Saturday, August 2, 2014

Opie Does Guantanamo

I just can’t get over Obama’s statement the other day: “We tortured some folks.”
We tortured some folks.  Is that okay? Does anything about that strike you as wrong? Do you find that phrase as jarring as I do? I’m not the slightest bit surprised we’ve tortured people. I’d be surprised if we didn’t.  And I’m glad Obama used the word torture and didn’t hide behind some bullshit euphemism like “enhanced interrogation techniques.” But there is still something grotesque about that sentence and none of the articles I’ve read mention it. In fact, a lot of the commentary makes the same mistake. What am I talking about? Let me show you by way of a brief illustration:
“Say, Harlan, what er y’all doin’ down there?”
“Hey, Hollis, not much. We’re just down here torturin’ some folks.”
“Good deal. You been torturin’ a lot of folks lately?”
“Got a new shipment just last week. Around here we call that job security.”
“You must be doing somethin’ right.”
“We’re doing a lot of things right, and we’re torturin’some folks.”
“Good deal. Say, Loretta wanted me to invite you over tonight for some pie, but I don’t want to bother you if you’re too busy torturin’ folks and all.”
“Shoot, Hollis, you know I can always take a break from torturin’ folks for some of Loretta’s rhubarb pie!”
See what I mean? Using “torture” and “folks” in the same sentence isn’t just bad style. It’s a slimy way of soft-peddling bad behavior. Folks don’t really hurt folks. There are just folks doin’ the stuff folks do, and if they occasionally make mistakes and accidentally harm folks, well, most folks don’t mind. Least ways not around here in America, where folks know how to forgive and forget.

It’s even worse when you consider that Obama’s whole statement is aimed at letting the torturers off the hook. How? They were just folks!
“It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had,” Obama said. “A lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots. But having said all that we did some things that were wrong,” he said. “And that’s what that report reflects.”
It’s important that folks don’t put on airs and become sanctimonious about the good folks at the CIA, who are just workin’ hard to keep us folks back home safe. You get the idea. And don’t for a second think this effect is incidental. People torture people. Folks are jes folks, tryin’ their hardest in this gosh durn crazy world. People have faces that express pain. Folks are just, well, folks, an abstract mass of sunny beings in a fundamentally benign universe. You’re a folk. I’m a folk. The vicious sadist who pours water up the nose of a naked man upended on a gurney is a folk too, and folks will honor his service when he gets back from the wars. 

This harmless politician’s word is, in fact, a nasty little euphemism that absolves the guilty and coaxes us into forgetting the victims. 

Susan Jacoby in The Age of American Unreason admirably bashes this annoying — and potentially dark — habit that modern presidents have acquired. She invites us to insert the word folks into some famous American locutions and observe the effect. Thus we we get government of the folks, by the folks and for the folks. Folks have nothing to fear but fear itself. When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for folks to dissolve the political bands which have connected them …

It reduces every statement, no matter how important, to the level of a speech at a Mayberry city council meeting. It puts everything on the same bland, hokey plain, whether its Enlightenment philosophy or defending odious criminals like John Brennan. It invites our brains to stew in a warm puddle of blueberry compote while slithery careerists like Brennan turn the country into something dark beyond all recognition. 

Mayberry, my ass. This country is Rome under the Emperor Caracalla, an unloved and unlovable military despotism whose best days were long over, never to return; a tottering wreck of its former self incapable of building anything more edifying than a giant bathhouseNo folks around there, and none around here neither.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Telegenic Dead

Someday there will be a hardcore band called the “Telegenic Dead,” and the world will have Benjamin Netanyahu to thank for it. Apart from that, the world won’t have anything else to thank the rotten SOB for. His epitaph should read, “I was a bigger dick than Cheney.”

I would have thought the term “telegenic dead” referred to people like Pat Sajack and Ted Koppel, or Cokie Roberts or Peggy Noonan, but I guess not. It turns out that in this, as in so much else, I was (untelegenically) dead wrong. The term refers to a class of people, many of them children, who just willed themselves to be dead so Hamas could use them as propaganda. Imagine the deviousness of that! And there are so many of them too, around 1400 and counting, although to these unpracticed eyes they don’t appear too telegenic. But who am I to say? I’ll freely concede that Netanyahu is better at judging the relative pulchritude of mutilated dead bodies than I am.

But I can sympathize with the problem. Americans have had some trouble with telegenically dead Arabs too. We discovered that the only effective solution was not to show them on TV at all. It works like a charm.  No doubt the Yemenis are propping up a few telegenic dead right now, foolishly thinking we’ll see them here in America and be shamed into no longer killing them. How little they know, those poor naive people. If they weren’t all terrorists who hate America it would almost be cute.

