Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Quote of the Day

"I don’t know him that well, he has been monitoring relationships that Congressman Weiner has been having with women, young women, who claimed to have relationships with him. I’m not saying what type of relationships, but people that '@RepWeiner' follows. Girls that are quite young -- younger than the girl in question here -- talk openly about Rep. Weiner, who he follows these girls."

-- Andrew Breitbart referring to Dan Wolfe, who goes by the Twitter name @patriotUSA76 (of course) and who supposedly grabbed and reposted a picture that supposedly appeared on Rep. Anthony Weiner's Twitter account of a semi-erect penis inside a pair of underwear

The above quote came during an interview with Breitbart on CNN, an interview which opened the door to a number of significant questions that deserve an immediate answer, such as what the fuck is Andrew Breitbart doing on CNN?!

Jesus, what does this asshole have to do before the supposedly responsible press stops giving a crap about anything he has to say? CNN actually broke the Shirley Sherrod hoax story, basically blowing Breitbart out of the water on live television, with Sherrod sitting right there on the set as they did it -- and still they invite him on to make defamatory statements that he cannot fucking back up.

How do you know "Weinergate" -- as the Breitbart online Empire of Shit is breathlessly and unimaginatively hyping it -- is probably a bunch of overblown nonsense? Because Breitbart says it's a big deal. When he says anything about somebody, you can be pretty fucking sure the opposite is true. And his willingness to blindly back another no-name right-wing flunkie is likely one of those things he'd live to regret had he anything approaching a capacity for shame and sorrow.

Did Anthony Weiner send a picture of his cock to somebody on Twitter? Who the hell knows. And you know something? I don't really care. You know why I don't really care? Because Anthony Weiner never claimed to be a crusader for family values, hyper-righteous morality, forced chastity or anything else that would make it grossly hypocritical for him to be a bit of a freak. Does it suck for his wife if he really did it and wasn't hacked like he says? Yeah, actually -- but that's their business to sort out. It shouldn't be my responsibility to hold him accountable for something like that and even if I thought it to be mildly contemptible (to say nothing of stupid) I don't think it would have an impact one way or the other on how he does his job. Of course this kind of thing is entertaining and of course it's worthy of an entire arsenal of jokes -- but I'm gonna need a hell of a lot more to go on than the word of Andrew "I Fucking Lie About Everything" Breitbart before I hang somebody out to dry.

DXM History Repeats: Misanthropy

Technically, I could've filled six months with the pieces I've written over the past five years that showcase my occasionally rotten attitude toward mankind, but I decided to settle on just one -- one final post to wrap up our DXM Fifth Birthday Jubilee. And it's a doozy. Not only is this, yes, a personal favorite -- this sucker got circulated far and wide thanks to Fark and a few other online outlets kind enough to tout it as mildly entertaining.

The DXM Fifth Birthday Jubilee

Topic: Misanthropy

Number of Posts: 3,000-something

"That Stupid Year: The Ten Most Ridiculous, Shameful or Generally Unfortunate People and Events of 2008" (Originally Published, 1.5.09)

Well, it could've been worse.

As 2008 mercifully ends, we're left to ponder a year in which the real and the surreal were pretty much indistinguishable, where insanity actually became tedium, and where every silver lining was eclipsed by a brand new dark cloud. Sure, O.J.'s going to prison, but think about the absurdist comedy-of-errors it took to finally put him there. Yeah, gas is technically affordable again, but who has money to make car payments -- and for that matter, will anyone in Detroit still be in business in the coming months should you, for whatever reason, feel like buying American? True, Barack Obama was elected president in a political upheaval that can only be described as epochal, but, well, you don't really think Cheney's just going to quietly vacate his office come January 20th, do you? Not when construction on the new Death Star is so far from completion.

2008 will be remembered as the year that a simple "hockey mom" from Alaska, an ex-beauty pageant contestant and political neophyte, paved the way for history and helped prove once and for all that anyone can ascend to the highest levels of government in the United States -- even a black man. It will be remembered as the year that Beyoncé inexplicably demanded that everyone call her "Sasha Fierce" and Britney Spears demanded that somebody call her an ambulance. Then leave her alone. Then give her back her kids. Then buy her album. 2008 was the year that Michael Phelps won enough Olympic gold to make him the most financially secure man in America. It was the year that the flagging economy, taxpayer-funded bailouts and a holographic image of Will.i.am dominated the news coverage. It was the year that Katherine Heigl could claim to be better than the material being given to her and actually be right (only because that material happened to be the scripts for Grey's Anatomy). It was the year that an unknown plumber who wasn't really a plumber became a household name and a singer who was really an unknown bartender became the latest American Idol. Eliot Spitzer and John Edwards fell from grace and turned into national punchlines and Heath Ledger died tragically but still had the last, and lasting, laugh. Prop 8 passed and civil rights lost.

Everything changed. And not much changed at all.

So, as we watch that giant ball drop like the value of your 401k, ushering in 2009, let's take a look back in anger at the people and events that make us think that no matter what's to come, it damn sure can't be any worse than what we've already been through. In the words of Crowded House: Don't scream -- it's over.

That's not how the song goes? Well it should be.

We'll start at the bottom -- literally.

10. Madonna

Title: Cinquagenarian Entertainer, Gay Icon, Homewrecker

Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Cymbalta, Viagra, Geritol

The Facts:
You've really got to hand it to Madonna. Most waning sexpots adopt a nauseatingly pretentious air of faux-class in their twilight years (and indeed that's the territory Madge seemed to be staking out exclusively for a while). But only the truly self-absorbed can manage the kind of scandalous second-wind that catapults them back into the tabloids for breaking up not one but two celebrity marriages at age 50. 2008 was a banner year for the Immaterial Girl: She incomprehensibly got herself inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, very comprehensibly got divorced, had a hit single whose only appealing characteristic was the fact that its video was thoughtful enough to feature a large digital clock which counted down the time until the song finally ended and something else came on, and caused "Controversy™" by bombastically comparing George Bush and John McCain to Hitler and Mussolini. Oh yeah, and she brashly flaunted the apparently Benjamin Button-esque nature of her sex drive by fucking Alex Rodriguez and helping to land him in divorce court (Note to A-Rod: Being able to say that you're nailing Madonna doesn't carry quite the amount of clout that it used to. You may as well be the new bass player for Bon Jovi -- the guy who missed the stadium tours but gets to be on board during the state fair years). In between all of this -- somewhere in that hectic schedule -- Madonna found the time to get in a work out. Quite a few, actually. As in, she looks like a piece of driftwood that's been beaten by the ocean and left in the sun for a hundred years or so.

Mitigating Factor: Her succubine presence and presumed vagina dentata probably spared the country the hell of another Yankees World Series run.

"By This Time Next Year, She'll Be..." Post-menopausal.

Dishonorable Mention: Ben Stein, who pulled off the somewhat laudable feat of being on the wrong side of almost every argument in 2008, notably culminating in the theatrical and DVD release of the documentary Expelled, in which Stein insurgently railed against Darwin's Theory of Evolution in favor of the unadulterated nonsense that is Intelligent Design. I wrote it at the time but it bears repeating: The SNL writing staff, circa 1977, couldn't have created a more audaciously comical premise than Ben Stein -- a man so square he craps cubes -- writing "I Will Not Question Authority" on a blackboard while dressed like Angus Young. Stein is a Dangerous Mind only if you see mark-to-market accounting as a ballsy show of defiance, which makes him the perfect impertinent hero for the God-said-it-I-believe-it set.

