Sunday, July 31, 2011

Obama’s 2012 problem


If Obama hasn’t bought himself a primary fight next year, it’ll only be because the Democrats as a party and an institution are too fucking feckless to dare to give it a go.

I don’t think Obama’s in trouble because of taxing, or spending issues; not because I hate the weak, watered-down version of health care reform that finally squeaked through; not for failing to get us out of Afghanistan, even though our mission there ended long ago; not for any of the thousands of capitulations he’s made to the other side because, like Lincoln, Obama understands that successful politics necessarily demands compromise.

No, I’m going candidate-shopping because of the out-to-lunch way this President has continued to try to reach comity with an opposition that has sworn they are not about to compromise, and have followed through on that oath on every occasion.

It’s easy enough to say the Tea Partiers, by and large, are no fucking rocket scientists. The fact that they want—to paraphrase a well-known Vietnam-era quote—to destroy the country in order to save it proves that.

When they were elected, I had very little doubt they’d follow through on their campaign pledges and go to Washington and deliberately fuck everything up. They had nothing to lose; a couple months before they were homemakers and dentists and gas station attendants. Their worst-case scenario is they get two years of living in Washington DC being feted by their admirers, lose the next election and go home with U.S. Congressperson on their resumé.

However, when your only purpose in becoming an elected representative is to destroy the institution to which you’ve just been elected, you are not being helpful. Bless their hearts, though, most of the freshman Tea Party class are not thoughtful enough to understand that. All they know is that they’re winning and it feels good.

Their entire platform boils down to decrying government hand-outs, despite the fact that the clutching hands are frequently theirs—or their constituents’—and the hand-out is their monthly Social Security check or Medicaid subsidy. If a person doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to put those two facts together and see that ending one would necessarily end the other, I cannot in good conscience hold them to a normal standard of accounting. The “special” kids always get a pass.

But Obama? He’s a smart feller. He’s traveled the world, taught at Harvard and won a Presidential election—which would not be that impressive an accomplishment considering the other option at the time, but I give him major points for besting Hillary in the primaries. That shit was intense.

So no, Barack Obama doesn’t get a pass.

And for the life of me, I don’t see a grand master scheme behind him slashing entitlements to the bone to reach a compromise with an opposition that has promised not to compromise, has never compromised and is ready to go back to selling used cars in Paducah before they compromise.

If only politics wasn’t known as “the art of compromise.”

On paper, the Tea Party’s unified, unwavering adherence to their common goal—after winning election—is admittedly admirable. Practically unheard-of!

Unfortunately, in practice, it’s making us the laughing stock of the world, is close to bankrupting us and according to every pundit I’ve heard—even on Fox—has already guaranteed a downgrade in the country’s credit rating, whether or not Congress pulls some kind of hellish, diseased rabbit out of its hat at the last minute.

Obama should have quit throwing everything the Left holds dear under the bus a long time ago and gotten serious. The Tea Party is holding the country hostage, and he’s dithering over what kind of get-away car to provide for them.

He’s climbed onto the bully pulpit numerous times during this process, comandeering prime-time TV airtime, and was so modulated, sensible and restrained that nobody even noticed. He’s exercising emotional restraint at a time that desperately calls for passion, it’s what is propelling his political opponents.

Instead, he’s bringing a slingshot to a showdown with an intransigent, dug-in opponent armed with suitcase nukes-grade ignorance of the Process. His compromise argument—with the Tea Party crowd—has all the potency of a Hansens Kiwi Strawberry fruit drink.

It’s a major tactical fuck-up, and makes me wonder about some of his other decisions as President.

In the end, he may just be too much of a professor and not enough of a street brawler.

Or maybe he simply can’t bring himself to believe that America has come to this point, where a small but vocal minority with half-formed, ill-advised and counter-intuitive ideas are successfully steering the entire political direction of the country, and has thrown in the towel.

Either way, I am so disappointed with Obama’s unfathomable denseness in insisting to try to compromise with people who have repeatedly told him flat-out they are never going to compromise, that if a candidate comes along who matches W’s swagger with Clinton’s wonkiness and grasp of the game of politics, I will give that person a very serious look, party affiliation notwithstanding.

Well, except for a Tea Party candidate. I, myself, am not willing to destroy the country in order to save it, nor do I believe it is necessary or advisable.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Rearranging deck chairs, one day at a time


This has been a shitty year.

For almost everybody I know, not just me. It’s been the first time in my nearly half a century that the “economic downturns” I hear about on the news have affected me and my peers personally.

It’s all the goddamned internet’s fault.

I was a newspaperman. I had business cards that said “Newspaperman” as job title. Newspapers have been around for centuries. When I started in the field, I’m sure the tiny part of my brain that wasn’t working on where my next line of speed was going to come from, assumed Newspapering would be a job I could ride all the way to retirement. Generation upon generation before me had.

For a while, I even played with the idea of buying a struggling weekly somewhere and getting it back on its feet. I had observed my publisher and his lifestyle through the ’90s and came to the reasonable conclusion that his was a pleasant existence, with enough money and respect of the community to go around.

Instead, now I have a part-time production job that was cut from full-time, six days into this fabulous year. I have to either scramble for the freelance work I hate, or feel like a dick because that’s what I ought to be doing but am not.

