Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A history of violence

I don’t think many Americans would characterize their country as the militaristic, violence-prone super-thug of the global neighborhood. We’re the good guys. America is about keeping the world safe. Unfortunately, our distorted view of ourselves does not come from looking in the mirror, but from images projected at us from behind screens, both big and small.

I experienced mixed emotions this past Memorial Day weekend. On the one hand, watching the news about the latest wave of death and destruction in the Middle East provoked a sense of regret for those lives lost to terrorism and war, especially the utterly senseless conflicts like Vietnam and Iraq.

On the other hand, I went to see the latest Tom Cruise commercial, Mission Impossible III, and it served to prod me further toward the realization that as a nation, we embrace violence as a major part of who we are. Denials aside, we take pride in being a violent people.

Look, the United States was at war, officially and unofficially, virtually the entire 20th century. And for those of us not actually fighting, we had violent entertainment to keep us occupied, from the war movies of John Wayne to the rock’m sock’m cowboy and crime shows of the fifties and sixties to the graphic slasher films of the seventies and eighties to the latest generation of horror movies that have turned everyone from your dentist to the Gingerbread Man into depraved killing machines.

Although MI:III was not about gore, it was about unrelenting violence. Duh. Ya think? Yes, I knew it would be two hours of explosions, gunfire and Cruise facial tics, but it was the ending that gave me pause to think.

Cruise is in love with a nurse, who, until the very end of the film, doesn’t know her soon-to-be-husband is a secret agent. Based on what we learn about her, it is safe to assume that she has never touched a revolver in her life. As the film careens to its bullet-riddled climax, Cruise rescues his love, but is quickly incapacitated, leaving the poor girl at the mercy of approaching assassins. Tom gives her a ten second lesson on how to load and fire his revolver, before he kills himself (temporarily), and she is forced to shoot it out with the bad guys. Lo and behold, it turns out she has a knack for killing, a previously untapped talent to quickly and accurately empty a clip into the body of an enemy combatant. She’s a natural born killer.

This is where it gets icky for me. We in the audience are relieved that she has suddenly gotten in touch with her violent side. She saves Tom, and the rest of world, by killing more effectively than the dull-witted thugs. Oh joy of joys.

Her transformation in the movie is from a sweet, good-hearted nurse (lifesaver) to a savvy assassin (life taker). The movie tells us this is a good thing. It is not. What it tells me is that this is one more example of how we are conditioned over and over again to see violence as a solution to a problem, in fiction and in real life.

On Memorial Day, we weep for the soldiers who die, yet we unhesitatingly send our sons and daughters off to war whenever anyone in power says we must. Americans blindly accept the need for violence as a solution because it has been a part of our mythology since the birth of our nation, and it continues to sell tickets at the box office. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good action movie as much as the next guy. I just want to know why.

Vietnam. Iraq. Iran? It’s past time to look at ourselves in the mirror and recognize our addiction to violence, and then begin the long road to recovery. Preemptive strikes in foreign lands are not the answer. Let’s start by generating and embracing new American myths that revolve around peace, justice and equality instead of murder, mayhem and carnage.

Mission Impossible IV: Peace comes to Darfur

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Promising new discoveries in the hunt to cure conservatism. Much work still ahead.

Science may yet solve the riddle of why conservatives “just don’t get it.” Studies show that conservatism may in fact result from an organic brain defect, and perhaps be curable one day.

I’ve long thought that there was a connection between adherence to conservative ideology and a lack of a sense of humor. Conservatives I have known (including those with college degrees) generally don’t understand or appreciate satire, or jokes based on subtle wordplay. They will laugh at jokes that start with “ A Priest, a stripper and a monkey enter a bar…” or at someone who has slipped on a banana peel, but they don’t have a clue as to why The Simpsons or Dilbert are considered funny.

A Canadian university study found that people with damage to the right frontal lobe of the brain have trouble getting punch lines and show a preference for slapstick humor. Sound like any of your FOX News-addicted relatives? I wonder if by “damage” that would also include a malformed or under-developed section of the frontal lobe; a birth defect, if you will.

Regardless of its cause, I believe more strongly than ever that a stunted sense of humor and conservative ideology go hand in hand. The latest empirical evidence comes from non-other than the minions of Tom “Cellmate of the Month” De Lay.

