Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bizzaro World

If batshit-crazy were a religion, South Florida would be Vatican City.

I can't even begin to describe what you're about to see.

Every single thing about the following piece of video just screams the special brand of lunacy that can only come from the place that gave you Anna Nicole Smith's death and the Amazing Weeping Judge, hanging chads, the Versace murder, dead people voting, the legal battle for the right to sacrifice animals, Elian Gonzalez, the Cocaine Cowboys, and "Officer" Shaquille O'Neal.

It's shot by an office surveillance camera, and begins with the routine crash of an elderly woman's car through a plate-glass window and into a crowd of people indoors. I say routine because, although no doubt shocking to those living in civilization, this kind of thing happens almost daily in South Florida. In fact, the third largest cause of death in South Florida is eighty-year-old women who've confused the gas pedal with the brake. (#2 is alligator attack, #1 is simply not remembering how to breathe.)

As it turns out though, this particular elderly woman didn't plow her car into just any old office. No, the camera shooting this seemingly unbelievable scene is located inside the DMV.

And what was she doing at the DMV to begin with?

Why she was called back in to retake her driving test of course.

But then something happens that takes the entire surreal scene to a whole new, hallucinatory level. As you watch the video, pay close attention to the upper right hand corner -- slow it down or stop it if you have to. You'll notice a man come into the frame dressed in what appears to be blue tights and a red cape.

Yes, he's dressed as Superman.

There's a man walking by inexplicably wearing a Superman costume.

He doesn't stop to help. He doesn't do much of anything in fact. He's just -- there. Normally this would seem insane, but after what you've just witnessed, his appearance feels oddly Zen -- calming and appropriate, like the signature on a Dali painting.

My friends, welcome to South Florida. Don't fight it -- just let the hypnotic madness wash over you. You're home now.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"I'm the King of the Jews!"


Renowned megalomaniac James Cameron -- director of Titanic and Piranha 2: The Spawning -- has now figured out a way to irritate not only everyone in this plane of existence but apparently the next as well. He claims that his new documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, reveals just that: the final resting place of Jesus Christ.

The Discovery Channel special details an archaeological dig in Jerusalem which stumbled upon a sepulcher containing ten stone burial boxes. The ancient caskets bear the names of Jesus, an immediate family (possibly brothers and sisters), Mary (presumably, the "Magdalene" variety) and -- most startling -- what could be the offspring of Jesus. If any of these relics were to be proven legitimate, they would render the basic tenet of the Christian faith essentially null and void -- as well as leave open the possibility that Jesus's brother could very easily have been a guy named "Jeff of Nazareth" whose main claim to fame was his ability to turn water into wine coolers.

It goes without saying that religious "scholars" are now falling all over themselves to debunk the find and disparage its proponents.

That's where things get interesting.

Christopher Hitchens may be a surly, drunk son-of-a-bitch, but there's a great quote from him that's worth keeping in mind right about now: "That which can be asserted without evidence can be disproven without evidence." When applied to this specific case, the suggestion is painfully obvious: whether or not the tomb of Jesus has truly been found is irrelevant; it's not needed to disprove a belief-system that has no evidence backing it up. When it comes to disputing the spectacular convictions of the faithful, it's as easy to say "that's just irrational nonsense" and be done with it, as it is to go digging for contradictory evidence. The other side of that coin, unfortunately, is that a belief buttressed by nothing but wishful thinking is immune to the typically persuasive powers of contradictory evidence anyway. You just can't argue with someone whose primary justification is "because the Bible says so."

So why aren't the faithful skeptics employing this bulletproof "argument" in their attempts to discredit the discovery in Jerusalem? The answer is not only simple -- it's a delicious tip of the cards from a group which portrays itself as ready, willing and able to consistently rely on faith and faith alone.

The truth? They know that faith isn't enough -- that at some point a concession to reason is imperative.

The solution? They attempt to apply logic to claims which have no basis in reality -- to argue their points as if they were backed by accepted and irrefutable evidence.

The result? Well, it's damn funny.

Case in point -- the quote of the day. Father David O'Connell of the oxymoronically-labeled Catholic University voiced his considerable doubt as to the veracity of Cameron's claim with this simple bit of common sense:

"Jesus of history is often referred to as 'Jesus of Nazareth.' Joseph the father was from Nazareth. Why would they be buried in Jerusalem? It doesn't make sense."

In case you missed that homerun of irony, let's recap: a man who believes that the son of a supreme being was born on earth of a virgin, rose from the dead three days after being executed and ascended into the firmament to be with the benevolent father who allowed him to be executed in the first place and who takes an interest in the day-to-day existence of every man, woman and child on the planet, so much so that he's keeping a personal tally to help him decide where we'll spend eternity after we die -- this guy says that being buried sixty miles away from your hometown doesn't make sense.

I've met people like Father O'Connell. They're the ones who sit through movies in which alien invaders spend two hours decimating the earth with giant spaceships, sucking human blood out of their victims and spreading it across the landscape -- and then feel compelled to comment incredulously, "Oh that's impossible!" at the fact that the aliens are finally done in by bacteria.

Jesus was known as "Jesus of Nazareth." Joseph was the father of Jesus. How do we know this? The Bible tells us. How do we know the Bible can be trusted? Because it says it can.

If there's a better example of perfectly circular reasoning I'm unaware of it.

Just as entertaining (as well as enlightening, if such a word can be used in this context) is a widely-circulated press-release from the Christian Newswire entitled, "Bible Scholars: Ten Reasons Why Jesus Tomb Claim is Bogus." Among its supposedly unassailable points -- presented with a tone of arrogance and condescension typically (and falsely) attributed to those who advocate scientific fact over ancient superstition:

"There is no historical evidence that Jesus was ever married or had a child."

