Thursday, July 31, 2008

Some things never change

Apparently, the oldest known joke in the world goes something like this: "Something which has never occurred since time immemorial: a young woman did not fart in her husbands lap." This according to a team of british archeologists as reported by Reuters. That's right: fart jokes are the oldest jokes in the world. So what is else is new?

AOL listed a bunch of the jokes as one of their stupid polls. The three thousand year old fart joke didn't play too well. But my favorite part is that, according to the poll, funniest joke was a joke credited to Caesar Augustus: "Augustus was touring his empire and noticed a man in the crowd who bore a striking resemblance to himself. Intrigued he asked: 'Was your mother at one time in service at the palace?' 'No your Highness,' he replied, 'but my father was.'" That's an old Catskills joke! They still tell it in the B-list lounges in Atlantic City!. Now *that's* funny!!

(Now I have to find a copy of the Two Thousand Year Old Man and see if Mel Brooks uses it.)

Grasping At Straws

Ok, does it seem like the McCain camp is grasping at straws? This recent ad comparing Senator Obama to Paris Hilton and Britany Spears strikes me as desperate. It is certainly misguided. What the McCainites apparently want to do is cast Obama as immature and prone to do wild and dangerous things. Trouble is, the glove doesn't fit. Neither Spears nor Hilton is in the United States Senate or has served in a state legislature or spent the last seven months being vetted by the democratic party. They are also about half Mr. Obama's age.

There's a lot of problems with this strategy. The first is that it is stupid. The second is that the people watching it will think it's stupid. The third is that when people see Obama make these speeches it doesn't recall Paris and Britany out clubbing for the night, it recalls Bobby Kennedy, our great lost president (I saw somebody burst into tears upon seeing a picture of Bobby a couple of weeks ago). The more Obama manages to recall Bobby the better his chances of winning become, and McCain helps that by attacking his celebrity.

But the biggest reason this is a problem is because every time McCain points out how young Obama is he points out how old he himself is. Age is McCain's biggest handicap and Obama's biggest asset.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Welcome to Birmingham, 1963

I have felt myself under attack before. I felt this way when George Bush was reelected president. I felt this way after 9/11. I feel this way every time James Dobson opens his mouth. But this is the first time I've felt that my faith was under attack. My mom, and a lot of conservative Christians, feel this way all the time. Now it's my turn.

Yesterday a gunman who reportedly "hated liberals" walked into a Unitarian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee and opened fire during a children's pageant.

Well, if you hate liberals then the Unitarian Church is a good place to find them. I was raised Unitarian, and although I mostly attend Episcopal or Catholic services when I go to church (rarely), and although I paid my five dollars to become a Universal Life minister, I still consider myself to be Unitarian. I have very fond memories of my time in the Unitarian church. When I read about the attack in Knoxville, my mind for some reason pictured it as though it were happening in the large dome of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Sacramento, the church in which I was raised. My mom was the choir director at our church. I took part in those children's pageants. I can picture the gunman, Jim D. Adkisson, walking in through the double doors in the back, a guitar case under his arm, while I am up on stage and my mother is directing the choir, her back to the audience. I can picture him pulling a shotgun out of the case and opening fire. I can picture the large man described in the article, whose name was Greg McKendry, standing up and stepping in front of the muzzle of the shotgun to protect the other parishioners and being killed himself. And all of this is taking place, in my mind, inside the octagonal dome with its exposed beams that was the my old church, a place as familiar to me as the apartment where I grew up and my elementary school.

Of course it didn't happen there. It happened at a church in Knoxville Tennessee. But being a Unitarian, I feel this attack deep inside me. This *could* have been me. This man murdered two people, and intended to murder many more (he had 76 shells on him), because they were like me. They were Unitarians.

My sister went through something much worse. She had been a Mormon missionary in Bolivia just a year before revolutionaries went in attacked a Mormon mission in that country and slaughtered the missionaries (I never found out if it was her mission or not). That could have been here. It almost was her. I haven't been to church in years. But I feel this attack personally.

