Saturday, May 31, 2008

Shallow Grave

In "honor" of the opening of Sex and the City this weekend, the best of DXM's references to the show and its equine star, Sarah Jessica Parker -- dating all the way back to the beginning of this little experiment of mine.

DXM: Anatomically Incorrect/6.2.06

DXM: Return of the Attack of the Creeping Surrealism/9.20.06

DXM: They're Just Not That Into You/3.21.08

DXM: And Now, the Last Word on the Whole Sarah Jessica Parker Thing, from Chez's Evil Twin, Garth/3.25.08

(And then there's this: Just a few minutes ago, I found a couple of ticket stubs for Sex and the City on the floor of the elevator in my apartment building. Almost makes me sorry I didn't live here when I was single, since there are obviously at least two dumb, impressionable women with low standards somewhere in this place. Yes this is an incredibly crass thing to say -- feel free to direct your complaints here.)

Saturday Morning Cartoons

I want to start a weekend trend around these parts, and it's borne from the fact that the truly great cartoons -- the ones I remember from my youth all the way into my late teens -- have vanished from Saturday mornings. The timeless classics, which miraculously really are as fresh and funny today as they were when they were created half a century ago, have been replaced by the worst kind of soulless, Disney-concocted dreck, just brimming with over-stylized pre-packaged hip.

This cannot stand.

Put simply, a kid raised on Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry will turn out smarter, sharper and generally cooler than a slavish little rugrat weaned on nonsense like Hannah Montana, Zack and Cody and Yu-Gi-Oh!

Tell me your kids will still be quoting That's So Raven two decades from now, or that Emperor's New School will have a shelf-life beyond a couple of years (when the cultural touchstones it so cleverly tries to tap into have evaporated, leaving its humor completely anachronistic).

So, here at Malcontent Central, we're bringing back the immortal classics on Saturday mornings. Why? Because they rule -- that's why.

To kick it all off, I figured it makes sense to go with the cartoon that I referenced a couple of days ago while writing about, of all things, Rachael Ray.

From 1950, here's Chuck Jones's brilliant Rabbit Fire.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Bad Sex

It's the little things in life that make it worth living.

Like the fact that The New York Times -- let me repeat that: The New York Times -- just called the new Sex and the City movie "vulgar, shrill, deeply shallow -- and, at 2 hours and 22 turgid minutes, overlong."

While I'll avoid the obvious joke about anyone keeping it "turgid" for 2 hours and 22 minutes with someone whose face looks like it should have a bag of oats strapped to it, I appreciate the irony of these drag queen look-alikes and their legion of vapid fans being pimp-slapped by the paper of record for the city they worship so unabashedly.

It's sort of like Big suddenly turning and pushing Carrie down a flight of stairs.

(The New York Times: Sex and the City Review/5.30.08)

Jessica Yellin 180°

Well, that didn't take long.

Today on the network's website, there's a noticeably terse statement from CNN correspondent Jessica Yellin attempting to, ahem, "clarify" her admission, made a couple of nights ago on Anderson Cooper 360°, that during the run-up to the Iraq war, she was pressured into altering or killing stories that were critical of the White House.

Yellin makes a point to reassure viewers that she wasn't at CNN back in 2003 -- she was a pentagon reporter for MSNBC at the time -- and flips a pretty sharp U-turn from her previous claim:

"Let me say: No, senior corporate leadership never asked me to take out a line in a script or re-write an anchor intro. I did not mean to leave the impression that corporate executives were interfering in my daily work; my interaction was with senior producers. What was clear to me is that many people running the broadcasts wanted coverage that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the country at the time. It was clear to me they wanted their coverage to reflect the mood of the country."

The statement ends, amusingly, with Yellin saying, "And now I’m going back to work covering the Puerto Rico primary from San Juan."

From which I'll never return.

What makes Jessica Yellin's "clarification" so much fun is that you can almost see the gun being pointed at her head by CNN management as you read her words. She may as well be staring nervously through a crack in the doorway, telling the cop who just pulled up, "Oh no officer, I was a little upset when I made that phone call. There's nothing wrong. Everything's fine in here." Yellin hopes to deflect attention away from the executives who truly call the shots and set the mood in today's newsrooms and onto the mid-level pawns who are in constant and direct contact with her on a daily basis -- the problem of course being that edicts roll down from the top; who the hell do you think is making it clear to the senior producers the direction the broadcasts need to be going in?

It pains me to have to reference this twice in one day (Gone Barby Gone/5.30.08), but Yellin just helped to illustrate a pretty repugnant truism within the rubric of corporate journalism: Everything seems designed to insulate the people at the top, protecting them from exposure to accountability. The only factor that truly has the ability to affect the lives of the executives in the adminisphere or their corporate overlords is the ratings. The numbers are the end that will always justify the means; what those means may be is irrelevant -- not when ad revenue is at stake. If you think it's something bordering on tragic that the hierarchy within most news operations works like the Mafia -- or maybe Congress -- you're right.

For just a moment, Jessica Yellin spoke her mind and pulled back the curtain to reveal the reality of what went on within America's spineless news media during the rush to war -- then thought the better of it and either through subtle coercion or with the unfortunate knowledge that her career may be on the line, "corrected" herself.

Regardless, anyone with a brain knew the truth all along anyway -- and still does.

( TV News Under the Microscope/5.29.08)

(By the way, this link was sent to me by a senior producer within CNN whom I've never met. Gotta love that.)

That Voodoo That He Did So Well

I just now found out about the death of Harvey Korman yesterday in Los Angeles.

Along with Hawkeye Pierce, Bugs Bunny and Groucho Marx, Korman -- with or without the brilliant Tim Conway at his side -- was one of my strongest inspirations growing up when it came to what I found hysterical and who I would eventually want to be like. I could go on for hours about the comedic genius of his contribution to The Carol Burnett Show and Blazing Saddles alone.

But better I just say a fond, sad goodbye -- and thank him for making me laugh so hard I couldn't breathe.

From the Depths of Hill

"Your Christian God has failed you, Clinton! It is time to pray to the dark lord Cthulhu and give summons to the deep ones who rest beneath the eldritch waters! Bring them forth! Your ethics mean nothing to them! They will make you Queen of the Americas after they subjugate the weak souls of humanity! Come! Put Chelsea's soul on the altar of madness! For it is the only way to please their infinite hunger!"

-- Michael Drucker @ 23/6

Planes, Cranes and Serial Killers

Denis Leary used to do a great bit where he said that the best thing about living in New York is that the city offers you so many interesting ways to die.

To wit, another crane has collapsed about ten blocks from my apartment on the Upper East Side, killing at least two people. This is the second time something like this has happened in the past three months; the last one was ten blocks from my place in the opposite direction and killed seven people.

Back in 2006, a small plane slammed into the building directly across the street from mine. Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle died in that one.

Then of course there was last February, when a psychopath walked into a therapist's office about a block away from where I live and hacked her up with a meat cleaver.

None of this even takes into account the roving packs of aging, badly-dressed, cosmo-slurping whores who'll be terrorizing the innocent all weekend in a pathetic effort to emulate their onscreen idols in that new blight on American pop culture known as the Sex and the City movie.

Yup, Jayne and I couldn't have picked a better time to be leaving the Upper East Side in search of a bigger place for baby.

This neighborhood's just too dangerous these days.

Gone Barby Gone

As promised, a few of the details and some thoughts on the firing of Barb Simon -- second-in-command at CNN's American Morning and one of my former supervisors.