"The earliest followers of Jesus never called him 'Jesus, Son of Joseph.'"
(as was inscribed on the stone casket)

"There is no DNA evidence that this is the historical Jesus of Nazareth."

And my personal favorite:

"The statistical analysis is untrustworthy."

I won't bother pointing out, once again, the laughable irony of that last statement. You do have to marvel though at the brilliant penultimate introduction of the DNA straw-man -- it serves the purpose of hanging those know-it-all scientists with their own rope while cleverly tying it into one big Gordian knot of zero-sum argumentation: There will likely never be DNA samples of Jesus, which means it can never be proven that Jesus was merely human and not divine; which means that it can never be proven that Jesus existed at all. Each side gets to go about its merry way, safe in the knowledge that is has technically neither won nor lost the debate.

So, after taking the case into careful consideration and weighing all the relevant "evidence," what singular conclusion can be drawn, according to the enlightened authors of the ten-point plan?

"In light of all the incredible number of problems with the recent claim that Jesus' [sic] grave has been found, the time-honored, multi-faceted evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus is more convincing than ever."

Well, of course it is. That just makes sense.

I'm reminded of something I saw years ago -- a hilarious and thoroughly disturbing cult documentary called Mondo Elvis. For two hours, it chronicled a brand of deluded lunacy that was unlike anything I had seen before (but unfortunately have witnessed in person since). It's central focus: the small but ferocious segment of the American population that remains obsessed with Elvis Presley. It takes no insight or ingenuity to recognize the analogous relationship between the single-minded insanity on display in Mondo Elvis, and the occasionally ludicrous behavior of those adhering to the demands of a faith-based religion. Each has a central figure of worship who's been afforded mythic, sometimes supernatural qualities. Each requires unquestioning loyalty. Each casts the utterly irrational as commonly accepted fact. Each has a cadre of acolytes who honestly think that they're sane, reasonable people -- in spite of an overriding belief-system which is on par with that of your average schizophrenic.

The most memorable, unnerving moment in the movie comes about half-way through. A middle-aged, skeletal nightmare with bleach-blonde hair, Appalachian bridge-work and a cigarette that's been smoked down to solid ash twists and twitches uncomfortably in a decrepit recliner which sits against a paneled wall inside her trailer. With menacing intensity, she pushes her focus directly into the camera and proclaims her own personal mystery of faith. Although to her, there's no faith; there's only fact -- and the mystery is nothing less than the identity of the man who gave her life.

Her belief: Elvis is her father.

Her rationale for this seemingly dubious deduction: her mother never told her that Elvis wasn't her father.

She has no proof, but she has plenty of faith -- and a bulletproof argument -- and that's enough for her to continue her fantasy.

"That which can be asserted without evidence can be disproven without evidence."

I doubt we'll see any proof that James Cameron, or anyone else, has found the actual tomb of Jesus Christ. Then again, I doubt we'll see any proof that Jesus Christ ever existed in the first place.

But as long as no one can prove he didn't exist, that will be enough for the faithful to continue their fantasy.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Fool's Gold


25 Completely Random Comments My Wife and I Made to Each Other while Watching the 79th Annual Academy Awards:

1. "Who turned Spike Lee into a Muppet?"

2. "Jessica Biel's twenty-four -- she can totally pull off the nipple thing."

3. "What the hell did Penelope Cruz just say?"

4. "Oh look, Santa left a dead girl under the tree." (Upon seeing Nicole Kidman)

5. "I can't believe that Velvet Jones here goes down on Portia De Rossi every night."

6. "I wonder if they'll make Adriana Barraza stay and clean the place after everyone leaves."

7. "Didn't anybody good die last year?"

8. "Hi, I'm Cameron Diaz -- and I'm walking funny because I totally had to do anal with Djimon Hounsou to get a ticket here tonight."

9. "Do you wonder if Middle-America suddenly feels a solidarity with Hollywood now that it's being taken over by foreigners? 'There ain't no way we're gonna let a bunch a' them Mexkins come in here and start thinkin' they can make better movies than Sofia Coppola! Not on my watch!'"

10. "What'd I miss? Did L.A. mercifully sink into the ocean while I was peeing?"

11. "No, seriously -- what the hell is Penelope Cruz saying?"

12. "Academy-Award-Winner Reese Witherspoon (pause, then uncontrollable laughter)."

13. "Hey look, it's the other girl from Dreamgirls."

14. "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!" (Upon scanning the dial during a commercial and coming across a hysterically alarmist bit of Fox News Channel counter-programming called Reel Politics: If Hollywood Ran America.)

15. "Ah yes, this is sure to liven things up -- James Taylor and Randy Newman."

16. "He loves San Dimas!" (While watching Clint Eastwood translate for Ennio Morricone)

17. "Is Alan Arkin high?"

18. "I get the feeling that Travolta's spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to curl his penis under and screw his own ass. He's just got that look."

19. "I'd like to thank God, for crushing the dreams of those four other women and pushing them further toward prescription painkiller abuse."

20. "George Miller? Is that the same George Miller who directed Mad Max and the Road Warrior? Damn -- if I had known that Happy Feet could end with a bunch of penguins being dragged through the dirt by Wez and the Toe-cutter I might've bothered to see it."

21. "I've gotta throw up." (I was sick to my stomach all night -- a problem no doubt exacerbated by the Oscars.)

22. "Hi, I'm Tom Cruise -- remember me?"

