Friday, July 31, 2009

Dumb, Dumber and Dumbest

Back in the New York Groove

I'll be crossing into Jersey and then New York soon -- on my way to the city, and my daughter.

Can't wait to see her.

Listening Post

A really terrific homemade video for an equally terrific song.

Here's Matthew Good's Born Losers.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Quote of the Week

"Its go time brother!!!!!!! Let’s rock it out!!!!!"

-- Ben Silverman's e-mail announcing his ouster as co-chairman of NBC Universal Entertainment

Jesus, even as he leaves the network he spent the past couple of years basically destroying from the inside out, he can't resist being a spectacular douche. Silverman's always been the ultimate example of failing upward -- the poster boy for an entire genus of preening idiots who somehow shuck-and-jive their way to the top but consistently fuck up everything they touch because, in reality, they don't have a shred of talent to back up all that megalomaniacal bluster. He's never been any better than the worthless Speidi-esque celebutards his programming has been based around and targeted toward -- and unfortunately, it took NBC going completely to hell for somebody to wise up and finally throw him out. Not surprisingly, though, Silverman's already landed a plum gig with Barry Diller over at IAC. Because it apparently will take literally burning an entire company to the ground for this fucking tool to finally lose that wholly undeserved "wunderkind" label.

This Little Piggy

I've been lucky enough to have a few truly excellent meals since heading out across the eastern U.S.; a couple of them have already been mentioned around here. But I'd be remiss if I didn't highlight an off-the-beaten-path place that I have a feeling I'm going to remember for a very long time.

It's called the White Light Diner, and it's supposedly the oldest restaurant in Frankfort, Kentucky -- run by an "opinionated" gentleman named Rick, who would be a dead ringer for Ernest Hemingway if Hemingway had decided to forgo the cable-knit sweaters in favor of Crocs and baggy pants with pictures of jalapenos all over them. The White Light is barely more than a single worn lunch counter, but the whole place exudes so much charm and history that it feels like the walls -- which are plastered with old pictures and various relics of the area -- are breathing with life. There's so much genuine nostalgia on display that you get the feeling you've walked onto a set in a Tarantino movie.

And the food -- just freaking incredible.

The cook's name is Slim and he fries up a mean crab cake, with a remoulade that's so spicy it'll melt your tongue. He serves fresh corn chowder in mismatched mugs and makes barbeque sandwiches with pork that's been smoked on a massive barrel-style covered grill that sits right out in front of the place. (Needless to say, the entire block smells fantastic.) The customers are pretty much all regulars and the conversation just adds to the whole experience. I could spend the next twenty minutes trying to explain what makes a place like the White Light so damn special, but it's really one of those things you have to see and taste for yourself to fully comprehend.

If you're ever passing through Frankfort, Kentucky -- this is one stop you have to make.

Gotta thank Drew for making sure I did just that.

Hello, Cleveland!

Rolled into Ohio yesterday at 1:41PM, with 1116 miles on the trip meter.

Cleveland gets an entirely unfair rap -- the place is great. Had dinner last night at Iron Chef Michael Symon's restaurant, Lola. Beef cheek pierogies with horseradish creme fraiche and lamb heart with whipped and truffled potatoes. Damn, damn, damn good. Props to Stephen and many thanks to Carly, for playing tour guide. You're right -- your city rules.

Heading east now, toward New York.

Listening Post

Not exactly the world's best copy, but a great song nonetheless.

Here's Pearl Jam doing Rearview Mirror live.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Bluegrass State of Mind

Crossed into Kentucky at 2:18PM yesterday, 890 miles into my journey.

Spent last night eating, drinking and being merry (oh yeah, and getting my ass kicked in pool) with Drew Curtis and the lovely and charming Cheryl Robbins.

Seriously one of the best dinners I've had in a very long time -- at Baker's 360 in Lexington -- followed by a couple of glasses of obviously spectacular bourbon and a trip to a kick-ass dive bar that apparently used to be a firehouse. I really can't say enough about this place: nice people, green pastures, horses-a-plenty.

This morning it's coffee, breakfast, then back on the road.

Next stop, Cleveland.

One Year Old

Happy Birthday, honey.

Listening Post

It's rare that television rises to the level of art, let alone poetry.

This is quite possibly the most beautiful, powerful and moving six-and-a-half minutes of TV ever created.

From the final sequence of the series finale of Six Feet Under, here's Sia's Breathe Me.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Labor Day

Crossed into Tennessee at 10:55AM, 650 miles into my trek.

Worth mentioning is that on this day -- tonight at around 9PM actually -- one year ago, Jayne went into labor. She would deliver Inara the following morning.

Very pretty country up here.

Move Along

Day two and ready to get back out there. Heading north through Chattanooga and Knoxville on to Lexington where I'll likely be stopping for the night to spend a little time and down a few beers with Drew Curtis.

Had a wonderful night in Atlanta. Thanks, Gina, for the Guinness, pinball and of course, Crunch bars. You're the coolest.

Listening Post

The ultimate song to drift away on -- or, in my case, drive across the country to.

Mazzy Star's Fade Into You.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Quote of the Year

"And getting up here I say it is the best road trip in America soaring through nature's finest show. Denali, the great one, soaring under the midnight sun. And then the extremes. In the winter time it's the frozen road that is competing with the view of ice fogged frigid beauty, the cold though, doesn't it split the Cheechakos from the Sourdoughs? And then in the summertime such extreme summertime about a hundred and fifty degrees hotter than just some months ago, than just some months from now, with fireweed blooming along the frost heaves and merciless rivers that are rushing and carving and reminding us that here, Mother Nature wins. It is as throughout all Alaska that big wild good life teeming along the road that is north to the future. That is what we get to see every day. Now what the rest of America gets to see along with us is in this last frontier there is hope and opportunity and there is country pride."

-- Sarah Palin, from her farewell address and apparently on acid

Please go away now, you moron.

(h/t Cesca)

(Incidentally, no, I didn't go with the instantly classic "would ya stop makin' things up" quote because it's honestly so fucking stupid it makes my head hurt.)

Familiar Ground

Pulled into Atlanta at 6:15PM, 510 miles into my journey.

This is an interesting place for me. Jayne and I lived here for a full year back in 2004 and, as much as each of us complained about it not being New York, we really enjoyed our quality of life during the stay. Traveling through here after all this time -- seeing the places we used to visit and even driving past the loft building we once called home -- stirs a whole lot of emotions in your humble narrator.

For the moment, I've set up shop in an inexpensive hotel not far from our old neighborhood (simply because it's centralized) and I'm getting ready to see a couple of old and new friends. Once again, I'm doing quite a bit of thinking about where I was just a year ago: Jayne would go into labor just a little over 24-hours from now. But while I'm here, I'm also considering something else: What would've happened if we'd never left this place to go back to New York? What if I'd turned down CNN's offer to move up north and had chosen instead to continue with my very nice gig as senior producer of CNN Live Today -- with our very comfortable life here in Atlanta?

A hell of a lot of "what-ifs."

Oh and by the way, on my way in here a couple of guys -- one big and fat, the other almost a midget, both dressed like indentical twin cowboys -- offered me $80,000 to go pick up a load of Coors in Texarkana, Texas and bring it back here for them in a little over 24 hours.

Think I'll take them up on it.

Peachy Keen

Crossed the Georgia state line at 1:27PM, 386 miles into my journey.

