Saturday, December 17, 2005

Tis the Sleazin' of Joy [It's a Wonderful Life(1946)]

Some years ago Connie Willis wrote (via a mouthpiece character in a short story in her collection Miracle and Other Christmas Stories) about the undeserved reputation the movie It's a Wonderful Life as embodying the true spirit of Christmas. (I'd quote her at length, but our copy of Miracle was lent out a while back and not yet returned -- how about that for the spirit of Christmas.) She preferred Miracle on 34th Street (1947): the mystery of the existence of Santa Claus isn't really ever tipped, and the question about whether old Kris Kringle is krazy, or maybe it's just society that's insane, is left more or less open through the end of the picture despite some heavy sentimental tipping about what you're supposed to believe. This question of faith in the unknowable presence of an unseen spirit in life made mysteriously manifest twice a year (Easter, and revisionistically, Christmas) is the essence of religious faith, or whatever part of the human spirit that in turn becomes organized as religious faith. That's always been the overlap between the Santa and Jesus legends. Santa has become popular because of the equation of literal materialistic gifts with the moral code of conduct required to get them ("he knows when you've been bad or good" "he's making a list") and the annual nature of his visits, which is a lot more predictable than the second coming. It's a Wonderful Life has to trot out an actual angel from the first frame of the film to assure the audience of the literal intervention of divine forces in life, even one so ill-examined as George Bailey's. It's Santa Claus to Miracle's Jesus, and it shows up at the same time every year on TV, too.

I don't disagree at all with the estimable Ms. Willis, and it's hard for me to argue that Miracle isn't better storytelling on nearly every front than It's a Wonderful Life. The latter movie tanked at the box office, and has accumulated its reputation as a Christmas classic slowly over the years. How this happened, I am not sure: a combination of repeated exposure to the baby boom generation on TV and the cult of Zuzu's petals. Miracle, on the other hand, was successful enough that the film industry has seen refit to re-make it four times (thus far), and, like A Christmas Carol, has lent its basic plot to a gazillion other movies since. Faith lost; faith redeemed; faith embodied in the love between a man and a woman; innocence restored.

Yet for some reason I continue to be drawn to watch It's a Wonderful Life over and over every chance I get. I've absorbed what sweet tidbits Miracle has, and as a screensaver to the season it's pleasant enough. It's a Wonderful Life is a twisted, bitter, and clinically diagnosable suicide note, and not incidentally was basically the end for Frank Capra's career. It is not, not, a good movie: but dissecting it every year, I seem to always notice something different about the film that makes me thankful for small favors. Those favors are not exactly what the literal text of the movie suggests, of course.

Let's review from the back to the front of the film. The miraculous delivery of George Bailey at the end of the movie is supposed to be because of not only his own self-review of the meaning of his life, but because of the intervention by prayer of the many people who love George, intervention which has brought Clarence down from heaven (where the rigid caste system in force keeps Clarence from moving up one class of Angelness unless he saves George from himself). It's a whirlwind of problems solving themselves in the last two minutes of celluloid which belies the deeply depressing turn of events of the previous couple of hours. The feeling is nothing so much like Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge -- speaking of great movies about to be remade, although I am thinking more of the cynical concision of the original Ambrose Bierce. I think too of the little Edward Gorey ditty:

The suicide, as she is falling,
Illuminated by the moon,
Regrets her act, and finds appalling
The thought she will be dead so soon.
I have an acquaintance who was on duty below the Golden Gate bridge -- jumper duty -- who had the unhappy experience of fishing the bodies of suicides out of the water from time to time. He tells of one jumper who was still alive, most of the bones in his body broken, who muttered, "I guess that was a dumb idea," before he passed out (and I think later died, although I actually can't remember that part of the story.)

What else to make of the ending of Wonderful Life? George Bailey, faced with a living hell, jumps to his death. On the way down, he considers the alternative distopia to the ugly distopia of his own life, and decides after all it's worth living. Too late: but before he hits, his brain invents a happy ending with everybody he loves around him, fade to black, The End.

Capra made Life coming off his celebrated series of propaganda movies during World War II, and of course his strangely cynically optimistic "classic" movies of the 30s before that. Life reads like a little resume of the woes of the first half of the twentieth century leading up to the A-bomb, wrapped up in the style and mindscreen of the propagandist.

In the "Wonderful" version of George Bailey's life, his little town is dominated by the mean old Scroogian miser, Potter. Potter, unlike Scrooge or every last "villain" of Miracle on 34th Street, is left unredeemed at the end of the movie, still apparently in possession of George's $8000. (What kind of sadist makes the beloved Lionel Barrymore into such a disgusting villain? Well, probably Barrymore himself, but talk about casting against type!) In the alternative universe of George's imagination, the one where he'd never been born, the slavery of Bedford Falls to Potter is simply one of degree. Without the single hold out of the Savings and Loan, the town which has been a confining purgatory to George his entire wanderlust-encrusted life becomes a true living hell: booze, floozies, hopheads, wage slavery, poverty, unrelenting personal misery, and most literally, the ruin of the very house George restored from ruins in his "real" life with Mary. Some wonderful life. George had every reason to be bitter and frustrated, the way the forces of entrepreneurial capitalism and normative social moires trapped him in a town he hated. For all the supposed idealism of the small town setting, do we ever see Bedford Falls in the present in the light of day? It's Christmas noir

It seems, in the end, very unlikely it was the threat of prison and disgrace, fueled with alcohol, that suddenly gave George the idea of suicide. (And here's another loophole left unresolved: George couldn't have believed the insurance company would honor his policy if he suicided.) No, he must've been thinking of it for years, and finally reached a tipping point. That, in turn, is probably why I find the movie so clinically fascinating at this time of hope and redemption, while Miracle gets an obligatory nod and yawn. Another year, we're all still here, that's a good thing.

I have observed this particular point about It's a Wonderful Life in previous years. On this year's re-viewing, however, I noticed another bit of subtext that had escaped me previously. George's despair is all!

The clues are there on the surface, and they're pretty disgusting. Violet Bick, the town slut whom George "saves" by giving her money to get out of town for a fresh start -- in New York City? -- what was George thinking about? is shown trying to dangle her wares in front of Georgie at the age of 10, the innocent future Mrs. Bailey watching and waiting inches away. Violet has to represent the "wanderlust" that George has for travel and exotic experience -- for going to college ("there's a time and a place for everything, and it's called college") -- for variety outside of his humdrum predictable Bedford Falls life. His downfall is precipitated in part by the suggestion that his alleged embezzlement is due to some kind of pay off to Violet for favors we don't need to mention, wink wink. In the scene in Mary's house after she and George have walked home after their dip into the high school pool (nothing symbolic about that drop through the gaping crevasse that appears with the throw of a switch, eh), Mary's mother asks what the heck George Bailey is doing there, when good old Sam Wainwright is offering his considerable charms -- in New York City!!! -- just at the other end of the phone line. "He's Making VIOLENT LOVE TO ME, Mother!" she yells up the stairs, pausing the glance at George for his reaction. In George's alternative life, the one where he never existed, the final horror he has to be shown by Clarence, the ghost of Christmas present, is -- what happened to Mary? Clarence, shudders, reluctant to tell the horrible truth about what happened to Mary without George -- "she's an OLD MAID!" he sobs, and George is horrified. The state of continued virginity in the middle of the sin city that has now become Bedford Falls in George's absence is the WORST THING THAT COULD POSSIBLY HAPPEN. (Just to rub it in to poor Mary's character's fate, she is, of course, that classic stereotype of spinsterhood -- the librarian!)

So, in the end, George's sacrifice of his own wanderings and sexual adventurism is to save Mary from the worst fate that could possibly happen to a fruitful woman. In the world of Bedford Falls without George, everybody's gettin' some except for his putative wife. Zuzu's petals, indeed. He has to undo his selfish nihilistic act of suicide in order to redeem her. The path not taken, the path that would have lead to George breaking out of both the geographical confines of his town and the strict moral code of bourgeois middle class America, must be shown to be terrible, so the quotidian reality of his life can be palatable.

The final scenes of the movie show George being showered in money, the fruits of his loins restored to him, everybody surrounding him watching him cheering him on. It's a Wonderful Life -- but what a sick, sick movie.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Happy Endings for Jack Womack and Jane Eyre

I had forgotten what a nearly indescribable pleasure it is to read Jack Womack in tiny increments while falling asleep. There's something about the mix of his language, the arcs of plot, the ambience, the penumbra of softly-floating place and uncertain time that produces excellent dreaming. I mean this will all the respect in the world: a Jack Womack book is one of the best ways to fall asleep. Your brain can be activated and excited and still drift off imperceptibly into one's own iconographic alpha-wave reverie without any ill effect.

That's not to say that, hithertofore, one would move to Mr. Womack's work for what one might call a happy shot of brain candy to top off the evening. Being a confirmed Dickhead and Sterling cyberpunker and rabbit-hole-Burroughser back in the 1980s, it did not take me long to find Womack's Ambient series when it first appeared. I cannot say it was as easy to find subsequent works. In some kind of strange paradox of space and time, it seemed to be pressingly harder to obtain an in-print copy of each volume as it appeared, and the lag time between a new installment appearing and my (a) being made aware of said volume, (b) being able to obtain a copy of it, and (c) having sufficient time to give it proper attention, for attention his works have demanded, only increased. The large lag between the penultimate entry in the series, Random Acts of Senseless Violence -- surely one of the saddest works set to pen since Little Dorrit plodded through Newgate -- and the final entry, Going, Going, Gone set up some kind of strange vortex of personal time slippage for me. At some point in the late 1990s I'd stopped looking for new Womack, before the internet so easily disgorged such details previously hidden in Forthcoming Books, and I somehow didn't discover the publication of Going, Going, Gone until five years after its initial publication. (Womack actually got a non-Ambient book out between them, which at the time suggested that Ambient was over -- making the final entry seem even more like a coda.)

