Saturday, November 1, 2008

On Undersized Red, White and Blue Balls

As the election approaches and the days get shorter, I have found myself thinking about an old, peculiar, vanished American institution, one whose effects are, in my opinion, still reverberating today. With all the talk about fraud, about disenfranchisement, about winning and maps and red white and blue Americas, I can't help but think about the (old) ABA, the American Basketball Association. Back when men were men and wore short shorts and huge hair, the ABA were the small market anarchists of basketball, from whence we got the 3-point shot, a lot of great players, and your world champion (at some point this decade, right? I'm not what one could call a sports nut.) San Antonio Spurs. Back when the ABA was around, the NBA studiously ignored it where it could and ridiculed it where it couldn't, calling its games too high-scoring, too free-wheeling, its players too flashy. The statistics for the ABA games were startling when I saw them; a hailstorm of undersize red white and blue balls at the basket, and may the team with the hottest hand win. To which I , at this remove, say heck yeah.
I've noticed that in this election cycle, there's one side trying to shoot out the lights, one side trying to set a record with teamwork, and everybody playing their hearts out for the full game. And then there's the other side. Far from working to run up their own totals, they seek instead to hold down the other side's scoring. Instead of running on their own merits, they try to implant falsehoods about their opponents. They are obsessed with defending the status quo, because they can't run and they can't score, and instead will be working the refs, trying to cast doubt on the legitimacy of any victory their opponents might get.
The Obama campaign, though vastly better funded, reminds me of ABA basketball. It's an offensive clinic-- more volunteers, more donors, more field offices, more detailed policy descriptions. Everybody with their eyes on the goal and the scoreboard, playing their game for all that it's worth. McCain's campaign is playing defense to the point of denial-- they can't even accept that their opponent is who he is, so they run against a Bizarro-world simulacrum with the same name, who is everything the real Obama is not-- Muslim, Terrorist, Communist, Socialist ,Anti-Christ. I mean, I will, if Obama is elected, hold his feet to the fire about any number of things, but I will not pretend he's anything other than an intelligent, centrist, non-plutocratic Democrat who can give an amazing speech. Which, at this point in American history, feels like a triumph.
I play Scrabble every once in a while. I'm what's known as a good living-room player. I don't play any defense, really. I try to light it up as much as I can with the letters I'm given. Those people who clog up the board with c's and v's, take triple word scores with two letter words on the off chance that I may be able to do something with them-- I have no patience with them. Why do you play a word game, if you're scared of big words? I don't and won't win every time, but sometimes an awesome game does break out-- like three seven-letter words stacked one on top of the other, or that-- OK, time to stop Scrabble-geeking out. You get my drift.
Which brings me to the point I always reach with some on the Right. If you hate voters, why run in elections (this is a rhetorical question-- I think I know the answer, although I hope I'm wrong.)? If you believe government is the problem, how can you govern ? Why do you play word games if you're scared of words? What do you believe in? The only answer I keep getting, is power. The power to send young people to die, to reward your backers and punish your critics, to tell people that they are different and undeserving of rights. It's the right to pick winners, and decide who matters. But you have to respect the process. Believe what you want, but don't lie about what you believe, or about what it means. Me, I think everybody matters. I just want to see the scoreboard light up with the really big numbers. I want more people to have a say in who makes our decisions. I want flashy, run and gun, ABA-style politics, everybody on the floor playing hard. But maybe that's because right now, when you get down to it, there's only one candidate running who can shoot the J.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Last Chance at Gladiator Stadium