9. The American 'Tween

Title: Consumer, Arbiter of All Entertainment, Not the One Paying the Goddamned Cell Phone Bill

Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Ritalin (for the Kid), Xanax (for the Parents)

The Facts:
If you're the relatively sane parent of a 13 year old girl, chances are you love the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus, right? No, of course you don't. What you've done is ceded your own tastes to those of your kids, who robotically inundate you with the same crappy music, movies and TV shows that Disney giddily bombards them with 24/7. This wouldn't be such a big deal were it not for the fact that your children are no longer harmless islands unto themselves; thanks to the internet and cell phone text messaging, they've coalesced into a hive mind and, what's worse, one that's turned them into a giant conduit/amplifier for whatever garbage is being cleverly and cynically marketed in their direction. In our new Wiki-world, those with the loudest voices can dictate what we all see and hear -- they can literally adjust reality to suit their needs and, well, have you ever heard how loud a 'Tween girl screams for the fucking Jonas Brothers? In 2008, the 'Tween demographic asserted its authority in unprecedented ways, forcing the rest of us to endure a seemingly endless cavalcade of Disney "Stepford Teen" entertainment, from High School Musical 3 to Miley and, by extension, her father -- the honest-to-Christ most spectacular douchebag on the planet -- Billy Ray Cyrus. We listened to the music, paid to see the movies and bought every manner of merchandise until our kids became walking billboards for this shit. Parents willingly allowed a million little Veruca Salts to inflict their will on the world, and did nothing to stop it.

Mitigating Factor: Well, they did almost nothing to stop it. David Cook somehow managed to wrestle the American Idol crown away from frumpy, willowy-voiced 'Tween fave David Archuleta. That's gotta be a step in the right direction.

"By This Time Next Year, She'll Be..." More than likely, pregnant. Or a member of the Pussycat Dolls. Or maybe suckered into sex with a guy like Chuck Bass on Gossip Girl, who'll then turn around and post naked pictures of her on the internet so that she can be just like her erstwhile idol, Vanessa Hudgens. But none of this will happen before she drags you kicking and screaming to see The Jonas Brothers: 3D in February.

Dishonorable Mention: Speaking of graduating to the big leagues of noxious teen entertainment, MTV's The Hills is so utterly devoid of any value whatsoever that the craft services truck could catch on fire, turning the entire cast into running, screaming balls of flame, and the correct response would be to sigh and flip your pillow over to the cool side. And among that show's collection of future has-beens, no two have been more overexposed than Spencer Pratt and his idiot pretend girlfriend, Heidi Montag. Their tabloid-friendly relationship, a triumph of post-modern meta-reality, peaked just a couple of weeks ago when the two returned from their fake fake elopement to Mexico to engineer a fake real wedding in a Beverly Hills courtroom, which the court happily went along with while presumably telling a truly in love gay couple to go fuck themselves.

8. CNN's "Hologram" Technology

Title (On the Record): The New Standard in Live News Coverage and Proof of CNN's Journalistic Dominance; Title (Off the Record): A Much Cooler Way to Spend the Salaries of 21 People

Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Primidone, Lasik, Changing the Channel to the Jim Lehrer NewsHour or BBC World News America

The Facts:
The ability to lay claim to the biggest "What the Fuck?" moment of the seemingly interminable coverage of the 2008 presidential election is a little like being able to say that you're the gayest man at a Scissor Sisters show. An exhausted America had already endured approximately 623 sponsored debates (including ABC's unforgivable gossip-and-conjecture-fest), the "lipstick on a pig" non-story and of course Fox's famous "terrorist fist jab" comment by the time election night proper rolled around. Yet CNN, obviously saving the best for last, somehow managed to make all of that inanity seem like the work of amateurs by pulling out its secret weapon when it really mattered. And so, on the night that millions tuned in to find out who would become the 44th president of the United States, CNN gave them something they'd really be able to tell their grandkids about: an uncomfortable conversation between Anderson Cooper and a supposedly holographic image of the Black Eyed Peas' Will.i.am. It was Vaudevillian theater in its purest and most ridiculous form, especially when you considered that the "hologram" in question wasn't really a hologram at all and that, as Wolf Blitzer had done earlier in the evening, Anderson Cooper was essentially talking to himself on national television. Taken on its own merits, this would've seemed like nothing more than a silly ratings-grabbing gimmick, and indeed it was swiftly and roundly panned as being just that. But the fact that it was the culmination of a garish year-long spending spree by CNN -- one that was immediately and conspicuously followed by a series of high-profile layoffs that included respected flesh-and-blood veterans like Miles O'Brien, Kelli Arena and the network's entire Science and Technology Unit -- made it clear that network president Jon "Diddy" Klein's priorities and his head were in pretty much the same place: his ass. When all was said and done, an interview with the New York Observer in which Klein had bragged less than two weeks before the layoffs, "We can afford more people on our air and off our air. So, goddamn it, we’re going to have more people," would become the icing on the irony cake and an almost amusing epitaph for those who'd lost their jobs. But hey, at least audiences could still count on being able to tune in and be dazzled by the pretty special effects.

Mitigating Factor: As far as anyone knows, the CNN "hologram" was built without the use of illegal Mexican labor -- which gives Lou Dobbs one less thing to bitch about.

"By This Time Next Year, It'll Be..." Obsolete.

Dishonorable Mention: Former wunderkind and current wunderkind (if you define "wunderkind" as a megalomaniacal tool who's inexplicably been allowed to run a television network into the ground with zero accountability) Jeff Zucker and Ben Silverman, respectively. The two top dogs at NBC, Zucker and Silverman bear most of the responsibility for making the network what it is today: 4th place. The former's handiwork can be seen in the almost preternatural level of cross-promotional whoring between NBC Universal entities (the Today show interviews contestants on Bravo's Top Chef who cook for the cast of The Mummy: Tomb of Whatever the Hell using GE appliances); the latter's handiwork could be seen in network television's tribute to the absolute lowest common denominator, The NBC All American Summer. Beyond that, well, his handiwork can't really be seen unless you're lucky enough to nab a seat next to him at the bar of whichever exclusive party he happens to be attending at that moment. Put it this way: Silverman bears an uncanny resemblance to "Girls Gone Wild" CEO and overgrown frat-boy Joe Francis -- and the similarities don't end there.

7. Joe Lieberman

Title: Independent (as in, He Doesn't Have a Friend in the World) Senator from Connecticut, Political Opportunist, Embarrassing Jewish Stereotype, Guy You Never Want to Take Handicapping Advice From, Mr. Excitement

Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Dexedrine, Pharmaceutical Cocaine

The Facts:
It takes a special kind of personality to go from being one party's candidate for vice president to being the go-to political hitman for the opposing party in the span of just eight years -- and that personality is, apparently, no personality at all. 2008 was the year that Joe Lieberman finally proved just how shamelessly and entirely he was willing to screw over those who'd spent a good portion of their careers supporting him. Like a desperate high school girl who flits from one clique to another sharing gossip in an effort to be liked, he'd spent years playing both sides of the fence and every conceivable angle hoping to stay one step ahead of political irrelevancy. But it wasn't until the last few months of last year's presidential race that the true evanescence of Lieberman's loyalty -- and therefore the general worthlessness of his friendship -- became clear to pretty much everyone. Old Droopy didn't just turn his back on the Democrats; he took center stage at the Republican National Convention. He didn't just support John McCain; he insinuated that Barack Obama might be a Marxist and, what's more, questioned his overall ability to lead (a somewhat laughable implication, considering the source). In the end, though, Lieberman's gambit didn't pay off -- so now, in wholly expected fashion, his one-time campaign battle cry, "Joementum," has taken on an entirely new meaning: "Joe meant... um..."