I can guess, perhaps, although this is only a guess, the multitude of factors that went into the seven-year gap in the series. The drift of the publisher is clear enough: my first-edition-paperback of Ambient is in standard paperback size, with a typical SF weird-bad illustration on the cover of a stone Elvis on top of a sleek black limo with "Dryco" license plates. The last volume, Going, Going, Gone, is a sleek trade paperback from Grove Press, with a slick photomontage but with binding and printing that bespeak a far more literary appreciation of Mr. Womack. That is to say, I suspect between 1985, when the manuscript for Ambient was written, and 2000, much happened to antiquate the marketability of the Wo-verse. The idea of Elvis as worshipped saint and demigod became as much as a cliche as cyberspace itself, the philosophical and spiritual implications being distorted by their appropriation into pop culture. The overselling of the Gibsonian touch as the next big thing in fiction passed, no later than The Matrix spewing the sense of the alternate back in mind-bending visuals -- so inert and rigid, in fact, in the age of the pause and the slow-frame advance and the chapter access, compared to the ineffability of fiction. So too I can readly imagine that Womack's sales figures declined, particularly as his "series" of books were, on face value, so insecurely linked to one another. To this day, other than the omnipresence of Dryco in one form or another, it's hard for me to readily describe the commonalities of the book beyond the style, language, and just general sense of a consistent vision into something.

Another possibility, of course, is the painting-into-a-corner problem. Most authors of series do this by creating beloved characters who become prisoners of their readers/fans: no sooner is a compelling character introduced than those who love that character demand that s/he never change, and woe to the author who tries to shake free of the shackles of their own invention. Womack had no such constraint, in that he managed to create humanely-crafted characters in a set of universes that prevented those same characters from ever recurring. He shifted from third person to first to the epistollary novel and then finally back to first in the form of the imagined autobiographical novel. The chronology was jumbled, as the stretch of realities shifted from an imagined future to a parallel one to a merged one that seems in Going, Going, Gone to be simultaneously in 1968, 2021, and 1985. No, Womack didn't paint himself into a corner in the usual manner. It was just that the rabbit hole he fell down was a deep, dark one indeed, and I wouldn't blame anybody on the earth for giving up on chasing the bunny after Random Acts of Senseless Violence. Staying there would've been too depressing, and likely the unremunerative nature of being a dedicated, unclassifiable, linguistically accomplished and stylish author required some attention to a day job of some sort that would've been hopelessly bolloxed up by continuing to think Ambient-ly.

So I finally got a chance to read Going, Going, Gone, in fifteen-minute increments before falling asleep over a month or so, and I was, needless to say, curious about where Womack and Dryco had gone. Big spoiler coming up: Jack did himself a favor, I believe, by killing off his universe in the last ten pages of this wonderful coda, of ripping Dryco out of space and time and settling competing distopias into our own present and strange distopia. His hero, Walter Bullitt (try not to think of Steve McQueen when you read that name), morphs into Womack himself, tapping away on a modern computer instead of the greased disfunctional typewriter aura of previous works. He kills off the gremlins and ghouls that sat on the shelf in suspended animation since Random Acts of Senseless Violence, resurrects a few friends, and gives everybody in the series a biographical obituary in a glossary at the end of the book. Some might read some of this as being recursive, self-referential, or simply indulgent: I read it as appropriate therapy, a recap of the talking down he obviously had to do in the seven-year gap of time. Womack's got something new coming out later this year or next, and I can only imagine that having gotten himself out of his corner, he's got new a new life of the pen or keyboard or whatever awaiting him. I'm happy for myself as a reader that he managed to put the stake in the vampire's heart in such a way that we can enjoy moonlit nights once again, but perhaps still enjoy strolling through the scrapbook of grievous neck wounds at a later date with re-readings of the series. And I hope for Womack's sake he gets enough readers this time around to support the writing habit on a more regular basis.

I would also say this with those disappointed in happy endings, even ones as strange as that in Going, Going, Gone: the sense of dread that had built up by reading the previous five books in the series made the end of the series seem especially surprising, not just tacked on (like, say, Jane Eyre -- cf. subs.) That, my friends, is just pleasurable reading.

It's hard for me to figure how the Ambient series is going to read ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred years from now. But I've changed my mind in recent years about what constitutes great literature. The old saw is that "timeless" literature is that which transcends the ages, withstands reinterpretation, allows imitation and its less sincere forms of flattery in endless cycles, which supports literary criticism and doctoral dissertations and occasional film versions. (Somewhere, some time, somebody is going to be tempted to try to put a Womack work on the digital equivalent of celluloid: after all, Bill Burroughs was in his seventies before somebody had the balls and bad judgement to put millions into a film version of a major work, but by god, Bill lived to see the day.)

My own feelings are that, while it's possible I will be around ten, twenty, or fifty years from now, a hundred seems unlikely. Ambient was great because it was great when I read it the first time, and Going, Going, Gone was pretty good when I read it the first time, and they were great ways to do whatever a book does to one's brain: mediate, reflect, amplify, clarify, invent, fill, empty, I'm not sure. All culture is just a way of mediating our reality and experience over some truly basic facts and emotions: fear, hunger, horniness, and possibly boredom. Most everything else seems residual or an epiphenomenon, and discussions about the divide between pop culture and fine art seem to me to be pointless hair-splitting about better ways of passing time and lying, creatively, to ourselves: the end points always are the same, the virtue of the wiggly lines to those points either of ambiguous value or moot. That is to say, I don't see moral relativism in Ambient so much as the moral of reality, mediated and propagated to my sleepy brain.

So it was an odd coincidence of the "to read" shelf that right after I finished Going, Going, Gone, the next book up was Jasper Fforde's first "Thursday Next" series, The Eyre Affair, published a year after the last novel of the Ambient series. It's great brain candy in its formulaic derivative way. I'm not saying Fforde ain't original per se: it's just that you couldn't get half the jokes without having the subtle transformations of mass consciousness that twenty-plus years of Neuromancer's influence have wrought. Fforde doesn't have to explain parallel universes, he can pillage some of the lighter ramifications of quantum physics without being obliged to detail them. Not that Womack ever did: but a lot of what I got, in the broadest sense, out of the Ambient series was a way of reconciling humanism with the truly disturbing, non-intuitive, almost too large to comprehend implications on thought, language, and being that developments in physics have forced into our consciousnesses in the past decades. "Science Fiction", maybe, but only because the reality behind the science is so compellingly loud. The Thursday Next series is, of course, the complete fantasy, and focussing as it does on alternate universes and time streams where our intrepid heroine can have adventures courtesy of a variety of SF genres from classic horror to cyberpunk itself, with a strong sense of hommage to the readers of classic literature, is far more a product of genre fiction than Ambient ever was. The Thursday Next books are public constructions, and have all those paint-you-in-the-corner characteristics of successful popular fiction series I alluded to earlier: biographical and plot details that must be rationally reconciled, a cast of supporting characters, a strong main character to whom loyalty is given and utter consistency demanded by her fans, anthropomorphization of the fictive. The truly main idea Thursday Next takes from SF -- nay, probably from filtered readings of quantum reality -- is the creation of the real by creation of fiction, of the observable by the observer. Namely, the idea that a book, once written, is a reality and that the reader and author are engaged in a constant game of protecting that reality. Thursday Next is just a literal instantiation of a protector of the canon, and the series is quite playful and articulate in a way about navigating the pitfalls of the relationship between author, reader, and the fictional characters they conspire to create.

In the opening book in the series, The Eyre Affair, to provide yet another spoiler, Thursday is required to change the unsatisfactory ending of Jane Eyre in order to save the work from destruction by an arch villain of possibly demonic origins. The macguffin of this plot is lovingly twisted around, in that in Thursday's alternate universe, the unsatisfying and abrupt ending of Jane Eyre is even worse than it is in "our" universe. Thursday's intervention ends up making it even more satisfying, though, than it is in our universe; it's a wish fulfillment for readers who don't like the endings or are unsatisfied with strange quirks or holes (real or imagined, but perceived) in favored works, and yet cannot fix them. The literary police enforce the canon, and our rogue cop in this universe is one who, in order to protect the subtext, is willing to fiddle with the text.

It's fun, rollicking, thought-provoking for a popular and successful series, but somehow doesn't have but a tenth the courage of Jack Womack's work to date. There's nothing wrong with that. But props where props are due: I think, using the logic of Thursday Next, there would be no Thursday Next without Dryco.

Sometimes, if you love something, you have to kill it. Womack sneaks this delicious block into Going, Going, Gone (very parenthetically, one small coincidence between Going, Going, Gone and The Eyre Affair is that both books have short but wonderful descriptions of dilapidated grand hotels):

In the past the bellhops would've had the dicks lay into the Dynamos with saps if they'd dared to even walk past the place; but you could tell it wouldn't be long before management finally wrapped its mouth around the gas pipe, and let in sci-fi conventions.
Hey, sometimes it's the slap in the face that helps you come up for air. Methinks Womack gave a couple of loving slaps to some of his fans to help them float back up to the surface with him. There's not only air, but maybe a little sunshine waiting up there. I've appreciated Jack Womack's deep dives, but I'm just as glad that Walter Bullitt and Jane Eyre got their happy endings.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Karen Hughes to the Rescue

Bush Administration to Apply Successful Campaign Tactics to World Diplomacy

News item: CAIRO – Karen Hughes, a folksy Texan and longtime confidante of President Bush, has one of the toughest jobs in the US government: convincing the rest of the world, particularly the Arab world, that US policies are in their best interests. She started her first week as the State Department's top public relations officer with a "listening tour" of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

October 2, Ankara -- today Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes attacked the war record of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the former Major General of the Israeli Defense Forces and highly-decorated veteran of four of Israel's wars dating back to its struggle for independence. Echoing commercials broadcast this week by "Red Sea Dhow Captains for the Truth" on Al-Jazeera, Hughes said "Nobody saw Ariel Sharon get wounded. Isn't it obvious he fought in those wars just so he could someday run for the Knesset?" Hughes comments elicited confused looks from her Turkish hosts.