This was an attack on me, and it occurred for the same reason the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama occurred: because my church, like that one, was a place of liberal politics as well as a place of worship. I remember going to church once on Easter and, while I'm sure the resurrection was mentioned at some point in the service, all I remember was the minister talking about the Alan Bakke decision (look it up, you've got Google). Ours is a very politically active denomination. The churches that make the news these days are mostly the ones that are involved in conservative politics, and occasionally they get attacked too. But this time it was me and mine.

Yes: I do blame Anne Coulter and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity for spreading a hatred of "Godless Liberals." It is exactly that sort of rhetoric that leads to this kind of attack. I'm not saying the rhetoric should be stifled: like gun ownership, free speech is something that can be dangerous but the alternative is worse. In a free society both are and should be sacred. But I can still lay the blame squarely at the alter of Fox Network Noise.

But was this a terrorist act like the Birmingham bombing was? At what point does a lone nutcase become a terrorist? The Birmingham attack was part of an organized terror campaign against the civil rights movement. This was a whack job who hated liberals. The Unabomber is considered a terrorist, but there was a definite logic to his postmdernist Ludite actions. McVeigh had at least one co-conspirator.

The thing all terrorist acts have in common is that terrorism is a tactic of the weak. It is a tactic used by those who can't fight a straight-up war, so they use fear as a weapon. It is an expression of rage at feeling helpless and opressed. It is an effort to scare people so much that they will stop doing what they are doing and/or leave the terrorists alone. Every terrorist from the Secari to Al Queda has seen themselves as poor and downtrodden, fighting a righteous battle against a powerful and oppressive enemy. Most attacks are against a government, but they can also be against a businesses or an institution, like an abortion clinic or an animal testing facility or a boatload of tea in Boston Harbor. The terrorist who attacks an abortion doctor or an animal researcher is striking out against an institution, as is the terrorist who attacks a church.

So was this loony tune a terrorist? Was Gian Luigi Ferri a terrorist? At what point does an angry white man with a gun become a terrorist? I suspect there has to be a political motivation. Ferri's motivation was rage over losing a law suit. His only political beef seemed to be against the FDA for allowing too much mono sodium glutamate into his diet. But this Adkisson guy, his beef was expressly political. He wanted to kill liberals. Does that make him a terrorist?

But more than that: he decided to target Unitarians, people of a specific faith. My faith. He attacked a church. Anybody attacking a church is automatically branded a terrorist, and I think that makes sense, but does this mean that killing a bunch of lawyers, because they are lawyers, is somehow less a terrorist act? After all, it's a lot harder to drum up sympathy for lawyers, even when they've been murdered. Is killing lawyers somehow ok? (if so we can probably blame Shakespeare--though almost nobody knows the context of that famous quote).

I don't think Gian Luigi Ferri was a terrorist. I think Adkisson, on the other hand, is. But that may just be because he attacked a church. Hell, he attacked MY church (though I'd consider him a terrorist if he attacked Jerry Falwell's church as well).

He attacked my church. He attacked me. And right now I feel myself a target for every right-wing nut case with a grudge and a tec-nine out there in God and Guns America.

Now I kind of know how those parishioners felt at that 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama back in 1963.

See, I'm not the only one!

Others see it too: George Mason University's Center For Media and Public Policy released a study last week that found that the ABC, NBC, and CBS news were all three biased against ... Barak Obama!

Political Machine's blog on it is here.

The LA Times story is here.


President Malaprop

I swear: the more John McCain speaks the more troubling I find the prospect of him as president. In the last few weeks look at what he's said: that Obama would willingly loose a war to become president, whihc is tantamount to calling him a traitor. He's become garbled and mixed up about the so called surge and Anbar awakening. He has suggested that Iraq and Pakistan share a border, for crying out loud!

His other campaign gaffes, like trying to upstage Mr. Obama's rally in Germany by eating at a beer-hall in the Germantown neighborhood of Columbus Ohio, and his trying to look presidential by riding in a golf cart with President Bush Senior, and his sad forray into a Pennsylvania supermarket, are all merely pathetic because they made him look pathetic and old. But this other stuff is disturbing.

