Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Deaths in the family

America's two favorite deputies died this week. They died just a couple of days apart. And America is a sadder place for it. Icons of television, Emmy award winners and imensely tallented actors, they were also--at least they appeared to be--really good decent men. Sunday they will appear on the oscar broadcast of dead actors, inserted at the last minute into the tribute, but today all of our lives are a little bit bleaker for their absense.

They call this spin?

Over the last tow weeks, politicians and the media have been arguing that all out civil war is about to break out in Iraq. This is what people warned about when the invasion first took place. That's not the amazing part. The amazing part is how the hawks are now spinning this. Are you ready?

Civil war ain't so bad.

I swear to God, I was watching the Sunday talk shows this week and republican after Republican came along and said "A civil war in Iraq would not necessarilly be devestating." The gist of the argument wa that civil war was somehow a necessary step in the development of democracy. "After all" more then one of them said, "America had to go through its own civil war before we could become a unified nation." (Ignoring the fact that, in many ways, we are still fighting that war).

Call me incredulous, but I just don't buy it.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Any Port in a Storm

This morning I caught a speech by our president. He is in full campaign mode (he's a much better campainger then a president--something you shouldrebel expect from someone who was the head cheerleader at his prep-school). He said that the terrorists are sneaky. That they are determined. That they seek to frighten us because they cannot beat us on the battlefield (at least that shows he understands terrorism 101). He said America is determined. He said we will perservere. He said exactly the same things he's been saying for the past five years. He's like a broken record: "9/11! 9?11! 9/11!" It's like a parrot beggin for a cracker in the form of a vote. That is his version of spin. He had to go on the offensive. His ratings are very low, his vice president just shot somebody, his own whitehouse had to eat crow over Katrina, he's asking for more money for the war (the actual reason for his speech, I think: I couldn't quite figure it out), and there are midterm elections coming up. The ports deal made him look weak on terrorism--the one strength he has always beena ble to rely upon. He has to make a speech like this to take back his high ground. He can't let democrats look stronger then him. By the way, I love his answer to the challenge on the ports sale. People raised concerns on this deal and his answer was the same as always: "Trust me." That's it. That's his answer. We, his collective employer, the American people, have a real fear that this ports deal could open us up to nuclear attack and we want assurances that this deal is safe, and he says "trust me." He actually said "people don't need to worry about security." Well I got news for him: people are worried about security and that's the only reason why he's still president. And he gets up and makes a speech today about how the terrorists are more determined then ever, yet just yesterday he said "don't worry about security." Ok: so here's what I am worried about, me who lives in New York City, had my classroom destroyed in 9/11, and am a constant target. I'm worried about a president who says "trust me." I'm worried about a president who (a) signs off on a deal giving controll of some of our ports to the government of Dubai without telling anybody this is happening, (b) sings off on an illegal wiretapping scheme without consulting congress, (c) maintains that congress has no role or authority in the iraq war, (d) endorses torture--until it gets out in the press, (e) shows complete contempt for congress, the courts, the various departments of the executive branch, checks and ballances, and the constitution in general. He reminds me of Richard Belzer doing Nixon in "The Groove Tube: Announcer: "The president to day had this to say:" Belzer: "I'm in command! I'm in the driver's seat! I'm the fucking President!"

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Media Stir

This week, in honor of President's day, they released a 30th aniversary DVD edition of "All the President's Men." That Watergatge was one of the highpoints of liberalism, that it pulled a mask of the republican party and showed Nixon to be every bit as evil as he had been portrayed in the so called "liberal press," (and by that I don't mean main stream press--I mean the alternative weeklies and leftist magazines--well, and Doonsbury: "Guilty, guilty, guilty!"). What I find interesting about All the President's Men in this context is what it says about journalism. 1976 (like 2005) was one of the best years ever for movies. Great directors tackled serious issues and great, serious films were nominated for academy awards. It is important, I think, that "All the President's Men" came out the same year as "Network." "All the President's Men" showed journalism at its absolute finest: dedicated reporters going after a story of national importance against dificult obstacles and uncovering coruption at the highest level of government. "Network" showed where we were headed, accurately predicting the rise of tabloid TV journalism and news as entertainment.