Sitting at a Stuckey's in scenic (not really) Valdosta.

They're hiring night managers. I'm so giving the guy at the counter a resumé.

Listening Post

Because it's just fitting.

Simon and Garfunkel, doing America live.

Quote of the Week (Early Contender)

“Everyone knows that Rick is an industry joke, he shows that he’s a hack everyday. And he doesn’t have to worry about working at Fox because we only hire talent who have the ability to generate ratings.”

-- Fox News Channel spokesman on CNN's Rick Sanchez, who spent last Friday night sending out a series of slightly incomprehensible, testy Twitter messages claiming that if he wanted to be rich he'd work at Fox but doesn't because for a Hispanic that would be selling out and how he's doing the right thing by staying at CNN, etc. etc.

The most amusing (read: kind of horrifying) thing about this isn't Rick's inexplicable decision to start ranting on Twitter; he's been doing that for some time now. No, what's really noteworthy is Fox's response -- Fox's official response via a spokesperson which eviscerates Sanchez in pretty much the harshest language possible. I mean, hell, they may as well have made fun of the guy's mother.

By now, nothing the schoolyard bullies at Fox say against their adversaries should surprise me, and yet I find myself still shocked at the kind of venom these people regularly unleash against anyone who dares to antagonize them or accuse them of wrongdoing. By comparison, think about the reactions of your average high-brow spokespeople for just about every other company in America when negative publicity is aimed in the direction of the organizations they represent: They're typically a quick "no comment," or "we won't even dignify that with a response." But Fox -- well, Fox has never claimed to be long on dignity. Their guys don't bother with any of that sissy "we're above these kind of cheap theatrics" crap; in the finest tradition of Nixonian dirty tricks, they add your name to an enemies list somewhere and set out to verbally assassinate you.

As I've said before, it's almost admirable how these guys don't take any shit from anyone. Almost.

Oh yeah, and not to bring this up again, but didn't CNN fire me for exactly the kind of thing Sanchez is doing on Twitter these days?

Rick, my old friend, if you can get away with it -- more power to you.

MEDIAite: CNN's Rick Sanchez Pokes at Fox News, Fox Smacks Him Away/7.25.09

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Road Show

"My witness is the empty sky."

-- Jack Kerouac

There's therapy in movement -- serenity in freefalling headlong into the unknown, particularly when what's known isn't so great. This is why, for a lot of people, the road is an anodyne. There's something indescribable about setting out with no particular destination in mind -- or with an eventual destination but no clear plan for how to get there -- and simply traveling. Going literally where the road takes you.

As it turns out, that's what I'm going to be doing for the next couple of weeks.

Beginning tomorrow, I'm hitting the road. I'll leave South Florida at sunrise and head north. My only clear goal is that by next weekend I want to be in New York City for the first birthday party that Jayne and I have put together for Inara. (Sadly, I'll miss my daughter's actual birthday, which is this coming Wednesday.) I've spent a lot of time lately turning over in my head where I was at this time last year and where I am now -- how drastically things have changed and how difficult that change has been. So for lack of a better cliché, I'm gonna clear my head a little by getting the hell out of town.

I've loaded up a roomy Dodge 1500 pick-up that I've been driving while in Florida -- after jokingly christening it "Nokota," named for Sitting Bull's famed breed of war-horses -- and I'm ready to road trip. I figure I'll start by heading up I-75, driving through Atlanta and so on, then, after I leave New York -- likely at the end of next weekend -- I'll come back down the East Coast, stopping in DC and who knows where else.

Somewhere north of me and interested in getting a drink or, you know, letting me sleep on your couch or something? Feel free to contact me through the comments, my e-mail or Facebook. I'm taking my laptop and mobile broadband hookup with me, as well as my digital camera, so I'll be updating regularly from the highway -- turning Deus Ex Malcontent, at least partially, into a bit of a road blog for awhile.

If nothing else, it should be interesting. I don't have any real plan or itinerary -- and that's sort of the idea.

To put a twist on another tired cliché: It's both the destination -- my little girl -- and the journey.

See you on the road.

Master Control Reprogram

Get ready to get your geek on, kids.

The official HD trailer for Tron Legacy is finally here, direct from Comic-Con.

Tron Legacy Trailer

Birth-Brains 3: The Reckoning

Chances are a lot of you have heard by now that a couple of days ago, in response to Lou Dobbs's decision to seemingly allow his brain to implode on national television vis-a-vis the whole "birther controversy," CNN U.S. President Jon Klein issued an internal memo declaring the story dead.

Chances are you may also know that, as arrogant bullies are often wont to do, Dobbs completely ignored the edict from on-high and continues to use CNN's air to express skepticism that Barack Obama is a U.S. citizen. Klein's reaction to this insubordination? Nothing of course -- not a goddamned thing other than to spinelessly, inexplicably make excuses for the guy who just laughed in his face in front of the world. CNN's been feeling quite a bit of heat lately over the Dobbs-birther miasma; there are calls for Dobbs's big orange head by people who rightly claim that airing a rumor, a debunked myth, goes way beyond the pale for a news organization that values its reputation, as CNN purports to. Klein, taking the classic enabler stance, suggests in interviews that Dobbs really does believe that Obama is "legal" (to use Dobbs's own tired terminology) and is simply reporting on the phenomenon itself.

Needless to say, this is crap. Reporting the bullshit rumor means furthering the bullshit rumor -- and Klein knows this. The people who believe this kind of nonsense only need to see it on TV or in print, in almost any form, to continue to buy into it. Unless your intention is to 100% debunk it and thoroughly repudiate those trying to advance it without a shred of proof or new information, simply a lot of half-assed conjecture, indulging the "controversy" at this point simply makes you part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Need proof? The moment Jon Klein issued the "Dead" memo, the right-wing clowns who still cling ruthlessly to the ridiculous birther myth immediately cried foul, screeching about how Klein's decision to declare the story over and done was, in and of itself, proof that they were onto something and that, of course, the liberal media was part of the conspiracy to silence the whole thing before the "truth" came out. As with the 9/11 Truth whack-jobs, almost anything can be taken as confirmation of their beliefs. That's the very nature of conspiracy theories and those who hold to them.

Jon Klein did the right thing declaring the story over, barring any new, honest revelations. It's a shame no one's listening -- least of all one of the anchors within his own organization.

I've linked to the story below a couple of times since the whole birther controversy began. I'm reprinting it this morning because I think it says everything that needs to be said about the media's role in the perpetuataion of the birther myth and conspiracy theories in general. It shocks me that even though this was written way back in August of last year, it's still relevant today.

"The Speed of Lies" (Originally Published, 8.28.08)

If you believe Philip Berg, Barack Obama is unfit to be President of the United States; his candidacy is nothing more than a dangerously specious house of cards that will almost surely collapse if allowed to continue.

According to Berg, Barack Obama harbors a secret which disqualifies him outright from running for the office of president -- and it's only a matter of time before the truth comes to light and the resulting embarrassing debacle leaves the entire Democratic Party in chaos.

See, If you believe Philip Berg, Barack Obama isn't a U.S. citizen.