October 4, Baghdad -- Today US Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes made a surprise visit to Baghdad, where she met with members of the Iraqi provisional government and gave a pep talk to US troops. "We know that Sadaam Hussein was planning on making gay marriage legal in Iraq, " Hughes said, "and that if we hadn't intervened, he'd still be in Baghdad issuing wedding licenses to tourists from Morocco and Fire Island." Hughes went on, "Is that the kind of leadership you want? here in the very land of the Garden of Eden, without the US, the muslim world would've become the world of Adam and Steve instead of the home of Adam and Eve." A State Department spokesman later amplified Hughes' comments, saying, "I think the one point of agreement between muslim countries and the Bush administration is clearly we don't want homosexuals marrying and undermining traditional family values like they have in Saudi Arabia."

October 7, Tripoli -- US Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, extending her goodwill "listening" trip of the middle east to Libya, today told President Moammar Qadhafi that he had a "truth problem." "You claimed to have invented the internet, discovered global warming, and been the inspiration for 'Love Story', Mr. Qadhafi," Hughes said in a joint press conference to the stunned reaction of the Libyan leader. "So how will we know if you're really going to stick to that agreement to give up your nukes? We might as well tear it up now!" Hughes smiled and posed with Qadhafi for photographs after the news conference.

October 11, Karkuk -- On the last leg of her mideast "listening" tour, Karen Hughes heard the comments of a hand-picked audience of members of the Republican Party of Kurdistan. "What's your biggest concern today?" asked Hughes of Jalal Qazi, an unemployed refinery worker from Karkuk. "Secretary Hughes, without a doubt, the biggest concern we have today is that the United States Congress must pass a comprehensive energy bill with full oil depletion allowances to allow off-shore drilling on the California coast and continued exploration of the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge," Qazi said. "Only then will the democrats' dangerous idea of adding a fifty cent a gallon gas tax be eliminated and I can feed my family as a gainfully unemployed member of the world petroleum community." Qazi then looked straight into a Fox News camera and pleaded, "Democrats, why do you hate freedom so?"

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

All Pigs Is Equal

There's a fairly large proportion of "new" children's books aimed at the under-3 set that are illustrated versions of nursery rhymes or kiddie songs. I strongly suspect this is for a combination of two reasons: first, the story's in the public domain, so there's no tricky creative problem of thinking up an original idea or possibly being sued by another author. One rather thinks that there's a diminishing return on new ideas in this literary space, anyway, since the kids have never heard the stories before; the cry for novelty, the emergence of boredom, and the demands of being fashionable have to wait until a kid is at least five or six. At least until they've run through the canon. The other reason, obviously, is that the story is pre-marketed. Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Ethel, etcetera, all know "Old McDonald" already, so they just need to be sold on the version: some cutesy artistic style, or a drawing that's evocative of something else that will trigger that buying decision. (If it seems like I'm cynically imputing pure avarice and sales to the authors' selection of a text for their books, I'm not; I'm making a factual assumption about publishers who select authors for publication.)

Parenthetically, note I didn't mention fairy tales: the fairy tale seems to be absent from the early early childhood reader, or present only in extremely watered-down versions. The fairy tale requires some narrative sophistication from the tot to figure out how Goldilocks might get from table to bed, to provide a backstory to why she's in the woods, and so forth. Further, since most fairy tales have rather grisly implications or outright twists to them, it requires the buying audience not be offeneded. To that end, the re-use of classic folk tales takes on two variants, neither of which is necessarily a good thing for the literary tot. The first is the bowdlerization of the tale in favor of sensitivy, self-esteem, or whatever childhood development trend is deking publishers and parents into mediocre tameness. Case in point: in the library some months ago, I happened across a version of "The Three Little Pigs" that had a friendly wolf; I think the pigs and the wolf all sat down, ate hummus, and sang kumbaya at the end of it. The threat of destruction, being eaten, and the retribution of the victims towards the aggressor at the end, of course, is all absent. The three pigs and the wolf might just as well have come out of the same bottle in the 'Brave New World' Universe for all the differences they seemed to have. Don't get me started about where conflict resolution techniques might enterer into it. The other trend towards novelty, by the way, is a form of cultural imperialism that some might call diversification: using the myths and folktales of other cultures. This is not entirely a bad thing, as at least it provides education and novelty for the parent. Although the question in the world of the monomyth, of course, is the same as why college curricula may or may not wish to continue to teach the works of dead heterosexual men from the power elite. My son has a very charming little book from some Inuit cultural standpoint called "Mama, Do You Love Me?" (which we've read in both English and Spanish), in which the mother provides all these great ripostes to the kid's challenge of what-ifs: e.g., what if I turned into a walrus, would you still love me? The mom uses umiaks and mukluks and all sorts of culturally-significant iconifiers to answer the question, over and over, I'm going to love you no matter what, even if you become a man-eating serial killer (polar bear, orca, whatever). My question in reading this to my own kid is: well, that's cool, but is my kid learning about other cultures or being hopelessly confused by having completely alien objects to illustrate common emotional concepts? Although, honestly, it doesn't bother me, since I'm of the opinion that any reading is good reading and being able to dive into alien worlds is one of the best things about the literary life at any age. In any event, to get back to my main example, this particular 'Three Little Pigs' book was marketed to the pre-schooler (the current term for a kid between the toddling years and kindergarten, if you're not familiar with marketing niches for kids) so the discussion of the fairy tale will have to wait for a couple of years when my kid is old enough. We're talking right now about just nursery rhymes and old songs that are re-re-recyled into children's books.

I will digress away again for a moment and tell you I love bacon. It tastes great, and cooked pig in all its forms is mighty fine food. At one point, though, I gave up the flesh of the swine for a number of years. It wasn't (at the time) for any particular health concern. It was because I read an article about some reasearchers who had taught pigs how to play video games. They were trying to learn something about porcine cognitive functions, presumably so they could figure out how pigs could be research subjects for the usual gamut of human conceptual and cognitive research topics in psychology, neurology, etc. They did the usual thing of starting out the pigs with a food reward, but discovered after the pigs had learned the "rules" of this game (it was sort of, I gather, a form of Pig Pac-Man, where the pigs had to negotiate a character through a maze using their snouts on joy-sticks, and if they completed a level they'd get some food), that the pigs would play whether or not they got a food reward. (This has, of course, been exploited by the PETA crowd as more 'evidence' of some kind of higher moral character due to the higher cognitive function, as if having more cognition among the animal kingdom was some kind of special qualifier for not being eaten. On the contrary, one sees a definite correlation between higher cognitive function and cruelty.) In any event, PETA or no PETA, the idea that an animal that would play something for fun's sake, for some reason, really took to me, and I became weirded out by the idea of eating pig meat. I think it was the same way I don't want to eat dog or monkey, because they like to chase balls and masturbate, to no apparent purpose except self-gratification, among other qualities -- just like us! And we don't eat one another, do we, except under special circumtanxes, like Andean air crashes, or symbolically, like the Eucharist. (Rather coincidentally, my wife's cousin apparently saw the same study and gave up pork, too, for a similar reason...for a while.)

Then, after some years had passed, I came across a history of the US Civil War that touched on the quick burials of the massive numbers of dead after some battles. The corpses had to be covered with only an inch or two of dirt as a temporary expedient until more regular burial could be accomplished. One significant problem in those days when the battleas were fought largely in open fields and in farm country was...well, livestock getting at the bodies. Specifically, it turns out pigs really enjoy the taste of human flesh, and ate the corpses with gusto, using those video-game-playing snouts to get through the top layer of soil. (The cemetary at Gettysburg -- you know, at the dedication of which Lincoln gave the Gettysbureg Address -- was the permanent cemetary, set up to avoid the pig problem.) And I say they prefer human flesh, because I've subsequently learned that dumping corpses on pig farms is a preferred method of disposing of the murder victims of organized crime in certain parts of the world.

So, my feeling since then, is: I better get the pigs before they get to me. Higher cognitive function be damned. Which leads me back to the thought" how ever did I get this vision of the pig as a creature whou wouldn't eat me, given a chance? Nature suggests that you're either a candidate for another species' dinner, or vice versa. Domesticated animals we've merely formalized a sort of biologicsl social contract with, in which they reproduce and live for fixed periods of time, rather than the rather random intervals and lifespans more typical of predator-prey relationships.

Why, the litrary canon of the nursery, of course. It's full of anthropomorphized talking animals who wear pants, talk on the telephone, hug their babies, and do similarly unlikely things. It is, after all, fiction -- as it turns out, virtually all science fiction when you stop and think about it. We raise each generation on "The Island of Dr. Moreau", filtered these days through progressively diluted characters marketed by Happy Meal merchandising tie-ins.