23. "What, did Jay-Z not make it through the metal detector?"

24. "We've come this far -- we may as well stay up for the rest of it."

25. "At least Renee Zellweger wasn't there."

For Dad


If you've ever wondered who to credit -- or conversely, to blame -- for the mischievous jackass who runs this site, the figurative finger can legitimately be pointed in only one direction: South Florida, at a guy name Ralph.

He's a bit of a legend around my hometown -- following up several years as a decorated Miami-Dade cop with a decade-long stint as an award-winning investigative reporter. He is without a doubt one of the brightest and most fascinating people you're likely to ever meet. He can speak intelligently on more topics than I would dare go into, and on a more personal level, possesses a kind of strength, dignity and sense of honor at which someone like myself can only marvel. If I were ever to become half the man -- half the person -- he is, then it would be my proudest achievement in life.

I'm lucky to know him.

I'm even luckier to have him as my father.

Today is his 67th birthday.

Happy Birthday Dad.

Year Four-Zero


I was never a huge fan of Rage Against the Machine. It's not that they didn't make some great music from time to time, or that their brand of politicized wrath didn't have a welcome place in a world of otherwise innocuous pop tripe -- it's just that after awhile, all that righteous indignation and soapbox castigation got a little, well, old. There's only so much humorless haranguing I'm willing to endure before my contrarian nature involuntarily kicks in and I find myself standing in line at the Gap, actually demanding to walk out with the fleece-hoodie that resulted in the most Guatemalan sweatshop deaths.

I don't like being told what to do -- whether the authority figure in question is a religion, a government, or a sanctimonious rock band.

My other issue with Rage, was that they never evolved. Their sound didn't change one bit over the course of their career -- a liability for any band, but a glaringly obvious Achilles Heel for a group whose sound came to be an almost caricaturish barrage of contrived outrage.

Once again, you can only do the anger thing for so long.

With all due respect to those who desperately insist that forty is the new twenty, I find myself once again fearing that humorless rage is in danger of becoming self-parodic as I listen to the new material from pissed-off quatrogenarian Trent Reznor, better known as the mastermind behind Nine Inch Nails. Understand, I've loved Nine Inch Nails since their inception. During my early to mid-twenties, they provided the crushing soundtrack to nearly every second of pain, confusion, indecision and self-destruction that I willingly or unwillingly endured. Trent was like a friend, comforting me through my worst moments by encouraging me to embrace them. I'm still a fan, and I always will be.

The new Nine Inch Nails album, Year Zero, promises to be as furious and aggressive as ever. But here's the thing -- Trent's now forty-one years old; at that age, screaming about "My Violent Heart" runs the risk of coming off as terribly insincere or just outright silly.

I realize that I'll be accused of blasphemy by some of my dearest friends -- in particular Votar, who's already been frighteningly detailed about the effect that Year Zero's impending release is having on the intransigence of his penis -- but being that I'm never above a cheap shot, allow me to suggest a new track listing more befitting someone of Trent's "maturity."

1. Terrible Eyes
2. With False Teeth
3. Starbucks Inc.
4. The Hand that Bleeds (The Arthritis Song)
5. Getting Smaller (The Penis Song)
6. Head-On a Hole (Apply Directly to the Forehead)
7. The Line and Everything Else Begins to Blur
8. Beside You in Very Little Time
9. The Way Out is Through My Colon
10. Every Day is Exactly the Same (in Suburbia)
11. The Frail
12. Closer to God, Literally
(Hidden Track) My Violent Prostate

And Now, a Message for Judge Larry Seidlin from Chez's Evil Twin, Garth


Kill yourself.

No seriously man, just fucking kill yourself.

All you had to do was conduct yourself like a professional -- to rise above the insanity that was dumped into your courtroom every day like garbage trucks filling up a goddamned landfill and maybe, maybe, be the one mature adult who brought some dignity and decorum to the proceedings. I mean, that was your job, right? You're a fucking judge; it's in your job description to be wise and just.

But no -- that shit was too much to ask.

Instead, you pretended that you were auditioning for Catskills Idol. You made sure that no matter what was going on, that camera was trained right on you at all times and that you were giving Hollywood the show of a lifetime baby. Like everyone else involved in the fucking miasma known as the death of Anna Nicole Smith, you were a despicable opportunist who saw the chance to grab the spotlight and maybe come out of this thing far better off than when you found it.

Congratulations, maybe you have. Maybe through your incoherent rambling, your tasteless off-handed comments, your painful Bronxian folksiness, your CRYING for Christ's sake -- maybe you earned yourself exactly what you wanted: your own permanent television show. Maybe you'll be the next Nancy Grace -- certainly the loftiest of goals amongst legal professionals these days. I mean really, how hard is it? All you have to do is piss on every bit of your commitment to responsible jurisprudence and you're halfway there.

I read an interview with your wife over the weekend. My first reaction was to marvel at the fact that someone actually looked into those weepy little eyes and listened to that annoying fucking accent and thought to herself, "Yeah, this is what I really want to wake up to every day for the rest of my God-forsaken life." I felt pity for her -- really. But then I got a little further into the interview and she started babbling about how brilliant you are; how compassionate; how you deserve that TV show you want, and I realized that she's as much of a fucking idiot as you are. It's always heartwarming when stupid people find each other, although it's nothing short of tragic for the rest of us because it's all but guaranteed that they'll reproduce.

Look, I'm gonna wrap this up because I've wasted too much time on your sorry ass already, and besides, I need to start scanning the internet for pictures of Jessica Biel in that see-through top she wore to the Oscars last night -- but in case I haven't made myself clear, let me say it again.