Last Thursday, Berg -- a Philadelphia attorney who's something of a notorious presence within that city's legal community -- filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Pennsylvania demanding that an injunction be issued against the official nomination of Obama. The suit charges that the Illinois senator is constitutionally ineligible to become president on the grounds that he has yet to produce a valid U.S. birth certificate -- Berg claiming that the current one on file from Hawaii is a forgery, proven so by "three forensic experts" -- and that he maintains an unresolved dual-citizenship and owes allegiances to both Kenya and Indonesia, where his father was born and where he lived as a child, respectively. Berg says that he has access to copies of Obama's Jakartan school records which show the candidate registered under the surname of his mother's 2nd husband, Lolo Soetoro, and listed as an Indonesian citizen; as if to hedge his bet, he insists that even if Obama's Hawaiian birth certificate is indeed shown to be authentic, the school registry should be enough to keep the candidate out of the White House.

If these allegations sound familiar, they should; in one form or another, each of them has been bandied about the internet or bullhorned across conservative radio for months now in an ongoing effort to paint Barack Obama as "different."

Oh yeah, and they're all basically bullshit.

A couple of weeks back, the Annenberg Political Fact Check -- an organization whose credentials are pretty much bulletproof -- set out to settle once and for all the debate over Obama's Hawaiian birth certificate. The word "debate" deserves no small amount of qualification because, in reality, there never was a legitimate claim to be made that the document was phony -- simply a lot of fantastical conspiracy theorist innuendo, perpetuated and amplified at lightning speed by a million far-right dolts with computers and delusions of Sherlock Holmesian cleverness. Annenberg dispatched staffers to examine the birth certificate and ruled, to the surprise of no one with a modicum of common sense and two brain cells to rub together, that it's 100% legit; Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. As for the claim that Obama holds a dual citizenship or is in any other way beholden to a foreign country -- that was exposed as nonsense months ago.

And yet Philip Berg filed his lawsuit anyway. He filed it knowing full-well, one would have to imagine, that most of its claims are bogus -- that they already had been or easily could be debunked.

So why? What the hell would possess someone to willfully propagate claims that are tenuous at best and outright false at worst -- even going so far as to do it in court?

Because these days, when it comes to politics particularly, the truth is negotiable -- and there's value in the lie.

Whereas once there were a select few sources of information, and those sources were generally deemed credible by all but those on the furthest fringes of the public, now anyone can be his or her own news source. And while -- as this site, ironically, has advanced -- the rise of citizen journalism and hyper-connectivity has been good for the ethics of media as a whole, it's also created a treacherous wasteland of journalistic mini-fiefdoms, each spouting its own version of reality and together making it impossible, at times, to tell honest, well-researched fact from made-up crap conjured out of thin air to further an agenda. Whether the message comes in the form of an e-mail forwarded to your inbox by that paranoid uncle with the survival bunker in his basement who you're always hoping skips Thanksgiving, or as a bitter flamewar on every news aggregation outlet across the blogosphere, the internet has replaced television as the most effective and least regulated tool for political propaganda in America.

Which is why, ironically, it's now become the partial responsibility of television to help keep the corruption in check. It's too bad the good folks in the TV news media are usually unwilling to do it.

Mainstream media managers, as a whole, subscribe fully to the notion that bloggers and their internet realm are of an inferior journalistic stock; they see them as pests constantly circling the carrion of stories already broken by TV, radio and print; they condescend to them, dismissively painting their ilk as pasty, overweight losers, futilely raging against the machine from the comfort of a Middle-American basement, hopped up on Red Bull and basking in the post-orgasmic bliss of an afternoon spent masturbating to Asian porn. Those who adhere to the Mega-Media ethos believe that when a blogger does break a story, the quality of that piece of information can be judged by whether or not it rises to the level of inclusion in a mainstream broadcast, newspaper or magazine. In other words, only those above the radar can make the decision as to what's worth pulling up from under the radar. The problem is, the good stuff -- the powerful investigation, the sometimes penetrating insight -- gets passed over by the larger media outlets because it's, well, boring. It doesn't make for good TV or a quick, sharp read. Meanwhile, unfortunately, the garbage -- the rumor, conjecture, and misdirection -- is often picked up and elevated to the level of "real news" simply because it's so damn juicy and such a sure-fire ratings or circulation enhancer. A crap story thrown out by a few official-sounding blogs -- like the story of Obama's "phony" birth certificate -- can suddenly be granted validation simply by virtue of the fact that the "controversy" surrounding it is being discussed on national television. The lie is amplified inside the 24/7 cable news echo-chamber and, presto, it's suddenly palatable and worthy of serious consideration by 90% of the population.

It would be one thing if mainstream media outlets faced this kind of bullshit head-on and said, "No, this story isn't true, and if you believe it you're a lunatic." But it's better for ratings and revenue to instead ask, "A lot of folks are saying (insert spurious assertion here), but is it true?" (For the record, nobody does this vaguely referenced end-run on responsibility better than Fox News; see "Terrorist Fist Jab.") It goes without saying that this is how political propaganda is perpetuated; by reporting the rumor as its own story -- without sharply and decisively denouncing it -- you're validating it, giving new life to it, and ensuring that enough people will believe it that the very future of the country could wind up eventually hinging on it.

Ask yourself this: How many people still believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim?

Or this: How many people still believe that Iraq was connected to 9/11?

Very few within the mainstream media came right out and unequivocally shot down these ludicrous rumors before they could take root within the consciousness of the masses -- or at the very least, the minds of those who wanted nothing more than to have their preconceived biases confirmed.

There are thousands of Americans who will still claim that they "don't trust" Obama -- and yet they'll base this lack of trust on their willingness to trust an e-mail that got forwarded to them by a friend of a friend of a friend of some guy somewhere.

It's the responsibility of respectable news media everywhere to bring truth to propaganda and refute the fiction proffered for the sole purpose of sowing discord and confusing the electorate. It's incumbent upon the mainstream media, particularly if they value their stature as strongly as they claim, to shine a bright light on the lies, rather than fueling the fire by debating the merits of a story that they know perfectly well has no merits.

Should you believe Philip Berg?

It's a question that doesn't need to be asked, because it's already been answered.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Saturday Morning Afternoon Cartoons

Since I came up empty on Hyde and Go Tweet, which featured the monster Tweety I mentioned a couple of days ago, here's another Sylvester and Tweety gem: From 1949, it's Canary Row.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Birth-Brains 2: The Wrath of Dobbs

And the hits just keep on coming.

Rather than put the video up myself, I'm just going to refer you to Cesca, who did more than just post a clip of The Daily Show's epic takedown of (stop me if you've heard this one before) the laughably stupid "birther" controversy last night; he's also inviting intelligent folks everywhere to write to Lou Dobbs -- the target of Jon Stewart's on-air assault and a guy who claims to still not be convinced about the whole Obama birth certificate thing -- to express their collective outrage.

You have to see the clip to believe it: Stewart, through nothing more than a juxtaposition of irrationally contradictory soundbites from CNN, manages to sum up the jaw-dropping insanity that goes hand-in-hand with any perpetuation of the utterly debunked myth that Barack Obama isn't a U.S. citizen.

What's worth elaborating on when it comes to Lou Dobbs's alliance with the birther movement, though, is this: There's just no way Dobbs really believes the horseshit he's spouting in this case. He may be a demagogic buffoon; he may even enjoy playing the fascist paranoiac afraid of Mexicans infiltrating his precious bodily fluids; but he's by no means a blithering idiot. There's simply no way Dobbs is dumb enough to believe that Barack Obama isn't a U.S. citizen -- or even that the jury is still out on the issue. Like a lot of the nonsense Lou Dobbs spews, this is simply another case of a popular talking head knowing his audience and playing it like a badly tuned fiddle. Like O'Reilly, Beck -- hell, even Olbermann -- and their ilk, Dobbs's chief interest isn't being right or even smart; it's keeping viewers coming back every night. The bigger his audience, the more money he makes.