You might occasionally get some pain in the ass reporter who wants to dig deep, tell the truth and all that other outdated horseshit. But we put him in combat fatigues and let him play soldier by embedding him with troops. That usually shuts them right up. It’s like giving chocolate milk and Play-Doh to a five year old. They just love it!

What the Palestinians have always needed was a highly telegenic living leader. Someone with charisma and oratorical skill. Someone genuinely committed to non-violence who could credibly take the moral high ground. Someone like that might turn the tide of American public opinion and force the US government to change course. But Martin Luther King isn’t available, so that option is probably out. But there is hope.

Note to Palestinians: Find some young, attractive Arabs, preferably educated in the United States and fluent in American English, to hit the airwaves and spread your message. They have to be hip and naturally conversant in American popular culture, but they must also be mature. Above all, they have to be westernized and secular. They have to be instantly recognizable as good guys to Mr. and Mrs non-passport holding American. They cannot be scary-ish foreigners who call suicide bombers martyrs. Nor can they be strident radicals glaring at the screen and shouting cliches like “By any means necessary.”

They must not chant puerile slogans reminiscent of American protesters on their first weekend away from mommy and daddy’s house. Here are some ground rules that must be observed: The “Hey Hey, Ho Ho” construct has got to go, forever. Serious adults with a serious purpose don’t sing nursery school rhymes. College students looking for attention do. Serious adults looking to be taken seriously comport themselves with dignity. Two. Code Pink and their juvenile theatrics must be absolutely forbidden to put in any appearance whatsoever. They have never understood the simple fact that if you look and act like a clown you will be treated like one. They set any cause back twenty years. If they did not exist the FBI would invent them. Three. The second somebody shows up with a “Free Mumia” sign the cause is lost, utterly and irretrievably lost. You may as well bring Arafat back from the dead with his sunglasses and combat fatigues. The negative effect on the American public wouldn’t be any worse.

American radicals are utterly tone deaf to these things, which is why they miserably fail to persuade the American public about anything. Avoid their mistakes. Be hip, but be articulate and mature. The Israelis know how to do this. Watch them and imitate their methods. You can win.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Always Expect More Of The Same But Worse

I’m creating a formula that can be used to make predictions in American politics. So far, it goes something like this: You take the status quo, add the dullest or most uninspiring possibility, and that is the most likely future outcome. In other terms, SQ + MUP = LFO (where MUP is Most Uninspiring Possibility and LFO is Likely Future Outcome).

When we apply this simple formula to reality, we can easily envision the following plausible scenario: Chief of Staff Lanny Davis and Secretary of the Treasury Rahm Emmanuel convince President Hillary to nominate Elizabeth Warren to the Supreme Court. That way, the court maintains its current balance and a liberal critic is effectively gagged. Wall Street is happy and progressives are out. See how easy that is?







Sunday, July 13, 2014

Why I Don’t Cry For Israel, Or Palestine

The other night, the grumpy old man I’m destined to become made his first appearance in my life. Somebody was watching the nightly news, and the hairdo on screen was affecting that grave tone  they reserve for Very Serious Matters, like announcing celebrity deaths.  In this case, though, it was nothing so earth shattering. He was just talking about the latest round of fighting in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But something in me suddenly snapped. A surge of bile rose out of my guts, and the voices of all the grouchy old farts from every American Legion Hall in the country spoke as one from my larynx: “Fuck ’em all,” it said. “Both sides can kill each other off for all I care.

A few minutes later the anchorman, whose name I’ve tragically forgotten, dropped his Edward R. Murrow reporting from London during the Blitz persona and became, as if by magic, a fountain of sunshine and levity as he talked about LeBron James returning to Cleveland. But it was already too late. The damage was done. The scowling reactionary at the bottom of my soul roamed free all evening long.  I spent the whole night yelling at the dog and fighting the mysterious urge to buy all of Jesse Ventura’s books.

(Just kidding. I never yell at the dog.)

(I only yell at the cat.)  

I don’t really think that way, of course. I abhor violence and don’t want anybody to be hurt, not even people who deserve it. I could suffer the likes of Dick Cheney or Jamie Dimon to endure a few strokes of the lash, or maybe a week or two in the stocks so people could walk by and spit on them, but that’s about it. I don’t want innocent people to be harmed or killed. I sympathize with the Palestinians and think Netanyahu is a war criminal.  If I had three wishes that could come true, world peace would be third on the list.

