Thursday, March 22, 2007

Party of God

The Attorney General, we've heard at least four hundred times, serves at the pleasure of the President. If Alberto Gonzales is still pleasuring Bush, why are White House courtiers floating the idea of Theodore Olson as AG? Of course, if a certain blood clot turns out to be the world's tiniest patriot, Olson could end up as Vice President. No, that wouldn't work. Bush needs another Number Two so loathsome, no one will even think of impeachment. Ann Coulter? Maybe not that loathsome. Antonin Scalia? Too valuable where he is. Rush Limbaugh? One rehab too many. Rudolph Giuliani? One wife too many. Ah! I know.

Fred Phelps.

The Reverend Fred is the leader of the guerrilla comedy troupe known as Phelps (they all take the name, it's like the Ramones), or more formally, the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. Phelps burst on the scene in the 1980s by turning up at the funerals of men who had died of AIDS with placards that said GOD HATES FAGS. Without much money or even a radio show, they thus established themselves as pets of the Christian right. It was just loopy enough to be plausible during the Morning in America years, and mainstream America took them seriously.

A few years ago Phelps kicked it up a notch by starting to attend the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq. This time, the message was that GOD HATES PEOPLE WHO DIE FOR A COUNTRY WHICH TOLERATES, HOWEVER RELUCTANTLY, FAGS. It didn't quite fit on a bumper sticker, but it succeeded in enraging mourners, who chased the troupe across cemeteries. It also moved several states to pass hasty and ill-conceived laws barring the comedians from approaching the grave sites, carrying placards or praying -- in other words, abridging at least three of their First Amendment rights. This brought the ACLU on board, just for shits and giggles. (Phelps is prepared to undermine any group which lacks a sense of humor -- it's why I love them.) The dimensions of the Phelps project began to be clear, as we watched Support Our Troops slam head-on into That Old-Time Homo Hatin', like a couple of eighteen-wheelers festooned with yellow ribbons and Confederate flags. We were in the presence of genius.

Put simply, Fred Phelps is the greatest outlaw comic since Bill Hicks of blessed memory, with the added advantage that millions of people believe he really is the character he portrays: an inbred, pellagra-raddled hate-preacher from the state that considers evolution "jest a theory" and Sam Brownback an impressive politician. I can barely contain myself as I think about the mischief he could work from deep inside the Vice Presidential bunker.

If that blood clot would only cooperate.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

I was going to make expresso!

And I was going to blog the Oscars. Well, best-laid plans. It's probably just as well, because I dozed off about an hour in, and when I woke up Darren McGavin was exclaiming, "It's a leg!" right in the middle of the Tribute to the Fallen.

Quick: who went home with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award? Because the movie industry, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, is really about the humanitarianism. Does anybody in the Academy under 70 know Jean Hersholt from Jean Simmons? Or for that matter Gene Simmons? I think I do, but I can also hum the TCM theme music. A new century calls for new awards. How about a small statuette of John Barrymore for the actor right on the verge of complete liver failure who can still bring it when the director says "Action"? Then Peter O'Toole wouldn't be overlooked every time. (OK, Venus creeped a lot of people out, but what about the other seven roles?) Did you know that cue cards were invented for Barrymore because he wouldn't (and later couldn't) learn movie lines? No cue cards, no Saturday Night Live. Think about it.

Yes, Helen Mirren gave a polished speech, but she's had so much practice. I preferred her acceptance at the British version of the Oscars, concluding with a graceful tribute to Ian Richardson, who had died a few days earlier. It's good that Americans are becoming aware of actors like Mirren and Judi Dench in their golden years; it's a pity they still know Richardson best as the man in the Grey Poupon commercials. His New York Times obituary was a disgrace.
The guy who wrote "Tequila!" got more enthusiasm.

Will Forest Whitaker go on to a whole series about extravagantly mad African dictators? Mobutu Sese Seko, Robert Mugabe, Bokassa I of the Central African Empire/Republic? Is it vaguely colonialist even to suggest such a thing? Whatever, he should steer clear of Nasser. Remember how angry some Egyptians were when Louis Gossett played Sadat? I thought he was good. Whatever became of Gossett? Suggestion for next year: a musical extravaganza featuring all the winners who never equaled their Oscar successes (F. Murray Abraham, Joe Pesci, Luise Rainer if she's still alive).