This from a posting on today’s “Think Progress:”

A good sign that Tom DeLay doesn’t have the facts on his side: the top source for his latest defense against his critics is Stephen Colbert.

This morning, DeLay’s legal defense fund sent out a mass email criticizing the movie “The Big Buy: Tom DeLay’s Stolen Congress,” by “Outfoxed” creator Robert Greenwald.

The email features a “one-pager on the truth behind Liberal Hollywood’s the Big Buy,” and the lead item is Colbert’s interview with Greenwald on Comedy Central (where Colbert plays a faux-conservative, O’Reilly-esque character). The headline of the “fact sheet”:

Hollywood pulls Michael Moore on Tom De Lay. Colbert Cracks the Story on the Real Motivations Behind the Movie

DeLay thinks Colbert is so persuasive, he’s now featuring the full video of the interview at the top of the legal fund’s website. And why not? According to the email, Greenwald “crashed and burned” under the pressure of Colbert’s hard-hitting questions, like “Who hates America more, you or Michael Moore?”

Apparently the people at DeLay’s legal fund think that Colbert is actually a conservative. Or maybe they’re just that desperate for supporters.

This could explain how Colbert got invited to speak at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. I couldn’t believe it was possible at first, but now, it may very well be that they didn’t know Colbert did satire. “He grunt and yell like us. Must be one of us.”

Conservatives are unquestionably missing something important in the cranial region that humanity needs to progress. It might just be a sense of humor.

Monday, May 22, 2006

"This is the thanks we get."

Journalists feel betrayed by government snooping

ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross appeared on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” this weekend, sounding both agitated and frighteningly naïve for a hard-nose reporter regarding the recent revelation that the government has been snooping on journalists.

“It makes me feel, in a way — and this is, I think, the disturbing part — as if we are drug dealers or terrorists trying to traffic in information, and should we be using bags full of quarters like old Mafia capos to avoid having our phone calls traced? I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong; I don’t think any other reporter is, either. We’re trying to cover these stories, which are difficult, but which are very important.”

This “why us?” sob story is very hard to stomach. Where was the indignation when the NSA spying story broke? Where was the anger and hand wringing from the national media over the fact that perhaps tens of thousands of innocent Americans were having their conversations recorded? Now that it’s reporters whose phones are tapped, it’s a story that merits airtime.

Ross either suffers from a serious case of short-term memory loss or his ability to connect dots in a story is pitiful for an investigative journalist. How could he be the least bit shocked by this turn of events after five-and-a-half years of the Bush administration walking with bloody Jack Boots over the Constitution? Is he so insulated in Washington that he’s unaware of the damage caused by the pathological liars running this country? Did he seriously believe that this government’s pattern of unethical and criminal behavior would somehow exclude the fourth estate? What utter naiveté.

If, on the other hand, Ross just can seem to fit the pieces together as to how we got to the point where government snoops are listening to him order Chinese take out, let me help jog his memory with this very incomplete list of stories the press failed to cover adequately or cover at all during King George’s dynasty, resulting in a renegade government that believes it is above the law:

The serious irregularities surrounding the 2000 and 2004 elections
The fact that Bush was wired and fed answers during the presidential debates with Kerry
The numerous pre-9/11 warnings the administration received regarding impending terrorist attacks
The case for war against Iraq
The ineptitude of the post-war occupation of Iraq
The no-bid contracts for rebuilding Iraq
The 9/11 Commission whitewash
The Valarie Plame affair
The use of torture
The Downing Street Memos
The Hurricane Katrina debacle
The Republican corruption scandals
The administration’s war on science
The ongoing attempts to turn our secular democracy into a fundamentalist theocracy
The NSA spying scandal

Do you really like investigating things, Brian? Fine. You can start at the top of the list and work your way down. Just make sure you use a pay phone.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Northern exposure: Bush to call up the Scouts

WASHINGTON D.C. — Just days after announcing his intention to station National Guard troops along the U.S. border with Mexico, President Bush made an unexpected statement today concerning the Canadian border.