Basically, here's what happened from what I can gather: Early last Thursday morning, Barb Simon showed up to work and was told that her services would no longer be required at CNN. Her abrupt exit was facilitated by a mercenarian, Agent Smith-like hatchet man named, ominously enough, Bart; he's a guy who was apparently brought in by CNN U.S. President and perpetual part-of-the-problem Jon Klein immediately after the firing of AM Executive Producer Ed Litvak last February (How To Lose a Job in 13 Days?/2.25.08), ostensibly to clean up the mess the show had become. Once Bart arrived on the scene following Ed's deparature, he was essentially in charge -- quietly laying down the law, keeping things in line and attempting to put the daily broadcast back on the rails. A talented senior producer named Janelle Rodriguez was culled from The Situation Room and officially named American Morning's new EP on April 16th. Basically, Barb had been a lame duck since the man who hired her and had coordinated with her in running the damn show into the ground -- Ed -- had been sent packing, and after Janelle's appointment, Barb became all but persona non grata around the office. It was always a matter of time before she was given her walking papers.

From what I hear, Janelle's doing a spectacular job, which I commend her on; I've mentioned more than a few times that I bear little in the way of ill will against most of the good folks on the CNN production staff. What actually is worth pointing out, though, is the reality behind Jon Klein's sudden call to "The Wolf" (Bart: "Okay Jon, so you've got a flagship show, minus a manager, stuck way behind Fox & Friends -- I'll take care of it."). It's classic Klein, really: Rather than do the dirty work himself, he surreptitiously brings in a lackey who can not only play Bad Cop all the way around, but who also serves to insulate him from any sort of accountability should things somehow go from bad to worse. The problem with American Morning has always been the same problem confronting the rest of the network: Klein stands over the shoulders of many of his managers, playing puppet-master, then conveniently retreats to his office to dole out pink slips when his ideas or instructions bear little -- or outright rotten -- fruit. This is largely why Ed Litvak is out of a job (although in the network's defense, he was a painfully bad manager when it came to dealing with people). As Barb served little purpose other than to back up Ed's actions -- well, that and to hack apart perfectly good scripts and salivate over any story having to do with Britney Spears -- she's now out of a job as well.

Of course, I have no doubt that they're both continuing to collect very hefty paychecks until the official end of their respective contracts. But at least the show might finally be heading in the right direction after years of mismanagement (before Ed Litvak, there was EP Kim Bondy, who was known more for the inordinate amount of time she spent on vacation and her affinity for Jimmy Choo shoes than anything else).

With Jon Klein still in charge at the top though, who the hell knows.

I'd say "stay tuned," but I'm not sure it's worth it either way.


(All About Ed/2.27.08)

(Say What You Will/2.18.08)

Listening Post: Cover Edition

Two truly inspired covers from unexpected places.

First up, I went looking for Elwood's ultra-cool hip-hop version of Gordon Lightfoot's Sundown, and lo and behold what did I find but a homemade video that someone had put together using clips from my beloved Firefly. Not really the best editing job, but who cares?

Here's Sundown.

Next, I have to admit that I actually like Paramore -- and that I kind of have a crush on Haley Williams (which officially makes me that really creepy guy).

Here's a video composite set to the band's surprisingly good cover of one of my all-time favorite songs: Failure's Stuck on You.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Donald Grump

This is brilliant not simply because of how deliciously venomous it is in its indignation, but because if Hillary Clinton doesn't listen, the author can have his son, Jack Bauer, torture her until she drops out of the race.

(The Huffington Post: "Hillary's Popular Vote Notion Only "Popular" with the Punditocracy" by Donald Sutherland)

American Idiots

I've been trying to find a way to include this in a more substantial piece, but really, about what? What could I possibly say about the larger implications of NBC's hyper-hyped and comically panderous "All American Summer" schedule that hasn't already been considered by anyone with an IQ over 40?

Every time I see another bombastic commercial for Nashville Star -- now inexplicably moved from, ironically, cable's "USA" network to NBC proper -- I have to fight the urge to throw something heavy at my television. If you've been fortunate enough to miss the full ads because all that flashing red, white and blue has caused you to go into an immediate epileptic seizure, they foist the likes of brand new Nashville Star host Billy Ray Cyrus (now with stronger blonde highlights) on you -- calling him "America's Dad," which would apparently make all 300 million of us untalented teenage tramps. Beyond that, NBC's motley collection of smarts-deprived shows includes American Gladiator, America's Got Talent (see a pattern developing here?) The Baby Borrowers -- the premise of which reads like a pro-abstinence counselor's wet dream -- and of course, Celebrity Circus, which stretches the already tenuous definition of "celebrity" in our culture to new lengths by slapping the label on Antonio Sabato Jr., Stacey Dash from Clueless and that idiot Chris Knight (now in his second pop cultural resurrection, the reality of which officially and non-negotiably drops him back six or seven places into the realm of K-list has-beens).

If you're searching for someone to blame for the lowest-common-denominator Foxification of the peacock's once-great primetime lineup, look no further than Ben Silverman, the co-chair of NBC Entertainment and NBC/Universal and the world's most successful overgrown frat-boy douchebag. Silverman is actually the executive producer of Nashville Star, hence why it's being moved up from NBC/Uni's farm league at USA to the majors in what would appear to be a trade for Law & Order: Criminal Intent and, one would imagine, two really shitty shows to be named later. The fact that Silverman is not only successful but has become so via the control of so much NBC programming is all the proof you need of both the existence and virility of pacts with Satan.

Back when I used to work for NBC, we made fun of the network's promotion for its summer rerun schedule; admittedly, the commercials which claimed that "if you haven't seen it, it's new to you" were worthy of a little bit of ribbing.

But I'll take four hours straight of ER reruns every night -- even in the show's present form -- rather than watch NBC resort to relying on Billy Ray Cyrus, Jerry Springer and David Hasselhoff to put asses in front of the TV. Literally.

A Praise Chorus

"As a blogger, Chez Pazienza is filled with outrage, passion and insight -- delivered with a distinctive point of view, a wicked sense of humor, and a two-fisted style of prose. In Dead Star Twilight, he turns all these on himself -- and produces a fierce, funny, disturbing, but ultimately uplifting memoir. This is the book A Million Little Pieces dreamed of being."

-- Arianna Huffington

How cool is that?

Everything Is Under Control

I almost wish I were naive enough to react with shock and outrage over CNN reporter Jessica Yellin's public admission last night that her former bosses at (one would presume) ABC News edited or outright killed stories critical of the White House during the lead-up to the Iraq war. It would actually be nice to have anything other than jaded resignation left in me when it comes to crap like this -- really.

That said, the biggest mistake anyone could make when considering Yellin's disclosure would be to assume that such a revelation is specific only to ABC. Or MSNBC. Or even her current employer, CNN.

They all intentionally dropped the ball (and occasionally continue to), not in the name of misguided patriotism but in a greed-fueled effort to cash in on the audience's misguided patriotism.

Read it and weep.

(The Politico: CNN's Yellin Says Network Execs Killed Critical White House Stories)

Listening Post

I've always been on the fence about Interpol. On the one hand, I never got into the recent wave of neo-Joy Division bands -- of whom Interpol was one of the standard-bearers. But at the time same time, songs like this really do swell with the kind of epic heartbreak that made Ian Curtis's stuff so good the first time around.

Here's No "I" in Threesome.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tiny Little Chipmunk Balls

What I'm about to say will sound terribly hypocritical coming from someone who continued to take a paycheck from CNN long after coming to the realization that television news as a whole was a largely unsalvageable proposition. Maybe the only mitigating factor can be that it didn't take getting fired to put me in a position where I felt comfortable enough to complain about the condition of the business; I was doing that for quite some time before losing my job.

