Exactly one year ago, at this hour, I was lying in bed in the ICU at Cornell Medical Center here in New York City, having just undergone surgery to remove a tumor the size of a pinball from my brain.
The fact that I'm even able to type these words is nothing short of a miracle, to say nothing of the admittedly miniscule thought process necessary to pull them out of my rear-end in the first place.
Forgive me if I take this opportunity to republish the two columns I wrote a few months ago regarding the time leading up to, and immediately following, the operation.
It's a beautiful day today.
It's good to be alive.
Where Is My Mind? (Part 1) -- 10.12.06
Where Is My Mind? (Part 2) -- 12.26.06
Monday, April 30, 2007
The Secret Machines are one of my favorite bands -- and I couldn't even begin to tell you why. I love them for the same reason that I never get tired of reading T.S. Eliot's Prufrock or watching the last five minutes of American Beauty.
Some things really can't be put into words, so I'd simply suggest clearing the next twelve minutes of your schedule and watching the moving, surprising, daring, perplexing and absolutely astonishing videos for Alone, Jealous and Stoned and Lightning Blue Eyes, from last year's damn-near perfect record Ten Silver Drops.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
For a short time, a few years back, my wife and I lived in "The South." It's important to clarify right off the bat that the area of which I'm speaking, despite seeming to owe its designation solely to where it happens to sit on the map, is in fact not so much a location as it is a declaration. The southern portion of the United States as a whole bears little resemblance to "The South." I grew up in Miami, which is about as far south as you can go without leaving the country -- although I'd argue that once you cross the border into Miami-Dade county, for all intents and purposes, you have left the country. Still, Miami in particular and a good portion of Florida in general only serve to prove my point; neither represents The South as a corporeal entity -- a way of life, as it were. Instead, Florida seems more like The South's basement, which would explain why The South apparently keeps so many of its deranged and retarded cousins stuffed down there; it's as if the bottom dropped out and all of the truly worthless adherents to the Southern modus vivendi just tumbled down into that elongated, penis-shaped pit, to be heard from only when the crew from Cops shows up.
For a guy who had lived his entire 32 years in the coastal triumverate of Miami-New York-Los Angeles, and a girl who had grown up just outside Philadelphia, adjusting to life in The South proved to be an adventure -- one fraught with constant challenges and the occasional unfortunate pitfall. There was the positive: an excellent and affordable lifestyle, a daily pace which all-but-assured that we would remain healthy and comfortably ulcer-free for years to come, good friends, free time which allowed us the opportunity to explore, decent cultural events, some truly spectacular dining, etc.; the negative: a pace that made us feel as if we were stagnating in ultra-slow motion, the lack of a nearby large body of water, an odd feeling that we were looked upon as morally bankrupt Northeastern carpetbaggers by some of the more Stepfordesque elements, the constant and sometimes less-than-friendly reminders that as far as politics were concerned -- we were way behind enemy lines, the inability to get a decent pizza, the fact that it wasn't New York, etc.; and the, well, Southern: the ubiquitous insistence on deriving pride from a 140-year-old war which it lost and was on the wrong side of in the first place, a law forbidding the sale of alcohol on Sundays, a law enforcing the placement of anti-evolution nonsense in public school science texts, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, NASCAR, Zell Miller, etc.
As somewhat of an unrepentant prick, it's entirely likely that I infuriated quite a few of the people my wife and I encountered during our stint in Dixie; this was due mostly to my propensity to argue ferociously with anyone who tried convincing me that my prejudice against certain elements of Southern culture was based on a long-since outdated model -- that things were different in the "New South."
A lot had apparently changed over the years, and I just hadn't paid attention; it wasn't all Dukes of Hazzard under the Mason-Dixon line anymore.
While I'd never cast a wide net over such a large area and everyone contained within -- both my own mother and a very dear friend of mine hail from Kentucky, a state whose motto, as proclaimed on a t-shirt, is "Electricity in Almost Every Town" -- there are simply too many instances in which the stereotypically indigenous Southern mentality has raised its ugly, toothless head as of late for the evidence to be ignored: in some places, the New South is still very much the Old South.
Case in point: last weekend, Turner County High School in Ashburn, Georgia held its first integrated prom. It's first integrated prom ever.
144 years since the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves; 137 years since the passage of the 15th Amendment which ostensibly guaranteed voting rights, regardless of color; 53 years since Brown v. Board of Education ended the underhanded tyranny of "separate but equal;" 50 years since the Civil Rights Act of 1957; 9 days since Don Imus was fired from his radio show for calling the Rutgers Womens' Basketball team "nappy-headed hos" -- and one Georgia high school is just now getting around to integrating its prom.
It would seem that Ashburn forgot to set the alarm clock and somehow slept through the last five decades.
Before I draw any comparisons to those fabled Pacific islands where, even today, there may be stranded 108-year-old Japanese soldiers who believe that WWII is still being fought, let me make something clear: I don't much care how Turner High School, or any other school for that matter, chooses to celebrate its prom (and that by the way is the mitigating factor school administrators cite when faced with having to defend the practice of a segregated prom -- that the students have long chosen to party separately). If the kids want something a certain way, it's not my place to say otherwise; I have far better things to do with my time than argue for the "liberation" of group which doesn't feel that it's being in any way oppressed in the first place. That said, I'm not sure that the situation that's existed in Ashburn has simply been a matter of inertia all these years -- that an object at rest has stayed at rest until the students suddenly got motivated and decided to give things a push. On the contrary, a quick glance at the reaction by some of the "towns-folk" -- and yes, I fully expect for that word to be taken with the spirit of derision in which it was offered -- to this past weekend's landmark event would seem to prove that Ashburn really is the land that time forgot, thus proving that time may be smarter than I thought.
According to Turner County School Superintendent Ray Jordan, it was indeed the students themselves who pushed to finally integrate the prom -- a bold step forward which Jordan says fills him with a sense of pride in the students. The fact that such an obvious undertaking -- given that it's now the beginning of the 21st century -- can be lauded with such fanfare tells you everything you need to know in this case: either the student body of Turner High is comprised of borderline retards who deserve acclaim for the accomplishment of mundane round-peg-in-round-hole tasks, or, more likely, the act of integration was in fact a painful one that forced the kids to break a tradition many would rather have kept intact.
Evidence in favor of this latter possibility comes courtesy of one white Turner High student, anonymous of course, who said that despite wishing them no ill-will, her mother and mother's friends would rather she not associate with "coloreds."
This is probably a good time to once again remind you to take a look at your calendar.
Unfortunately, before you assume that the flag of progress planted by the brave kids of Turner High signals the end of the Ashburn Apartheid, it's important to note that the integrated prom was a supplement to, rather than a replacement for a private, whites-only party which took place two weeks earlier. When asked about that gathering, one Turner senior dismissed accusations that it was racist, instead calling it "tradition." In other words, the white kids get not one but two parties -- one privately funded -- and also get to use the time-honored and thoroughly laughable excuse that, even if the original aim of the exclusive function was racist in every possible way, now it's simply done out of a sense of well, whatever -- and make no mistake, that's exactly what they're claiming.
It goes without saying that mixing-up the Turner High School prom, while still clutching to a separate event for white students defeats the purpose of desegregation entirely. Likewise, the belief that to forego the "traditional" white prom would be to abandon a proud heritage -- the unstated reality -- is symptomatic of an ideology that's haunted the South since Lee put pen to paper at Appomatox. It's the same faulty thought process that's been at the core of the fight to keep the Confederate emblem on state flags across the South, despite its negative connotation to just about every living human being not writing to former Judge Roy Moore to enlist his help in securing the triumphant return of Hee-Haw to network television. Laying claim to a legacy automatically assumes that the legacy is worth perpetuating. Nobody celebrates the day they found out they had herpes (although the whole "Confederate Pride" thing is, admittedly, just as stubborn and arguably twice as nasty).
Segregation in any form isn't a legacy worth preserving or honoring.
The students of Turner High School have taken a bold step forward -- into the 1960s. And while it may wind up being the necessary first of many to come, them and others like them run the risk of walking in place as long as the New South holds on to the tired heritage of the Old South.
Because in the end, tradition is nothing more than a lack of imagination.
Apparently, someone thought it would be a good idea for Paris to begin contributing something to the Hilton family besides bad publicity and empty Vagisil tubes left all over the bathroom.
They've obviously let her come up with the new ad campaign for the hotel chain.
