag Hall-of-Famer David Schwimmer.

Mitigating Factor: He did embarrass Oprah; that's gotta be worth something.

Dishonorable Mention: Judith Regan, who managed to prove that there are grotesque spectacles even Rupert Murdoch will refuse to be associated with, when she watched her pet project -- O.J. Simpson's sickening book and TV special -- die its own violent and public death at the very last minute. Her job soon followed suit.

#9 -- Danny Bonaduce

Massengill Scale: 4 pts Vinegar/6 pts Water/32 pts Vodka/15 pts Anabolic Steroids/127 pts Ham

The Facts:
What can you possibly say about a man who has the word "douche" right in his name? 2006 was a big year for Danny Partridge, as he proved that there was absolutely no depth of ludicrously shameful self-exploitation he wasn't willing to plumb to remain on television -- even if it meant being sandwiched (no pun intended) in between Celebrity Fit Club and The Surreal Life on VH1. Breaking Bonaduce proved to be a modest success, as Danny drank, stomped, cursed, raged, threatened to kill his wife and just generally confirmed that either child stars should be required to prove at a certain age that they're well-adjusted enough to be allowed to go on living -- or that Los Angeles should just be sunk into the Pacific Ocean with a cluster of nuclear missiles.

"Wow, what a douchebag!" Moment: There are so many to choose from, but in the end it's no contest -- Danny's "suicide attempt" in which he used an unbroken disposable razor to supposedly try to slash his wrists.

Mitigating Factor: You have to hand it to someone who thinks he's willing to die to remain culturally relevant; Howard Beale would be proud. Also, we never expected much out of Danny anyway; he was on The Partridge Family for Christ's sake.

Dishonorable Mention: Sadly, Flavor Flav, who continues his single-handed decimation of the legacy of the brilliant Public Enemy with his unforgivable antics on The Flavor of Love.

#8 -- Warren Jeffs

Massengill Scale: 10 pts Vinegar/0 pts Holy Water/70 pts Kool-aid

The Facts:
Sure, Ted Haggard made bigger headlines, but was he on the FBIs Ten Most Wanted list last year? Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints -- a frightening off-shoot of Mormonism which still practices polygamy -- has painted himself as the one true prophet of God since the death of his father, the equally cuddly Rulon Jeffs (who, incidentally, was the inspiration for Harry Dean Stanton's character on HBO's excellent Big Love). As the prophet, seer, revelator and Jesus's hand-picked douchebag, Warren took it upon himself to set up arranged marriages for girls as young as thirteen -- marrying as many as eighty women and children himself (he still refers to all of them as his "wives") and banishing boys and men whom he believed to be threats to his sexual supremacy. He was arrested on August 28th of last year, and is now facing charges of sexual assault on a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual assault on a minor, among others. He's also encouraged his fundamentalist followers not to pay federal taxes, but has insisted that they draw as much as possible from social programs like welfare -- a process the FLDS church refers to as "bleeding the beast."

Mitigating Factor: None whatsoever. Jeffs is living proof that douchebags can occasionally be evil, dangerous fuckers. Accordingly, somebody should put a bullet in him.

Dishonorable Mention: Yeah, Reverend Ted was a pretty big douchebag, wasn't he.

#7 -- Rosie O' Donald

Massengill Scale: 1,357,423 equal pts Vinegar and Cheeseburgers for her; his consistently diluted by Grecian Formula and the Lip Gloss of girls young enough to be his great-granddaughter

The Facts:
Who would've thought that the holiday season -- traditionally a time of peace and love -- could bring us such unrestrained bile from two such hideous creatures? Already Lifetime Achievement Award-winners from the Academy of Douchebag Arts & Sciences, Rosie O' Donnell and Donald Trump showed the newcomers how it's done, by pulling off the extraordinary feat of actually, somehow, outdoing all of the ridiculously pin-headed things they'd done throughout respective careers both long and illustrious. Their bitter dog-fight on national television just before the holidays, with each assuming a role of laughable self-righteousness, was the stuff of douchebag legend. Rosie accused Trump of being a lecherous, narcissistic shithead -- which of course he is; Trump meanwhile accused Rosie of being a fat, loudmouthed slob -- which of course she is. Most heart-warming during all of this: the spectacle of the once-venerated Barbara Walters being forced to step in and referee the idiocy. It almost made you long for the subtle, classy days of Star Jones.