It's burlesque -- and that's pretty much all it is.

Dobbs is basically bitching to hear himself bitch -- and the more people willing to listen, the better. What he's saying barely matters, as long as targets of his populist bluster eat it up and beg for more.

Bob Cesca's Awesome Blog! Go!: Lou Dobbs and Birther Nonsense/7.23.09

(Update: I always hate when I miss the opportunity to throw out a really good line, especially if it's a relatively obvious one. To wit, the Huffington Post implies that Dobbs thinks of Barack Obama as the ultimate undocumented worker. Perfect.)


One of the most ridiculous and yet most telling phenomenons currently infecting the modern GOP is its willingness to latch on to all sorts of half-baked conspiracy theories about Barack Obama -- the most popular of which continues to be that he's not, in fact, an American citizen. (The number of times this crap has been thoroughly debunked is inconsequential apparently.) I've written about this before, taking the media to task for not immediately repudiating anyone who continues to spout idiocy like the "birther" rumor -- the kind of thing for which there's just zero basis in fact and which is designed solely to stoke the paranoia of the lowest common denominator among the conservative base.

Well, I never thought I'd say this, but God bless Chris Matthews for doing just that a couple of nights ago on MSNBC.

(About the picture: Can't you just picture Matthews as the evil "Mr. Hyde" Tweety, menacing his victim, Rep. John Campbell of California, with a throaty, "You bad old putty-tat!")

Listening Post

If you haven't already downloaded everything this guy's ever done, for God's sake what's stopping you?

This is Magnet, AKA Even Johansen -- Hold On.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Quote of the Week

"On one final note, I received a few letters asking me if I was aware when I wrote my Goldman piece that there actually is such an animal as a vampire squid, and if perhaps I’m not sorry now to have defamed this beautiful animal. The answer is yes (I’d seen documentaries) and yes. Apologies to Vampyroteuthis infernalis (literally, the vampire squid from hell)."

-- Matt Taibbi, apologizing to the vampire squid for having compared Goldman Sachs to it in his scathing piece in the early-July issue of Rolling Stone

(h/t The Daily Banter)

The Infamous Mr. Ed

Man, Ed Rendell is so screwed -- literally.

I don't normally listen to Opie & Anthony looking for breaking news, but astonishingly that's what I just got. A few minutes ago, the cast of the show on Sirius XM radio were interviewing Kristin Davis -- not the one from Sex and the City, the former Manhattan Madam who spent four months in Rikers in connection with the Eliot Spitzer hooker scandal from last year. There's been quite a bit of speculation that her operation at one time serviced another high-profile governor, besides Spitzer, and up until now she's been largely quiet about just who that governor is.

Well, during the interview, she admitted that someone she called "Governor X" employed her services at least ten times during a year-and-a-half period. She apparently wrote his name down on a piece of paper and showed it to Opie and Anthony, who then proceeded to spend the next ten minutes dropping hints that a 4-year-old could've deciphered.

"What, did he pay her in coal and steel?"

"I guess he had a little filly on the side."

"Did he used to be an Eagles scout?"

The whole thing ended with show regular Jim Norton making a hysterical Freudian slip during the plugs for his upcoming gigs.

"I'll be in Pennsylvania this weekend," he said, then corrected himself to the sound of everyone's laughter.

Bottom line: power up the phony contrition machine and the media pile-on -- things are about to get interesting.

Gawker: Who Is America's Other Hooker-Nailing Governor?/7.20.09

Too Much Information

At first glance, the piece below, linked in Salon this morning, might seem like the usual curmudgeonly howling of somebody who's recently graduated to the "Hey You Kids, Get Off My Lawn" stage of life. In reality, though, it's anything but -- and its assessments are pretty much right on the money.

The column also gets bonus points for taking a shot at that silly new Dylan Ratigan rant-and-rave-fest on MSNBC, Morning Meeting (which Cesca amusingly calls Why Don't You Go Ahead and Come in On Saturday, because it too describes a miserable workplace chore that no one enjoys).

The Keyboard Show (via Salon): New Syndrome: Attention Deficit (News) Disorder/7.21.09

Listening Post

Good band. Good song.

The Takeover UK, with Ah La La.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The C Street Band

"Jesus didn't come to take sides. He came to take over."

-- Sen. Mark Pryor, (D-Arkansas) and member of "The Family"

It's not often that you see something in a magazine or newspaper -- or on the internet -- and find yourself double and triple-checking to make sure that what you're reading isn't, in fact, fiction.

A piece in Salon this morning would've left me doing exactly that -- constantly going back to the beginning just to be absolutely sure I wasn't reading a creative author's entirely made up cautionary tale -- were it not for the fact that I've heard quite a bit recently about the shadowy Christian political organization known as "The Family." These days, the Illuminati-esque group operates out of a non-descript red brick townhouse on Capitol Hill and counts among its members a large contingent of lawmakers and politicos, mostly Republican, a few of whom have recently found themselves embroiled in very ugly, very public sex scandals.

If you haven't heard of The Family -- that is, aren't aware of the level of power this self-proclaimed "Christian Mafia" wields behind the scenes in Washington and what its frightening theocratic goals are worldwide -- then I highly suggest reading the following article. Suffice it to say, these guys make Scientologists look like rank amateurs -- and what's worse, they subsribe to a religion that a large percentage of Americans believe in wholeheartedly.

The Family says it represents and advocates "the totalitarianism of God."

Be afraid, be very afraid.

"The more invisible you can make your organization, the more influence you can have."

-- Doug Coe, leader of "The Family" Sex and Power Inside the C Street House/7.21.09

Monday, July 20, 2009

Listening Post

The Killers have always been kind of hit or miss for me. Their good stuff is very, very good -- they're not-so-good stuff is incredibly average and often vastly overrated.

All of that said, this is seriously one of the 10 best singles of the 00s.

Live from the annual "T in the Park" concert in Scotland, here's All These Things That I've Done.

Goldman Finger

Since I was out most of last week, I missed the opportunity to get into the news that Goldman Sachs just posted $3 billion in second quarter profits and set aside more than $11 billion as compensation and bonuses for its employees.

Thankfully, the ever-vigilant and always entertaining Matt Taibbi had plenty to say about it. He hit Goldman hard in his most recent piece for Rolling Stone, outlining decades of government-enabled malfeasance that made Goldman staggeringly wealthy while the rest of us sucked eggs. If you haven't read the full story yet, I highly recommend doing so -- although take a couple of Xanax beforehand, otherwise it'll infuriate you to the point of wanting to throw a chair through a window.

Once you're done with that, read Taibbi's reaction to word of the Goldman profits and bonuses.

Here's a taste:

"Last year, when Hank Paulson told us all that the planet would explode if we didn’t fork over a gazillion dollars to Wall Street immediately, the entire rationale not only for TARP but for the whole galaxy of lesser-known state crutches and safety nets quietly ushered in later on was that Wall Street, once rescued, would pump money back into the economy, create jobs, and initiate a widespread recovery. This, we were told, was the reason we needed to pilfer massive amounts of middle-class tax revenue and hand it over to the same guys who had just blown up the financial world. We’d save their asses, they’d save ours. That was the deal.