So, I'm the go-to political guy for a lot of my friends. My little circle of fools, clowns, and jesters will frequently pipe me onstage with something akin to “I always look forward to this guy's analysis,” which as we all know, means comedy gold. People love them some analysis. So then what was I doing, on the last day of voter registration, scurrying from Nosmo King World Headquarters with only one thing on my mind? Why me, who can tell the curious tale of Richard Nixon's downfall as a bedtime story off the top of his head? Me, not even legally registered to vote in the polling place nearest his own World Headquarters? Well, yeah.
I blame the Republican Party, for giving us satirists the pure uncut China White. There's so much material to work with that we ignore all else, like children on a perfect snow day, sledding our way for hour after hour on perfect fluffy hills of bullshit, innuendo, and bigotry. Much of this is carried in on a front from Alaska, of course, but ultimate responsibility rests with an unstable mass of hot air that has blown out of the Arizona desert for some years, and has caused damage wherever it's been felt (several aircraft destroyed, untold financial losses, not to mention many promises broken beyond repair.). Combine these two stormfronts (what, you were actually expecting a link there? For shame…) and it's sledding today, sledding tomorrow, sledding forever. So little things get neglected. And I must leave my abode in the Vertical Quarter to do what no-one can do for me.
At the gates of Gladiator Stadium, a few tents are set up, staffed by comically mismatched County employees-- teams of two, the largest paired with the smallest more reliably than in any vintage cartoon. They cheerfully help all of us who put this off for weeks, months, years-- a truck driver from Harbor City, a glassblower from the City of Mercantilism, mothers with kid in strollers or in tow, a Deputy conducting us into stacked parking with his-- flashlight. His giant cop flashlight. What's up with those ? (Rhetorical question. I know what's up with those.) I went with a magazine and a flashlight, expecting the worst-- long lines, a climate of barely contained hostility, a vast throng of dimbulbs with urgent philosophical questions. I was wrong. I was in and out in forty-two seconds, though it should be noted I had, at least, filled out my form in advance.
If doing everything at the last minute was always this easy, I could recommend it unequivocally to all and sundry. But It isn't. So keep your voter registration current, keep it next to your bed, or under your pillow. You'll want to be able to use it at a moment's notice, when malefactors like McCain and Palin stage their home invasion.It's the only language they understand. It's the only thing we have that can control certain kinds of weather.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Preview of Coming Attractions

For those of you wondering where my further thoughts on the bailout went, I'll be aiting some of them tonight onstage at the YDFPFT Show tonight at 10:00 pm. It's at The Room in Santa Monica, 1323 Santa Monica Boulevard (at 14th St, downstairs and to the the back. Rick Overton , Jim Coughlin, Lizzy Cooperman and other funny folk will be there too, Google "YDFPFT" for the full 411. For those who can't make it, there'll be a new post this week, I promise, covering the same ground.

Friday, September 19, 2008

My Solution to the Financial crisis

Ha! I don't have one. Made you look! But if I did, it would look something like these two fine articles that EVERYBODY should read:

this one

and this one

Read them and weep, or cheer, or write your Congressman, or all of the above. Do it before they give these so-called "Masters of the Universe" a blank check from your account (oh wait, they already have.). Have a pleasant weekend everybody. I'll be sharpening my pitchfork and making enquiries as to the current wholesale price of tar and feathers.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Everybody's talkin' bout the new kid in town…

(Editor's note: This piece is slightly reworked from a reading I did at an Episcopal church here in the Minor Outlying Islands. No actual vice-presidential candidates were harmed in the making of this post. Nor is any but the most general and trifling offense intended to the great state of Alaska. Sorry you popped up in my line of fire, dude. I'll make it up to you someday, I promise. Yes, I know I'm going to freeze in the dark, thanks for sharing.)

Oh Republicans, you cruelest and most capricious of parties, you have done it again. You have waylaid my plans, rerouted my intentions, tossed aside my desires like so much chaff. I had intended for tonight's feature topic, “New Kid in Town”, to serve as an introduction to the personal side of Nosmo King, a selection from any number of tender tales I could tell about being a fish out of water, a stranger in a strange land, even a turd drifting lazily in a punchbowl. But then you, Republicans, have to go, and mere days before the show, nominate Sarah Palin for vice president. And suddenly, everyone is in a tizzy. Nothing else is news, we must find out what Sarah Palin is all about, starting completely from scratch. And I did-- it's Pay-lin, near as I can tell. Anyway, now that she's here, the Democrats are wondering, how do we attack her, a likeable neophyte with children, without seeming too mean, too chauvinistic, too much like a primary no one could be really proud of? The answer is simple, Obama campaign: you don't. You can't. But luckily, I can. I am angry, obscure in all meaningful senses of the word, no one would let me anywhere near a microphone next to an official campaign banner, as I have all the savoir-faire of Kim Jong-Il and the folksy down home charm of Rudolph Giuliani. So when the Republicans make our political landscape into Chernobyl, you can send me into the hotspots without a suit. Let's go there, shall we?