And my misspent youth? Coming back to haunt me big-time in the medical arena.

Stay away from drugs, kids. Keed spills.

Even my high-achieving friends are finding their careers termed-out by the Communications Revolution. Their business is not mine to share, but even non-druggie, college-educated friends and acquaintances are finding their backs against the wall.

How shitty a year? My Mom, the most iron-willed person I’ve ever known, succumbed to depression and had to go on meds for a while.

And every indicator, from the asinine squabbling over the budget in Washington to the shrinking page count of the Idaho Statesman, points to continued hard times in the days to come.

The very worst part is, I look at my beautiful son, so full of life and love and promise, and absolutely dread what the world is going to put him through. He wasn’t lucky enough to be born into the right family, one with all the money and influence in the world. He’s not going to be protected when the shit really hits the fan.

He will be as prepared as I can make him, but being admittedly unable to foresee the pitfalls of the future that awaits him, I am necessarily going to fall far short of the mark and he will bear the consequences of my failure.

Meanwhile, we’re rearranging deck chairs. The Best Man is coming to visit this weekend. I’m going to see a movie this afternoon with my Idaho Friend. Next week, a stranger is going to put a garden hose with a camera on the end of it into my butt and take a bunch of pictures, see if I got any cancer going on down there. (Up there?)

And The Boy is taking swimming classes.

We went back to the same young lady with a pool in her back yard he worked with last summer. He started the week about exactly where he’d left off last year—timid and over-cautious—but by Thursday, he was doing everything the instructor was telling him to. He picked up in one week what it took two weeks last summer to fail to accomplish. (Well, he’s still working on back floats and jumping into the pool, but I’m pretty confident now that he’ll have those down by the time his classes end next week.)

As we left class yesterday, the instructor already had the next group of kids in the pool and was working with them. We walked past and he said, “Bye.” She glanced up and offered a polite “bye bye” in return. We walked another couple of steps and he turned around and blew her a kiss, a big one. She giggled and said something like “see you tomorrow!” A couple more steps and he turned around and told her, “I love you!”

This genuinely took her by surprise. After a short pause, she replied in kind. She was smiling from ear to ear.

That’s just the kind of kid he is. He deserves a better, more secure world and we have not only failed to provide it for him, we haven’t even bothered to begin laying the groundwork.

And that’s why I’m still here, arranging deck chairs.

The assholes who run the world—the governments and financial behemoths—aren’t going to give a no-name, un-wealthy kid like him the time of day. It’s up to The Missus and me to prepare him for the rough road ahead, and for today, that is enough to make this former Newspaperman keep next week’s appointment with the butt doctor.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why America is short on heroes


Here’s just the latest example, torn from this morning’s headlines: 9/11 responders will not get coverage for cancer.

The 9/11 First Responder Program’s administrator has crunched the numbers, and somehow come to the counter-intuitive conclusion that the unusually high number of an unusually wide variety of cancers among 9/11 responders doesn’t quite tippytoe past the threshold of illnesses the 9/11 First Responders Bill is required to ante up for.

According to the CBS news story on the denial of health care coverage, “There is inadequate ‘published scientific and medical findings’ that a causal link exists between September 11 exposures and the occurrence of cancer in responders and survivors, program Administrator John Howard said in a statement.”

It’s the exact kind of slippery, slimy loophole that tight-fisted bastards have always exploited to keep from having to part with one cent more than they absolutely have to.

In case you’ve forgotten, the Bill itself was even controversial when Obama signed it into law. He had to battle stiff GOP opposition to even pass the son of a bitch. Why, because the GOP hates America?

No. The GOP does not hate America.

A majority of them, however, appear to like their money even more.

At the time of their principled opposition to the 9/11 Responders Bill, they swore they’d love to help the heroes of 9/11—the brave men and women we rallied around in those darkest of days following the attacks—but couldn’t, because it would necessarily create “a massive new entitlement program, expose taxpayers to increased litigation and is ‘paid for’ with tax increases…”

Oh, rich people, is there nothing you love more than your own money?

Saying disproportionately high numbers of 9/11 responders are now succumbing to cancer and not giving them the fucking benefit of the doubt is a shitty thing to do, no matter how you look at it... Except if you look at it fiscally. Financially, it makes a hell of a lot more more sense to let the damned responders pay for their own oncology specialists and not force us to part with any of our lovely cash.

They ran for office, many of the current crop of Congressmen and Senators did, on the backs of the attacks, and by extension the first responders. And as soon as they got to town, they got busy with their real work of pinching pennies until poor people bled. If a war or two comes along, put ’em on the credit card and let the next guy down the line figure it out. He’ll probably be a Democrat anyhow, it’ll be easy to dust-off the old ‘tax and spend’ bromides when he does something financially reckless—like insist on helping the American heroes of 9/11 with the medical bills they most likely incurred by running into buildings that others were fleeing.

Oh, it’ll be such great sport!

It takes years and years to document cancer clusters, years and years the program’s administration will drag out playing silly word games with the press and the courts, and which the heroes will spend dying slowly and plunging their families into crushing personal debt for generations.

