Sunday, August 16, 2009

Behind the curve

When it comes to television, I'm always inexcusably lagging behind the other kids, staring at clouds and wondering how cheese is made. If I think about it at all, I think about why so many British and Australian actors are needed to portray Americans these days. Deep stuff.

To this day, I have never seen a minute of Gray's Anatomy. If not for The Soup, I would have to pretend I know who Jon and Kate are. I could not pick Ryan Secrest (sp?) out of a crowd. Lost is lost on me. Until a couple of months ago, I had never watched Boston Legal. When it first appeared I glanced over and said "Lawyers? Shatner? Ergh." I understand it has since been cancelled.

Why? This show is awesome. And by that I mean awesomely prescient. I watch it every day on some little cable channel or other, the kind that carries commercials for the Latter-Day Saints and companies that will get your IRS debt knocked down. Who ever thought Captain Kirk could bring the funny? Or that practicing law was so sexually stimulating for the practitioners? But mostly it's the stories -- talk about torn-from-the-headlines. So far, Crane Poole & Schmidt ( great name) has represented:

A black man arrested by a Boston cop for looking at a house. Standing on the sidewalk, looking at a house. He found it beautiful.

A man whose wife died after her HMO insisted on sending her to India for a heart transplant.

A man with terminal cancer who attempted to buy a lung on the black market. Ironically, his body parts ended up on the black market. Did I mention he had cancer?

There it is. The Gates-Crowley case, health care reform, and the most recent round of New Jersey Political Follies. Unlike Law & Order, these writers didn't read about reality and then alter it a little. They created it.



Drain-circling, GOP-style

For a politician supposedly molded in the take-no-prisoners crucible of Chicago politics, Barack Obama displays an Anne Frank-like faith in bipartisanship. I can imagine him writing in his diary,
"In spite of everything, I still believe that Republicans are basically human." Perhaps this will disillusion him: He has nominated Rep. John McHugh (R-NY) to be Secretary of the Army. Although McHugh breezed past the Armed Services Committee, two Republican senators from Kansas, Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, have used an arcane rule to keep him from being confirmed, ostensibly because they heard that some Guantanamo prisoners might be transferred to Leavenworth. As we know, detainees in legal limbo give off deadly rays like the radioactive sea monsters in 1950s movies, which might harm the soybean crop if they were admitted to Kansas. I'm sure Obama Derangement Syndrome played no role in their action. The point is that the Army is raising an additional 22,000 troops, the fighting in Afghanistan escalates daily, and no one is in charge. This should outrage military families as soon as they hear about it, which is difficult to do over the yowling din of the teabag terrorists and their media ringleaders. Oh, well, another constituency the Republicans have decided they can do without.

Their response to Bill Clinton's mission of mercy for Laura Ling and Euna Lee was predictable but nonetheless revolting. By any measure, this is the feel-good story of the summer: Two young journalists arrested on baseless charges, held in solitary, convicted of espionage and sentenced to twelve years at hard labor in a country where that really means something -- and then, seemingly in a day, they were home with their families. One even has an adorable young daughter! Apparently, their rescue cost this country nothing but a hilarious photo-op with Clinton and Kim Jong Il posing like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Not good enough, apparently because the North Koreans asked for Clinton and not George Bush. (There's a thought to trouble your sleep.) The Republicans appointed John Bolton their Official Denouncer -- Bolton, who has yet to utter a sentence that isn't completely idiotic. Better to let the women rot than even talk to a charter member of the Axis of Evil. They work for Al Gore, don't they? Serves 'em right. Aid and comfort. Appeaser. Where's my Haldol?

Army families? Check. Asian voters? Check. Latino voters? After unleashing racist pipsqueaks like Jeff Sessions and Tom Coburn on Justice Sotomayor, I imagine they're down to die-hard, back-to-the-Bay-of-Pigs Cubans, the only immigrants the Republicans don't despise. That leaves just one more group -- non-idiots. By now you've read this gem by Brian Beutler in a publication called Investor's Business Daily:

"People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless."

There is a molecule of truth here: Hawking is indeed brilliant. And physically handicapped. He has lived with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) for forty years, far longer than anyone expected -- all of them in the UK. Beutler's editorial was so spectacularly stupid that Dr. Hawking himself issued this statement: "I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS. I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived." Yeah, well, he says he's British. Why hasn't he produced his birth certificate?