"Wow, what a douchebag!" Moment: For him, it was the initial action that started the whole thing; namely, his smug "pardoning" of Miss USA Tara Conner -- which called to mind Amon Goeth's disturbing attempt at displaying power through mercy in Schindler's List. For her, it was pulling her fat hair over her fat head and snorting like a pig in what was supposed to be an impression of Trump -- one that instead wound up looking like just another night at the O'Donnell dinner table.

Mitigating Factor: The fact that they finally just killed each other in the end -- or maybe that was only a dream I had.

Dishonorable Mention: I said almost made you long for Star Jones. In 2006, the second most despicable woman on television went out with the kind of grace and dignity we'd come to expect from her. It was technically no more heinous than anything she'd done previously, however Star deserves mention simply because, thankfully, you're likely to never hear from her again -- unless of course you frequent the all-you-can-eat food & fixins bar at Sizzler. Just listen for the shrill screams of, "Don't you know who I am?!"

#6 -- Michael Richards

Massengill Scale: 130 pts Piss & Vinegar/2 pts Water/375 pts Racist Venom/1 pt Junior Mints

The Facts:
All he had to do was keep his big mouth shut, collect the small fortune he was making in residuals, and live out the rest of his days being remembered as the man behind one of the greatest characters in the history of television. Did that really sound like such a difficult thing -- such an undignified legacy? Instead, like Danny Bonaduce (#9), Richards suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder -- meaning that he goes batshit when all the attention is suddenly taken away from him. His bizarre tirade against a group of black hecklers -- in particular, his revisionist history lesson about the proper way not so much to lynch a person as rotisserie roast him -- left a lot of people scratching their heads; among them, Jerry Seinfeld, who looked about as uncomfortable defending his friend and former castmate as the rest of us did watching Richards's painfully insincere apology -- or any sitcom since Seinfeld that's featured a former star of the show.

"Wow, what a douchebag!" Moment: Somewhere between the fourth and fifth "nigger."

Mitigating Factor: At least there was something memorable about Richards's stand-up routine.

Dishonorable Mention: Malibu's own Ambassador to Israel, Mel Gibson.

#5 -- Madonna

Massengill Scale: 63 pts Malt Vinegar/120 pts Kabbalah Water

The Facts:
Watching Madonna pathetically rage against the dying of relevancy is as humorous an endeavor as it is tragic. Over the past several years, the woman who was once the world's pop culture inamorata has recast herself as a fag-hag diva, a British socialite, a disciple of nonsensical Jewish mysticism, a rapper, a desperate lesbian dominatrix, "Disco Granny" from the old Studio 54, an overly-pilatesed piece of beef jerky, and -- most recently -- a writer of children's books and proof that Africa is in desperate need of its own Amber Alert system. As expected, Madonna's "adoption" of a child from a Malawian village was less about helping a young boy than it was about Madge turning Africa into her own personal puppy-farm from which she could grab a living, breathing accessory -- and get her name back in the papers to boot. As I wrote at the time, if it comes down to the question of what's better for a child: living in a hole, subsisting on 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.

"Wow, what a douchebag!" Moment: Madonna asserting her intention to return to the same village to "adopt" yet another child. I said it once before, but it bears repeating: You know what Madge? Why not just do what your kind has done for centuries -- build a gingerbread house in the woods and let them come to you.

Mitigating Factor: Bedtime Stories is still a pretty damn good album.