Yes, taxpayer, you may rest assured that with the way the system is currently being run, nobody but the people who helped us through 9/11, and their families, will ultimately be required to sacrifice anything.

God bless John Howard and his fellow dedicated patriots who are keeping our wallets safe from the heroes of 9/11! May their financial portfolios swell in direct proportion to the number of victims their fiscal austerity produces.

Nope, they’re just not making American heroes the way they used to, and the old ones… well, they’re dying off.

Young.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

I met Steve Martin at a laundromat in Boise, Idaho…


Of course, that is a re-tooled Steve Martin joke from back when he was selling out arenas with his stand-up comedy act.

These days, he’s playing ad-hoc outdoor venues in the hinterlands with his Bluegrass outfit. (Picture above courtesy of the amazing photo technology of the G3 iPhone—thanks, Apple!)

Lucky for me, I call The Hinterlands home these days.

[Sidebar: In case you’re not familiar with Bluegrass, it’s like country jazz: It’s played with traditional country/western instruments, but it’s real fast, you can’t follow what’s going on melodically and you shake your head that mere mortals are capable of producing such a magnificent sound and fury. Also, like jazz, there are not a lot of strong hooks for one to hang one’s cowboy hat on, just stunning musical virtuosity on display.]

So we packed up The Boy for his first grown-up concert last night and drove another 15 miles deeper into the wilderness.

The venue’s location was brilliantly chosen, at the end of a long, winding, one-lane road, choked with a line of idling cars that was being passed by old people in walkers so fast they were hardly more than a blur.

After sneakily circumventing about the second half of the inexorable line of cars (we are from L.A., after all), we made it into the concert just as the band was hitting the stage.

The venue itself was an open field, with what looked like a stage the band brought with them, and rows and rows of folding chairs with less leg room than the cheapest economy seat on the smallest commercial airplane. When I had to leave to go get a drink, I drew lots of unhappy vibes from my row-mates, and some open hostility on my way back. I told one particularly pissy older woman, “Hey, I didn’t lay the place out!”

But the homemade environs aside, we had come to see Steve Martin, and there he was onstage, in his trademark white suit, wearing a banjo.

The concert that followed was about 65% music to 35% stand-up, as Martin filled in the dead air whenever the band stopped to tweak their tuning, which was frequently.

When he introduced the band, The Steep Canyon Rangers, he explained they were already a band long before he came along. “They’re not so much my band, as I am their celebrity.”

The night was full of memorable quips I no longer recall, but since I never caught him in comedy heyday, this was closer than I ever thought I’d get. When The Missus wakes up, I’ll have her remind me of a few and I’ll add them in and delete this sentence.

Equally impressive (to me, because I came for the jokes) was the fact that Martin wrote all the songs but one in the two-hour program, the venerable “Orange Blossom Special.” And only a couple of the tunes were what I would describe as comedy or novelty numbers, mainly “Atheists Ain’t Got No Songs,” a gentle, hilarious send-up of gospel music.

As expected, there were not a lot of catchy melodies to be had, but the songs were short enough and the between-song patter snappy enough, that even The Boy didn’t begin to flag until about 90 minutes into the show.

Early in the first set, Martin apologized for not having any “big hits” to play, before wondering aloud just what the hell we had come out for, anyway. Then he mentioned that, well, he did have one hit, and when the audience began to stir, he mumbled that yes, they’d play that too.

True to his word, he and the Rangers sent the crowd back to traffic gridlock with a Bluegrass version of “King Tut,” which lost very little in its translation to Hillbilly, and which I present at bottom, also courtesy of my last-gen iPhone’s prehistoric video technology.

All in all, some day we will remind The Boy that his first real concert was Steve Martin, and in Boise Idaho in 2011, he could have done a lot worse.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Captain A-meh-rica, the movie review


Man, did I want to love this movie. It could have been amazing.

Who knows? Maybe my fanboy expectations could never have been fully met.

And it’s not a bad movie. Hell, it might even be a good date movie; the slab of beefcake they have playing the title character is mighty easy on the eyes. And frequently shirtless and oiled-up.

And I bought him as Captain America, but I bought him as a very boring Captain America. Which is strange, because the same actor, Chris Evans, was probably the best thing about the Fantastic Four movies, where he played the Human Torch with a lusty, light-hearted brio.

Other than a perfunctory framing device, the whole deal takes place in Nazi Germany during WWII. The bad guy from The Matrix, Hugo Weaving, plays the Red Skull, but also failed to make much of an impression, beyond his make-up.

When I think back about the movie, the first word that comes to mind is brown. I’m really glad we didn’t see it in 3D. Maybe they were going for a faux sepia, but why not just do it in black & white, like Schindler’s List?

Because this is no Schindler’s List. This is an extended trailer for next summer’s Avengers. There is an actual trailer attached to the end of this film, and it’s telling about what’s wrong with this film: Robert Downey Jr. appears for two seconds on screen and delivers a line and you realize, that’s was missing. An interesting central character.

Downey’s Tony Stark also disproves the argument that interesting good guys are impossible to write, which was what I was telling myself during the film as the disappointment was setting in.

