Friday, June 26, 2009

Minority report

blogger not impressed

The wisdom of the ancients tells us that celebrity deaths come by three, and sure enough! we have been deprived this week of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. I have given this confluence of loss my attention, and I conclude that Robert Ballard, who explored the wreck of the Titanic, does not have a vessel capable of plumbing the depths of my indifference.

McMahon was never more than a minor irritant at the edge of the screen; his principal achievement was inspiring the character of Hank Kingsley in The Larry Sanders Show. Jackson was a modestly talented dancer who impressed a lot of people who never saw the Nicholas Brothers. As for Ms. Fawcett, allow me to paraphrase a waspish nineteenth century literary critic: The work of Farrah Fawcett will be admired when the films of Ingrid Bergman have been forgotten -- but not until then.

The media, ah, the media, they are well and truly launched on one of those orgiastic grief-fests that mark the passing of the famous, the glamorous, and the reasonably young. Every ten years or so, people with otherwise empty lives gather in public places to light candles and tell sad stories of the death of Diana, Lennon, Elvis, and so on back to Valentino. Don't bother trying to find out about the so-called real world until Jackson is interred and the coroner's final report is released. No time for the flu pandemic, the pirates of Somalia, the North Korean missile supposedly menacing Waikiki, the Iranian election, the economy, the Mexican drug wars, the suspension of Manny Ramirez, or any of the other issues that so engaged us just a few days ago. Don't even expect to see the pope unless he has a comment about "Billie Jean" to share.

I never thought I would understand, and even slightly sympathize with, the world-view of traditional Islam, but I get it. I do. They don't hate us because of our "freedom," or because we're Christians, or whatever your neighborhood demagogue has been telling you. They hate what we represent. They see us as shallow, trivial and obsessed with the meretricious. They don't care what we do at home, but they will die to keep us from exporting this gunge to their societies. They may be relatively secular, they may not want to fling burqas over their daughters, but neither do they want them flashing their crotches like Britney Spears. If they see Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" as a contest between Britney and the Taliban, they may reluctantly go with the Taliban.

I wouldn't. I don't want to live in a traditional society, whatever the tradition. I'll take the crap that comes with the freedom, because the alternative is far worse. If American society really is getting dumber, trashier and more discouraging, I want to be in a position to say so. Just don't ask me what I think of Jacko.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Two cultures

I thought I knew every euphemism for shacking up, including "shacking up." For instance, "playing house," "bumping uglies," and the mysterious British "how's your father." "Walking the Appalachian Trail" is a new one for me. Apparently Mark Sanford found a stimulus package in Argentina for whom he is prepared to give up his wife, his four sons, his prestigious job as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, and his hopes of being the presidential nominee of his tottering party. For now, he is still governor of South Carolina. I read the written statement of self-justification and indignation distributed by Mrs. Sanford, and I'm getting an inkling of why he fled. Two days ago she was lying for him, now she's quoting Scripture at us. I'm surprised she hasn't (yet) blamed The Gays for weakening the institution of marriage by participating in it.

America is riveted, as always, by the latest outbreak of hypocrisy from the family-values party. The governor's rambling press conference, together with published e-mails to his beloved, fall somewhere between the queasy-making phone conversations of Prince Charles and Mrs. Parker Bowles, and the blubbing public confessional of Jimmy Swaggart caught with a hooker. In other words, we've been here before and we'll be here again, in the creepy twilight world where fundamentalism meets fucking.

Meanwhile, across the sea, Italy is having a political sex scandal that makes this look like a high school crush. Silvio Berlusconi, the 72-year-old prime minister (and grandfather), is cavorting with a eighteen-year-old model, throwing nude parties at his villa, and stoutly denying that he hires pros because "it interferes with the pleasure of conquest." I doubt that any romantic, badly spelled e-mails will surface; what's love got to do with it? Every paper not owned by Berlusconi blazes with headlines, and the response of most Italians seems to be, "And? What time is the football on? Where should we eat?" How I wish I lived in an older, subtler culture. Not the medieval madness gripping Iran, but the world enjoyed by the heirs of the Roman Empire. Che dolce vita!

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Life styles

No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American judiciary. For more than two centuries they have ignored the phrase "well-ordered militia" and interpreted the Second Amendment to mean "The Founders want us to have private arsenals." It's far too late for any kind of meaningful guns-for-Gameboys program, especially with right-wing paranoia at record levels. I am not in favor of more gun-control legislation. I want the legislatures to turn their attention to the other side of the equation and allow all Americans to purchase body armor.