“It is true that our most immediate national security need is to secure our southern border. However, we cannot ignore the risks posed by a three thousand mile-long, largely unsecured border to our north. While our attention is diverted to the southern states, thousands of Al-Qaeda terrorists could be quietly slipping into America disguised in moose or squirrel costumes, forming sleeper cells in unsuspecting towns like International Falls or Fargo. The threat is real, and must be met.”

Today, I am calling up our brave young Americans in Boy Scout, Girl Scout and Cub Scout troops all along the northern tier of states, from Washington to Maine. Scout units will be stationed along the Canadian border at designated intervals for four-week rotations. The Scouts will be issued BB guns, slingshots and Swiss Army Knives with which they will secure our borders and allow Americans to sleep easy in their beds.”

Some of you may ask, ‘Is sending a nine-year old child out into the Northern woods with little more than Ritalin, a dull knife and a backpack full of Snickers bars a good idea?’” I say, give our children more credit. Sure they’ll miss their TVs and their mommies, but they know what it means to wear a uniform and that sacrifices are necessary in the war on terror. “

The first Scout units will be in position shortly after the end of school in June. Scout Masters will receive field promotions to full colonel and receive all respective benefits. All scouts will be given photocopies of known Al-Qaeda operatives, and they will be issued shoot-to-kill or really-really-hurt-bad orders.”

My fellow Americans, I know what it means to serve one’s country in uniform and the sacrifices that are required. I spent countless days away from home and family in strange nightclubs and at parties where I didn’t know a soul. It’s true. But America’s young people today understand that freedom isn’t free, and that everyone must do their part in the war on terror. All I can say is God bless them, and God bless you.”

Monday, May 15, 2006

October Surprise Unveiled: U.S. to Invade Mexico

President Bush announced he is deploying National Guard troops to the United States border with Mexico. The President said the troops were being sent to help beleaguered border guards staunch the flow of illegal aliens crossing into the United States. The real reason, and you heard it here first, is that we are preparing to invade Mexico.

The plan, as leaked to “That’s Going Too Far!,” is to descend upon our southern neighbor with a shock and awe military campaign (code name: Salsa Storm) and annex Mexican land to approximately the 20th parallel just north of Mexico City. The objective of the entire campaign is to create a U.S./Mexican border that is only 450 miles long, as opposed the current border, which stretches an unmanageable 2,000 miles.

Surprisingly, Mexican President Vincente Fox has been apprised of the invasion, and has agreed to order only token resistance. “The rebuilding of my country by the U.S. after the invasion, and the resulting jobs and influx of investment capital,” Fox is said to have told U.S. military negotiators, “will be a far greater benefit than the loss of a lot of worthless desert.” Mexicans living north of Mexico City have been ordered by the government to treat American troops as a liberating army.

Carlos Hernandez, who lives in the town of Piedras Negras, only a short distance from the U.S. border, said he and his family are excited they will soon be invaded. “We’ll be automatic U.S. citizens. I’m hoping to sell my land to realtors who will build condos.” His wife Rita adds, “My cousin, Juan, who lives in Texas, is in the National Guard. I wrote him and said that if he is attacking villages close by, to stop in for lemonade.”

Critics within the administration have raised questions about plans for post-war Mexico, but Bush has reportedly brushed aside these concerns, stating that one only need look at Donald Rumsfeld’s Iraq experience to know that the Secretary of Defense will do a stellar job in Mexico.

A date for the invasion will be publicly announced on an upcoming FOX News special entitled: “God’s Orders: Smite The Brown Menace.”

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bush's fish story, part II

I remember a number of years ago watching a television commercial for a brand of coffee. A thirty-something couple stand in tall grass gazing into the sky through binoculars. The man nudges the woman and points to something. “Look,” he says excitedly. “A red-winged blackbird.” The storyline continued to somehow tie in coffee, although I can’t recall how.

I don’t know anymore about birds than the next person, but I do know that the red-winged blackbird is one of the most common birds around, in the Midwest, anyway. Why would any birdwatcher be excited about seeing one?

At some later point, I happened to see the commercial again. The same man and woman huddle in the tall grass with their binoculars. This time, however, when the man nudges the woman, he points up and sputters the name of some obviously more exotic bird (I think it was the large-breasted titwillow, but I could be mistaken). Someone in Hollywood Land was alerted and corrected the mistake of an over-paid copywriter who knew less about birds than me.