So Sarah Palin is a woman, whom nobody knows anything about, and who returns the favor, appearing to know nothing about anything else. What is her judgment like? Well, let's look at her 5 children: Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, and Trig. That is 5 lovely, precious, and distinct individuals to spring from her loins, yet between them there is only 1 proper name-- shared with Britain's 6th largest city. Now, it was a long time ago, but I remember my own childhood as tough enough without people confusing you with that thing that soured you on math forever , a tree, or Britain's 6th largest city. It could have been worse, I suppose; we could be faced with Palin offspring named Macadam, Liverpool, Paper Barked Maple, Trombonist, and non-Euclidean Tensor Analysis. But that wouldn't happen, because then she would have actually had to read a book, rather than just inquire on how to ban them.
Which brings me to my first joke: What's the difference between Sarah Palin's eldest son, and her record as a politician? You can run on a Track, but you can't run on her record as a politician. Thank you, I'm here all week. Try the veal, it comes with extra suffering.

Anyway, so Sarah Palin, the result of a massive vetting and selection process resembled nothing so much as letting a rat loose on a bingo card and reading the name underneath the first turd (yes, I have used the t-word twice in the same piece. Sue me.), turns out to be quite the joker herself. Here is the first joke she told in her speech at the Republican Convention. She asked, in that triumphant just a little too loud tone that makes people actually appreciate the studied phony cool of real comedians “You know what the difference is between a hockey mom and a Pitbull?”. And of course, now we all know the answer. “A pitbull doesn't lie repeatedly to the media and the voting public.” Putting the state jet up on eBay isn't the same thing as selling it. Keeping 78 million of the money for the "bridge to nowhere" is not the same as refusing it. And on and on and on.

But Sarah Palin is a maverick, just like John McCain. She's not afraid to shake things up, to take a fresh look at things and try to see them in a new light. Take rape and incest. Most people have this quaint, old fashioned belief that these things are always wrong, all the time. Not courageous maverick hockey-mom Sarah Palin. Wake up people, this is the 21st century, and the first woman to be nominated for the vice-presidency by the party of Lincoln has a different vision. She is against abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Well of course -- She's governor of Alaska. How else do they keep the birthrate up, up there? You're cooped up for 8 months out of the year with your family and your liquor cabinet, howling storms and polar bears stalking the streets outside-- things happen, is all I'm saying, and some of those things have buck teeth, a Hapsburg lip, and goiter. And they deserve an earmark like everybody else in Alaska. And where some small town mayors looked at rape and saw tragedy, Sarah Palin , ever the optimist type, saw a revenue stream. I guess she thought, When life gives you rape, and you have to make rape-aid, make sure you charge by the glass. By the way, the author of the Federal Law making rape kits mandatory, which John McCain voted against? Joe Biden. So, folks, this time it's personal....

I would like to point out that Sarah Palin's stupidity, cupidity, and disingenuousness are not problems as far as her party is concerned. They're assets. A long time ago, back when I thought stuff like this was accidental, I had a picture of Dan Quayle, wandering around his house after George W Bush's installation (as he is no smarter than a major appliance, just a whole lot meaner, this is the correct verb) drunk and teetering, saying over and over again, “They said I was too stupid to be President, but apparently I wasn't stupid enough.”. It is no accident, because these people hate government. By their lights, it should be dismantled completely, but until that finally happens, it may as well be staffed by secretive parochialists who view it as a vehicle to settle scores and reward high school buddies. Tammany Hall is back, this time from the opposite side of the aisle. Because government itself is tainted, policies don't matter. It's what you do before you hit gov't that counts. So Palin's qualification for high office is that she didn't have an abortion, just as McCain's is that he was a POW. Once. A long time ago.