Mitigating Factor: Yup, it sure is fun watching as Joe sucks up to the Democrats, blissfully unaware that being their short-leashed bitch will almost certainly wind up being more humiliating than banishment to the Beltway's Phantom Zone.

"By This Time Next Year, He'll Be..." Exactly what he is right now: A lame duck. On the other hand, a couple of years from now you'll probably be able to find him trying to send back the Reuben at Ben's Kosher Deli in Boca. Or maybe on the Fox News Channel, where he'll be a full-time contributor.

Dishonorable Mention: Zimbabwean, ahem, "President" Robert Mugabe. To twist a line from Craig Ferguson, you know what Zucker and Silverman are doing to NBC? Well Mugabe's doing that to an entire country.

6. Tyra Banks

Title: TV Host, Former Supermodel (Current Plus-Size Model), Self-Parody, Harbinger of the Apocalypse

Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Topamax, Potassium Cyanide

The Facts:
There's no better caricature of fame in the 21st century and all that it represents than Tyra Banks. No one is more pristine an example of an entity whose entire existence is about the relentless pursuit of self-obsession simply for its own sake. Seriously, name one thing Tyra has done -- not just in 2008 (although it really was an ascendant year for the "fierce" one), but ever -- that benefited someone else more than it did her. Submerse yourself in Tyra's admittedly mesmeric vortex of televised self-love long enough and you actually begin to subscribe to the alternate universe she inhabits: one where she's the reigning queen of pop culture, where people actually believe that being a shallow and superficial fashion icon is an entirely noble endeavor, and where words like "booty and "badonkadonk" can be uttered in the same sentence as "Mr. President" and no one finds it the least bit unusual. Like her idol in the talk show game and rival in the battle for media ubiquity, Oprah, Tyra Banks has an affinity for taking any subject, really anything, and somehow twisting it inside out until the focus winds up being her and only her. But whereas Oprah has mastered the art of self-promotion to such an extent that it's become an almost exquisite thing to behold, Tyra's strictly a novice, clumsily bludgeoning the conversation -- to say nothing of the audience -- then propping up its limp body and putting her arm around it like some kind of trophy. And that's just on her talk show. Best we not even get into the grotesque minstrel show of gay and urban elitist clichés that is America's Next Top Model.

Mitigating Factor: Two words: Joel McHale

"A Year From Now, She'll Be..." If she has her way, holding Oprah's severed head aloft on the end of a spike and bathing in the blood draining from it.

Dishonorable Mention: Send the children out of the room; they shouldn't be exposed to the kind of unrestrained venom I'm about to unleash: CNN's Nancy Grace is the most loathsome, feckless troll to currently, unfathomably have a forum on national television. She's a vile, unscrupulous monster who peddles morbid prurience like a five-dollar whore and whose brand of rank solipsism is matched only by her near-sociopathic disregard for the lives she's ruined and exploited and by her apparent contempt for the tenets of responsible journalism (to say nothing of basic human decency). Nancy didn't do anything in 2008 that she hasn't done in years past, but then again she wasn't hit by a bus either -- hence, a place on this list. Incidentally, if that kid I mentioned a few seconds ago happens to be white and cute and disappears on his or her way out of the room, you can expect to see a hell of a lot of Nancy in the near future.

5. The Death of Heath Ledger

Title: Unqualified Shame

Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: USE ONLY AS DIRECTED

The Facts:
Certainly the single most startling event in the world of entertainment in 2008, Heath Ledger's sudden and untimely death last January initially left millions scratching their heads in shell-shocked confusion. But what made it truly noteworthy was that as questions were answered and the facts began revealing themselves, it all provided little comfort and almost nothing in the way of macabre titillation. The fact is that Heath Ledger was so damn talented -- his death, such a tragic loss -- that even the typically scandal-hungry public found nothing to revel in, snicker about, or wag its collective finger at. The whole thing was just so sad. So heartbreaking. There were the constantly televised and published images of Ledger with his young daughter, Matilda, and the ugly debate over her financial security; the threats of protest at Ledger's memorial service by the reprehensible psychopaths of the Westboro Baptist Church; the grief of watching his past films -- most memorably, his astonishing and anguished performance in Brokeback Mountain -- and realizing the true measure of what was lost. And then, of course, came The Dark Knight -- and Heath Ledger's awesome, iconic reimagining of the Joker. It's a testament to the man's excellence as an actor that we could become completely lost in the character he created while he was onscreen and really only remember as the credits rolled that we'd never see him again.

Mitigating Factor: It seems sickening to find a silver lining to this cloud, and really there isn't one. That said, it will be an ironic final tribute to Ledger's abundant talents that Warner Bros. can't bankrupt the power and novelty of his Joker character by milking it to death in sequel after sequel (see: Hannibal Lecter, Jack Sparrow, the last two Matrix films). It was lightning in a bottle -- and it gets to remain that.

"A Year From Now, He'll Be..." If there's any justice in the world, an Academy Award winner.

Honorable Mention: Although many would rightly argue that Tim Russert's sudden death by heart attack had a much bigger impact across a larger swath of the public, for my money the shocking suicide of writer, columnist, and masterful cultural observer David Foster Wallace was a loss of staggering proportions. Like Heath Ledger, Wallace was a brilliant practitioner of his craft -- at once comical, challenging, and an unparalleled chronicler of the human condition. And, like Ledger, Wallace suffered alongside his art without in any way intending to. Unlike Ledger, though, David Foster Wallace lived with the pain inside himself until he simply couldn't anymore. He took his own life after battling depression for more than 20 years. His work, however, endures -- with his masterpiece, 1996's Infinite Jest, deservedly hailed as one of the greatest novels ever written.

4. Rod Blagojevich

Title: Governor of Illinois (For Now), "Entrepreneur," Asshole

Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: A Huge Rail of Blow Done Off a Stripper's Tit and Washed Down with Five or Six Quaaludes

The Facts:
Alright, Andy -- enough already. Listen, man, it was fucking brilliant -- and I mean brilliant -- but it's time to take off the ridiculous outfit and just admit that it's you. I mean, we already knew you were a genius even before you faked your death back in '84, but obviously that was just the set-up for your biggest and best piece of performance art yet -- the greatest practical joke of all time. Only you could pull off a character like this and somehow get people to buy it: A foul-mouthed, belligerent and shamelessly corrupt politician; a Serbian-American with an Adrian Zmed circa 1981 haircut; a guy who's first name is actually a euphemism for "dick." Man, how the hell did you get away with this for so long? I mean, you publicly fought with your own cabinet, tried to smuggle flu vaccine past the FDA, threatened to beat the shit out of state senator Mike Jacobs, and called yourself "the first African-American governor of Illinois." Did you finally decide to go all out and try to sell Barack Obama's Illinois senate seat when you realized that no one was picking up on the gag -- or did you really just want to see how far you could push it? Either way -- fucking magnificent, dude. You're gonna go down in the history books. We're talking legendary. One problem, though -- you really need to cop to this thing, and soon. Really. 'Cause the alter-ego you created and have been nurturing for the past fifteen years or so is now facing a 78-page federal indictment -- and probably a shitload of jail time. Then again, knowing you Andy, that's all part of the joke. Genius.

Mitigating Factor: Not a one.