"All the President's Men" is worth looking at again, because of how weak and ineffectual the news media has been since the Iraq war started. The President has never been seriously challenged in an interview, and with the exception of Abu Grahib, stories about the Iraq war have mostly been slow pitch soft ball coverage. That began to change during the campaign, but really only took off after Bush won election--which is strange in itself. But now it's different. The administration has been hammered over an admittedly stupid story about Cheney shooting someone accidentally while bird hunting. That's a side show, really. But with this story about a company from the United Arab Emerites buying control of several of America's biggest ports, the news media seems to be having some effect on President Bush. Coverage of this is a disaster for the president, and members of his own party are feeling the heat. Even Sean Hanity--among the stupidest and most strident talking heads at Fox, who is allways pro Bush in his fair and ballanced way, has siad this is a disasterous mistake. Journalism is rising to the task and asking important questions on an important issue. Who'd have thought in this day and age?

On the other side of the scale you have KGO 7 in San Francisco, my favorite news cast in my favorite city--the one which reflects my own political views most closely, the city where I feel most at home--going after an activity I support, open field coursing. Yes, it's just a bunch of liberal city folks going after a rural tradition, just like when Fox hunting went down in England. But that always is a difficult mixture of liberal arogance (to please my mother I'll throw that in) uninformed knee jerking and a real clash of basic core values. City dwellers who call hunting--even coursing--"inhumane" don't know anything about hunting, coursing, life or death. To say they are squeamish is only part of the problem. They are ignorant as well. The story on KGO was obviously meant as a hit piece. Yes, they interviewed a number of greyhound owners who support open field coursing, but every time one of them said something they showed a rebutal interview, framing the argument in support of open field coursing as misguided and the people as cruel. They never once discussed its history as one of the oldest forms of hunting, or of the greyhound as the oldest domesticated dog breed, which existed strictly to hunt by sight. They don'tmention at all St. Thomas Moore, Queen Elizabeth I, or any of the other figures in history who loved coursing. They've likely never even heard of Gaston Phoebus. They ignore completely the traditions of coursing in America, and that the greatest American conservationist, Teddy Roosevelt, loved to course greyhounds. It would be easy to reply to the counter arguments they showed with just a bit of knowledge, but that wasn't KGO's purpose. You see, they are muckrakers. They see it as their job to be "crusading journalists" in the mold of Woodward and Bernstein, and they had a clear agenda--as clear an agenda as Sean Hanity (and more of one then Woodward and Bernstein, who it still seems after all these years just wanted to get the story out). So it raises the problem of advocacy in journalism yet again. When does someone cross the line into advocacy? Hanity lives on the far side of the line, trumpets the fact and makes no appologies. Woodward and Bernstein were after a story that was devestating to the president. And KGO? They are tabloid on the back side, I guess. Liberal tabloid, a kind of anti-Fox (or pro Fox, once they go after fox hunting, which ahs got to be next). Judging from the outsry it is likely that once again the city folk will be allowed to piss upon country living, and that open field coursing will be banned (then falconry, fox hunting, and gun huniting I'm sure). Sometimes my own people (liberals) really piss me off. But in the end I can only say the same thing I always say:

Fucking PETA Nazis.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


I'm glad somebody actually reads this crap, let alone the stuff I link to. ;-)

For the record, i don't care that Vice President Cheney accidentally shot someone while out hunting--except as it is covered by The Daily Show.

Here it is, that time every four years when we actually pretend to care about Luge. I freely admit it: I watch as much of the olympics as I can. I even paused two or three minutes on curling befor the boredom got so bad I wanted to rip my eyes out.

Skiing! Great! Watching the slalom? Not so much (but I love the downhill! One of the greatest sports of them all--strap two planks onto your feet and hurl yourself down a mountain like a bat out of Hell, as close to that edge of destruction as you can get without wiping out and possibly killing yourself. That's a sport.

So today it has come out that our government and Isreal will intentionally try to destabalize a Hamas led Palestinian authority. Fine. We are under no obligation to financially prop up our enemies. But this is the final nail in the coffin of Bush's war policy, as far as I'm concerned. First we were going to Iraq because they were behind 9/11. That proved to be wrong, so we were going to Iraq because they had weapons of mass destruction. That proved to be wrong, then we were there to replace Sadaam Husein and spread democracy. Democracy was trumpeted by President Bush as the solution to all the Middle East's problems. But now we see the kind of democracy we can end up with and it's not so great any more. Apparently we only want democracies that are on our side. WIth the announced plan to destabalize and undermine a democratically elected regime, the Bush adminsitration has shown itself to be what we on the left always thought they were: a bunch of hypocrites: greeding, bullying, arogant and dictatorial.

And did you hear about this film out of Turkey, the action pic in which the bad guys are a bunch of American marines operating in Iraq, killing civilians and torturing prisoners untilt he Turkish hero can come in and save the day? Remember, these are our alies the Turks here. This isn't Iran. Aparently, it's the hottst film in Turkey and expected to break box office records. From our friends. That's it. We have become the bad guys to the rest of the world. We, the US, are collectively no longer John Wayne. We are now Eric von Stroheim, or more accurately, we're the Russians in those Rambo movies. Apparently in Turkey books in which America is the evil superpower are selling like hotcakes, along with Mein Kampf, which is believed to be our president's blue-print for success.

