Thursday, August 27, 2015

Freedom and the press

Nearly a hundred people a day are shot to death in the land of the free, but not usually on live television.  When a former co-worker murdered Alison Parker and Adam Ward and wounded the woman Parker was interviewing, shock waves ran through television newsrooms yesterday.  It was appalling.

A few hours earlier, at a press conference in Iowa, a different assault on press freedom occurred.  Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos had the temerity to ask an unwelcome question of Donald Trump and was verbally abused and escorted from the room.  The appalling part was that not a single "journalist" came to his defense.  They sat quietly in their seats and watched, and no one even said, "Why don't you answer his question?"  Because if you displease the Donald, you might get trashed on Twitter, or even  thrown off the big shiny jet.  Your editor might send you out west to cover wildfires, an assignment which is unpleasant and dangerous and doesn't come with champagne and hot towels.  So, no "Yo soy Jorge Ramos" shirts or coffee mugs.  Just a lot of reporters with puddles forming under their chairs.

It was a bad day for the First Amendment. 



Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The East Is In the Red

First of all, why does China, a self-described Communist state, even have a stock market?  Whoever translated Marx into Mandarin has a lot of explaining to do.  But it has, and like everything about China, it's enormous.  So we have to be concerned.

All right, I admit I'm a bad reader. I've been letting magazines pile up all summer while I read books and stuff. So I was as surprised as any non-investor could be when the Chinese stock market crashed and dragged all the others down with it. And I have no excuse. There it was in the June 8/15, 2015, edition of The New Yorker, page 36. A few excerpts:

Speculative markets can meander along, as China's did between 2010 and 2014. The danger is that, when they start to boom, they take on a life of their own and you end up with a bubble. As Robert Shiller...puts it, during a bubble, "news of price increases spurs investor enthusiasm, which spreads like psychological contagion from person to person..." The market's ascent has been spurred by a flood of new money, much of it from inexperienced investors. Fourteen million new trading accounts were opened last year, and, according to one study, two-thirds of those who opened accounts never finished high school. Investors are also increasingly relying on borrowed money to buy stocks, which hugely amplifies the risk of investing...Even if the government succeeds in keeping the Chinese economy on a steady growth path...the fact remains that Chinese stocks are no longer priced for steady growth...

No, I guess not.  So if James Surowiecki knew this two months ago, why all the frenzy last week?  Don't the experts ever turn off CNBC and Bloomberg and open a magazine?  Even at the dentist?  It has cartoons.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

August even sounds like an exhausted sigh.  Too hot to think, much less write anything coherent.  And I find I have all these disjointed notes.

Two boys are swept out of their boat off the coast of Florida, and are never found.  Surely this is a local story, unless the boys are rich, and white, and neighbors of Joe Namath...aha.  Actually, it's a story about bad parents.  Who lets a couple of fourteen-year-olds gas up and head for the Bahamas?  In some places you can lose custody and/or go to jail for leaving a kid that young alone at home.   Especially if you aren't rich and white and living in the vicinity of Joe Namath.

Sad to learn of the death of Phil Austin, a/k/a Nick Danger and Bebop Loco.  Only two members of Firesign Theater left.  Part of me wants to put them with the surviving members of Beyond the Fringe and see what happens.  If anything. 

If I looked like Donald Trump I would cram my mouth with Velcro before commenting on anyone else's appearance.  The hair is only the beginning.  That troll-doll face, red and flaccid, the swollen torso rammed into a suit three sizes too small, fat little arms flailing -- he looks like the puppet the children boo.  How dare that peroxide bitch challenge him with his own words?  He couldn't plausibly call Megyn Kelly a fat pig, so he had to imply she was "on the rag," as the locker room philosophers have it.  This was the signal for the other clowns to stop bashing Planned Parenthood and vowing to "overturn" Roe v. Wade long enough to insist that they aren't nearly as misogynistic as he is -- which is like al Qaeda protesting that it isn't as depraved as ISIS.  ("We don't lop off heads, we only use truck bombs, OK?")  I totally love this.  Can they get it on the weekly fall schedule?  Veterans, Latinos, women, there must be somebody he hasn't pissed off...disabled children?  Librarians?  The Belgians?

I guess I don't write enough about Memphis.  Last Wednesday a storm came through and left thousands in the dark.  Seventieth anniversary of the Atomic Age, and Dogpatch-on-the-Mississippi can't keep the lights on when it rains.  So I missed all the local TV, including my favorite commercial.  A man who looks like anybody's grandpa is being led off in handcuffs, shaking his head as if to say, "Ain't this a shame?"  What the hell did he get arrested for, running a high-stakes checkers game in Tom Lee Park?  Never mind, his daughters walk into the bail bond office, sign over their houses and cars and, now all smiles, take Daddy home.  There he can choose from the array of lawyers who advertise night and day, car "wrecks" a specialty.  I am so far from home.