Hell, I even wrote a Captain America screenplay myself about 10 years ago, and although it needs trimming, I still like the story better than this one. I open with a framing sequence set in WWII, then move directly to the actual fim’s last scene… then my movie begins in earnest. Basically, I dispatch in fifteen pages what this film spends two hours dragging out, and as a writer, I am not known for my brevity.

Anyhow, the best parts of the film were the pre-becoming-Captain-America sequences, featuring a digitally skinnified Chris Evans, and the present-day set-piece late in the film. In between, the lead actor fails to catch fire (bad pun intended), the action scenes feel stuffed and bloated and are occasionally hard to see clearly and the romance storyline never goes anywhere.

Still though, Captain America—The First Avenger is a pleasant enough summer diversion and achieves all its ambitions, modest as they are: shit blows up real good, quip lines are exchanged faithfully and the Avengers’ franchise fuse is successfully, officially lit.

But this movie is not the epic it could have been, shoulda been. It’s just a really good comic book movie.

I was hoping, given the rich subject matter, for something a little more substantive, more ambitious.

Curse you, Dark Knight! You’ve spoiled another superhero movie for me.

Peckish and Prickish


I failed as a parent last night.

I let my temper get the better of me, and instead of talking The Boy down to a reasonable place, I made the classic parental mistake of getting pissed and deliberately exacerbating an already unpleasant situation.

This my not actually be a “classic” parenting fail, but it was in our house when I was growing up, and I swore to myself I wouldn’t do the same thing in a similar situation. Yet there I was last night, eye-to-eye with my intractable 5-year-old, saying shit just to needle him, knowing it wasn’t doing anything at all to advance the resolution of The Great Ravioli Crisis of 2011.

And as a direct result of my failing to hold my shit more fully together, he went to bed without dinner for the first time in his life last night. After an exhausting 2+ hours of alternating tearful, grudgingly-reasonable and plain histrionic verbal sparring.

I know on paper I did the right thing—or so people have assured me—and I frankly don’t think he would have eaten the ravioli last night even if I had kept it 100% together. Every time he comes back from a trip to visit his Grandparents, he comes home peckish, and this time he’s been… peckish for longer than usual.

Earlier in the day, we had a 45-minute delay on the way to the pool because he would not stand still and allow sunblock to be applied—a skill he’s demonstrated mastery of as recently as a couple days ago—without writhing and screaming in imaginary pain.

Peckish. And I got irritated with him during The Sunblock Incident too, exacerbating it and contributing to the delay.

The way I see it, one of us needs to remain consistently reasonable. And as I am literally ten times older than he is, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the adult in the room ought to be me.

Anyhow, he was fine this morning. I’d been feeling like Joseph Mengele all night, but he didn’t bring it up and I was only too happy to let it slide until the next time. 

The Missus just came in and reassured me that I had done fine last night, then added, “…except maybe when you walked by his bedroom and yelled to me in the kitchen, ‘Yeah, some ice cream sounds GREAT!’”

Ugh. What a prick. I sure hope he sees me as a cautionary tale and not a role model; that’s what we have sports athletes for.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Plantman the Terrible

The Boy’s preschool class had a project recently that involved growing a plant from a seed. He got assigned Basil. Wow!

It wouldn’t be worth mentioning if it wasn’t for the progress-chart he was mandated to fill in. I can’t pass it in the hall without breaking out in giggles.


The day he brought the finished project home—the remains of the plant and all the attendant paperwork—he explained his plant “didn’t grow very well,” but that did not keep him from posing with his victim:


Clearly, The Boy inherited his green thumb from The Incredible Hulk, not his grandmother.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Empire or ashes?


I try not to write about stuff I don’t understand. For some reason, I always seem to take a lot of flak for it when I do.

Chief among the things I don’t understand is finance. Money.

Math.

Debt.

Taxes!

But I always thought I understood people—as a herd—pretty well. Like, the herd might get spooked by thunder and stampede, but American herds always had a way of not running themselves off a cliff in their blind panic.

For over 200 years now, against the odds, we’ve run our little corner of God’s paradise without self-destructing. That is no mean feat.

Ancient empires ran for thousands of years, but then, they did not have Twitter. In the modern era, a good dictator is lucky to get 30, 40 years tops, before old age takes him in his sleep or the creeps in the street throw him to the wolves, and the empire goes the way of the emperor.

So, 200 years? Good job, America!

Okay, you were a bit of a douchebag the first hundred years or so, granted. Human slavery turned out to be, historically-speaking, more than a bit of an embarrassment. Nor did you do yourself any favors when you continued to keep your former slaves under your thumb with Black Codes and Race Laws and segregation for another hundred years, but you’re finally showing some belated signs of progress.

Kudos.

Oh yeah. And the Native Americans thing. Also pretty uncool, but an empire is not empire if it does not spread to fill up all the adjacent land for which it finds it has a fancy.

Bygones.

But now you’re more than 200 years old. A spring chicken by European standards, but in terms of modern empires?

You’re beginning to show signs of wear and tear. You’re growing old, ill-tempered and insular. If you’re not careful, you’re going to find your estate executors (in this case, China) shipping you off to the Old Empires Home and forgetting abut you except on birthdays and Christmas.

How ill-tempered and insular? You’ve stopped talking to the rest of the family. A common early symptom of encroaching dementia.

