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Failed Suicide Club April 20, 2010

Posted by monty in news, politics.
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Sometime in the last couple weeks I made a conscious decision to stop getting so aggravated by the Republican Party and the Tea Party movement. For much of 2009 and the first few months of this year I feared for my sanity whenever I turned on the news.  I’ve never been one to talk to myself – or to inanimate objects – but recently all it would take would be an appearance by Sarah Palin or Eric Cantor or Michele Bachmann (or the unholy triumvirate of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, or Ann Coulter) to get me frothing and barking at the TV screen like … well, like a member of the Tea Party.

But at some point I realized it was a waste of energy and emotion to get so worked up over a party whose only purpose is to obstruct the Democrats’ agenda, and whose anger exists without any recourse to reality.  I could work up a self-righteous head of steam in an honest debate with someone who is genuinely informed on the issues and who holds an opinion that’s grounded in facts.  But all you have to do is listen to Mitch McConnell or Mike Pence or any of the wingnuts in attendance at a tea party rally to realize that you’re not dealing with sane people who genuinely want to constructively solve America’s problems.  It’s all about getting angry and fucking shit up – physically or legislatively, it doesn’t matter.

So even though my reaction now is to laugh whenever I hear or see virtually anyone representing the GOP or the Tea Party, there have been a few things coming across the wires in the last several days worth mentioning.  So bear with me as I try to pull them together.  I might be able to connect the dots, but I make no promises.

1) There’s a solid piece at Daily Kos comparing the current Tea Party to this country’s last viable third party movement: those who supported Ross Perot in the 1992 presidential election.  The gist of the article is that the two movements are nothing alike.  The third partiers in ’92 sprang up in support of Perot, instead of in support of a nebulous cause like “Give me back my country!,” which is really just anti-Democrat sentiment disguised as patriotism.  Perot’s supporters were truly bipartisan in nature, rejecting Republicans and Democrats alike.  For instance, over a third of those who voted for Perot voted for either Walter Mondale in 1984 or Michael Dukakis in 1988 (or both).  Today?  Only 5% of those in the Tea Party self-identify as Democrats.  Similarly, roughly 57% in the Tea Party view George W. Bush favorably (with only 27% viewing him unfavorably), but in ’92, Perot’s supporters viewed both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton unfavorably.

The point?  It’s time to put an end to this myth that the Tea Party is a multi-hued, technicolor, rainbow coalition of concerned Americans who are peeved at government in general.  It’s not.  It’s a bunch of Republicans who are pissed that Obama’s in the White House, and are trying to brand their version of far-right craziness as ultra-patriotism.  Period.  Most of these people don’t give two shits about the Constitution, not in any real way.  They live in a fantasy world where the Constitution grants rich white dudes the inalienable right to do whatever they want, and the rest of us just have to deal with it.  That’s patriotism, Tea Party-style.

2) On a related note, the GOP is now clearly aware of some of the more virulent, violent protest signs at the Tea Party rallies, and are busy trying to point out that some left-wing protestors used similar rhetoric against Bush. Okay, first off, they’re absolutely right.  There were definitely some nutcases comparing Bush to Hitler and Satan, and calling for either his death or his incarceration.  You’ll get no dispute from me there.

The Democrats, as should be expected by now, are handling this all wrong. In the article linked above, the Dems’ response is to question the veracity of the signs.  This is profoundly stupid, and is akin to the Republicans’ current strategy, which is to claim any signs espousing violent or racist rhetoric against Obama is being done by liberal infiltrators who just want to make the Tea Party look bad.  In other words, rather than denounce the violent racists in their midst, the GOP would just rather blame the Democrats.  Again.

What the Democrats should be saying instead is this: “Look, we get that there were some idiots who said Bush was like Hitler.  And we know that Code Pink consists of a bunch of transsexual drama queens whose protests are annoying even to the people who agree with the issues in principle.  But the fundamental difference between those groups and the Tea Party is that these liberals protestors were the fringe of our party.  They’re the half-dozen lunatics and twerps that give all of us a bad name.  But the Tea Party is your base. These are, almost to a person, stalwart conservatives, who worship at the altar of Bush and Reagan, who festoon their bodies with American flag regalia, and who believe there’s nothing sexier than a firearm clasped by a blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan in an Uncle Sam hat.  18% of Americans identify with the Tea Party.  Toward the end of his presidency, only 25% of Americans had a favorable opinion of Bush.  The margin of difference there is razor-thin.  The Tea Party is the Republican Party is the Tea Party.  They’re indistinguishable from one another.  Which means – guess what? – the Republican party is littered with violent racists who are primarily angry that there’s a black man in the White House.  We have our crazies, too, but our crazies are the disorganized fringe.  Your crazies make up the foundation of your party.  Job well done, Republicans.”

3) Much was made of the recent poll demonstrating that Tea Party members are wealthy older white males.  No shit.  Really?  Perhaps more surprising was the finding that, grammatically incoherent and rhetorically obtuse protest signs notwithstanding, they’re also educated.  One thing I’d like to point out, though, is that there’s a difference between being educated and being intelligent or informed.  I have a high level of education, but I’m not too swift when it comes to certain things outside my purview.  You don’t, for instance, often hear me spouting off about quantum physics.  If I don’t know much about something, I tend to keep my mouth shut.  I’m a good listener.  But the Tea Party, despite whatever level of education its individual members possess, don’t seem to know much about the government or taxes or Obama’s citizenship or, you know, any of the issues they’re supposedly protesting.  To wit:

  • Only 41% believe Obama was born in the United States (Hawaii: not a state, apparently).
  • 64% of them believe their taxes have been raised (despite the fact that the economic stimulus package contained the largest middle class tax cut in history).
  • Two-thirds are climate change deniers (because it snowed in the New England in February!).
  • 40% believe there should be no recognition of gay couples at all (depressing, but expected).
  • 92% believe Obama is moving the country toward Socialism (obvious, what with the Dow being way up and the tax cuts and people finally finding jobs and all).
  • A staggering 73% believe that government aid encourages people to stay poor (because being poor is fun!)
  • And, of course, 59% love Glenn Beck; %66 love Sarah Palin (also: 100% of these believe the sun revolves around the Earth).