I have become a devoted fan of BBC World News, probably the most thorough, least commercial-ridden source of broadcast news.  News that is actually news, with a minimum of sky-diving  grannies, reunited twins, and all that other human-interest drivel.  News with a European slant and a little too much soccer, but...look, I may as well be honest.  I love the crawls.

Those phrases that slide across the bottom of the screen are a feature of every "news" channel, as if to say, "There's just so much to cover, we can't get it all in, go to our website, subscribe to our Twitface page, send us your photos, ooh, here comes another one..."  Yes, but the ones on the Beeb are special, intriguing, more like a secret code.  Rarely does the newsreader even mention the best ones.  A few weeks ago it said STRIKE DISRUPTS TRAINS AND UNDERGROUND, leaving me to guess which country has rail, subways and unions.  France?  Japan?  Canada?  I never did find out. 

This week the unsung hero who types these things surpassed herself/himself.  RUSSIA BULLLDOZES CHEESE MOUNTAIN, it said, causing landslides and cascades in my brain all afternoon.  Cries out for video, doesn't it?  Where is this mountain?  Why?  Who built it, and who destroyed it?  Why have I never heard of a Russian cheese?  Was Ukraine --not mentioned for weeks on American media -- somehow involved?  Did Putin sense another bare-chested photo-op and drive the lead bulldozer?  Who doesn't like cheese?

Reader, they got me.  I went to their website, and the real story is sadder, weirder, and more prosaic than you might expect:  The cheese, together with other foods, was imported illegally after Vlad the Disdainer banned products from countries which hit Russia with sanctions after the annexation of Crimea.  Russians whose rubles are steadily losing purchasing power were as outraged as Russians ever seem to get.  "It's like our authorities don't care about the people," said Olga Saveleva, who has started an online petition (which should be at "" but isn't), and whose murder will not be solved.  No, I hope not, but look at the record.

Not big enough for American newsertainment, which devoted countless hours to the lion that died so some schmuck dentist could have his Hemingway moment (#FelineLivesMatter).  How grateful we are to the BBC in these dark days, bringing us news of fresh disasters.  And decomposing cheese.    



Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Sit down, John...and stop singing

The most disturbing news of this holiday weekend concerned neither sharks nor terrorists.  I learned that someone has released a director's cut of 1776.  The theatrical release was over seven hours long, or maybe it only seems that long because it contains not a single memorable song (and no one who can actually sing except John Cullum).  What it has is a strong screenplay by Peter Stone, adapted from his original book.  Woody Allen used to joke about Noel Coward acquiring the rights to My Fair Lady in order to remove the songs and turn it back into Pygmalion.  I would support anyone who wanted to do that here.  Or perhaps Tony Kushner, who  made the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment sexy in Lincoln, could write a new film on this story.  For such a momentous event in the history of the world, the American Revolution has not been well served by the movies.  The Devil's Disciple comes to mind (from a play by Shaw), and...I'm out.   


Friday, June 26, 2015

Abstinent friends

One, as Lady Bracknell observed, may be an accident; two looks very like carelessness.  So could somebody tell Bristols Palin (and show her with an anatomically correct doll, if necessary) where babies come from?  Otherwise, this will keep happening. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How long?

I apologize for being late through the gate, and can only blame a combination of (continuing) computer problems and overwhelming mental exhaustion.  I am heartily sick of this country, my country, the  only one I know.  What is there left to say?

I note that among other things, the sovereign state of South Carolina appears to have done away with the presumption of innocence.  Even allowing the fact that "southern" and "justice" have only a nodding acquaintance, a line seems to have been crossed.  Normally victims of crime are invited to make statements after conviction and before sentencing.  In South Carolina, though, they attend the bond hearing even before the accused has been indicted.  I was, frankly, stunned by these grieving and gracious people expressing their forgiveness -- who wasn't? -- but the guilt of Dylann Roof was thereby taken for granted.  Yes, he confessed, but confessions are thrown out every day, especially when made without counsel.  Yes, the hateful website and its incoherent manifesto, but what about the law?  I have an idea the state would love to skip the trial and strap him into the electric chair by Labor Day.   Not that I give a swat about this dull-eyed sack of Dixie with his Ish Kabibble haircut (Google him), but what of the next defendant who may actually be innocent?

This massacre (or, as Thick Rick Perry would have it, this "accident"), we have apparently decided to skip the pointless gun debate and argue about historical battle flags instead.  This is probably the correct choice; if twelve murdered children didn't move the issue forward, nine murdered adults won't, either.  So we argue about the purely symbolic (in every sense) sedition flag proudly reminding South Carolinians of their heritage all the way back to 1961, when it was dug out and deployed in defiance of the civil rights movement.  As if burning every Confederate flag would stop the next Dylann Roof, no doubt planning the next outrage in some abandoned barn or his momma's garage. 

