Friday, December 29, 2006

No Sympathy For The Devil

Now that he's dead, we will be hearing tons of tributes to Gerald Ford. There will be all of the mentioning how he led us out of the "national nightmare" of the Watergate era and the talk of how he "healed" the nation. Especially now that it has been found out he gave an interview criticizing Bush's decision to go to war they will be comparing him to W when talking about his presidency. Of course if that's where you set the bar, just about anybody else's presidency will look great. I mean, saying you were a good president because you were better than Bush is like saying you're a great father because you treat children better than John Wayne Gacy.

There will also be a lot of people talking about what a kind person he was, and how he was so nice. This is image is upheld by the fact that he was a "folksy" Midwesterner and was so old that he reminded people of their grandfather.

In this day and age of media spin and infotainment, Mark Antony's line from Julius Caesar, "The evil that men do lives after them/ The good is oft interred with their bones," could not be more untrue. The opposite seems to be the rule in this day and age. The evil is brushed aside and replaced with quaint clichés and empty tributes.

But I believe the evil that men do should be remembered. So as you're watching the elaborate, probably grotesque, state funeral for a man who led this country because he was appointed by his criminal friend, rather than elected by the people in a democratic process, here are just a few little things to remember about his short presidency.

When they speak about what a nice, caring, generous, honest, genuine, and "down to earth" person he was, notice that none of the people saying it will be from East Timor. I would guess that they don't hold him in such high regard after his administration's support for the evil regime that oppressed the East Timorese for over two decades. Ford and Kissinger not only sold Indonesia the weapons to carry out their invasion and occupation of East Timor, but explicitly approved of the plan. Ford's hands are stained with the blood of hundreds of thousands of East Timorese civilians. (Great resources here, here and here)

He also pardoned Nixon. That should be under the category of "nuff said" but it seems to have been spun so much over the decades that it is now considered one of the good things he did. Well I call bullshit on that. His defenders can claim he did it for "national healing" or that it was necessary to move beyond Watergate and get on with governing, but I don't buy it. He did it to protect his friend, who just happened to be the one that appointed him Vice-President.

You know what would have been a lot better at healing this country? Throwing Tricky Dick's sorry, lying, corrupt ass in jail. The chilling effect of that pardon was letting all future presidents know that they can do whatever illegal thing they want and will never have to answer for it.

And finally, when seeing the death toll rise in Iraq and wondering how our country came to be in such a horrible state, think about this: Gerald Ford is directly responsible for the careers of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Both were given their first big jobs in his administration, both served as Chief of Staff at different times and Rummy got his first tour as Secretary of Defense. Ford also did a lot to advance the career of George H. W. Bush, his CIA director and fellow co-conspirator in the crimes committed against the people of East Timor. Needless to say, the chain of events started by Ford have eventually led us to the national tragedy called the George W. Bush administration.

So forgive me if I don't shed any tears for Ford on Tuesday, the announced day of national mourning and the time of his state funeral.

My thoughts will be with the people of East Timor, now the independent nation of Timor-Leste, who just a few short years ago were able to finally free themselves of the terrorism brought to them by one Gerald Rudolph Ford.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Music Geekdom On Acid

When I was living in Seattle in the 90s I was pretty resistant to technology. I know, it was a weird place to be living and not want to delve into the world of the internet and resist getting an email address. I finally gave in, reluctantly, mostly because so much communication by 1996 in the Seattle theatre scene was already being done by email. I was starting to miss out on rehearsal schedule changes, meetings and job announcements. I got an email address at a local internet cafe, not having a computer myself of course, but probably still didn't actually "surf the net" for over another year.

I was reluctant mostly because I saw technology like the internet and cell phones (which I went a lot longer without before finally caving in) as making people less social creatures, not more so, as the promoters of these things claim. I still think that's true, but I've come to see the benefit of it, I guess.