Sarah Palin is the ultimate weapon-- an antifeminist woman whose goal is the same as every other Republican minority-- to make sure that the opportunities she got vanish from the earth, as surely as polar bears caught in the global warming that she denies is a problem, or the wolves she offered a $150 bounty per foreleg on. And when other people's daughters come home pregnant, why, if those people just worked real hard and became governor of a small state themselves, those kids wouldn't do too badly, what with a per diem for sleeping in their own house and all. Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps, but make sure to leave one foot free to kick the guy below in the face.

Facing this sort of bracing Surrealpolitik, I become a very bad person. When I saw baby Trig Palin, coked up on baby 'ludes during his mom's speech, being passed around from Palin child to McCain adult, as though he were a mere charm whose wonderful pro-life mojo would rub off on them, I found myself hoping that the child would, on his arrival into John McCain's rictus, pee on the still presumptive Republican nominee. Because I knew that all McCain could do was stand there and take it, a clenched half-smile for the cameras, as the warm spot spread on his 5000 dollar suit, and him thinking, “Oh well, I've got another one at home. But which home? Dammit, why can't I remember anything? Well at least we can take the private jet when we hunt for my other suit. Hey, whose baby is this anyway?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

What Happened

I was heading to bed with my lovely fiancee the other night here at Nosmo King World Headquarters, when she asked me how things got to be the way they are. We had been talking about the upcoming Presidential election, and how she had to search to find articles that actually said anything at all about John McCain (even on his own website, it's all about the “scary” African-American man), and how Everything was Bad for Obama (His being smeared, his reacting to the smears, Hillary rallying her supporters for him or not, etc. etc.). Since I'm approximately one billion years older than her, and since I'm very sure of myself and like to shoot off my trap, it was her lucky night. Or something. Anyway, as we turned out the lights I gave her something scarier than any ghost story, the least -soothing lulllaby in creation-- my understanding of how we got to this point in our political culture and media, where the Democrats end up playing “Heads I Win, Tails you Lose” because it truly is the only game in town.
Where I start the game is where I first became aware of it: Vietnam. That was the first and only war where we were all truly “in country”. I would watch the footage as they aired it on the evening news-- the dirt and mud and blood of the footage, the danger and chaos palpable; and them some DoD flack giving casualty totals in the thousands suffered by the other side while our soldiers smoked contemptuously behind him, not believing a word of it. It was the first time that everyone got to see our Government lying to our faces (before the Pentagon realized how malleable the press was, how easily they would roll over for Access-- like I said, a long time ago.). And it had a catastrophic effect on everybody, in one way or another. Confronted by this, people had to react. Some people took the opportunity to bring radicalism above ground, and began to doubt everything (well, a lot of things-- another thing I remember from personal experience was the unreconstructed sexism of most leftist hippy males.) Others doubled down, and believed that the Government must have a good reason for lying to us, and trusted that what we were not being told outweighed what we were seeing. Into this environment came the second incarnation of Richard Nixon, a thin presidential margin breaking his way for once.
It needs to be brought up that Nixon, despite being well-known, was something of an outsider in Washington circles-- famously and beautifully described as a man whose friends hated him. His administration was full of all kinds of California guys and Miami guys whose loyalties were to Nixon and not the party. Further, Nixon was suspect economically to the preponderance of Republicans-- wage freezes, OK, but price freezes? A flirtation with a guaranteed national income, ferchrissakes? So Nixon was not necessarily the kind of guy who could expect the love of everyone in Washington, and not even from his allies. Probably one reason that a skeptical press (skeptical from the Vietnam eyes/ ears disconnect) was given the OK to go after him by their corporate owners (by more than one corporation as it turned out.). Talk about winning friends and influencing people. As we all know, Nixon went down. But he resigned ahead of being tried, impeached, and thrown from office. Congress had given him the preview of what was to come, and Nixon – with a golden parachute of a pardon probably guaranteed by Gerald Ford-- jumped first. But the press-- abetted by official public Washington -- got all the credit. The press had brought down a president! The Fourth Estate had triumphed over the first! And there was much rejoicing. But-- (speculation to follow)