The same can't be said about Scott McClellan.

Prepare yourself, because the chorus of "ooohs," "aaahs" and "told you sos" has already begun in response to the supposedly relvelatory bombshells that McClellan is dropping on the White House in his new, obligatory tell-all book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception. Admittedly, the former White House mouthpiece -- for those lucky enough to have suppressed the memories of McClellan's tenure and are having trouble recalling him, think of a perpetually befuddled chipmunk lying its ass off -- does have some interesting inside information regarding his time in George Bush's inner sanctum, as one might expect. But to claim, even for a moment, that the dirt McClellan is dishing now that he's comfortably outside the Pennsylvania Avenue blast zone is shocking or of monumental significance would be horseshit of the highest order. Disclosing that Bush is out of touch and stubborn, or that he relied on propaganda to sell the war in Iraq to the American people -- or even that the White House press corps spinelessly ignored its responsibility to investigate the facts during the run-up to the war -- is truly the defininition of old news, even if Scott McClellan is the one disclosing it. You can add to that the fact that McClellan did, actually, wait until now to make his reservations known -- long after they might've done some good -- and that we are talking about the same guy who essentially lied for a living (albeit very badly) for three years. I'm not saying he can't be trusted these days, but it's more than a little amusing that some on the left now seem ready to give him a pass -- this seemingly dimwitted rube who functioned as their public whipping boy for so long -- if not go so far as to lionize him, all because they consider his information so fundamentally damaging to the Bush Administration.

The fact is, it isn't -- not one bit.

It's damn easy -- if not downright fashionable -- for Scott McClellan to bash his former boss when the latter has already been leveled by his own bald-faced incompetence and now flounders under the weight of a pathetic approval rating. McClellan should've said something a couple of years ago, when it would've mattered.

These days, the only proper response to Scott McClellan's book is to say, "So what?"

Donut (Ass)Holes

When I hear the words "Rachael Ray," "scarf" and "donuts" in the same sentence, really only one thing comes to mind -- and suicide bombing jihadist certainly isn't it.

As much as I'd like nothing more than to see Rachael actually explode (and she seems to be well on her way to doing just that), behold the most fucking ridiculous, asinine, balls-out stupid thing I've seen the laughable dingbats on the far right pull since the whole "Freedom Fries" nonsense a few years back.

This is so goddamned absurd that I honestly can't come up with a way to improve upon it. I challenge you to read this and not make the incredulous/shocked/pissed-off face that Daffy Duck made a bunch of times while debating whether it was rabbit season or duck season with Bugs Bunny.

(The Huffington Post: Dunkin Donuts Pulls Rachael Ray Ad After Complaints About Scarf)

Project Office Mayhem

Your assignment, as usual: Quietly put the following link up on every computer in your office, then crank all the speakers to full volume.

Mischief points: 722,439

(Luke, We're Gonna Have Company!)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Read All About It

I have almost no idea who Prisco is aside from the basics: He's a blogger who writes over at The Gospel According to Prisco as well as a contributor to Blog Me a Tale.

Regardless, he's posted a kind and honest review of my memoir that I'm more than happy to link -- given that the success of releasing the book online has always relied on word of mouth.

Feel free to take a look, and if you haven't bought Dead Star Twilight yet, for God's sake what are you waiting for? I have a baby on the way, dammit.

(The Gospel According to Prisco: Dead Star Twilight Review)

Meet the Bluthauch

Reason #4,080 why I've grown to love MySpace:

BLUTHAUCH! (emphasis mine, because, well, you kind of have to, right?)

He's a kid from somewhere in Germany that I'm now determined to make into a cult hero in the U.S. He requested my "friendship" today and of course I just couldn't turn him down -- not with a profile picture like the one to the left.

Needless to say, he's a musician -- making the kind of music that, in the grand tradition of German industrial death metal, sounds like Satan torturing Joseph Goebbels with a belt-sander and requires that he look at all times like the Dictionary of Goth-Metal clichés (circa 1989) just threw up on him.

In other words, he deserves to be huge here in the states. HUGE I tell you.

Do yourself a favor and go to his MySpace site and check out to the soon-to-be-worldwide-hit-single God and Suicide, as well as the incomparable Eingefroren.

Tell him Chez sent you.

And remember the name: BLUTHAUCH! (Say it out loud and watch your horses go fucking bananas.)

Now if we could just figure out a way to get him to go on tour with this guy, we'd be set.

Gone Barby Gone

I was actually going to hold off until tomorrow to talk about this, but since the official notice has now been circulated throughout CNN I may as well put it out there (I've known about it since Saturday):

The second-in-command at CNN's American Morning, Barb Simon, was fired late last week.

You probably remember that her boss -- my former boss -- Ed Litvak was canned about two weeks after he and the network fired me for blogging (How To Lose a Job in 13 Days?/2.25.08). Essentially the entire power structure of AM -- a show I've consistently derided since my dismissal for its lack of quality -- is now history.

Guess I wasn't the only one who thought things were going to shit.

For what it's worth (nothing), I seem to be the first person mentioning this anywhere.

Details to come.

Conscience Doth Make Crusaders

As you probably know, I got fired by CNN for writing on my own time -- occasionally about the abysmal state of the news business -- without first allowing the network to approve my stuff (which is all kinds of amusing, given that the two copy editors I last worked with on American Morning combined were about as sharp as a pillowcase full of wet toilet paper).

On these virtual pages, I've held little back when it comes to my views on those executives and on-air "personalities" who I believe are destroying the Fourth Estate from the inside out -- and I have to assume it cost me a relatively high-paying job.

But it wasn't that high-paying.

I never made the kind of money that Barry Nolan did. Nor, for all my occasional bluster, have I ever made the kind of ballsy, idealistic statement that Nolan just did -- the one that wound up costing him his job.

The journeyman anchor was fired by Comcast CN8 TV last week, after he protested a decision by the Boston-area Emmy Awards to give Fox News talking-empty-head and Vaudevillian boob Bill O'Reilly the prestigious Governors Award; former recipients of this honor include Mike Wallace and WCVB legend Natalie Jacobson.

How committed was Nolan to ensuring that the Emmy folks understood the kind of mistake they were making?

While attending the Emmy ceremony -- after an e-mail campaign failed to garner enough voices willing to rock the boat -- Nolan quietly went table to table and dropped off fliers featuring impugnable quotes from O'Reilly himself as well as the public details of the multi-million dollar settlement in Bloviating Bill's high-profile sexual harassment suit.

I've pulled a lot of subversive stunts in my lifetime, but Nolan just made me look like one of the Jonas Brothers.

The important thing to keep in mind is this: His cause was absolutely righteous, and the fact that O'Reilly took home one of Emmy's highest honors says less about him than it does about the value of the Emmy itself these days -- about what can be considered worthy of journalistic recognition. When I picked up my first Emmy, back in Los Angeles in 1996, the very first thing I did when I stepped onstage and in front of the microphone was to dryly quote Groucho Marx: "I seem to remember him saying something about not wanting to belong to any club that would actually have someone like him as a member," I said. "So what does that say about the value of this thing right now?" I continued, holding up the award.

My willingness to dismiss both my own abilities and, in a roundabout way, the awards system itself was, at the time, nothing more than a product of my myopic, man-childlike stupidity. But make no mistake, the next person to win the Emmy Governors Award will be able to make a similar statement to the one I brashly made at 26 -- only he or she can claim that the award has been devalued not by the person winning it at that moment but by virtue of the fact that it was once given to Bill fucking O'Reilly.