I originally only went on the net to read and look, not to participate in any community of any sort. I avoided internet message boards because they seemed like a drug to so many people. What finally drew me into them (as I wrote about in my Geekspotting trilogy here, here and here) was the lure of live music trading.

I joined the Wilco fan site to find people who would supply me with CDs of live shows. And it worked great, I started a nice little collection of Wilco and Jeff Tweedy solo concerts. I just love collecting shows. When you like a lot of the musicians I do, the shows are different from night to night, compared to , say, a Britney Spears lip-synched dance show. So it's great to be able to hear shows that I would have loved to been at if I were wealthy enough to actually follow my favorite bands on tour. And it's great to be able to get copies of shows I was at to be able to hear again whenever I want.

But when trading shows, you have to actually deal with other uberfans out there in the real world, even though you meet them in the virtual world. And then people start to think that they are friends. Anyway, I won't rehash all that, it's all in the previous stories. Needless to say, I got in too deep and had to get out. But while I was there I discovered something that the super-music geeks had already been hip to for a while, Torrent files.

Torrent files are the bestest, greatest, most wonderful thing that has ever happened in music. Someone tapes a show, puts it on their hard drive, "seeds it" on the internet, list it on a "tracker" site and then members of that site can grab it for their very own. And after I have the show myself I become a seeder and more people can get parts of the show from me and others who have the show. And it's free! It's like the old Dead-Head tape trading thing, except I don't have to go hang out with some unwashed, patchouli-oiled hippy and his "old lady" and take communal hits out of his skeleton bong just so I can get a copy of the Golden Gate Park '75 show.

It is so beautiful. It's like reading a menu and deciding what you want. Robyn Hitchock at Maxwell's on 11/19/06? Sure I'll take that, I was at that one. Billy Bragg in Dallas on 2/22/92? Don't mind if I do. Jeff Tweedy at the Vic in Chicago in 2003, The White Stripes at the Aragon Ballroom, The Dresden Dolls in Munich? Load it on the plate, please. Genesis in 1975 on the Lamb Lies Down tour?!?!?! Please sir, may I have some more?

Dessert? Oh no, I just couldn't. What, you have Robyn Hitchcock doing a Syd Barrett tribute at a Pub in London from just a few days ago that includes performing The Piper at the Gates Of Dawn in its entirety? Or Robyn performing the Beatles' White Album at the same pub from a couple of years ago? Oh goodness, how will I ever decide? Well I better just have both.

Best of all, I get to have all of this without dealing with a bang-my-head-against-the-wall mundane conversation with the Jack Black character in High Fidelity over whether Billy Bragg's better band was The Red Stars or The Blokes, or whether Peter Buck's guitar playing was better during the Green tour or the Life's Rich Pageant tour.

Thank you internet!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Homophobia And Sexism Run Amuck

I got this email from my sister yesterday with a Chicago Tribune article about a guy arrested for child porn in the Chicago suburb where we used to live. Well, child porn and explicitly chatting with someone he thought was a fifteen year old girl. You can see where that's going. It was a cop not a fifteen year old girl. But the reason this is supposed to be of interest to my sister and me is that the guy is a coach/teacher at our old high school, and was when we were there. My wife actually remembers him well and she had him for driver's ed (and was often with him in a car, just her and another 15 or 16 year old girl, ewww). She couldn't really stand the guy, found him somewhat creepy, and didn't seem surprised that he got busted for something like that. I have only a vague memory of him, since I only went there my senior year.

I was talking on the phone to my brother last night about it. He didn't go the school at all, since we moved there after he graduated. When I told him about what the guy did, including that he was trying to get busy with who he thought was a fifteen year old girl, my brother said, "Well at least it was a girl instead of a guy, so it's a little less creepy."

In one short sentence my brother managed to say something both sexist and homophobic at the same time.

The sad part is, this isn't just some stupid comment by my idiotic Republican brother, I really think this is how a lot of men in America think. "Well, he's a child molester, but at least he's not a gay child molester." As if a 59 year old man who seeks out teenage girls is less perverted than one who seeks out teenage boys.