The new slogan (and, in the words of Dave Barry -- I swear I'm not making this up):
"Hilton.. Travel Should Take You Places."
I give up.
After only two episodes, Fox -- the network which ironically continues to fund Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? -- has canceled Drive.
After watching the first two episodes, I can't say that I was blown away -- but then again, it was only two episodes into the fucking series.
You'd think Tim Minear and Nathan Fillion would've learned from their previous experience with Fox, as they were the co-creator and star (respectively) of my beloved Firefly -- another show that was vanquished quickly due to the moronic shortsightedness of the suits at NewsCorp programming.
So once again, all that hype, all that touting of Drive as the next great television drama, all that money spent on advertising -- only to be unceremoniously dumped like the unpopular girl in a John Hughes movie.
Fuck you, Fox -- just fuck you.
(For a quick refresher course on the kind of idiocy that goes on behind the scenes at a network's programming department, I invite you to take another look at Idiot vs. Predator/3.1.07)
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
There's a great scene toward the end of The Shawshank Redemption, in which the warden -- having just had his ass handed to him by Andy Dufresne -- realizes that he's pretty much finished. He locks himself inside his office and, as the police pound away on the opposite side of the door, pulls a pistol from his desk drawer and decisively puts a bullet through his own head.
I bring this up because it really seems to be turning into that kind of day for America's own figurative "warden" -- the lying, calculating, stubborn, arrogant and thoroughly malicious entity known as the Bush White House.
The administration's Andy Dufresne, in this case, is a man named Kevin Tillman -- he's the little brother of the late Corporal Pat Tillman, who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan after quietly leaving behind a huge NFL contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the army and serve his country. Just moments ago, Kevin Tillman (himself a soldier who was there the day of his brother's death) got up in front of a senate panel and delivered an absolutely blistering attack on the U.S. Army and the campaign of misinformation which its leaders have engaged in as part of an effort to shore up the steadily declining support for their wars. The younger Tillman blasted the army, accusing it of covering up the truth about his brother's death and doing so for poltical reasons.
It was, quite honestly, one of the most mesmerizing scenes I've ever witnessed -- certainly the most stirring presentation Capitol Hill has seen in quite some time.
Tillman's testimony was followed by a quieter, but no less impassioned speech by former Private Jessica Lynch; she stated flatly that the entire story of her defiance in the face of incredible odds -- that she went down fighting before being taken prisoner by Iraqi troops -- was nothing more than an elaborate lie perpetrated by the military to create a hero for America to rally around.
As I watched these two hammer away at the once-foreboding castle keep which has stood large around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the past six years, I remembered that congressional Democrats were launching their own attack from a different direction -- in the form of both an investigation into the Justice Department's firing of eight U.S. Attorneys, likely for political reasons, and a bill which threatens to take the wind out of the sails of a bitter and frightened President's ridiculous war.
Then I remembered that as of this morning, the Los Angeles Times has confirmed that the Office of Special Counsel is about to announce a sweeping investigation into the White House's questionable political operations for the past six years -- in simpler terms, all those nasty little under-the-table dealings of one Karl C. Rove.
Then I remembered the final insult to the once all-powerful Bush Administration.
A 33% approval rating.
I wonder if the door to the Oval Office has a lock.
And so it begins...
Three female police officers have filed a federal lawsuit against the NYPD, charging that last week during roll call, their sergeant and another officer insulted them by calling them "nappy-headed hos."
In a related item, the Rutgers University "Scarlet Knights" womens' basketball team has decided to retire the name "nappy-headed hos," hanging its jersey proudly inside the Rutgers College Ave. Gymnasium.
Monday, April 23, 2007
They're one of the hands-down, coolest bands on the planet, and even though the embed of this video has been disabled, I'm gonna link to it anyway -- because it's just that bad-ass (sex, violence, disturbing sacreligious iconography, hot topless girls gunning down Soviet-era military types -- you get the picture).
Here's Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's Ain't No Easy Way.
Friday, April 20, 2007
"The only difference between suicide and martyrdom is press coverage."
-- Chuck Palahniuk
I want my soul back.
Over the years, the television news business has made me feel many ways -- exhilarated, proud, honored, embarrassed, enlightened, trivial, angry, frustrated, even ashamed on more than one occasion. It has never, however, made me feel dirty -- until now.
This overwhelming need that I have at the moment to crawl into a shower and desperately attempt to rinse the corruption and sickness off of my skin stems from one simple fact: the images that are currently plastered all over every television network and newspaper in America -- the photos and homemade video of Virginia Tech killer Cho Seung-Hui -- should never have seen the light of day. Neither you, nor I, nor the families of the victims, nor anyone aside from FBI investigators should have ever laid eyes on any of it.
I'm well aware that there are some who would consider this a dereliction of duty on my part -- an abandonment of my unspoken vow to dispassionately satisfy the public's insatiable right to know, no matter the cost or consequence.
You know something? I couldn't fucking care less.
On Wednesday afternoon, NBC News made a decision that, if there's any justice in the universe whatsoever, will be remembered as the singular event that obliterated its once-hallowed reputation, got its smug, hypocritical prick of a president Steve Capus deported to a deserted island and brought 30 Rock crashing to the ground.
Through a thought process that I can't even begin to comprehend, nor would I even wish to be able to, NBC chose to give a final posthumous forum to the psychotic, self-obsessed and thoroughly delusional kid who took thirty-two innocent lives out of some ridiculously inflated sense of aggrievement for a supposed lifetime of persecution. The network's news executives put prurience ahead of prudence and in doing so rubbed the faces of the victims' families into the very dirt used to bury their loved ones -- they did it by seeing to it that everywhere those families turned, they would stare into the same cold eyes that their terrified sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, husbands and wives saw the instant before they died.
Understand, as a veteran of this business I've always been of the opinion that news must be taken at face value -- that the potential fallout, positive or negative, from running a legitimate story should rarely, if ever, be taken into account when deciding whether or not to go to air with that story. I've sat in meeting after meeting in which the news value of an item was weighed against its potential impact. I've listened to executive after executive rationalize the choice to run a questionable news item in the hope of hiding from others and possibly even themselves the tawdriness of their true motives. I've done it myself on more than one occasion.
I can tell you, without fear of contradiction, that this is exactly what Capus and company did on Wednesday when presented with a story, the spectacular sensationalism of which was matched only by its complete lack of any real value to the public. NBC's news department heads received a gift from the gods, via the mail, and they'd be damned if they weren't going to run with it -- no matter what kind of moral somersaults they might have to perform to justify the decision.
So run with it they did -- splashing Cho Seung-Hui's contorted face and idiotic ramblings across the airwaves with all the subtlety of gang-bang porn.
As if on cue from the network's PR department, Steve Capus himself took to NBC's airwaves soon after to assure America that he had personally wrestled long and hard with the leviathan ethical dilemma presented by such a story before valiantly pinning his conscience to the mat and forcing it to tap out. The hysterical irony was that it marked Capus's second such appearance on one of his own networks' news programs in two weeks: the last time was when he bombastically asserted the moral authority of himself and his network by dropping Don Imus, who had merely insulted, rather than gunned down a group of college students.
Let me repeat that in simpler terms: make a cruel comment about a bunch of kids and you're not worthy to have a forum on NBC; stalk through the halls shooting kids in cold blood and NBC will give you all the time you'd like to speak your mind.
No matter the bullshit ethical loopholes Capus continues to try to squeeze through, one need only look at the video itself for NBC's true motivation to become crystal clear. There, burned into the top left-hand corner of every frame of tape and every still image of Cho posing with his weapons of choice is the NBC News logo -- complete with peacock. It's been put there as an almost juvenile (given the subject matter) assertion of ownership -- a figurative tongue protruding in the direction of every news organization that NBC knew would fair-use the material.
It's the best and easiest form of promotion imaginable -- promotion the network hopes will turn into ratings which will turn into dollars for NBC/Universal shareholders and a big bonus for Capus.
And lest there be any lingering doubt that the network knew from the beginning that it was stepping over the line, Brian Williams basically admitted as much during a conversation with imbecilic talking-head Chris Matthews on MSNBC Wednesday night -- saying that he was well aware that by airing even a portion of Cho's manifesto, NBC was bestowing upon the killer the martyrdom he had hoped to achieve. The reason he had killed -- the reason he had mailed the tape to a television network to begin with -- was because he wanted to be heard loud and clear, and NBC was more than happy to oblige him that opportunity.