So my son has about five versions of "This Little Piggy", illustrated in a variety of ways, virtually all of them pretty happy. I suspect the "This Little Piggy" rhyme, like a lot of the rhymes and songs from the English folk canon, has its origins in some socio-political upheaval of 500 or 1000 years ago (you know, 'Ring Around the Rosy', 'Mary Had a Little Lamb', etc.) Who knows what a 'piggy' actually was when this rhyme was invented, literally or metaphorically? I don't. Told in the oral trradition, "This Little Piggy" is mysterious indeed. My earliest understanding, best as I can recoolect, was that 'Piggy' was just a synonym for 'toe'; but if you read any of my son's books, the conceit of illustration has turned all these piggies into literal domesticated but fully anthropomorphized pigs. The strangeness of what the market was (the pre-destination for a pig to the slaughter?) and the luck of the draw of life as to which one dies or 'stays home' is replaced by the confusing literalness og Pig 1 doing the grocery shopping, and Pig 2 under the bed covers with a thermometer in its mouth and a box of Kleenex (tm) on the bedside table. The question of why a pig would want to eat roast beef -- the carcass of a fellow barnyard animal -- and why another pig might get none is answered: one piggy likes the company of the diner, while another pig simply prefers peas ( "Good for Piggies!" says the label of the can.) Pig #4 doesn't even go hungry! Finally, in varoius versions we have, Pig No. 5 goes "weee wee wee!" all thw way home because (1) he is riding his tricycle, (2) he is happy to be out of school, and (3) he and another piggy (pig No. 6?) are playing hide and go seek with -- a wolf! They're having fun -- they're not in dire peril of being eaten, nor are they as the original rhyme rather suggests, beating a cowardly retreat. Nowhere, in any illustrated version, are there any human toes being wiggled. These books, exquisitely, are randomized metaphors without any actual symbolism -- anti-metaphors in a way. By being illustrated, they become oddly literal, picking at guessed meanings that neither make any sense nor produce mystery. In this sense, I think perhaps my son's conception about the five little piggies, like his future conception about the three little pigs and the big bad wolf, may end up being a bit less quixotic and puzzling than mine, but that also means his ability to create meaning between those odd spaces of the tale will be hobbled. What other rhymes and songs that will remain as spoken and song lore, and which will be marred -- perhaps ruined? by reading the picture books, time will tell. I do know that in some instances, "reading" a book may in fact be a poorer literary act than simply learning the story by word of mouth. God help us all if my son learns alternative words to "Popeye the Sailor Man" or "The Colonel Bogey March" via some illustrated book instead of the way the creator intended him to, that is, on the playground. I don't know where he's going to get the idea that pigs are, in fact, vengeful creatures intent on homicide, or even the idea that wolves eat meat, reading the kiddie books out there. Give me the flesh of flesh-eating swine. Then again, I myself had many misconceptions about pigs from the old stories, such as, just because they like to play video games is a reason I shouldn't eat them even though they'd eat me in a heartbeat if they could.

"Some Pig!" as the Bard once wrote. Actually, it's one of the best parts of "Charlotte's Web" -- Wilbur the Pig is spared the butcher's block through Charlotte's flim-flammerry -- but Charlotte dies in the end, anyway (and her children, most probably, ate her corpse.) I can hardly wait until my son is old enough to read the book and digest the implicit horrors. That is, if the digitally re-touched version hasn't supplanted it by then...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

John Roberts Interviews for Some Other Jobs

Been following those scintillating Supreme Court confirmation hearings for the putative Mr. Chief Justice Roberts? Me, neither, not after listening to the pablum drool unctuously and meaninglessly off his lips the first day. I was left wondering how John Roberts would interview for some other jobs....hmmmm....

Interviewer: "Thanks, Mr. Roberts, for coming in to interview for the position of structural engineer. Let's get right to it. If you were building a highway bridge, can you describe to me the appropriate ways of using pre-fabricated trusses versus concrete fill techniques?"

Judge Roberts: "Unfortunately, because I might actually be involved in building a bridge at some point in the future, I cannot respond to that question."

Interviewer: "Um...well, can you recap for us the factors that went into the Tacoma Narrows bridge collapse in 1940?"

Judge Roberts: "I can say that in a general way it had a lot to do with wind and the bridge falling. But to go into greater detail would be to sacrifice my future impartiality in investigating future bridge collapses."

Interviewer: "Um. I see. Well, how about the Great Pyramids of Egypt? Were they built long enough ago? And I don't know of any current plans anybody has anywhere of building a large stone pyramid."

Judge Roberts: "Of course! It's not actually a pyramid, or rather they're not pyramids, they're tetrahedrons. The framers of the Great Pyramids clearly intended for the structure to have five sides -- counting the bottom."

Interviewer: "No arguing that, Judge Roberts. You're hired!"


Interviewer: "Dr. Roberts, why do you feel you'd be qualified for a position as Chief of Surgery for this, the most prestigious hospital and medical school in the country?"

Judge Roberts: "I am a doctor, I like to think a pretty good appellate doctor, that is, one to whom referrals are given. I've had 39 of my patients admitted to this hospital in the past."

Interviewer: "Can you tell us which of this cases were the hardest for you to diagnose?"

Judge Roberts: "I'm afraid to do that would be to violate patient confidentiality, and I have a sacred oath to avoid doing that."

Interviewer: "But, we don't want you to use names. Just tell us, say, which cases you found best illuminate your philosophy of medicine."

Judge Roberts: "I really must decline to talk about any cases. I will say that there were some cases where I diagnosed some medicine and performed some surgery that did not agree with my personal philosophy of medical treatment, but which I did at the request of my employer."

Interviewer: "Ah, and as the head of the medical staff here if we hire you, you will now be free to tell us what those practices are, so you can change the rest of the hospital staff's methods to better fit your idea of what good medicine is, right?"

Judge Roberts: "No, of course not, I would completely respect the precedents of established medical procedure, even if I thought it would kill a patient."


Interviewer: "Father Roberts, thanks for coming in for the interview for the job of parish priest. Do you believe that life begins at conception?"

Roberts: "Honestly, that issue might come up in a homily, sermon, or even confession some day, so I'd prefer not to comment on it."

Interviewer: "But, Judge Roberts, do you believe in a literal interpretation of the bible, or in the precedents of canon law?"

Roberts: "My own beliefs certainly would not come into any decision I might make with respect to the issue."

Interviewer: "But what if you thought a certain interpretation were wrong? Suppose your monsignor issued a proclamation saying that abortion was OK, and you thought it was murder under all circumstances?"

Roberts: "Obviously there are some circumstances in which my own strongly-held beliefs would take sway. I'm not saying, of course, that this necessarily is one of those issues, or isn't."

Monday, September 12, 2005

Write Your Own Best-Seller!

In contemplating how to sell my novel, I had occasion to peruse the New York Times Bestseller list, which in our local paper is rather conveniently located next to the sunday crossword, so when I'm stuck on a clue I can take a break and see what the rest of America is reading.

The thought occurs that when writing a book, the single most-important sentence is the one-sentence tag line that will end up on the best sellers' list -- perhaps analogous to the one-line pitch for a screenplay? In any event, I came up with ten sure-fire best-selling novel ideas by re-arranging the subject, verb, and objects of the current ten best-sellers. I have made up titles on my own for them, but I've appended the original titles at the bottom in case you want to do the Frankenstein thing and try to resurrect the originals from parts. (This way you have a complete set.)

A woman's quest to learn about her family disrupts the world of a man believed to be a serial killer.

The murder of a curator at the Louvre involves research into a plantation owner's daughter.

Things go terribly awry when a lifeguard takes hostages connected to a centuries-old secret society.

Dillon Savitch and Lacey Sherlock may be pregnant.

A hospital patient takes part in a terror ring.

An unhappily married woman swears vengeance against Vlad the Impaler and Dracula.

A Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton is trapped in a cabin to make a political point.

A magazine editor discovers a violent couple.

Two intelligence agents pursue a $5 million heist.

The hunt for a troubled debutante turns deadly.

OK, get typin'.

(Original titles: Lifeguard, The Interruption of Everything, Without Mercy, Sweetwater Creek, Chill Factor, The Historian, Vanish, The Davinci Code, Point Blank. I suppose if you've read enough of them you'd be able to match titles with S, V, and O....good luck with that.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

More Great Moments in American Leadership

We’re happy to provide exclusive excerpts from the forthcoming book, Great Moments in American Leadership due to be published in October, 2006 by the Heritage Foundation Press. The recommended uses of the book, according to the promotional material provided to booksellers, include as a history text for home-schooling, for re-sale as a fundraiser at Lincoln-Reagan Day dinners, and stacked to provide emergency protection against flooding for “the self-sufficient citizen”.

February 12, 1778 – Today General Washington responded to criticism from members of the Continental Congress concerning the future of the war in Pennsylvania by saying that the Continental Army was “making good progress” in the struggle against the British. “The British resistance is in its last throes,” Washington said.

Concerning reports his troops had inadequate protection against the winter cold and were scrounging the Valley Forge countryside for food, Washington said that additional supplies were in the pipeline. “No one could have foreseen the conflict lasting this long,” Washington maintained. "You have to fight with the army you have, not the army you want."

When asked by a reporter from the New Amsterdam Times as to whether he was receiving adequate appropriations from the Congress, Washington stated there was no need for additional financing. “As soon as the wheat harvest is in outside Lancaster, Pennsylvania will be self-supporting,” Washington said through a spokesman.

April 22, 1861 – Newly-inaugurated President Abraham Lincoln met today with President Jefferson Davis of the Confederate States of America in a highly-anticipated meeting of the leaders. “I looked into his eyes and I saw the soul of a good man,” Lincoln said of Davis. “He’s a man I can work with.” When asked about the government’s reaction to reports of fighting in the breakaway state of South Carolina, Lincoln replied that he had full confidence in Davis’ ability to handle the situation without outside interference.

August 1, 1876 – President Grant today addressed the US Congress, asking for broad new police powers in what he called “the ongoing War on Global Scalping.”

“I am asking Congress for its support in battling the evil-doers, the Lakotah and the Oglalalala, who without provocation attacked the peaceful exploration party headed by General Custer in South Dakota last month,” Grant said. “They claim the land there is theirs by treaty, and use excuses about prospectors invading their lands as a pretext for unleashing their hatred of freedom,” Grant continued.

The Grant administration also issued a $25 million reward for Scalper leader Sitting Bull. “We will not rest until Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse are brought to justice,” said a spokesman for Vice President Henry Wilson, long thought to be the administration point man behind the scenes in the Global War on Scalping.