Somehow, in the mind of straight, white male America, a straight rapist is more normal than a gay rapist.

Makes me sick.

And my brother has kids. Three girls and a boy. What, he's going to be less upset if something like that were to happen to one of his daughters compared to it happening to his son?

Unfortunately, I think I know the answer to that question.

Anti-gay hatred and misogyny continue to thrive in America, even affecting our attitudes toward sexual predators.

Whew! We Dodged A National Fucking Tragedy On That One

Well, Miss USA gets to keep her crown. Boy, imagine the turmoil our country would get thrown into if we had an impeachment of the Great Busty One. Stock market crashes, hospitals close, schools shut down, floods, locusts, forced abortions, a president takes office without being legitimately elected (oh wait...), George Lucas makes another Star Wars trilogy and who knows what other horrible things may have come to pass if (gasp) the runner-up had to take over for her. But luckily the Great Benevolent One, Donald Trump, saved us all from the national nightmare.

That sound you hear is me gagging.

Who cares about this? I honestly didn't even know that Miss USA still existed. Isn't this the contest that can't even get a network TV deal anymore? Or is that Miss America? Heck, does Miss America exist anymore? Can anyone name her? Can anyone name any Miss USAs/Americas from the past? I can name one, and I'll bet you can think of only one too, and it will be the same one as mine. More on that later.

I was home watching CNN, because I like to torture myself, when they broke in for the live news conference concerning the fate of what's-her-face. Live. CNN, and other news channels, actually decided it was the most important thing happening in the world at that time and needed to be covered live. And because Donald Trump is involved all of the media outlets had some sort of variation of "Will Miss USA be 'fired?'" as the way to lead the story. Get it? HA ha, see it's funny...'cause Donald has that show...and when the loser gets booted...ha ha. Boy those media types are just geniuses. It took a sharp mind to think of that. Well, the mind of a fourth grader anyway. Not to be out done in the wit department, Miss Thang herself used the phrase when she got up to speak to the press after finding out she would keep her sash.

And then she started to cry. And while about a hundred times more photographers than covered the Chief Justice Roberts confirmation hearings snapped pictures, she declared that she would use her second chance to "be the best Miss USA ever." Boy, that ought to be really difficult. She'll have to work her ass off to know...the girl from...uh...that that year...

I really wanted the press to do a follow-up and ask her what she will specifically do to become the "best" one ever. Here are some answers I imagined she might give.

"I'm going to put on the glossy red lipstick thicker than it has ever been put on before."
"Super Strength Vasoline for my teeth."
"I'm going to cut ceremonial ribbons to open county fairs like have never been cut before."
"Nobody, and I mean nobody, will be able to compete with my new head turn/hair flip move I'll be unveiling at the People's Choice Awards."
"I'm going to stand with one leg straight and the other slightly bent while wearing a bikini like it's never been done before."
"I'm going to be sporting the pushiest push-up bra the world has ever seen."
"I'm going to encourage more teenage girls to hate their bodies and have low self-esteem, and create more cases of anorexia and bulimia than all of my predecessors combined."

You go girl! Be all that you can be. Wouldn't want to use that pea-sized brain of yours instead of your tits and ass to get along in the world. My god, if you had been tossed who knows what you may have had to resort to. You may have had to find a real job, or enrolled in an actual college to learn something and better yourself. Thank your lucky stars that Sugardaddy Trump saved you from such horror.

So Trumpy created another publicity stunt, and that's all this was. He was never considering getting rid of her, this was just all created to get people to notice the Miss USA thing again and to actually know her name. I still don't know her name, because I didn't bother to notice it. But a lot of people do now that didn't before. And all the overuse of the phrase "you're fired" over the past week right before the new season of his dumb TV show starts, you think that's a coincidence? I doubt it.