I hate to spend time exploring the minds of madmen, but this one seems particularly, oh let's say counterintuitive.  Roof says he was "radicalized" by the Trayvon Martin case.  Excuse me?  A self-appointed white vigilante stalked and killed an unarmed black teenager after the police told him to go home, and was acquitted by a jury of six ninnies.  If anything, the case should have radicalized a young black man to shoot up a white church, which has never happened ever.  Roof wanted to start a "race war."  In 2019, we will mark the four hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the first slave ship -- in, as it happens, Charleston.  The race war began that day and it has never ended.  So let's talk about flags and language -- "hate crime" or "terrorism" or "attack on religion" (that's the Fox Noise interpretation).  Yeah, let's.  But don't politicize it, because that might make people uncomfortable.


Given the short-term memory problems of our newsertainment media, this awful story was a gift to some people.  It shifted attention from the curious case of Rachel Dolezal, the former NAACP official who has chosen to identify herself as African-American to the bemusement of her whiter-than-white parents.  Of course, people have been "passing" as white for centuries, to get a job or an education or just a tolerable life.  We should be happy to claim so much progress that white people are passing for black, and not in a creepy Al Jolson way. 

It also turned a page quickly on the low comedy of the Donald Trump "campaign," and the revelation that Trump had to hire actors to look like a crowd at his announcement event.  That was just vain and sad, like Trump himself.  What was dumb was imagining nobody would find out.  If I know actors, that went right on their resumes.  If you want to buy people's silence along with their self-respect, fifty dollars won't do it.  The tell, of course, was that their hand-lettered signs were identical and correctly spelled, something never seen at Rightzi events.  Either they're calling Obama a "socilist" or they're so goofy you suspect ironic intent.  I recall one, at an anti-immigrant rally, that said "RESPECT ARE COUNTRY SPEAK ENGLISH."  Could The Onion do better?

As of this writing, Matt and Sweat, late of the Clinton Correctional facility, are still at large and leading the police a merry chase all over New York.  First they were seen near Vermont, then at the Pennsylvania line, and now back in the vicinity of the prison, where multiple staff members seem to have succumbed to their charm and aided in the escape.  Several cable channels have reportedly sought to give them a spot in the fall "reality" lineup.  See, I made that up and you didn't blink.

Meanwhile the President stopped by Marc Marron's garage, literally, and gave a podcast interview in which he declined to euphemize That Word.  The sky did not fall.  I can't wait to read Obama's next memoir, in which he releases all the rage and disgust he has had to swallow for eight years.  But what do you really think of Louie Gohmert?  As Flann O'Brien would say, it is not sufficient to reserve your copy.  Reserve your copy in advance.


Thursday, June 04, 2015

FIFA, ho-hum

As the great Perelman would say, the FIFA indictment divided the nation into two camps, in the larger and drowsier of which I find myself.  Not since December 6, 1941, have more Americans given less of a toss about the conflict roiling the rest of the planet.  Will the 2022 World Cup really be held in Qatar?  Will it bollocks.   (OK, we've moved on to Myles na gCopaleen.)  I am more riveted by Josh Hamilton's urine tests.

Moving on...I'd like to thank the absurd Duggar family for contributing a verb to our language at precisely the moment it was needed.  "To duggar" will henceforth refer to being sexually abused by a holier-than-thou Rightzi type.  Use it in a sentence?  Glad to:  With more than a million dollars in hush money/blackmail apparently paid out, we're dying to know how many kids were duggared by Denny Hastert.  Urban Dictionary, it's all yours.   

We are also wondering how many more headline-grabbing indictments we can expect from the Justice Department.  Although the investigations have doubtless been going on for months, it looks like Loretta Lynch hit the ground running.  (Who says that?  Paratroopers?)  Is she running for president?  Isn't everyone?  I mean, George Pataki?  If he wins, can we re-name the country Patakistan?  The only announced candidate with a concrete platform appears to be Lincoln Chaffee, who has put his clout behind the metric system.  Yes, but how does he stand on cursive writing?

And now a serious note...the Buttermilk Sky organization has regretfully but indefinitely postponed its Free Speech Freedom Event 2015:  Make Fun of Anne Frank.  Events in Garland, Texas (and Paris, France) have reminded us that free speech is never free, that it had better occur for some reason better than pissing people off, especially people with short fuses and access to automatic weapons.  Like all rights, it demands to be used judiciously and thoughtfully, and not just to mock dead people who can't defend themselves and to enrage their admirers.  Much as we dislike her mawkish diary ("People are basically good," are you shitting me?) which we were forced to read in junior high school, we have decided to give the little Dutch girl a break.  It will give our many readers a chance to polish their incisive parodies.  If Salman  Rushdie thinks that makes us pussies, well, that's his free speech.  He might think about the police who protected him from the ayatollah (at the insistence of Margaret Thatcher, I seem to recall), not to mention the folks in the kosher grocery store in Paris, who probably never saw an issue of Charlie Hebdo but were murdered anyway.  Free speech comes with collateral damage, and no one has a right to expect that.