The Tea Party may be educated, but does this really sound like the views of an intelligent movement?  What it sounds like to me is the standard GOP party line, and the perfectly understandable opinions of a bunch of people who use Fox News as their primary source of information.

At the top I said I’d try to connect the dots between these three articles, and the obvious picture that develops when they’re combined is this: the Tea Party is indistinguishable from the present-day GOP.  There’s been talk for months about the Tea Party becoming a third party, or wondering to what degree the Republicans should extend an olive branch to the Tea Party, melding the two in the sort of genetic experiment that should be illegal.  This kind of speculation is pointless.  To try and separate the GOP from the Tea Party, or to pretend the Tea Party would be a viable third party, is ludicrous.  The members of the Tea Party are Republicans.  They believe in the things Republicans believe in, support all the usual Republican politicians and pundits, hate all the usual Democratic causes and beliefs, and, when push comes to shove, will vote Republican straight down the ballot, no matter how much they swear up and down they won’t.

But it’ll be interesting to see how this conflict continues to play out.  The GOP surely realizes that the Tea Party isn’t exactly a model of civility and decorum, and will continue to be wary of embracing them whole-heartedly.  And the Tea Partiers, who’ve sworn until they’re blue in their jowly, porcine faces that they hate all government, will be slow to align themselves with the GOP, lest they reveal themselves as the hypocrites the rest of us know that they are.  So yeah, I used to get mad at all of this, but now I’m sort of grateful for this wonderfully hysterical gift that just keeps on giving.


Current listening:

The National – High Violet (2010)

Last movie seen:

Kick-Ass (2010; Matthew Vaughn, dir.)

Every Photograph Steals Your Soul December 1, 2009

Posted by monty in news.
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1 comment so far

The news so far this week has been a case study in everything I hate about the news.  I’m not talking about President’s Obama’s oh-so-anti-war resolution to send tens of thousands of more troops to Afghanistan, or the NBC Universal/Comcast merger, which will create a virtually unprecedented entertainment monopoly.  Nope.  Those two things are undoubtedly horrifying, but I’m talking about something so pernicious, so soul-shattering, so undeniably horrendous that it makes the thought of nuclear annihilation seem like a party replete with puppies and unicorns and rainbows.  I’m talking about Tareq and Michaele Salahi.

I don’t honestly even know what to think about these two yahoos.  For anyone blissfully unaware of this couple of attention whores, they apparently made it into last week’s White House State Dinner uninvited, and in the process managed to get their photo taken with Vice President Biden (and I seem to recall seeing a picture of them with Obama, but I was at my parents’ house in a tryptophan-induced stupor, so I could be mistaken).  Okay, so clearly this is a major security breach, and sort of a black eye for the Secret Service (especially when you consider how the number of death threats made against the president has risen exponentially since Obama took office).  But part of me thinks this might as well be titled, “Balloon Boy Goes to the White House.”  The Salahis were on The Today Show this morning, stating unequivocally that they had email confirmation of their invitation to the dinner.  They are, they said, fully cooperating with the Secret Service, and “when the truth comes out” they will be fully vindicated.  My favorite thing about statements like that one is that no one ever, ever says, “When the truth comes out, we’re going to be in deep shit.”  Nope, truth always equals vindication.

I’m not dismissing the possibility that there was a colossal mix-up.  I don’t know how many levels of bureaucracy there are in these things, or how many people are authorized to give invitations.  But, man.  When you find out that this couple is currently shopping their story to the networks for six-figure deals, that they previously crashed the Congressional Black Caucus dinner, and that Michaele Salahi – and this is the kicker – is currently trying to be cast on The Real Housewives of D.C. (and don’t even get me started on the vile bottom-feeders who populate those shows), it certainly doesn’t look like the Salahis are just a couple of innocent dupes who are the victims of an unfortunate misunderstanding.  It looks like we have yet another couple who are obsessed with achieving fame at any price.

The most pathetically interesting thing about their interview this morning is how the Salahis adopted ye olde American habit of playing the victim.  Their lives are ruined – nay, destroyed – by this controversy, in which they were unwilling participants.  Everything that has happened since the dinner has been to their detriment, and it’s apparently tantamount to a plot to bring personal opprobrium to the Salahi name.  I know this is how the game is played, so, to see it through to its logical conclusion, would anyone like to place a wager on how soon they enter rehab and accept Jesus as their personal saviour if it turns out they’re lying?

This morning, the Salahis told Matt Lauer that they hope to be able to return to the show in a few days once the Secret Service investigation is complete.  At that time, they said they’d love to tell their full and complete story, which I guess we’re supposed to infer will end in their redemption – perhaps with a permanent guest room in their name at the White House.  Again, I know this is all part of the game.  I know you don’t go on a national news show to proclaim your guilt.  And I’ll be willing to write a full retraction singing the Salahis’ praises and criticizing the shoddy practices at the White House if turns out that they are, in fact, telling the truth.  But it’ll be interesting to see if they’re still so interested in being famous if the conclusion is that they’re simply garden-variety trespassers in formal wear.  If that turns out to be the case – and I think there’s every indication that it will – can we please relegate these two parasites to a state of perpetual anonymity?