Dishonorable Mention: Madge may be as douchebaggy as they come, but at least she didn't get anyone killed last year; Nancy Grace on the other hand, did. TV's wretched legal pit-bull managed to both browbeat a woman into suicide and irreparably tarnish the otherwise decent name of CNN in one Southern-drawled swoop. Sure her fiance' was murdered years ago, but you know what? He got off easy. Remember how I said that Star Jones was the second most despicable woman on television?

#4 -- The 109th "Do-Nothing" Congress of the United States of America

Massengill Scale: 117 pts Vinegar (for BBQ Sauce)/67 pts Bottled Water/10 pts Commandments/1,243,547 pts Money from Jack Abramoff/maf54 pts Salacious E-Mails/8 pts Years for Duke Cunningham/24 pts Average Hours of Work per Week

The Facts:
It would take a year-and-a-half just to build the infrastructure necessary to fully document the transgressions of the 109th Congress -- unless of course you offered to take bribes from lobbyists or kickbacks from contractors, which would certainly speed up the process. Last year we were reminded over and over again that Washington, D.C. was originally built on swampland; you'd be hard-pressed to find a larger collection of toads, snakes and blood-sucking insects anywhere else (and come to think of it, Dennis Hastert does look an awful lot like a turtle). From their average three-day work-week, to their literal kicking down of Terri Schiavo's hospice door to ram a feeding tube back down her throat in the name of Jesus, to their casual use of terms like "Nuclear Option" to crush dissent in the minority; from Mark Foley's obsession with young boys, to Duke Cunningham and William Jefferson's obsession with big money, to Tom DeLay's obsession with recreating America as a theocracy; from Jack Abramoff writing checks to buy influence, to GOP lawmakers giving our Idiot in Charge a blank check to conduct his failed war -- it's a wonder this country survived long enough to vote most of them the hell out.

"Wow, what a douchebag!" Moment: You want that infrastructure built by when?

Mitigating Factor: The mind is capable of astonishing acts of repression which aid in self-preservation. Now that so many of them are relegated to the history books -- if not simply relegated to their cells -- the whole thing feels like nothing more than a very, very bad dream.

Dishonorable Mention: You thought that Rush Limbaugh couldn't get any more painfully cretinous, did you? Then you watched him flail around like a beached whale in a gruesome parody of Parkinson's sufferer Michael J. Fox and you thought, "I was wrong." Yes you were my friend -- yes you were.

#3 -- Almighty Oprah

Massengill Scale: 0 pts Vinegar/12 pts Water/23 pts Oxygen/16 pts Nitrogen/10 pts Nuclear Fusion, Allowing Her to Become Pure Energy at Will

The Facts:
Understanding that Oprah is not all that she appears to be is a little like being Rowdy Roddy Piper's character in the John Carpenter cult-classic They Live: you've got the glasses on and you seem to be the only one among the sleeping sheep who has any idea that there's a wolf in your midst, and of course when you try to warn others, no one will believe you. Each year, this multi-media leviathan grows larger and more powerful, threatening to eventually become a black hole which will consume all culture as we know it -- absorbing and assimilating it like the Borg then spitting it back out in a fresh, new package of Oprah-approved, soccer-mom-ready banality. What makes Oprah eligible for inclusion on our countdown however isn't so much her homogenous appeal to the lowest common denominator -- or the fact that she seems to drag every bit of authentically vital art down with her; it's the simple fact that she is quite possibly self-obsession and solipsism incarnate -- no matter how hard she works to make people believe otherwise. Last year alone, she berated James Frey (#10) not because he lied to America but because he lied to her; she held a "Legends Ball" in which she supposedly paid homage to black female pioneers and trendsetters just like her; she prepared to open an unnecessarily expensive school for young girls in Africa, making sure the cameras were always there to get pictures of her (wearing long, false eye-lashes and heavy make-up no less) as she came riding in to the rescue in her learjet; and of course, her face once again adorned the cover of every single issue of her magazine throughout the year. There's nothing genuine, uncalculated or purely altruistic about Oprah -- all there is, is one big fucking douchebag.