Which brings us to Bush’s fish story, mentioned in my posting below. Yesterday, someone in the Bush castle corrected 43’s statement about the highlight of his presidency. “Perch” was replaced with “Bass.” So now the highlight of Bush’s presidency is catching a 7.5-pound bass on his lake, which, for a bass, is not particularly large. But the story doesn’t end there.

As others have uncovered, several years ago Bush actually listed the fish that were stocked in the lake on his ranch. Bass wasn’t on the list. Perch was.

So now we have a fish story that was originally a lie (or one of Bush’s many faulty biographical memories), revised to be a totally new lie, probably by some overpaid political hack who knows less about fish than me.

The spin from this administration is merciless. It never stops regardless of the subject matter, and it never concedes for a minute that a large portion of the American people recognize bullshit when they hear it. To this group, 1984 isn’t fiction but a blueprint upon which to build a government. They lie when the truth would server them better.

The administration’s propensity for lying follows a similar path to that of any kind of addict. It started out innocently enough, with a lie or two here and there to gloss over military records or debate statements. In past presidencies, the media would have stepped in at some point and challenged the statements of Bush, Chaney, et. al. But, for a truckload of reasons, today’s press rolled over and played dead. Since the lying seemed to work, they lied more, and more, and more, until they couldn’t stop or backpedal, as the press licked the boots of the politicians at the same time they were being trampled. The lies have increased over the years, especially since 9/11, and today they emanate from every nook and cranny of this administration.

Hence, bass instead of perch. Lie on top of lie. The never-ending fish story.

Monday, May 08, 2006

This one’s too stupid to keep. Throw it back.

Bush’s presidency has been one long fish story, so it comes as no surprise that when Bush tells a fish story, it’s actually a fish story. Does that make sense to anyone but me?

From today’s Daily Kos: “Bush says the highlight of his presidential career was catching a 7.5 pound perch in his lake. The only problem is that the world's record for the largest freshwater perch caught is 4 pounds 3 ounces. So Bush either doubled the world record and didn't report it, or he's a liar.”

Okay, we’ve got two issues here. The more problematic of the two is that Bush considers catching a fish to be the highlight of his presidency. Now, it’s very possible the shrub was being sarcastic. You can see it now, can’t you? The little grin and snickersnort, which serves as a cue to everyone within earshot that the President of the United States has told a funny.

Whether it’s sarcasm or not, it translates the same: Being President sucks and I’d rather be fishing. It’s a bumper sticker on the back of Limo 1. It’s also a pathetic indictment of an administration that has no highlight reel to play. If he didn’t answer the question with a quip, what would he say?

“Let’s see…I brought endless violence and destruction to a large section of the planet. Uh, I gave huge tax cuts to my wealthy compadres. Oh, I know, I alienated all of our long-standing allies and made the world less safe from terrorism. How’s that?”

The lie about the fish’s weight is merely business as usual. Bush is either a pathological liar or clinically insane; unable to separate truth from fiction. There are no other plausible explanations (unless you want to get into some alien mind control theories, but I’ll let others handle those) and it’s really time to stop giving the guy the benefit of the doubt.

For Bush, every story is a fish story.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Goss not boss anymore

Short list of Bush’s candidates for new CIA director:

George Tenet

Michael Brown

Bush’s Double

Katharine Harris

Pat Robertson

Karl Rove

Richard Cohen

Scott McClellen

Joe Lieberman

Katie Couric

Ann Coulter

Dr. Phil

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I'm Richard Cohen, and I'm one funny guy

The Colbert flap continues, with the politically schizophrenic Richard Cohen of the Washington Post writing a column today in which he claims he knows funny, and Colbert wasn’t funny.

“First, let me state my credentials: I am a funny guy. This is well known in certain circles, which is why, even back in elementary school, I was sometimes asked by the teacher to "say something funny" -- as if the deed could be done on demand. This, anyway, is my standing for stating that Stephen Colbert was not funny at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. All the rest is commentary.”

Riiight. Cohen knows funny like I know astrophysics. What he does know like the back of his hand, however, is who signs his paychecks and what they will and will not tolerate. A frontal humor assault on the President of the United States, warranted or not, can’t be condoned by the Washington Post.