For about 28 seconds or so. Then the corporate press began getting memos from their old money pals, on expensive raised monogram stationary, probably saying something like “OK, but just this once. Best, Old Money”. Because Nixon was the last of the Republican Socialists. His ratfucking of his enemies, his shredding of the Constitution; his venomous but sub rosa racism-- all fine with the powers that be; it was his refusal to hate the poor unto death that made him expendable. Reagan and Ford-- Corporate Shill, Superficially Bumbling Apparatchik --duked it out in 1976, the Coke vs New Coke war for the top spot of the Republican party; but neither of talked of price freezes and national incomes-- Ford's economic plan began and ended with the WIN button, and Reagan had been in the pocket of General Electric for so long he had developed lint-breathing gills.
Appearances had to be kept up, though. And here is where a few tropes that we all recognize seem to have been born. The first grew naturally out of the Fairness Doctrine: equal time, and equal treatment. So the newly skeptical and empowered press was unleashed on Jimmy Carter-- despite his not having any teams of burglars, not having shredded the Constitution (much), not having any record of depredations against the commonweal to speak of (well, does membership in Trilateral Commission count?) . His only commonality with Nixon was that he was an outsider, with all these funny-talking Georgians in his wake; he had done nothing to merit the critical coverage and scrutiny Nixon got and deserved. But equal time and equal treatment must be preserved. So came the second trope: Carter's sins must a priori be just as bad as Nixon's. I remember a gushing firehose of negativity going at Carter pretty much all the time, and the tone of the coverage just assumed you should hate him this much-- he was a PRESIDENT, fer cryin out loud, and they do horrible things. Like explore the firebombing of think tanks that are critical of you (Nixon). Or ask people to turn out the lights (Carter). Anyone can see the equivalence here, right? Well, if you don't, you should.
With Reagan's triumph in 1980 (aided by some timely meddling with the Iranian hostage-holders; just like Nixon's people did in 1968, and Bush II attempted with the color coded terrorism alerts in 2004-- but no one could call that a pattern, surely.), the perception was that yet another outsider had come to Washington. But in fact, Reagan was a sticky chocolate bar to the tastebuds of corporate America. So it was deemed that Reagan should not suffer the fate of his two elected predecessors ( Where does Ford fit in here, you ask? Ford, of course, doesn't coun t. He was expected to pardon and falll on his sword, and he did.). Now the solons might say to me that Reagan got plenty of critical coverage. And he did, I remember that much of the 80's, as much as I try to forget the hair, movies, clothes etc etc. But the difference was that for Reagan, there was no AMPLIFICATION. The stories were allowed to be published, and then generally not commented upon, except for lengthy, end-of-investigation reports that only die-hards would ever read. If one goes back to those reports, the scope of the Reagan administration's criminality is of Nixonian dimensions. But, at least he let us keep the lights on.
In a final irony, in 1987, the Fairness Doctrine, which gave us equal time on television and inspired the destruction of Carter's presidency, was repealed. This did not improve things for the Democrats, as Reagan's followers stepped up to the microphone and began spewing contrafactual hatred, untempered by any need to present an opposing viewpoint, accompanied by all kinds of amplification-- the same talking points from one pinheaded goon to another, endlessly parroted by pig-ignorant Jaspers eager to hear themselves on 20 seconds of radio air. Clinton's impeachment grew straight out of this-- pure entrapment, ask a question nobody has any business asking, and prosecute the inevitable lie. Somehow, it's always bad news for the Democrats, but that's mostly because there's no perspective ever given about the long strange trip we've been on. And Democrats continue to hope that a very slightly left Jesus will lead them to an electoral bonanza, and they will not have to get a their hands dirty with a common rhetoric, consistent talking points, and (God forbid) party discipline. And the media will continue to tell us that Republicans and Democrats are the same, so they must treated the same. Except when they're not, and then one must still say that they are, and always have been. The traditions of American politics and journalism demand it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Alluded-to FISA Post; or, More Fun about Acronyms