"Wow, what a douchebag!" Moment: Her convenient and insincere co-opting of black street lingo in an effort to defend herself against accusations made by 50 Cent that she discriminates against hip-hop stars by not inviting them to be guests on her show.

Mitigating Factor: 50 Cent blows.

Dishonorable Mention: Unfunny comic and hack author Greg Behrendt, who last year managed to further assert himself as the poster-boy for blurring the line between the authentic and the artificial by parlaying his job as a writer on Sex & The City into a talk show which deals with -- wait for it -- relationships. As I wrote at the time: a substandard comedian takes a gig on a show about women who sleep with the Manhattan phone book but can't make any of their relationships work and uses it to write self-help books for the kind of vapid women who watch the show and can't make any of their relationships work, then gets his own talk show where he attempts to tell the same women how to make their relationships work. If that's not enough to cement his position as a grade-A douchebag, just take a look at him.

#2 -- Perez Hilton

Massengill Scale: 10 pts Vinegar/10 pts Water/10 pts Flirtinis/100 pts Semen

The Facts
It would be easy to run down the Britsay Federlohans of the world, or detail the ways in which the heir/heiress crowd was a blight on humanity last year -- but that's to be expected. In this case I'm going to defer to the sage advice of the ancient philosopher Obi-wan Kenobi, who said, "Who's the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?" If you've ever caught yourself thinking that if everyone would just fucking ignore them, these attention-whores would go away once and for all, then by all means aim your ire where it belongs. Born Mario Armando Lavendeira Jr., this sycophantic uber-douchebag spun around like Wonder-Woman and was reborn as Perez Hilton, self-proclaimed "Queen" of the gossip bloggers -- and 2006 marked the year of his ascendence. What separates Mario's site from other tongue-in-cheek celeb-bashers -- some of which I count myself a fan of -- is his complete lack of any discernable talent (a child could draw little semen stains and write "slut" on paparazzi pictures), as well as his propensity for playing favorites; in particular, his hands-off approach to his celebrity namesake, dyna-whore Paris Hilton. Mario also has a habit of trying to out male stars he believes to be gay, and often likes to party with the very celebrities he's crucifying on his website, which essentially makes his critical opinion worthless. He's basically an oversized and overpaid sixteen-year-old starfucking groupie, and the kind of offensive flaming-gay stereotype that would make even Paul Lynde roll over in his grave.

"Wow, what a douchebag!" Moment: Anytime he appeared on E!, the network that's to Los Angeles vacuity what the old Tass News Agency was to Soviet communism.

Mitigating Factor: Give me a minute. Nope -- not a one.

Dishonorable Mention: I may be willing to neglect Britney and her bottomless nights on the town and Lindsay and her bottomless coke bullet, but at least one target of the online tabloids deserves attention: Brandon Davis -- he of the now-legendary "firecrotch" tirade, and the unbelievable asshole who's never worked a day in his life -- is quite possibly the single most loathesome creature on the planet. Someone kill him -- please?

#1 -- Dane Cook

Massengill Scale: 0 pts Vinegar/231 pts Watered-down Jokes/135 pts Warm Keg Beer/76 pts Hair Wax/362 pts Stolen Material/1,664,347 pts MySpace "Friends"

