Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Polls That Try Men's Souls

Well, my soul at least. I refer to the following:


OK, setting aside the insipidity of asking "average citizens" to rank historical figures on a scale defined by something as sketchy as "greatness"--which is a big, big set-aside: I mean, if less than half of the number polled could identify Washington as the leader of the Continental Army during the Revolution, why the hell should we bother asking them their opinion on matters historical? I mean, wouldn't that be like asking someone what 2 + 2 equals, getting the answer "I don't know," and then asking him, "What is your opinion of the quadratic equation?" If you don't know basic facts that ought to go into your evaluation of a historical figure, how can your opinion be of any value? If you didn't know that Hitler was responsible for the Holocaust, you might equate him with Napoleon, for heaven's sake. Point being, I find it illuminative that the ignorant, when polled as to the 'greatest American president,' placed Reagan atop virtually--and in one poll, literally--all others. Reagan. Reagan. I just...I mean...What is with the hagiography that has sprung up around this man? (Look it up--the dictionary is on the shelf to your right.) I mean: Secretly funded Nicaraguan death-squads? The mass murder of our Marines in Beirut due to criminal negligence? Trading arms for hostages with terrorists? Arming the holy hell out of folks like the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden? Record deficits? A staggering failure of public policy on the War on Drugs? Robert Bork? Ed Meese? Laying a wreath at a Nazi cemetary? The refusal of economic sanctions of South Africa? The heartless October surprise? A murderous agenda of inactivity on AIDS as it spread throught a portion of the populace that nobody in power minded watching die in appalling numbers? More naps and fewer press conferences than anybody else--at least, until our current empty suit...But hey, he sure did sell that Aw Shucks, God Bless America, Pride in the Country image, huh? And Grenada's nutmeg crop will remain forever available to Christmas egg-noggers for generations to come.

I just...don't...get it.

As far as I can see, the rabid love for this man comes down to two things: Re-establishing Mindless Patriotism and Winning the Cold War. Well, first of all, enough with the Patriotism as being the only appropriate mindset for the nation. I mean, yes, liberal guilt goes overboard and turns too easily into self-loathing--I grant that extremity in jingoism is not much worse than extremity in whatever the hell the antonym of 'jingoism' is. (Can't be bothered to use the dictionary myself.) But shouldn't we occasionally feel a bit bad about ourselves? Not to make the comparison between us and Nazi Germany (although plenty of Native Americans probably wouldn't mind if I did), but wasn't it appropriate for Germans to feel just a wee bit diminished in their "Deustchland Uber Alles-ness" for a little while after the end of the war? I'm not saying that Americans shouldn't feel good about where we're from. We've done some great things, and the standard of living and freedom we afford our citizens still kicks the collective asses of most of the world--and the fact that we remain a superpower despite giving our citizenry the collective opportunity to f*** off and slack is a good thing indeed. We do, in many ways, rock. And if Reagan reminded us of this fact, fine. But it's not a major accomplishment, just telling people what they want to hear. And that's what he did--that's pretty much all he did. He told us we looked good--had we lost weight? And that haircut really flattered us and brought out our eyes! We were damned attractive. Aw, shucks, Ron, go on, really? Gee, we sure do love you for saying that--why, you must be the greatest president of the 20th century--no, wait, in all of American history! God, but we're an emotionally insecure nation when that's all it takes for a man to become an icon of statemanship.