You're a fucking hack. A shame. An embarrassment to the legal system.

You don't deserve a television show, and that should never have been your goal to begin with.

What you deserve is a missing battery in a carbon monoxide detector.

Fucking louse.

(As always, the views and opinions of Garth do not necessarily reflect those of Chez who's still trying to iron out that thing with the guy that happened awhile ago down there in South Florida, and could use all the judicial help he can get.)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Ugly Truth


My profound loathe for Grey's Anatomy is by now the stuff of legend. I couldn't be more serious about the fact that if tomorrow morning the craft services truck on the set of this abysmally bad show exploded into a ball of flame, setting Patrick Dempsey's hair on fire, causing him to then run screaming into his fellow cast-members, systematically burning them alive one-by-one, I'd grab a nice cold beer and smile that justice had finally been served and the quality of network television had improved just a tiny bit.

Unfortunately, such a felicitous reckoning would still leave us with Ugly Betty.

Look, I don't want to rain on the fiesta of the many who strangely believe that this gruesome weekly spectacle constitutes a refreshing and brash step forward for the cause of Hispanic-American crossover television; but its popularity -- not to mention its beatification at the hands of a self-congratulatory Hollywood -- doesn't change one very simple fact: it's not a very good show. At face-value -- no pun intended -- its writing is pedestrian and hackneyed, essentially taking one premise and drawing it out not just for one hour, but for another and another and another. I get it. Betty's unattractive but plucky. She overcomes the animus/prejudice of those around her by the sheer force of her good nature, indomitable spirit and the powers she apparently derives from wearing the cape of little-known South-of-the-Border superhero Guadalajaraman. She proves that true beauty is on the inside and through this educates the ignorant, infuriates the vainglorious and fascinates everyone else -- occasionally without even meaning to.

Scratch the surface though, and there's something about the show that really rubs me the wrong way.

Ugly Betty is almost Wizard of Ozian in its disparate portrayals of cultures -- Hispanic vs. Anglo. Betty's co-workers -- her non-ethnic co-workers -- are almost exclusively cast as soulless and superficial; they're prosaic drones whose sole purpose seems to involve doing little more than creating a one-dimensional, monochromatic background against which Betty can so brilliantly contrast. Betty's own household meanwhile is a nearly insuppressible explosion of color, passion and pathos -- with her family portrayed as a bunch of delightfully charming, eminently lovable middle-class eccentrics. They're adorable, fun and above-all, progressive in their seemingly bottomless reservoir of acceptance and lack of prejudice.

It's easy to see which side of the cultural coin the producers come down on.

It goes without saying however that it's never a good idea to attempt to subvert one negative stereotype by perpetuating another -- particularly when the latter is cast in a villainous role.

I have no doubt that the creators of Ugly Betty and its titular star, America Ferrara, will continue to be diefied in the media and by Hollywoood simply for the ground they've broken -- and of course, because it's fashionable and fiscally prudent given the size of the Hispanic demographic which now calls the contiguous forty-eight home. I just wish that they'd created a show that was a little less insulting -- and a lot less dumb.

Anybody know Lou Dobbs's phone number?

Maybe he can get Betty deported.

Incidentally, I deserve a medal for not making a "Vote for Pedro" joke.

(About the picture -- I do my best to stay away from inside jokes on this site, but this time the opportunity was just too perfect. There was no way in hell I was going to force myself to stare at Ugly Betty's, well, ugliness everytime I opened the page -- amazingly though, when I ran "Ugly Betty" through Google image search, the above picture of Sam the Eagle came up. I post it for Matt K., Matt S., Chris, Spencer, Jayne -- and of course, Casey.)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Staying Power

One of the more enjoyable aspects of a television producer's job involves the time spent actually editing a story for air. If you're creative, this is one of the places where you can truly shine -- using interesting shots and natural sound, subtle or not-so-subtle effects, and the right kind of music to turn an otherwise average story into something special and memorable.

A few years back, I was fortunate enough to win a Los Angeles Golden Mic Award, mostly due to the effort that an editor and I put into creating an actual atmosphere for a story we were working on. I basically insisted that the entire piece take on the slightly menacing surrealism of a Tim Burton movie. The result was far beyond my expectations, and that simple five-minute piece of video stands as one of the personal highlights of my rather notorious career.

Bottom line: it's a blast to basically make your own mini-movies.

Thousands if not millions of people obviously know this, because YouTube is crammed with homemade music videos created by would-be auteurs, each eager to use his or her favorite Nickelback power-ballad to set the perfect mood for a montage of scenes highlighting the somewhat dubious "connection" between Wentworth Miller's character and all the other men on Prison Break.

A good amount of effort is put into many of these DIY video clips, and I certainly don't mean to insult that; unfortunately, it doesn't change the fact that many of them are god-awful.

Once in awhile though, a rare homemade video comes along which manages to put the right piece of music to precisely the right images -- creating magic.

A couple of nights ago, my wife and I sat on our couch and watched an overlooked gem of a movie called Stay. It stars Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts, and features a performance by Ryan Gosling that's both harrowing and heartbreaking, and certainly hints at the brilliant, Oscar-nominated turn that was to come from this extraordinarily gifted young actor. The kid can say more with his eyes than most actors can with twenty pages of dialogue.

