Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The Confessions of A Geek Part I

Of course, there is the argument that most of the institutions that helped our parents and grandparents meet are largely things of the past. In popular parlance, the “Bowling Alone” syndrome that has gained a certain amount of attention in recent years. The parish, the tight knit neighborhoods, and fraternal organizations have either dissolved or have mutated into something other than their original meaning and have made the "malling" of America an inhospitable environment for courtship. If only the suburbanization of society were the answer, it would at least absolve me of my personal failings in this department. There is no place to meet, ergo no one to meet.

Well, people are still meeting or as the kids say, “hooking up.” I am willing to take some personal responsibility for my inability to meet “quality” people.

In my youth I developed some rather disagreeable habits, the worst among them is a serious reading problem. Even though I have spent most of my forty-nine years in the flickering blue glow of the most pernicious invention of the twentieth century, I never took a healthy interest in the two dimensional world of my fellow countrymen. Perversely, I chose to read Jack London rather than join my sibling for the antics of Jethro and Ellie Mae on reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies. It wasn’t long before I started hitting the “hard stuff” – Orwell, Dosteovsky, and Yeats. In a very short time, as stated in the handbook of the American Literature Abuse Society (ALAS), I was abusing literature:

“Abusers become withdrawn and uninterested in society or normal relationships. They fantasize, creating alternative worlds to occupy and daydream about “castles in the air,” while neglecting work, friends, and family.”

Where were my parents? If only they had intervened! It was already too late when I discovered that my mother had a serious problem herself – it was in her room that I found a dog-eared copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. By the time I left to go to college at eighteen, I had a two to three book a week habit. Like all addicts, I consoled myself with erroneous notion that “I can put it down anytime I want.” Within a year, I had sunk to the lowest depths of degradation, throwing away my life and hopes, to study literature and become an English major.

Of course I tried to stop. I drank, smoked pot, played hockey (try, if you will, to imagine the perplexed looks of the opposing defensemen when I shouted “a pox on ye, ye lap-eared cur!), all the while feigning an interest in keggers, pornography and undergraduate pranks – but to no avail. Falling for the biggest lie, I convinced myself that I could “wean” myself off the stuff. I started reading Brautigan, Vonnegut and the Beat poets in the misguided belief that this wasn’t really literature. The day of reckoning came when my then girlfriend discovered me, disheveled and bleary-eyed, reading the back of the corn flakes box trying to pick out the metrical patterns. She left me for an illiterate Forestry student and moved to Wyoming shortly thereafter.

I was in a bad way.

To be continued…

Monday, September 29, 2003

The Hypocrisy of Multiculturalism – Amina Lawal

I suppose the subtitle to the whole Amina Lawal case, the Nigerian woman who was sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery in an Islamic court, should have read:

"You see, they're not such bad fellows after all!"

Or, at least, this would be what the multiculti crowd would have you believe. The children of Rousseau, who gave us the notion of "noble savages", and whose self-loathing and irrational hatred of "Western" civilization and anything tainted by "eurocentricism is being taught to our children, have been let off the hook by the recent decision by a Sharia court not to have Ms. Lawal buried up to her neck and rocks tossed at her head until she died. Never mind the fact the decision was influenced in part by the attention paid to it by those awful Western governments.

William H. Gass, philosopher and novelist, captures the particular ethos of the multiculti mindset:

“No more than we might expect a surgeon to say, “Dead and good riddance” would an anthropologist exclaim, stepping from the culture just surveyed as one might shed a set of working clothes, “What a lousy way to live.” Because, even if the natives were impoverished, covered with dust and sores;…even if they were rapidly dying off; still the observer could remark on how frequently they smiled, or how infrequently their children fought, or how serene they were. We can envy the Zuni their peaceful ways and the Navajo their “happy heart.” It was amazing how mollified we were to find that there was some functional point to food taboos, infibulation, clitoridectomy; and if we still felt squeamish about human sacrifice or headhunting, it is clear were still squeezed into a narrow modern European point of view, and had no sympathy, and didn’t – couldn’t – understand.”