Satisfying the motives of a murderer should've been reason enough for NBC to refuse to air such an obscenely stupid diatribe. The only argument that can ever be made -- the one mitigating factor -- in favor of giving a killer what he wants is the threat of further violence, and Cho wasn't the Zodiac; he had already seen to it that he would never kill again.
The morning after the network made its contemptibly immoral decision -- one which opened the floodgates for every other news organization in the world to follow suit, as the genie was out of the bottle by that point -- the families of two of the shooting victims canceled their scheduled appearances on the Today Show, citing a very understandable level of bitter outrage. Whether that was enough to hammer home the culpability of the network in the continued emotional torture of these poor people, who knows; it would be nice to believe though that behind the walls of 30 Rock and its bastard stepchild MSNBC -- the nicest warehouse in Secaucus, New Jersey -- someone somewhere was considering the throwing of himself upon a sword for the unforgivable crime of dishonoring what's always been a strictly above-the-board news operation.
I knew none of the victims personally, and yet I grieve for them. As someone who's always allowed myself the comfort of detached analysis, and an occasional moral relativism which is the natural by-product of it, I don't often see subjects in terms of absolutes. Things are rarely black or white, right or wrong, good or evil; there's typically an abundance of gray area in between which demands to be taken into account.
Not this time.
I feel for the families of the victims. I feel for the victims themselves -- all of whom were guilty of nothing more than waking up and going to class on an otherwise typical Monday morning. I imagine their terror when confronted with their cold and methodical executioner. I place the life of Max Turner against the life of Cho Seung-Hui -- what he chose to become -- and it's not even worthy of comparison; it's innocence versus guilt -- life versus death. Not one of those thirty-two people deserved to die, certainly not at the whim of a craven fucking coward who needed to lock them all in and mercilessly gun them down to achieve whatever narcissistic sense of authority he felt life was denying him. Anyone who demands respect from behind a gun is spineless to begin with; a person who demands it from an unarmed kid who's cowering on the floor in front of him, begging for his or her life -- just before shooting that terrified kid three times -- is a worthless piece of shit.
Make no mistake: I would wink at the devil and gladly accept a lifetime in hell just for the sheer, unadulterated joy of having been able to take Cho Seung-Hui's skull and smash it against the concrete floor until there was nothing left of it.
Someone should've put a fucking bullet in that kid before he ever had the chance to destroy so many innocent lives.
I don't care what his twisted reasoning was or who had beat him up back in high school, there's simply no excuse for what he did.
Just like there's no excuse for complicity in the elevation of his act to the martrydom he had hoped it would be seen as by the next sociopathic kid with a gun and a grudge.
Believe me, that kid's already out there somewhere -- and he's thinking that he can kill thirty-three.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
There were maybe five of us, gathered around a television, watching a woman die.
I had only been in television news for a few months and hadn't yet developed the rough and thickened callus on my soul; that unavoidable consequence of a life lived knee-deep in day-to-day tragedy; the natural armor required to sustain such an existence. I was still learning to crawl among those who had long since evolved into wearied and indifferent creatures for whom another dead body was another dead body was another dead body. They already knew something which I would eventually have to learn -- that sometimes, you have to suppress your gag reflex, bury your humanity and willingly allow the more mechanized aspects of your personality to roll over your emotions like a tank. You needed to do this to get the job done -- and to keep yourself from going insane.
I didn't yet have the luxury of such peaceful detachment though, and so as I stood there -- watching the live feed from Jackson Memorial Hospital in Downtown Miami -- I found that I could barely keep at bay the myriad unnerving thoughts clawing at the inside of my skull.
The pictures we were watching, live and in brutally vivid color, showed the Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue chopper setting down on the hospital's rooftop helipad and the subsequent whirlwind of controlled chaos as the young woman on board was quickly transferred onto a stretcher and whisked inside. In plain view the entire time -- the desperate and seemingly hopeless fight to save her life. I simply stared as one of the doctors jumped onto the stretcher and straddled the woman's naked upper-body, pumping away at her failing heart, his palms flat against her skin. I closed my eyes for an instant to avoid the sight of the bag breathing air into her faltering lungs. I opened them just before the stretcher slammed through the double-doors leading into the hospital -- just in time to catch a glimpse of the massive head wound she'd received less than a half-hour earlier, when someone had fired a 9mm round through her driver's-side window while trying to carjack her in broad daylight, in the middle of tony Coral Gables.
And while those around me cracked jokes, or discussed lunch, or waited to rush the tape of what we were watching into editing -- I silently demanded answers of myself. I wanted to know what gave me the right to watch this woman's final moments of life. I wanted to know who I thought I was that I should be privy to such tragic vulnerability -- to witness the dying breath of a complete stranger. I was a twenty-one-year-old who knew nothing of this person -- nothing of her life, her loves, her hopes and dreams -- yet through nothing more noble than the technology which made such macabre voyeurism possible, I was allowed to be there for her death.
I remember finally turning my head. "I'm so sorry," was all I could whisper as I cast my eyes downward in shame and walked quickly away.
Since that moment, my skin has grown considerably thicker and more bristly. What used to be soft has calcified under the fifteen-year steady drip of daily disaster; what was once overly sincere naivete has given way to the kind of gallows humor that can turn even the most heartbreaking tragedy into a ghastly joke -- one which always ends with a smirk and the cynical admission that only hell can await such crass insensitivity.
This is the necessary defense mechanism -- and this is what was instinctively exploited in the hours that followed the worst shooting rampage in American history.
As the details of what had unfolded on the Virginia Tech campus poured in, I found myself at first engaging in verbal gymnastics.
T.S. Eliot once said something about April being the cruelest month; that was in a poem known fittingly as "The Burial of the Dead," which was the first part of "The Waste Land;" The Who once sang about a "Teenage Wasteland," which is what Virginia Tech has now become.
Then, as the hours and hours passed and the body count skyrocketed -- the sheer enormity of the violence finally becoming clear -- I moved on to logical analysis, followed by a kind of rational righteous indignation. I shook my head at what I knew would surely be the knee-jerk reaction to come: the hand-wringing and political posturing over what might have been done to prevent what was, in reality, a devastating human anomaly -- one that may have been anticipated, but likely couldn't have been stopped by anything short of locking up a troubled and dangerous kid who, until Monday morning, hadn't technically broken the law. I swallowed outrage at the vile opportunism of Scientologists, who were quick to claim that psychiatry was behind the gunman's brutal impulses, and Jack Thompson, who wasn't even aware of the killer's identity and yet was already pointing the finger of blame at the time-honored boogeymen of video games and pop culture. I clenched my fists, closed my eyes and exhaled my fury at one television news anchor agreeing with a local pastor's unforgivably trite nostrum that God sometimes works in mysterious ways. I worried about the possibility that a substantial portion of creative, dark, shy or otherwise unusual kids might now find themselves eyed with suspicion and apprehension -- simply because of one twisted bastard with delusions of martyrdom and the weaponry to bring his furious fantasies to life. I wondered if someone might demand to know why it's as easy to buy a Glock 19 in this country as it is to buy a Happy Meal -- and finally do something about it.
By yesterday morning, I had shut out the ridiculous calls by some for sirens on all American college campuses, and moved on to the curious spectacle of the collegiate mourning process and the round-the-clock coverage of it. I stared quizzically at my monitor as students gathered to loudly proclaim their "Hokie Spirit" -- admitting quietly to myself that truer words were never spoken. I wondered, were I a male Virginia Tech student, if I would pull an Otter-esque line about not wanting to be alone during such a traumatic time in an effort to get CNN's Brianna Keilar to come back to my dorm room. I even sang Team America's I'm So Ronery to myself everytime the image of the gunman -- finally identified as South Korean-born Cho Seung-Hui -- flashed across the screen.
Mostly though, I concerned myself with the question of why every news correspondent in the country had descended on the tiny town of Blacksburg, Virginia -- like locusts desperate to devour the bumper crop of suffering until there was simply nothing left. All the more disconcerting, the millions of television viewers eager to have that pain regurgitated back into their own hungry mouths.
There was, and still is, something grotesquely orgiastic about the whole thing.