It turned out not to happen that way. We constructed this massive bailout infrastructure, and instead of pumping that free money back into the economy, the banks instead simply hoarded it and ate it on the spot, converting it into bonuses. So what does this Goldman profit number mean? This is the final evidence that the bailouts were a political decision to use the power of the state to redirect society’s resources upward, on a grand scale. It was a selective rescue of a small group of chortling jerks who must be laughing all the way to the Hamptons every weekend about how they fleeced all of us at the very moment the game should have been up for all of them...

Taken altogether, what all of this means is that Goldman’s profit announcement is a giant 'fuck you' to the rest of the country. It is a statement of supreme privilege, an announcement that it feels no shame in taking subsidies and funneling them directly into their pockets, and moreover feels no fear of any public response. It knows that it’s untouchable and it’s not going to change its behavior for anyone. And it doesn’t matter who knows it."

I've said it before but it just can't be restated enough: I swear, in another time and place these people would've been hauled kicking and screaming to the guillotines.


DXM: Get Rich and Die Tryin'/3.16.09

Quote of the Week (Early Contender)

"[C]oming on Meet The Press allows you to frame the conversation how you really want to...and then move on. You can see (sic) you have done your interview and then move on. Consider it."

-- E-mail from Meet the Press host David Gregory to an aide of Republican South Carolina Governor, Romantic Ambassador to Argentina, and habitual "line-crosser" Mark Sanford

RIP Meet the Press: 1947-2009

(h/t Cesca)

The Way It Was (and Never Will Be Again)

I'll make this quick.

I've spent the past couple of days "collating" -- as Ash from Alien might say -- my thoughts on the unfortunate death of Walter Cronkite. It would be easy to go into detail about the man himself: his dignity and dedication, his irreproachable level of professionalism, his enduring legacy in honest journalism. But for some reason, in spite of all that can be said about Cronkite's vast contributions to television news and news in general, I can't seem to get past the unintentionally amusing irony of what the coverage of his death says about the importance of the man and how it defines in clear-cut terms exactly what was lost -- and what will likely never be regained.

Put simply, to watch the often pompous lightweights who now dominate television news -- from the vacant Kens and Barbies to the self-satisfied jerks whose commentary has turned TV journalism into one big echo chamber -- react as if the passing of Cronkite is some sort of personal distress is more than a little laughable. The fact that Cronkite's nominal on-air progeny have not only a mere fraction of the talent that he did but possess almost none of his ethical backbone and commitment to journalistic excellence -- and yet are still more than happy to make a big show of genuflecting at his feet -- highlights in no uncertain terms just how much the news industry as a whole has changed since the days when people like Cronkite ruled the airwaves. Many of the TV newspeople of today are, for the most part, not so much in a league far beneath Cronkite's as they are not even in the same business. To hear the talking heads of today lament the passing of a man who helped define television news, you'd think they were actually doing the same thing he did all those years ago. In fact, they probably believe that they are; there's no doubt they think that by sitting in front of a camera and reading the news, they're the automatic inheritors of Cronkite's mantle. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. While there are still excellent journalists out there, excellence is no longer a prerequisite to climbing to the top of the TV news game -- particularly on-air. Unfortunately, almost any barely-educated idiot can do it.

Add to that the fact that the industry itself has changed so drastically -- abandoning so much of what guys like Walter Cronkite stood for and against -- that even the best work can be overshadowed by a business model that seeks profit above all, even, occasionally, the truth. And that's what it really comes down to: Cronkite stood for the truth. For telling Americans what they may not have wanted to hear but certainly needed to. He put the story above himself and his own personal gain. He was passionate about his responsibilities and didn't ask to come into your living room each night because he liked seeing himself on TV; he did it because he knew that the news he brought you mattered -- that a well-informed public was a strong public.

Contrast that with the modern mega-media ethos, in which important news stories can easily be tossed aside in favor of trivial fluff designed to keep you hypnotically glued to your TV, keep you asking your doctor about Cialis, keep the money rolling in for the stockholders, and keep your brain happily sedated and getting smaller by the minute. The job of journalism now is, to paraphrase the great H.L. Mencken, to discern what the people want and give it to them good and hard.

The death of Walter Cronkite truly is the end of an era. One that's never coming back -- and one which this country should mourn with everything inside it.

Listening Post

Happy Monday, folks. It's Metric -- with a fantastic acoustic version of Help I'm Alive.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Look Back in Languor

Because I'm taking a little break at the moment, it's time to once again resurrect some of the most popular columns from the DXM archive and the Huffington Post. Enjoy!

I go looking for Maxine Turner, and end up utterly heartbroken. And All That Could Have Been/4.19.07

As it turns out, I was one of the lucky ones. Death Be Not Proud... But It Is Cost-Effective/12.30.07

I let you in on a little secret about Mitt Romney. The Sectarian Candidate/12.6.07

I contemplate a young boy's uncertain future, while remembering a young girl's tragic past -- the first girl I ever loved. The Part that Never Comes Home/1.21.07

I pick on Hannah Montana and likely earn Zach Braff some hate mail. Montana Uber Alles/11.20.07

I have a tumor the size of a pinball removed from my brain. Where Is My Mind?: Part 1/10.12.06 Where Is My Mind?: Part 2/12.26.06

I am one very angry Disney character. Tigger with Attitude/1.8.07

I defend a gay, drug-using preacher. Sympathy for the Reverend/11.5.06

I get a rather nasty e-mail from a group of gun enthusiasts in Virginia, and respond in kind. Blow Back/6.21.07

I give you a glimpse inside New York's hippest hotel -- and at the spoiled celebrities who make life a living hell for its staff. Veruca Assault/10.26.06

I am Oprah's secret plan to own Rachael Ray and Barack Obama. There's No "I" in Oprah/10.25.06

I examine the curious case of Michael Richards and wonder if it's possible to spout racist language without actually being a racist. The Nth Degree/11.21.06

I hang out with 15-year-olds at a My Chemical Romance concert, and ask if you've got a problem with that. The Kids are Alright/4.2.07

I go to rehab (yeah, yeah, yeah). Welcome to the Monkey House/6.4.07

I decipher the secret meaning of "The Knut Song." Fight Cub/4.10.07

I cover the verdict in the O.J. Simpson civil trial. If You Want Blood, You've Got It/11.16.06

I have a plan to bring down American Idol. One Little Indian/4.5.07

I meet a man who's going to be executed in 24 hours. Things to Do in Texas When You're Dead/8.25.06

I sort of sympathize with child molesters and play To Catch a Hack Journalist with NBC's Chris Hansen. Idiot vs. Predator/3.1.07

I come face-to-face with the woman I've fantasized about since she stepped out of a pool and unhooked her red bikini top on film back in 1981. Girls, Girls, Girls: Part 1: Heaven's Cates/5.4.07

I become an overnight sensation, thanks to a bunch of douchebags. 2006: Year of the Douchebag/1.5.07

That Stupid Year: The Ten Most Ridiculous, Shameful, or Otherwise Unfortunate People and Events of 2008/1.5.09