His biggest advantage is his experience but his biggest handicap is his age, and everytime he gets in front of a camera he makes himself look like a confused angry old man. Is this the media trying to sabotage him? No. THe first three cases mentioned above were either statements he made himself to reporters. The second three were carefully staged media events. McCain used to look presidential when he waled in front of a camera. Not anymore.

He still gets a mostly free walk from a media that has spent the last ten years adoring him. He still goes on "The Daily Show" and "Saturday Night Live" to poke fun at himself. Liberals still respect him. He has faced very few tough questions this season. The one that comes most quickly to mind was one that once again made him look confused: a woman reporter asked him a few weeks ago if it was just that medical insurance would pay for Viagra but not for birth control pills. It's a valid if rather frivolous question, pointing up a double standard wherein it seems to be more ok for men to engage in recreational sex than for women to do so. It was probably even a setup, as asking McCain a question about Viagra must be designed to make him look old. But his response made him look older. He froze, stared blankly at the camera, and then said he had no idea what she was talking about.

I don't care if my president takes Viagra. I really don't. But I want my president--especially if he ran on his foreign policy credentials--to know where Pakistan is. Pakistan has two borders that are very important. They border Afganistan on one side and India on the ohter. The one is the greatest source of trouble for American troops in Afganistan, as the Taliban and Al Queda use it the way Pancho Villa used to, staging raids by going back and forth across it. The other is the world's most dangerous Nuclear flash point, a border between two nuclear powers in a constant state of aggression. It doens't border Iraq. (yes, I know, Mr. McCain was simply confusing Iraq and Afganistan--but that alone is cause for alarm).

It's not that Mr. McCain is old that I find most troubling. My Grandfather is 90 and I'd vote for him in a heart beat. My problem with McCain is that he increasingly looks confused.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


My mom has been asking me to blog about Senator Obama's wold tour. Ok: I have a few things to say:

First of all, it looks more like the old Pope or the Rolling Stones than an American president. The crowds, the pres coverage, the rock-star charisma: I wonder how to score back-stage passes. Will I get laid if I say I'm with the band?

John Stewart had the best joke: Senator Obama is in the holy land, traveling today from Jordan to Jerusalem. He'll also take time to stop in Bethlehem, where he will visit the manger in which he was born.

The next thing I have to say is that Obama looks presidential. He looks more presidential than any president since Regan. And he's not even president. Yet.

Poor Chuck Hegel. And who's the other guy? (no, honest: I really don't know).

Here is the most refreshing and presidential thing I saw come out of this trip, and if it doesn't make everybody rush out to put Obama bumper stickers on their cars then the American people are idiots: after eight years of the Bush White House passing the buck by saying they would defer every decision to the generals on the ground, (currently David Patreus), Obama said that, if he were Patreus he would like that situation; but as President it will be he, Mr. Obama, who will set policy and make the final decisions, not the Pentagon, and not General Patreus. Well! Where have you been, Harry S. Truman?? When I heard that I almost jumped out of my skin. It honestly took me by surprise. I hadn't expected that much fortitude from Obama at this point, and it hadnt' really occurred to me that Truman was what we are in need of. But I'd been thinking a lot about Truman and MacArthur lately. I've never completely thought Truman was right to fire MacArthur, but I'm not sure what other choice he had. My friend Paul Hilts says it was the most important moment in American history because, to him, it proved that Americans are indeed different, that on the whole we believe in the rule of law. MacArthur could have been Caesar. It would have been easy. He had a huge army at his command and popular support at home. He was our greatest living war hero and general (sorry, Ike, but it's true). He could have ignored Truman. He could even have staged a coup, as would have happened in 80 to 90% of the countries in the world at the time. But MacArthur didn't cross the Rubicon. He obeyed the order and stepped down.

I'm not comparing Patreus to MacArthur or to Caesar. I'm comparing Obama to Truman. I hadn't expected that. It is the most impressive thing I've seen from anybody in this campaign. I don't know how others will take it, but to me the message was loud and clear.

He is ready.

Hooray For Gossip Girl

I don't watch Gossip Girl. I'm not a woman between the ages of 18 and 34. But it just became one of my favorite shows.