Current listening:

Sleep – Holy Mountain (1993)

That’s What You Always Say November 16, 2009

Posted by monty in news, politics.
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It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone that Sarah Palin’s upcoming memoir, Going Rogue, contains numerous factual “inaccuracies.”  In a fact-check conducted by the Associated Press (I mean, “the liberal media elite”), Palin apparently distorts her own record, and either misunderstands or outright lies about events in Obama’s presidency (confusing Obama’s stimulus package, for instance, with George W. Bush’s federal bank bailout).  The AP is kind in saying that Palin’s book occasionally “goes adrift,” when what they really should be saying is that it’s just more of the same kind of paranoid, lunatic babbling that gave us death panels and Drill, baby, drill!

But just as unsurprising as Palin’s drift is the fact that she’s now accusing the AP of doing “opposition research” in fact-checking her memoir.

We’ve heard 11 writers are engaged in this opposition research, er, ‘fact checking’ research!  Imagine that – 11 AP reporters dedicating time and resources to tearing up the book, instead of using the time and resources to ‘fact check’ what’s going on with Sheik Mohammed’s trial, Pelosi’s health care takeover costs, Hassan’s associations, etc.

So this is what it’s come to.  Checking the veracity of claims made by a public figure – one of the most important tenets of modern journalism – is now spun by the GOP as just another attack by the opposition.  Apparently, in Palin’s perfect world, she could just run her mouth about any old thing and have it be taken as gospel by the universe as a whole.

It is, I have to say, a clever ploy aimed squarely at appeasing her base.  When you make your reputation as a small-town rube with the intellect of a mosquito and a mistrust of anyone who uses polysyllabic words, it’s just the next logical step to further adopt the role of victim and scream that you’re being raped by the big, bad liberal media.  The portion of the American population who actually thinks Palin’s got something to say – you can recognize them because they’re wearing aluminum foil hats and screaming about black helicopters – will fall right in line.

I really wish I had a gauge to figure out how seriously the rest of the country takes anything she says.  My first inclination whenever I see or hear anything on the news about Palin or Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity or any of these right-wing asshats is to laugh hysterically.  But then I remember that a lot of people take them at their word, and that’s a sobering thought.

Palin wants to spin the AP’s reporting as equivalent to the death of free speech.  The truth, however, is that it’s Palin – who claims that the media has no right or responsibility to verify her claims – who’s the real enemy of the 1st Amendment.  It goes back to the same point I made about Carrie Prejean last week.  The right to free speech means that, yes, you can generally say what you like.  What it doesn’t do is guarantee you the right to say what you like and have it remained unchallenged. That’s the beauty of free speech.  It cuts both ways.  You have the right to say what you want, and I have the right to challenge you.  In this case, Palin had the freedom to write a book that’s apparently as boneheaded as the interviews and speeches for which she’s already known, and now she’s angry that responsible journalists have an equal amount of freedom to make sure she’s not completely full of shit.

Sarah, just a word of advice: It’s not free speech if the only people allowed to talk are the ones who agree with you.


Current listening:

Saturnine – American Kestrel (1999)

Last movie seen:

Body of Lies (2008; Ridley Scott, dir.)

A Fable With No Moral November 9, 2009

Posted by monty in news, politics.
Tags: , , , ,

money tp

I didn’t grow up in a wealthy family. For a good chunk of my childhood, we lived on my dad’s income as a high school principal. It wasn’t until I was in 3rd grade that my mom went back to work as a substitute teacher, and a year or two after that that she was back in her own classroom full-time. In certain California school districts I came to know, it wasn’t unheard of for teachers and administrators to make six figures. But this was rural Ohio in the 80’s. When I graduated from college in ’95, I was offered a job in my hometown school district for just over $20,000 a year. My parents’ salaries ten years prior couldn’t have been much more than that, and, at least at first, were probably less.

Even so, my brother and I lived comfortably. My parents were frugal (a lesson I now wish I had learned from them better), saved religiously, and dabbled a bit in the stock market, and as a result, our family was financially secure. We didn’t always have the flashiest stuff, but there was always a bumper crop under the tree every Christmas, and we took a vacation every summer without fail – Disney World and Epcot Center; up the Eastern seaboard to Bar Harbor, Maine; the Grand Tetons in Wyoming; San Francisco up to Seattle and back again. There was money precisely because my parents were smart with it.

Their work ethic and frugality had an unintended consequence. As I look back at my life in an effort to make sense of who I am now, I think it’s having seen my parents work so hard, make relatively little money, and devote it all to making sure my brother and I were raised well, that directly contributed to the class warrior I’ve become.

I’ve always been suspicious and mistrustful of the wealthy, regardless of how kind they might seem. This has sometimes been to my detriment, when I’ve refused to give someone a fair shake simply because of my preconceptions about their money and how they came to have it. I can be standoffish even in the best of situations, and this is only exacerbated by my thinking anyone who’s well-to-do is a selfish, greedy pig.

The inevitable retort is that I shouldn’t be jealous of other people’s wealth. I’m not. Trust me. I live in a modest one-bedroom apartment, and I don’t really aspire to anything bigger. I drive a Toyota Yaris, and it suits me just fine. I travel occasionally, buy lots of movies, and purchase a yearly iPod update, but otherwise I simply don’t yearn for extravagance. And, in the instances where I do splurge on something flashy (like my TV, the one really nice possession I own), it’s after saving for months, which is as it should be. So I don’t look at other people’s ritzy lives and think, “Gee, I wish that were me.” I’m content with what I’ve got, and I know if I keep saving I’ll be able to afford the things that make me happy.