If that doesn't make the award worthless, I have no idea what would.

Regardless, as much as it pains me to welcome Barry Nolan to the unemployment line, he's owed a debt of gratitude from anyone who believes, as I do, that television news has completely lost its way. He took a risk that temporarily cost him his livelihood, but he gets to keep his soul -- and I have no doubt that if there were more of his kind out there right now, I wouldn't have much to complain about when it comes to the TV news business.

I could deal with that.

(Think Progress: Barry Nolan Writes About Protesting Bill O'Reilly)

Define Irony

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. When they finally lock up Lou Dobbs for generally being an asshole, I'm going to petition to have thousands of prints of this used as wallpaper in his cell -- just to torture him.

(Photo courtesy of Amy Claeys, a very nice reader who takes kick-ass photos of rock bands for a living. The little girl in the shot is her daughter, Charlotte.)

Listening Post

Every time I hear this, I stand in awe of what a perfect pop song it is.

Here's a live version of Doves' Catch the Sun.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The World I Knew

Like a lot of Americans, I've never considered Al Gore to be a particularly dynamic speaker. Even taking into account the recent and somewhat involuntary injection of pathos he's received via some very favorable conventional wisdom, he's still a bit of a dud. Honestly, when you think of the most inspirational, stirring addresses you've heard in your lifetime -- the kinds of thunderous calls-to-arms that leave audiences weak-kneed and fully prepared to mobilize for that potentially suicidal offensive into the depths of hell -- the guy who used to joke that his version of the Macarena involved standing completely still and who once called Joe Lieberman "passionate" just doesn't immediately come to mind.

That said, I do remember a series of speeches, delivered by then Vice Presidential Candidate Gore and culminating at the 1992 Democratic National Convention, which seemed to hit all the right notes and make for a bold and powerful statement against what at that time were the beginnings of a political dynasty -- one that had clearly lost touch not only with the American people but, quite possibly, with reality. Gore's familiar refrain during the '92 campaign -- those who were ready and willing to usher in a new revolution in U.S. politics will remember it as a sort of battle cry -- was only seven words long, yet spoke volumes: "It is time for them to go."

Ironically, 16 years ago, Al Gore's dismissive declaration -- the reckoning for which he was calling -- was aimed at a Bush administation. And ironically, 16 years ago, the logical cure for such a political and cultural cancer, at least in the opinion of Gore, was a Clinton presidency.

I was only 22 at the time, just starting out in the world, and yet my memories of the Clinton campaign -- the way it made me feel not just about the potentially bright future for my country but about my own importance in the electoral process -- are as vivid as if they were only a few days old. Put simply, Bill Clinton made me believe that I mattered; that the course the nation would take depended on me and those my age; that I indeed had a voice and a responsibility to use it; that there was -- dare I say it now -- hope.

It was time for my generation to stand up, be counted and help take charge. It was time for them to go.

And a Clinton would lead the way.

It's almost incomprehensible to me, 16 years later, that the name which was once so closely associated with faith in the future of this country and in the power of those who haven't yet been thoroughly contaminated by the astringency of the process has now become synonymous with the worst kind of Machiavellian, win-at-all-costs cynicism. To put a finer point on it, I may have wisened over the years and accepted the reality that the Clintons, like most politicians, are opportunists above all else -- but I never thought I'd see the day that Hillary Clinton so absolutely obliterated every last vestige of waning decency attributed to the Clinton name and legacy by invoking an event as horrific as the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in an effort to win an election. Over the past several months, it's true that we've occasionally seen the worst the Clintons have to offer the political landscape. We've witnessed innuendo atop gossip atop baseless accusation atop outright lie atop sickening bedfellow atop jaw-dropping proclamation atop unadulterated bullshit. We've watched Hillary Clinton straddle the sometimes razor-thin line separating admirable tenacity from self-obsessed, destructive folly. By this time, we thought we'd seen it all -- that at the very least her expanding army of skeptics would be deprived of any sort of final Hollywood-esque surprise twist.

Then, through either blatant underhandedness or negligent stupidity, she actually insinuated that her opponent for the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama, just might be felled by an assassin's bullet in the coming month. "Hey, you know, anything can happen -- just sayin'," she seemed to be offering up, during last week's interview with a newspaper in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She's since gone on to "apologize" for the galactically ill-advised comment -- something I feel the need to clarify because Clinton didn't, in fact, say she was sorry for even bringing the word "assassination" into the current political discourse as much as she argued semantics, attempting to justify the meaning behind her statement while tossing out an anemically half-assed mea culpa to anyone who may have misconstrued her point. In other words, Hillary Clinton doesn't seem to understand that raising, even for a moment, the specter of that most grisly and epochal of possibilities has zero place within a political campaign, any campaign -- no matter the rationale.

Which is why Hillary Clinton should not be president.

Which is why it is time for her to go.

I've never believed that Clinton should heed the calls of those attempting to hector her into dropping out of the race. True, I haven't been an outspoken fan of Clinton during this campaign, but at no point have I thought that she should simply step aside and let Barack Obama and his supporters roll over her and the historic feat she hopes to accomplish. At no point have I honestly succumbed to the notion that Hillary Clinton would make a bad president.

Until now.

I now believe that Hillary Clinton should withdraw from the race for the White House not because she stands defiantly, some say futilely, in the way of the Obama phenomenon which so many think represents the most noble way forward for the Democratic party. I believe that she should withdraw because no one who even offhandedly implies that the last, best hope for his or her candidacy might involve the ultimate snuffing-out not only of an opponent but of the dream that he represents has no place being the leader of the free world. Not now, especially. Not after all this country has been through over the past eight years. Anyone dumb enough to not understand how invoking the assassination of Bobby Kennedy would be interpreted during this particular campaign -- or barbaric enough to, in fact, understand exactly how it would be interpreted -- is not fit to become the President of the United States.

And so, once again -- it is time for her to go.

The sad irony that in my eyes -- the eyes of someone for whom the Clintons once represented a stand against politics-as-usual -- Hillary Clinton has become the very thing she purported to stand against so many years ago certainly isn't lost on me. The fact that the Clintons' notorious narcissism and sense of entitlement has reached such a level of insurmountability that Mrs. Clinton can assail not simply her opponent but the Kennedy-esque legacy of hope she believes he represents is repugnant in ways I'm not sure I can properly express. I knew Hillary Clinton could be a political monster when she deemed it necessary; I had no idea she could allow herself to become Grendel -- forfeiting her principles so handily that those of us who once believed in her and her husband's future for the country are now left to wonder whether there were ever principles there at all.

It is time for her to go.

Last Tuesday night, during the final showdown on American Idol, David Cook -- a 25-year-old bartender from just outside Kansas City -- sang a stunning version of a song that was released in 1995, coincidentally when I was 25: Collective Soul's The World I Know. As I watched, I was reminded of that time when I had faith in the Clintons and their vision for America. I listened to Cook sing, "Has our conscience shown? Has the sweet breeze blown? Has all kindness gone? Hope still lingers on," and I just shook my head, feeling more than a painful twinge of nostalgia -- remembering the world I used to know, and would very much like to know again.

I honestly can't say whether Barack Obama is the best hope for this country, even though he inspires the new generation the way the Clintons once inspired me. Regardless, I know this: Hillary Clinton absolutely is not. She doesn't even believe in hope anymore.

It is time for her to go.

Friday, May 23, 2008

See You Next Tuesday

My parents are in town for the weekend, so Jayne and I are vamoosing down to her parents' house in Pennsylvania for a big-ass family reunion type thing.