Second, stop calling it "the Cold War." Because it sells the deluded idea of it as "a war"--kind of hard to buy when not a single shot was fired directly between the two parties in the conflict. (As for the "War on Drugs," "the War on Poverty," and "the War on Terror"--just knock it off, will you? It was poetic license the first time somebody did it--now it's just delusional tripe.) Oh, it was a contest--a rivalry--and one with a serious outcome for the entire world, I don't question that. And it's pretty undeniable--since the Russians themselves have admitted as much--that Reagan's policy of "Outspend the Bastards" did, yes indeed, hasten the collapse of their war machine. Agreed. Though doesn't Gorbachev get a little bit of the credit? Don't previous presidents, whose policies shaped and contained the conflict and enabled America's agenda throughout, get just a shred of the kudos? FDR, who pushed for the creation of the bomb, which set us up as a permanent "Don't f*** with us" world power? Truman and his eponymous doctrine? Kennedy, who stood up during the Cuban Missle Crisis and showed that we did indeed have the balls to go toe-to-toe and made them blink? Nixon, who created peaceful relations with China and thus ensured that no Communist Axis could be formed? I mean--isn't saying Reagan "won" this conflict like saying that the last guy on the relay race team "won" the race? It's just...wrong. (And I love--I love--the fact that the "soundbite" that everyone turns to in order to show this quality of Reagan's greatness is his shrill demand in Berlin, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!!!" Because, far from being a moment of greatness, it was a spectacular diplomatic blunder, guaranteed to produce the opposite of what he demanded. Because, as the Russians have also admitted, they were, in fact, getting around to the idea that the division of Berlin was a thing of the past, and that the wall had to come down pretty soon. So they were gonna do it. Then Reagan made his little show-boat demand. And the Russians said, "Well, f*** it, then. The last thing we're gonna do now is tear down the wall--we'll look like total wusses who take our marching orders from the goddamned running dogs and their mummified leader!" So Reagan's 'moment of greatness' actually ensured that East Berliners would continue to live in segregated misery until after he was out of office. Nice going, Ron. You idiotic prick. Unless, of course, you and your people knew it would have this effect and didn't care--which they probably did. In which case, you evil prick. Either way: prick.) Look, I know the hawks and neocons look back on the 80s as a golden age--hell, it's replaced the 50s as their era of when Everything Was As It Should Be. Business was unregulated. Environmental Standards were in the hands of people like James Watt and Annie Gorsuch. Jeanne "Go F*** Yourselves" Kirkpatrick was our ambassador to the U.N. Military spending was through the roof, social spending was through the floor. The world cowered before our might--why, the Soviets kept one finger on the button at all times, we had them so spooked. Thousands upon thousands of gays and drug-users died the horrible deaths Jesus righteously inflicted on them. The Moral Majority held sway across the land. Life was good--and the God Emperor Reagan ruled it all with the mild hand of a kindly despot. So, sure, why not? Call him the Greatest of Presidents. After all, in a world where many Italians recall Mussolini with a certain fondness and a healthy number of Russians think that maybe things would be better if Stalin were back in office, why not call Reagan "great"?


Except I have this vision, see? A vision of a Presidential Valhalla--where all American Presidents, greater and lesser, virtuous and wicked, are forever ensconced in a roccoco mead-hall, where they congregate for eternity and swap tales of battle and songs of victory. It is an afterlife for the men who, for better or worse, became the heroic embodiment of a nation, and so have earned a place at the table. Or rather, tables. Imagine that this room has many tables--and that, like a state banquet, the tables are arranged according to power--significance--prestige--greatness. Can anyone really doubt that anyone--anyone--but Washington will sit at the head of that first table? Anyone? The man who created the office--whose military exploits ensured that the office would exist--who turned down a kingship to take the office--who retired from the office rather than seizing it for life? No, I'm sorry, but Washington and only Washington will sit in the big chair--even at the Round Table, Arthur sits at the head. And you know why? Because, if for no other reason, he's the only one that all the others would defer to. Try to put anyone else there, even Lincoln, and there'd be grumbling and bitching and moaning among the presidential ranks. But Washington? He'd win in the first straw poll--unanimously. (Assuming he had the arrogance to vote for himself, which he very well might.) And on Washington's right and left--who else? It's got to be Lincoln and FDR--the two men who faced the direst threats to our nation's survival and overcame them--who transformed us first into a nation rather than a conglomeration of states and then into the most powerful nation in the world, while purging our worst national sin and defeating the greatest threat to world peace in the past few centuries. No, it's pretty much got to be Lincoln and FDR.