I say all of this as a long-winded and circuitous explanation for how rabidly, mouth-frothingly angry I get at just about any mention of Goldman-Sachs, Citibank, Chase, or any of the other banking institutions that represent some of the worst of 21st Century human nature. I don’t know enough about the financial sector to understand the ins and outs of everything these parasites are doing (and if you watch one key section of Michael Moore’s recent film, Capitalism: A Love Story, the bankers don’t understand it either), but I do know this: the wealth these people hold is disgusting and, dare I say it, immoral.

I can understand the anger some people feel toward the government, but it increasingly seems to me that they’re missing the more obvious culprit. The government wouldn’t have had to bail out the banks if the banks hadn’t willfully put themselves in that situation in the first place. They prey on home owners, account holders, card users, and then, after the bankers have fucked things up so righteously they need governmental assistance to prevent them from living in a box under the bridge, they go right back to giving themselves salaries and bonuses that are completely disproportionate to any good they’re actually doing.

And then in the last few days we’ve learned two other disturbing things:

1) Goldman Sachs employees got the H1N1 vaccine before schools and hospitals.

The excuse I’ve heard to justify this goes something like this: “We have high-risk employees that need to be protected from H1N1 too.” Yeah, I imagine Goldman Sachs has a large number of the elderly, the sickly, and small children on their payroll. The truth is, every Goldman Sachs employee who gets the vaccine represents another person in New York City who needs it but is unable to get it. The government, as always, bears some responsibility for once again reinforcing the idea that if you’re rich, you’re important, and if you’re not, well, you can get H1N1 and die.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

2) Goldman Sachs doing “God’s work”; chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein apparently agrees.

Do I even really need to comment on this? Some of the salient facts from the article perfectly underline the frustration I feel with these douchebags. Average pay for employees of the firm is $700,000 a year. How long will it take you to make that much, and how hard do you feel you work compared to an investment banker? I feel like I work my ass off, and it’ll take me the better part of two decades to come close to that average salary. Blankfein paid himself $68 million in 2007 – the highest salary of any CEO – and has $500 million in Goldman stock. The company has set aside $20 billion for bonuses. All of this – as well as playing a sizable hand in our current recession – and Blankfein has the balls to claim banks like Goldman have “a social purpose.” So do prostitutes, Lloyd. And maybe God has changed the nature of the work he likes people to do, but what was that thing He said about a camel and the eye of a needle? And how exactly did Christ feel about the money changers in the temple? It’s escaping me at the moment.

As usual, Matt Taibbi hits the nail on the head.

I think the reason I get so angry about all of this is that I really just don’t understand it, and so my only recourse is confused agitation. So many people in this country work so hard just to scrape by, and then these schmucks rake in multi-million-dollar salaries, destroy the economy, go crying to Papa Bush, get rescued, and then turn right around and rub it in our faces. It’s so selfish and inconsiderate it practically defies belief. A $68 million salary? Why is that even necessary? I hate to say it, but my gut tells me that if you really feel like you need $68 million to live your life, than your life probably isn’t worth living.


Current listening:

Super furry guerrilla

Super Furry Animals – Guerrilla (1999)

Wounded World November 4, 2009

Posted by monty in news, politics, TV.
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ParisHilton_Caulfield_8572072Part of me was ashamed to write about Jon Gosselin and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach the other day.  After all, a huge part of the problem with our celebutard-obsessed culture is that the media keeps giving them attention they don’t deserve.  Jon and Kate, Lindsay and Paris, the whack-job Mormon family who’ve mistaken Mom’s uterus for a broken gumball machine, the dimbulbs from The Hills, and the entire cast of the Twilight movies – they’d all be so much more bearable if their fame was proportional to their actual level of accomplishment.  That means I’d never know who Jon, Kate, Paris, or the Duggard family is, I’d know Lindsay only as the star of the Tina Fey-scripted Mean Girls, the Twilight cast would only appear in Entertainment Weekly articles I skip, and Heidi and Spencer and the rest of The Hills’ demon-spawn wouldn’t register on my radar until Joel McHale ridicules them on The Soup. There’s no earthly reason why any of these people show up on the news.  In a fair and just world, they’d be relegated to media oblivion.

sarah-palinThe same goes for Sarah Palin.  A full year after getting her ass handed to her by voters, she’s still hanging around, like the drunk who doesn’t realize the party’s over.  Her memoir, which we’re supposed to believe she wrote all by her widdle self in the space of a few months – despite the fact that she has yet to string more than three words together intelligibly in public – is currently ranked #3 on Amazon, which means that an unfortunate number of people actually believe she has something important to say about anything.  My guess is that the book will be good for either A) comic relief, or B) a literary drinking game, wherein the reader does a shot every time she uses the word maverick. Like all the names in the first paragraph, there is no reason, none whatsoever – and I’m quite serious about this – that she gets any media attention at all.  I don’t care if McCain chose her as his running mate in a cynical ploy to snatch vaginaed voters away from Obama.  She has yet to say anything of consequence about anything, and the fact that anyone is considering her a serious contender for the 2012 presidential election is testament only to how delusional a segment of this country remains.

There are exactly two choices for how the media should handle these people.  The first is to stop covering them.  It’s a simple solution, elegant and precise.  Don’t report on them, don’t show any photos or film, don’t tell us what they said.  They’re inconsequential, and every second you devote to them takes away a second you could be using to cover something that actually matters.

The other option – and I could conceivably throw the whole weight of my support behind this – is to reveal them as the buffoons they are.  If the NBC Nightly News were to include a 5-minute-long segment called “Daily Dickhead” where the likes of Spencer Pratt or Kim Kardashian were eviscerated through a montage of clips demonstrating their vacuous, selfish ways, I would tune in every night.  Seriously.  Any venture that encourages the American public to ridicule these self-involved twats is a worthwhile one, in my book.