Over the past twenty-four hours, the names and faces of the victims have surfaced, a few at a time. As has become ritual, the various news organizations are parrotting every possible detail they can gather as to who these young people were in an admittedly genuine effort to both humanize and memorialize them. The ages of the victims always come first -- simply because there's no other single characteristic about each person that can better convey the overwhelming nature of what was lost in this senseless act. The ages are usually followed by majors, extracurricular activities, then one or two prosaic platitudes about their smiles or infectious personalities or optimistic outlook on life -- this final trait taking on a sad irony given the situation which led to the need for disclosure of such information in the first place. Unfortunately however, no matter how noble the intentions or how powerful the tribute, it's impossible not to feel that so much is missing.
The reason is because each person's unique life is still being filtered through an intermediary -- told second-hand via the one relaying it.
For the first time though, there's another way to learn about the victims of this kind of atrocity -- a way which excises the middle-man, and lets them tell their own life stories in their own words.
As incomprehensible as it would have seemed in life, MySpace has provided each victim his or her own epitaph in death.
Even a cursory scan of their pages reveals the true heartbreaking depths of this loss.
I'm not sure what led me to search MySpace for profiles of some of the dead; I'd like to believe that it was an honest desire to find out who these kids really were -- what they loved and hated, what they wanted for themselves and their futures before it was all ripped away from them by someone who had a plan for their lives they weren't even aware of, nor could they stop.
For some reason, the first name I searched was the victim whom the least was known about at the time.
Her name was Maxine Turner.
She was a twenty-two-year-old chemical engineering student.
Her MySpace address contains the words "Super Sneaky Ninja," which -- despite not knowing the meaning behind it -- brought a sad smile to my face when I first saw it.
Maxine, as expected, went by the nickname Max.
Her site, although rather unremarkable, lists her as single, from Vienna, Virginia, 5'1" and slim -- no doubt the result of Tae Kwon Do classes, which she took regularly. She didn't smoke, but she did drink.
She hoped to have children someday.
The song posted on her profile, which plays automatically, is, strangely, one of my favorites from my own youth -- Men At Work's Overkill, sung by the band's lead singer Colin Hay. I listened to it as I moved beyond the basic information into the tiny singularities of Max's life. There's a blue box which sits directly under the "About Me" headline; it reads "Your Superhero Profile." Apparently, her superhero name was "The Hour Dog"; her special power was biotechnology; her only weakness was -- ironically, devastatingly -- blood; her mode of transportation was a pogo stick.
She wanted to meet Shakespeare, Christian Bale and John Cusack.
Her final blog entry is entitled "For the Ladies," and has her mood listed as "Mischievous." It's an extended and oddly sweet dissertation on the right and wrong way to measure yourself to ensure that a bra is the correct size for your body.
Of all the little details on her main MySpace page though, none proves so haunting as the timeline of comments -- concerned friends at first begging over and over again for a simple phone call, then on Tuesday morning, those same friends' comments abruptly changing to messages of sorrow and loss.
But those are just words.
It's what's inside Max Turner's "pics" page, that leaves you utterly heartbroken.
One photo shows her seated on a stone wall, facing away from the camera -- staring out over a vast valley covered in deep green.
Another shows her sitting on an empty beach, under a wide sky filled with high, white clouds. The caption simply reads "Sand Castle!"
There's a slightly blurry image of a little gray nose and large black eyes, just inches from the lense of the camera that captured it. The caption: "Say hi to Jujubee, my pretty hamster."
In one she's holding a snake, in another she's practicing Tae Kwon Do.
Beneath each picture are dozens and dozens of comments from friends and strangers alike, commemorating her life and expressing regret for her untimely death.
I never met Max Turner, and I never will; I have no doubt that this is my own loss to mourn. I know only as much about her as she herself was willing to disclose, and yet what I've seen leads me to believe that the world is an infinitely lesser place without her in it. The same can surely be said for Ross Almeddine, and Reema Samaha, and Emily Hilscher, and Ryan Clark, and Daniel Perez Cueva, and Mary Read and the more than two dozen other victims of this incomprehensible tragedy.
I'll go to my own grave grappling with the question of how someone, anyone, can be so consumed by rage that he can look at the face of Max Turner and decide that she has to die.
Like fifteen years ago, I have nothing to offer except an apology -- this time not out of shame, but out of genuine sorrow and an overwhelming sense of helplessness.
I'm sorry that humanity failed you, Max.
I'm so sorry.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Three years ago today, the woman of my dreams -- the one I'd waited for my entire life -- was kind enough to marry me.
Since it's a weeknight and we both have to be at work early, we're spending the evening enjoying a bottle of wine and a dinner of blackened catfish and steamed vegetables with Cajun seasoning. The menu is important because a couple of weeks ago, the aforementioned woman of my dreams started her own blog -- the subject of which is food.
In addition to having an admittedly wonderful appetite for each other, Jayne and I enjoy dining out as often and as adventurously as possible -- which makes her desire to write about our culinary experiences something akin to the next logical step.
If you get a chance, by all means stop on by and take a look, although I wouldn't suggest doing so on an empty stomach.
And to my wife -- thanks for filling my heart as well as my stomach.
I love you baby. Here's to three great years, and many more to come.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Due to circumstances beyond my control (a college student with two handguns and a truly unimaginable grudge), and completely within my control (I just don't feel like thinking about it anymore), I'm officially cancelling the last installment of my column on Imusgate.
Although I still had one or two points worth making, I've decided to dovetail those into a different piece that I'll be publishing later this week. If you feel cheated in any way, I apologize -- and urge you to get out more.
Friday, April 13, 2007
Imusgate, Day 1: The Twilight Zone
For the first time in a very long time, I have absolutely no idea where to begin.
I realize that for someone who spends roughly fifteen hours each day hunched over one computer or another, cranking out word upon word, this may seem like somewhat of a cop-out; unfortunately, if that's the case, so be it. The fact is that for all my occasional sound and fury -- either on the virtual pages of this little experiment of mine or in the rants which my wonderfully patient wife is sometimes subjected to -- it's truly rare that I find myself so outraged that I'm rendered practically speechless. I can count on one hand the stories during my fifteen year career in television news that have thoroughly subverted my capacity to adequately articulate my anger.
I almost never want to put my fucking fist through a wall.
The ridiculous ongoing melodrama over, and laughable overreaction to, an irrelevant old man's use of the words "nappy-headed hos" makes me want to -- over and over again.
If there has been a larger, more prominent non-issue to capture the attention of the media and subsequently be force-fed to the American public, I'm completely unaware of it.
Before I go any further, let me take an unusual step -- one which should give you some kind of idea just how serious and indignant I am in regards to this "controversy." I'm going to say something that I've said only once before since beginning Deus Ex Malcontent and using it to voice my admittedly inconsequential opinions: If you disagree with what I'm about to say -- fuck you. Save your contrarian comment and your polemicist defiance; I don't want to hear it. There are caveats and subtexts and derivatives and offshoots of this whole row which are certainly worth debating, but the basic arguments that I'm about to make, as far as I'm concerned, are bulletproof; don't even waste your breath claiming otherwise.
Among those arguments: that this miasma represents the widest gap in the history of modern media saturation between the size and importance of an event -- and the size of the reaction that followed it; that the Draconian measures demanded by the professional victims claiming to have been severely injured by a washed up shock-jock's very stupid joke -- the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of the world -- are nothing short of chilling, and represent a dangerous threat to freedom of speech and expression; that the reverent deification of the Rutgers Women's Basketball team and its "dignified reaction" is both unjustified and just plain bizarre; that the selective demonization of one radio show host while failing to direct that same level of persecution at radio hosts who are not only racist and sexist, but who outright lie, is utterly unfair; and that, likewise, the failure to confront hip-hop artists who make entire careers and truckloads of money out of debasing women and setting civil rights advances back decades by acting like modern day minstrels renders this entire controversy moot.
Tonight, NBC has made the decision to fire Don Imus.
God fucking help anyone who dares to fight me on this.
Abandon all hope ye who enter here.
Imusgate, Day 2: Hang the DJ, Hang the DJ, Hang the DJ
Let me make one thing clear-as-vodka right off the bat: I can't stand Don Imus.
This isn't simply some pedestrian attempt at reverse-psychology; I think Imus is a worthless hack. The suits at NBC never should've signed him in the first place -- not because he occasionally makes racist or misogynistic comments, but because those comments, plus all the ones in between, are unfunny, devoid of insight and just plain goddamned stupid. While I respect Imus as a trailblazer in talk radio, he hasn't been culturally relevent since he gave up booze and blow back in the mid-80s. That said, I don't give a damm whether I or any one else loves him, hates him or is utterly indifferent to him; I'd still defend his right to say what he did.