And then? Well, you can stick the near-greats together--I can see the intellectuals like Jefferson and Wilson spending centuries discussing academic issues--I can see the feisty curmudgeons like Adams and Truman snapping and chewing over their own grievances and righteous irritations. Teddy Roosevelt (a ruthless good ol' boy poorly disguised as a Brahmin) and Johnson would have a good time together, I imagine. But put these men together--put their intelligence and their learning and their fearless mastery of their times, and then try to imagine Reagan being allowed in the same room--much less at the same table--as these men. No. F***ing. Way. If he tried pulling his simplistic, ignorant, bumptuous attempts at 'charm' and 'gravitas' with these guys, they'd shut him down cold. Jefferson and Wilson and Adams would just give him a collective, icy stare, and maybe FDR would be the nice guy who let him down easy, and explained that he'd have to go join Harding and Buchanan over at that "How The Hell Did These Guys Get The Job" corner. He doesn't even get to sit with presidential failures like Grant--because Grant accomplished great things before his presidency. No, Reagan's mind, his character--what little there was of it--the man was famous for being a cipher, a vacuum of personality--would relegate him to the small timers. Whatever we may think of the era in which he lived, and however much the indifference of the culture may have allowed him to be its primary talking head, he simply doesn't measure up. Not as a thinker, not as a doer, not as a man. Hell, even Nixon would snub him: "I went to China--what the f*** did you ever do, you f***ing actor?!" Sorry, Gipper-lovers, but it's the truth: In the Presidential Valhalla, Ronald Reagan waits tables. The End.

Monday, February 21, 2005


So, f***. Hunter S. Thompson is dead, and (oh joy) by his own hand. Always nice for a depressive to hear that those who spent much of their lives living fully and exuberantly and fearlessly (Hemingway comes to mind) have succumbed to the conviction that life, even when so lived, is not worth living. Not that I'm slamming Mr. Thompson for--the idea is actually giggle-inducing in this case--"setting a bad example"--OK, it's more than giggle-inducing, it's downright hilarious; the man lived a life devoted to setting a bad example--one might argue that not since De Sade has anyone really done so with precisely that purpose. In fact, "setting a bad example" redeems his suicide from a bleak act of despair/illness to a final act of rebellious transgression, designed (one imagines) to express his morbid contempt for the world as it has become and to perhaps goad some lesser lemmings into taking the plunge as well.

One wonders how Thompson had been able to stand the past four years--reading Generations of Swine and recalling his views on the Americas of Nixon and Reagan, one wonders why the gun wasn't in his hand, turned inward or outward, a long time ago. Because George W. Bush and the culture he has fostered (perhaps 'festered' is a better word) is so utterly the antithesis of the fierce honesty of Thompson and the Gonzo ethos he created (if I may use a term for which he would undoubtedly have backhanded me sharply)--not that Thompson shied away from much of what Bush & Co. have done, particularly feeding the nation a banquet of violence that reminds one of gladitorial Rome; thanks to the Iraqi invasion, we're able to watch miserable louts of foreign captivity murder each other daily and gruesomely for our benefit. One imagines that such clarity of vision into human nature would have pleased Thompson to no end.

But nothing appalled him worse than the banal hypocrisy of which the American politician seems the perpetual embodiment, particularly when cloaked in the flimsy garb of religious self-congratulation. Bush appals for many reasons, but the primary one is that he is a degenerate Roman Emperor claiming--and in his own small madness, believing himself to be--a humble, pious man of the people. In doing so, he defiles the visceral bloodlust he so obviously enjoys but does not have the balls to openly savor--the closest he came was in an early debate with Gore, when he spoke with relish about the upcoming execution of the murderers of James Byrd, and, of course, his mocking impersonation to a reporter of Karla Faye Tucker's pleas for mercy--one saw the real Bush there--the Nero who recognized that Freud was right, and that the ability to kill with impunity is an erotic experience like no other--and he defiles the principles of charity, kindness, and empathy espoused by the true nature of Christianity, of which he understands not a whit. That such a man--doubly hypocritical, doubly damned--is celebrated, adored, embraced by this country must have savaged Thompson's soul. I mourn him, but I understand. The thought of leaving this country for Singapore has become something I think of with increasing optimism. If George W. Bush is our god-king, I've got to seek another place of worship, thanks.

Thompson didn't believe that such a place existed, I imagine. It's a grim punchline that one of the most important writers of the 20th century--perhaps the most fearless social critic since the death of H.L. Mencken--a man who, racist warts and all, has never been more needed by his nation than now--didn't even merit a mention in the first half of last night's local news-stations. No, all they wanted to talk about was a few days of heavy rain. Not until the end of the broadcast did they get around to mentioning, for about 30 seconds, the 'tragedy'--a misuse of the word that Thompson would have spat upon--of his suicide. When one recalls the outpouring of grief at the loss of uncontributive, star-f***ing non-entities like Princess Diana and Jacqueline Onassis, one realizes that Thomson's act becomes eminently sensible when viewed through his ever-uncompromising gaze. I do not mourn the writings that might have been--what could he have written that we would have listened to over the blare of American Idol and Hannity & Colmes? I do not mourn his loss beyond an inner wince at the pain that must have led up to it, and for the pain his family and friends will feel now. I suspect that, at a loss of anything more original to say, many will recall and cite his self-quoted words at the disappearance (and likely murder) of his friend Oscar Zeta Acosta, better known to readers of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas as the incorrigible Dr. Gonzo: that he was "to weird to live, too rare to die." I won't insult Thompson by recyling them for his own epitaph, except to say that they reflect the emotions of repulsed affection, of horrified admiration that this man's passing must evoke.