It's on the CW Network. CW is admittedly in trouble these days, but they are doing a good job of positioning themselves as the hippest network on TV, catering directly to the late teen/early twenties demo advertisers supposedly crave. In addition to "Gossip Girl" they've got the slacker comedy "Reaper" (the one CW show I never miss), and they're actually reviving "90210." They are trying to be edgy just to survive. And from where I'm sitting they are doing a good job of it.

Apparently "Gossip Girl," based on a popular series of teen romance novels, is about sex in a fancy high-school on the Upper East Side, sort of a 90210 for the 21st Century. It is essentially "Cruel Intentions" as a TV series ("Cruel Intentions, was, of course "Dangerous Liasons" set in an Upper East Side prep school).

Predictably, the Parents Television Council and other anti-fun groups, along with regular parents who only want to raise Wally and the Beav, have been lambasting the show as inappropriate. CW is firing back. An ad for the shows April return had two of the teens apparently making the beast with two backs, overlayed with the letters OMFG (which the CW coyly claims to mean "oh my, feeling good"). But more recent adds have been truly brilliant. They show similar sexy scenes of couples accompanied by quotes from critics of the show, such as "Every Parrent's Nightmare," "Very Bad For You," and "Wildly Inappropriate," that last supplied by the P.T.C. themselves. In other words, they've taken the prudes own language and thrown it back in their faces.

Good for them! One of the best ways to fight back against the language of oppression is to co-opt that language as symbols of pride, like the way the gay community co-opted the word "Queer" and the pink triangle, or how the black community co-opted the word "nigger," or, comically, the entire plot of "Revenge of the Nerds." Instead of denying the language that is being used to marginalize them, these groups take the beligerent stand of adopting the insult with pride saying "Yeah, that's us! Now what are you going to do about it?" CW's add campaign is, of course, not the noble social protest of these other examples. It is crass and commercial and only serves to promote their right to talk about sex on TV. But it is both effective and funny, and it puts the prudes in the PTC in their place.

Besides, if the PTC ever saw what went on in *my* high school, there heads would all probably explode as one.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Make plans for Octrober

Poor Mets! A ninth inning like tonight's one can destroy your whole season. Five runs in the ninth, from three up to two down, just like that. A beat down like that can leave you crushed and demoralized. You start getting mopey, you go on a bad streak, loose seven of nine, and suddenly you're looking up at both the Phillies and the Marlins and you might as well start booking your tee times for Hilton Head in October.

Wow. What a beating.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The times they didn't change at all

I sit here at Vox Pop, bastion of lefty radicalism, and the PA is playing “The Times They Are A Changin’." I love that song. Like all of Dylan’s stuff from that period, it eloquently expressed the feeling of so many 60s idealists that a new world was upon them and that a peaceful utopia based on social justice and true equality would be reached within the next generation.

So what happened? It’s two generations later, and we have regressed to a gilded age the likes of which we hadn’t experienced since the 1920s (and we know what comes after that. Hell, with the run on Indiebank and the mortgage crisis it might already have started). I was an impressionable youth of 5 years in 1968, just old enough to know what was going on around me but still young enough to think it was a game.

But I was promised a utopia, dammit! I was promised world peace and universal justice! I was promised an end to racism and bigotry! Me! My generation (not Pete Townsend’s) was supposed to be born into the Age of Aquarius, when peace would guide the planets and love would rule the stars.

We were cheated. We were lied to.

So what happened?

Lefties feel that 1968 was the high-water mark of American civilization. That we were on our way to that utopia and then in 1968 it all came crashing down. Was it really Bobby’s death, as so many people say? Was that truly the moment? Was it Dr. King’s death a few months before? Was it Chicago?

Was it, in fact, Woodstock in ‘69, the mythical perfect moment which has never been recaptured? Or was it Altamont four months later, Woodstock’s evil twin, Rock and Roll’s dark underbelly exposed along with Meredith Hunter’s blood?