The true star of Stay however, isn't an actor or character: it's the film itself. Put simply, I've never seen anything quite like it. Director Marc Forster, who also helmed Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland, turns the screen into a canvas -- using unusual transition edits, playing with background and foreground images, and stringing together similar and disparate shots to create an abstract collage that's nothing short of hypnotic. The effect is alienating at times, but once the film reaches its final act and all is revealed, that sense of isolation takes on a sad and tragic resonance. It's not a perfect movie by any means, but in the days since watching it, I've found myself haunted by certain aspects of its beauty and eager to recommend it to friends -- which is about the best compliment I can pay a film.

If you'll forgive the unintended pun -- it stayed with me.

The film, by virtue of its astonishing visual component, lends itself to music (in fact, there's one sequence within the movie that employs the gorgeous malevolence of Massive Attack's ubiquitous Angel better than anywhere previously). Someone else understood this, and created what's easily the best amateur music video I've seen posted on YouTube yet.

The visuals are from Stay; the song they're set to has been one of my favorites since the first time I heard it several months ago -- Keane's A Bad Dream. The result is just about perfect.

A spoiler alert: if you choose to watch, be aware that the clip more than hints at the film's final "twist," the knowledge of which, in my opinion, will take little away from the appreciation of the movie should you see it later for the first time.

Texas Hold 'Em


So, Britain's folded.

Denmark's out.

Australia's still in only because John Howard's so drunk that he's stumbled away from the table to try and find a hooker.

That leaves just George "Bring 'Em On" Bush, facing impossible odds and an opponent that's already proven it isn't bluffing.

His decision of course?

"All in!"

Too bad he's gambling with the lives of American kids.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ripped from the Headlines


My first reaction was to laugh out loud.

It seemed the most honest and appropriate response, given that it's what I would've done had I been sitting in my living room instead of my place of work. Had I been curled up on my couch in front of the television, like everyone else in America, I would've cracked up as Jon Stewart's face contorted into an expression that conveyed confusion, disbelief and derision in equal parts. I would've joined in the roaring laughter of the audience, as Stewart and the Daily Show's staff of writers once again aimed their acuminous wit in the direction of the television news media -- in particular, an on-air moment so unintentionally comical that it just cried out to be made fun of. I would've no doubt taken secret satisfaction in a fake news show again holding a legitimate news show up to public ridicule, and in doing so proving itself to be the more respectable of the two.

I would've loved every second of it -- so did it really make any difference that the person they were making fun of was me?

I've always heard it said that you're not anybody in this business until you've been fired at least once. Granted, if this axiom holds true then I'm the most powerful man in television news, but these days I'm pretty sure one's relevance -- journalistic, cultural or otherwise -- can actually be measured by whether or not he or she has been ripped apart on the Daily Show. Many in the media now consider it a badge of honor to find themselves in Jon Stewart's comedic crosshairs; all but the most humorless reactionaries (basically Bill O'Reilly) at the very least accept such a possibility as an occupational hazard. Still, when you actually find your work, your words -- to say nothing of your face -- up there on the chopping block, it's a little like being back in elementary school and finding yourself in the awkward position of having to either laugh along with everyone else at the fact that your pants just split up the back, or risk looking incredibly stupid.

So I laughed.

I sat at my desk and watched the clip of the preceding night's Daily Show, and giggled my ass off, even leaning back in my chair and raising both fists above my head in a little display of triumph. I had hit the big time. For a brief moment, even though the cool kids were making fun of me, I felt like one of them. There was solidarity in the fact that we both found the same person ridiculous: me.

And then of course, the initial commotion died down and I took some time to think about it. You might say I went through the Kubler-Ross stages of nervous self-consciousness.

Something probably worth mentioning -- I'm many awful things, but I don't believe a hypocrite to be one of them. I have thick skin and am almost impossible to offend. I hold no sacred cows that immediately come to mind and have always believed wholeheartedly that anything can be poked fun at -- anything. What's funny is funny -- no matter how tasteless or presumably offensive it may be to the sensibilities of polite society or anyone else for that matter. As the t-shirt once proclaimed: Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.

It would be flat-out wrong to say that at any point since first hearing the words that I'd written and seeing the story that I'd produced turned into a punchline have I been pissed off about it. I essentially gave my superiors exactly what they had asked for -- knowing full well that it wouldn't be the finest hour for myself or the anchor charged with reading the story (the anchor whose actual face would eventually wind up on the Daily Show, while I alone would bear the burden of knowing my particular role in such an indiscretion). That said, I accept that what I wrote -- the exact words that Jon Stewart thought hysterical enough to warrant time on his show -- were indeed so painfully awful that I cringed as I wrote them. The entire story was a stupid idea -- a journalistic "reach" of caricaturish proportions. Put simply, the work I put my name on, whether I agreed with the assignment or not, deserved to be ripped.

And that's the problem.

Journalists, like everyone else, make mistakes. They screw up. There are blooper reels lining the file rooms of every news department in America, and most of them are a riot. But the Daily Show rarely points out those moments which happen by accident -- that's because it doesn't have to. These days, even in the product of the most respected and venerated media outlets in the country, there are entire swaths of outright absdurdity -- intended absurdity. The hard work for which journalists aren't simply paid, but likewise are expected to hold in high esteem and to a standard of excellence befitting their incredible responsibility is instead tainted from conception. It's allowed to be a bad joke from the get-go: the one forced to bring it to fruition risking a quiet embarrassment; the one whose face presents it, risking public mockery.

Jon Stewart ripped my work, and it was damn funny, but also a little sad. When it comes to making fun of the news media, the Daily Show has too much material to work with these days -- and that's not the show's fault.

It's ours.