Ophelia Benson, the editor of Butterflies and Wheels, more precisely focuses on the problem:

In fact, it's quite strange the way a line of thought that's intended to side with the oppressed often sides with oppressors in the name of multiculturalism. A great many practices could be put in the box 'their culture'. Dowry murders, female infanticide, female genital mutilation, slavery, child labour, drafting children into armies, the caste system, beating and sexually abusing and withholding wages from domestic servants especially immigrants, Shariah, fatwas, suttee. These are all part of someone's 'culture', as murder is a murderer's culture and rape is a rapist's. But why validate only the perpetrators? Have the women, servants, slaves, child soldiers, Dalits, ten-year-old carpet weavers in these cultures ever even had the opportunity to decide what their culture might be?"

We have consciences; it is high time we used them rather than consider the "politically correct" response. The unconscionable rightly deserves to be condemned.

Friday, September 26, 2003

For The Technically Challenged

I'm having a little trouble getting started this morning. It seems my computer at home has been converted itself into a boat anchor and will require the attention of experts. It's not so much the cost of the repairs that bothers me, but my utter feeling of inadequacy when it comes to all things technical. You are, after all, reading a man who views the flipping of a light switch as something of a miracle. Worse still, this now necessitates that I must have dealings with the techno-monks whose withering glare and patronizing tone reduce me to a quivering mass of schoolboy insecurities.

"What's wrong with – (some unintelligible dialect spoken at this point)?"

"I, I don't know sir."

"You don't know, do you?" as he rolled his eyes in the direction of his fellow acolytes of the Brotherhood of Geekdom, "Did you check to see if it was turned on?" he bellowed, scarcely concealing his contempt.

"Of course, of course," I stammered.

"DID YOU FOLLOW THE PROCEDURE?" his patience with the unworthy cur cowering before him nearing its end.

"Yes, yes…I laid the burnt offering in front of my keyboard, lit the incense, and recited the incantations as laid down by our ancestors."

His watery, spectacled eyes narrowed with suspicion as he brushed back the greasy strands of hair from his pimpled face. Removing his glasses, he polished the lenses with his thumb and forefinger with the bottom of his egg-stained "Lord of the Rings" t-shirt. Readjusting the wobbly frame, he took a tone that would make a Spanish inquisitor cringe, " With the powers invested in me by Bill Gates, the Almighty, I think we might be able to help you, call back in a month."

"But, but…." my pleas falling upon his now turned back. He spoke to one of his underlings in a language I thought might be Klingon and then disappeared behind a curtain.

The lackey then stepped forward, "That will be ninety dollars – Visa or Mastercard?"

It is these encounters make me long for my Remington Reporter Manual Typewriter:

Ode to Eaton’s Corrasable Bond

In memory of Doris Grant

While the other kids, that is to say,
The normal kids; The Campfire Vets,
The Furtive Farmers of Mary Kay,
And the Brokenmarriagenettes
Took Typing I & II to hedge their bets,
Therefore insuring their success.

Honors English was to be my conceit,
Pondering the doom of Sir Patrick Spens
“Wi’ the guid Scots lairds at his feet.”
As the doleful dirges of Mr. Yeats portend
“Things have changed; changed utterly.”
And I, damned to type; type in utter agony.

©2001 Barney F. McClelland

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Banned Books Week

This week is "Banned Books Week" for the American Library Association. I am usually not all that interested "this week" or "that month" but Banned Books Week is one of the few worthwhile endeavors along this line. Every year there are hundreds of challenges of books in our schools, libraries and bookstores. In an age where literacy is in decline and one would think we'd be happy to get children to read anything, there are those who are so terrified of ideas that they are willing to extinguish the First Amendment.

The Top 10 Most Challenged Books for 2002
(and the reasons cited for challenging them)

Books that come under fire most often are extremely popular (Harry Potter, Captain Underpants), are stocked in the library or are assigned school reading (Bridge to Terabithia, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)

1. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (news - web sites) (wizardry and magic).

2. Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited to age group. "Unsuited to age group" usually means a younger child has access to a book in a library meant for older children.)

3. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, which was also the Most Challenged Book of 1998 (offensive language, unsuited to the age group).

4. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (sexual content, racism, offensive language, violence, unsuited to age group).