May 3, 1930 – The Hoover administration today released new data showing the economy was “turning the corner” out of “a mild correction” relating to the stock market “adjustment” of last October. “Employment in the apple-selling and street-vending sectors are at an all time high,” according to the report, which also cited the extremely low inflation rate and cheap cost of fuel as among the many indicators that economic activity was picking up. Hoover later criticized reports of widespread economic disruption as “products of the imagination of the media” and blamed holdovers from the Wilson administration for the leak of previous data which contradicted the White House report.

December 8, 1941 – President Franklin D. Roosevelt today took a break from his month-long pre-Christmas vacation at his Hyde Park estate to attend a political fund-raiser in South Hampton, Long Island. Asked about the developing situation in the Pacific, President Roosevelt released a statement through his press secretary that the President was monitoring events closely and that he was waiting for a request for assistance from the Territorial Governor of Hawaii.

December 10, 1941 – President Roosevelt decided today to cut his vacation short one day and take the train back to Washington, according to White House sources. ‘He’s taking the express, not the local,” said first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to a throng of reporters waiting outside Union Station. The President earlier today praised Secretary of State Cordell Hull for the conduct of ongoing negotiations with the Empire of Japan over the trade dispute. “Cordie’s doing a heckuva job. Or should I say a Hull of a job?” the President quipped.

December 14, 1941 – A day after an aerial tour of Oahu from the window of his DC-3, President Roosevelt announced that “a bigger, better Honolulu will be built.” Responding to criticism from opposition Republicans that his administration has been slow to respond to the growing crisis, President Roosevelt bristled. “This is not a time for the blame game. I just want to find out which vessels can sail, and which are going to need some time to recover. I’m concentrating on saving lives in the USS Arizona, not pointing fingers,” he said to reporters as he played with his dog, Fala, on the south lawn of the White House.

September 24, 1963 – In the daily briefing of the White House Press Corps, Press Secretary Pierre Salinger jousted with a reporter today concerning President Kennedy’s proposed manned mission to the moon. Kennedy’s proposal, which created a stir when he first made it over a year ago, continues to languish on the NASA drawing boards. “We’re studying the issue very carefully, and things are moving forward,” Salinger said. The US Space program has been grounded since 1961 after questions concerning the safety of the Mercury capsule were brought up after Astronaut John Glenn’s heat shield problems aboard the Freedom 7 spaceship.

August 11, 1974 – In a stirring Rose Garden ceremony, President Ford today awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former White House aides John Haldeman and G. Gordon Liddy, and retired four-star General William Westmoreland. “The Watergate committee investigation showed the heroic efforts of these two great patriots in uncovering misdoings in the government,” President Ford said of Haldeman and Liddy at the ceremony. Press Secretary Ron Nessman later released the White House citation of General Westmoreland, which noted his important role in the “triumph of democratic forces” in Vietnam.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Storm Damage

I write this sickened, curled up with a deep disgust that permeates my inside, at the awful harvest of Katrina's wake. I wouldn't blame a hurricane on politics, although the current administration doesn't even admit global warming, which played a role in the strength if not the existence of the storm, even exists. But we are left with the picture of thousands upon thousands of poor, black, elderly, disabled, and/or very young and vulnerable people suffering terribly because society simply didn't have them in its evacuation plans. Even as the media complicitly criticizes the "idiots" for not leaving while ignoring the fact that they had no means to leave, no assistance to leave before the storm from the government, we are treated to the spectacle of relief from looting taking on more importance than search and rescue. To our society, apparently, protection of worthlessly water-logged property is still more important than the chance of finding survivors. In Washington, the President mutters platitudes about everybody coming out of this stronger and things like "don't buy gas if you don't need it", his first thoughts going to his loved ones in the energy industry as gasoline lines start to appear. The Homeland Security director says things like "no one could have foreseen this", even though local New Orleans disaster preparedness officials have been begging Congress for more money for flood prevention and control. Instead they got less. The war in Iraq gets a billion dollars a day, and an extra few hundred million would have at least prevented the levee breaks. We do fullscale exercises in reacting to bioterrorism, yet we are caught completely unready for a disaster that was just a better of when, not if. And the President had to wait until a day after the hurricane to decide to cut his vacation short. Terrorist attacks, earthquakes, and the like, they may strike without warning. This hurricane was being tracked for weeks, and it was obvious that it would hit New Orleans and the gulf coast days before it actually did. Why weren't the cabinet meetings held then? Because to the mindset of this administration, nothing is anybody's fault. Anybody who has correctly predicted disaster is ignored, not consulted humbly after the fact. "There was nothing more the federal government could have done" is the mantra of those who have spent their time in power dismantling the ability of the federal government to do anything. I heard an interview with a Dutch reporter today, who was covering the disaster, who was livid, utterly angry, that all the greatest country on earth could do days and days after this disaster was sputter helplessly as the city of New Orleans became home to anarchy and firearms. The Dutch know something about flood disasters. I doubt seriously they're as unprepared as we were. The National Rifle Association has nothing on its website about Katrina's victims; poor, black, as long as they're armed, every one for himself. Great civilizations have been swallowed up by disaster time and again in history. I wonder if we hadn't been swallowed by the disaster of selfish government well before the levees every broke.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

What We're Fighting For

I was at a hardware store the other day buying a bunch of housewares (all, of course, made in China, since finding anything made in the USA today is practically impossible), and I was impressed by the array of "Support Our Troops" paraphernalia on sale -- mostly car magnets, but a variety of other ribbon-themed items. I took a look at them while I was in line.

Every last one of them was made in China.

Thank god we're fighting for freedom and democracy. We wouldn't want to let the Chinese communist party bosses, the state-controlled enterprises, the slave labor, or the software pirates down.

They Just Don't Make Wars Like They Used to

Did you know that Canada and Denmark are in a war of sorts, the old-fashioned kind, too: a territorial dispute? They both claim sovereignty over Hans Island, a lump of rock between Greenland and some Canadian islands in the northeastern snowball's end of the frozen North. It's smaller than most of the icebergs that are around it for most of the year, hasn't got a damn thing growing on it, and apparently hasn't even been above water for that long in geological terms. But the Danish and Canadians are positioning themselves for a future of global warming in which all that frozen nothing will soon be a booming temperate zone while the desert regions to the south (e.g. the United States) will be desperate for the space and resources up north. The island's in the middle of a navigation channel, or one that would be navigable if it weren't for all the damned ice, and apparently that's some kind of key to the pissing contest that will presumably go on 20 or 30 years hence for whatever oil, etc., can be found in the area.

So, being Canadians and Danish, they're going about their war in a rather unviolent way. They keep invading the island, but only in sequence, taking turns visiting the place, hauling down the other guy's flag, putting up their own, then skedaddling before the other guy shows up. It's hard enough to reach in the first place, let alone occupy for no good reason, but you have to give both countries credit for trying. The Canadians landed their No. 1 soldier, the Minister of Defence, this year, so now the Danes are sending a warship -- albeit an unarmed warship -- to go make their counterclaim again, one that will take three weeks to get there. I'm sure the Danes probably wish they had an intercontinental missle capability about now, so they could just shoot over a flag.

And of course, being Canadians and Danes, they're negotiating in a civilized manner over the whole thing even while trading invasions. I'm just left to wonder what would have happened had Iraq made a territorial claim on the worthless piece of rock.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

SLC Punk! (1998)

So, having posted recently about Punk: Attitude and Brigham Young, it seems like a fitting time to finally post on SLC Punk!, seeing as it combines both the repressive religious regimes of punk rock and the paradoxical anarchy of Mormonism.

Working my way backwards from the critical commentary, in the spirit of the intellectual anarchy of the good Internet-era post-post-post-mo era, where no opinion goes unrecorded, I'm totally laughing my ass off. The first comment I picked up off the IMDB comment board on this film ranted about how a real punk would never become a preppy lawyer. Well, my reaction, having been in the "scene" exactly in the era described in the film, is that all the punks I knew either (a) became preppy lawyers, or did some equivalent adaptation to age and circumstance, or, (b) died (or even worse, got stuck at being a 'punk' for the rest of their meager lives). But the very fact that somebody out there is still arguing about whether something is "punk" or not just goes to show exactly how dead "punk" is. There's a misconception that punks hated hippies, in part because they were, in the early 1980s, so busy becoming establishment mainstream yuppies, etc. Nope. The reason we hated that generation was nostalgia. Worship of the past kills the future; it kills hope. True anarchy and nihilism are so close to one another mostly because neither sees a path to a future; they're philosophies of the moment, not of history nor planning. Anyone who wants to understand the fine line between being completely Straight Edge and being devoted to drugs needs to remember the fear of historicity and the sense of having no future are intimate. Or take a look at Iraq.

Anyway, thanks to IFC I've finally seen SLC Punk! a buncha times after completely missing it when it came out. The first viewing I was just annoyed by the artifice -- I hate voiceover narration as a rule -- and the second through fifth times I watched it I became increasingly entranced with how perfectly, perfectly, the filmmakers got it right. Not out of a sense of nostalgia; out of a sense of truth amidst the bullshit, and a clarification through fiction of what it feels like to have lived through a similar period in my life.

Of course, it's kinda bourgeois to personalize a film commentary, but what the fuck.

I get it from the biography of the director that there are autobiographical elements mixed in, notably that he lived in SLC during a part of the period depicted. Whatever. One thing I like about this movie is how he managed to get what seemed like the flavor of every punk scene in America epitomized crossed with this strange otherworldly feeling that's bordering on the mythic. In a flick all about, on its face value, being an "individualist" in a dominant, oppressive culture, there's actually very little of the Mormon church and culture per se evident. You hear Steve-o's whines about it, but you hear a lot more than you see. There's a certain condescending reductionism to simply saying, "teenage rebellion is always the same", and as a sort of coming of age story it's nice to see the movie thoroughly grounded in mid-1980s America, caught between greed and nuclear holocaust. Yep, I sure remember feeling exactly the same way: too bad about the kids, that they have no future. SLC Punk sets this little scene in a hospital waiting room - immediately preceeded by a visit to a fast food joint. Intentional or not, what great framing: the epitome of civilization, of organization for the common good, and the epitome of rampant consumerism. Steve-o and Heroin Bob take advantage of both of those things which 'anarchy' stands against, and that's the paradox they have to survive, or, as with the case with Heroin Bob, not survive.