Watching the party of Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon implode is like shooting a moose from a helicopter, except that you don't need to feel ashamed as you watch it stagger into the woods to bleed slowly to death.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mau-mauing the Maestro

At The New Yorker online, Alex Ross is presenting material from the FBI file of Leonard Bernstein, who was apparently seen as a serious threat to National Security from the 1940s onward. Today's installment, "Bernstein and Nixon's Plumbers," is not to be missed. At the height of the Vietnam War and on the eve of the Watergate burglary, White House operatives like Patrick Buchanan and Egil Krogh fretted that Lenny might be slipping subversive Latin messages into "Mass," the piece he was writing for the 1971 opening of the Kennedy Center. As the air thickens with ravings about "death panels" and "FEMA camps," it is useful to remember that American paranoia has a long, long, long history.

I guess one of these days I should work out how to do that hyperlink stuff.

As Bernstein remarked in a talk about terrorism many years later, "Who am I to have political effect? I just work here." Maybe by 1986 he had stopped trying.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Death Lives!

One thing about psycho killers -- they love to write. The Unabomber, David Berkowitz, Zodiac. the light verse of Bonnie Parker, all the way back to Jack the Ripper, their egos require them to explain, to posture, to share their Deepest Thoughts. They use violence to grab our attention and then bend our ears like an annoying passenger on a long flight. And a good thing, too. Theodore Kaczynski's "manifestos" are the reason he's in Supermax today. His brother read one and said, "That sounds like Ted." The FBI couldn't find him for ten years, and his own prose style betrayed him. Today, of course, he would have a blog like this one.

Hard as it is to believe, not all unbalanced people have seats in Congress or jobs with Fox News. Most of them only have the internet. This, too, is good, because it gives us a fighting chance to track down the James von Brunns before they lock and load. OK, we dropped the ball on him, but what about the latest entrant into the He-Man Woman-Haters Club, George Sodini? Here he is on January 6, seven months ago: "It is 8:45 PM. I chickened out! I brought the loaded guns, everything. Hell!" George didn't get along with his mother and couldn't get a date, so he felt completely justified in carrying his four handguns into a Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, health club and opening fire on a women's aerobics class, killing three. Hundreds of law enforcement officers spend their days trolling the 'net for child pornography and terrorist chatter -- is anybody reading the homicidal maniac blogs? Well, could they spare someone? Sodini was thoughtful enough to post some anti-Obama ravings, too, but maybe there are just too many of those to monitor. Let's stick with the loaded guns and the final, horrific entry: "Death Lives!"

It's August and you may be on vacation in some picturesque spot, so I'll summarize the coming "debate":

1. All his guns were registered. Therefore they were legal. Guns don't kill people, people...zzzz...Second Amendment...mmmm.....excuse to take our guns away...gggggg......

2. Just as there is still racism in America, there is misogyny. Shock. Surprise.

3. The male ego is a fragile flower.

4. Insert Hillary Clinton joke here.

Enjoy the beach, you jammy bastard.


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Dear Attorney General Holder

On paper -- or rather, in e-mails -- it looked like a good idea. Physical intimidation worked during the 2000 Florida recount, why wouldn't it work just as well at town meetings in 2009? Because in 2000, we didn't have the PATRIOT Act, that baggy omnibus legislation rammed through a supine Congress in the wake of 9/11, which has been used to designate practically anything, including the wearing of an anti-Bush t-shirt at an airport, as an act of terrorism. Surely rioting at a public meeting is an act of terrorism. If you can be tased for asking a question of John Kerry, what should you get for shouting down Arlen Specter?

When the far right concocted the PATRIOT Act, it never occurred to them that one day they would be out of power and that it might be used against them. Well, they are, and it should. As long as this thing is law, the Obama Justice Department should make use of it. Round up a few of the noisiest terrorists and lock them away without frills like habeas corpus or bail. This is war. The apologists for terrorism and the inciters to riot will squeal. Let them. I seem to remember that inciting to riot was a crime long before 9/11, often invoked against people peacefully demonstrating for civil rights or an end to the Vietnam War. How would John Boehner like to share a cell with Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck, one retching from alcohol withdrawal while the other, unmedicated, pounds his head on the bars? I guarantee ten million hits on YouTube.

The right counts on liberals and progressives to be the adults, to be willing to allow all points of view and to encourage free speech. Disappoint them. Take control of the debate. Don't be afraid to use their weapons against them. It's not a fair fight if only one fighter is wearing gloves.

Is it too soon to talk about revoking the naturalization of Rupert Murdoch? Maybe get a jump on the paperwork? OK, another time.