Friday, February 16, 2007

When the Rubber Hits the Robe


When I was seventeen, attending Monsignor Edward Pace High School in Miami, I took a required course which bore the conspicuously generic monicker of "Human Development." The name derived a certain amount of humor not from what it stated -- which was almost nothing -- but from what it didn't, or rather couldn't: it was essentially a bland euphemism for what in secular schools would have provocatively been known as "Sex Ed." The entire concept of a Catholic school attempting to educate its students about something which was, as far as it was concerned, expressly forbidden was ridiculous in and of itself (I remember thinking that I may as well be offered a class in ritualistic murder), but this particular course upped the surrealist ante considerably by nature of the fact that it was taught by a priest (I remember thinking that I may as well be offered a cooking class taught by an anorexic).

Keep in mind that this was long before the world learned that the monastic vow of celibacy provided certain "exemptions" for its adherents when it came to helpless children.

The priest charged with instructing myself and my classmates in the ways of "Human Development" (the Catholic version) was a small, bearded man named Father Peter Lleo. For the most part, I tuned out the absurdist drivel with which he regularly attempted to poison what he no doubt hoped would be our fertile and impressionable minds, choosing instead -- in a bit of diabolical irony -- to focus on the curves of young Christy Maceo, who sat next to me and who, at a young age, had already blossomed into the kind of woman I could imagine spending the rest of my life with -- or at the very least, ten minutes on top of Father Lleo's desk. Suffice it to say, she was the most "developed human" in the class of 1987.

But then one day, Father Llleo brought up the subject of the distribution of condoms to high school students -- a concept which at that time was in its mere infancy.

His stance, which would of course become the Catholic church's inflexible mantra for two decades to come, was that condoms should not be provided to young people under any circumstance. His reasoning -- if that word can legitimately be used in the same sentence as anything ecclesiastical -- was that the distribution of prophylactics of any kind was immoral, as it was a tacit endorsement of premarital sex. As far as he was concerned, kids shouldn't be having sex, so there was no reason to give them condoms.

It was at this point that my Christy-induced reverie was broken.

"Are you kidding?" I asked him, which immediately drew the attention of the class and let me know with no uncertainty that I'd just crossed the Rubicon.

He seemed slightly stunned by my admittedly disrespectful tone. He then repeated his assertion -- slower this time. I once again asked if he was serious, giving him what I idealistically believed to be his last chance to back out of an argument he had no chance of winning, since his position was handicapped by a complete lack of any goddamned logic or sense whatsoever (I was young -- what did I know?)

"Young people should not have sex, therefore giving them condoms is wrong," he repeated again stoically.

"Yes, but they're going to have sex. There's nothing you can do about that," I said. "You need to give them condoms or at least teach them safe sex because there's a disease out there right now that can kill them."

"They can avoid that disease by not having sex."

"Yes, they can. But there's a very good possibility that they won't. You have to be realistic."

"If we offer them condoms, we let them know that it's okay to have premarital sex."

Stubborn jackass.

Deep breaths.

"No you don't. You're making a necessary concession to reality. Maybe you're right -- maybe kids shouldn't have sex -- but they're going to, and all the browbeating in the world won't change that," I said, noticing that by now the heads and eyes of my classmates were pivoting back and forth between teacher and tormentor as if they were taking in a tennis match.

"That doesn't matter," he said, his voice dripping confident arrogance. "Young people should not have sex. They don't need condoms."

I was exasperated and gave brief thought to quietly getting out of my seat, walking to the front of the class, and punching him in the fucking mouth.

And that's when something dawned on me.

"Father, what kind of car do you drive?" I asked, already well-aware of the answer.

He gave me a bemused look. "A Volvo," he said -- admitting to what I had always thought to be a bizarre lapse in his supposed vow of poverty.

"Do me a favor -- I see your keys on your desk there. Could you hold them up in front of the class?"

He seemed hesitant, but did as I asked.

"Tell me what's on your key ring," I continued.

Even more hesitant now. "Well, my car keys. My house keys..."

"You're forgetting something," I said, then -- "You're forgetting the remote for your car alarm."

He still didn't get it.

"People shouldn't steal cars. So why do you have a car alarm?"

For a moment there was silence, as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of the room -- and then the class erupted in shouts and whistles. I didn't even hear Father Lleo order me to the dean's office; I just saw him point to the door. I could've cared less; I had put him in his place, and that was worth any punishment that might be doled out for my insolence.

I bring up this bit of ancient history for one reason: nothing has changed in twenty years. The Catholic church is still engaged in its irrational and dangerous campaign to stop the distribution of condoms to citizens -- teenagers in particular -- and the argument against the church's lunacy is still as sound as it ever was.

Yesterday, Edward Cardinal Egan and Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio publicly and pompously chastised New York City's leaders, including Mayor Mike Bloomberg, for their role in a new program whose goal is to hand out twenty-six million free, subway-themed condoms across the city -- calling it "tragic and misguided."

"Our political leaders fail to protect the moral tone of our community when they encourage inappropriate sexual behavior by blanketing our neighborhoods with condoms," Egan and DiMarzio said, arguing that it will, "degrade societal standards."

As usual, the Catholic church's inability to recognize the lack of morality inherent in the willingness to sacrifice human lives in favor of an appeasement of its asinine superstition is surpassed only by the intransigence of one simple fact: it holds absolutely NO moral authority anymore. None. The pious virtue it once dangled over the heads of the meek and ignorant -- its self-righteous stranglehold on the ethical high-ground -- was lost in the cry of every child it raped; every vile crime it covered up; every despicable criminal it hid.

Thankfully, this time around, rational and enlightened minds are prevailing: Mayor Bloomberg has already released a statement "respectfully disagreeing" with Cardinal Egan and Bishop DiMarzio.