5. Taming the Star Runner by S.E. Hinton (offensive language).

6. Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey (insensitivity, unsuited to age group, encourages children to disobey authority).

7. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (racism, insensitivity, offensive language).

8. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (offensive language, sexual content, occult, satanism).

9. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (insensitivity, racism and offensive language).

10. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (sexual content, offensive
language, violence, unsuited to age group).

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

How Much Longer? MSN = Big Brother

It seems Big Brother is finally making his move to control the Internet. How much longer before bloggers will have to register with Ashcroft's Ministry of Truth?

Microsoft said it is shutting down Internet chat services in most countries outside the United States and limiting U.S. service to help reduce criminal solicitations of children through the online discussions. The changes will take effect Oct. 14, Microsoft said. MSN will require U.S. users of its chat service to subscribe to at least one other paid MSN service. That way, the company will have credit card numbers to make it easier to track down users who violate MSN's terms of use.

While I am not against pursuing and punishing pedophiles, it does seem a bit heavy handed to shut down chat rooms around the world. Could there be another motive? Perhaps those all important credit card numbers hold the answer to that question.

Monday, September 22, 2003

This article came from the The Daily Misleader

Bush Administration Seeks to Unilaterally Eliminate Overtime Pay for Millions of Workers

President Bush's Department of Labor (DOL) announced in March a dramatic overhaul to the nation's overtime laws that will cause millions of workers to lose access to overtime pay. The administration claims that 644,000 workers will lose overtime eligibility1, but it's really at least 2.5 million and possibly up to 8 million workers who will lose their overtime.2

The DOL described the change as "long overdue" two years after they had come to the opposite conclusion. The proposed rule will guarantee overtime pay to 1.3 million workers who were previously ineligible.3 But the administration is failing to provide the full story or even the correct numbers about the millions of workers who will become ineligible for overtime compensation.

Bush's Labor Department claims that roughly 644,000 will become ineligible under the new rule change. But the Labor Department arrived at that figure by excluding eligible workers from its calculus, counting only those workers who currently receive overtime pay regularly, have administrative and professional duties exempt under current law, AND have at least an associate's degree.4

The Economic Policy Institute (employing the same methodology used by the Labor Department in a 2001 study and the GAO in a 1999 study) estimates a more comprehensive figure that counts all eligible workers. It shows that 2.5 million salaried workers will lose their right to overtime pay and an additional 5.5 million hourly workers are at risk of being shifted to salaried employment and losing their status - 8 million workers total.5

In sum, the gap between the Labor Department's 2001 and 2003 estimates is more than 7 million workers.6 The Republican-led Senate recently voted to block the administration's overtime rules, but President Bush has threatened to veto any funding bills that contain language to protect those workers, ensuring that millions of U.S. workers will receive less pay for the same amount of work.7

1. "Overworked, Underpaid?", Newsweek, 5/12/03.
2. "Eliminating the Right to Overtime Pay", Economic Policy Institute, 6/26/03.
3. "U.S. Department of Labor Proposal Will Secure Overtime for 1.3 Million More Low-Wage Workers", Labor Department Press Release, 3/27/03; "White House Proposes New Rules for Overtime," New York Times, 3/28/03, p. A11
4. "Eliminating the Right to Overtime Pay", Economic Policy Institute, 6/26/03.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. "Senate Votes to Block Changes to Overtime Pay Rules", Washington Post, 9/10/03.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Barbie – A Jewish American Princess?

The Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, as the religious police are officially known in Saudi Arabia, lists the Barbie doll on a section of its Web site devoted to items deemed offensive to the conservative Saudi interpretation of Islam.

"Jewish Barbie dolls, with their revealing clothes and shameful postures, accessories and tools are a symbol of decadence to the perverted West. Let us beware of her dangers and be careful," said a message posted on the site.

Funny, I've always thought of Barbie as the ultimate "shiksa", a sort of uber-WASP. What with all that blonde hair and blue eyes, I would have thought her to be more a poster child for the new Aryan order.

The doll has been banned in the kingdom for over a decade, but they chose to remind their subjects on the anniversary of September 11, that Americans are decadent. I wonder sometimes if we didn't invade the wrong country.