There. I said it. Now you can chuck those sentiments in that overstuffed folder labeled, “Things I Believe That Make No Fucking Difference.”

Netanyahu could be herding Palestinians into gas chambers and it wouldn’t matter as far as U.S. policy is concerned. Both presidential candidates would still go groveling to AIPAC to convince them that Israel is their BFF, and that under their presidency Uncle Sam will never take the car keys and the credit cards away.

The media narrative in this country, with few exceptions, would still be all about gallant little Israel, oasis of democracy in the Middle East, nobly fighting wicked Arab terrorists, whom all good Americans know are ipso facto our enemies as well, even when they aren’t.

I happen to think large numbers of Americans don’t buy that narrative. I think a lot of people are sick and tired of Israel. I think a lot of them would gladly tell Israel to stick it where the moon don’t shine. But you can put those sentiments in an even larger file labeled “Yet Another Issue Where the U.S Government Ignores Public Opinion.” Here, as in so many other instances, what we think doesn’t amount to a piece of rat shit. U.S. policy is a foregone conclusion no matter what we do. 

After a while you just stop caring. You shrug your shoulders, give up, and realize the only rational thing to do is focus on matters closer to home, like figuring out how to pay the rent in a “jobless recovery.” Hence the outburst. Hence the angry old man. So the Israelis and the Palestinians are at it again, huh, just like the dysfunctional alcoholic couple across the street who have been fighting over the same stupid shit over and over again for the past two years, world without end? Well, what the hell do you want me to do about it? Give me my hot cocoa and get off my lawn, dammit.

(I don’t really yell at the cat.)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Rolling Coal

Some upstanding citizens on the right have come up with a cute new way to stick it to the EPA, Obama, and all those liberal fairies who drive Priuses. It’s called rolling coal, and it pushes the frontiers of stupidity towards whole new horizons. In fact, it pushes them towards the event horizon, which is the point where objects get sucked into black holes and no light can ever escape.


Guys, for just about five hundred dollars you can trick out your diesel truck so that it burns more fuel, spews more pollution, and shows the world that you’re opposed to big government tyranny. It also helps beat back the pain of acute penis envy and repressed homosexual urges. What have you got to lose? Step up and make a statement!

(h/t Boat Bits)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Modern Visigoths

This what my home looks like after the 4th of July. The people who did this were not trailer trash or ignorant lumpenproles. They were, for the most part, well-off white suburbanites from the Bay Area. The have good jobs, nice homes, nice cars. They also have all the latest gadgets, so in addition to being comfortable they are fashionable as well. These are the people we mean when we say “middle class” or higher. Many of them work in the Silicon Valley. They are educated, cutting edge, culturally and economically hip modern Americans.

When given half a chance they immediately become Visigoths:



Is it just me, or do you think that at bottom we really just don’t give a shit anymore?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

White Trash Odyssey

I just took a little road trip through northern California and Oregon. The countryside is beautiful, but when you lower your gaze to the things of man you feel naught but desolation and despair. What a ghastly slum we’ve created. We slaughtered an entire race of people and deforested large tracts of land to put up Chevron stations and McDonald’s. If there is a hell we’re surely going to roast in it.

This is nothing new, of course. We turned the county into a standardized corporate purgatory years ago; a parking lot with identical neon signs in every town. But the cancer, I’m afraid, has spread to the liver and the brain. It’s terminal now.  Every place has the same Taco Bell, the same AM/PM, the same Burger King, the same Denny’s, the same Shell. And when you venture into these nothing places, you see the exact same sloven and degraded specimens of humanity behind the registers or milling around out front — tattooed crankster types wandering shirtless through the parking lots; obese rednecks with too tight cut-offs pushing baby strollers into the Carl’s Jr., and scraggly homeless people with dirty backpacks and beat up bicycles traveling in a daze from nowhere to nowhere. The permanent American underclass flourishing in its natural element.    

If I was a foreign tourist I would tell people back home that America is a scummy, poor, boring and mildly frightening country. Stay away.

The downtown areas still maintain their individual character, but these seem like so many quaint little museums where you go to get a small taste of what life was like before Corporate America Inc. stamped its iron template down upon our heads. And even there you see the same motley dregs who dwell along the interstate. They are everywhere, the seedy new normal, the white trash remains of consumer culture gone bad. Unfortunately when this, our redneck Third Estate, gets the urge to rebel it will probably do so under the banner of some right wing monstrosity. But even that’s unlikely. These people are completely out of the loop. They are as cut-off, clueless and tuned-out as the proles in 1984. 