"A Year From Now, He'll Be..." Inmate #2259836

Dishonorable Mention: Proof that the left and the right are basically interchangeable, particularly at the "Craven Political Operative" level, Mark Penn was the Democrats' answer to Karl Rove before getting his substantial ass kicked out of the Hillary Clinton campaign in April of 2008. The CEO of public relations behemoth Burson-Marsteller -- in other words, the top liar at a firm whose bread-and-butter is lying as creatively as possible and doing it inexhaustibly -- Penn is one of those guys whose physical appearance perfectly reflects his personality: In this case, he looks like he should have a bikini-clad Princess Leia chained to his bulbous frame somewhere while a little Muppet-like minion cackles mindlessly from the rafters. It was Penn's brilliant strategy to suggest that Hillary Clinton and her surrogates bring up Barack Obama's past drug experimentation whenever possible, and it was he who took the are-you-fucking-kidding-me prize by saying that Obama couldn't take the Democratic nomination by winning a lot of states he deemed not to be "major." Penn managed to drag the campaign of the famously opportunistic Clinton even deeper into the mud, if such a thing were possible. Oh yeah, and he did it all while his firm was busy repping PR-challenged organizations like Blackwater and Countrywide and lobbying for a free trade deal with Colombia that Clinton herself was against.

3. Kanye West

Title: Voice of a Generation (Just Ask Him), Auto-Tune Afficionado, Little Boy Who Just Wants To Be Loved, Douchebag

Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Zoloft, Stick One Ball of Cotton in Each Ear

The Facts:
Let's just say it: Kanye West isn't nearly as talented, important, or distinguished as he thinks he is. He couldn't be. It's simply impossible to be a carbon-based life form and have achieved the kind of preeminence Kanye insists he has. If he were even half the omnipotent cultural juggernaut he believes himself to be, he would've shed his physical form and morphed into a phantasmal ball of pure energy years ago. For the most part, 2008 didn't really bring anything new from Kanye that we hadn't already come to expect: There were the usual boasts about possibly being the most influential human being since Christ; the inescapable guest appearances on the records of lesser musicians (the year's nadir being his irritating cameo on the already irritating-as-hell American Boy); and of course the petulant whining about how no one shows him the adequate level of respect and everyone is out to get him because he's black. But toward the end of the year, we were treated to a new, yet not even slightly unexpected, side of Kanye: that of the self-loathing mega-star. Certainly, the death of his mother took an emotional toll on him. But the supposed result of it and a few other recent personal catastrophes -- his latest release, 808s and Heartbreak -- plays exactly the way you'd figure an "introspective" album from Kanye West would. Even at its quietest and ostensibly least obtrusive, the whole thing exudes its creator's legendarily gargantuan ego. Kanye can do self-pity; God knows we've heard it from him before. But after being asked to tolerate his narcissistic swagger for so long, it's just not very easy to feel sorry for him. And 808s, with its ironically bombastic sadness, makes Kanye seem all the more like the kid who, even at his lowest suicide-threatening point, is just looking for attention.

Mitigating Factor: You know what almost did make me feel sorry for Kanye? His performance on Saturday Night Live a couple of weeks back -- when his Auto-Tune malfunctioned and he was left standing there onstage, looking and sounding like a really lousy karaoke act.

"By This Time Next Year, He'll Be..." Complaining about (fill in the blank).

Dishonorable Mention: Speaking of ego-driven bombast -- you can go back into hiding now, Axl. Chinese Democracy sucks.

2. Bernard Madoff

Title: Investment Banker, Two-Bit Con Man, Shakespearean Figure Sold Out by His Own Sons

Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Find the Nearest Window, Jump

The Facts:
When all is said and done, the financial scandal surrounding Bernie Madoff won't be remembered as the costliest or even most brazen of 2008. But his arrest coming so close to the end of the year -- simultaneously bookending and providing an almost mind-boggling crescendo to the economic disaster that began with the subprime mortgage and credit crises and escalated to titanic financial institutions folding and taxpayers being forced to buy up most of Wall Street -- Madoff has become the one instantly recognizable face of unfettered greed in America in 2008. Sure he bilked investors out of billions of dollars -- perpetrating the largest fraud of its kind by a single person ever -- but more than that, he symbolized, maybe better than anything or anyone, the death of laissez-faire capitalism. The end of a political and economic era. Thanks to government deregulation and a complete lack of oversight, guys like Madoff had been able to run the table with impunity, turning Wall Street and the global market into their own personal sandbox at the expense of the average person looking to carve out his or her slice of the American dream. It's simply staggering when you consider what Madoff got away with; or the fact that AIG's top executives treated themselves to a half-million dollar spa vacation just a few weeks after the government bailed out their company to the tune of 85-billion dollars; or the fact that JP Morgan is still being arrogantly cryptic about what it's doing with the 25-billion that it received in the bail-out; or that the heads of the big three automakers flew private jets to D.C. to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for their flagging companies. I swear, in another time and place, the struggling masses would've carried these people kicking and screaming to the public square and joyously guillotined them.

Mitigating Factor: Like a raging alcoholic who suddenly wakes up one morning to find himself broke and beaten nearly to death in a gutter, it took hitting rock bottom for this country to finally decide that it's fucking had enough.

"By This Time Next Year, He'll Be..." Inmate #2259837

Dishonorable Mention: It's probably a tie between corrupt-as-hell Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens -- now a convicted felon but always in our hearts as the man who lobbied for the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" and who understands the profound differences between the internet and a truck -- and New York Times columnist and neo-con architect Bill Kristol, who best symbolizes the far right's pig-headed tenacity when it comes to being unwilling to admit to its mistakes. Kristol was wrong about everything -- seriously, everything -- and yet continues to walk around with that Cheshire-Cat-on-Valium smirk on his face while espousing a political philosophy which failed in devastating fashion over the last eight years and was soundly rejected by voters in November of 2008.

1. Sarah Palin

Title: Alaskan Governor (Still), Political Nobody (Formerly), Likely Leader of the Republican Party (Currently), Fashion Plate, Punchline

Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Oxycodone, Hyrdocodone, Haloperidol, Lithium, All Taken by the Handful; Nitrous Oxide, Prozac

The Facts:
Man, oh man. It would be great to be able to throw some sort of Shyamalanian twist in here at the end, but there's just no way to escape the inevitable: Sarah Palin was hands-down the dumbest thing going in 2008. A comedian's wet dream -- and Intelligent America's worst nightmare should her political aspirations have come to fruition -- Palin was so astonishing in her provincial arrogance, so spectacular in her lack of knowledge or shame, and so admittedly awe-inspiring in her commitment to overlooking her own obvious deficiencies while putting absolute faith in both Jesus and the notion that a well-placed wink and a little small-town sweet talk was all she'd need to succeed on the world stage that her campaign instantly became a benchmark in unabashed folly. The new gold standard for idiocy in the 21st century. We could run down the moments that will be etched in our collective memory for years to come (at least one would hope they will; the alternative could be disastrous) but that would take all day. Instead, best we just cut to the chase: Sarah Palin was almost single-handedly responsible for turning the 2008 Presidential Election into a referendum not on left vs. right or rural vs. metropolitan -- but on smart vs. dumb. Her invocation of the supposed moral and political authority of "Joe Six Pack," particularly as opposed to everyone else in the country, and her smug and insulting implied denunciation of those who place a high value on intellect and education trod all-too-familiar ground for the Republicans; it reduced what had been an election season focused, for the most part, on issues to what some in the party hoped would be a fear-based culture war that would once again lead them to victory. But here was the best part: Palin never really saw herself as the small-town hick she pretended to be and hoped to ingratiate herself to. This was proven by the lavish spending spree that transformed her and her family into, literally, the Beverly Hillbillies. The truth is that she always aspired to be a fashion icon, some hyper-hottie in a tight leather blazer and knee-high black boots, someone worthy of a $75,000 shopping trip to Neiman Marcus. Sarah Palin became everything she ever dreamed of being: Sex and the City, right down to the "city" part. Sure, publicly she rebuked and ridiculed those cosmopolitan urbanites in their bustling elitist hubs, but she knew damn well that she couldn't buy Valentino and Louis Vuitton at the Wal-Mart in Wasilla -- and if you don't think that Sarah Heath Palin had always fantasized about wearing Valentino and carrying Louis Vuitton, I've got a bridge to nowhere I want to sell you. She was always a backwater dingbat, but she became a very well put together backwater dingbat -- which likely convinced her that she was no longer a backwater dingbat. If this is true, then it would mean that Palin essentially ascended to the same position as George W. Bush and her GOP benefactors: she only played the part of the rube and was, in fact, secretly talking down to every one of those pick-up-driving Toby Keith fans who showed up to her rallies -- the Dickies-clad folk not lucky enough to have won the Miss Vice Presidential pageant and been scooped up to a life of charter jets and appearances on Saturday Night Live. Sarah Palin was and remains completely full of shit, but we should be willing to concede that perhaps she's dumb as a fox -- which doesn't negate the fact that she's still dumb. Still a triumph of style over substance. And still dangerous.