But the most telling part of this story is the nature of Saudi society - racist, mean-spirited and frightfully intolerant. Why on earth would we consider these people to be our allies? It is nothing more than a feudal, medieval tyranny – the very revolution we supposedly had a revolution against another monarchial tyrant. Or has our addiction to Saudi oil so undermined our principles that we have become as decadent as they think we are?

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Check Yourself, dude!

Author's note: The following comment was sent to me regarding an article I published in May of this year entitled "Poetry and the Politics of Self-Expression" in Butterflies and Wheels. My response immediately follows:

From: Ben Jacobs
Date: 17/09/2003
Comment: Check yourself, dude! Your opinion of the need for self-expression for certain young people of today and their teachers who are valiantly striving to educate them in the various ways they can is overbrimming (sic) with racism. It seems you just don't like what they are writing and what they have to say. While I don't personally share their world, I can respect what it's about. When I was a youngster there was rock and roll, psychadelic (sic) music, civil rights struggle, Viet Nam, and transitions between Baby Boom generation to peace and love to disco to the complacent, money making 80's )almost the period in which I began). We were reading Thomas, Ferlinghetti, Baraka, Ginsburg, among others and they spoke to us and were well written and I'm sure they were students in some teacher's classroom who were encouraged to express themselves as well as study traditional forms.

Your preference of 18th century Irish poets and writers is cool but you presume a young person would have no interest in them. You use one contemporary female writer and believe all of them follow the same line. Shame on you. I'm sure Yeats would think you're full of shit.

We live in a world that is defined by European terms (I realize you don't respect this point of view). Throughout history there has been a need for Europeans (particular the Anglo-Saxons) to conquer and dominate other people and their cultures and redefine their thoughts, religions, etc.
"Why do you people dress that way? Why do you like that music? Blah, blah, blah"

Besides the manifest destiny and need for white man's burden, Europeans made slaves out of everyone they could and raped and pillaged all the natural resources and stole religions.

All right, all right, I'm on my soapbox.
But people like you need to stop defining the world in terms of what they believe and stop trying to impress your rules on everybody else in order to legitimize an oppressive culture.

Your way of thinking was the basis of what brought 6 million Jewish people to extermination by a group who didn't agree with the way they expressed themselves either.

Dear Mr. Jacobs,

It has generally been my policy not to defend my writings in response to individual criticism. My reasons for this are that the work itself either succeeds or fails on its own merits. I don't believe a writer should comment on his or her work once it has been published. It seems a bit disingenuous to my mind to defend, explain, or apologize after the fact. In short, take your lumps or laurels as they come.

However, your comment has made me rethink this position. Not because it was well written or insightful, but rather just the opposite. It may very well have been one of the loopiest comments I have ever received - and this is no mean feat!

Perhaps it is your sense of proportion (or lack thereof) that I find most disturbing. You open your comments open with the line, "Your opinion of the need for self-expression is overbrimming (sic) with racism." Notwithstanding the ugly awkward neologism, I defy you to point out the racism you find in my work. Or, has this become the standard for argument – I disagree what you say therefore you must be a racist! Yes, the old bugaboo. Throw the "R" word in and that settles that – end of discussion!

Well, Ben, I'm not biting.

I find it a bit rich coming from someone who seems to have such a problem with Europeans (and by extension white Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, etc.) and in particular, those nasty Anglo-Saxons! Of course even a cursory read of world history would be in agreement with the idea that "Europeans" have caused a good deal of mischief in the world, but due to my Swiftian view of our species, I think there is more than enough nastiness to go around.

Perhaps you believe the Japanese were merely holidaying in Manchuria and things just got out of hand, or the Hutus felt they had to defend themselves against the Tutsi in Rwanda? Maybe, just maybe, the two million human beings who perished in Pol Pot's Cambodia was just a problem of logistics or that the 20,000 sacrifices a year to the Aztec's gods just hopped up those stairs of their own accord? And, of course, slavery never, ever existed in the Muslim world and those pesky Armenians and Kurds probably had it coming to them!