And, incidentally, I would endorse this exact same handling of Sarah Palin.  Somehow we’ve arrived at the notion that being “fair” or being “objective” means treating both sides of an argument as equally valid.  As a result, we get serious news reporting of death panels and teabaggings and town hall meetings filled with angry white people who look like torch-wielding extras from Frankenstein. If the big news outlets were really worth their salt anymore, rather than report on these things as though they were legitimate news, they’d call bullshit on the whole enterprise.  The right-wing is going to paint the mainstream news media as a bunch of far-left pinko commie faggots anyway, so what would they have to lose if Brian Williams came to us on-air one night and said, “Sarah Palin said today in a town hall meeting that Barack Obama wants to kill your grandparents.  What a crazy bitch!”

I think it’s entirely fair to report on death panels and these teabag demonstrations or whatever else the right-wing concocts, but the Big 3 needs to have the smarts and the gumption to really report on them.  They need to show, for instance, how the right-wing is using lies and distortion and charged language to derail health care reform, as well as how Fox News and other Republican groups are organizing these supposedly “spontaneous” demonstrations.  The news bureaus feel, I guess, like they have to report on these things as serious phenomena, when the truth of it is, if they were really reporting objectively, they’d reveal all of it as a serious fraud to prey on voters’ fears of the U.S. turning into a grandma-killing noueveau-Cuba.

What we really need are more Matt Taibbis, the journalist who wrote the fantastic Rolling Stone article about the right-wing’s campaign against health care reform that I posted a month ago.  Taibbi wrote a terrific piece shortly after Palin stepped down as governor of Alaska, but he declined to publish it until now.  Here’s an excerpt:

Palin’s paranoid ramblings and self-pitying tantrums on the way out of office not only didn’t injure her chances for national office, they actually appeared to help, as polls taken in the week after her resignation showed that 71% of Republicans were now prepared to vote for her for president in 2012. Just as she had during the campaign last fall, Palin defied rational analysis by making a primal connection with the subterranean resentments of white middle America, which is apparently so pissed off now at the rest of the planet for not coddling its hurt feelings in the multicultural age that it is willing to embrace any politician who validates its insane sense of fucked-overness.

Nobody understands this political reality quite like Palin, even if she doesn’t actually understand it in the sense of someone who thinks her way to a conclusion, but merely lives it, unconsciously, with the unerring instinct of a herd animal. Palin’s supporters don’t judge her according to her almost completely nonexistent qualifications for serious office, they perceive her as they would a character in a Biblical narrative, a Job in heels with cross-eyes and a mashed-potato-brained husband who happens to spend a lot of time getting shat upon by Letterman and Maureen Dowd and the other modern-day Enemies of Christ.

On some level Palin understands better than any of us that what’s important to her base isn’t how well she does her job or even what she does with her time before 2012, but who her enemies are and how loudly she beats the drum against them – and when the news comes out that these foes have recently driven her to such distraction that she even started losing her hair (reportedly necessitating a recent emergency trip to personal hairdresser Jessica Steele), it elevates her conservative martyr credentials to previously unimagined levels.

As a national candidate she seems to us normal/rational observers mortally wounded, but as a conduit for middle American resentment she may actually have gained in stature, and don’t be at all surprised if she doesn’t emerge with the status of something like a religious figure when they roll the rock back for her inevitable candidacy three years from now.

This is exactly the kind of reporting we need now.  We need the news media to stop acting like every argument is pitched on a level playing field, and that every media personality needs to be treated with the same deference.  We need the media to do the heavy lifting and the critical thinking much of this country is unwilling to do itself.  And that means they need to be ready to point out the people, on both sides of the political fence and in all aspects of the media, that seek to do us harm.

True/Slant–Taibblog (11/02/09): Palinoia


Current listening:

Talking heads true stories

Talking Heads – True Stories

Current reading:


Rattawut Lapcharoensap – “At the Café Lovely” (in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2005, ed. by Dave Eggers)

Rise from the Shadows October 23, 2009

Posted by monty in news.
Tags: , ,


The recent deaths of three people in a sweat lodge ceremony in Arizona provides a nice, albeit sad, complement to yesterday’s post about “the greater purpose” behind the death of an 11-year-old boy from inoperable brain cancer.  For those who don’t know the whole story, self-help guru (a title which should make any reasonable person run screaming in the opposite direction) James Arthur Ray ran the ceremony, leading the group in chants and prayers, and breaking the session up into 15-minute “sessions,” when more heated rocks would be brought into the tent.  According to reports, some of the participants began vomiting and collapsing within the first hour of the two-hour ceremony, and Ray, while not physically restraining them, would chide them for their weakness if they tried to leave.  By the time it was all over, two were dead, two dozen others were hospitalized, and one more of them would die within the week.

The real kicker came this morning (on Today, natch) in an interview with one of the survivors.  In a conference call earlier this week between survivors of the sweat lodge and officials from Ray’s self-help organization, one of Ray’s employees said that the two people who died that night “were having so much fun because of an out-of-body experience they chose not to come back into their bodies because they enjoyed where they were more.”

Do I even need to comment on this?  Isn’t the lunacy of that statement self-evident?  Even if I believed in out-of-body experiences (which I don’t), isn’t there something just a little creepy about a shill for James Arthur Ray claiming that these deaths were a conscious choice made by the – I guess – souls of the people in question?

What we really have here is Ray trying feverishly to cover his own ass with as many hands as he can enlist.  The people in the ceremony paid $9,000 a piece to take part in Ray’s five-day retreat, where they chanted and fasted and underwent role-plays where Ray allegedly took on the part of God.  In the pitch-dark sweat lodge ceremony, Ray saw the thing through to its bitter end, even after it became clear that things were, shall we say, not going according to plan.  The police are right to treat this as a homicide, and the fact that Ray’s organization is claiming these two deaths are a sort of supernatural suicide is a cowardly and transparent move to keep their boss out of jail.