Or was it the excesses of Thompson's 70s, when, with the war over, the party began and truly got out of control; when free love and drugs led to the porn industry and AIDS? Whatever juice the movement had was sapped when it ceased being a movement and became, as all movements eventually do, a marketing tool. Once Revolution became big business it ceased to be revolution. The backlash that elected Ronald Regan was inevitable (that backlash was as much against the New Deal as it was against the 60s and 70s). Some people have said that conservatism is a movement while liberalism was a collection of causes. Well this is both true and it is not. There is a core to democratic liberalism built around labor and a regulated economy that *was* a movement in the 1930s, and conservatism *is* a collection of causes (which is ripping at the seems this election season). Yes, the left attracted every fringie and radical who was dissatisfied with the Establishment at the time, but the backlash did the same.

No, the end was inevitable, just as the end of communism was inevitable, because the world is cyclical and because people grow up. I’m certainly more conservative than I was at five or even than I was at thirty-five. The movement was doomed because the market works, and the market decreed that revolution was a marketable business. It was doomed to fail because eventually, people are going to have to worry more about making the house payment then they about World peace. It was doomed to fail because self interest nearly always trumps egalitarianism. Yes, communism has always seemed a morally superior position but it also a utopian vision, an impractical ideal that, as has been proven in practice, cannot survive.

What it Thompson said in Fear and Loathing n Las Vegas? "There was madness in any direction, at any hour. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning.
And that, I think, was the handle - -that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark - that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."

Yeah. That's it exactly.

Here at Vox Pop we don’t really get it, that our time has come and gone. The generation before mine had dreams and ideals and envisioned a better world for everybody. Their dreams came crashing down, and all we are left with is the music.

And what great music it is.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Darkie Jokes

In the stir caused by cover of this week's New Yorker Magazine, my mom sent me a note with a quote from the Herald Tribune. The writer why, in a world where the tone is set by John Stewart, is it hard to find anybody joking about Obama?

There are two issues here: one, John Stewart jokes about Obama all the time. He has not handled him with kid gloves, and if he pokes fun at McCain (with whom he has always had a good relationship: McCain is a frequent guest on his show), it is because Obama is more polished and makes fewer gaffs.

The other issue is why are many people reluctant to laugh at Obama. This is simple as well: he is black, and to laugh at him might be perceived as racist. This is due less to people standing up and saying "you're a racist if you laugh at this joke" (though some people certainly will say that) and more because people will question their own motives.

Let's face it: the essence of all humor is cruelty, and satire is exceptionally cruel. Jokes always demean the subject, and to demean a black man has social implication that most people don't want to deal with. To be cruel toward this particular black man, who is already undergoing racist attacks from some people on the right (not McCain, but certainly some of the people who support McCain), to laugh at a joke that could possibly be seen as racist is troubling. People don't want their motives to be questioned, they don't want to be perceived as racist, comedians and broadcasters included. A similar aura surrounded Senator Clinton for awhile. But, as we can see in the blogsphere, if they are getting a kid-glove treatment it is more than offset by the racist or sexist attacks, cruel jokes, and outright lies being leveled at them from the right.

Personally, I loved the New Yorker cover. I thought it said exactly the right thing: that the way Barak and Michelle Obama are being portrayed by the right are as racist and ridiculous caricatures. I think Obama was wrong to criticize the cover. I *did* employ racist stereotypes in its portrayal of him, and that it was satirical din't help any. Of course the cover was offensive, because it was meant to be. And you can't control how people are going to react to something like that. Authorial intent means nothing next to reader reception.

But it was funny. And I'm not at all embarrassed that I laughed at it.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

News from London, News from Home

The AP reported today on a horrific double murder in London, in which two French students were murdered in an apartment rented by one of them in New Cross. One was stabbed more than 100 times, the other 50, and then the apartment was set ablaze. The French press and the London tabloids, of course, are having a field day. The French papers are running stories about how London has become a city of gangs, drugs, crime, and murder, while the tabloids are labeling these "the Tarentino Murders," not because anybody named Terentino was involved, but becuase somewhere along the line someone remarked "it looks like something out of a Quentin Tarentino movie." Now this is grossly unfair to Quintin. If they had referenced Saw I could have understood it, but Quintin's movies, while violent, are not really that gory by comparison. In Jackie Brown for instance, all the violence takes place just out of the frame. In Pulp Fiction the one truly gorey part, when they shoot Marvin in the head, is done for black comedy and not as a piece of slasher-porn. Even in his most violent film, Kill Bill, I can't recall a frenzied knife attack (the most violent parts of Kill Bill, the fight scenes, are highly styalized comic-book violence). There's no reason to drag Quintin into this other than to sensationalize it more.