So the Democrats in Congress got together with the Republicans in Congress and the Administration (do we have to call them "the Administration", really, when they can't administer their way out of a paper bag? How about-- oh pick your own suitably excremental adjective. I'm busy and sleepy and cranky.) to "reform" (and by reform we mean "gut like a carp") the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (now you know what FISA stands for, at least. Don't let anyone tell you I'm good for nothing.). I am properly outraged by this, and will be donating to the ACLU,possibly the Strange Bedfellows campaign (though those Ron Paul people are a bug, not a feature), and whoever else might make these gutless dolts uncomfortable (Meaning the "Administration", Congressional Democrats, and other gutless dolts to be named later). Yet, despite my high dudgeon, and promising a piece on this, so sure was I of its rantworthiness, I am sleepy and cranky. I am sad and dispirited. Not because I expected much different, not because I now know why it happened (can't find the link, but in some of the reviews of Jane Mayer's latest book-- basically, enough Democrats were briefed on what Bush was "administering", that when the potential for war crimes prosecutions was broached, said Dems came down with acute cover-yer-ass-itis; and a certain sympathy for those poor innocent babes at the helm of our telecommunication playground.), but because it is just so sad that there is no leadership offered in the fine art of saying "enough".

When the Bush spying plans-- like the Bush torture plans (no links here-- do you really need them at this point? The question is not whether spying and torture took place, but whether they're a good thing for the nation or not-- Mithras help us all.)--
were revealed to these leading Democrats, somebody should have squealed (I would pick Jay Rockefeller-- he's old, led a rich full life, he's got more money than Zeus so he could get great lawyers.). Somebody in the Congressional leadership should have said "we don't do this." Let the chips fall where they may, act like a coequal branch of Government, put on the brakes. Do something, anything. Don't just go "Oh, that's very interesting. Are you sure it's necessary? Oh, then, carry on." Don't let it get to where you have to shred the 4th Amendment to protect your own worthless pustule-flecked cowardly rump. This seems obvious to me, but apparently it's hard for some people to grasp. And just look at the expressions on the faces of Bush and Cheney in the photos as this farce was signed into law-- they literally can't believe they're getting away with it. Again. Those expressions tell me that things didn't have to turn out this way.

But turn out this way they did. A court challenge looms, and I am guardedly hopeful, since the "Administration" has lost every FISA related case under the old law, and hopeless, since most have been turned over on appeal. If you're interested in the differences between the old and new FISA laws, click here. I'm tired and cranky and though busy, feel a need for a good long cry in the shower, ala Elisabeth Shue in "Leaving Las Vegas". And, courtesy Congress and the President, for the same reasons.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Are you Experienced?

I meant to write this one a week or so ago, when the whole Gen. Wesley Clark kerfuffle exploded. As a liberal, a progressive, as someone who hates America's freedoms (just clipped back a little more by the recent Democratic collapse on FISA, about which more later-- doesn't that just whet your appetite, the promise of more writing about an acronym?), as a proud dirty f---ing hippie, you would think that I'd have Clark's back on this. But I do not. Because, after careful consideration and a coupla thirty-seven bottles of Rumpleminze, I realize what this country needs is the foreign affairs experience of John McCain. After eight years of mush-mouthed incompetence by an alcoholic AWOL fighter pilot with daddy issues that make Oedipus look like-- well, pick some healthy father-son relationship from myth or literature, I can't do everything for you! And call your mom, she'd get a kick out of it—anyway, like someone with less-big Daddy issues, America clamors for change. Surely John Sidney McCain III, fourth or fifth generation military, can at least free us from these crippling daddy issues. John McCain and his surrogates tell us that his experience matters. So I'm looking forward to seeing him put it into practice.

I expect McCain to, within a hundred days of being inaugurated, be shot down and tortured by North Korea, Iran, and Russia. I believe that this tour of shoot down and torture diplomacy will increase America's stature in the world, and win for us concessions on oil prices, a further infusion of cash from China, and a twin luge gold at the next Winter Olympics. Sure it will be tough on a seventysomething man, but presidentin', as we know, is hard work. Oh wait, that's not what he's going to do? Sorry, my bad. So he is going to spend 4 hours each in downtown Pyongyang, Tehran and Moscow in a flak vest, surrounded by US armed forces, and pronounce them peaceful, wonderful places to be? No? He'll go to bat for accused financial criminals in North Korea, Iran, Russia? Marry another billionaire liquor heiress while still married to the last one? No again? Okay, now I'm stumped.