The Facts:
Where to even begin. If there's a patron saint of America's collegiate douchebag set, it's Dane Cook. He's influenced more modern-day, popped-collared frat-boys than Coors Light, the 136th viewing of Fight Club, and the delusion that "let me get you another beer" constitutes a great pick-up line. Likewise, he's greased the loins of more stupid lower-back-tattooed college girls than GHB. These unparalleled contributions to worldwide douchebaggery alone would probably earn him the top spot on the countdown, but when you factor in Cook's own titanic ego and equally monumental lack of actual talent, it's a lock. A lot has been made of his affinity for stealing material from truly gifted, hard-working comics like Louis CK and Joe Rogan -- guys who don't sell out arenas, as Cook did last year, simply because they lack the one quality which is truly responsible for Mr. Stupidfinger's otherwise unjustifiable success: his relative easiness on the eyes. Cook knows how to promote himself and how to play up his pretty-boy image, which has made him the perfect comedic icon for the MySpace generation: all style and absolutely no substance -- the equivalent of the borderline retarded class-clown willing to do anything for a laugh who, thanks to the internet, now has the ability to beam his ridiculous, repetitive schtick out to millions, turning the entire world into the class that's forced to put up with him. In 2006, HBO -- in a move that almost negated all the years of excellent original programming for which the network was responsible previously -- gave Cook his own live special and even green-lit the tediously unfunny vanity project Dane Cook's Tourgasm. Both were savaged by critics, but as anyone who's ever gone to college knows, frat-boys always chalk denunciation up to jealousy -- thus did Cook and his loyal cadre of juvenile zealots. He made the move to film by starring in Waiting and Employee of the Month, both of which went nowhere, perhaps portending the merciful end of Cook's fifteen minutes. It simply can't come a moment too soon. Truly great comedy is born out of insecurity, pain, and an incisive drive to shake up the status quo (Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, Chris Rock, Patton Oswalt, David Cross); it damn sure doesn't come from the guy about whom the other frat-brothers say, "You GOTTA come meet this guy, dude -- he's fucking HILARIOUS!"

"Wow, what a douchebag!" Moment: Impossible to nail down just one, but his legendary habit of running long during stand-up performances at comedy clubs -- consequently knocking off the comics scheduled to follow him -- is probably a good jumping-off point.

Mitigating Factor: The fact that -- though the frat-boys in question would never admit it and may not even be aware of it -- Cook is responsible for the secret gay urges of even the most homophobic of college studs.

Dishonorable Mention: Andy fucking Milonakis -- basically an unattractive Dane Cook for the pre-teen set, and hence the future of douchebaggery in America. Anybody know where to find the Seven Daggers of Meggido?

Final Disclaimer: You may have noticed that aside from a brief bastardization of his good name, I've neglected to mention the man many would consider to be 2006's Douchebag Emeritus, Kevin Federline. The bottom line: it's just too easy. Consider K-Fed this year's automatic induction into the Hall of Fame, with the only mitigating factor being that you'll never see him again, once again unless you frequent Sizzler; he'll be the one serving Star Jones.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Risk Assessment

I'll make this quick; as such, it might not be especially articulate, but I'm sure it'll get the point across nicely.

There's a guy named Ken Barnes who is at this very moment floating alone in choppy seas off the coast of South America on board a small boat whose engine has failed. He's slightly injured and he's almost out of food, surviving only on a few Pop-tarts, or so he says by satellite phone.

The Chilean Navy is now rushing to save him.

Needless to say, Ken's plan of sailing around the world alone has hit a bit of a snag.

He set sail from Southern California -- which shocks me not in the least -- last October, with the intention of following in the vaunted footsteps of Magellan, were it the case that Magellan had packed with him an ample supply of Pop-tarts, a satellite phone and of course been very, very stupid.

Now, once again, for the third time in a month, a whole lot of people are being forced to risk their own lives to rescue someone whose lack of good sense had pretty much predetermined his own extinction from day one. The most egregious example recently has been the absurdly dangerous mission to find three stranded mountain climbers who were foolish enough to try to make it to the top of Mt. Hood in Oregon while a snow storm was heading their way.

These are the kinds of people who millennia ago would've perished strictly as a matter of natural selection, but now thanks to the technology and willingness we possess to consistently save their dumb asses, they have the ability not only to continue living among us but to eventually procreate and raise little idiots of their own. I have no doubt that our seemingly heroic and benevolent actions are in fact creating some kind of frightening butterfly effect of evolution which will inevitably culminate in the entire human race having the median IQ of a snapping turtle.

Ken's girlfriend back in SoCal has said about her intrepid beau, "He can sail, but he's never doing this again. His life is too important."

No, actually -- it isn't.