You might want to familiarize yourself with an excellent article written by Ian Buruma entitled "Wielding The Moral Club", which recently appeared in The Financial Times. In it he cites the philosopher Avishai Margalit;

"[Margalit] calls it moral racism. When Indians kill Muslims, or Africans kill Africans, or Arabs kill Arabs, western pundits pretend not to notice, or find historical explanations, or blame the scars of colonialism. But if white men, whether they are Americans, Europeans, South Africans or Israelis harm people of colour, hell is raised. If one compares western reporting of events in Palestine or Iraq with far more disturbing news in Liberia or Central Africa, there is a disproportion, which suggests that non-western people cannot be held to the same moral standards as us."

When people lecture me constantly on racism or can't seem to get through a conversation without bringing up the subject, I often think to myself; "The lady (or gentleman) doth protest too much, methinks."

As for my "preference" of 18th Century Irish poets, you thoroughly misread my sentence. What I wrote was "…I would have demanded that (fully expecting that my rights would be honored!) my instructors should be well versed in the intricate meters of the 18th century Gaelic poets which best represented my particular cultural context." This, my irony-challenged friend, was a slap at the ridiculous multi-culti notion that children should read only authors of their own ethnicity or race. Yes, I have read a number of the Gaelic poets in translation (as my Irish is very poor) but I don't feel as though I have any particular "claim" on them. Literature, like language is not genetically transmitted. I'll leave that sort of nonsense to the advocates of "Ebonics". However, you might want to read Daibhidh O Bruadair, he had a number of less than flattering things to say about those awful Anglo-Saxons!

I find it interesting that you number among the poets you admire, Amiri Baraka (aka LeRoi Jones). Mr. Baraka has gained certain notoriety with his racialist and anti-Semitic views in recent years, although what I find most offensive about him is that he is an extraordinarily bad poet. Perhaps your energies should be spent writing letters to him addressing some of his issues.

But, it is this final statement that shot you to the top of the pops and into the winner's circle that resulted in bringing about this response:

"Your way of thinking was the basis of what brought 6 million Jewish people to extermination by a group who didn't agree with the way they expressed themselves either."

You cannot seriously mean to imply that my disliking poorly crafted poetry qualifies me as some sort of wannabe death camp commandant? Or do you? I'm not sure quite how to respond to that one. "It beggars the imagination" was only a cliché until I read that! One could only conclude that while you were a "youngster" listening to "rock and roll,[and] psychadelic (sic) music" you might have ingested a little too much of whatever controlled substance that was available to you.

So in conclusion, I deliver this in the same bonhomie with which it was delivered to me: "Check yourself, dude. Put down the pipe!"

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Sensitivity or Hypocrisy?

Sir Charles Napier, the conqueror of Sind, had a wonderful statement on multiculturalism:

A Brahmin told him that suttee was the custom in India. "In my country, too, we have a custom," Napier replied. "We hang men who burn women. Let each of us act according to his custom."

There seems to be a great deal of misplaced sensitivity or tolerance toward other "cultures" these days regardless of how despicable their practices. A recent article in the Financial Times by Ian Buruma entitled "Wielding the Moral Club", takes those who work themselves up in an Anti-American (and by extension, Anti-Western) fury while ignoring the vicious brutality of the "downtrodden" often inflict on one another. For example, the Cambodian dictator Pol Pot was most certainly a person of color as the saying goes, but that doesn't make him any less murderous than say, that most famous murderous white person of them all, Adolph Hitler.

On a much smaller scale I have witnessed this faulty logic at work in my own city of Cincinnati, Ohio. This past year two separate plays were protested by religious groups who found them objectionable. Fair enough, it's their right to protest. One of the plays, "Corpus Christi" by Terence McNally was picketed by a conservative Catholic group, the other, "Paradise" by Glynn O'Malley was protested by a Muslim group which succeeded in having the venues where the play was to be performed cancel.

Various arts and civil liberties groups vociferously decried the conservative Christians' objections and the play went its full run. The local papers covered the entire controversy while declaring fully for the First Amendment. However, since the Muslims declared O'Malley's play to be "racist" (it wasn't), we heard hardly a peep from the defenders of free speech.