I should make absolutely clear that I'm not belittling the horrific suffering McCain underwent at the hands of people he was bombing, nor diminishing his service in a war conducted under false pretenses. But did that experience make him hate war, and stop him from condoning torture? No, and only for a while. (In a true you-can't-make-this-stuff-up moment, McCain's North Vietnamese torturer supports his Presidential bid.). This experience doesn't seem to come from his Washington career, or legislation that he's passed or championed. So where and what is it, and how does it matter? Because the only Presidential experience that matters is getting more votes than the other guy (Some restrictions apply. Presidency not valid if Supreme Court justices with clear conflicts of interest and/or rigid ideologies are allowed to rule on question. Please study history for more sorry, sordid details.). So for my money, the experience question is still up for grabs. For other people's money --a near perfect rating from big business; flip-flopping on immigration, torture, and tax cuts for the rich --you'll have to ask John McCain what his experience means. Just don't be surprised if he says something bad.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Long Playing

If you think I'm the kind of guy who only enjoys translations of what Joe Cocker is laboriously squeezing out of his head while high, think again. My brow has its high side too. I remember when I was a tot, the Beatles' breakup caused me no upset, because Beethoven was my musical main man. I based this, of course, on solidly musical concerns, not (for instance) on the repeated Beethoven references in “Peanuts”, of which I was a slavish devotee; or the idea that nothing really popular could be good (although, then, what was I doing reading “Peanuts”? It must have been for the angst.); or on the fact that liking Beethoven was and remains the quick and easy route to musical snobbery. All of these things, I'm sure, brewed up in my contrarian child's soul, but the fact of the matter is I did (and do) like Beethoven. And my parents had, through luck or design, managed to acquire some first-rate performances and recordings, which I proceeded to grind into dust on their inferior playback equipment. If you asked me to name a favorite musical experience, this one would be near the top, even after all these years: me and my dad making a big bowl of popcorn, turning down the lights, and listening to Rudolf Serkin wail his European way through the Moonlight, Pathetique, and Appassionata sonatas of old Ludwig van, on a much-abused Columbia 6-eye; the radio dial of the stereo our only illumination. Truly lost in the sound, beauty and popcorn alone sustaining us, a forty-five minute step away from the world.
I was thinking about this the other day when I pulled an ancient yet well preserved copy of Walter Gieseking playing the Moonlight and Pathetique, from a cardboard box at the Goodwill. Ninety-nine cents later, it was mine, along with a few others at the same price, thick cardboard and stout vinyl, all mono. I had bested iTunes yet again.
And the sound-- I put it on while cooking dinner, and suffice it to say we had a late dinner. I kept rushing back into the living room, saying out loud “This sounds really good”. Gieseking was hitting on all ten fingers, and the recording just sang-- old enough to probably be done direct to disc, no editing or not much; a true performance, not a tape collage. I don't begrudge people their iPods stuffed with ten thousand songs-- we are busy people, hanging on by a thread, grabbing art sustenance anywhere we have the time-- but when has anyone been struck on their iPod not just by the beauty of the music, but the beauty of the sound? There is something to be said for not taking your music with you, for (at least once in a while) going to your music. The water at the oasis will always be sweeter than the water in your canteen. I had to finish grilling the fish and making a salad, but I kept coming back in at every stage, hungrily absorbing the contents of the disc. And every time I did so, I got a faint buttery taste of popcorn in my mouth.