Hunter S. Thompson, 1937-2005. God speed, God bless, God forgive you.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

My Odd Life

So this weekend I have to drive up to Fresno, and while it would be easy to make a "just gotta have my raisins-fix" joke, I think that such humor betrays a certain lack of imagination. Which admittedly I suffer from, but one shouldn't be self-consciously unimaginative, unless one is attempting a highly tenuous form of ironic humor. And I'm much more of the serrated blade than the delicate scalpel--you can actually weigh my irony by the metric ton--so screw the raisin jokes. You're welcome, Fresno. Besides, I'm going up for a job interview, so it ill-behooves me to make a stink about any aspect of this upcoming weekend. Yes, I'm interviewing at Cal State Fresno. But not for Cal State Fresno. Let me explain:

There's this job, see? (Did I just channel James Cagney? And can one make "channelling" jokes and not seem about 15 years past the peak of such humor? See, I told you I shouldn't try to be unimaginative--it'll just come on its own.) A great job. Really. A truly great job. A prestigious university of world renown--ranked 50th in the world (which means it competes with places like Oxford and the Sorbonne as well as Harvard and Yale) by the Times Higher Education Supplement. And the job--teaching Shakespeare. Teaching self-designed surveys of English literature. Great benefits. Great standard of living. A famous, cosmopolitan environment. One Little Thing:

It's in Singapore.



Porn- and chewing-gum-free Singapore (I actually only object to the loss of one of those, frankly.) Half-way-around-the-world Singapore. Cool place in many respects--I mean, not if you're a drug-dealer/user, but then, I'm not, so what the hell. (I mean, "heck"--I understand they have a problem with verbal as well as visual obscenity.) And the school really is good: Nanyang Technological University--rated as 7th best school in all of Asia, for goodness' sake. And the English department is small and intimate and seems really in need of someone just like me. And (as I suppose befits an ex-British colony) they teach on the English university system, with Lecture and Tutorials--a much cooler fashion than ours. I mean, this job seriously rocks.

But--and I mean absolutely no disrespect to the nation in question--it's in Singapore. (I'd understand the trepidation of someone from there contemplating coming here.) Which would mean leaving behind little things like family and friends and access to network television--how, oh how will I survive without my weekly doses of Desperate Housewives and American Idol? (Yes, Irony. Well spotted. But still, I do kinda need to keep up on my Lost and my 24 and my 45 variations of CSI and Law & Order. I mean, what am I supposed to do with my evenings, read??? And I know what you're thinking--get a satellite dish, you twit, but hah! on you, 'cause I already thought of that, and checked, and consarnit, they're illegal there! Phooey!)

But distance and serious culture shock aside--oh my God, I may have to learn Mandarin--there's the little, tiny, insignificant matter of the Missus. See, I've got this wife? Who has this, what's the phrase?--career and life of her own and the needs that attend upon both? And those needs are kinda sorta attendant upon her presence here? And, well--look, there's been a tendency in this blog for me to make the kind of low-brow "Take My Wife Please" and Frying-Pan-Ducking humor, but that's because it's cheap and easy, not because there's any truth to it. The fact is, my wife is just this side of a saint. Consider that because of my selfish decision to go into academia, she's had to spend the past eight years (the entirety of our marriage) in complete penury while I go to graduate school rather than doing something that might produce an actual income. She has not complained once--well, except when I spend unconscionable amounts on DVD collections of Kurosawa on Amazon, and let's face it, she's right to do so--she's been supportive and kind. Plus, there's the joy of being married to someone who's subject to occasion bouts of depression--such fun for her, what with the blank silences and the physical torpor and the bleak refusal to engage emotionally. And yet she still comes home each day eager to see me. She is, I think we can all agree, way too good for me. And going to Singapore would, to put it mildly, seriously mess up her life. (Notice I didn't say "impact" her life, because "impact" is a noun, not a verb, and if you use it as a verb, I will find you and hurt you--hurt you bad.) And so Singapore is an issue. Not entirely bleak--she'll go, if I do. And I believe--even if she's not sure of it--that she'll find acting and singing work when there. But--well, if I didn't pause and think about her, I'd been even more than a prick than I usually am, and I just don't think that level of prickishness can be healthy for a human being to occupy.