Personally, I find censorship, regardless of its origin, to be abhorrent. And bad behavior is still bad behavior no matter what the color of the person's skin.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Draconian Measures Needed For Cell Phone Crimes

This very afternoon as I was crossing the street with the light, I was nearly run down by a woman in a late model car. The reason? She was yacking on her cell phone. As I turned to give her my best look of contempt, she shrugged her shoulders and pointed to the insidious device as if that would make it acceptable. To be honest, I would have been less angry if she had pointed to a half empty bottle of beer.

Which does bring to mind recent studies that seem to indicate talking on your cell phone impairs your ability to drive as much as alcohol. So, why not the same indignation and penalties for those who drive under the influence of superfluous conversation? If they pose the same risks and flagrant disregard for the well being of others, why not impose jail time, loss of license and hefty fines. I would heartily support summary executions at the spot of the offense, although I am usually a firm supporter of constitutional rights.

Perhaps good old-fashioned vigilante justice might be in order. Several months ago, I attended a play where the gentleman (and I use that term loosely) sitting next to me had the outstandingly bad manners to bring his cell phone with him into the theatre. If that was not bad enough, he actually started to take a call and converse during the play. Before I could react, a woman sitting behind us smacked the miscreant in the back of the head! (Yes, he ended his oh so important call.)

I wanted to have the play stopped right then and there and the forthright woman acknowledged and applauded for her actions! May there be more like her.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Parsons' Children – The "Stand" Commercials

Those of you who have read 1984 remember the character Parsons. Orwell describes him thusly: "Parsons was Winston's fellow employee at the Ministry of Truth. He was a fattish but active man of paralyzing stupidity, a mass of imbecile enthusiasms…" and, of course, you remember his betrayal at the hands of his own children to the dreaded Thought Police.

Orwell's description of children in the hyper-politically correct world of Oceania is particularly telling when one views any of the current "Stand" anti-smoking commercials:

"Nearly all children nowadays were horrible. What was worst of all was that by means of such organizations as the Spies they were systematically turned into ungovernable little savages, and yet this produced in them no tendency to rebel against the discipline of the Party. On the contrary, they adored the Party and everything connected with it…."

These "public service" messages are "artfully" shot in some sort of pseudo-documentary style in hopes of appealing to what is perceived by marketers as the hip crowd. What we are treated to is a group of surly, inarticulate, unkempt and semi-literate teenagers who are righteously indignant that there are people in the world who smoke. Just looking at them, one has to wonder why we can't return to a "kinder, gentler America" where we would have smacked the smirks off their little pierced faces.

But the "Stand" campaign reveals a great deal about the entire anti-smoking crusade. It is a chance for people who are either too busy or too lazy to put up the demands of middle-class morality to feel that they are in a state of grace and provides them with the syllogism – "I don't smoke, therefore I am a good person."

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Smoldering Rage

I have tried all day to come to terms with the idea of "9/11" and to put it into some context that is something other than rage. The images from that horror are seared indelibly into my consciousness. Watching a PBS program the other night about New York I realized, as I saw those airliners slam into the twin towers from every conceivable angle, I wanted vengeance.

Christopher Hitchens writing in an article entitled "Don't Commemorate Sept. 11"* for Slate.com stated:

"Should this solemn date be exploited for the settling of scores? Absolutely it should. When confronted with a lethal and determined enemy, one has a responsibility to give short shrift to demoralizing and sinister nonsense."

Of course, we have all been taught that revenge solves nothing, but I'm not so sure. Wasn't vengeance one of the motivating factors driving the allies during the Second World War? Pearl Harbor, The Blitz, the Holocaust all galvanized the civilized world into a force for the eradication of the evil the Axis Powers presented. And, by and large, it worked. As Hitchens so eloquently says:

" Reflect upon it: Civil society is assaulted in the most criminal way by the most pitilessly reactionary force in the modern world."

Radical Islam (that now has a following throughout much of the Muslim world) should be regarded with the same horror and revulsion as Nazism or Fascism. And accordingly, should be shown the same treatment – extermination. The loony Left "has the posturing loons all concentrated on a masturbatory introspection about American guilt, granted the aura of revolutionary authenticity to Bin Laden and his fellow gangsters, and let the flag be duly seized by those who did look at least as if they meant business."