Somebody looked at all those "foreign" names and decided it was finally Martin Scorsese's year for Best Director. Then the producers arranged for it to be presented by the other three hot-shot Americans of his generation. At least Scorsese continues to make interesting, often compelling movies (I liked The Aviator, damn it). Coppola is in the wine business, Lucas has finally run out of things to tell us about that galaxy far, far away, and Spielberg apparently is in pre-production for Indiana Jones and the AARP.

So what won Best Song? Is it about pimps? When did Nicholson start shaving his head, and why? Did food poisoning take out all the hosting candidates except Ellen DeGeneres? I suppose I can go look these things up. After all, tomorrow is another -- oh, the hell with it.

The future is now

The Sky returns from a spell of computer trouble. We're feeling much better and have a lot to catch up. Are you sitting comfortably?

Clearly I'm no expert in these clever little machines and how they work, but over the past eight years I have managed to learn a few things. For instance, aging Dell laptops hate to get wet, and anything you send into cyberspace will hang there forever like dust from an ancient supernova.

So why can't the doublesmart people who run the world figure this out? First there was Jeff Gannon/Jim Guckert/Joe Ramrod or whatever his name was. We thought he was just another online reporter who could be counted on to toss nerfball questions at White House press conferences. Then someone came across the website where he offered his paid services to other, presumably conservative men ("Top only!") and he became an embarrassment to a White House which also contains an Office of Faith-Based Yaddayadda and condemns his sideline as an Old Testament abomination. Apparently Jeff/Jim thought nobody would match up his face on C-SPAN with his genital display online. Another journalistic career fell victim to liberal hypocrisy (according to Jim).

Then there was Mark Foley, who didn't exactly cost the Republicans the House but certainly didn't help. Did it never occur to him that the pages would keep his pathetically horny text messages, not for legal reasons but just to amuse one another? ("Check it out -- the old guy says he rubbed one off during State of the Union!") The words don't vanish when you turn off the phone, Mark, like the little people on the TV screen. Just because there's no actual paper, it doesn't mean there's no paper trail. How are you enjoying your retirement?

And all the while, Karl Rove and Kyle Sampson (he's the one who looks like a depraved Radar O'Reilly) were busily exchanging e-mail about which US attorneys could be counted on to stay the course and smear the opposition, and which were obstinately devoted to law enforcement. The last time there was a Justice Department this sleazy, let me see now, it was just about 34 years ago. How time flies. We couldn't believe that all sorts of people including the President would allow themselves to be taped discussing the feasibility of various criminal enterprises intended to cover up other criminal enterprises. At least with tape, you can claim the transcriber misheard you, or accidentally erased a particularly damning passage, or couldn't have seen the ironic lift of your eyebrow as you said, "Perjury is a very hard rap to prove." By exchanging e-mail, the heirs to Nixon and Mitchell and their co-conspirators have created their own transcriptions. (Luckily for Bush, he only uses a computer to play solitaire and find his ranch with The Google. Ignorance can be your friend.)

Just for laughs, there was another right-wing rent boy named Matt Sanchez who learned nothing from Gannon-gate and has a cherishable picture of himself with Ann Coulter to prove it. In a slower news cycle he'd be a bigger topic, but there's just so much going on...Sanchez, who is way hotter than Gannon but not much smarter, protested at this biased liberal invasion of his privacy, something he probably should have considered before starring in all-boy porn. And having violated "don't ask-don't tell" so spectacularly, he may encounter difficulties as a reservist in the Marines. I hope he at least gets a movie out of this. With Taye Diggs, maybe.

Now listen up: Just because you figure out a way to put your hard-drive through some nuclear powered shredder (oh, yes, they have them at the Pentagon) doesn't mean you've made the data go away. It's out there, somewhere, and it will bite you on the front pages, now that the Democrats have remembered how to spell subpoena duces tecum. Count on it.