One thing worth noting: the wire article mentions that London is undergoing a great deal of soul searching lately because of a steep rise in knife murders. This throws some fuel on the fire of the 2nd Amendment debate. Britain is often hailed by gun-control advocates as the example of how a society should deal with guns--outlawing all handguns and severely restricting long guns. But if all that happens in that case is that people start killing each other with knives, then the availability of handguns in itself is not the problem. Oh, and Britain's answer to this? A proposal a few years ago to outlaw knivse with points on them. Talk about your nanny state! London, not New York or Berkeley, is the true bastion of liberalism gone too far (says this liberal here).

Speaking of Berkeley, however, they go too far sometiems as well. Or at least because of Berkeley's mythic stature as the birthplace of contemporary lefty resistance, it attracts the most weirdos and wackos. I know. I used to be a Berkeley liberal myself, though a mild ne by comparison. The AP had a story yesterday about the upsurge in violent protests against scientists who perform experiments on animals. Apparently, animal rights activists in Berkeley and elsewhere have switched from targeting labs and releasing animals to confronting scientists at their homes. Occasionally these confrontations lead to vandalism and violence. As the AP put it, "Borrowing the kind of tactics used by anti-abortion demonstrators, animal rights activists are increasingly taking their rage straight to scientists' front doors."

Well finally! I've been saying for years that there is essentially no difference between anti-abortion activists and animal-rights activists, and it's good to know somebody else has seen the connection. Right-to-lifers, whether protecting fetuses or lab mice, they are all a bunch of radical idealists trying to cram their version of morality down everybody else's throats. The only thing that differs between them is what type of life they are trying to protect. They are just as insane, just as radical, and they use the same tactics. And both foster and promote terrorism. A spokesman for the Animal Liberation front was quoted as saying, "if you had to hurt somebody or intimidate them or kill them, it would be morally justifiable." The exact same language has come out of right to life groups. These groups are terrorists. The FBI cetrtainly thinks so. The FBI unit responding to the Berkeley attacks is the domestic counter-terrorism squad out of Oakland: "We call it terrorism because it is a violent act violating federal criminal laws that has a political or social motivation to it."

I and others have been arguing for years not only that these activists are misguided but that they foster terrorism. The FBI has understood it for a long time. It's time the rest of America understood it too. In my mind, domestic terrorists, whether anti-government types like Timothy McVeigh, animal rights groups like The Animal Liberation Front, or right to life groups like Operation Rescue, are a greater threat to America than Al Queda. Yes, Al Queda killed 2800 people in a single attack and they continue to plot against us, but domestic terrorists are more insidious. Not only are they among us but they are *of* us. And their goal is not to force us out of the Middle East. The animal rights terrorists and the right-to-life terrorists: *they* are the ones who truly hate our freedoms, hate the American way of life and want to destroy it.

And it's good to see the dots being connected in something like the Associated Press and not just out here in the crazy blogosphere.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Tabloid Treasures

I read the New York Times because it's not a tabloid. Conservatives complain that the Times is too liberal. Well, except in the area of the 2nd amendment, the Times either matches my values or is just a bit to the right. I don't consider it too liberal at all. It seems pretty middle of the road to me.

My mom was complaining the other day about how much she hates the news because it seems to salacious. She started by echoing the recent conservative complaints that as soon as the news from Iraq started getting good the media stopped covering the war. She was also amazed watching BBC America the other night at the amount of coverage the situation in Zimbabwe was getting on that network--not just of the election but of the humanitarian crisis, which American Media seems to be ignoring (I suggested she read the Christian Science Monitor, which always has the best African coverage among American outlets).