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Britney Spears in the Refuge of Scoundrels?

Samuel Johnson once said; "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." I'm sure the "patriotism" Johnson was talking about is that variety practiced by Messr's Bush, Ashcroft and company. One only has to look at the fine print of the "Patriot Act" to see that the very fabric of our constitutional democracy is being rent for short-term gain. In fact, the very website, "Preserving Life and Liberty"*, set up to alleviate our fears might possibly be one of its creepier aspects. Take this little gem for example:

"Historically, terrorists and spies have used libraries to plan and carry out activities that threaten our national security. If terrorists or spies use libraries, we should not allow them to become safe havens for their terrorist or clandestine activities."

Historically? Of course, they give no examples of these nefarious library activities in American history. I suppose, to Mr. Ashcroft's mind, libraries ARE dangerous places, what with them being full of ideas – many of them contradicting his narrow views.

Another outstanding patriot I would like to salute today is the Queen of Pop Tarts – Britney Spears. In a recent interview, Ms. Spears took time out from removing even more of her clothing, snogging with Madonna, and singing badly to give the following piece of sage political advice:

“I think we should just trust the president in every decision he makes,” she told CNN, “and we should just support that, and be faithful in what happens.”

Every decision? This, of course, would be laughable except it reflects the views of a surprising majority of citizens in this country, if the polls are to be believed. It is exactly this kind of "monarchial patriotism", as Mark Twain described it, that gets people to march on the Reichstag and wear really tasteless uniforms. Fortunately, most Americans still don't have much of a penchant for dressing up, much less marching and saluting.

Still, if we see Britney decked out in her next video in black leather, knee-high boots, riding crop, and SS victory runes, we'll know where it's coming from.


Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Accidentally, Like a Martyr

In Memory of Warren Zevon (1947-2003)

To say Warren Zevon's music was eccentric or quirky is understatement to say the very least. This is, after all, the man who gave us "Werewolves of London" and "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner." And that was what was so likeable about his music - the utter lack of concern for fashion. In an age where pop music has been increasingly populated by the thuggish poseurs of gangsta rap, angst-ridden indies, and vacuous pop tarts, a song about a Norwegian mercenary whose ghost avenges his betrayal at the hands of the CIA seems remarkably refreshing.

Zevon died in his sleep Sunday. He faced death with the same dark sardonic humor that marked much of his music with songs like "Life'll Kill Ya" and "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead." Zevon had struggled for years with drug and alcohol problems, finally sobering up about eighteen years ago. Zevon said he "chose a certain path and lived like Jim Morrison and lived thirty more years. You make choices and you have to live with the consequences."

His gallows humor didn't fail him once he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. In his last appearance on The Late Show he told David Letterman, "I might have made a tactical error in not going to a physician for 20 years. It's one of those phobias that didn't pay off."

Letterman asked Zevon if his condition had taught him anything about life and death. "How much you're supposed to enjoy every sandwich," Zevon answered.

How true.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Reality TV

Last weekend, I was struck down with a particularly nasty little microbe that left me spending the entire Labor Day holiday alternating between my bed and the toilet. Although I did not write a single word all week, I did manage to catch up on my television viewing. And it was not pretty.

One of the problems of not being a regular viewer and refusing to have cable is how shockingly bad things seem to get between illnesses. The entire "reality" program concept is entirely beyond my ken. Of course, I have done stupid, cruel and humiliating things in my life, but I've had the good fortune to keep most of them in the private realm. The idea of people actually competing for whatever "celebrity" status they might attain does not bode well for the future of the republic.

In fairness to the news media, they did do an outstanding job of covering (or uncovering?) Cameron Diaz's broken nose. It's not that I mind seeing Ms. Diaz, but isn't there something a bit more substantive for our newshounds to cover. After all, a broken nose is hardly difficult to come by, why, I've had two – one from misjudging a high pop fly in Little League and the second from misjudging the level of appreciation from a surly drunk of my witty repartee.

After the horror of 9/11 there were those who promised us that America wouldn't, couldn't possibly return to the obsessive siren call of banal celebrity watching. If only they could have kept that promise.