Monday, June 16, 2008

REVIEW: "Sex and the City": Give me Celibacy or give me Death…

…either of which would be preferable to watching this movie. Seriously. I'm not kidding. If this is sex then I'm a monk. If that's the city, then I'm letting my hick flag fly. I don't want what they've got. Do you need more? Cause I got more, baby…
Now would be the point where I might be expected to say “Sex and the City” tells the story of-- but there is no story per se. More accurate would be to say that “Sex and the City” is a series of product placements and manufactured conflicts that drags its thoroughly unpleasant protagonistas through a series of expensive would-be hells, only to deposit them at more or less the same place they were at the beginning. It's a fun house ride without the fun; and shots of many expensive houses do not make up for that lack.
Let's be clear-- and I say this as a non-New Yorker (thought I do have a subscription-- that counts for something, doesn't it?)-- this is a movie that equates closet space with love. In fact, human beings and expensive accessories are pretty much interchangeable in the movie's cosmology, the chief difference being that the accessories are accorded more respect. Sarah Jessica Parker's Carrie, our plucky heroine (and by plucky I do mean eyebrows), for instance, refers to her would be husband (Chris Noth, doing his best Leonid Brezhnev imitation.) repeatedly as “Big” (not even time for the honorific Mister that she has saddled him with, let alone his actual given name); but be assured that the various emanations of Louis Vuitton, Vivienne Westwood, and Manolo Blahnik are always fully and respectfully identified. The movie encourages us to salivate along with its characters over these high end goods, each one photographed more carefully than any of the leads (that Chris Noth dyes his eyebrows is information I wish to G_d they'd managed to keep from me.). Yet, when an actual fetishist does show up-- a perfectly correct Asian gentleman in a suit and pink pumps-- he is treated as though he is a radioactive freak. Apparently, having a true organic connection to this stuff is too much for these people-- it is to be appreciated for its socioeconomic connotations alone. God forbid it give you a boner; it's that whiff of integrity that they can't stand.
Even more annoying, if that's possible, is the movie's use of serious themes of love, parenthood, relationships , work, being of a certain age; and the difficulties of juggling all of them to find happiness and balance. As someone who is awash in these things right now, I feel protective and particular about this struggle and the depiction of it. Watching this movie feebly gumming them engendered the same feelings I'd get from watching someone hand a toddler a Ming vase, the Rosetta stone, a Guttenberg Bible, a hammer and a box of color Sharpies, and tell them to go play. The emotional jolts that occur fitfully within the film have nothing to do with the movie itself, its point of view or gestalt; and everything to do with the raw subject and a certain modicum of skill on the performer's parts (stage training helps. So does utter shamelessness.). An artless movie made about a compelling subject can be Important while not being good. But if you go to “Sex and the City” expecting an Important Film, about The Way We Live Today, then you're even more pathetic than I am, wanly hoping for a competently made diversion.
Speaking of competently made, it isn't. Everything is stretched past the breaking point; at two hours and twenty-five minutes, it feels longer and more pointless than Andy Warhol's “Empire State Building”. Fashion montages that should be disposed of in seconds spread before us like buffets full of slowly spoiling food. The editing is ad hoc, pointless, and offensive, in addition to there not being enough of it. Do we really need insert shots of untrimmed, unwaxed crotch hair to show bed death in a relationship? But we get one, and the other characters' reaction to it is akin to finding a rat in the soup. So then, later, when we see the miraculous revival of these characters' sex lives, shouldn't we then get an insert of the carefully shaven landing strip or something, since clearly that's what was holding them back? Well we didn't, and thank God, but I certainly was led to expect it.
The same harsh rules apply when Kim Cattrall shows up at a party bearing a microscopically protruding stomach that Brad Pitt would be happy to call his own, and her friends say how miserable she must be to let herself go like that (I let myself go like that every day, it's a little thing I call “lunch”.). I could go on and on, but I'm not the creative team behind the “Sex and the City” movie. In summary, this movie hates most women, despises love and forgiveness, confuses leaden wit and poo jokes for comedy, and contains precious little sex and not even much City (some nice shots of the New York Public Library to the contrary). Of course, it has gotten a few decent pull quotes from many reviewers, and is a huge hit. So what do I know? Well, I may not be a Communist (though I have been accused), but this movie made me long for a nice low-key production of “Red Detachment of Women” (it's a Communist Chinese opera, not a slasher flick. Geez Louise, stop it, or I'll turn this car around.). I'm not holding my breath for one, though.