The truth is, any show of respect is far more than they and the silly little dress-up cult they represent deserve.

For centuries, the Catholic church has wreaked havoc around the globe in the name of fairy-tale hokum and 2000-year-old nonsensical teachings. It has caused outright, or passively allowed, the deaths of thousands and thousands and thousands. It has fought rational thought and intelligent inquiry and destroyed many great minds who dared stand against its ludicrous beliefs and proclamations.

Worst of all, it has failed to recognize its own moral bankruptcy because it believes itself to be the infallible avatar of God.

I feel the same way about the church's foolishness as I did twenty years ago, with one regret: that there will, in all likelihood, be no infinite justice meted out for Cardinal Egan, Bishop DiMarzio and their evil ilk -- as the indifferent oblivion that awaits them is, I fear, the same that awaits us all.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

And Now, an Apology in the Form of an Open Letter to America

Dear American Public,

I have no excuse. I have no defense.

I am a member of the American news media and have been for some time. This means that on more than one occasion I have -- willingly or unwillingly -- foisted upon you the trite, the inane and the monumentally ridiculous, and done so under the auspices of my supposed right to inform and educate you as to important events which effect your lives. I have been party to the beaming into your living room of seemingly endless video loops of JonBenet Ramsey dressed as a five-year-old prostitute. I have encouraged various interchangable Ken-and-Barbiesque meat-puppets, pompous and breathless, to sincerely attempt to convince you of the hidden threat lurking in your underwear drawer. I have conspired to make you believe that you were, at any given moment, in danger of being eaten by a shark. I have actually written the words "Every Parent's Nightmare" -- more than once in fact. I have dispatched correspondents to Aruba in search of Natalee Holloway. I have marveled at the ingenuity behind using an episode of Dateline NBC to promote The Apprentice. I've been good friends with Rick Sanchez for sixteen years.

In short, I have betrayed you. I have betrayed your trust.

I have let you down.

Yet I've never felt compelled to humbly ask for any sort of forgiveness for my offenses. I have never felt true shame, both for myself and my chosen profession -- until now.

I'm sorry for the coverage of the death of Anna Nicole Smith.

I'm sorry that so many supposedly venerable news organizations have elevated the all-but-inevitable self-destruction of a B-list former-stripper, Playmate, hack-actress, gold-digger, tabloid-queen, and all-around piece of human flotsam to the lofty heights of near-Shakespearian mythology. I'm sorry that we have treated an absolutely meaningless event as if it were somehow nothing short of a cultural earthquake, sure to send reverberations and tremors throughout society until they shake the very foundation -- the very soul -- of every man, woman and child in America. I'm sorry that we have devoted hour after hour to discussing and debating such asinine subjects as the paternity of this horrid woman's baby -- even being willing to proclaim, with a straight face, that its father might be the husband of Zsa Zsa Gabor. I'm sorry that we've allowed Wolf Blitzer and Diane Sawyer to look no better than Pat O'Brien and Maria Menounos. I am truly sorry that we have, even for a moment, lent a shred of credibility to the opinions of Nancy Grace.

During the past week, those charged with the awesome responsibility of relaying to you the global, cultural, political, economic and medical news which you rightly expect and demand from us, have instead willingly allowed ourselves to be taken hostage by every permutation of loathsome, opportunistic degenerate -- each claiming to be able to add yet another spoonful of pabulum to the pot we're all too happy to stir. During the past week, hundreds of American soldiers and innocent civilians have been killed in Iraq -- as our focus shifted to one minor celebrity who died just off the Florida Turnpike.

We have failed you.

We have failed ourselves.

The only possible consolation is that many of us are well aware of our own ethical bankruptcy in the continued pursuit of this absurdity. I could explain at length my own feelings in the matter, but better I allow an anonymous colleague of mine to be the eloquent, impassioned voice for the thousands currently toiling away on this story at otherwise-reputable news operations across the country:

"I'm sorry, but I did not spend tens of thousands of dollars in school to cover this bullshit. She's a celebrity for fucking the unfuckable; that's not an accomplishment. I actually announced to the newsroom this morning that I didn't go to journalism school to cover a two-bit Texas whore and that, if this was the kind of news we were covering, I could use my diploma for toilet paper. It's unbelievable. BREAKING NEWS??? I'm really sorry that the drug addict OD-ed, but that's what happens when you're an overweight drug addict."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

With Contrition,

Chez

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Back Tomorrow

Promise.

Happy Contrived and Consumerist Holiday Perpetuated by DeBeers and Hallmark in an Effort to Ensure that Men are Forced to Spend Even More Money They Don't Have Simply to Appease Their Mates' Collective Tendency Toward Affirmation-Through-Materialism and Desire to Show-off for Their Friends and so that Said Men Might Avoid Sleeping on the Couch for a Week.

That's me -- Mister Fuckin' Romance.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Beware of Greeks Bearing Undercooked Chicken

The weather in South Florida was fantastic, and of course the fact that Anna Nicole Smith took her final obnoxious breath about ten minutes from where I was staying was an added bonus.

Unfortunately, a visit made by my wife and I to a Greek food festival on Saturday ended with the two of us feverishly projectile vomiting and groaning in agony for most of the night and well into the following morning through yesterday afternoon. I'm still feeling pretty awful, which just goes to show that the Greeks apparently have a more potent weapon even than the Kraken...

Appetizers.

I may need an extra day.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Auto Reply: Out of Office

Screw this -3 windchill crap.

I'm going someplace warm.

Be back on Monday.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Heiress of Grievances


I'll make this quick.