At present, only law-enforcement officers are supposed to have bullet-proof vests. Clearly they should be available to civilians as well. If we have to walk the same streets and ride the same public transit as the armed and rabid, we must be given a fighting chance. Apart from the obvious benefits, it could be a boost to the fashion industry. Who wants some cumbersome camouflage-color vest when you can wear Kevlar from Donna Karan or Giorgio Armani? The white wedding dress as a symbol of purity is passe -- nothing says "pre-marital abstinence" like a bullet-proof Vera Wang gown. I confidently predict this will be da bomb with hip-hop artistes who have their own fashion lines: attend your favorite club and return to your crib unperforated. Finally a reason for those baggy clothes! And when foreign visitors deplane and see our duty-free shops full of the latest in body armor, they'll know just what kind of country they have come to.

I can hear the objections: the neighborhoods with the worst gun violence are also the poorest neighborhoods. How can we get armor to those who need it most? The politicians who court the NRA and pose, grinning, with their assault rifles will have to make sure there is a provision in the federal budget for protecting low-income families. May I suggest a surcharge on ammunition? How about a real "death tax" -- the gun industry pays a penalty for every person killed with a firearm? Well, the ways-and-means people can work it out. I don't do detail.

Will people wear their armor? I would leave that up to individuals. Many states have laws requiring bikers to wear helmets and drivers to use seat belts, and even texting is being restricted after some memorable train and bus crashes. But hey, if you feel lucky...guns, freedom, bullet-proof vests, liberty, it's all a rich gumbo. I feel safer already.


Even Stephen?

What is up with Stephen Colbert? On tonight's show he mocked old people for learning self-defense and then made fun of Simon Schama's accent. What's next? Knee-slapping imitations of people with Parkinson's disease? Chelsea Clinton jokes?

Iraq changed you, man.


Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Hello, Sully?

Have you seen this man?

Nearly five months ago, Chesley Sullenberger III, a veteran pilot with U.S. Air, lost both engines shortly after taking off from LaGuardia Airport on a flight to Charlotte. With a calm that still astonishes, he set the plane down on the middle of the Hudson River, clearing the George Washington Bridge by less than a thousand feet, and saved the lives of all 155 people on board.

For about two weeks, "Sully" and his crew of four were everywhere: the Superbowl, the Inauguration, the David Letterman show. He was modest, humorous, matter-of-fact -- everything we love in a hero. Then he testified before a Congressional committee on working conditions in the airline industry. He told of wage cuts, layoffs, compromised maintenance, and friends who could no long afford to fly for a living. After that, he vanished without a trace.

I'm serious. I just typed his name into one of those search engines -- it's the one that starts with a G, tip of my tongue, I'll think of it -- and found no references later than February 1. That's around the time he went from Sully the Hero to Lefty the Labor Agitator. I guess Michelle Malkin isn't calling him an "angel" any more, but are all the media so terrified of appearing to show favoritism, or even tacit approval, for unions and union workers? You can be a Texas-born veteran of the Air Force and an unquestioned goddam Hero, but if you seem to criticize free-market capitalism, be prepared to pay the penalty.

I hope he's all right.

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I stand corrected

We should have listened to Dick Cheney. He warned of another terror attack, and he was right: Last Sunday, Dr. George Tiller was assassinated by a terrorist in the lobby of the church he attended in Wichita, Kansas, right in the heart of flat-earth nut country. For some reason, the suspect, Scott Roeder, has not been hooded, shackled, and bundled off to Gitmo for several years of extra-Constitutional confinement; instead, police are treating this cowardly attack as an ordinary homicide, which is like treating 9/11 as a case of really bad piloting. The world may well conclude that Christian terrorists are handled more humanely than Islamic ones, a headache the Obama Administration does not need.

Now is the time to heed Cheney on "enhanced interrogation." Twenty minutes of vigorous waterboarding should elicit the names, addresses, and favorite football teams of all those in Roeder's terror cell. Further "questioning" will allow the plot to be traced up the food chain to those who bankroll murder in order to advance their medieval worldview. After their arrest, I have no idea what will happen, since the Senate evidently does not believe any mainland prison can hold hard-core evildoers. Maybe Mongolia owes us a favor.

I apologize, Mr. Former Vice President. And if you have any suggestions about those who give aid and comfort to terrorists, like Pat Buchanan and Bill O'Reilly, I'm listening.

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