The Top 28 Posts of 2008

28. Surrender, Integrity/4.22.08

27. Is Barack Obama Gonna.../1.7.08

26. Second Thug Life/5.6.08

25. Insolent Jest/10.30.08

24. Policing Themselves to Death/8.8.08

23. A Modest Proposal/5.16.08

22. Droll Models/7.11.08

21. All Fall Down/8.10.08

20. Let No One Put Asunder/12.21.08

19. Choose Wisely/9.4.08

18. Shade of Gray/12.9.08

17. Miles to Go/12.4.08

16. The World I Knew/5.25.08

15. You Name It/2.21.08

14. Why So Serious?/4.25.08

13. An Equal and Opposite Reaction/8.15.08

12. Not Another Oprah Column/2.28.08

11. Rich Lowry: The William F. Buckley of Fuck Talk/10.4.08

10. Wide Awake in America/11.5.08

9. An Open Letter to the American Media/12.22.08

8. Sweet Dreams/1.28.08

7. Kids Incorporated/4.24.08

6. Both Ends Against the Middle/9.11.08

5. Be Wary, Be Wary, the 10th of February (Exclusive to the Huffington Post)/2.1.08

4. The Meta-Metamorphosis of Sarah Palin/10.24.08

3. The Outsider/6.9.08

2. The Speed of Lies/8.28.08

1. Say What You Will/2.18.08

Listening Post

As you nice folks know, I rarely post concert bootlegs, for obvious reasons. But this one looks and sounds remarkably good -- and, sorry, but you can never get enough Hayley Williams

Here's Paramore doing their new single live.

This is Ignorance.

(By the way, no it's not your imagination; yes I've been pretty scarce over the past couple of days. Hope to be back up to full capacity around here soon. Thank you for your patronage.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Listening Post

How much do I love St. Vincent, AKA Annie Clark? Let me count the ways. She's obscenely talented, wonderfully clever and, well, just all kinds of adorable.

Here's Actor Out of Work.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Doom-day Scenario

Ask your doctor about FPSD, and what treatments could be right for you.

(h/t Cesca)

Quote of the Week (Honorable Mention)

"Your idea is that after investigating Bill Clinton for a blow job for like five years, we shouldn't investigate the huge, grossly illegal things that were done under the past administration."

-- Marcy Wheeler of, live on MSNBC yesterday afternoon

Needless to say, MSNBC's Tamron Hall and David Shuster quickly apologized on behalf of Wheeler, saying that she was simply being "passionate" about her argument. So, to recap: Neo-Nazi Crypt Keeper Pat Buchanan can recommend drowning Levi Johnston on national television and everyone on MS gets a good laugh out of it -- but say a naughty word and suddenly the protectors of America's family-friendly sensibilities feel like they have to trip over their Cole Haans and Manolo Blahniks to offer their sincerest regrets. Weird.

Tuesday is Recycling Day

Last week, I posted a rambling, incoherent, borderline-lunatic quote from Victoria Jackson -- former Saturday Night Live cast-member turned bullhorn for the religious right. I also mentioned that her upbringing included a stint at Dade Christian School in Miami, a place I was lucky enough to attend for about six months when I was 13-years-old. (I say "lucky" because those six months provided me with more great stories than just about the entire rest of my childhood.) Over the course of this site, I've brought up my time at DCS on more than one occasion, and this morning I'm republishing a few of the best pieces dealing with Miami's only high school that also doubles as an insane asylum. Call it "The Dade Christian Chronicles."

"The Second Coming... and the Third, and the Fourth, Etc." (Originally Published, 7.8.08)

In the 8th grade, I briefly --very briefly -- attended a Southern Baptist school.

To call the entire experience harrowingly surreal would be an insult to the collected works of Dali and Argento. The reality was that life at Dade Christian was, and I'd imagine still is, a little like being held in a prison camp somewhere in Stepford enemy territory. It was generally almost impossible to tell which of the kids had truly succumbed and accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior and were therefore willing vessels of the daily onslaught of superstitious nonsense being heaped on them by the school's silver-haired pastor -- a man straight out of Central Casting -- and which were just faking it out of fear that, if exposed, they'd be the targets of a point-and-screech mob scene, a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

It goes without saying that every class taught at Dade Christian was, in one way or another, a Bible class. There wasn't a scholarly subject or topic of debate that couldn't be improved upon by filtering it through a 2000 year old text written by people who literally knew nothing about anything. This, unfortunately, included sex education -- euphemistically rechristened "Human Development" and relegated to one or two class discussions helmed by a compact and balding, Phil Collinsy hyper-Southern Baptist named, amusingly, Bobby Winkler.

Winkler was a walking cliché -- the kind of guy who seemed to always be "on," as if he were acting for the invisible cameras of a Christian-themed reality TV show. He wanted to make sure that the kids in his care never doubted that the knowledge of an eventual ticket to heaven meant a life of 24/7 exuberance, and he went about it by rarely turning the "frenzy" setting below a flat nine. Any conversation with Winkler left you overwhelmed and in need of a nap.

One Friday afternoon, during his usual end-of-the-week "Ask a Bible Teacher Anything" segment, Winkler got hit with a question about the seemingly taboo topic of pre-marital sex. It's the sort of thing you would've expected to come from a class full of kids coping with a lot of nascent horniness, the kind that even Jesus couldn't help them stave off. One 13-year-old boy, a classmate of mine, asked Winkler what was so wrong with masturbation and sex in general -- why God had gone through all that effort to create it, only to turn around and declare it verbotten. (Obviously, the kid could've substituted just about any "sin" in place of sex and the argument would've worked just as well.)

Winkler's response to this perfectly legitimate question was to stand silently for a moment, seemingly taken aback, then ask the class in his booming southern drawl if it could answer the question of "why God doesn't want you to play with yourself."

The kid who asked the question, sufficiently shamed to the point of immediately trying to fashion a noose out of his shoelaces, shrunk into his seat and didn't speak up in class again -- ever again. Still, Winkler I guess figured he might as well attempt to clarify for his charges just what Jesus's specific rules were when it came to the pleasures of the flesh. He stalked back and forth in front of the blackboard, prattling off the usual "sex is between a married man and woman in the eyes of God" spiel, the sweat glistening on his abundant forehead like the AC had died and it wasn't a brisk 60 degrees in his classroom. This line of religio-blather continued for several minutes -- Winkler laying out (no pun intended) the standard Baptist arguments against pre-marital contact of any kind -- before the Bible teacher suddenly stopped cold, turned to face the class and said something that made pure liquid nitrogen run down my spine, even at the age of 13.

He looked at us -- his eyes scanning the class one face at a time -- gave us a frightening grin that can't be described as anything other than, ironically, devilish, and said quietly, "But let me tell you what happens when you get married. Once you're married -- you can do anything you want to your wife."

I bring this story up to show that the entire idea of sex and Christian Conservatism has always made me more than a little queasy. The two notions -- whether the former is of the married variety or not -- just seem completely incongruous. And yet something strange seems to be happening these days: Christian Conservatives, as they do with so many other subjects, are usurping and dominating the debate over sex by adopting an attitude that they can lay (once again, no pun intended) claim not only to sex but to better sex. As if Jesus makes them come harder than the rest of us, maybe as a little something to tide them over until the real rapture shows up and brings them all that eternal bliss.

The God folks arrogantly dictating the parameters of the discussion on sex in our society -- and everyone else willingly ceding the floor to them -- is a bad idea all the way around. People who've only experienced sex, ostensibly, with one person claiming to be experts on the subject is a laughable conceit.

Although not a surprising one, if Bobby Winkler and his implied proclivities are any indication.

God help his wife.