I liked the reduction of the whole punk thing, ultimately, to just two characters/archetypes in Steve-O and Heroin Bob. More on the other scenester characters in a bit. But those two guys are the fulcrum for the movie, and the narration makes it plain that it's their story (right down to the 'where it all started' flashback that ends the film.) Steve-o, of course, through all the first-person narration about poseurs, shows himself to be both a poseur and an intellectual, which in turn is clearly the point of view of anyone who's survived the period to become an award-winning filmmaker, Indy or otherwise. (I've said this before, but this is why there can't ever, ever be a punk or anarchic filmmaker: film-making is the ultimate corporate act, requiring cooperation from the crew, cast, producers, financiers, distributors, technical producers of equipment, caterers, you name it. If you want to be an artist and an anarchist, become an unpublished novelist, just like me. You don't need shit from anyone to write an unpublished novel.) That's the triumph, the paradox, the oxymoron: to record the spirit of punk, you have to survive it long enough to show everybody that you never were one, by the strict standards of the day. It's perfect to the point of simplicity. They make Steve-o into the rich kid, Heroin Bob into the poor kid. The rich kids take drugs, the poor ones drank beer. Steve-o thinks his Dad is fucked up and his values all askew, but really, he loves him and his Dad loves Steve-o back. Heroin Bob's Dad is just fucked up -- crazy in the head, still wearing his Army uniform from Korea and convinced the CIA is sending messages to his brain via satellites, so far done in by the institutions that shaped his life that he doesn't even recognize Bob. Tries to kill him, in fact. Now that's punk rock, baby. Bob is the one who plans to get married and has a future, so of course is the one who dies. The sacrificial aspect of Bob's death -- clearly done to save Steve-o, as Steve-o readily recognizes right away by shaving his purple hair to a respectable Reagan-era crewcut -- is surely more Jesus-like than erecting a mighty temple in the middle of a desert. Duty trumps self-absorption in the end.

I like the honest way the film showed the more superficial aspects of the scene back then. Like, the way the 'scene' included various overlapping circles of fashion and music, including some characters who seemed to have no real fashion stance (like Mike or Marc in the movie) but who just seemed to fit. The unity was ultimately in the mosh pit, where if you liked the music it didn't matter whether the kid next to you was some hardcore asshole from University City, a high schooler from Ardmore, a skinny hip-hop-hardcore crossover destined for stardom from North Philly, or some dumbshit wannabes from Swarthmore. Who the hell am I to label us, then or now: we enjoyed the music, one another's company, the sense of compagnie of being there and then. That's youth for ya. No wonder the hippies were nostalgic.

And the way it showed the self-destructiveness, ultimately, of trying to mix being faithful to your self-appointed philosophy with living in the world. The scene where the "hardest of hardcore" English bands got the shit kicked out of them and complained about America being too violent? Man, I was there! Or of what was once a cool scene being marred by the violence, which attracted nazis and testosterone cases and the police and which scared off the potential to become a cool self-feeding cross-cultural fermentation pot. Mistaking the sentiments behind anarchy and true anarchy was a dangerous thing, and that's why the scene splintered off into nothingness, future lawyers, and corpses, depending on which fork in the road you decided to take. That was a true thing from this movie.

The thing I hated most about this movie when I first saw it was the kind of smug first-person narration by Steve-O. But after repeated viewings I think that's what really makes this movie. Going third-person would just take the story arc and try to make it into something more than it is, as if it were trying to tell a single truth, as if it were truly trying to be a documentary. The breaking-the-proscenium style of the narration, in which Steve-0 picks up the voice-over narration in the middle of a scene makes it very clear that this is a personal reminscence, a sorting-out after the fact, and just one guy's version. Honestly, having seen Punk: Attitude recently, I think this is the only way you can come close to capturing the feeling of what that was like -- a straight documentary just becomes another nostalgic hippie masturbatory fantasy about the good old days. I mean, what could be more DIY than saying, my memory is what counts, not somebody else's filter? Of course, there's that paradox again -- I say this having had my memory filtered and reprocessed by having watched this film, maybe a few times too often.

Maybe there's a difference between the class of '77 (Pistols, Clash, et alia) and the class of '81 (Minor Threat, Husker Du), the same as there's any difference in one's experience depending on when you joined and left the timeline (how far back would you go to be authentic? Television in '74? The Dolls in '72? The MC5 or Iggy in '68? The Velvets in 1966? How far forward can you go before you're talking about something else?) The punk label, like all labels, is bullshit. I used to wonder about how critics could cream themselves over American Graffitti, when, being produced in 1973, it was being nostalgic about events being depicted only a dozen years or so before. Oops: SLC Punk!, 1998, set in 1985. (I just hope to god it doesn't turn out Reality Bites was authentic.)

OK, so, sure, this film belongs in the coming-of-age drama genre when it gets filed into the critical bins, and as that it's pretty good. And it will get field into the music/punk/history section. More labels. Not that I would've quoted Peter Schickele back in 1985, quoting in turn Duke Ellington, but I will now: if it sounds good, it is good. So much of the time and breath I wasted as a punk/poser could've been saved had I figured that one out back in the day. If you accept that premise, so much else follows. Tolerance for others, notably, as long as they tolerate your own tastes. Co-existence of a system with individualism. Security and tranquility and freedome and peace. The past and the future, happiness with death. If it sounds good, it is good.

So: good film.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Land of the Dead, the Prequel (Brigham Young, 1940)

It's hard to believe that there won't be a scientology-bankrolled project soon about the life of L. Ron Hubbard, between the vanity project Battlefield Earth and the sci-fi slasher flick financed out of pocket by Mel Gibson, Passion of the Christ, precedents have been set. Scientologists have all the great chips on their shoulders to be convinced they're an oppressed minority, not the least of which is behavior that invites ostracism ("I'm SOOOO in love DON'T KNOW THE HISTORY of psychology, and I DO!!!") I can only imagine what it's going to look like, and ponder if anyone will have the money or guts to make the alternate story about L. Ron's life that's based on the factual record and not the Scientology version.

The Great American Religious Genre is not the sword-and-sandal epic (I'm ready for my wide shot, Mr. DeMille), it's not the intimate psychological portrait (Last Temptation, etc.), the crappy pseudo-artsy fake-Euro-film (The Greatest Story Ever Told or Interiors et alia), or even the indy metaphor (Bad Lieutenant) for suffering and redemption (Rocky II, since he rises to fight again). It's the zombie movie. Let's face it, a story about a guy dying, then rising from the dead to walk the earth again after his followers feast on his flesh and blood is not new. What fascinates me is that Christians making movies about themselves don't get the fact that the whole Four Gospels version of the Jesus Story (which got into print better than St. Thomas, hence the latter is "apocrypha" now, because it was so damn theatrical) is all about the tale of a zombie. A good zombie, who returned to remind us we're all, in fact, the walking dead, it's just a matter of time before we pass over. Sounds like Land of the Dead to me.

In any event, I don't have to look ahead to figure out what the L. Ron Hubbard story will look like on the screen, I have but to look back on Brigham Young, an old-school oater beautifully-photographed in black and white in the great ranges of the west, competently acted, and scripted out of some weird parallel universe. The director, Henry Hathaway, is maybe best known today for True Grit, the flick that brought The Duke Oscar's sweet oatbag at long last, and to me for the talky re-make (1949) of Down to the Sea in Ships and the rather sublime 5 Card Stud. No proseletyzing angel he. The movie's a straight western in one sense, the pioneers struggling to make it against the odds, with regular white people substituting for the evil Indians for once. (See, they're just out to get the Mormons' lands, which is why they keep getting moved from state to state before finally deciding to go to Mexico. We end the film well before the Federalistas show up to kick them off and make them have only one wife; separatism is so inconvenient in one's history when you want to go mainstream later.)

Brigham Young starts out with a delicious piece of casting, with Vincent Price in the first 20 minutes handsomely filling up the screen as Joseph Smith. We skip the part where Joe finds the tablets in the woods that only he has ever seen or can translate, that describe the history of White People in America and the lost tribes of Israel ending up out west and all the other alternate-universe anthropology that girds the Mormon decalogue/travelogue. We know he's going to become the master of the macabre, but at the time he was thought to be a handsome leading man and would soon briefly be a noir star. It's enough to give you shivers when he's lynched that maybe he, too, will rise from his grave and come back to bite America on the ass.

But the title character is, of course, the real entree. He is played with admirable ambiguity, given the straight-faced script, by the estimable Dean Jagger, who won his oscar as a bureaucratic land-bound chief of staff to Gregory Peck's fightin' air general in Twelve O'Clock High. Jagger's interpretation of Young is wonderful if you assume (which neither the script, nor the numerous "latter day saints" commenting on this film in the IMDB entry, don't) Young was a crazed megalomaniac who had delusions God spoke to him and told him things like 'take your people across a frozen river in the middle of a storm' or 'This, the middle of the most god-awful desert in the west, next to a lake saltier than the ocean, Is The Place', etc. You look at him believing he's always right, as the Tyrone Power character does, maybe you can see why the cult of personality is so telling. It's the gift of acting. Why does luscious Linda Darnell, playing a non-believer who's hitched along for the ride with the Mormon tide, suddenly convert after showing so much pluck and skepticism? One suspects it was the fever brought on by the starvation, or something carried by the seagulls. What I find particularly charming is the way polygamy is dealt with: it's just a cute twist to the usual boy-and-girl romance. Why, suppose I marry you -- what's to stop you from also marrying another girl? Jealousy ensues! Ha ha ha! that the great Mary Astor as Brigham Young's apparently only wife, looking more like Mrs. Lincoln? John Carradine as the bearded, wide-eyed disciple, reeking of a whiff of John Brown (now there's a great piece of biopic casting that never was), and explaining to Tyrone Power the logic of polygamy as the path to taking over the whole country? Yes! Yes yes!!