Apparently, GLAAD -- the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation -- is demanding that Paris Hilton apologize to both the gay and black communities in the wake of a recently-released videotape in which she's seen using racist and homophobic language. The video, which is at least a few years old and was obviously shot by someone who knows her personally, shows Hilton doing what she does best: flailing around some club like a human coke spoon and giggling about how much better she is than everyone else. More than once, she uses the words "fag" and "nigger" to describe the aforementioned inferior beings.

GLAAD president Neil G. Giuliano, having finally won the battle for gay rights in all fifty states, took time out to personally chastise Hilton, saying, "These are not frivolous words, and to use them as if they are gives tacit sanction to the racism and homophobia they engender. Hilton has an obligation to go on record, explain herself, and publicly apologize to the LGBT (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Trans-gender) and African-American communities and all those offended by these slurs."

Unfortunately, demanding an apology from Paris Hilton gives tacit sanction to the idea that anything coming out of her mouth actually fucking matters. Paris is quite possibly the single most worthless human being on the planet; treating her as if her views hold any more influence than those of your average crack-whore just makes you look stupid. This isn't Mohammed el-Baradei we're talking about; it's Paris fucking Hilton. No one with two brain cells gives a damn what she thinks.

That said, I never thought I'd be defending this idiot, but guess what: she doesn't owe anyone an apology anyway; she certainly doesn't owe an "explanation" to a group which has taken upon itself the role of self-righteous, moral demagogue. A personal videotape in which someone makes a personal statement is still -- do you see where this is going? -- personal. As far as I know, it's still okay to be offensive. It's even okay to be a racist and homophobic moron without having to say you're sorry to another living goddamned soul. Putting the authority to decide what is and isn't right or wrong language into the hands of the masses is both dangerous and stupid, simply because someone will always be offended by something. Likewise, demanding an insincere mea culpa from every single person who's ever said or done something to irritate the sensibilities of another is not only useless -- it'll keep you unnecessarily busy for years.

You don't like what Paris said, knock her down the next time she's dancing next to you at Marquee.

Until then, keep in mind: Paris Hilton has every right to be an asshole.

So does anyone else.

Speaking of which, am I the only one who thinks it's funny that the president of a gay organization is a guy named Neil.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Day the Earth Stood Still


I like to think that I'm at least somewhat adept at putting ideas into words -- that I can articulately argue my point in a way that might help others to understand, if not necessarily agree with it. Yet after giving it a few days to fully sink in, I'm still at a loss for a proper way to cohesively express the myriad thoughts swirling around in my head in regards to the events which took place last week in Boston. Of course I'm talking about the initial panic and subsequent indignation unleashed over a bunch of light-brites depicting cartoon moon-men giving the finger.

The entire controversy is so painfully dumb that I'm not sure it's worthy of any sort of thoughtful analysis, and it damn sure couldn't be improved upon comedically by me nor anyone else. The only thing that I can say for sure, without fear of contradiction, is that it's quite simply the stupidest thing I've witnessed in my thirty-seven years on this planet.

So, I have a few stream of consciousness thoughts on the whole thing, aside from that -- I got nothin'.

#1 The true losers in all of this are ultra-conservatives, who can no longer point to Boston as a dangerous haven for intellectual elitists.

#2 How, in God's name, did Boston Mayor Thomas Menino keep a straight face while blaming corporate greed and dredging up the ubiquitous boogeyman of "a post-9/11 world" to deflect the blame from his idiotic overreaction onto a couple of kids who meant zero harm whatsoever?

#3 Turner's "apology" was perfect; at no point did it say that the company was sorry for the ad campaign -- only that it was sorry for the panic that resulted. It may as well have just read, "We're sorry you people are fucking idiots." As for a demand for monetary restitution -- Turner doesn't owe the city of Boston a thing.

#4 The reaction from the other cities which have found themselves inundated with the same images of the Mooninites put the entire thing into perspective; none of them had assumed that it was about to be the target of a terrorist attack by Carlos the Jackass.

#5 There is nothing -- NOTHING -- more difficult than trying to explain Aqua Teen Hunger Force to someone who hasn't seen it; there is nothing funnier than watching that person then try to explain it to someone else.

#6 You'd be hard-pressed to find a single event which drew the line more clearly between those who "get it" and those who don't.

#7 Have our irrational fears rendered all but the most obvious statements -- commercial or otherwise -- susceptible to incorrect interpretations and knee-jerk reactions for which their creators can be held accountable by those who misunderstand their true intent? Doesn't this unwittingly elevate crap into art?

#8 The news conference held by the two kids responsible for placing the ads all over Boston -- the one in which they refused to talk about anything other than 70s hairstyles -- was a stroke of subversive genius. It showed the entire situation the respect it deserved (none), while frustrating the usual gaggle of self-important media morons to the point of near-madness. Hearing reporters whine like children about how they weren't being taken seriously was especially gratifying. Those two guys are my new heroes.

#9 Oh yeah, those kids aren't going to jail -- not even for a second -- and they know it. They're charged with staging a hoax, which would be a problem if they'd, in fact, staged a hoax; the DA's office needs to drop the charges and avoid any further embarrassment to itself. City officials meanwhile should be thanking God that there's no law against being monumentally stupid.

#10 The whole thing proved that I've never grown out of being a rotten little punk; I loved every second of watching supposedly mature adults inadvertently being made to look like fools by a joke they simply weren't in on. The Mooninites would indeed be proud.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Icing on the Cake


So, a powerful winter storm is now dumping snow and ice on Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas.

Finally, the south gets what it's always wanted -- everything's white.