And yet, in my selfish black heart of hearts, I do really, really want this job. So I'm off to Fresno this weekend--and oh, she's driving up with me, just to show you what kind of lunatic sport she is--eager, nervous, and very, very confused. Wish me luck!

A Bad Sentence

Does anybody know if they're still doing the Bulwer-Lytton contest?* You know, the competition "to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels," sponsored by the good folks at San Jose State University. Named after Edgar Bulwer-Lytton, Victorian hack writer who nonetheless managed to have not only a career but the respect of actually great writers like Dickens, whom he convinced to give Great Expectations a happy ending because, you know, that's what supposed to happen at the end of a novel, right, Charles? Charles, to his discredit, listened, and we now have a vastly inferior conclusion to one of the greatest novels of the 19th century. But the darker, original ending still exists--and it's curiously much more satisfying--and it's appended to most editions these days, so go reread it and see how it's supposed to end. (Hint: after a lifetime of being mentally warped into a creature of heartless sadism by Miss Havisham, Estella does not suddenly 'get all better' and go off with Pip into a more hopeful future.) Anyhoo--Bulwer-Lytton gets this contest named after him because he's guilty of the sentence that will be familiar to any of the readers of Charles Schultz, the opening sentence of all of Snoopy's abortive novels, and of Bulwer-Lytton's equally abortive Paul Clifford:

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

Pretty godawful--it's like Robert James Waller trying to write like Thackeray--and so there's this contest dedicated to other people submitting dreadful opening sentences to what, based on said sentences, would be truly abysmal novels. The earliest winner, from 1983, is the following:

The camel died quite suddenly on the second day, and Selena fretted sulkily and, buffing her already impeccable nails--not for the first time since the journey began--pondered snidely if this would dissolve into a vignette of minor inconveniences like all the other holidays spent with Basil.
--Gail Cain, San Francisco, California

Gives you an idea of what they're looking for right? Oh, and by the way, all of this is coming straight off their website, and just in case there's some kind of plagiarism or 'intellectual property theft' thing going on, let me just give you their address: http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/lyttony.htm and encourage you to go there for further examples of brilliant humor, much better than anything you'll find here, they're swell, I suck, please don't sue.

Anyway, I'm not going to enter, but if I were, here's what I'd submit:

"The nature of true evil is often so elusive," mused Professor Wagner Thurnstrom, Dean of the Haverscham School of Philosophy, as he ejaculated into the body of the prostitute he had just strangled.

I like it. But then, I'm a horrible, horrible person.

*Editorial Note: The author of this blog has checked, and yes, they are.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


You know, I have to admit that I have a penchant for tabloid freak-shows. That said penchant speaks to the appalling emptiness of my inner life is a given, but it does occasionally lead to moments of cosmic black humor. To wit:

Mary Kay Letourneau--who, I'm sure I don't have to tell you but will anyway so you can pretend you don't pay attention to tabloid freak shows like your pathetic narrator, is/was the lunatic psycho teacher who, ahem, "fell in love" with a 12-year-old, Vili Fualaau (damn those Samoan names are tricky), seduced him (or he her, depending on which sick bastard you ask) into a sexual relationship, or, as the state of Washington likes to call it, "statutory rape" and as I like to call it, "so close to pedophilia it's just not even remotely defensible, he was 11 when they met for God's sake," got knocked up, had the kid, got sentenced to six months on a sweetheart plea agreement, promptly sought out the kid again upon her release, f***ed him in a car where they were quickly caught but not quickly enough to prevent her second impregnation, and got her skinny mid-30-years-old ass thrown in the slammer for 7+ years, the maximum under the law but which continues to seem a ridiculously short sentence given what would have happened to a 35-year-old man who did the same thing to a 12-year-old girl (and if he'd done it to a boy, even 'consensually,' oh my God would he be dead), and don't hand me that horses**t about how it's different for young girls because they're more easily impressionable and men are culturally dominant and blah blah blah, because there's nothing in this world more impressionably stupid than a 12-year-old boy just hitting puberty and yet still being a kid and wanting to be mommied and not having the slightest clue as to how to sort out the contradictory signals his body is sending him--this kid was offered the best of both worlds: a mother-figure whom he could f***--hell, I know very few grown men who could resist that--and where the hell was the kid's mother in all this sound and fury--shouldn't she have clapped the kid in a chastity belt and told Letourneau, in careful tones and with a knife to her throat, that little Vili was now off-limits--damn right she should have, this whole thing is just wrong.