Mitigating Factor: President Barack Obama, Tina Fey

"By This Time Next Year, She'll Be..." Already on the ticket in at least 23 states. And a great-grandmother.

Dishonorable Mention: Joe the Plumber -- who was neither named Joe nor a plumber. Tell me you don't roll your eyes at the mere mention of this entirely fictional mascot for the McCain campaign. Uh-huh -- I thought so.

Postscript: For those who have expressed curiosity as to why George W. Bush -- or for that matter Hillary Clinton -- wasn't chosen for this list, the answer is simple: The Bushes and Clintons are practically emeritii at this point when it comes to being the worst of the worst. I figured I'd give a few new folks a chance to compete. See you again in January of 2010.

Listening Post

Sure it's one of those snotty youth anthems, but as snotty youth anthems go it's pretty damn good.

Here's Sum 41's Fat Lip.

I'll be out of the loop most of the day but I'll be checking in here and there. Have a good one.

Monday, May 30, 2011

DXM History Repeats: Inara

Here on the fifth birthday of DXM, there's not a whole lot that I can add to the following two pieces. They kind of speak for themselves.

DXM Fifth Birthday Jubilee

Topic: Inara

Number of Posts: 108

"Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" (Originally Published, 9.5.10)

I just put Inara to bed.

Every parent believes his or her child is special. I realize that there's a danger in this way of thinking; far too often it plants a demon seed which grows into an insufferable sense of entitlement as the years go by in a young life. We've watched the effect of this brand of parenting on a massive scale -- with children serving as little more than the reflection of their mothers' and fathers' own narcissism -- as it reached a point of critical mass over the past decade. We've been forced to live with the consequences of it, and we've come to despise it.

But all of that being said, I have no choice but to believe -- after all I've seen and felt and come to understand -- that there is something different about my daughter.

It's not simply that she's learning at a truly accelerated pace; that she counts higher or spells better or comprehends concepts she shouldn't be able to at the age of 25 months or engages in two-dimensional thinking; there are plenty of parents who can make that claim. No, what Inara possesses and exhibits that never ceases to leave me astonished -- and occasionally shaken to my very soul -- is empathy. Humanity. She's not just an incredibly sweet little girl; she seems to have a genuine understanding, on a primal level, of the way those around her are feeling. She knows when people are happy, or sad, or angry, or excited, or lost. She feels it. Maybe this gift is something many children have, and I've just never been around one long enough to see it for myself. Maybe it's perfectly natural for a father to convince himself of these things when it comes to his child.


But she's taught me that sometimes I need to shut my brain off, to stop spending my life trying to peek behind the curtain to see how the magic trick is done. And when I do this, I know I can't come up with any other explanation for Inara's rare and inexplicable compassion for the world around her than it being just that: some form of beautiful magic.

Earlier today, she and I went to a place called Butterfly World. While she was wandering the aviary, laughing out loud as butterflies danced all around her, she noticed a man standing alone. She looked down, suddenly very quiet, picked up a flower from off the ground and walked over to him. Without saying a word, she handed it up to him. The look on his face as he leaned over and took the flower from her was something I will never forget. There was more beauty in that moment than in almost anything I've seen throughout my life.

Later, when we got home, she and I laid down together for a nap on the couch. We slept until we were awakened by the sound of rain on the lake outside. She curled up closer to me as the thunder came. I told her not to be afraid -- that it was wonderful. The living room strobed white with lightning, so I whispered to her, "Give me your hand," and we held our arms out together like a maestro conducting an orchestra. I waved her arm up with mine at the moment the sky cracked and exploded, shaking the entire room.

Years from now, I hope she remembers that when she was just a little girl, she and her father could make the thunder.

"Goodnight Noises Everywhere" (Originally Published, 6.5.10)

Tomorrow morning, Inara goes back to New York -- but tonight there was this:

After watching some TV on the couch together, followed by a little collaboration on a coloring book that features cartoons of dogs (whenever Inara wants to do this, she gets the book, looks up and announces, "Draw puppy?") and a couple of bites of what she excitedly called a "yummy salad," I finally decided to put my daughter down for the night.

I picked Inara up, carried her into her room and set her gently in bed -- along with a cup of milk, her blanket and stuffed bunny -- then laid down next to her on the floor. I listened to her fidget for a few minutes, then from out of the darkness came a tiny voice.


"Yes, baby."

Nothing. She didn't respond at all, just went back to sucking on her sippy cup.

A few moments later, there was the voice again, even quieter this time.


"Yes, honey. I'm here."

Even though she couldn't see it, I gave her a warm and reassuring smile -- one fueled by pure contentment.

Again a little later: "Daddy?"

"Yes, Inara. I'm still here. I'll always be here."

After a while, the voice grew smaller and smaller -- its entreaties further and further apart. But each time she called out for me, I answered, until she stopped altogether and the only sound left in the room was her steady breathing.

This is the best Saturday night I've had in years.

Happy Birthday

My little experiment turns five-years-old today and here are the stats:

Number of Posts: 5,659

Number of Visitors: 12,667,291

Number of Comments: 43,970

Thanks for reading, everyone. Here's to five more.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

DXM History Repeats: Inara

DXM Fifth Birthday Jubilee

Topic: Inara

Number of Posts: 108

I saved the best for last. The birth of my daughter, Inara Grace, on July 29th of 2008, was without question the high point of DXM over the last five years. That's because it was the high point in the life of the person who writes and edits it. I've shared so much about my young daughter: the joy of being with her, the anguish of being apart from her, and the hope for a future in which I'm never not by her side either in body or in spirit. I've put it all into words as best I can -- but maybe it's best to just start with some of the pictures that have appeared here.

"Unless You Love, Your Life Will Flash By"

In my mind, what Cormac McCarthy is to the written word, Terrence Malick is to film: He's an artist who finds glory and grandeur in the tiniest moments, and a spiritual inevitability in the most mundane and often destructive of human undertakings. The films he makes are lovely and powerful -- poetry both brilliant and eminently maddening.

This is one of the reasons that I've been anticipating The Tree of Life -- which just took the Palme d’Or at Cannes -- probably more than any other movie this year.

And while Malick constantly reaffirms why he's one of the world's most vital filmmakers, Roger Ebert's recent take on his work reminds us why he is one of the most astute and talented writers in his genre.

Read on, then watch the trailer for The Tree of Life if you haven't seen it yet. It's just about moved me to tears more than once.