Her complaint about the mainstream news media having less media coverage of the war since the violence fell may be true, but if so it has less to do with a conspiracy to undermine the President than it does with the simple truth that good news isn't news. The old axiom is "if it bleeds, it leads." If there were spectacular battles in which we were beating an opposing army then it would get a lot of press. For proof we only need look at the first few weeks of the war, when we were pressing on toward Baghdad and the press were falling all over themselves to praise the President and the good job our troops were doing. More complex, to be sure, was news coverage of the house-to-house fighting by U.S. Marines in Falujah. There was a hue and cry when news reports showed soldiers shooting a wounded Iraqi insurgent. On the hole, however, the news coverage showed the Marines in a positive light and, more importantly, a victorious state.

Conservatives are always making these complaints. Any news story, no matter how true, that is either critical of President Bush or simply doesn't bang the drum loudly enough is castigated as being "liberally biased."

But the salaciousness complaint is absolutely true. Most news organizations play the tabloid card to some extent or other. They love gossip, scandal, and spectacular tragedies. Everybody (except the Times) seems to be trying to out-Post the Post. Is today's lead story the bombing in Pakistan as you'd expect? the G-8 summit? The elections? No. It's the fact that Alex Rodriguez and his wife might be getting divorced because he is allegedly having an affair with Madonna--and talk about a cougar! The rags love this kind of crap. In the long run it serves the conservative agenda much more than it does the liberal agenda, because stuff that distracts from real news, stuff that plays to people's lusts instead of prompting them to question and criticize their government, ultimately serves the conservative purpose of maintaining the status quo.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

News Overload

I am tired ot he war. I am tired of the election. I am tired of fires in California and floods in the Midwest. I am tired of news.

But as I write this the Williams Sisters are playing the first game of their double at Wimbeldon. They are playing each other for the title and then later today they will be playing alongside each other for the doubles title. They are as great a sports story as Tiger Woods and I love to watch them play. That is news I can enjoy.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Postmodernism Lives!

Ok, call me perverted, but I love this: the Fundamentalist Curch of Latter Day Saints, the Texas LDS sect that recently had all their children removed and then returned by the state because of unproven allegations of child abuse, is launching a clothing line. And here's the beautiful part: it's a children's clothing line.

And why not? The minute any person or group becomes famous in America the first thing they do is launch a clothing and/or perfume line. Gerry Garcia sold neckties for crying out loud. I doubt he wore a necktie anytime in the last 50 years of his life. Diddy, J-Zee, Regis, Trump, J-Lo, they all jump on the band wagon. Paris Hilton? Please! Basketball players have it easy because they kind of have a franchise set up through Nike or Rebok. All they have to do is license their names and their shoe appears.

Seabrook is right: the brand is the filament linking culture to marketing. The primary goal of every person trying to break into the cult of celebrity (as opposed to those athletes, actors and singers who are truly into it for their art--a decidedly modernist attitude) is to create a brand around themselves and then sell their identity through licensing deals or their own product lines. Even guys in obscure fields like hunting and fishing have their own clothing lines and lines of lures, marinades, or game calls. There is no such thing anymore as non-commercial space. There is also no such thing as a non-commercial person. We are all both consumers and producers. We are all commodities. And those of us who successfully exploit our own personal brands are the icons of today's marketing culture. The secret of Michael Jordan's popularity is not that he was the greatest basketball player alive. It's that being the greatest basketball player alive made him the greatest pitchman alive. His popularity extended far beyond basketball, mostly through commercials and his shoe line. The same is true of the other big earners in sports: Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Junior, Tiger Woods, Shaquile O'Neil, and Michael Shumacher. Shumacher used to be the highest paid athlete in the world until his retirement two years ago. Now, in spite of being retired, he's the 5th highest paid athlete int he world. Jordan, also retired, is the 10th highest paid athlete. Woods, who made $100 Million last year, only made $11 million in winnings. The other $89 Million was in endorsements. It is all about Brand Tiger. As Jameson would say, it is "the logic of late capitalism."

So why shouldn't the FLDS start a children's clothing line? We've been watching the women of the sect, for the past to months, parade across our TV screens in those prairie dresses they wear. It has become kind of an identity for them. Of course they are going to take advantage of it. Marketing these days is all about niche marketing, and while the FLDS look is unlikely to catch on in the main stream it can certainly make the sect a whole lot of money.

I am so amused.