Speaking of the walking dead, it's conveniently forgotten by the present-day wannabes that Young was a utopian communist -- the early Mormons held everything in common except one another's wives. Odd to see this portrayed so clearly in the movie, except when we remember that this was also the year of the release of Grapes of Wrath, another Internationale-hummin' Western road flick inconveniently contemporaneous to its release date. I find a lot of wide-eyed belief and anti-establishment anger in both films, and it's a pity they don't seem to be screening the latter at BYU conclaves much these days.

Speaking of the seagulls scenes: there are two delicious bits of horror film tucked into this sequence at the end. The first is the plague of locusts, which in fine biblical rhyming threaten to wipe out Salt Lake City's crops and send the Mormons back to kingdom come a little ahead of schedule. There's what I swear is a quote from Corot's "Gleaners", followed by great gruesome close-ups of the feasting insects, which I'm sure informed the post-War atomic monster films. This is followed closely by the seagulls coming to save the day, just as Jagger/Young is about to spill the beans he's a charlatan -- great subtextual acting done by Jagger here to get that sense out without having it spelled out in the script -- that is really creepy. This is supposed to be the big miracle that caps off the movie, but it looks like nothing so much as The Birds in black and white with only one species of bird. It seems very likely to me somehow that Hitch saw this film, coming off the heals of Rebecca, and he must've said, "Damn, I should do a horror movie as good as this one! Complete with flesh-eating ghouls and animals gone amok!"

You will have a chance to see this movie, I assure you. It runs with suspicious frequency on the Fox-owned FMC cable channel, in lovingly-restored prints as sharp as a Christian Coalition talking points memo. It sets me to dreaming what happens when the Scientologists really do take over Hollywood and become the bete-noir of the right, like the Jews and the Secular Humanists before them. Then we'll really see some fireworks between Utah and LA, probably flying right over Las Vegas.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Punk: Attitude (schmattitude)

OK, since I made a quick trash of it, I figured I'd write a longer review as a make-good.

I have no doubt that future cultural historians and music cognoscenti will appreciate this competent and fairly broad-sweeping history of the original punk "movement" of the 1970s. But I have to say, as a forty-something who was "there" at the end of the 1970s, there's something unnerving and vaguely depressing to seeing a bunch of fifty- and sixty- somethings waxing nostalgically about their great good old days. I mean, my god, weren't we making fun of the hippies for growing up and going mainstream back in the day? There's nothing more unpunkrock in some ways than a documentary film about punk.

Come to think of it, I think punk may be safely said to have died the instant they started filming it, and Letts' own 'The Punk Rock Movie" was the original culprit. Taking the DIY attitude and transforming it into the mindscreen of the cinema, with all its implications for mass consumption, is a way not so much of preserving the original punk spirit as diluting it.

This is to say, that if anybody has a right to make a film about the scene way-back-when, it's the old-school Letts. (Although it was a bit awkward when he manages to let some of his interviewees refer to him in the third person.) As a documentary, it's a standard mix of stand-up interviews and old stills and footage from the period, which tells the "story" with the reflective blinkers of thirty years of hindsight. So I can't fault this as a movie qua movie.

Whoever takes credit for originating the phrase, "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture", they had it right. I had a hard time finishing watching this movie not because it was a poor telling of the tale -- far from it, my memories coincide with it exactly -- but because it seemed like a far better use of my time to dust off the vinyl of my collection and just listen to the music. Or maybe, even better, go out and find some new music by the current generation of snot-nosed rebels, which will prevent me from wallowing in nostalgia and kick my rear into gear. There's something about the genre of the film documentary that seems to add layers of dust to music and music culture, or sprays them with a preservative that may keep them for future generations but which seems stale as a living thing.

The one moment I loved above all in the flick was the appearance of the now-middle-aged and delicious Poly Styrene, who manages to come off as honest and fresh as she did in X-Ray Spex. But in general the shock of seeing virtually all the (surviving) great bands of the era in paunchy, balding, reflective -- dare I say, mature? -- late middle age made me wince. In about 2015, there'll be a similar documentary about old-school rap, followed ten years later by nostalgic flashbacks about techno and ecstasy...and so on.

Looking back more personally, I am reminded of how many conversations me and my buds had back in the day about whether somebody was a poseur or not, how hardcore something was, and similarly now-obviously-pointless bones of contention. At the time there was a perceived dividing line between the 'fashion' types who just glommed on to the look 00 and those kids, bizarrely, keep recycling with each new generation, well after the initial shock value has been exhausted -- and guys (like us, of course) who had the "attitude". In retrospect, there was a big divide in what the "attitude" meant to a large variety of people: on one end of the spectrum, it meant a form of anarchy that bordered on nihilism, and on the other, the DIY belief that could veer dangerously into thinking you could do everything without help from anybody (and screw anybody who didn't like what you were doing.) From that end of things, I found, say, "SLC: Punk!" a more authentic "documentary' retelling of what it was like than a film like "Punk:Attitude" - maybe more on that film on another day...

The Stupidest Thing I've Heard in a Documentary Lately... least since the anthropmorphic opening line of "March of the Penguins", which in preview was enough to make me want to never go see it... In the movie "Punk:Attitude", one of the wheezing middle-aged punkers saying "the internet was a very punk idea," by way of ridiculously trying to justify the whole punk thing as having made some sort of difference in society. (The jury is out on that, for sure.) Speaking as a guy who was peripherally involved with both scenes in their middle-early days...the Internet is the opposite if the DIY attitude -- protocols are developed by consensus, detailed implementation, and massive deployment, not alone in your room with a microphone and a Sears silvertone guitar.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Vertigo's Mysteries Explained

An amusing article in the July 4 2005 issue of The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik, "Death of a Fish" (not apparently available on-line as yet), that either uses Vertigo to explain the problem of consciousness and the understanding of death as part of the development of human psychology; or, perhaps, uses the death of a fish and the problem of consciousness and understanding of death as the part of the development of human psychology to explain Vertigo, depending on how you look at it. I wish it were the latter somehow, but I find the argument unconvincing. Nevertheless I enjoyed it.

It's an Index

I've finally made up an index of this blog...ugly formatting, but that's what I have time for right now.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Enemy at the Gates (2001)

Enemy at the Gates (2001)

I've now watched this movie four or five times, and it continues to impress me with each viewing. Criticisms that it does not accurately depict the battle of Stalingrad are missing the point. The movie doesn't purport to tell the whole story of the epic battle of the greatest land war ever known (and we hope humanity will ever endure) in terms of a historical recapitulation of this happened, then that happened, and so forth. It rather instead attempts to take this epic, incredibly difficult story and reduce it to the battle between two men, two individuals, two snipers - the ultimate individualists and cold-blooded killers. That the movie has both interesting personalities, a gripping action arc, and still manages to encapsulate the great sense of apocalyptic struggle that was the combat of World War II makes it all the more remarkable. It manages to be epic through a simple love triangle and a simple contrast between the simple but indomitably optimistic Zaitsev and the sophisticated but world-weary Koenig.

There is not any particular sympathy for either the (Communist) Russians or the (Nazi) Germans generated in the film.The movie opens up with Russians massacring their own troops who have the temerity for retreating from an attack cut to pieces by the Germans, where only a fraction of their force are even armed. The character of Koulikov, an expert sniper sent to provide cover for Zaitsev in his duel with Koenig, through the simple story of how his Communist masters quickly turned on him ably sums up the arbitrary terrors of the Stalin years. The Nazis in turn are shown sending a prisoner to his death at the hands of his Russian comrades and engaging in other personal atrocities that demonstrate their ruthless inhumanity without resorting to the typical film stereotypes. (The most effective of these comes at the film's climax, epitomizing the strange humanism of German culture as corrupted by the Nazi sense of utility which was ultimately so amoral.) There's an economy here in the storytelling which others would do well to imitate.

For the most part, the ordinary German and Russian soldiers are shown for what they were -- suffering cannon fodder, the two clashing (and discreditable) ideologies that cause their suffering distant in the background. Yet we manage to get a sense of why each man fights -- the sense of duty that devolves (or evolves) into a sense of loyalty to one's comrades and ultimately just to the man (or woman) right next to them. Koenig becomes more and more isolated -- the lone eagle, or wolf, as it turns out in the film's opening metaphor -- even as Zaitsev develops a complicated set of supporting relationships.

The heroism of Zaitsev develops in an interesting contrast to the propaganda version of Zaitsev created by his friend, the educated political commissar Danilov. Danilov's genuine willingness to lay his own life on the line, his desire to make his own contribution in what he clearly sees holistically as a grand, epic battle on which the whole fate of the country is clear from the first scene where he and Zaitsev meet in a no-man's land filled with the corpses of their comrades. Yet Danilov degrades, gradually, his personal loyalty being subsumed by his ambition and the success, and Zaitsev becomes more a tool for him than the friend who saved his life. The ends of politics become a justification to Danilov for personal betrayal.

Caught between Zaitsev and Danilov is Chernova, who has the education and skills to be an intelligence officer or political commisar -- and seemingly the perfect match in background for Danilov -- but the heart and desire to emulate Zaitsev and become a sniper. She moves from Danilov's world back into Zaitsev's in a way that is almost a barometer of how the spirit of the Russian soldiers ended up winning the day in spite of, not because of, the brutal ideologies of their government.