Years ago, I did a nightside talk radio show in Miami. It won't surprise you to know that I was in trouble constantly for saying and doing things on-air which caused the station's managers to do some rather exceptional impressions of the Tasmanian Devil from the old Looney Toons cartoons. The situation became so laughable at one point that I actually broke into the executive board files on the air and proceeded to read the number of times that the board felt it necessary to address "The Chez Situation." I remained on the air because someone somewhere out in radioland thought that the antics of myself and my crew were entertaining. There were no doubt those who felt that we should all be hung off the top of a building by our feet as well, but thankfully, those same station managers who were driven so mad by us also remembered one hugely important fact: why we were on the air to begin with. We were doing exactly what they expected from us.
My point is that for any radio or television executive to put Imus on the air, then react with horror to the things he says -- particularly after a career that's lasted forty fucking years -- is not only patently dishonest, but also assumes a level of naivete from the rest of us that's nothing short of insulting.
Likewise, to work in a business which quite frankly owes its very existence to the protection provided by the first amendment, then turn around and at best abandon someone in your employ who proves that that freedom comes at a price -- namely, you have to learn to live with people who say things you don't particularly like -- is the tawdriest of offenses. To, at worst, throw that same person to the angry mob which refuses to live with such people -- is out and out reprehensible.
Last night, Steve Capus, the President of NBC, said that he had made the decision to drop MSNBC's simulcast of Imus's morning radio show not because of outside pressure being exerted by the aforementioned angry mob, but because he had taken a poll within the NBC organization itself and found the concensus to be that Imus had to go.
Guess what Steve -- though I won't argue that those on your payroll serve at your pleasure to a certain extent, you're indebted not to Imus himself but to the right of expression which allows not only for his voice to be heard but for the voices of everyone and every show on your network that together make you and your shareholders a goddamned fortune. Here was your chance to repay that debt, and you blew it. You took the easy way out -- and that makes you a pussy.
Capus should've realized that he was allowing himself and his network to be the test case -- the first in the string of dominoes to fall. The reality -- unspoken by some; shouted from the rooftops by others -- is that once the cascade reaches its inevitable conclusion, what you see and hear will be subject to the various caprices of those who've been willing to complain loudly enough.
Speaking of which...
Imusgate, Day 2 (cont.): Rage Against the "Obscene"
I feel like I'm living in the Twilight Zone -- I honestly do.
Every day I turn on my television expecting the American news media to return to doing something important -- like maybe talking to the families of U.S. soldiers who've already pulled three tours in Iraq and are now being told that they'll have to serve another fifteen months; this, as their Commander-in-Chief tries to pick a fight with yet another Middle-Eastern country while also trying to pass off the mess we're already in to someone else -- a "War Czar."
Instead I see the angry, apoplectic faces of the "Reverends" Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton behaving as if the world has literally stopped because an elderly man poked fun at a women's basketball team using a term that's almost as antiquated as he is. The last time anyone said "nappy-headed hos," most of the country was still trying to figure out why kids as far south as Florida were insisting on wearing plaid-flannel shirts, knit hats and combat boots. (It also goes without saying that the last time such a comment was made, it was a black man making it -- but more on that later.)
Over the past few days, I've watched Jackson, Sharpton and their offensive ilk using their own brand of foul language -- terms which I consider to be absolutely chilling. I've heard Sharpton say that although he can "forgive" Imus, the radio host still "must serve the penalty;" which leaves me to wonder why forgiveness is Sharpton's to grant (as he was never more than tangentially involved in this nonsense to begin with -- until he of course, on cue, injected himself into the center of it), and why the penalty is Sharpton's to decide (as, the last time I checked, he holds no real position of authority). I've likewise heard Jackson state, with a face that was frighteningly devoid of even the slightest hint of irony, that America is finally learning that there is some language which simply won't be tolerated anymore (the first person to create a black armband with a picture of Jackson's face on it deserves a prize of some sort). To my knowledge, the only forbidden statement is that which is either false or incites violence -- and no, violent opposition from those offended doesn't count. I have no doubt that Jackson believes that Imus's comment was a form of "verbal terrorism," literally adding insult to injury after centuries of persecution -- but if that's how low we're going to set the bar for such language, we're all in very deep shit.
I've decried many times on this site the underhanded impotence of the ubiquitous bullshit apology which seems to follow every act that someone takes offense to these days. I have to say though that after watching Imus grovel pathetically for days and days I've come to believe that from the first day that someone spoke up and said that he or she was hurt by what he said, his penitence has been genuine. In fact, not only has Imus offered a verbal mea culpa, he's the first I've ever seen to lay out a concrete plan for change -- both for himself and his show. Rather than pulling the time-honored trick of running off to rehab, Imus faced his accusers head-on, listened to their concerns and practically offered a powerpoint presentation on the steps he would take to affect change.
Needless to say, that wasn't good enough. Watching someone laid out in prostrate submission won't satisfy the growing beast that needs to be fed fresh meat.
Today, Reverend Al and his congregation of loyal disciples from the First Church of the Perpetually Victimized are converging on the CBS radio studios in Midtown Manhattan -- their goal is to literally strip Don Imus of his legacy in radio; to crush his dignity outright. Imus has lost one job and the respect of millions, but that's not enough for Sharpton. Imus has given his pound of flesh and then some, but Sharpton -- in his infinite, divinely-willed authority -- has decided that he must give more. He's decided that the "community" is owed it.
The reality of course couldn't be further from the truth; Imus doesn't owe the community a fucking thing. He may owe the Rutgers Women's Basketball team an apology, and even that's up for debate -- he does not, however, have a responsibility to abase himself at the feet of an endless line of people who were never the target of his ridicule in the first place, but rather chose to take offense through solidarity, post hoc.
Incidentally, tell me that I can't understand because I'm a white man and I'll hit you. That's crap -- and a cop-out. Forfeiting logic and reason in favor of the rage that comes from unfettered passion is never a good idea (and yes, I understand the irony of my making such a statement right now) -- however, when someone's livelihoood is on the line and the mob mentality will only serve to make matters worse, it's unforgivable.
This morning, Jesse Jackson cited the fallout from the now-infamous Michael Richards incident as proof that things are getting better. He said, practically in iambic pentameter, that the Laugh Factory's recent edict banning not only the use of the word "nigger" but offensive language in general was a step in the right direction for securing respectful civil rights for all. Needless to say, nothing could be further removed from reality. I wrote at the time that there's nothing more dangerous than putting the power to censor in the hands of those who would claim offense, simply because someone will always be offended by something (The Nth Degree/11.21.06). A world in which I'm forced to ask for permission or approval from Jesse Jackson -- or anyone else for that matter -- before I speak, is a world in which I'd rather not live. What Jackson wants is the forfeiture of one right in favor of another -- and it's crap. He and Sharpton want an America purified of language which they believe to be insulting and oppressive, and somehow they believe that there is an objective standard for such language.
I didn't find Imus's comment particularly offensive or incendiary -- though I admit to not being the target of it. I also didn't find it to be the least bit funny -- but I'm betting that some people did. Who determines that they don't have the right to find it funny -- or that I don't have the right to be indifferent to it? Who decides what's acceptable and what's unacceptable language -- which jokes are funny and which ones are without social merit?
At the moment, it would seem like the people who have cast themselves as deserving of the job are the same ones who never made amends for their own past transgressions (Hymie Town? Tawana Brawley?), who derive their power and authority from the very divisiveness they claim to decry, and who can rarely be counted on to express so much as an indignant thought when a group other than their own comes under attack by the intolerant.
This last fact should provide all the evidence needed to prove that the overall motivation of people like Sharpton and Jackson isn't justice or morality, but rather the subornation of an adherence to their own personal agenda.
If by some chance you'd like more more proof, consider this: no matter your opinion of Imus, it's an absolute fact that he spends a substantial portion of his time, both on-air and off, raising money to help children with cancer, through an initiative founded and maintained by he and his wife. He has also, in the past, raised funds for U.S. troops overseas as well as raising awareness of the inadequacy of the V.A. hospital system. The point is that there are not only people out there who find Imus entertaining -- there are people who legitimately benefit from his presence on the air. These people have neither been consulted nor even considered by the torch-wielding mob now stationed at the gates of Imus's hilltop home -- that's because, to this particular mob, the good that Imus does for these people simply isn't as valid as the good to be achieved by removing him for making a completely insignificant comment. If you'll forgive such blatantly instigative language, they're essentially saying that the needs of kids with cancer aren't as important as the hurt feelings of a bunch of female basketball players -- that Don Imus, in fact, does more harm than good.