Cohen’s article is rife with absurd observations about what comedy is and is not, and how one should deport themselves at time-honored Washington events. The boot-licking in this screed is nauseating, and Cohen should really be ashamed of himself. I, on the other hand, have no shame, which compelled me to write to Richey and vent a little.


Anyone who says, "I'm a funny guy," probably isn't. Your critique of Stephen Colbert's performance at the recent Correspondents' dinner was a case in point—it was absolutely humorless. What better forum to display your funny side than skewering Colbert with zingers and one-liners? Instead you try to make us feel sorry for the most powerful man on the face of the planet, taking the odd angle that the President may be stupid and incompetent, but it's rude to remind us all of that fact.

Colbert was brave to say to this extremely insulated President what millions of Americans would love to say, but don't have the platform to do so. The polls tell the story, Richard. Nearly three-quarters of the American people think he's doing a lousy job, yet Bush tells us day in and day out that he will not do anything different. Colbert spoke for us. And he’s a funny guy.

Your friend,

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Would somebody please tell Steny Hoyer he's a Democrat?

We continuously ask ourselves, “Why can’t the Democrats get it together?” Here’s reason #354.

Americablog.com reports that the #2 House Democrat, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, called Stephen Colbert’s comedy “in bad taste,” and defended George Bush.

Where in hell do these people come from? And what the hell kind of name is ‘Steny?’ It sounds Republican.

First it was Joe “I’m-not-a-Democrat-but-I-play-one-on-TV” Liebermann, now Hoyer, lobbing hand grenades at their own troops. While other Democrats are talking impeachment, Steny is messaging the President’s ego and characterizing him as a hapless victim of the poison-tongued Colbert. God, please give us a break. Would ya?

Where is the single Republican politician who would defend Hillary or Bill Clinton? Where is the Republican version of the Democratic Leadership Council?

Christ, Steny, if you like Republicans better than Democrats, change parties. Or is it that you hate Democrats so much you want to tear down the party from within? Regardless, how can you not know that you are sabotaging the party of which you are a member?

Steny, for everyone's sake, shut your piehole.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Stephen Colbert, I salute you

I’ve always liked Stephen Colbert. He was consistently hilarious as the deadpan Daily Show correspondent barraging John Stewart with inanities. Although initially skeptical of the premise for the Colbert Report (how do you satirize something as inherently comical as a right wing talk show host?) Steven managed to make the show his own. I even enjoyed his “Mr. Goodwrench” commercials, where the producers allowed just the slightest edge of classic Colbert loopiness to shine through:
“If Mr. Goodwrench were a tool, what tool would he be?”
“Oh, sorry. Miter saw. We were looking for miter saw.”

As funny as I think Stephen Colbert is, I never considered putting him in same the category as a Lenny Bruce or Dick Gregory or Mark Twain for that matter; comedians/humorists who used their talents to directly challenge the political and societal status quo. Last Friday evening, however, Stephen Colbert joked his way into this elite group.

Performing at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner with George and Laura only a few feet away, Colbert’s O’Reillyesque alter ego skewered President Bush and his administration six ways from Sunday.

Delivered with the stern sincerity of a Bill Bennett commentary, Colbert brought up Bush’s low approval ratings, saying the President should ignore them because they were based on reality, “and reality has a well-known liberal bias.” He also took a jab at Bush’s image as a guy who sticks to his principles. “When the president decides something on Monday, he still believes it on Wednesday -- no matter what happened Tuesday."

Needless to say, George and Laura were not happy, virtually snubbing the comedian after the show. Who in the White House thought it was a good idea to have Colbert appear at the dinner? I can imagine one of the President’s brainwashed staffers praising the Colbert Report without realizing it's satire. “He’s sharp and very tight with O’Reilly.”

In one stand-up routine, Colbert did what the entire mainstream media has been afraid to do during the last five-and-a-half years: speak the truth right to George Bush’s face. Someone finally looked the President in the eye and told him he was wrong and out of touch with the rest of the nation.

Colbert has become an overnight hero among liberal bloggers, and I join them in praising his courage. Stephen, the Colbert Nation salutes you.