I've got my computer with me and may post something on Sunday, but if not, I'll return full-bore (literally) after Memorial Day.

Enjoy your holiday weekend, kids.

(Don't ask about the picture. I Google Image searched "Bar-B-Q" -- figuring it would be fitting -- and look what I got.)

Listening Post: Radio Broker Edition

It's well known by now that one of the coolest things about Grand Theft Auto IV -- in addition to a surprisingly engrossing story, being able to run down pedestrians at will, and driving a car off the top of a skyscraper -- is the soundtrack music. The "radio stations" that players can listen to throughout the game offer the kind of music you only wish real radio would play.

And of all the stations featured, none is better than Radio Broker -- DJ'd by actress/rock goddess Juliette Lewis.

So here now, as Juliette herself proudly proclaims, are just a few of the songs aimed at people who wear tight women's jeans and ironic t-shirts, sport asymmetrical haircuts, do coke (in an ironic fashion), and join online networking sites but are too cool to actually ask for anyone's friendship.

It's Radio Broker.

The Black Keys -- Strange Times

Whitey -- Wrap it Up

Greenskeepers -- Vagabond

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Project Office Mayhem

Your assignment, as usual: Quietly put the following link up on every computer in your office, then crank all the speakers to full volume.

Mischief points: 250

If you happen to work at the Fox News Channel: 45,700,310

(Bill-O's Anger Management)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cook Wins!

That's it -- I'm turning my life over to Christ.

Seriously, thank you America.

And congratulations David -- you rule man.

Red Reign

Well, at least one finals competition goes my way today.

Man United's the top football team in Europe (beating those Chelsea wusses, no less).

Raise a Boddingtons to the Reds!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Short Attention Span Theater: Tempus Id'jit

Because last Friday's column suggesting that Americans en masse pummel the crap out of George Bush managed to roust the three or four people still supporting him from their NASCAR-induced slumber -- and because I'm an antagonistic little shit -- I figured I'd resurrect a political oldie-but-goodie from September of 2006. If nothing else, it's amusing to note the seemingly bulletproof assumption that Hillary Clinton would pick up the Democratic nomination. Enjoy, kids.

The following is a transcript of the interview between former President George W. Bush and Fox News Reporter Chris Wallace, which took place on September 22nd, 2014. It is the sole property of Fox News Channel, and may not be reproduced in any way without the permission of the News Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Viacom/Universal/Pepsico Inc.

TC: 12:24:36 EDT

CW: A pleasure to see you again Mr. President.

GWB: Well, it's a... It's a pleasure to see you again Greg.

CW: Chris, sir.

GWB: Right, right... Chris.

CW: You've been out of office for six years now...

GWB: Has it been that long? Heh heh.

CW: Yes, sir... six years... and, well... tomorrow marks the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library... certainly something you must be very proud of...

GWB: Yes, yes I am. It's a truly uh... truly.. truly distinguishtable feat to be able to formerly dedicate the George W. Bush Presidential Library for People Who Don't Read Good. Quite an honor Craig.

CW: Chris, sir.

GWB: Heh heh.

CW: What specifically can visitors expect when they come to Crawford and visit the GWB Center?

GWB: Well, at first I asked that they have a lot of pistachio, because I've always loved that flavor... but then I was told that libraries don't serve ice cream... they... uh, well... they have books there. So I made a couple of specific requests... ya know, things that I figured people would like to see to take them back to the good ole' days of my presidency.

CW: Such as?

GWB: Well, first of all... uh, when folks walk in the first thing they'll see is the remains of the Constitution. I just figured that would really hit a perfect note right off the bat... kinda laying out my domestic legacy, ya understand? My library also has a... a very large Biblical section to remind folks how God picked me to lead America through its darkest time... TERRORISTS!

CW: I'm sorry sir? Oh right... no sir, don't worry... there aren't any terrorists around.

GWB: Right Carl, well ya know... August the 24th reminded us all that America has enemies, and they hate freedom... you do see that, don't you?

CW: Yes sir, the attacks of August the 24th were indeed devastating. In what way do you plan to commemorate that horrible day in your library?

GWB: Well, the mayor of New New York has been so kind as to relinqu... relinqa... to give up the spire that used to be on top of the Empire State Building. It'll of course be vacuum-sealed inside a large case to prevent the radiation from gettin' through... but I really think the folks'll enjoy seeing it. We're also gonna have the flag of "Jesusica," which is now kind of a... heh heh, well you might call it a collector's item.

CW: Yes, after the long-fought battle to put the union back together I could see where it would be an interesting piece of national memoribilia.

GWB: You betcha, heh heh.

CW: Are you at all angry that President Clinton turned down the invitation to attend tomorrow's ceremony?

GWB: Naw... Naw I guess not. She's got a lot on her plate right now... what with the New Syriana Islamic Republic summit she has to attend if she wants to get gas back below eight dollars-a-gallon. I really figured those folks over there would love freedom... it was on the march ya know.

CW: I know sir.

GWB: But I still believe that the fight to bring democracy to Iraq and Iran made us all safer.

CW: But sir, how can you say that when this country suffered several horrendous terrorist attacks since -- one nuclear -- and the entire Middle-East is now united under the anti-American flags of Hamas and Hezbollah? Wait, don't answer that.

GWB: Heh heh. August the 24th... did I mention that?

CW: Yes sir you did.

GWB: We had to fight the terrorists there so we wouldn't have to fight 'em here. See what I'm sayin'?

CW: Yes sir, you're right... we never even got a chance to fight them... it was over too quickly.

GWB: Heh heh.

CW: So sir, since I have you here, there are a few questions my readers xeri-commed to me that I feel I have to ask.

GWB: Okay, shoot. Whoa, Dick isn't around is he?

CW: No sir... truly tragic and very mysterious his being thrown down a bottomless chasm by his apprentice. Although not as unexpected as Condoleezza Rice's untimely stomping death at that outdoor concert. Most of us didn't even know she was an Indigo Girls fan.

GWB: Yeah, that one was a little fishy... heh heh, get it... fishy?

CW: Yes sir, I get it... anyway, those questions... are you angry that you didn't capture Osama bin Laden, and that he remained a fugitive until two months after you left office?

GWB: Hey now, wait a minute... I know what you're doin' here... you're doin' a Fox News liberal hit-job on me.

CW: You don't think that's a legitimate question?

GWB: I bet you never asked President Clinton why she didn't do more... I mean, during her first two days in office.

CW: I think you should answer the question sir.

GWB: But I thought this interview was supposed to be all about the George W. Bush Presidential Library for People Who Don't Read Good. Man, I miss the old Fox News.

CW: Well, sir... you of all people should know... free market economy. Rupert Murdoch is a Republican, but he's a businessman first. Once you and your administration destroyed the once-good name of America's conservatives by allowing far-right demagogues to hijack your party and its message, well... a good portion of America happily swung in the opposite direction... after the Christian wars of course.

GWB: Yeah well... I don't need you... I've got still got Karl.

CW: Actually sir, Mr. Rove was killed in a car accident last night... he was apparently performing oral sex on Bob Novak when Mr. Novak crashed his car... ironically right into the lobby of the Watergate Hotel.

GWB: Oh... uh... well...

CW: Yes sir?

GWB: You want some of this pistachio ice cream Ken? Gotta get rid of it somehow.

CW: It's Chr... oh nevermind... hand me a cone.

End of Transcript

Imagine There's an Extra Verse in There

So the American Idol finale is over and done, and although I'm willing to concede that David Archuleta did a hell of a job with Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me (I never claimed the kid couldn't sing), I still think Cook was and is a better all-around performer.