That's not simply unjust -- it's immoral.
But what about those poor, broken women -- the ones who've endured such injurious humiliation and demoralization at the oppressive hands of the taskmaster, Don Imus?
I'm speaking of course of the Rutgers Women's Basketball team and its steadfast coach, C. Vivian Stringer. Truly, over the past several days, the dignity and courage that these fine women have displayed in the face of overwhelming adversity has given us all a new definition of the word "heroic."
What a bunch of fucking horseshit.
They've just wrapped up their requisite appearance on Oprah -- this should be good.
(Update: This afternoon, CBS fired Don Imus, ending the radio show he had hosted for 35 years.)
Imusgate, Day 3: Sticks and Stones and Stupid
Yesterday, in a rare break from the inexplicable round-the-clock coverage of Imusgate, one of the cable news channels featured an absolutely frightening report on how badly overtaxed our military is right now. By the time the reporter piece and featured guest were done, the general impression you were left with was that at the present rate, our all-volunteer military machine runs the risk of grinding to a halt within the next year or so. The solution of course: reinstating some form of the draft. This sounded chilling until I remembered what I had just watched a few minutes earlier -- the Rutgers Women's basketball team being fawned over for their supposed strength and courage by none other than her Royal Thighness Oprah -- and that's when I was struck with one hell of a realization.
Jesus Christ, if these girls are really the strongest and most courageous our next generation has to offer -- if that's how fucking low the bar is -- not only is this country thoroughly ass-fucked should they ever be the ones charged with defending us in combat, we won't even be ABLE to draft them. A draft would be impossible because every single kid would refuse until either the military jails were full or our government thought the better of it -- whichever happened to come first.
Don't get me wrong; what Imus said was cruel and certainly insulting in all sorts of ways -- but for God's sake, they were just words. These courageous, powerful women can take a physical and mental beating on the basketball court day after day -- but a half-senile old guy calls them a name and they suddenly need a can of Bactine and their woobie. Forgive me for being so blunt, but if we're willing to attach words like strength, dignity and honor to a group of young women who can manage to tough their way through an insult emptying only one box of Kleenex, we've come a very long way from 9/11 -- a time when such terms were earned by those who paid for them with their lives. Has the bar really dropped so far, so fast?
Late last night, Anderson Cooper stood outside the mansion of New Jersey governor John Corzine -- his face cast solemnly downward; his voice a melodramatic hush. Behind him, you would've thought Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin had risen from the dead and were coming together to finally iron out that whole peace thing once and for all. But no, what was actually going on behind those closed doors was a different kind of summit altogether. As the big red BREAKING NEWS banner screamed -- there, at that very moment, Imus was attempting to shrug off the fact that his forty-year career had just gone belly-up long enough to meet with those who were truly suffering -- those whose lives he'd utterly devastated with his cold, callous comment. Since no cameras were allowed into the Camp David treaty room, Cooper could only speculate what was going on behind closed doors.
It was journalism as theater-of-the-absurd.
Once again, I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone.
When the meeting finally ended and reports surfaced of what had happened over the last three hours -- let me repeat that just so that it can truly sink in: three hours -- what was already comically ludicrous became even moreso. Cooper declared that during Imus's audience with the aggrieved "tears were shed," and the women whose grace and fortitude had already been lauded as the standard to which every American should strive asked their tormentor over and over again, "Why us? Why us?"
Once again, all I could do was shake my head -- my eyes wide with utter confusion. I felt like I was watching Japanese TV. MXC wasn't as weird as this shit.
Denis Leary did a bit years ago about our nation's obsession with psycho-babble self-help -- he said, "Life sucks -- get a helmet." I still use that phrase a lot and found myself wanting to shout it at the goddamned TV as Coop informed me that the Rutgers Girls had decided to "consider" accepting Imus's apology. I just kept thinking, Girls, if this is the worst fucking thing to happen to you in your lifetime, you're really lucky. You kids are SO not ready to go out into the real world; you're gonna be eaten alive.
And then came their coach, their rock -- C. Vivian Stringer. Her take on the whole thing? Well she was just proud how her girls had behaved during the entire ordeal; it showed the strength of their character. Once again, let me repeat that -- her team being called a stupid name by an old guy qualified as an "ordeal."
With all the emphasis being placed on the importance of language and the power of words during this whole thing, I'm not sure we're actually applying that import with any sense of balance. We're more than willing to claim that a phrase as ridiculous as "nappy-headed hos" carries far more heft than it might seem at first glance -- therefore elevating this entire controversy to the mania we've all been subjected to over the past few days -- but no one seems to appreciate the harm done by reducing the weight of a word like "ordeal." The news media of course may be partially, if not fully to blame, for this phenomenon; its addiction to hyping even the most inconsequential distress -- inflating it into a "tragedy" or "disaster" -- has rendered many of our words powerless. Language which once carried the impact of a body blow has been neutered; we've applied it to the mundane for so long that we've actually run out of words to describe the truly spectacular.
Being called a name is not a fucking "ordeal."
Words directed at you don't make you bleed. They don't put you in the hospital. They have only the power you choose to give them.
If these young women had wanted to prove how truly strong, brave, proud and dignified they were (in addition to how wise), they would've taken Imus's comment in stride, accepted his apology and forgotten about it the next fucking day.
That's what the rest of us do -- the weak, undignified and well-acquainted with the fact that life holds a hell of a lot worse "ordeals" than being insulted.
In honor of Friday the 13th, I give you almost seven full minutes of hysterically gratuitous violence from the greatest, sickest martial arts splatter movie ever made -- The Story of Ricky.
Watch for what could very well be the best line in film history: "You got a lotta guts Oscar!"
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
General Peter Pace has just made it official that Army tours of duty in Irag and Afghanistan will be extended by fifteen months, at least four full months of which will be active combat.
Maybe the Bible is right.
Maybe hell really does last an eternity.
Major General William Caldwell, spokesman for the, ahem, "multi-national" force in Iraq has just used his morning press briefing to make a startling announcement to the world media:
The U.S. now has no doubt that Iran is training Iraqi insurgents to make the IEDs that are killing our troops.
(Insert sound of crickets here)
"Wait a minute, didn't you hear me? IT'S IRAN! THEY'RE KILLING OUR TROOPS!"
(Insert sound of crickets -- maybe a tumbleweed or two blowing through the press briefing room)
"IRAN!!! IRAN!!! WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!!!"
Uh-huh. Sure thing.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Nothing pleases me more than knowing that the most important story in the history of mankind is no longer Don Imus using the words "nappy-headed hos," but is instead the fact that Larry Birkhead indeed procreated with Anna Nicole Smith -- and is apparently happy about it.
I fucking hate my business.
Incidentally, I'll be commenting tomorrow on the whole Imus nonsense.
I'm just too tired today to wrap my brain around any more inanity.
I'll make this quick.
Two things happened today which relate to global climate change; both prove that the world is indeed getting hotter.
First, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change approved the latest in a series of reports on the issue -- this one concluding that the world will begin to face serious consequences with its food and water supply, along with the usual dire weather events, should nations fail to adapt in ways that will help alleviate the overall output of greenhouse gases.
The IPCC is made up of 2,500 of the world's best scientists.
Second, Dr. William Gray of Colorado State University added his own special brand of hot air to the atmosphere by once again claiming that global warming is hokum and that Al Gore in particular is nothing more than a "gross alarmist." Speaking at this year's National Hurricane Conference in New Orleans (I'll give you a second to let the irony, literally, sink in), Gray said about Gore:
"He's one of these guys that preaches the end of the world type of things. I think he's doing the world a great disservice and he doesn't know what he's talking about."
Chances are you're wondering just what qualifications Dr. Gray himself has to stand so defiantly and confidently against the collective opinion of the world's leading environmental experts, and so combatively against the man who brought much of that opinion to the masses.
Well, Dr. William Gray is considered America's most reliable Hurricane Forecaster.
And he most certainly is -- but there's one very big catch.