Roger Ebert's Journal: A Prayer a Beneath the Tree of Life/5.17.11

Sunday Sacrilege

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tattoo You

Let's see: a kick-ass book, David Fincher directing, Trent Reznor and Karen O covering The Immigrant Song, and a topless Rooney Mara.

Behold the leaked red-band trailer for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Watch it now before it gets pulled down.

Oh -- and HO-LY SHIT.

Listening Post: In Memoriam

Poet. Revolutionary. Genius.

Gil Scott-Heron: 1949-2011

Saturday Morning Cartoons

Here's a classic for you: from 1953 it's Duck! Rabbit! Duck!

Friday, May 27, 2011


Required viewing.

Be All You Can Beast

Oliver Willis recently called David Sirota "serially stupid," and while I've never been a huge fan of Sirota's it's only now that I'm really, really starting to agree with that assessment. In today's Salon, Sirota -- who's one-third of the professional left Supremes, along with the equally diva-ish Glenn Greenwald and Jane Hamsher -- bylines not one but two pieces decrying advertising's influence on our culture (influence in the wrong direction, it should be noted; if the ads in question were encouraging people to recycle, I get the feeling Sirota wouldn't be quite as indignant). In one piece, he targets a tried and true boogeyman for the perpetually outraged: advertising aimed in the direction of kids, that uses characters like Ronald McDonald to ostensibly indoctrinate children into the wonderful world of food that's really crappy for you. This I actually don't take too much issue with; while I think it's wrong to punish everyone for the excesses of a few, a good argument can be made that Ronald McDonald exists as nothing more than a cynical marketing tool fired right at the pleasure center of a child's brain. Fair enough.

But his second column just veers off into heretofore uncharted regions of ridiculousness. It's one thing to argue that ads targeting children are a shot below the belt -- but it's another thing entirely to say that adults or late-teens can't make the distinction between what's real in an advertisement and what's complete bullshit. Sirota has a bone to pick with the fact that the U.S. Army is tying itself to the promotion of X Men: First Class to make it appear in ads as if -- please swallow whatever you're drinking now -- joining the military gives you mutant-like superpowers. Sirota calls the move "dangerous" and uses what he believes is the questionable and dishonest history of military advertising (read: propaganda) as his jumping off point:

"You may recall that in recent years, the Military-Entertainment Complex has been selling kids on the idea that military service is a gloriously fun adventure. In one famous ad, the Marines pretend being a soldier is the equivalent of being a 'Lord of the Rings' hero crossing bridges over mystically infinite gorges -- and slaying fiery monsters along the way. In another series of ads aired as previews in movie theaters, the Air Force portrays dangerous front-line missions as glorified video games, telling kids: "It's not science fiction -- it's what we do every day."

Never mind the claim that these ads were aimed at children -- they were only if you use the loosest possible definition of what a kid is. What they were aimed at is the exact demographic the military would likely pitch to -- late teens -- as well as our country's most exponentially increasing generation: "adult" men who behave as if they're still teenagers. Each of these groups has the ability to think for itself and -- unlike those in their formative years being targeted by fast food icons and "Joe Camel" -- has ample access to images of the true horrors of war. And no, a Pentagon moratorium on photos of incoming dead bodies from Iraq or Afghanistan doesn't do a damn thing to stand in the way of anyone with half a brain in his or her head fully understanding the true nature of armed conflict. To claim that an adult or someone on the verge of becoming an adult is incapable of making up his mind and should be protected from himself is such a laughably predictable liberal conceit.

No, only a fucking retard is going to think that strapping on the gear of a U.S. soldier makes him Magneto.

But then again, Sirota has become somewhat legendary for conspiratorially seeing creeping right-wing influence everywhere he looks. This is a guy, after all, who blames our current political climate on Ghostbusters. Think I'm kidding?

Sirota's gotta be saying this stuff just to get attention, otherwise Oliver Willis couldn't be more right -- he really is just that stupid.

The People That You Knew at Elaine's

There was a time when writers ruled the Earth -- they roamed the cultural landscape not as the unwashed steerage class but as honest-to-God rock stars. People wanted to be seen with writers, wanted to be able to say that they had been seen with writers, wanted to drink with writers, wanted to pick the brilliant and often twisted brains of writers in the hope that whatever made them tick would somehow rub off. And for those people -- and those hallowed writers of the day -- there was only one place to go for that sort of experience: Elaine's.

Nestled high on 2nd Avenue on New York City's Upper East Side, Elaine's was a place where guys like Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, Mario Puzo and Woody Allen rubbed elbows with the likes of Jackie Kennedy, Frank Sinatra and Mick Jagger. And vice versa. It existed at all times as a monument to the art of being there -- of that indescribable feeling of taking part in something grand and special and secret just by knowing the right place to go or the right people to talk to -- and as the years went by it became a tribute to a bygone era in New York City nightlife. Once again, when people with something to say, the brilliance to say it well, and the complete lack of a tether to the restrictions of polite society to hold them back spoke with booming voices.

I was lucky enough to spend an evening at Elaine's only once, but once was enough. The food was average (but no one went for the food); if you weren't a regular, the service was below-average (but aside from the chance to see the irascible Elaine Kaufman herself, no one cared about the service); but the atmosphere -- that was the ticket. That was why you went and why so many kept coming back for more.

Last night, in what reportedly felt more like a joyous wake than a somber memorial, hundreds lined up for Elaine's for the last time. At the end of it all, the place closed its doors for good.

They don't make institutions like that anymore. And if you know anything at all about the personalities that frequented Elaine's throughout the years -- you know that they belong in an institution.

The New York Times: Too Much Fun to Feel Sad at the Farewell to Elaine's/5.26.11

Listening Post

The cover of Placebo's 2003 album Sleeping with Ghosts is one of my favorites (bested maybe only by the slyly suggestive cover of the Afghan Whigs' Gentlemen) simply because it features such an evocative and, well, haunting image.

This video takes that cover and makes it come to life -- and the result is hard to take your eyes off of.

Here's Special Needs.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Just sayin'.

You have no idea how much I'm going to enjoy watching LeBron and Wade kick the crap out of Dallas.

Bring it.

USA Today: James, Wade Lead Charge as Heat Eliminate Bulls/5.26.11

Quote of the Day, Jr.

"The result of this concerted campaign of disinformation is a viewership that knows almost nothing about what’s going on in the world. According to recent polls, Fox News viewers are the most misinformed of all news consumers. They are 12 percentage points more likely to believe the stimulus package caused job losses, 17 points more likely to believe Muslims want to establish Shariah law in America, 30 points more likely to say that scientists dispute global warming, and 31 points more likely to doubt President Obama’s citizenship. In fact, a study by the University of Maryland reveals, ignorance of Fox viewers actually increases the longer they watch the network. That’s because Ailes isn’t interested in providing people with information, or even a balanced range of perspectives. Like his political mentor, Richard Nixon, Ailes traffics in the emotions of victimization."

-- The pertinent line from the current piece in Rolling Stone dissecting Fox News's Jabba the Hutt-like chairman, Roger Ailes

Quote of the Day

"You guys have this all wrong... Everything you’re doing is anticipating that they’re somewhere having a meeting which is like, ‘What if (Glenn) Beck says something that embarrasses us?’ That’s an NBC meeting. They have eight guys in suits in a conference room, and you’re playing this like an NBC meeting. Now, let me tell you what a Fox meeting is: A Fox meeting is, ‘Boy, he’s really emotional. Now he’s tearing up. What if he gets really emotional and doesn’t do the show and we don’t get the ratings, what are we going to do?’"