His version of Collective Soul's The World I Know was spectacular.

But why should music fans across the country see to it that Cook wipes the floor with Archuleta -- what unforgivable sin did Disney Boy commit?

He omitted the first line of Imagine, which, ironically, is musical fucking heresy. Archuleta knew full-well that the heartland's Jesus-Loves-Me-This-I-Know crowd -- his bread and butter -- might not take too kindly to him singing "Imagine there's no heaven," so likely at the request of his conniving dipshit of a father, the kid just decided to edit one of the greatest songs by possibly the greatest rock songwriter in history.

Please, please, please people -- TAKE YOUR KIDS' CELL PHONES AWAY.

John Lennon will thank you for it in the next life.

(Update: Check the comment page for my ridiculously shameful conspiracy theory regarding the judging on last night's show.)

This Is a Man's World

A couple of weeks ago, I made a desperate plea to America's adults to put a collective foot down and reclaim their waning authority from their children (Kids Incorporated/4.24.08).

Well folks, never will there be a better time for such a symbolic gesture, a mass show of strength against the forces of immaturity, than tonight -- specifically, during the two hours immediately following the season finale of American Idol.

As you can't help but be aware if you've watched Fox at any point over the past week -- no less than five separate promos for it ran during last night's extraordinary season finale of House -- tonight, David Cook will face off against Disney/Pixar's latest CGI creation, David Archuleta.

The choice here for anyone who likes even relatively decent music is simple: Cook is already a fucking rock star; Archuleta is the lost Jonas Brother.

The problem, however, is that Archuleta will win and we'll all suffer accordingly as by this time Thursday, his sickly sweet baby face, puppy dog eyes and wispy voice will be all over the goddamned place -- unless parents across this great land of ours take decisive action.

It's simple, really. Tonight at 9PM EST, as the phone lines open and the voting begins, I propose the following: TAKE YOUR CHILD'S CELL PHONE AWAY.

That's right, prove to yourself that you're not completely beholden to your kids; that you haven't abandoned all control and allowed children to dictate the trajectory of our pop culture; that you won't let your fucking kid make a decision that you and your fellow adults will be forced to live with for months. (Think I'm wrong? Just wait until your whining 'tween begs, no, commands you to keep your hands secured to a life-sized effigy of Archuleta longer than any other suicidal parent in your neighborhood, all in an effort to win tickets to see Little David live -- a concert you'll be forced to attend I might add.) I realize that whether he wins or not, Archuleta will still be the golden calf of America's young, female "Purity Ball" set, but tonight parents have the power to take a stand that will actually benefit their kids in the long run -- by making it crystal clear to them that life is all about disappointment, and no matter how much they cry or how strongly they've been led to believe that the world revolves around each of them, in the legendary words of Mick Jagger, you can't always get what you want.

Tonight's your chance to get your balls back, parents.

Don't blow it.

Queer Hi

So, I just got off the phone with Carson Kressley.

Don't ask.

Guess now I really confirm the worst preconceptions of all those fuckers who complained about the Bush column.


And still I continue to kill time while working on new material.

I never thought I'd see the day that I posted something from SNL on this site, but the show's Digital Shorts are usually good -- typically the only thing good in any given week -- and this past Saturday's was especially inspired.

It featured Ricky Gervais introducing a supposed Japanese version of The Office. The sketch works because anything even remotely Japanese is funny.

Why, you ask?

Because from what I've been able to gather, the Japanese are insane.

(Needless to say, I have absolutely no idea what the hell the title of this post means. I just picked a bunch of characters and threw them together. If I've just insulted Yasuo Fukuda's mother, I apologize.)

Listening Post

I'm seriously killing time while I try to get something new up on this site (although I'm shocked at the amount of mileage I seem to be getting out of that silly Bush post from last Friday).

If this musical interlude doesn't tide you over, nothing will.

Here's Weezer's Hash Pipe.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Listening Post

A Perfect Circle -- 3 Libras

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Modest Proposal

I'll make this quick and dirty.

Can we finally beat the living shit out of George Bush?

I realize that the mere suggestion of physical aggression toward a sitting president -- regardless of its basis in satire -- is often likely to warrant some kind of response from the Secret Service. But honestly, haven't we reached the point where we can come together as a country and just admit that this particular president really needs a serious ass-kicking? Over the past eight years, he's lied to push us into a war that's killed thousands of Americans and destroyed our reputation around the world, trampled our civil liberties, drowned the city of New Orleans, decimated the economy, halted scientific progress in the name of idiotic superstition, murdered the English language and through bald-faced incompetence, fucked us in every way possible while turning the same smug smirk our way over and over again as he does it -- and now he says he's given up golf in a show of solidarity with our war-ravaged troops and is comparing Barack Obama, a guy who was smarter in Pre-K than Bush is today, to those who tried to appease the Nazis in the lead-up to World War II (this last obscene indignity commited on foreign soil, essentially a violation of a gentleman's agreement aimed at preventing petty infighting in front of the neighbors).

By this point, every possible argument against the policies of George W. Bush has been made; rational Americans have attempted any and all tactics to force this White House to acknowledge the harsh reality of its idiocy, irresponsibility and illegality. Basically, we've tried everything -- and nothing's worked; the will of the people just deflects harmlessly off the force field generated by Bush's gargantuan ego as filtered through his miniscule intellect.

So really, if somebody has a better idea I'm all ears -- but I'm pretty sure we've run out of options. I just don't see Bush understanding anything other than a shitload of us stomping his arrogant ass into the ground. Guys like him, Cheney, Rove -- hell, even Condi (who's more masculine than all the aforementioned men put together) -- sleep like babies every night, safe in the knowledge that their mastery of the art of misdirection and obfuscation has left them untouchable to anyone constrained by the rules of civilized society. The only thing left then is to say fuck it, stop playing by the rules and get all uncivilized.

George Bush has never been much more than a tough-guy wanna-be -- an alcoholic pussy who runs crying to Daddy or Jesus when things get hard and/or when he fucks everything up; no matter the weight of his current title, he's still basically the same silver spoon-fed frat boy douchebag he's been since day one.

And you know the best way to deal with guys like that, right?

So come on America. Words will never hurt him (particularly not the ones in the Constitution) -- but sticks and stones should still do the trick nicely.

(For Entertainment Purposes Only ☺)

Members Only

Never have I been more proud to be associated with 23/6.

Behold, what could be's crowning achievement.

(Dickipedia: A Wiki of Dicks)

Listening Post

I'm not sure I've ever posted the same video twice, but if there's any band that deserves as many mentions as possible, it's Abandoned Pools.

They're one of those groups that everyone should know about and this song in particular is something I never get tired of hearing.

Here's The Remedy.

You Call Yourself a Friend?

Yesterday, a 49 year old Missouri woman was indicted on federal charges in connection with the suicide of a 13 year old girl who lived up the street from her. Lori Drew is accused of posing as a teenage boy on MySpace, then "taunting Megan Meier to death" (an allegation that's somehow being made with a straight face). Needless to say, Meier's mom was all over the morning talk shows today, demanding a life-sentence for Drew and unleashing volley upon volley of practiced indignation in defense of not only her late daughter, but ostensibly all of America's perpetually "cyber-bullied." Back in January, I addressed this somewhat dubious issue -- figuring that the questionable indictment that's just been handed was already well on its way.

I'm a big fan of Law & Order and generally mouth a little "Get 'em Jack" every time Sam Waterston's character -- grizzled, incomprehensible DA Jack McCoy -- pulls some clever legal tactic out of his ass to get a conviction.