(Deus Ex Malcontent: Gray's Autonomy -- 8.8.06)
Needless to say, the 77-year-old Dr. Gray is the kind of antagonistic curmudgeon that dangerous idiots like Republican Senator James Inhofe latch onto like a life preserver when they claim that global warming is a hoax. (Inhofe himself has personally stated that the earth's environment could never go belly-up because Jesus simply wouldn't do that to his beloved children. I wish I were fucking kidding about this.) Once you read the link above though, you'll understand why having a guy like Dr. Gray in your corner during this fight is -- if you'll allow me to extend the analogy -- like criticizing someone's boxing technique and turning to Danny Bonaduce to back up your assessment.
By now you're probably familiar with "Knut," the adorable polar bear cub whose story has captured the attention and the imagination of the world. Born in captivity at Germany's Zoologischer Garten Berlin last December, little Knut was rejected by his mother and is now being raised by zoo-handlers. He's the first polar bear to be born within the confines of the Berlin Zoo in more than thirty years.
On March 23rd, he was presented to the public for the first time and immediately became the center of a whirlwind of non-stop media coverage. The tiny cub's popularity is unprecedented, drawing crowds to the zoo so large that they've been blamed for the death of a panda which lived in a pen adjacent to Knut's. Millions of fans worldwide have showered the polar bear with gifts, and even letters containing substantial donations to the zoo.
Despite initial outrage by some animal-rights activists who heartlessly claimed that Knut would be better off dead than facing a life of captivity, zoo-handlers continue to insist that the bear will be well provided for throughout his life, and Germany's Environmental Minister has even gone so far as to officially "adopt" the little guy; he will now be the mascot for a conference on endangered species which is scheduled to be held in Bonn in 2008.
This month, Knut appears on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine's 2007 "Green Issue," standing beside Leonardo DiCaprio; the picture was taken by legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz.
One of the most popular songs on German radio at the moment is an ode to Knut written and sung by a nine-year-old girl who goes by the name "Kitty;" it's called Knut, der Kleine Eisbar -- or, "Knut, the Little Polar Bear."
It's precious beyond words. Take a listen.
For those who don't speak German -- here's the translation:
Knut, the little polar bear!
Rise from the ashes of your mother's whorish scorn!
Take your place in the arms of the Fatherland!
The great new Reich at last is born!
Little bear you will grow strong!
Solid and staunch you will stand!
Cleansing the path with the blood of foes!
Clearing the way for the new man!
Strong, proud Aryan bear!
Heil, mein liber herr!
Knut, above all -- fighting bear!
Ranks of Brown Battalions brave and true!
Deutschland now is filled with hope!
Our swastikas, they rise with you!
The mongrel bear already felled!
Your courageous crowds at stead!
Flags fly over the barricades!
Those opposing will be dead!
Strong, proud Aryan bear!
Heil, mein liber herr!
(Repeat first verse and chorus)
Monday, April 09, 2007
It really is amazing the kind of unmitigated crap you can find on YouTube.
Take for instance a music video which features Fergie -- who twenty-years and several rungs on the evolutionary ladder ago was known simply as Stacy Ferguson -- leading the small but annoyingly Ritalin-deprived TV troupe known as Kids Incorporated.
Now let me take that facial expression you're making -- the one that says "I was incredulous when you first told me that this milk had gone sour, but now that I've ignored your warning and tasted it, I see that you were in fact correct," -- and turn it into one that says something more along the lines of, "After my initial shock at stumbling upon the corpses of the eviscerated family of meerkats, I find that I'm furious at God for allowing such heartless injustice and must therefore kill every living thing within a fourteen mile radius simply to exact some form of necessary revenge for this abomination."
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Fergie and her fellow Kids Incorporated brood making me wish I'd never heard the Pretenders' classic, Middle of the Road.
If they hadn't done so already, Joe Strummer and Joey Ramone would, in a largely symbolic gesture, die.
(Okay, so maybe there's one mitigating factor -- that would be a chance to see the lovely Martika, who went on to record the inexplicably listenable 1989 hit Toy Soldiers. She was cute-as-a-button as a kid, and grew up to be absolutely gorgeous -- unlike Fergie, who grew up to be Sasquatch.)
Friday, April 06, 2007
Regular readers of this little experiment of mine, in addition to being insane, may have noticed that I haven't bothered talking politics in awhile. This is despite the fact that White House scandal upon White House scandal have provided a wealth of great material over the past several weeks.
The truth of the matter is, I really don't see what the hell I can say that everyone else hasn't said already; I have nothing special to add to the mix. If you haven't figured out by now that our president is stupid, corrupt, dangerous and thoroughly worthless -- and that his second in command is delusional to the point of requiring a fucking straightjacket, there isn't much I can say to convince you.
That said, I want to steer you to a political writer who's far more talented, incisive and goddamned hysterical than I could ever hope to be.
One of the links on the right side of the page leads you to Matt Taibbi's regular column in Rolling Stone -- it's called The Low Post. Taibbi used to be a writer for the New York Press, where he wrote a series of brilliant columns, including the one that ended the tenure of the Press's editor and incurred the wrath of the mayor, both New York senators and of course, the Catholic Church; it was called The 52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope. #51 was, "After death, saggy, furry tits of dead Pope begin inexorable process of melting away into nothingness, like coldest of Sno-cones under faintest of suns."
What Taibbi was trying to say about the media's grotesque obsession with celebrity deaths (yes, even the Pope is a celebrity) as well as its tendency to gloss over any and all of the deceased's past transgressions -- well, let's just say it wasn't everyone's cup of tea.
His latest column in Rolling Stone takes aim at one of Capitol Hill's most useless dolts, Florida Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart. Trust me when I tell you that, having lived in Miami, Diaz-Balart is one of the many sickening politicians who act as the trusted subservient bitches of the hardline Cuban exile community. He was one of the clowns who, every hour on the hour, turned up in front of the house in Little Havana where Elian Gonzalez lived for several months; he was always there just in time for the cameras to roll.
He's a whore of the highest magnitude, and Taibbi nails him to the wall.
Take a look for yourself, and if you like what you read -- I'd highly suggest picking up Taibbi's book, Spanking the Donkey: Dispatches from the Dumb Season.
Matt Taibbi: Tasting Their Own Medicine -- Republicans Complain About the Congressional Shaft
Thursday, April 05, 2007
The great H.L. Mencken said it best:
"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public."
The veracity of this statement becomes bulletproof when you realize that this summer, Michael Bay will once again spread his figurative ass-cheeks and unleash a putrid load of cinematic diarrhea on the theater-going public; that Hinder and Nickelback are able to play venues larger than the Wings & Things off Route 4 in Tampa; that George W. Bush has been allowed to occupy the White House for the past six years; and of course, that American Idol remains an unstoppable pop culture juggernaut.
I'm certainly willing to admit my own complicity in the success of Idol; I've watched it on more than one occasion and taken a passing interest in who wins and who doesn't -- mostly out of the desire to know which democratically elected singing sensation I can expect to have forced down my throat for the next eight months. Kelly Clarkson was cute and went on to record one or two good songs, for which she may have received entirely too much acclaim; Ruben Studdard wound up being the only guy whose ass runner-up and perpetually-closeted homosexual Clay Aiken will ever be capable of kicking; Fantasia went pretty much nowhere and has since reinvented herself as the subject of a Lifetime Insipid Movie of the Week; Carrie Underwood now sings love songs about Jesus while her penultimate, Bo Bice, makes the kind of music that I'm still wishing had died in the same plane crash that took out Ronnie Van Zant; Taylor Hicks has wound up being just one of last season's thirty-eight Idol contestants to be awarded a recording contract -- such is the star-making power of the show.
This year though, something's different.
American Idol is under siege.
As you're no doubt well aware, at the center of the maelstrom is seventeen-year-old borderline-retard Sanjaya Malakar.
I debated whether or not to comment on the ridiculous "controversy" involving Sanjaya's admittedly inexplicable presence at this stage of the competition -- his cockroach-like indestructibility and unyielding belief that he does, in fact, have even a specimen-cupful of talent. Although everyone's entitled to a little mindless entertainment, the idea that such nonsense, even for a moment, occupies the same news cycle as an unnecessary war, the complete collapse of the most corrupt and dangerous administration in American history and the rapid disintegration of our planet's atmosphere -- well, it just seems a little shameful. Makes you swell with pride at the knowledge that young American men and women are fighting and dying overseas to preserve "our way of life."
It took this week's elimination to finally tip me off the fence.