-- Former Fox News Executive David Rhodes, in a piece on Roger Ailes in New York Magazine

Why is this bit of wisdom so pertinent at the moment? Because, predictably, Ed Schultz has been suspended by MSNBC for comments he made about Laura Ingraham on his radio show; for the blissfully unaware, he called her a "right-wing slut."

I've already said that Schultz is a blithering buffoon -- and was one long before this most recent unbelievably lunk-headed fuck-up -- so I'm not going to bother retreading that. But in the comment section of yesterday's Schultz post, I brought up something that's really worth keeping in mind as this little controversy unfolds -- namely that you would never see the apologizing, hand-wringing, self-flagellating, or, maybe most importantly, disciplinary action being taken by the other side of the equation were the roles reversed. If Laura Ingraham -- a painfully by-the-numbers right-wing hack if ever there was one -- had somehow leveled an equally offensive insult at Ed Schultz, not only would she never in a million years say she was sorry, it would be business-as-usual from the schoolyard bullies who act as her enablers: Fox News, conservative talk radio and a thousand hyper-right-wing internet outlets. The reason, of course: not simply because the far-right media are incapable of shame, which they are, but because they also believe that there's no threshold that, once crossed, constitutes an offense to which they need to respond in a responsible manner. They simply don't think that it's possible to go too far -- and that's the definition of being irresponsible.

Quite a while back I wrote a piece that asked a question that's really worth considering in the age of the Fox News ethos: What do you do when an editorial outlet or broadcaster refuses to behave responsibly? We've come to a truly unprecedented moment in the evolution of the American media. Throughout history, those who practiced journalism and offered commentary in this country were, for the most part, responsible adults who understood the awesome sway they held over the public's imagination. They adhered to a gentleman's agreement that was largely unspoken because it didn't have to be spoken: You don't just go on the air or off to press spouting completely ridiculous, incendiary crap without the slightest concern for the facts or for the potential consequences of your claims. You weren't running Fisher-Price's "My First Television Network"; the airwaves and print outlets weren't your own personal sandbox where you were king and could say whatever you pleased. Yes, you had the Constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech, but you knew full well that with that came responsibility -- and since you were a grown-up and not some asshole narcissist obsessed with the sound of his own voice and drunk on authority, you for the most part behaved accordingly.

Read through the not one but two pieces currently dissecting the mind of Roger Ailes, however -- one in the above-mentioned New York Magazine, the other in Rolling Stone -- and you realize that the Fox News chairman inherited plenty of nasty traits from his former employer, Richard Nixon. He's paranoid, power-hungry and, most of all, thoroughly unwilling to admit when one of his people fucks up royally and to bring down the wrath of God on his or her head. Attack a Fox News personality for anything and the entire network circles the wagons and responds by lashing out publicly at the source of the perceived threat; in some ways this is an admirable trait, since a lot of other outlets are far too willing to instinctively throw their people under the bus at the first sign of ugly press, but it creates a culture where no one is ever told that they need to apologize to anyone outside the building for anything. Once again, no matter what -- no one can go too far. Nothing is ever over the line or out-of-bounds.

And since Fox News is the 15-mile-wide, Independence Day mothership from which all the other city-destroying saucers spread down -- so powerful that it sets the tone for all other conservative media -- that twisted philosophy permeates each outlet and every pundit on the right these days. MSNBC has always been hamstrung by its NBC network parentage and that company's adherence -- at least in theory -- to a certain standard of conduct and practice. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, since it means that -- once again, in theory -- NBC will at the very least posture in the direction of doing the responsible thing when, say, one of its people decides to, say, call a woman a slut on his nationally syndicated radio show. As David Rhodes flat-out stated -- NBC has the ability to be embarrassed and to take action against those who work between its four walls whom it believes has shamed its good name. Fox operates under no such inhibition.

So who wins in the end? Well, at the moment -- Fox.

Who loses? Ed Schultz, although deservedly so. Oh, and all of us.

DXM History Repeats: Television

Our look back at how the subject of television has been treated and mistreated here at DXM over the past five years reaches its conclusion with my take on CNN's decision to fire one of my oldest friends and colleagues in the TV news game: Rick Sanchez.

The DXM Fifth Birthday Jubilee

Topic: CNN

Number of Posts: 291

"I, Sanchez" (Originally Published, 10.5.10)

The last time I worked with Rick Sanchez, during a fill-in stint he did on American Morning, he stood next to my desk for a few minutes and groused about the way CNN covered news. Not so much the stories it chose to pursue as what he felt was the needlessly byzantine series of standards and regulations at the network which, in his mind, was solely the product of institutional arrogance.

"Look at some of these people," he said, scanning the newsroom. "They take this stuff so fucking seriously -- like we're doing brain surgery or something." He then grabbed his crotch through his suit pants, flashed a wide smile and said, "This is what I think of that, you know?"

That was Rick all the way: brash, cocky, impulsive, occasionally crude as hell, with almost no knack for subtlety or concern for the trivialities of decorum. The proverbial bull in the china shop. Maybe that's why when I learned on Friday that he'd been fired for a couple of admittedly ill-advised comments he'd made during a radio interview, I couldn't exactly react with surprise -- not considering all I know about Sanchez after having worked with him on and off for the better part of the last two decades.

Let me go ahead and just get something out of the way right now. Regardless of the fact that I consider Rick Sanchez a friend and I've actually developed something of a fondness and appreciation for the qualities in him that others find so polarizing, this doesn't mean I'm going to blindly rush to his defense. That's not how it works, particularly when something he does creates a minor media shit-storm and therefore deserves to be evaluated as dispassionately as possible. That being said, I do think that while Sanchez's comments were, in keeping with tradition, breathtakingly artless and impertinent, he didn't say anything that he deserved to lose his job over. And I'd be making this statement even if I didn't know full well that what was going through Sanchez's mind at the time wasn't quite as inflammatory as what was coming out of his mouth. Once again, nuance has never been one of Rick's strengths.

By now you're probably well aware of what Sanchez said on Pete Dominick's radio show last Thursday that brought down the wrath of the network suits and officially ended his career at CNN just 24 hours later. No, contrary to the headlines that screamed from every direction -- the kind of incendiary reductionism that guarantees ratings or page views -- Sanchez didn't in fact shout that the Jews control the media. He absolutely called Jon Stewart a bigot -- an admittedly silly claim, likely based on nothing more than Sanchez's own hurt feelings -- and he certainly said that the people who run the television industry are "a lot like Stewart," but when you're talking about a fireable offense it's probably a good idea to take into account the fact that one or two words, even the way in which something was said, can change the entire meaning of what was said. Sanchez sarcastically implied that Stewart isn't a minority in the way that Sanchez himself supposedly is, and that the upper echelon of CNN and the TV business in general bears more of a resemblance to the Daily Show host -- white, liberal, "elitist" and, yes, Jewish -- than it does to a guy like Rick Sanchez.

And the resentment that oozes from every word of a statement like that speaks volumes about the motivation behind Sanchez's decision to say it in the first place.

Rick Sanchez has always viewed his rise to fame in almost mythic terms. He sees himself as the classic tough immigrant kid from the streets who defied the odds, took a whole lot of knocks, suffered through plenty of triumphs and traumas -- the latter, as it turns out, often self-inflicted -- and yet still stands tall. The guy they just can't keep down. You really can picture Sanchez on a stage somewhere, a tear running down his cheek as he belts out a karaoke version of My Way. Anyone who knows Sanchez understands that his resilience -- what his many detractors would likely refer to as cockroach-like -- is a major point of pride for him. This is a guy, after all, who infamously managed to get away with hitting and killing someone back in the early 90s while driving legally drunk; if talking your way out of something like that doesn't leave you thinking you're superhumanly charmed, nothing will.