Where was I?

Oh, right, crazy b*tch who f***ed a kid. Well, the good news is, there's a happy ending to all of this: They're getting married. Yes, despite the fact that she's a nationally recognized convicted sex offender with no job skills beyond teaching children (good luck on that job application, Mary Kay!) and he's an unemployed high school dropout, those crazy kids (well, one crazy kid, one lunatic hag) are somehow gonna make this work. And she's pregnant! Again! Hurrah! How is that a happy ending, you ask? Well, not for their children, of course. One shudders to think what those girls are going to go through in a few years when junior high school beckons. (After all, junior high school female cliques are known for being highly tolerant and not at all likely to victimize those who are even slightly different.) And not for Letourneau's other four children from the marriage she was in at the time of the--let me say it again--rape. (By all accounts, the marriage was in trouble, but her solution to this unhappy state of affairs does not get John Gray's seal of approval. Hell, I suspect even the Marquis DeSade would've blinked a couple times and walked away without comment.) No, they get to continue to think of their mother as an unrepentant child molester. Not, I suspect, for Vili's mom, who's been stuck raising the bastard offspring all this time--though maybe her silence in this matter derives from a sick obsessive need for grandchildren. But it is still a happy ending.

For whom?

For those of us who, as I stated earlier, have an eye for cosmic black humor.

Because Mary Kay and Vili let their wedding plans be known right before Valentine's Day.

Which means that all those who found themselves alone this February 14th--all those normal, decent people who questioned why they hadn't found someone--all those who sat through godawful 'desperation dates,' full of awkward silences and prayers that the waiter would come back just to break the tension--all those who curled up on the couch in fetal positions, convinced that they would be alone forever--all those poor, poor people got the added kick in the gut of hearing that a horrible, horrible woman who'd perpetrated an act of appalling sickness on a child--she's getting married! To her victim! Who loves her despite--no, because of that act of appalling sickness! Take that, all you normal, decent people who've never even thought of f***ing a child. You get nothing on this most romantic of holidays!* She gets the 'love of her live,' and she couldn't be happier! You'll find the bottle of sleeping pills on the second shelf of the medicine cabinet, and the fifth of Scotch is over on the wet bar! Have fun!

And that...is funny. And thus, a happy ending.

*Official Disclaimer: The author of this blog does not, in fact, regard Valentine's Day as 'the most romantic of holidays.' He is more inclined to align himself with those who regard it as an exploitative hustle perpetrated on the emotionally desperate by the massive conglomerates of the greeting card/chocolate sampler industries. However, he is also aware that many of those who deride the holiday the loudest do so out of the secret bitterness that they too are alone, or not involved with the person they want to be, so he does not wholly endorse the latter position either. If you're involved, just buy some flowers and eat out and be glad you're not alone and leave it at that. And if you are alone, just be glad you don't have to buy flowers or spring for dinner for someone you'd probably be bored with by now. Subject closed.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Oh, For the Love of--