When I first learned of Howard Stern's Durdenesque plot to bring down the most inescapable cultural phenomenon on earth, I admit to feeling a rush of anarchist adrenaline which involuntarily curled my mouth into a smile. American Idol had, after all, foisted more musical mediocrity on the general public than the entire career of Kiss; the idea of an organized campaign to subvert the show's credibility by using its own system against it brought out my inner-insurgent. I understood at the time that as a proper misanthrope, I'd have to find a way to put aside my considerable loathe for Sanjaya himself -- rationalizing the benefits he'd indirectly reap -- were I to fully get behind the scheme. I looked at it this way: his victory would be nothing more than collateral damage in the war against the larger enemy. (For the record, I had no idea that the kid was so hopelessly naive that he'd actually believe he was earning his weekly gift from the anonymous legion of merry pranksters). I'll tell you though -- it was tough to not want to see a dumbass like that fail miserably.
A couple of weeks ago, when it became clear that there was malfeasance afoot, the argument against voting for the worst contestant began popping up on message boards, in newspapers and magazines, and on television. It came in the form of a simple and heartfelt plea which declared that keeping Sanjaya on Idol just for the hell of it was not a victimless crime; obviously, if the worst singer stays, that means that somebody better has to go. Once again, I thought -- collateral damage -- an unfortunate but necessary concession for the greater good. I even wondered if someone shouldn't type up letters to the families of the fallen, in appreciation of their sacrifice -- with the thanks of a grateful nation.
In an effort to spin Stern's personal Project Mayhem and marginalize the growing number of juvenile TV-terrorists behind it, Fox executives last week claimed, with a collective straight face, that Sanjaya's ascendancy should in no way be credited to -- or blamed on -- Stern fans, visitors to the website votefortheworst.com, or any other single group.
Oh yeah, unless you count the entire Asian and Indian population of the United States and, quite possibly,the earth.
In the kind of broadstroke ethnic generalization not seen since the opening of the Prison Camp at Guantanamo, a lot of armchair sociologists are pushing the theory that every U.S. resident of Asian or Indian descent believes that his or her life will improve dramatically should someone named Sanjaya Malakar become the next American Idol. Whether or not the hypothetical Sanjaya Malakar in question can actually sing -- which, as it turns out, this particular one can't -- makes no difference at all, as these mindless drones would be basing their allegiance on name, skin-tone and of course the obligation to show solidarity with the motherland. It's entirely possible that many young people of Indian descent are in fact rallying around Sanjaya -- simply because they were born without ears due to the 1984 Bhopal chemical disaster; aside from that though it's hard to imagine anyone being able to overlook his inability to hold a note -- particularly not the same people responsible for all those kick-ass Bollywood musical numbers.
A diabolical offshoot of the main theory -- its militant splinter group, if you will -- posits that the rise of Sanjaya isn't merely the underhanded work of nationalistic terrorist cells living here in the United States; it is in fact nothing less than the overthrow of an American institution by a foreign state -- one that our own government inadvertently empowered. To come face-to-face -- or at least voice-to-voice -- with the enemy behind this nefarious conspiracy, all you'd have to do is pick up the phone and call any toll-free customer service number that happened to be handy. The rumor is as far-fetched as it is clever-as-hell: call center operators in India are making millions of free calls to the U.S. -- stuffing the virtual ballot box with votes for Sanjaya. And how did these operators get their jobs in the first place? Because American corporations outsourced their customer service positions to India, where the labor's cheaper. And who greased the wheels and cleared the hurdles, making it easy for the corporations to do this? Why, the prostrate apostles of free-market capitalism in our own government of course. And who put the leashes around the necks of these "distinguished gentlemen" and made them such servile little bitches? The corporations, their lobbyists and their money, of course.
If it were ever proven true, my first reaction might be to marvel at a guerilla campaign far more ingenious than anything Stern could've dreamed up. My second would probably be outrage at the audacity of another country's citizens seeing to it that someone of their own descent triumphs in a singing competition called American Idol, at the expense of everyone else involved (yes, I'm capable of jingoistic gut reactions) particularly when that person has no business being anywhere near a microphone. My third thought -- the one in which a measure of logical resignation comes into play -- would definitely be that there's no greater irony, and we got what we deserved.
The reality though?
Chances are, there are just a bunch of Indian-American kids, and American kids, and really fucking stupid Indian-American-American kids who think Sanjaya's cooler than Hello Kitty -- either that or Michael Jackson's dropping three-million votes at a time simply for the "pleasure" of seeing that childlike face every week.
When you factor that support into the exponentially increasing number of joke votes he's getting each week, Sanjaya's unwitting rise to pop culture infamy becomes all but assured.
As it turns out though, the early detractors were right -- the seditious fun to be had spray-painting a big "FUCK YOU" on the altar of America's Temple of the Trivial does come at a price, as was evidenced this week.
As someone who grew up listening to Gang of Four, the Replacements, Killing Joke and the Pistols -- and someone who still stands in reverent awe of Tom Waits -- I always valued the passion behind a voice rather than the quality of the voice itself. I have no doubt that very few of the singers who have ever moved me in one way or another throughout my life would be welcome on a show like American Idol; most would be mercilessly ridiculed, then shown the goddamned door. Likewise, I've never been a fan of the way Simon, the drunk to his immediate right and the black guy from Journey tend to Breakfast Club the contestants -- sizing each one up in an instant and branding him or her with one of a handful of generic and recyclable designations. ("The Soulful One," "The Little One with the Big Voice," "The Modern One," "Justin Timberlake," etc.)
This season, Gina Glocksen was "The Rocker."
Although not as powerful a singer as last year's designated "Rocker" Chris Daughtry, she also wasn't anywhere near the worthless, preening dick that last year's designated "Rocker" Chris Daughtry was. Overall, Gina had a good voice, chose a nice range of material, owned it pretty damn well on-stage and, above all, seemed genuinely humble.
As much as I was still fully behind The Sanjaya Agenda and wanted nothing more than to see Stern put on a Guy Fawkes mask and detonate a pound of Semtex under Ryan Seacrest, I was secretly pulling for Gina to at least nab a place in the top four or five -- an achievement which would all but guarantee her a record deal somewhere.
This week, she was eliminated.
A couple of years ago, in one of the many "scandals" that bounced benignly off American Idol's Adamantium hull, someone behind the scenes claimed that the show was rigged -- the winners and losers predetermined. I had always assumed the claim to be bullshit, considering the complete social upheaval that would result from something like "Idolgate" -- not to mention the fact that, aside from playing the numbers in Vegas, there's little to be gained by such collusion.
But as the axe came down on Gina Glocksen; as the stunned crowd began to shout in protest and as she began to cry uncontrollably; and, in a tragically ironic coup de grace, as she was given the stage one last time and was forced to perform the same song she had sung the previous night, which happened to be Charlie Chaplin's Smile, I found myself shaking my head -- amazed at how the entire scene was just so perfect.
It was the perfect object lesson.
It was as if God himself -- either as an Idol enthusiast or simply in keeping with his long-standing practice of crushing the insignificant for the hell of it -- had come down from on high and engineered the ultimate ruthless comeuppance aimed at all those who dared to fuck with the natural order of things. In one moment, it was made crystal-clear that if we chose to spare the undeserving, the innocent would suffer; the fact that this week's innocent turned out to be the contestant most likely to appeal to Howard Stern's target audience -- the cute girl with the purple streak in her hair and the barbell through her tongue; the "Rocker" -- seemed to make the point only that much more viciously.
It worked -- at least on one person.
Once again, in an act of seemingly divine inspiration, the shot of Gina's tear-streaked face as she toughed her way through the lines, "Smile, though your heart is aching," and, "Though there are clouds in the sky, I'll get by," slowly dissolved to show the face of -- him.
And I found myself suddenly filled with rage, and the overwhelming need to rip every fucking ridiculous hair out of Sanjaya Malakar's stupid little head and shove them down his fucking throat -- the one that had failed to produce one decent goddamned note all season. I realized that I'd been wrong; that subverting American Idol by catapulting a dingbat into its upper echelon wasn't worth shattering the dreams of a profoundly more deserving young girl; that the collateral-damage was, in fact, an unacceptable loss.
So maybe I owe Gina Glocksen an apology.
And maybe it's time the American public took down Sanjaya the way it should have from the beginning.
If that's not possible -- if it turns out that his popularity is legitimate and not the product of the country's biggest practical joke -- then perhaps the only thing left is to once again invoke the words of H.L. Mencken:
"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."
Think I'll go put on the Stones' Street Fighting Man and order vindaloo from that place up the street -- then not tip the delivery guy.