The duel is unpredictable, yet also predictable in a way, and without giving out a spoiler let's just say that even if you can guess the outcome, it's still worth watching for the suspense of exactly how it's played out.

What I really admire about this film when all is said and done that despite the pseudo-intellectual critical analysis I've described above, it's just a taut story that moves you along without having to really see the whole big epic sweep of themes.

One incidental note: complaints in other reviews about the "lack of accents" by the various British and American actors is really missing the ponit about doing a film in English about Russians and Germans made by a French director. Not resorting to the fakery of movie conventions of trying to do fake accents for the bad guys (and usually American accents for the good guys) simply allows the actors to act, and without any context for the typical viewer as to what an educated or peasant accent might be for a German or Russian, their own voices come across somehow more authentically.

Why the Terrorists are Winning

...and one simple thing you can do to help beat them

I thought this was telling: I heard an interview on the BBC today with one of the survivors of one of the tube bombings. This fellow was in the last car of the train, and they heard the explosion as a faint boom. The passengers, he said, all just assumed it was one of the many technical glitches that plague the Underground these days. He said everybody remained fairly calm as events wore on, including when smoke started coming in. It was only when they discovered that it was a terrorist attack that people started panicking.

I'm also thinking: there was a subway bombing in Moscow some time back with almost exactly the same number of people killed. In fact, as near a I can tell, the Russians have suffered as much from Islamic terrorism as anybody, what with the Chechnyan civil war and all. I won't get started about the bloody cycle of repression, recrimination and retribution in that conflict, because it seems to me like everybody's "wrong" and it's beside the point. The point is, we didn't suddenly feel terror when Russia is attacked in the same way -- because the bloody TV coverage wasn't there giving non-stop promotion to the terrorists. That there are more people killed in traffic accidents in the London Metro area on a given day only underscoresthe lack of proportionality that a terrorist attack evokes. It's about response, panic, fear. The media don't run non-stop coverage of "London Traffic Deaths mount", do they.

As I understand terrorism as a political tactic, it's entirely designed to wear out a civil populace, and its primary tool is to create fear that will cause insecurity. I agree entirely with the idea that you just don't give in. But one way you just don't give in is to try to downplay terrorism and its effects: giving panic-inducing news coverage to an event just plays into the bad guys' hands. Nothing like making a little man feel big by acting like he's a big man; and that kind of terrrorism is the act of very, very small people.

This may sound a little strange given the current environment, but isn't the most effective technique the Christian one -- to turn the other cheek? I think this is one of Jesus' teachings that is often misinterpreted. "Turn the other cheek" doesn't mean you invite more punishment, or make yourself into a martyr. It's that you face tyranny and injury by not caring -- by showing, through indifference, what kind of contempt you have for the act of trying to put you down. And by refusing to be put down, you in turn cannot be put down.

Speaking of Which...

Bush's response to this attack was a repeat of his usual mantra of 'we'll hunt down the terrorists and bring them to justice' spiel. Which makes me wonder...where's Osama?

One of the curious things I find about the aftermath of the Madrid train bombings is the lack of interest in the news coverage about the arrest and trial of many persons involved with this. The Spanish, with whatever international help they received, seems to have done a very good job at rounding up a lot of the guilty parties and sending them through the judicial system. Meanwhile, in the US we still have a grand total of zero convictions related to the 9/11 attacks. Any of the principals we've caught have been disappeared into our interrogation system, or Guantanamo, or wherever; the few actual prosecutions have been hampered by this insistence on maintaining secrecy of the sources of evidence, and in some cases unwillingness to put prisoners in this mysterious detention areas on the stand.

It seems clear that worrying about intelligence sources about an event that is now three and a half years in the past is pointless given how Al-Qaeda has divided up into these splinter cells -- who knows how many of these are copycats, without any real ties to the original terrorist conspirators? So why not do what the Spanish are doing, and prosecute them in the light of day, with all the public humiliation and vilification such criminals deserve? Is it not better to have, say, Sadaam Hussein shown to be a venal and ridiculous person and not some mysterious ogre? Why not the same for Osama and his henchmen and followers?

That, to me, seems to be the best course to take to win the "war" on terrorism. When we catch them, do what Bush seems to always say we should do -- bring them to justice, American and Western-style, which is in the court system. When we don't catch them, don't overreact. Reactionary behavior is what revolutionaries try to bring about. I believe that a demonstration of openness and the transparency of our justice system is an appropriate antidote to the attempt to panic us with fear. The judicial system, at its best, is the ultimate in rationality.

This press of instant reaction is just the opposite -- an appeal to pure emotion, which is in and of itself the stuff of the 24/7 media cycle -- and just what the terrorists want. It seems to me, in the strangest turn your cheek sort of way, that the best tactic we have individually is to ignore the terrorist attacks. I thought another radio interview, with a man in New York riding the subway there today, on NPR, was perfect. The guy said, he can't worry about a terrorist attack and stop riding the subway, because his odds personally of being killed in a car were way, way higher than being killed in a subway attack. I think he's right, and has the right attitude. You say the hell with them by ignoring them.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

But What about Lillian Hellman?

From Wikipedia's article on Dash Hammett:
After entering the U.S. Army, he was assigned to an ambulance company but he contracted tuberculosis and spent the war as a patient in a hospital in America. After the war, he turned to drinking, advertising, and eventually, writing.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

"Spreading Democracy"

I'm still somewhat at a loss to discover why we're not invading Saudi Arabia, if our mission in the Middle East is to spread democracy and freedom. In the Kingdom, even suggesting studying the idea of allowing women to drive can endanger your life. The fact the 9/11 hijackers and Osama are (were) (nearly) all Saudis seems to have been neglected even in the 9/11 commission report. But any Iraqi even vaguely rumoured to be part of a WMD program was held as an example of international terrorism, while the fact that women in Iraq under the Hussein regime actually had a lot more status and rights than virtually any other arab society, and now their situation is demonstrably worse and threatening to get very bad, indeed, under the new Iraqi government.

We're not exactly setting a shining example, either, by attempts in Congress to limit women's roles in the military, specifically in Iraq.

This all leads to the rhetorical question: how can it be said unambiguously that Iraqis are better off without Sadaam when ut seems this is not the case for at least half the population? No one suggests Hussein was an enlightened leader; but if we're in the mid-east rto promote freedom and democracy, then perhaps self-government is a subsidiary goal after universal human rights are guaranteed. But of course as long as ou President walks literally hand in hand with the Prince of a Kingdom that won't even let women drive, much less vote, it's all hypocrisy of the hollowest, ninth-circle sort.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Senator Goofball Proposes Privatizing the Weather

Senator Rick Santorum (Goofball-PA) has introduced a bill that would forbid the National Weather Service from reporting the weather. It's not even a cost-cutting measure, since the NWS and NOAA would be left intact. It's purely meant to prevent the free use of data the governement collects, and has collected for two hundred years.

What? What's the point, you ask? Well, Senator Goofball wants to privatize the weather. It seems that Accuweather -- which just coincidentally contributed thousands of dollars to Santorum via its executives -- feels that the government is unfairly competing with it. Nevermind that any private company that wants the data from the government can get it and repackage it -- competition, apparently, is not a good thing in the free marketplace in Santorum's world.

If the bill passes, you won't be able to get NOAA weather over the internet. You won't be able to call NOAA for a forecast. You won't have your weather radio. You'll have to pay to get a weather forecast.

Yes, the corruption has gotten this absurd. The Republicans now want to privatize the weather.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

What Did You Do During the War, Papa?

Obviously any German, born in 1927, is going to have some sort of World War II story. When that German has just been selected Pope, you'd think one of the many All-Pope, All the Time news channels would've at least investigated this. I mean, the most evil thing that has ever happened in the history of humanity ought to be a real focal point for any annointed Prince of Peace. But a kid who spent every school year of his life under Nazi rule, whose father was a policeman then, who was a Hitler Youth, who operated an anti-aircraft battery, who dug anti-tank ditches, who was drafted into the German Army in 1945, claims to have deserted, and who was captured by American troops -- now, you'd think that the worst crimes in history would really have been THE galvanizing event in his life. And that the story of a young boy growing up with the Nazis and serving in their armies while yearning to become a priest, that story would be of some passing interest to the media. Or why Benedict XVI hasn't made this a real focal point of his life in the church, especially given the shady history of the Catholic hierarchy during the fascist years and holocaust. Or perhaps some coveragew of why somebody who has preached the supremacy of Catholicism over all other religions has made some Jews a bit nervous.

Apparently not.

Anyone smell a Ratzinger?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Half-Erect for the Pope

Last Laugh

So our President has ordered flags to be flown at half-staff for the Bishop of Rome, who passed away last week. Welcome to 21st-century America, where we dip the symbol of our national sovereignty to a Polish national living in Rome heading up a church to which a minority of Americans attend, who was head of a sovereign state that would fit inside the pond in Central Park. What a great message to send to people in the Arab world who might be under the misimpression from Bush's "crusader" comments that we think it's a holy war we're fighting. I don't hear much from those who allegedly would defend our flag (say, via a Constitutional amendment to ban flag burning) when it's under attack by being dipped to honor a religious figure.

Despite the fact that the Pope begged Bush not to kill innocent and retarded death row inmates in Texas or go to war in Iraq, Bush picks and chooses which parts of the 'culture of life' the Pope espoused to pay attention to. So when the Pope talked about abstinence, Bush echoes that, as if any sane person would take advice about sex from an 84-year old unmarried virgin. But when the Pope calls for intervention to prevent genocide in Africa, Bush guffaws about what a sad thing it is but does nothing. When the Pope issues a statement in support of maintaining Terri Schiavo's life support, Bush makes sure to mention it. But when the Pope begs for more aid and sustenance to the poor of the world, Bush says nothing.

So enjoy the posthumous honor, John-Paul, Bush is laughing at you up there on your catafalque, paying half-attention to your message and using you entirely for cheap political gain.