Back on the road. To pass the time, you can listen to the same twenty classic rock songs over and over again: Queen, Foghat and Lynyrd Skynyrd on a continuous loop that will go on playing until the stars go dark and the Statue of Liberty lies buried under the sea. When you need to make sense of it all, you can switch over to the AM dial where legions of right wing talk show hosts and evangelical Christians are waiting to put it all in perspective for you.

A billboard for the Seventh Day Adventists says that Saturday is the Lord’s day, but that Antichrist switched it to Sunday to deceive us. An hysterical old woman who’s late for her nap tells Rush Limbaugh she has given up all hope for the country. Obama is letting the immigrants take over and Ron Paul is maybe the only politician you can trust anymore, and oh how she fears for her seven year old grandson. Rush tells her he understands, but soothes her with a quote — real or imagined — from Ronald Reagan, whom he calls Ronaldus Magnus: No matter how bad things seem, the country is worth fighting for, or something.

Back in California, a sign advertises for the State of Jefferson — the product of some tea party wet dream about parts of northern California seceding from big government liberals in Sacramento, or something.*

After about eight hours of this, you shake your head and start to wonder: What kind of fucking country do I live in, anyway?


*Apparently this idea dates back to 1941, making it a pre-tea party wet dream.

I Hope Team USA Loses

I’m getting a little tired of all this World Cup B.S. Team USA is competing so now everyone is a soccer fan. Uh-huh. It’s getting so bad I expect to hear a couple affluent white suburbanites refer to it as futbol, at which point I’ll seriously question my commitment to non-violence.

Last week I heard David Gregory and a panel of smug Romans chirping about it on Meet the Press. Conspicuous among them was famed pundit, sociologist and moral philosopher David Brooks. He conspicuously failed to mention all the poor Brazilians who were booted out of their homes and whose neighborhoods were destroyed so that the world’s one-percent can watch soccer games at a level of comfort they’re accustomed to. No doubt our illustrious pundits discussed this dicey moral conundrum on the back nine at the Chevy Chase Country Club later that afternoon.

But who cares about that? Certainly not Americans. About one half of the electorate would shrug their shoulders and say it was their own damn fault for being poor in the first place. The other half, the ‘liberal’ half, would concede the point, but then sheepishly add that those who were impoverished “through no fault of their own” kinda sorta maybe deserve a little help.

I’m getting that queasy feeling that overcomes me when the vast corporate combine that shapes our culture is attempting to get me to care about something I don’t care about or believe something that isn’t true. It’s a form of peer pressure, but the cool kids are giant media corporations and the school yard is the entire country. It tried to convince me that Princess Diana was a saint who could walk on water and cure lepers when she quite obviously wasn’t and couldn’t. It told me Steve Jobs was the biggest, bestest, most awesomest creative genius in the universe, a man more visionary than Christ, Jefferson, Henry Ford and the guy who thought of putting plus and minus sign on batteries, when to my mind he was just another successful business asshole. His company uses sweatshop labor and his contribution to humanity — the iPhone — is a glorified toy gadget that enables adults to act like rude and distracted teenagers; it has made it socially acceptable for full grown human beings to say things like “check out this cool new app” and think that ringtones are an interesting thing to talk about. It has helped create a culture where nobody sees anything wrong with this.

It’s the same cultural force that bullies me to automatically root for team USA every four years in the Olympics. Well, why should I? Our athletes have the most money, the best facilities, the wealthiest sponsors and the most coddling of any athletes in the world. Rooting for them is like rooting for a bank or an insurance company. It’s like rooting for the spoiled girl in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The fact that so many of them are unsympathetic whiners just makes it all the more unseemly. Fuck that. I’ll cheer for the poor Nigerian kid over commercialized hipster twits like Apollo Ohno any day.

Now the same process is under way with soccer. I guess our corporate masters have decreed that we need yet another sports spectacle. We need one more gaudy venue where we can be swamped with with Budweiser and Subway commercials. We need one more group of clay-footed multimillionaire heroes to gawk at on talk shows and reality TeeVee — tattoos, goatees and ten pound diamond earrings a plus! One more tribal competition to rekindle our dying national pride. One more source of cheap, superficial nationalism to artificially pump us up on our shameful slide to the bottom.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Good American

Picture a sweating fat man, baseball cap and remote, tossing in a fitful sleep on his Barcalounger. Call him Jake. He is groaning and slapping at imaginary terrors. Something is obviously bothering him, but what could it be?