Come on, this has all the makings of a contrived publicity stunt. Her so-called "bad" behavior sounds like a paint-by-numbers male porn fantasy. She snorted some coke, drank some cocktails and made out with Miss Teen USA. Damn, if they had included that it happened at a football game, every dunderhead male in America would be glued to the TV for the pageant. And that's exactly what Trump is counting on.

And it might work. So who's the one Miss America/USA you can name? Right, Vanessa Williams. And it's not because she was the "best" Miss America ever, but because she had a bunch of pictures taken of her licking another girl in lots of fun places that ended up in Penthouse. And it turned out to be the best thing that happened to her (hell, my mother bought that issue) because it made her a household name overnight. She lost her crown and ended up with a singing and acting career. Not a bad trade.

Oh, and as a follow up to this whole thing, the beauty pageant pimp showed his true nature after getting called out by Rosie O'Donnell. Basically she made fun of him for acting like a moral compass for young people when he cheats on his wives and leaves them when they start to approach their sell-by date, which for him seems to be about the age of 35. It was a really great rant on his imagined moral authority.

And how did he respond? He called her a fat slob.

Just in case his owning a shallow "beauty" pageant that objectifies women wasn't proof enough that he's a sexist ass, his best response to being criticized by a strong-willed woman is to bag on her appearance.

Classy to the end. What a misogynist prick.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Ho Ho Hum

Well "The Season" is upon us again. And, as usual, I can't wait for it to get the hell over with.

I hate Christmas. Hate it like I hate the sound of Rita Cosby's voice.

Now wait, hear me out. I'm not some sort of Scroogy curmudgeon ogre, contrary to what a lot of people (and you know who you are) believe.

Don't get me wrong. I have no desire to take Xmas away from anyone or ruin anybody else's enjoyment of it. I just want the chance to opt out. I have declared no war on Christmas. I'm Switzerland, I don't care if people celebrate it or not, but can't you leave me out of it? If Bush wants people to be able to opt out of Social Security, why can't I do the same with the Pagan holiday co-opted by the Christians?

I have my reasons. I'm not just an angry guy with an attitude problem. Really.

First off, despite its previously mentioned Pagan origins, it is an explicitly Christian holiday. As I've mentioned thousands upon thousands of times before, I'm not religious. I don't celebrate Hanukkah, Ramadan, Kwanza or any other religious holidays. Why am I expected to celebrate Jesus Day? It's like it is the default holiday in this country. If you don't pick another one you just get stuck with Christmas. Well I don't use Windows Media Player just because it came with my computer.

And what is it with Christians and lying to their children? The Jesus myth wasn't kooky enough so you had to invent Santa Claus too?

I could like Xmas if it lived up to its hype. But it doesn't, and that's another one of my main beefs. Peace on Earth, good will towards man? Have you been inside a store in the winter? People get in to fist fights over PlayStations, Nintendos, Cabbage Patch Dolls, Elmos or whatever other dumb thing is the "must have" gift in any particular year. It's not about peace, love, giving or family. It's about buying a bunch of crap nobody needs. Well, that and getting the whole family together to fight in the same place. Good times, good times.

And I'm OK with buying crap I don't need, but do we need a yearly ritual for it. How about everyone buy the pointless shit they don't need for themselves and we can get rid of the whole concept of "gift receipts."

Fighting through crowds at stores I would rather not be at to begin with, getting shopping done in time to mail gifts a week ahead of time, standing in hour long lines at the post office. Because, I suppose, everyday life wasn't stressful enough so we needed to spice it up. Anybody wonder why the heart attack rate goes up in December?

And stress, oh man. I've only been married less than three years and I can't see myself coming up with another fifty years of good ideas for Christmas gifts. I think I peaked with the digital camera last year and I'll never be able to top it. I was hoping to go maybe a good five years before I had to start just buying what she tells me she wants. But here we are.

On a random day of the year when I do something simple like buy flowers for my honey for no good reason, she is surprised and happy and loves me. Something so small goes a long way. This time of the year makes me feel like the future of my marriage is dependent on some brilliant, original idea to wow her with. I know it's not, but still.