Read on:

( Jesus Loves You -- and Your Orgasm)

"And By the Way, If You See Your Mom this Weekend, Would You Be Sure and Tell Her, 'SATAN! SATAN! SATAN!'" (Originally Published, 10.31.06)

I always found Halloween to be kind of a silly holiday. I certainly understand its pagan roots, but at this stage of civilization -- things being what they presently are and all -- I can't help but feel that the inflated emphasis on ghosts, witches, black cats and the like as objects of fear is, well, Rockwellian in its quaintness.

I mean, could any of Edgar Allen Poe's delusions -- even at its most brutally drug-induced -- have ever metastasized into something as perfectly evil as Dick Cheney?

Terrorists want to kill me; my President doesn't have a brain, yet still inexplicably walks, talks and smirks; his ostensible second-in-command is regularly seen growling, and shoots his elderly friends in the face; human viscera lines the streets of Iraq -- and you're telling me the ranch-style house up the street with a couple of tombstones in the front yard, a vegetable with a face carved in it, and the all-night Monsterfest on A&E is supposed to scare me?

Sure thing.

That said, I'll relay a truly terrifying tale from my short time at one of the most frightening places on Earth: Dade Christian School.

The God-fearing men and women who ran the place were -- and no doubt still are -- committed to making sure that all of their students have a Halloween that's happy, safe, and free of the torment of eternal damnation. That's why every year, the school has its own Halloween party in which each child is encouraged to dress as -- wait for it -- his or her favorite Bible character. Needless to say, this typically causes some confusion, seeing as how the whole beard and robes thing was pretty much the only look going back in the day.

Upon learning the theme of the traditional Dade Christian Halloween-Without-Hell Extravaganza, I of course began peppering the teacher with question after ridiculous question about what my costume could and couldn't entail:

Could I pour salt all over myself and be Lot's wife?

What about water? Would dousing myself in water help me to stand out as obviously being Noah?

Could I just come naked and be Adam?

If I dressed as Pharaoh, could I cast the entire school into bondage?

Isn't Satan technically a Bible character?

These annoyances continued until the teacher finally ended them in the usual way: by sending me to the Dean's office.

Surprisingly, he wasn't expecting to see my face again so soon -- being that a few days earlier, an angry and frustrated faculty chaperone had deemed that I be exiled to his office for reading the novelization of Halloween III: Season of the Witch during the entire bus ride to and from our class trip to Disney World.

You know something? Now that I think about it -- maybe dressing as a Christian really is the scariest costume imaginable.

Happy Halloween, kids -- and whatever you do, stay away from Old Man Cheney's house.

"Jesus Loves Me, This I Know, For My Parents Tell Me So" (Originally Published, 10.8.06)

There are times when living in this city isn't simply tolerable but downright wonderful. Yesterday, my wife and I spent the afternoon wandering through the labyrinthian Museum of Natural History -- taking in the myriad exhibits on the science of the universe and mankind's growth throughout the millennia. We followed this up with a walk through a street fair in the kind of crisp air which can only herald the dawn of autumn, then an evening at my agent's place on the Upper West Side, drinking wine on the terrace and watching twilight descend over the city in shades of blue and purple, providing a view which was beautifully augmented by the rise of a giant and glowing full moon.

This morning, I dragged myself out of bed, threw on a leather coat and wandered out onto a relatively quiet York Avenue to grab a cup of coffee and a few provisions for the refrigerator. Given that I had no intention of straying very far from my apartment, I neglected to bring along my iPod -- an accoutrement which is attached to my person with the regularity of a soldier's sidearm. The lack of Dave Brubeck pumping into my head (the perfect soundtrack to a Sunday morning in Manhattan, I believe) of course meant that my ears were open to the sounds of the city itself.

It meant that I was able to listen to and fully appreciate the conversations taking place outside of St. Monica's Catholic Church on East 79th Street.

On the steps of the church sat a mother and what I assume were her two young children; she was explaining to them Christ's inarguable plan for their lives. Not far away, I strode alongside a family which had apparently just exited Sunday mass; the children were, as children do, innocently questioning the dogma which the priest had just laid out for them in no uncertain terms. It made me smile and shake my head -- a somewhat ironic gesture for a somewhat ironic moment.

Here were a group of children, willing to no doubt thoroughly buy into the existence of Santa Claus, asking logical questions about a professed truth which even to their young minds seemed incomprehensible. Their parents' predictable response to this curiosity?

Just trust us; you have to believe because that's the way it is.

Suffice to say, it took me back.

As it's Sunday, perhaps a confession is in order: I was raised in a Christian household.

To many, this will come as absolutely no surprise; it takes a fierce knowledge of -- and an even fiercer indoctrination to -- a given belief to eventually wage war against its tenets in any meaningful way. At some point -- exactly when, I can't recall -- I made a personal decision that religion in general and Christianity in particular was nothing more than absurdist wishful thinking, and that in this day and age it's more likely to get you killed by those with equal but opposite views of the hereafter than it is to create a more ethical and moral Earth for the totality of mankind to reside upon.

Needless to say, a majority of America and the world disagrees with me -- which as far as I'm concerned in no way substantiates its opposing position. For some reason we've come to accept Validation Through Democracy: the idea that the larger the group to adhere to a belief, the more likely it is for that belief to be accurate. Obviously, this is nonsense; it's entirely possible for a very large group of people to believe something that is completely false. At the risk of proving Godwin's Law -- it's important to remember that Hitler once had the overwhelming support of his people.

Many of those who are true believers in the concept of religion, of course, are parents. It is also, of course, these parents who instill their religious beliefs in their children, essentially creating an inherited fear of God in the same way an inherited eye-color, acquiesence to the parents' ideas of right and wrong, and even the parents' political beliefs are passed along. The end result is that religion becomes simply another ill-fitting hand-me-down. As I witnessed first-hand on the street today, kids will believe whatever their parents tell them: Insist that they must be "saved" and accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior and it will take years for them to believe otherwise (that is, if they ever do -- as opposed to simply passing down to their own kids the beliefs they themselves never thought to question).

If you'd like a frightening example of the dangers of this kind of indoctrination, go see the new documentary Jesus Camp. True, the film highlights only the most fervent of Christian extremists, but make no mistake that the ambition of these extremists is to thoroughly claim the United States of America for Christ. They want nothing less than the dawn of a new theocracy, and -- to borrow a line from George Benson by way of Whitney Houston -- they believe the children are their future.

The film focuses on the "Kids on Fire" camp which is located (ironically) at Devil's Lake, North Dakota. While there, children are forcefully instructed how to become "Christian Warriors" -- the eventual frontline in the battle to win the hearts, minds and souls of America. It's essentially a Jedi camp for Fundamentalist Christians, with a rather unassuming pastor named Becky Fischer playing the part of Yoda. Some of the film's most trenchant images are of children -- most under the age of ten -- weeping openly, speaking in tongues, praying before a large cardboard stand-up of George W. Bush (an image, coincidentally, with roughly the same IQ as the real President Bush), and talking about their initial desire to be "saved" because, at the astute age of five, they realized that they simply needed something "more" in their lives.

It would all be hilarious, if it weren't so utterly disturbing.

Some have seen the movie and have called the tactics and methods used on these children nothing short of brainwashing; unfortunately, it's simply parents doing what many parents do -- passing their beliefs down to their children, and giving them no other real option. Kids generally want to please their parents during their formative years, so if, as a parent, you tell your kids that they should believe the sun revolves around the Earth -- or that they need to be saved by Jesus Christ -- you can be all but assured that that's exactly what they'll do.