But again, the fact that people willingly pay money for this sort of thing makes my head hurt.  I’m not ignorant.  I know the sweat lodge is a long-standing tradition in some Native American cultures.  But that doesn’t make it any less preposterous than exorcisms or speaking in tongues or traveling to Lourdes in the hope of divine intervention.  And what makes it worse is that people fork over their money to people like Ray and Tony Robbins and other self-help charlatans to “program” them or, in Ray’s case, induce these out-of-body experiences through fasting and exposure to extreme heat.

In much the same way that Mikey Czech’s father chalked up his son’s death to God’s “greater purpose,” these people turn over their identities and their health (and their money) to someone else, presumably because they can’t hack it on their own.  I guess it’s just another form of surrender in the face of powerlessness.  I can understand wishing that someone else would take the wheel for a while, but that doesn’t mean you should become disconnected from reality.  And that’s what happened to everyone involved in James Arthur Ray’s sweat lodge – in their hope for a bogus cure for whatever psychological tics ailed them, they gave a snake-oil salesman the right to blame the deceased for a crime that was his, and his alone.

Current listening:

THey might be giants john henry

They Might Be Giants – John Henry

Current reading:


Jessica Anthony – “The Death of Mustango Salvaje” (in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2005, ed. by Dave Eggers)

Let Go of the Dream October 22, 2009

Posted by monty in news, religion, TV.
Tags: , , ,
1 comment so far


For all of its failings as a serious news outlet, NBC’s The Today Show always provides me with at least one daily epiphany.  For instance, last week I realized just how far teenybopper music has fallen if Justin Bieber is now something worth squealing over.  The Beatles?  Of course.  Hanson?  I get it.  Hell, I could even understand – to a certain degree – the fervor over The Backstreet Boys.  But this little neutered homunculus?  Ten-year-old girls in this country really need to raise their standards.

Anyway, I often choose not to write about whatever caught my eye on Today simply because it would be silly for my primary inspiration to be a show that features Al Roker as a serious journalist.  But here’s the funny thing about Today: It does a hell of a good job at being populist – from its bite-sized headlines to its fan-friendly celebrity interviews to its cooking segments to the call-in portion of the show where people can pose their money questions to a battery of economist-type folks – and for that reason it seems to pretty accurately capture the “common man” vibe.

This is never truer than when the show features, almost daily, a kid who fell down a well or got a lawn dart stuck in his head or swallowed a bag of rubber bands.  It’s usually inane fluff, the very worst kind of “human interest” b.s. that epitomizes the non-news I wrote about last week.  But every so often there’ll be a story that gives me pause and makes me think about my life or society or The Big Picture™ or whatever.  Today it was the story of Mikey Czech, an 11-year-old kid who died of a brain tumor.

Sad as that story is, that’s not the thing that caught my eye-ear.  In interviewing the parents about the charitable work they’re doing to find a cure for this particularly deadly type of cancer, the host asked them if their son’s death had in any diminished their faith in God.  The wife was very forthright, stating that they were devout Catholics, but that she was still dealing with a lot of anger.  Her husband, on the other hand, offered up that tried and true Christian platitude that underscores exactly why I could never, not ever ever in a million years, be a good Christian: “It has a greater purpose.”

You’re kidding me, right?  Your son, eleven years old, dies of a tumor at the base of his brain, and it’s somehow comforting to think that God intended his death to be part of some great plan?  That kind of belief system is so foreign to me that I don’t know whether to ridicule it or grudgingly admire it.  To claim that your son’s death was part of God’s plan is to admit that God, at the very least, allowed your son to die.  If you want to take a really cynical perspective (which I’m not; I’m just saying), you could even claim that God caused your son to die.  After all, a plan is preordained, it’s thought out, it’s, well … planned. The components of a plan don’t happen by happenstance.  If it’s part of a plan – or serves a greater purpose, to use the father’s own words – it’s not an accident.

Disagree?  Let’s say I have a plan to, I don’t know, sell the best-tasting lemonade in the history of the universe.  This plan means I have to develop a business model, find a place from which to sell or distribute the lemonade, advertise my product, and, last but not least, actually produce the lemonade.  As part of this plan I find the ideal location for a storefront/manufacturing base.  It’s in an old – but still tenanted – apartment building.  The building would be cheap to buy (the owner’s fallen on hard times, property values have tanked, etc.), and because the neighborhood is just starting to show signs of gentrification, it would be in my best interests to snatch up this place for my new business venture before prices skyrocket.  The landlord needs to sell, I want to buy, and the transaction goes down.  The problem?  Oh, yeah.  There are still people in the apartment building.  Obviously I can’t effectively operate an efficient lemonade business with a bunch of deadbeats taking up the space, so, as their new landlord, I evict them.  I know some of them don’t really have anywhere to go, but why is that my problem?  I’ve got a plan to execute and, let’s face it, the world needs more lemonade and fewer welfare cases.  So some of them find new places to live, some move in with their parents (or their kids), some become homeless.  At least one of the homeless dies from malnutrition.  Bummer, right?  But my plan is humming right along.

I know it’s just a dopey example, but I hope it makes the point that the plan – formulated and enacted by me – caused misery and death.  But guess what?  All the misery and death served a greater purpose.  It allowed me to become a lemonade mogul!  Pretty sweet, eh?  And just think: this is an example of a plan where the misery and death weren’t even intentional parts of my plan.  They were just byproducts.  Happy accidents, if you will.