You’re ass-deep in financial trouble that, as I have already stated, I don’t actually understand, but instead of hashing out a workable solution, half of you won’t even talk to the other half.

Remember Abraham Lincoln? The man who saved the Union? Our first GOP president? Who said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand?”

When half the country refuses to talk to the other half, that is the textbook definition of a house divided against itself. We’re heading toward the brink of predicted financial calamity—particularly if you’re a soldier or a senior getting by on Social Security, both of which I have in my family—because the Right is so rigid in its orthodoxy to even allow the subject of taxes to be raised.

That’s the crux of everything, taxes. The people who don’t want to pay more have joined with the people who don’t to pay any, and have become a power political force. So powerful that politicians in Washington are doing really smug, stupid things in the face of looming disaster (hello, Eric Cantor, you preening ass!).

Eric Cantor, Number Two Republican in the House of Representatives, is acting like he’s Noah, except it’s raining hard but he won’t let any of the animals board until he’s figured out the seating chart to his satisfaction. Drowned bunnies are floating by his cabin window while he checks his thesaurus for different ways to say “tyranny.”

He’s Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

Rome. Another empire that grew too cocky and is no longer with us.

Is it our turn?

The anti-tax base, including newly-elected Tea Party-supported Congressmen, are playing chicken with our geriatric experiment in Democracy.

Even the GOP head of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, has devised a work-around that avoids the debt crisis, washes the Republicans’ hands of all responsibility and explicitly leaves Obama holding the bag if things goes even more south… what’s not to love? It’s actually quite brilliant, as a financial quick-fix and a political calculation, but the Tea Partiers won’t touch it, because it does not definitively rule out future tax hikes.

Remember when patriotism used to define our country, like World War Two? Or afterwards, when we were the Rebuilder Of The World, and their unofficial Top Cop? Remember when we kept the USSR in line (until their empire crumbled) with barely a life being lost, James Bond films aside?

We’re not that country right now. Right now we’re the country that is ready, willing and able to risk everything we’ve worked so long to keep together… in order to hang on to more money.

“Wait a minute!” you cry. “This country was founded on a revolt to taxation without representation!”

Indeed, taxation without representation was paramount among the causes of the American Revolution.

But what we have today is not taxation without representation. We have representatives up the kazoo.

No, people are just stingy. Times are tight, so they’re happy to sit on their porch at sunset, drinking their bitters, and watch Sherman’s army march to the sea as long as their mattresses inside are stuffed with dollar bills.

That is not the America of the founders. Or the soldiers on either side of the war between the states. Or the race to the moon, or storming the beach at Normandy…

That is an America in decline.

It is one thing to risk one’s political future on a principled stand. Some of our best statesman have done so, and not coincidentally, have gone on to be remembered as having been the best among us.

Rebelling against taxation without representation is an example of the defense of a principle that was both honorable and necessary.

Rebelling against taxation with abundant representation, however, does not fall within the realm of lofty ideals.

It falls under the category of short-sighted stinginess.

Like I said at the onset, I know nothing about money issues. But I do know quite a bit about empires historically, and America is following the classic journey to oblivion.

We’ve done this once before, and Lincoln was just barely able to hold us together.

I’m not convinced we have a statesman of his caliber to pull our asses out of the fire this time. Lincoln was famous for consulting with, even elevating his opponents to positions of great power within his administration.

Compare that to today’s GOP leaders, especially in the House.

This is not a recipe for success.

You know, I’ll bet better than 50% of the anti-taxation people identify themselves as Christians, ie; people who are trying to follow the example of Christ in their day-to-day lives.

Jesus never went on record about other hot-button issues like abortion or gun control, be He actually expressed an opinion about taxes! Not many, just one, and then only when prompted by a questioner, who asked what he should do about the taxes he was being forced to pay. You can find Christ’s answer in the authorized Good Book, Matthew 22:20-22 KJ

So what would Jesus do? He showed the questioner a gold coin and asked, “Whose face do you see on this?” They replied, “Caesar’s.”

And Jesus replied, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.”

Jesus said to pay your damn taxes. Do you need a house to drop on you, too? Then your sister will have both broomsticks!

When did the Christian God stop being the God of compassion? Does not a single self-proclaimed “values-voter” remember the Sermon on the Mount? Blessed are the merciful, the peace-makers, the meek—everything they’re not being.

In the end, you got your death, and you got your taxes. It’s perfectly reasonable—sane, even—to take every precaution one can about both. To forestall the former and limit the latter.

But there is a grand American tradition—or so we like to tell ourselves—of America squaring its shoulders and doing the right thing, even when it was hard. Especially in hard times.

The Americans who actually embodied those ideals, now long-since deceased, wouldn’t recognize this current conversation.

It’s beneath us because dammit, we’re suppose to be better than this.

Right now, America is one divided house, teetering on the brink. The debt ceiling embroglio is just the most obvious, critical symptom. How it is resolved will be an important bellwether as to what is to come.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

As long as I’m loving on Sinead…

...and bitching about addict behavior, here’s a song that incorporates both themes.

I don’t know who did what to piss Sinead off, but I’m glad it wasn’t me.