The problem, of course, is that Sanchez has always been viewed as a lot of flash and bombast with no real substance. As a local anchor, he was brilliant -- really, the best I've ever seen. That's because he understood that television on the whole was largely bullshit and that local news -- particularly the kind done so well at WSVN in Miami -- was just a lot of superficial dazzle. He figured if you could talk and talk well, what you were saying wouldn't really matter. He deserves credit for what one producer we used to work with together jokingly called his unique ability to "demystify television." Given that WSVN was one of the first stations in the country to pull back the curtain and let viewers see the inner workings of its news operation -- and it was way ahead of the curve on this, doing a form of transparent media more than a decade before the digital revolution made that sort of thing absolutely essential for an outlet's survival -- Sanchez's eventual helming of a show that revolved around Twitter seems like destiny. Social networking fed the two qualities that were most undeniable in Sanchez: his ability to interact with viewers in a personal and off-the-cuff fashion and, of course, his inarguably impressive ego. There's no denying that he loved the notion that anybody could now be a journalist and that you didn't need the erstwhile kingmakers in the editorial adminisphere to tell you what was and wasn't news anymore; considering his background and his own self-mythology, this makes perfect sense.

Unfortunately for him and his crotch-grabbing indignation, the people at CNN did take the news very seriously, and while Sanchez's charm offensive had won him quite a few friends and admirers -- say what you will about Rick, he's a disarmingly nice guy -- there were also plenty of people at the network who felt like his shtick somehow sullied CNN's hallowed reputation. My attitude was always that when it came to fucking up the good name of the brand, Rick Sanchez was really the last thing CNN should've been worrying about; in fact, I actually considered Sanchez a bit of a breath of fresh air -- when taken in relatively small doses -- given that at least he understood that what we were doing wasn't the gold standard, capital-J journalism the network's promotion department would have the audience believe anyway. Apparently Jon Klein, the man who was largely responsible for CNN's well-documented slide from serious to ridiculous, also fell under the spell of Sanchez's wide-eyed enthusiasm, inexhaustible energy and complete lack of respect for the traditional way of doing things, figuring they were just what was needed to shake things up at stodgy old CNN. The trouble was a lot of people eventually saw Rick Sanchez as the personification of every embarrassing thing Klein was doing to the once-revered network; the fact that Sanchez himself willfully thumbed his nose at the elitist ethos plastered into the walls at a place like CNN didn't help matters.

Whenever anyone asks me what Rick Sanchez is like -- and it's a testament to the man's somewhat legendary status that I've been asked this an astonishing number of times -- I always say one thing: He's the easiest guy to work with I've ever met. Unlike a lot of other television personalities who straddle that insufferable line between narcissism and insecurity -- they believe the world revolves around them but they desperately need you to believe it, too -- Rick's ego has always been bulletproof, and it's counterintuitively made him a breeze to be around because he has nothing to prove. In his mind, he's 100% sure he's the shit and therefore he doesn't need you to remind him.

At least that's the way it used to be.

I think if you're looking for the seed that eventually blossomed into Sanchez's spectacular, albeit inadvertent, meltdown, it was this: something finally got to him. After years of wielding his confidence like a weapon and wearing the ridicule of his critics like a badge of honor, because he believed that any publicity was good publicity, he Peter Principled out -- if not by actually reaching his personal level of incompetence then by reaching a level at which a lot of other people thought he was incompetent. And in the savage Thunderdome that is today's media landscape, the mockery that can be heaped on you from every direction -- from those beneath you, beside you and far above you on the professional and cultural ladder -- can wither even those with the thickest of skin. Sanchez had become the personal punching bag of the host and writers of one of the most brilliantly acerbic -- and, more stingingly, most respected -- "news" outlets on television: The Daily Show. This was a show with tremendous cultural cachet -- and it had declared that Rick Sanchez was a fucking moron. A laughingstock.

If the criticism had only been coming from outside the four walls of CNN, chances are Sanchez could have shrugged off Stewart's taunts. But all it takes is a quick examination of what may be the most revealing part of the Pete Dominick interview to see that Sanchez felt that he wasn't getting any respect from the network brass either. Whether it truly is related solely to CNN's decision to put the new Eliot Spitzer-Kathleen Parker vehicle in the eight o'clock time slot rather than give it to Sanchez -- who filled in following the demise of Campbell Brown's show -- is anyone's guess. But Sanchez's comment that the "elite, Northeast establishment liberals" look at him and see "a guy who automatically belongs in the second tier" wasn't aimed at anyone but the bosses he felt were underestimating him, and it spelled out literally where he figured they saw him in the hierarchy of CNN talent. Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, Sanchez melodramatically played the Hispanic Immigrant, Steerage-Class card as the reason he wasn't a made man instead of considering the fact that he had a bad habit of making a boob out of himself on national television.

So with that in mind, when Jon Klein, Rick Sanchez's personal de Medici family at CNN, finally got shown the door two weeks ago, the clock may very well have begun ticking on the career of the man Klein even took the time to laud in his goodbye message to the newsroom. Maybe Ken Jautz and the new management were just looking for an excuse to get rid of him and, never one to disappoint, Sanchez slapped a giant banana cream pie of an excuse right in their faces. When you consider recent history, there's simply no way CNN wouldn't be willing to overlook Sanchez's minor transgression if he were somebody the network felt it couldn't live without. Need I remind anyone that Richard Quest was arrested a couple of years back with crystal meth in his pocket, a dildo in his boot and a rope tied around his balls and yet you can still catch him every afternoon pulling double duty on CNN and CNNi. Obviously it takes a lot to fuck your credibility beyond repair at CNN -- although it's certainly true that the last high-profile CNN dismissal was Octavia Nasr who, coincidentally, was also let go for making a comment that some claimed was anti-Israel.

The sad thing, though, is that whatever your opinion of Rick Sanchez, the speed and ease with which he was dumped may very well prove that the resentments he wore so brazenly on his sleeve last week weren't entirely unfounded. Maybe he was right. Maybe he never really was accepted at CNN, or by the pretentious media establishment in general.

I'd say that I almost feel sorry for him, because in spite of all the occasionally cringe-inducing quirks that make Rick Rick, I can't help but really like the guy. I'd say that, but I don't need to because I already know he's going to be fine.

Trust me, if history is any indication, you haven't seen the last of Rick Sanchez.

He'll have the last laugh. He always does.

Listening Post

To this day this remains one of my favorite songs of the 80s. I saw these guys open for Love and Rockets at the Gusman Theater in Downtown Miami in 1987 and I still can't shut up about it.

Here's the Bolshoi -- Away.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

DXM History Repeats: The Tumor

It was a tumor buried deep inside my head that led me to start this little experiment of mine five years ago; I took up writing online in an effort to pass the time and keep my mind sharp in the wake of the surgery to remove it. Since the inception of DXM, I've republished the story of my time spent in the hospital having the tumor cut out of me and my immediate recovery period each year on the anniversary of the event; I also wrote an extended piece that dealt with the aftermath of the operation, the lasting damage caused by the tumor and its effect on my physical and emotional well-being. But the surgery-related column I wrote that had probably the largest overall impact took my own experience and used it as a jumping-off point to talk about the larger issue of healthcare in the United States. The following piece was picked up by a few journals and online publications, one as far away as Australia.

The DXM Fifth Birthday Jubilee

Topic: The Tumor

Number of Posts: 29

"Death Be Not Proud (But It Is Cost-Effective)" (Originally Published, 12.30.07)

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 disgharged.

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."

That 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 flunky-esque 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 any more than his.