The most god-awful genre of music, besides TV commercial jingles, is carols. They make me want to jam an ice-pick in my ears.

Anything that Bill O'Reilly is so in love with that he wants to marry it has to be bad.

And what about Jesus freak cards and form letters about the family's events of the last year? My brother and his wife jumped on that bandwagon this year, complete with opening paragraphs about this being the season to "praise His name" and a bunch of other crap that made me cough vomit up in to my throat. It's my damn brother. He knows I don't believe that nonsense, yet he sends me that card? The single biggest problem with the holiday is the free license people think they have to preach their stupid gospel to those that they know full well to be non-believers. And thanks to Dickens, if you protest at all about it they have a name at the ready to call you. Next year I'm going to send them card praising the name and celebrating the glory of L. Ron Hubbard or the Prophet Mohammed.

It's not all bad. There is a really cool light show at Grand Central Terminal's main hall this year that is just cool as shit. And the outdoor markets that pop up at various places in Manhattan usually have some cool stuff. But we don't need a holiday for that. They are good ideas by themselves.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. I had every intention of getting out. When I was in my late twenties I was going to tell the family that I was done with Christmas and I would no longer participate in exchanging gifts. But before that happened I got together with my wife, who seems to like it. I don't know why she still likes it since she added my nieces and nephews and multiple sets of parents (ah, the modern dysfunctional family) to her shopping list. And she out does herself every year. So I wasn't able to bow out of the celebration like I always planned. My wife, being a lot nicer than me, just wouldn't let me get away with that.

So I guess like my dream of living outside of America, my hopes for a Jesus-free winter will have to go unrealized. Oh well, my wife is the only person in the world that is worth going through all this for. But don't think I'm not trying to wear her down and bring her to my side. I'm thinking a gathering of my whole family at Christmas time would do the trick very nicely.

Happy Winter Solstice everyone.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Holy Shit

Well, It's finally official. Conservative Christians are just completely bat-shit crazy. I know, I know, this isn't a real big surprise. But there is the deep end, and then there's the DEEP END.

Of all the figures in the conservative agenda movement it has been easy for a while now to point to Bill O'Reilly, Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson as the linchpin of the insane right. But there is someone who is trying to fight for that crown for himself. And Dennis Prager has a great shot at it the way he's going.

Prager has been foaming at the mouth all week over what he sees as the most horrible thing to happen to America ever. A politician is going to have his picture taken with a Koran. That's it. Really, I'm serious. Prager is in an absolute tizzy about a Representative-elect planning on using his Koran in his ceremonial picture after his Congressional swearing in ceremony. Oh, the guy is the first Muslim elected to Congress, by the way.

Now the great thing about the right (and by "great" I mean "stupid") is their tendency to act like they are really smart, but then go and prove how absolutely stupid they are.

In his original column about this pointless topic, Prager went on a rant about how this would be causing an "Islamization of America," that "he should not be allowed to do so" and that the "act undermines American civilization." He addressed the Representative-elect directly, saying "But, Mr Ellison, America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath."

Funny thing is, America, as in the Constitution or any other U.S. legal document, doesn't say a damn thing about swearing on a book at all. The bible, or any book for that matter, doesn't have anything to do with the swearing in of public officials. Sure the presidents always use it, out of choice and/or tradition, but it serves no official purpose whatsoever. And Prager is a fool for not knowing this.

Of course, this was pointed out to him eventually, so he had to alter his argument somewhat. He states in his follow-up column that he knows it isn't an official part of the ceremony, but it is obvious in the first column that he thought it was. He also claims that he doesn't advocate it being a law that someone has to use the bible. So what then did he mean that Ellison "shouldn't be allowed to" take his oath with the Koran?