And I love that, in addition to all the lovely lullabies she writes and sings, when she’s been wronged, she can still pull something as direct and literal and angry as this out of her ass and make it work as both beautiful music and a righteous rant of condemnation.

As always, many props to Sinead for continuing to tell it like it is.

Only drugs can cure a broken heart

The Missus and The Boy have been in SoCal for a week now.

I’ve gotten a lot of writing done, but the dog has gone completely to pieces.

At first it was funny, but as the days ticked by and Mommy did not return, he’s taking on more and more aspects of a junkie going through withdrawal.

Sidebar: Which brings up my favorite unanswered question about addiction. I believe as a retired junkie and a drunk myself, I am allowed to discuss my own peeps...

What’s the difference between being in love with a woman who’s bad for you and addicted to a drug that’s good for you? Which is bad and which is good? Are lovers addicted to each other? If you describe new love clinically, you might as well be describing two people strung out on crack. I think the word “addiction” isn’t a diagnosis, it’s a value judgment. Depending on what one is addicted to, one is either a hero (Superman: addicted to enforcing truth, justice and the American Way) or a villain (Jeff Dahmer, addicted to eating young human boys).

It’s for this reason I think calling addiction a “disease” is a slight to people with proper diseases, which by definition is shit that jumps up and gets you, not something you repeatedly do to yourself even though you know—every time you do it—it’s killing you. If your “disease” involves you voluntarily lifting that bottle to your lips or lowering your nose to the grindstone, what you have is more accurately categorized as a mental illness, like depression; not a disease, like cancer.

We don’t do addicts any favors by mis-casting them as victims. Victims aren’t expected to pick themselves up by the seat of their pants and take responsibility for their misfortunes, but addicts absolutely have to.

Anyway, another blog for another day.

The dog, Jake, has lost his shit completely. It’s just like he’s withdrawing from a drug (in this case, The Missus, to whom he is singularly devoted). The first couple days he was confused and disoriented and planted himself as close to on top of me as he possibly could.


Then he developed a limp, I kid you not. I’m convinced it’s 100% psychosomatic.

When that failed to produce his mistress, he began to sit in her office and groan, piteously and repeatedly. I eventually moved his bed in there, but he ended up treating my effort like it was a violation of his special relationship with The Missus. He hasn’t been back in there since I took this picture:


I’m at the point now where I’m keeping him away from sharp objects. He’s jittery, twitchy, scared—just altogether worthless. He doesn’t even eat until he’s almost too weak from hunger to drag himself to his bowl.

Tonight was the last night before the key family members return and I ran out of patience. He was limping around, jumping at every sound and looking at me with the eyes of Methuselah, not eating his food… I grabbed one of the Doggie Downers we’d been given a while ago when we had to board him and dropped it down his gullet.

About an hour later I realized I wasn’t tripping over his mopey, dopey ass every couple of minutes, and went to go check on him:


That was about six hours ago, now. He’s gotten up in the last half hour, eaten his dinner, came in for a rambunctious cuddle and is now wreaking havoc on his giant polystyrene bone. I think I pulled him out of his steep decline, at least long enough for The Missus to return home tonight and set his world aright.

No question about it, he’s got it bad. We need to get him to a meeting and have him start working his steps, pronto. Please leave your contact information in the comments if you’re interested in being his sponsor.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sinead O'Connor writes Bob Dylan a mash note

On the occasion of his recent birthday, re-posted from sineadoconnor.com:


Dear Zimmy

It’s your gorgeous birthday next week. You’re three years younger than my father (whom I hope never reads this!). That’s a bit of a head-wrecker.

It is a fact that I wish to high heaven that my father’s father had met my mother’s whatever-it-is earlier. Then I would have been old enough to tell you all this in a more delicious setting. My beloved brother Joseph, who introduced me to you, passed an invitation to me from the Mail to write something about you because next Tuesday is your birthday.

I said, ‘But I’m a moron! What will I say?’ He said, ‘You could make it like a letter to Bob. To say the oul’ happy birthday’.

So... Bobby, or R.J or Ray, or Anything...Here is my birthday little thing for you.

Next week when everyone is writing and talking and thinking about your birthday, they’re all gonna go on about the usual stuff.

‘Prophet’.

Blah blah.

‘Voice of a generation.’

Blah blah. Blah blah. Blah blah.

All true I’m sure... But no one ever says: ‘Holy Mother of God! That Dylan fellow is an extremely adjectival sexy adjectival m.a.n. so he is for himself!’

It’s about time all the ladies, and I mean ALL the ladies, need to tell everyone exactly where it’s at concerning the deliciousness of Robert Zimmerman.

Drop. Dead. Gorge. Us.

Yes, sir! THE sexiest man that ever stalked the face of this earth.

‘Tis lucky for you, boyo, that you’re away over there in America. Sure there’s barely a woman in the universe who could keep her mitts off you! Thanks be to God that flights are not cheap here in Ireland or you’d be wise to run. And also to follow Ghaddafi’s example by employing fake Bob Dylans, so no-one will know which one is actually you. Incidentally, should you decide you want to follow Ghaddafi’s example by employing all-female body guards, I hope you will consider me. Please don’t ask for a reference though. I wouldn’t come up looking very good.