Yeah, we will save the Muslim world and they will love us for it.

Monday, February 13, 2006

They must be stopped

Ok, now these assholes are really pissing me off. According to the *New York Times* last week a high school in Missouri did a production of *Grease* that set off a protest from a Christian group: GREASE, for crying out loud! And not even the real *Grease* but a sanitized version in which the swear words had been taken out. And here’s the kicker: even though the protest consisted of three letters from the same church, and one of the letter writers hadn’t even seen the show, it prompted the school to cancel their upcoming production of *The Crucible.*

These people have got to be stopped.

That it is the *Crucible* a play about the Salem witch hunts that was written as a commentary on the McCarthy witch hunts is the height of irony. Or is it? The only thing that could be morally offensive in the play is that John Proctor has had an affair which figures strongly in the plot. But that happens before the play even begins and, let’s face it, he certainly receives a kind of retribution for it. No, the offense in *The Crucible* is entirely political: on the one hand it is a play condemning political witch hunts, a warning against the abuse of political power by a conservative majority in a time of perceived National crises. On the other hand it is it is a play about religious witch hunts, concerning the dangers of fundamentalism and fervor. In the end, whether you see the Salem witch hunts or the communist witch hunts that lie beneath, the play makes republicans look bad.

But it’s more then that. This anti-theatrical bias has been around since Plato and it is something that my profession constantly has to fight against (and I have literally been to the barricades in that fight, and will continue to go there). But once they start banning plays the next place they get to go is to banning books. And don’t doubt for a minute that they will go there if they can.

They must be stopped.

Now I’m not going to go to Missouri and protest (though I’m wondering where is the outrage of the student body over this: in my day we would have had some kind of response). I don’t want to be seen as the city slicker from New York coming in and treating all those God fearing folk like a bunch of dumb hicks. I come from folk like that and I don’t want to insult them in that way. And it’s not a second amendment issue. The school has the right to put on whatever shows they want or not. But, as a doctor of theatre, they are attacking me and mine when they protest to silence the stage, and the nature of this particular protest is insane. These are the second most produced musical and the second most produced play in American high schools (after *Seussical* and *A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream*), the one contested and the other shut down by a protest from a single church group that talks about these things on a user’s group. In America. It sickens me.

But maybe we should go. The only way to stop these people is to meet them at the baricades. Meet protest with protest, letters with letters, and face them down. Christian groups bussed hundreds of protestors to New York to try and shut down *Corpus Christi* in '98. I took part in the counter protest. It got the show probably more attention then it deserved, and it got the message across that some people would not tollerate religious bigotry silencing the voices of American playwrights. Every time they try to silence a film or a book, or a T.V. show, or a play, or a cartoon, we have to stand up and say "No!"

Just for the record when I was in high school I directed a production of *The American Dream* (I was in way over my head with that one, but no matter) in which my lead actor was pulled out by his parents on religious objections to the script. It certainly tainted my views on this subject. I also suspect that in this day and age we might have gotten some hassles over *The Corn is Green* (high school girl gets knocked up), *The Man Who Came to Dinner* (extramarital sex), *The Pajama Game* (woman who sleeps around a lot), and *Over Here* (song about V.D.—no, I’m not kidding, it’s an army training film turned into a musical number: sex education, can’t have that).

Friday, February 10, 2006

Pissed Off?

So imagine you’re the mayor of the nation’s second largest city. Imagine you have been told that the president is going to talk about a thwarted terrorist attack in a speech, an attack of which you only have the vaguest knowledge. You are told the President will mention the attack but no more. Now imagine that the president not only mentions the attack but gives specific details: who planned it, how it was to be carried out, what the target was. Turns out it was a repeat of 9/11, in which terrorists planned to hijack a plane and crash it into the tallest skyscraper in your city. You, the mayor, knew none of this. You did not know the president was going to release these details. Not only that, you learn of these details by watching the president’s speech on television. Wouldn’t you be a bit pissed off?

Or imagine that you are the head of FEMA. You have been head of FEMA long enough to have over seen a number of emergencies, including major hurricanes. In the past you have always been able to call the White House and say “I need so many troop and so much equipment” and they’d give it to you. Now imagine you are overseeing the response to the biggest natural disaster since the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. You call the White House. You say “I need so many troops and so much equipment,” and you are told this time, for the first time, that you need to send that request up through the proper chain of command at Homeland Security. Wouldn’t you be a bit pissed off?