He makes tons and tons of other dumb accusations and statements. On TV the other day, Tucker Carlson's show, he said Ellison is the first politician to break the "tradition" started by Washington of using a bible at the swearing in. This, of course, is not true at all. Media Matters dug up this AP story from last year that had some inauguration facts in it, and it seems that the bible tradition was broken as early as John Quincy Adams, who put his hand on a book of American laws at his swearing in. Another reason to add to the list of why old J.Q. Adams was probably our best president. And proof that the son of a president becoming president himself doesn't have to be a bad thing.

Prager has been arguing the revisionist history claim made by most of the righties about how our country was founded as a Judeo-Christian one. His claims are that our values and morals come from the bible and not our Constitution. I get so sick of this claim.

Right-wing Judeo-Christians like to think they invented moral values. The ideas in the bible were not original concepts by any stretch of the imagination. And I don't need that silly book to know the difference between right and wrong. The idea that killing someone is wrong pre-dates the damn bible. And I can pretty much figure out on my own that fucking my neighbor's wife would be a bad thing.

The funny thing is, this kind of forced religion on people is exactly what our founders were trying to protect us from. The freedom of religion in our great document means I get to have freedom from religion. But that's what they are trying to do, force it on us. And they pretend to have some moral high-road over us (gasp) secular people. And while people like Prager are attacking someone for not having the same religious beliefs as him, they turn right around and play victims. "War on Christmas" anyone?

So it boils down to a Muslim having his picture taken with his religious text that has Prager's panties in a bunch. And he accuses the left of practicing "hate" by calling him on it. That's what he has decided is the most important thing to deal with at the moment.

Typical of the religious right, they care nothing about the actual bad things going on in the world, just care about pushing their screwed up personal religious agenda on everyone else. Over 400,000 are dead in Darfur, and millions more displaced, but Prager focuses on calling his audience to action against a guy's choice of reading material. Really, Prager has a fairly sizable audience and some moderate influence, and this is what he wants to get people mad about. He could be calling his audience to action in helping to do something about genocide or helping to end poverty. No, he'd rather get his mouth all frothy with bigoted attacks on someone with different religious views than him, and based on lies and misinformation to boot.

I did a quick check on Mr. High and Mighty Morals' website to see if he has even spoke out against the genocide in Darfur. I did a search on his site of the terms "Darfur" and "Sudan" to see what I could find. There were a total of six hits, which were to episodes of his radio show. They are for sale, for twelve dollars each. Pretty much the whole site is for schilling his idiotic rants and writings for money, and to tell you what you should watch and read.

But there are summaries of what was said on the shows (I wasn't going to actually buy one). Most of the times he has mentioned Sudan it has been in the context of "proving" the "liberal media bias." On half of them he brings up Sudan as something the media should be paying attention to instead of the abuses at Abu-Ghraib. Basically he uses it as a way to lessen what happened at the American run prison in Iraq. Or he uses it to bitch about some other thing that he's pissed about (liberal media, the UN, too much attention being paid to tsunami victims), not to actually talk about the horrors going on there. He used it as a helpful tool to condemn his imagined enemies and then discarded talking about it when it was no longer useful. He hasn't mentioned Sudan since 2004, though the genocide continues.

I suppose we'll hear him talk about it again the next time some of our soldiers or cops get caught on tape abusing someone, so he can say, "That's nothing compared to the genocide in Sudan."

Look, everyone who reads me or knows me (I suppose that's mostly the same group) knows that I completely despise all religion and think it is the number one worst thing that has ever happened on this planet. That includes everything from Judaism to Catholicism to Scientology to Astrology to Mormanism to Jehova's Witnesses to crazy comet people.

But if people keep it to their damn selves and don't try to make me bend to their beliefs, I'm talking to you Dennis Prager, I could give a shit what you believe or what book you get your publicity shots taken with.

I would say that Prager should be ashamed of himself, but he has no shame. I don't know a right-wing Christian that does.

Of course, he makes the "but I'm a Jew" argument while saying that every U.S. office holder should swear on the bible that includes the New Testament.

You know what they say, if it looks like a Jesus freak and talks like a Jesus freak...

Read more on the idiocy here and here.