I once worked with a lady who’d once worked with you. She said you’re just crazy about the ladies. I took her in my arms and danced with delight. Hurray!

This means I’m not the only person on earth who thinks you’re a ride. Despite your main feature being sexeliciousness, you’re also not a bad oul’ sayer of songs. And by the way, there’s something the 13-year-old me wants to say to you: Thank you for making Christian music sexy. Poor God. Until you made Slow Train Coming, he was suicidal. From listening to terrible religious music.

I mean, have you ever seen Irish dancing? It’s the un-sexiest thing one could see. We only dance from the knee down. Keeping everything else tight as a board. Arms stiff at our sides. For fear we might slip into the world of sensuality.

People say, and I hope it’s not so, that you didn’t ‘stand by’ Slow Train Coming. I don’t know what they mean exactly. And I don’t even care. Either way you could never have known what it was like in Ireland before that album tore down the walls which separated God and sex. You couldn’t have known the effect the record would have. And that’s appropriate. Why should you know?

I was 13 the year it came out. Joe, my brother, brought it home.

I was just beginning to wonder what kind of person I wanted to be. And what kind of woman I wanted to be. And what kind of artist I wanted to be. There weren’t many options open to a female like me. I would either die or go to jail if I continued along the path that was given me.

But when I heard you singing those songs on Slow Train Coming, and when I saw the drawing of the train on the sleeve, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

So Rabbi, from you I know I gotta serve somebody. I know I’m a precious angel. I know God believes in me. I know I’m gonna change my way of thinking. I know I’m gonna make myself a different set of rules. I know I’m gonna put my best foot forward, stop being influenced by fools.

I saw you at Slane when I was like 16. I couldn’t believe I would actually see you in the flesh. I had a boyfriend at the time. Only reason we were together was we were both obsessed with you. Sadly we never did really anything but talk about you! Of course I could never have dreamed of telling him you were way sexier than him. Am I bad? I certainly hope so.

Santana played before you. When you came on you had on Oompa Loompa orange make-up. So it wasn’t only musically or spritually that you were ahead of your time. You foresaw fake tan! And the dreaded RTE make-up department. [C’mon, Ryan, man, let’s just come out and admit it, they’ve not been the Mae West over the years. Though I do grant you they’re not as woeful as TV3 - I’m forever tweeting Vincent Browne’s show over the make-up. They have him looking like Bob at Slane.]

I think you also had on loads of black khol eyeliner. Very strange sight. Gorgeous nonetheless, obviously. But strange.

Then I briefly actually met you twice. Backstage at two festivals, there were loads of us playing. I must have seduced your manager with sexual bribes, I can’t remember, but there I was in your dressing room. Just you and your tour manager.

You asked would I like a drink. I said yes, and though I can’t stomach alcohol I sipped away and pretended I wasn’t supressing the desire to let you have a look at what I ate for lunch. You did a lot of pacing up and down. I remember thinking ‘Holy mother of the divine lord Krishna, who could perform after drinking this?’

The third and final time our paths crossed was on that infamous evening at your tribute concert in Madison Square Garden, an evening which heaved with consequence. In the week or so before that show I had done an incendiary acapella version of a Bob Marley (the other ‘Bob’) song called War on Saturday Night Live. I changed some words and made it about child abuse instead of racism. And at the end of the song I tore up a picture of the then Pope, JP2. No smirking please, Bob - when mentioning ‘the incident’ one must always look very serious.

Then, soon after that, I went shopping to find an outfit for your upcoming show. The decision I made was so wrong - a turquoise jacket and skirt suit which should have been worn by a very old woman...and with a hideous gold thing on the jacket. Unforgiveable. I look at the footage of the show now and I am appalled. What was I thinking? Perhaps I should have slipped you a note before the show, explaining ‘the incident’ to you, but in the terror of my image in my dressing room mirror I guess I forgot.

So I walked on stage that night and half the audience cheered and the other half booed. Was it the Saturday Night Live fallout or had I just totally made the wrong wardrobe choice?

Seriously though, backstage afterwards, you looked at me confused as if to ask me what I had done to upset people so much. Instead of singing I Believe in You, as planned, I had screamed out the Bob Marley song instead. But it felt appropriate for me to scream while I had the chance. And I knew, if you understood, you wouldn’t mind that I used the stage you gave me to stand for the God you also gave me. I hope your questions from that night have since been answered for you by the various revelations concerning the spiritual condition of the catholic church. In God’s wide world. If I had simply sung I Believe in You that night my voice would have been drowned in the noise of the opposing spiritual forces in the room.

I had to do what I did in Madison Square Garden. Even if it meant being treated like a mental case for years after.

The God I believed in was the one you brought off the pages of scriptures into my life. Not the one those bored black-and-white-wearing priests droned on about whilst flicking bits of dust off their altars in the middle of the consecration of the Host.

Even if they showed me to the door. And said don’t come back no more cuz I didn’t be like they’d like me to. Even if I walked out on my own. A thousand miles from home, I didn’t feel alone. Cuz I believe in you.

I believe in you, even through the tears and the laughter. I believe in you even though we be apart. I believe in you even on the morning after. Though the earth may shake me, though my friends forsake me, this feeling’s still here in my heart.