But okay.  To return to the Czech father’s belief that his son’s death serves a greater purpose, if God is, as advertised, all-powerful, why can’t the plan or the purpose be achieved without the death of a little kid?  Let’s give the Big Guy the benefit of the doubt and assume that the purpose for Mikey Czech’s death (the purpose his father is talking about) is for his parents to become philanthropists and start a foundation dedicated to curing brain cancer.  Surely there’s a better way to convince someone to find a cure for brain cancer than to strike down his son with a painful, inoperative tumor.  Is it churlish of me to point out that if God really wanted a cure for cancer he could just bloody well go ahead and cure it himself any time he wanted to?

I know, I know.  The father is searching for comfort, and he finds it, like many before him, in his faith.  But hearing him write off his son’s death as just a cog in the machine set in motion by the Man in the Clouds made me realize yet again that profound religious belief is simply beyond me.  I can’t subscribe to any belief system that justifies the cruel and painful death of a little kid as just being part of some mysterious plan – or some “greater purpose” – that we’re just supposed to trust exists.  I just can’t do it.

I don’t have – nor have I ever claimed to have – any answers or definitive stance about religion or the existence of God.  I try to have an open mind about it, and if I have any beliefs, they’re more in line with the Deists of the 18th and 19th Centuries (see Locke, Twain, Franklin, Paine, Jefferson, Voltaire, et. al.).  If there’s a God, he’s non-interventionist, the Switzerland of deities.  He got the ball rolling, but after that, things happen according to the laws of nature, and he keeps his all-powerful nose out of it.  Believing that way seems much more realistic to me, for instance, than believing that God killed Mikey Czech and allows Dick Cheney to flourish, or that he’s a big football fan who, according to some athletes, allows one team to score a bunch of touchdowns and trips up the other team behind the line of scrimmage.

In the end, it seems to me that Mikey Czech’s mother has every right to be angry.  I suspect, however, that she’s angry for all the wrong reasons.  My guess is that she’s angry at God for allowing her son to die.  It seems to me, though, that she should be angry at the religious establishment that has allowed (and encouraged) her to believe that prayer works.  I know it’s comforting to think that God’s got our back, but if history teaches us anything, it’s that when the serious shit goes down, we’re on our own.


Current listening:

David ziggy

David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

Back Before We Were Brittle October 21, 2009

Posted by monty in news, politics, TV.
Tags: , , , ,


Whenever someone says he watches Fox News – and says it without a veneer of irony – you know exactly what you’re getting.  It’s actually one of the most revealing things someone can say.  After all, you can admit to liking a crappy movie and still have pretty good taste in cinema, on the whole.  Similarly, you can have affection for a band that you know all the hip kids would ridicule you for, and still feel safe in the knowledge that you’re not a total square.  I have a soft spot for Hugh Grant movies and Elton John, but I also know how much I love the movies of Jim Jarmusch and the music of Radiohead.

But you can pretty much only watch Fox News in one of two ways.  You watch it because you believe it to be true, or you watch it because you just have to see what batshit-crazy things they’re saying today.  Before I go any farther, let me say that I also think this is true, although to a lesser degree, of MSNBC.  I think it’s a bad idea that the news has gotten so politicized that people can safely exist in their own little echo chamber, watching the stories of the day filtered through their own little ideological prism.  Even though I’m much more hip to MSNBC’s vibe, I don’t watch that channel – ever, really – simply because I know I’m going to agree with everything that say.  And while I think that Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann have slightly more journalistic integrity than Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck, I personally think it’s boring to hear my own beliefs parroted back at me.  Some people – Fox viewers, for instance – like that kind of thing.  I don’t.

And that’s why, funnily enough, I’m more qualified to critique Fox than I am MSNBC.  I don’t watch the latter, but I went through a period of just about a year where I watched an awful lot of the former.  Much of this has to do with the fact, and I’ve known this for years, that I’m really only happy when I’m angry about something.  I don’t know why, I can’t explain it, but I’d watch Fox News every evening, through the headlines, through O’Reilly, through Hannity & Colmes, precisely because I liked to feel that anger smoldering away in my chest.  Even though I don’t turn on the channel anymore, I still watch clips of O’Reilly and Hannity and Fox’s gift to comedy, Glenn Beck, when I hear they did or said something worth getting my ire up over.

The purpose of this post isn’t really for me to carp about Fox.  It’s old news, pardon the pun, and nothing I have to say about it will be a revelation to anyone.  But I do want to share a link from the Huffington Post, titled “The Ten Most Egregious Fox News Distortions” (and yes, of course I see the hypocrisy inherent in sharing a link critical of Fox that first appeared on a lefty site like Huffington).  The Right can argue until it’s blue in the face about the “liberal media” or the “left-wing media” or “the commie pinko faggot media,” but it would take a truly brazen neocon to claim with a straight face that the network news channels do anything even remotely close to what Fox has done in these ten examples.

Save this link and share it with your misguided friends when they tell you that they watch Fox News to get “the truth.”  Bullshit.  They watch it to get the truth they want to hear.  And there’s a big difference between the two.

The Huffington Post (10/20/09): The Ten Most Egregious Fox News Distortions


Current listening:

Gemma hayes hollow of morning

Gemma Hayes – The Hollow of Morning

Current reading:


Daniel Alarcón – “Florida” (in The Best American Nonrequired Reading, 2005, ed. by Dave Eggers)

The Edges Are No Longer Parallel October 16, 2009

Posted by monty in news, school, TV.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far


Because television news seems to be doing all it can to contribute to the collective intellectual retardation of this country, stories involving children seem to get an increasing amount of play, especially on the morning shows (I watch Today, because they’re so sassy!).  This isn’t necessarily anything new, as the countless stories of children falling into wells will testify.  But every time I see one of these, I – along with many others, I’m sure – wonder why these stories are considered newsworthy.  I guess they’re human-interest stories, but in terms of importance, they rank right up there with stories of people getting lost while hiking: of minor importance to anyone outside immediate friends and family.  When we could be getting in-depth stories that analyze health care reform or the war in Afghanistan – you know, things of actual importance – we get Balloon Boy instead.