This fact, in addition to providing a glimpse into the tragic nature of my daily existence, would probably lead you to assume that I'm one of those people who believes in justice-at-all-costs -- doing whatever is necessary to make the guilty pay.

Not exactly.

Case in point: Today's L.A. Times details a plan by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles to file charges against a Missouri woman who allegedly posed as a teenage boy on MySpace, then taunted a 13-year-old girl until the kid hung herself. Both state and federal attorneys haven't yet been able to touch Lori Drew -- who, as it turns out, lives only a few doors down from the victim. The reason of course is because technically she didn't violate any laws; it isn't a crime to pretend to be someone non-existent online, befriend a person, then reject him or her (which in this case caused the unfortunate "mark" to go into an admittedly nasty downward spiral).

Let me rephrase that -- it isn't a crime yet.

Displaying the sort of knee-jerk imprudence that's become de rigeur from today's gladhanding lawmakers -- a reaction which emphatically belies the fact that there are still a hell of a lot of real problems across this country in need of attention -- Missouri legislators are now pushing to close the loophole that's allowed the state's apparent epidemic of online bullying to continue unabated. They want to make it illegal for an adult to "harass a child online" -- because once again, this sort of thing happens all the time and it's about time someone did something about it.

The real tragedy in all of this, at least insofar as it pertains to the ability of the lawmakers in question to shamelessly milk such grandstanding for all it's worth come election time, is that the name of the victim in the Missouri case is Megan Meier -- and, unfortunately, there's already a "Meghan's Law."

At one time, we prided ourselves on being a nation of "laws, not men." Possibly the most obvious proof that we've become willing to bend this once-hallowed tenet of the rule of law is that our government now sees nothing wrong with enacting legislation as a direct, politically expedient response to a single high-profile crime, then slapping the name of the victim of that particular crime on said law -- just to drive the point home.

But while Missouri's working on cracking down on future Lori Drews, let's not forget the feds in L.A. who think they've come up with a novel way to nail the one still walking around free after supposedly ridiculing a kid to death.

It's the kind of clever legal ploy that would put a gleam in Jack McCoy's eye, really.

The want to charge Lori Drew not with killing Megan Meier -- but with defrauding MySpace.

How exactly?

By creating a phony account, using a fake name.

I'll give you a minute to stop laughing.

According to the Times, a federal grand jury has already served MySpace with a subpoena, demanding that the site turn over any information on the fake profile used to harass Meier. The mother of the victim meanwhile says exactly what you'd expect her to say -- expressing the popular sentiment that's given life to such a farcical tactic: She doesn't care what Drew is nailed for, as long as she's nailed for something.

Although points for creativity are certainly in order, experts agree that there's a pretty good chance this case, if brought to court, will quickly be thrown out of court.

Still, the potential legal precedent being set for the sake of making one admittedly rotten woman pay for her cruelty is something that should be neither overlooked nor underestimated.

Those who immediately bring up First Amendment rights obviously have a strong argument.

But beyond that, consider the three-ring circus of litigation that could roll into MySpace's little cyber-town should prosecutors succeed in getting this taken seriously in a courtroom. The potential consequences are as ridiculous as they are far-reaching.

A quick glance at just my own MySpace profile page should give you some idea. Among my "friends" are Sheriff Bart, Dr. Leo Spaceman, Pootie Tang, General Zod and Frank the giant rabbit from Donnie Darko. Even Charles Bukowski has his own profile -- and he's dead for Christ's sake. Now before you begin dismissing these kinds of profiles as being obvious jokes and bearing little resemblance to the built-to-terrorize site allegedly concocted by Lori Drew, remember that they're all equal in the eyes of the law.

That's what a precedent is, and common sense often takes a back seat to it -- particularly when it's wielded by a canny lawyer.

No one's saying that Lori Drew, if guilty of what she's being accused of, isn't a God-awful human being -- one deserving of a place in a special little circle of Kafka hell.

But it boils down to this: You cannot legislate every kind of bad behavior.

When you try to, it's usually the good people who suffer.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I Am the Goddess of Hellfire, and I Bring You...

So, you know how the first couple of rounds on American Idol are always dedicated to those cringe-worthy circus freaks who don't seem to display a shred of talent, yet who still labor under the delusion that they've got what it takes to win and wind up making complete fools out of themselves?

Among those poor, sad souls -- you know the overweight black girl in tasteless clothes with the badly and brightly colored hair who invariably gets up in front of everyone and shrilly screams her way through a really lousy song no one's ever heard of while bouncing all over the place, only to be laughed at by the stunned judges, forcing her to storm off while insisting to a pitying America that she's gonna be a star one day -- you just wait?

Well, guess what?

At least one of them was right -- because she went on to fucking win American Idol.

Seriously, watch this "performance" from underachieving former Idol winner Fantasia on last night's show and say to yourself the same thing that Jayne, myself and Simon Cowell did (watch for the hysterical look on his face):


A hearty congrats to Fantasia; in three short minutes, she managed to pulverize the credibility of American Idol more handily than Sanjaya Malakar, Jason Castro and that "Vote for the Worst" website combined.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Short Attention Span Theater: Death Be Not Proud (But It Is Cost-Effective)

Since I'm somewhat incommunicado at the moment, I thought I'd dredge up a little something from the archive. This piece ran in December of last year. I'm resurrecting it because it was recently published in an Australian magazine (in case you don't know, I'm like Lex Luthor in that country) and that's as good an excuse as any to put it back on the front page.

Even from where I was, in the bed on the opposite side of the room, it was possible to see the gruesome surgical-steel staples bisecting Miguel's head. They ran like a set of corroded train-tracks from ear-to-ear, just beyond the hairline which framed the top of his face.

I'd spent three days trying to figure out exactly what had happened to the man who was my roommate at the Cornell Medical Center Neurosurgical ICU. I watched the nurses run him through the daily regimen of post-op skill tests -- if you consider the ability to open your eyes, follow a finger held in front of your face or correctly state your own name a "skill." Likewise I watched Miguel fail many of these tests over and over again: He could barely keep his right eye open, at one point leading the nurses to get creative and use a piece of surgical tape to secure his open eyelid to his forehead; he never spoke in anything above a barely-audible mumble; his movements were languid and sluggish, as if his bed were sitting at the bottom of an invisible tank of water.

It wasn't until the day that Miguel's children showed up -- when I was forced to sit silently on the other side of the room and watch a tragic bit of theater play out in front of me -- that I finally worked up the courage to ask the nurse just what kind of catastrophe had taken place inside his ruined brain. Watching Miguel interact with his little boy and girl, or at least attempt to, was utterly heartbreaking. He seemed to barely notice they were there -- hardly respond when his wife, a short Hispanic woman who spoke little English and looked like she'd spent the past month sleeping on broken glass, stroked the palm of his hand. The nurses had been kind enough to put a patch over Miguel's dead eye and a Yankees cap on his head in the hope of hiding the most obvious scars of the surgery from his children, but even someone who had never met this man until a few days ago could tell that he was a mere vapor trail of what he had once been. Whoever or whatever had shredded his mind, it had done so with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Where Miguel had once lived, there simply wasn't anyone home anymore.

I wasn't even looking at the nurse when she explained Miguel's situation to me; I couldn't pull my eyes away from the sad scene unfolding directly opposite my hospital bed. In hindsight, it was the juxtaposition -- the image of the shadow man across from me set to the weight of the nurse's words -- that left me feeling as if someone had suddenly sucked all the air out of the room.

Miguel, as it turned out, was recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor -- the exact kind of tumor that had been removed from the same place in my head just three days earlier.