Don’t let me stray too far. Keep me where you are. So I will always be renewed. And Lord, what you’ve given me today is worth more than I could pay. And no matter what they say, I believe in you...

But, I digress, Bob. I only meant to tell you you’re gorgeous. So have seventy kisses for yourself on Tuesday.

—Sinead

Consider my mind blown

I just received the first phone call in my life from The Boy. You could have scooped me up with a spatula!

Thanks, Pops...

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Taking a mountain out of a mole hole:

Monday, July 04, 2011

HWCACID?

or: How would Captain America celebrate Independence Day?

Saturday, July 02, 2011

This 4th of July, this land is everybody's land

Woke up this morning to several dozen emails from YouTube, containing comments on a single video I uploaded forever ago. That’s several dozen more comments than all my videos combined usually generate on a good week. Something was up.

It seems Billy Ray Cyrus has placed an upload of mine on his Fourth of July Playlist, Johnny Cash sings “This Land Is Your Land.”

Obviously, I was flattered, despite not being a Billy Ray Cyrus fan, per se. “Achy-Breaky Heart” was the first song they taught us on the first day of Guitar 101 a few years ago, but I think that was more for its familiarity and very simple two-chord structure. Still, if you asked me to, I could whip it for you on demand, it’s just that easy.

Anyhow, a lot of the new commenters have beefs to pick with Cash for two reasons: One, ‘our’ land was originally somebody else’s, a race we casually herded into camps and slaughtered on the plains, and b) In the clip, Cash ultimately melds Woody Guthrie’s protest song about taking responsibility for our own actions with Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” tear-jerking, patriotic swill of the first order.

[Sidebar: Ordinarily I don’t moderate comments much. I’m open to people who disagree with me, but I’m not about to let my little online Johnny Cash shrine become just another nasty place on the web where people say hateful shit. If you can’t disagree without being disagreeable, I will delete you.]

Anyhow, there’s too many comments for me to answer them all individually, so I’ll answer them here and maybe provide a link.

First, the clip in question:



I’ll start with the second complaint, because it’s the more interesting one.

I don’t know what was on Cash and co-writer Merle Kilgore’s minds when they wrote the piece above, and they’re not around to ask anymore. Well, Cash isn’t.

And I’m willing to bet that Cash and Kilgore didn’t have any idea that Guthrie is alleged to have written “This Land Is Your Land” as a response to “God Bless America,” which Guthrie considered patriotic claptrap.

Guthrie’s point was no matter the provenance of this land, its upkeep, protection and maintenance was the ongoing responsibility of every American. “Thank you, God, we’ll take it from here.”

One would think the two songs would be irreconcilable, yes?

Not Cash. By this point in his career, Cash had put himself through the wringer in almost every conceivable way. He was newly sober, and taking a look around at the mess the country was in, in the wake of the Kennedy/King assassinations and America’s deepening involvement in Vietnam, ironically enough it was The Man In Black who saw the shades of grey that still acted as mortar, holding this great country together.

He saw that both arguments had merit; moreover, that both arguments benefited from the presence of the other. So in what may now seem like a clumsy effort, he attempted to marry the two opposing sides, and illustrate that what unites us is indeed stronger than that which divides us.

The Missus keeps telling me that one definition of genius is the ability to hold two opposing viewpoints equally at the same time. If so, Cash was a certifiable genius.

The other big beef, that this clip fails to mention the genocide of the Native Americans at the hand of the White Man, is a fair one, but beside the point. Cash had one agenda for this clip, which he executed to his satisfaction. But it was not about the plight of the American Indian.

He saved that topic for any number of other special segments—where he did not mention the glory that is America even once—as well as entire albums’-worth of songs on the subject.

The clip below is just one of the many pieces he did on the sad state of Native Americans during his show’s two-season run.



So please, haters, if you’re going to hate on Johnny Cash, do it from an informed perspective. And do it courteously, or I will indeed delete your comment. I’ll even delete your ass if you agree with me discourteously!

I’d like to thank Billy Ray Cyrus and the people at YouTube for making me part of the national conversation this Independence Day, even in this tiniest of ways.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Bittersweet


Today is kind of a sad and a glad day for me.

It was the first time, when presented with the option of going to school or staying home with me, that The Boy chose school.

I knew this day was coming. When he starts Kindergarten in a couple months, the gravy train was over anyhow. Thursdays With The Boy were already coming to a pre-ordained end.

And I’m glad but sad that he made the call before fate took the decision out of his hands.

I want him to prefer spending time with his peers than his parental units. That’s healthy development, no matter how you slice it. As his parent, I am pleased with his choice.

But the Selfish Bastard in me wouldn’t have minded not having his illusions dispelled, especially not this close to the finish line. I only had to retain his fealty a few more weeks, and I fell just thiiiiiis short of the mark.

Anyhow, we worked out a compromise. I pretended to be happy to be rid of him, and he agreed to let me pick him up early so we can go to a matinee of Transformers 3: The Re-EnDumbening, before Mommy comes home from work.

Thanks for the weekly Date With Daddy, son. It’s been amazing, enlightening, enchanting, exhilarating… and as I knew it would be, all too brief.