Now imagine imagine that you are a United States Senator. You have been elected to pass laws and to represent your constituents. One of your duties under the constitution is to act, with the rest of the Senate, as a check against Executive and Judicial authority, in order to maintain the equal balance of power between the three branches of government. Now imagine that the Attorney General of the United States comes to testify before you and says that, in times of war, you and the rest of the Senate have no authority over the president. That he’d be “happy to listen to your opinions,” but that you would have no authority to either approve or disapprove of his actions, in spite of what it says in the constitution. In other words, you don’t really exist. Wouldn’t you be a bit pissed off?

Now imagine you are a voter. There are midterm elections coming up. What are you going to do?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Church Groups Complain of Cartoon Viloence!

Ok: here’s one of those statements that will come back to haunt me when I run for president: sometimes I just want to turn the whole place into a sea of glass. By that I mean the middle east. Forget the oil, forget the people, forget the problems and just nuke the place from one end to another. Of course it’s ridiculous, inhuman, genocidal (though I would point out that the wrath of me would fall equally upon Jew, Christian, Muslim and everybody else) sometimes I just want to throw up my hands and say enough is enough.

I’m talking at the moment about the cartoon brouhaha. Since this is a media criticism page, I should certainly talk about the cartoon brouhaha. My support of freedom of speech is absolute. If you want to show a cartoon of Jesus taking it up the butt from Sadaam Husein, that’s your right. And people who try to silence those who would speak—who would intimidate them, bully them, shout them down, censor them, jail them, kill them, or outlaw them, are all the same to me. When I see violent street protests erupt over cartoons, embassies burned, people killed, my first reaction is to say “these people aren’t worth helping. They are not worth our effort and they are certainly not worth our soldier’s lives.”

But I could just as easily have been talking about Israel building more settlements in the West bank, occupying a sovereign state and ignoring U.N. resolutions, or Iran restarting its Nuclear program, or Saudi Arabia beheading blasphemers. It is a totally dysfunctional part of the world.

Ok. Hanna had another idea. Instead of turning the whole place into a sea of glass, let’s just destroy all the holy sites in Jerusalem—blow up the wailing wall, knock down the dome of the rock, bulldoze Calvary, clear out the old city and level it. Then if they still want to fight over the place let ‘em.

Probably wouldn’t work either.

Of course it’s just frustration. Of course we need to work together to find a solution. But how can you have a dialogue with people who are totally unreasonable? And I mean both sides here. There is simply no way.

For the first time in my life (and hopefully the last) I agreed with George Will about something other then baseball. On “This Week” this week, he said that before they can be expected to have a functioning democracy Muslims have to give up their perceived right to take offense at what they consider blasphemy. These riots are not isolated incidents, as he points out. They also include the assignation of Theo Van Gogh and the famous fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Will implied that we cannot accept as democratic partners people who have no respect for fundamental principals such as freedom of speech. And I agree.

Sam Donaldson, typically, acted as the weak-spined equivocator, in one breath condemning the violence and then in the next condemning the newspaper for running the cartoons in the first place. I am never really embarrassed to be a liberal, but I am sometimes embarrassed when certain liberal commentators open their mouths. It’s much the same way my mother feels whenever bill O’Reiley says anything. I don’t like the term “political correctness,” because usually it denigrates well thought out and sincere beliefs by implying that they are merely trendy. But that’s the only thing I can come up with to describe Donaldson’s rather stupid position.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Mom, forgive me

I post this link, which I found while surfing blogs, to an article about psychosis and conservativism. It is certianly how *I* feel about conservativism, but my sainted mother will be mortified.


The blog I found this at is called Logic Voice, and it's pretty good. I'm adding it to my links. http://logicvoice.blogspot.com/


Ok. I assigned my students to watch the superbowl and to be able to discuss everything surrounding the game but the game itself: the Rolling Stones, the hype, the coverage, and especially the commercials. We don't really care about the game. That's incidental. That being the case I figure it's important for me to write about it here and say something superlative, so here goes.

I liked the Burger King ad.

That's about it.

One of my students had the best thing to say about it, thying in with a discussion we were having about the Jim Carey version of *Fun With Dick And Jane*, (the original was a political statement on corporate greed and American materialsim, while this one is just a screwball comedy), when asked why the ads have become a bigger event then the game itself, one of my students said "I think it's all about vanity."

Ah yes! All is vanity; or, as Al Pacino once said "definitely my favorite!" Just to keep them on their toes I told them to name all seven deadly sins. They forgot wrath. Just like Bashful. They always forget one.