But I get ahead of myself.

This week there were three stories in the news, all involving kids.  Only one of them, I think, is deserving of any kind of national attention, and even that one you have to stretch a little.

Boy In BalloonMost recently, we have Balloon Boy. If you haven’t heard this story, it involves the unfortunately-named Falcon Heene, a six-year-old kid whose parents feared he had taken off in a giant Mylar balloon they were building in their garage.  When authorities finally chased down the balloon 90 miles later – after reaching an altitude of 7,000 feet – they found that Falcon wasn’t in it.  Fears ran high that the boy had fallen out somewhere along the line.  Upon searching further, Falcon was later found at home.  In the attic.  Playing in a box.

In other news, health care reform bill passes Senate committee.

The plot thickened – as it always does – when Falcon later said that he hadn’t come out of the attic when his parents called for him because “you guys said we did this for the show.”  Was this ridiculous non-story a hoax?  Falcon’s father, Richard Heene, vehemently denied it to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer (because of course he’d admit to perpetrating fraud on national television), but the rumor persists.  Other fun facts: Richard Heene and his wife Mayumi were contestants on the 100th episode of TV’s Wife Swap and the elder Heenes also “devote their time to scientific experiments that include looking for extraterrestrials.”

Michael BThe second story is much more tragic, but I’m still not convinced it’s necessarily deserving of all the exposure it’s getting.  In South Florida, 15-year-old Michael Brewer was set on fire by five other teenagers because Brewer supposedly owed one of them $40 for a video game.

As the story goes, the boys poured rubbing alcohol on Brewer and then flicked a lighter at him.  Brewer, now burned on 65% of his body, ran and dove into a swimming pool, but it eventually took a man with a fire extinguisher to completely put out the flames.  The mother of two of the suspects denies they had anything to do with it, which is natural, I suppose.  After all, what mother wants to cop to her kids setting someone on fire?

In some ways I feel bad saying the news shouldn’t be preoccupied with this story.  It’s horrific and very, very sad, but it doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know: that teenagers can be brutal and cruel and thoughtless.  We’ve seen this over and over again, and the only thing that changes is the vehicle of brutality.  From Columbine to the recent beating death of a Chicago teenager to Michael Brewer, there is never a shortage of adolescents doing horrific things to one another.  To treat it as national news is only to be redundant.

tdy_ellis_boy_091014.300wFinally, we have the story of six-year-old Zachary Christie, who was caught at school eating his lunch with a Cub Scout camping utensil that included a spork and a knife.  Under the school’s zero tolerance policy for weapons, Christie was suspended from school and sentenced to 45 days in a local reform school.  That’s right.  If you’ve ever wanted to know what pure evil looks like, just gaze at his photo.

Once this story got national exposure, the outcry was such that Christie’s punishment was diminished to a short suspension from school, and his placement in reform school was eliminated altogether.

Of the three stories described here, Christie’s is the only one that seems to me to be worth reporting.  There are a couple reasons.  The first is the social justice angle.  Any time a news story can bring injustice to light (and cause its prevention) it’s worth reporting.  Zachary’s punishment was obviously extreme, and there’s no telling what would be the future repercussions of this kid being sent to reform school at such a young age.  Reporting this story brought his situation to light and helped get his punishment reversed.

The second angle, from a policy standpoint, is the absolute lunacy of zero tolerance rules.  Any rule that effectively eliminates the context of the infraction is just not a good idea.  This is especially true when you’re dealing with young children, who often don’t fully understand the impact of their actions.  Case in point: I had a Cub Scout pocketknife of my own when I was younger.  I took it to school one day, not with the intention of shanking someone, but just because it was new and, like most little kids, I wanted to keep it with me.  I had it sitting on my desk at one point – with the blade unopened – and my teacher took it away and gave it back to me at the end of the day.  That’s fine.  I get it.  But I had absolutely no inkling that it was in any way bad form to bring the pocketknife to school.  The thought that I could get in trouble for displaying a cool Christmas present in class never even crossed my mind.  Now imagine that my elementary school had had a zero tolerance policy.  Would it be justified to suspend me and send me to reform school when A) there was no malice involved in my actions, and B) I probably wasn’t aware of the rule in the first place?

I’m not sure many people know that, post-Columbine, zero tolerance policies are actually fairly common in schools, especially for weapons, but also for drugs and alcohol.  A story like Zachary’s will, with any luck, clue people into the fact that these policies are out there, and that they’re usually a bad idea.  I understand the desire to keep kids safe, but at some point common sense has to enter the picture.  Imposing a blanket sentence on anyone who breaks a rule – without taking into account that there can be variations in how the rule is broken – is to completely remove the possibility of thoughtful, reasoned judgment from the person imposing the punishment.  It’s only through public pressure that schools will ever amend policies that run counter to intelligent thought, and it’s often only through seeing a story like Zachary’s that the public will ever be aware of what actually goes on in schools.

Television news often gets it wrong – actually, they usually get it wrong – and the fact that they got it right once this week is no reason to celebrate.  .333 might be a great average if you’re a major league ballplayer, but for a professional news organization, it’s downright abysmal.

Bonus footage: Zachary’s story on NBC’s Today:

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Current listening:

Teenage fanclub howdy

Teenage Fanclub – Howdy!