Understand, neither Pastor Becky Fischer nor the mothers and fathers who send their children to Camp Kids on Fire care one bit about my opinions or beliefs. To them, I'm to be at the very least pitied for what will surely be an eternity in hell -- or at most, despised for openly wishing to inflict my belief in logic and reason on the rest of the planet, which would inevitably turn it away from their "One True God."

This leads me to confession number two: For a very short time (not even a full year, for reasons which should be obvious) I went to a Fundamentalist Southern-Baptist school.

For the record, my parents sent me to Dade Christian School not because they were zealots or in fact subscribed at all to the school's extremist take on Christianity; I went there because it was right up the street from my home as a teenager and because it actually did offer an excellent education. Unfortunately, with that education came indoctrination. Dade Christian was -- and still is, unless raided by the ATF at some point -- the kind of school which force-fed students Evangelical dogma to the point of exerting a chilling level of control over not just their lives in school, but at home as well. Children weren't allowed to hold hands -- in school or out -- dance, attend rock concerts or generally do the things that normal kids often do. Important to mention at this point is the fact that the students who either truly believed the teachings of the school or simply hoped to ingratiate themselves with the teachers could be counted on to report the behavior of those kids who broke the rules outside of the school gates back to the almighty administration. Dade Christian School operated as if it were an occupied city -- complete with traitorous spies and a Vichy student government.

It goes without saying that I was less than popular with the occupying force, acting as the metaphorical insurgent who wandered the streets painting a giant red V over each Bible verse.

The clash of beliefs however reached critical mass in the wake of a tragedy.

A few years before enrolling at Dade Christian, I became friends with a young girl who lived up the street from me. Her name was Debby, and she and I would meet most afternoons to play kickball and generally get into trouble. We had both recently passed the point in life where boys and girls loathed each other, which meant that there was an odd but undeniable undertone of intimate curiosity to our relationship. We liked each other -- quite a bit in fact. We had the kind of relationship which was tinged with a level of youthful discovery that in retrospect brings a bittersweet smile to my face.

At some point however, it just stopped; she still lived up the street from me, but for a reason unknown to me at the time she simply seemed to disappear.

It was later, during my first day at Dade Christian, that I ran into Debby again. She was warm and kind to me, but strangely distant. I did my best to put it out of my head; I figured I would need all of my mental faculties to resist the school's relentless day-to-day prosyletism.

Debby and I never really talked again; we never got the chance to.

A few months after my encounter with her, there was a fire not far from my house. I awoke to the sound of firetrucks screaming past my window and quickly rushed outside to see what was going on -- running after the trucks until I saw what exactly had dragged them to my quiet neighborhood in the middle of the night.

Debby's home was on fire.

I stood silently, bathed in flashes of deep-red as the lights from the trucks created a chaos of long shadows and violent bursts of color. I watched Debby's mother -- whom I'd never actually spoken to -- cry loudly and collapse into a firefighter's arms. I never saw Debby come out; that's because she didn't.

I walked home numb -- a lack of feeling which lasted well into the next day at school. It was there, surrounded by tearful students and teachers, comforting each other with the knowledge that Debby was in a better place, that something overcame me. My numbness was replaced by something else: sheer fucking rage. I didn't doubt the honesty or sincerity of those who grieved at Dade Christian School, I did however doubt that they ever knew the Debby that I did. They never saw the truly beautiful young girl underneath the thick topcoat of artifice with which they had covered her through the perpetual insistence that there was something wrong with her -- that she needed to be "saved," and needed to denounce her humanity, herself. To those who truly believed the teachings I was inundated with daily, Debby was simply another lucky Christian soul gone to heaven.

My anger finally exploded just a few days later, during the memorial service held for my friend at the New Testament Baptist Church, which ran Dade Christian School. It was there that something so repugnant happened that I have no doubt of its impact on my view of religion since. During the service, the silver-haired pastor -- a man who looked as if he came right out of Central Casting -- stood on the stage and uttered these words:

"Perhaps something good can come from Debby's death. Perhaps it can teach you all that you can be taken from this world at any moment, and that you cannot take your immortal soul for granted. You have to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior now, because there may not be a tomorrow."

He then urged those who were saved or wished to be to come up to the stage to bear witness for all of those in the crowd.

It was at that moment that I got up and walked out.

I was in the outer lobby of the church -- pacing and shaking with what I feared was an uncontrollable fury -- when one of my teachers, one I happened to like, came out to find me. She asked me if I was alright, and that was when I let everything inside me come bursting out.

I tried to keep my voice down, but I wound up seething and spitting anger through clenched teeth. I told her that what was going on just behind those double-doors was wrong. I told her that she couldn't possibly condone that kind of macabre exploitation of a student who sat in one of her classes just days ago. I told her that there was no reason for Debby's death, nor the death of any other kid -- and that justifying or rationalizing that kind of tragedy was simply outrageous. I told her she couldn't possibly believe in a god that would allow such groundless suffering. I told her the death of a young girl was just fucking wrong.

And then I cried.

Rather than defend the grotesque spectacle taking place just a few feet from us, the teacher simply nodded her head in acknowledgement.

But there were others who didn't. Who wouldn't. They were children -- like the baleful faces at Camp Kids on Fire -- who have been the targets of so much religious agitprop throughout their formative years, from parents who believe that they're doing God's will, that they truly believe that the death of one of their own would offer a silver-lining in the form of an object lesson from on high. At the risk of being too provocative, you have to ask yourself: If this kind of manipulation of children were coming from anyone but those who preach the dominion of Jesus, would we as a nation tolerate it?

Yesterday, my wife and I visited the Museum of Natural History. As we took in the exhibits on the earliest incarnation of the universe, the earliest incarnation of man, and the fossils which act as a concrete testament to the existence of dinosaurs -- it dawned on me that there are children in this country who believe none of it. They deny proven fact because their parents do. They've learned to demand nothing less than a new age of unreason.

Which is nothing compared to demanding that the death of one of them be accepted as the unquestionable work of a god who operates in ways we're not meant to understand.

The best we can hope for, is that they grow out of it.

Listening Post

A couple of weeks back I posted these guys' debut single, Ain't No Rest for the Wicked. Well, here's their new release, and it's even better.

It's Cage the Elephant, with In One Ear.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Grandfather Claws

Proof that you can't keep a good pimp down, Joe Jackson -- abusive father to Michael Jackson and all around swell guy -- is reportedly toying with the idea of trying to form a "Jackson Family Next Generation" using his late son's three children as singers in a new band he'd put together.

According to Britain's The Sun and a few other semi-reputable publications, Shameless Joe approached Prince Michael, Paris, and of course "Blanket" (who's obviously still traumatized from being dangled over a balcony as an infant), suggesting that the kids go on tour next year as "The Jackson 3." The Sun says that the rest of the Jackson clan -- or at least those not busy claiming to anyone who will listen that Michael Jackson was, in fact, murdered -- is livid at the thought of Joe Jackson essentially abusing and exploiting his grandchildren the way he did all of them.

Is this story true? Honestly, who knows -- but does it really sound all that far-fetched being that it concerns a guy who used his son's death a couple of weeks ago to pitch a new record label?

I think just to be on the safe side, an angry mob needs to corner Joe in an alley somewhere and take a dozen or so 2X4s to him before he screws up those poor kids even more than they already are.