As I pointed out to my students we are in a media event frenzy for the next few weeks--which, of course, is what the marketeers want us to experience, especially in winter when we're watching more TV. The Superbowl just ended, the Grammy's are tomorrow, the Winter Olympics start on Friday and then run right through to the day of the Daytona 500. Nobody will even watch the Pro Bowl. Then the Oscars step up a couple of weeks after that. It is a marketting bonanza!

On the political front, President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld have answered the question I posed awhile back. President Bush has said he will not deal with Hammas until they renounce terrorism and recognize Isreal's right to exist. I mostly agree- I say mostly because cutting Hammas off completely will only de-stabalize the region even further, and because if you are going to promote democracy around the world then you have to deal with the consequences and figure out a better way then to simply take your ball (or in this case your wallet) and go home when you don't like the party that gets elected. But we can't be dealing with terrorists. It's a connundrum. Then Rumsfeld came along and said the populist movements in South America are "troubling." Right. As if we really can't put up with a government of, by, and for *their* people.

Look, either you believe in democracy or you don't. It's beginning to seem like these guys only believe in democracy that gives them the results they want.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Manna from Heaven

The new GOP house leadership is like Manna from Heaven.

Some guy named Boehner beat some guy named Blunt. Can you imagine? Jay Leno and Jon Stewart must be giddy. I mean, their heads are going to explode.

And it just goes to show you people are going to take a boner over a blunt any day.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

a day like any other

As I sit here at Vox Pop contemplating my existence I am listening to the radio, and they are playing some house mix that I don’t recognize. Well, that’s not entirely true. I recognize four notes of it, because it samples that spooky four note harmonica whine from Sergio Leone’s *Once Upon a time in the West,* much like the riff from *The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,* but creepier. I am reminded of Robert Rodriguez’s most stupid statement ever: “Quentin said this (the *El Mariachi* series) is my Leone Trilogy. *El Mariachi* was my *Fistful of Dollars,* *Desperado* was my *Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,* and this (*Once Upon a Time in Mexico*) is my *Once Upon a Time in America.* I think I threw something at the television when he said that. I know I screamed. First of all, he doesn’t mean *Once Upon A Time in America.* *Once Upon a time in America* was Leone’s movie about Jewish gangsters—Meyer Lansky, Dutch Schultz, Bugsy Siegel. And it’s not even part of the trilogy! Rodriguez meant to say *Once Upon a Time in the West,* which was Leone’s magnum opus, the epitome of the Spaghetti Western. But *Once Upon a time in the West* WASN’T PART OF THE TRILOG EITHER!! The third movie in the trilogy—actually the second movie in the trilogy, the one Rodriguez left off his list, was *For A Few Dollars More.* So Rodriguez was doubly stupid. He got the wrong title of the wrong movie. As another Bugsy would say “what a maroon!”

But that has little to do with today. There is so much to write about I don’t know where to begin. So I’ll begin with my youth, which is a recurring theme around my birthday. I saw *Dazed and Confused* for the first time this weekend. Everybody who is anybody was in it before they were anybody. But more then that, it was MY LIFE. I was that freshman. I knew all of those guys: the guy who’d graduated but still hung out at the 7-11 and dated high school chicks and had a great car (Mathew Machonochie): the idiot who was held back and was meaner to the freshmen then anybody else (Ben Affleck); the mean girl (Parker Posey); the smart elitist kid (Adam Goldberg); I’m not sure who Mila Jojovich was playing but who cares: she’s hot. And that’s what high school was like for me: an endless series of keggars, muscle cars, joints, and people other then me having sex (I was having sex too, but I was having sex in the SCA with college girls, not in the back seat with cheerleders). See this movie. It is the American Graffiti of my generation.

Ok. So the State of the Union Address was last night. No comment, really.

And the Oscar nominations were also this week. I got to say that Hollywood is definitely making a political statement this year. They’ll go back to being the whores they normally are next year, but this year they are embracing their liberal values and proclaiming them for all to see. The nominations for best picture read like a list of progressive causes and parables on the evils of conservativism: a gay love story, an anti Death Penalty movie from an anti death penalty book by a gay author who is portrayed in the film, a condemnation of retribution against terrorists, a parable about racism in America, and a condemnation of the suspension of civil liberties in a time of crisis. There is definitely a message being proclaimed here, and by all means let it be proclaimed loudly and clearly from every hilltop and in every valley: we will no longer be bullied by the conservatives. These are *our* values, and we insist on being heard.

So maybe I was wrong and the conservatives are right: Hollywood is making a statement this year. I’ve rarely been so happy to be wrong in all my life.