He and I were basically the same person.

And yet there we were: One of us reduced to the mental and motor skills of a child, the other able to watch him intently and try to analyze why.

There was a simple explanation actually as to why I couldn't recognize myself in the mirror of Miguel's one good eye so to speak -- why the layman would never guess that he and I had once shared the same diagnosis. It was because everything that happened after that point had apparently been drastically different, all of it culminating in two forms of surgery which, despite having the same goal, went about achieving it in ways that were light years apart. The operation that Miguel underwent may as well have been done by Theodoric of York compared to the hyper-advanced microsurgical resection that was performed on me by one of the country's most revered neurosurgeons.

Miguel was left with a massive scar; I had none.

Miguel had been in the hospital for well over a week, and would likely be there much longer; I would spend only five days in the ICU, then be discharged.

Miguel likely had years of mental and physical therapy ahead of him; In spite of a few problematic after-effects and a steady diet of medication that my body and brain would require for some time to come, I'd be back on my feet and feeling relatively normal within weeks. Right now, if I didn't tell you I had undergone surgery just a year-and-a-half ago to remove a tumor the size of a pinball from my brain, you'd probably never guess that anything had happened to me.

Same medical crisis -- completely different outcomes.

And as I sat there just a couple of days after my surgery, staring at Miguel -- at the mess his brain had become and the hardships he was now facing -- I reached one conclusion that seemed to be as obvious as it was offensive.

There but for the grace of my insurance carrier go I.

I work for one of the largest media conglomorates in the world. In fact, throughout the length of my career, I've rarely been employed by a company that wasn't wealthy, multi-national and in a position to offer its full-time staff access to the best healthcare money can buy. Yet something about this fact has always rubbed me the wrong way.

"The best healthcare money can buy."

An ironically sickening reminder that in the early days of 21st century America, there's nothing that's above having a price tag slapped on it -- not even your life.

The parents of 17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan understand this all too well. On Friday, they laid their daughter to rest in Glendale, California -- one week after her death, which closed a harrowing three-year fight with bone marrow cancer. Hundreds were on-hand for Nataline's memorial service, including a few celebrities who had taken up the cause of saving the young girl during her last days. Their appeals hadn't been directed at God or Mother Nature -- two entities who tend not to listen anyway -- but toward a much more powerful body when it comes to deciding whether a human being lives or dies these days: an HMO, specifically Cigna Corp.

Just before Thanksgiving, Nataline underwent a bone marrow transplant, complications from which caused her liver to fail. Cigna twice refused to authorize a liver transplant, despite a written appeal from her doctors (the company insisted the procedure was "experimental"); it was only after the case began to receive national attention and young Nataline Sarkisyan's picture began turning up in newspapers directly above captions calling her "the face of a broken healthcare system" that Cigna capitulated, reconsidering its death sentence. The company's chief medical officer issued the most public statement possible in an attempt to cast damage control as legitimate concern. He said that Cigna -- in a show of strength-through-mercy humorously reminiscent of Amon Goeth's decision to spare one life out of a hundred thousand in Schindler's List -- had decided to make an exception for Nataline "given our empathy for the family and the unique circumstances of this situation."

And the angry hordes picketing in front of their Philadelphia headquarters.

"We volunteered to pay for it out of our own pocket. We decided to bear the risk even though we had no obligation to," the good doctor went on to say.

It's a damn shame Al Gore already got that Nobel Peace Prize.

Unfortunately, in one of those unforseeable twists of fate, Cigna's big-hearted largesse came just moments too late. Nataline died a few hours after the decision was made to grant her the liver transplant that would've prolonged her life.

Well, as is repeated so often this time of year, it's the thought that counts.

Earlier this year, a lot of unnecessary controversy was generated by muckraking filmmaker Michael Moore's excellent indictment of the American healthcare system Sicko. I say unnecessary because, despite whatever feelings one may have about Moore or his politics, only the most ruthless capitalist would be unwilling to admit that the way we care for the sick in this country is almost irredeemably screwed up. We've given an entity as unscrupulous and indifferent as the free market control over the single most imperative decision in human existence -- literally, whether we live or die. Regardless of what Fox business-creature Neil Cavuto may have to say on the subject, healthcare and profit are two thoroughly antithetical concepts. Giving CEOs the authority to stand on the edge of the arena and issue a final thumbs-up or down while we lay incapacitated or dying is like charging a lion with protecting the Christians.

The most shocking and infuriating two minutes of Sicko, and the most effective, as Moore wisely allows the guilty parties to do all the talking for him, provide an irrefutable answer to the question of just how things got this way -- how a system that was once predicated on a commitment to good healthcare for all Americans became a cynical money-generating engine that's perfectly willing to let people suffer if it means turning a profit. Moore plays part of an audiotaped conversation between Richard Nixon and his flunkiesque Assistant for Domestic Affairs John Ehrlichman. The conversation is staggering insofar as the complete lack of shame on display (even from two men whose ignominy was already the stuff of legend). Ehrlichman advises Nixon on a plan to overhaul American healthcare that's being put forth by industrialist Edgar Kaiser -- the founder of Kaiser Permanente. Nixon says to Ehrlichman, in classic insufferable, who-gives-a-crap-about-the-little-people fashion, "You know I'm not keen on any of these damn medical programs." Erlichman reassures him by saying the magic words: "This is a private enterprise one. Edgar Kaiser is running his Permanente deal for profit. All incentives are toward less medical care, because the less care they give them the more money they make."

Nixon's reaction?

"Well that appeals to me."

Thus were sown the seeds of the modern HMO; the day after that conversation took place, on February 18th, 1971, Nixon proposed a new National Health Strategy based on managed care from private companies. It worked toward obliterating social medical programs -- because "Socialized Medicine" had long been dirty words, the product of anti-Soviet paranoia -- and masked greed under the guise of providing Americans with the best care money could buy, which was great as long as a patient had money to afford the best care.

Nataline Sarkisyan's family had health insurance, and maybe that's the most appalling aspect of her story. She never should have died because she was one of the "lucky ones"; the services were in place to save her life. Her parents fully expected that when their child got sick, there would be no questions, no arguments, no delays -- there would just be the care she needed. They lived in the most powerful, wealthy and technologically-advanced country in the world after all, and they both had good jobs and did their part to contribute to society. They were living the American dream. They were part of it.

Now they're left demanding answers -- wanting to know why, in this wealthy nation, there was even a question as to whether it was fiscally prudent to save the life of their daughter.

The fact is this: It's always cheaper to refuse care, and when making money is the motive, believing any consideration other than cost to be paramount isn't just naïve -- it'll get you killed. It's simply never a good idea to trust anyone who stands to profit.

The mammoth company for which I work made sure I had the best possible medical care when I needed it -- they paid for it. I never feared coming up with the money to see a doctor which meant that I discovered the tumor in my head before it grew to the size of a golf-ball which meant that it could still be removed through a procedure done by only three hospitals in the country.

It's because of all of this that I sit here today able to tell you about it.

I'm not sure Miguel could say the same.

And I doubt his wife and children believe that my life is worth more than his.

All Apologies

I realize it's been pretty slow around here lately, at least when it comes to substantive material. The truth is, I've got a lot on my plate right now -- job hunting, housekeeping (literal and figurative), oral surgery today, etc. -- so don't expect a full column until later this evening or possibly tomorrow morning.

Sorry folks, we do what we can.


The Management

Project Office Mayhem

Your assignment, as usual: Quietly put the following link up on every computer in your office, then crank all the speakers to full volume.

Mischief points: 7,000,000

(Head On)