He is woken by a kind but somewhat bland man in a bland suit. Jake is startled. He gulps and gasps with apnea, lets go of his balls, and has to rub the goo out of his eyes before he is fully composed. A flash of recognition crosses his bleary face. His visitor speaks:

“Hi, Jake. I’m sorry to bother you.”

“No worries,” Jake replies. “It’s all good.”

“But, you see, we need your cooperation again.”

“Why’s that?”

“I know you care about America.”

“I do.”

“You were there for us when we needed to defend ourselves against Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.”

“Better to fight the terrorists over there than over here.”

“Our thoughts exactly,” the visitor says. “And you were realistic when we didn’t find any weapons.“

“Stuff happens,” Jake says.

“Yes,” the visitor replies. “Stuff happens.” The visitor comes closer, his knee touching the arm of Jake’s Barcalounger. “And you understood when we had to take, uh, extra measures against terrorists and other people of interest?”

“After nine eleven the gloves had to come off.”

“Our thoughts exactly.” At this point, the visitor leans forward and assumes a very chummy, very intimate air with Jake. He speaks in a low voice: “You know, you didn’t even mind all that much when every American had to pitch in and save the economy. You know what I’m talking about, right?”

“Well, I didn’t really understand all that.”

“Of course not. No normal people did. That’s what makes you normal, you didn’t understand! Let’s just say mistakes were made. Stuff happens, as you and the man say. But it’s okay. The appropriate parties have taken full responsibility, and now they’re back on the job and as good as new. That’s one of the things I love about America. You can learn from your mistakes and move forward. We don’t dwell on the past. We always look ahead. Don’t you love that about America, Jake?”

“Yeah, I suppose.”

“The important thing is that the country banded together and helped out our job creators. You do believe in creating jobs, don’t you, Jake?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Of course you do. You know, it’s the common sense of everyday Americans that keeps this country going strong. We see eye to eye on so much, I sometimes wonder why I bother talking to them at all.”

Jake drifts back to sleep. His visitor goes on talking about the “lone superpower,” “maintaining credibility” and “moral responsibilities,” but by then it’s all a blur. Jake has other concerns. He is still uncomfortable. Something just isn’t right. There is a nagging pain that won’t leave him alone. It is a neck-grabbing existential torment that has kept him tossing and turning all night. What the hell is it?

Suddenly Jake discovers the problem: He is sitting on his iPhone, which has left a painful welt on his ass. He removes it from his butt cheek, places it on the coffee table, and sleeps soundly through the rest of the night. He forgets his dreams.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Visions Of Heaven

Most people’s idea of heaven is just a continuation of the things that bring them pleasure on earth. They might pay lip service to wanting to bask in God’s love and righteousness, but that’s not really true. If you could delve into the subconscious of your average man, into that little place in his head where visions of heaven lay, you wouldn’t see any trace of God’s love and righteousness, no yearning for a higher plane of consciousness, not even a soothing white light. There would be no desire for anything fundamentally different from what you find here on earth. The contents of his paradise would be no different than the content of his typical daydreams, except they would go on forever. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, by the way, but it means that Mr. Average Consumerist American’s vision of the Great Beyond boils down to something like this: NASCAR and football for eternity; putting little white balls into little holes; a collection of sports cars; a harem of pliant young women who don’t mind his belly or his hairy back because they can see his inner beauty … new episodes of Sports Center and Two and a Half Men every hour of every day; an occasional visit to the wife and kids … The most spiritual items in his utopia would be a valley full of nachos and a cascading spring of Bud Light.

But why shouldn’t he confine his aspirations to such things? What do our so-called spiritual leaders have to offer in its place? Mr. Consumer’s heaven might be intellectually and spiritually destitute, but at least it allows for some fun. It is vastly more appealing than singing campfire songs with vacuous born again Christians for all time, or listening to Billy Graham sermons, or any of the other the bone-dry pleasures Judeo-Christianity has on tap. If the Mormons have their way there won’t even be any coffee. Shit, even my bank gives me free coffee. At least the Muslim afterlife offers you seventy-two virgins. That might sound barbarous and horrid, but stack it against the white Christian American version before you judge: No sex, no drugs, no booze, nothing, just an endless, arid prayer meeting with the likes of Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, the Christian Coalition and a few murderers who got right with God on death row. Which door which you choose?

And it gets worse. Michael Bloomberg might be there. Just ask him. He’ll tell you. This is what he recently told an interviewer: “I am telling you that if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”

All that and a rich prick too? No thanks.