I mean--

Can somebody please--


OK, see, here's the thing: Bush unveiled his budget. And yeah, sure, it did all the things we knew it would--mostly increasing funding for areas where there's been horrible mismanagement and outright f***-ups--the Military comes to mind. (Look, I'm not against Military Spending, you understand--I actually do think that our soldiers deserve the body armor and the vehicle armor and the--you know what? Just let them make up a shopping list and drive over to the Pentagon's local Costco and start pulling the stuff off the shelves, OK? Increased military spending only infuriates me because A. Wolfowitz completely and utterly lied when he told us that this war would pay for itself. I mean, he was as wrong as a weatherman who predicts sunshine and gets firey hail, hurricanes, and the Ride of the Valkyries. Said weatherman would be fired, don'tcha think? And yet Paul's still around, spitting into his comb right before appearing on FOX to tell us how well it's all going. So, that. Plus, increased military spending might not have been necessary if there'd been one competent senior official in the DoD. But such officials were ostracized and ousted like they were child molestors at a PTA meeting because they were the ones who objected to the war in the first place. But never mind that. Increased funding to the military--fine. We need it. We shouldn't, but we do. Fine. But maybe, just maybe, since we suddenly have this sudden huge drain on our treasury, this might be a time to roll back those gag-inducing tax cuts for the rich--you know, just to keep the water in the well through this period of drought? No? Really? Deficit spending makes us all happier? Whatever...F***ers.) And of course, along with increased spending in the predictable areas, there'll be decreased spending in other, equally predictable areas (mostly those areas that involve aiding brown people who don't vote Republican).

And then there's the one that just leaves me silent with a mixture of nausea and depression and paralyzed bemusement.

We're increasing funding on abstinence-only sex education programs nationwide.

Let me repeat that.

We're increasing funding on abstinence-only sex education programs nationwide.

Um--how to put this--what's the phrase--F***ING WHY???????

Look, I recognize why people in power tried to institute abstinence-only sex-ed--which, for those of you not up on the lingo, is exactly what it sounds like--sex education that stresses--nay, abolishes any alternative to--abstinence as 'safe' sexual conduct. Just Don't Do It. Condoms? Oh, they're mentioned--but they're mentioned only in sentences that contain the words "break," "fail," "don't work," and "won't keep you safe from." The pill? You mean aspirin, right? Diaphragm? That's the thin dome of muscle that enables breathing--and nothing else. Nope. Just don't have sex. Period. The End. And so of course, kids being kids (that is, "horny" and "stupid"), off they go to bone away as they inevitably will, without the slightest clue of what to do about not getting knocked up or--more importantly--not spreading all kinds of new and wonderful versions of disease. (Hey! Not quite tangentially! Check out the New York Times of last week: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/12/health/12aids.html --looks like AIDS is back with that good old Kill-You-Dead vengeance! Nice time to be telling kids condoms are pointless!)

To reiterate: I get why folks in power wanted abstinence-only education. Because A. there's the whole religion thing that places fornication right up there with murder on God's No-No list. (Interesting to think that the Lord wouldn't really discriminate between rapists and consensual lovers, since apparently He sends both to the firey pits for eternity. But then, He's always been a wacky Supreme Being.) So fine, boning is a priori bad, and telling kids about birth control and disease prevention will somehow send the message that it's OK to have sex. (Which to me is like saying that telling them about wearing a bullet-proof vest will send the message that it's OK to take a .38 slug to the chest, but whatever.) And then there's B.--which is really lurking behind A. anyway--Adults Are Terrified About Their Children's Sexuality. And there it is. Adults don't want kids to grow up. Adults don't want kids to become adults. And having consensual sex is definitely a major step away from one camp and into the other. So, no sex. Ever. Not under my roof, young lady. Because I said so. Because. Because I'd have to admit that I'm old enough to be the parent of an adult. The maturation of youth terrifies, you see, because it reveals the ossification of the already mature. Not a pretty thing. And so I've some sympathy. I get why, as I say, abstinence-only programs were initially rubber-stamped (pardon the pun.)

But, see, thing is--and this is really why I'm cheesed off about the whole "increasing the funding for such programs in the new budget" thing: These programs don't work. They don't work because--oh for God's sake, do I really have to explain why programs designed to keep teens from having sex don't work? How 'bout I explain why programs designed to teach people not to sneeze don't work? Or programs designed to have bowling balls fall up instead of down? They don't work because they can't work. And here's the thing: there's evidence that they don't work. Check the stats: Teens In Abstinence Program--Teens Not In Abstinence Program. Guess what the difference between the number of teens who have sex in each group is? If you guessed "next to nothing, with kids in the Abstinence only program actually MORE likely to have sex," you win tonight's grand prize of a great big "DUH" T-shirt. Let me say it all in italics so you'll get my implied tone of "don't argue with me" seriousness: Abstinence-only sex education is failed policy. It does not do what it sets out to do. It doesn't work. And yet--let me say it one more time--we're increasing funding on abstinence-only sex education programs nationwide, while cutting spending on programs--like drug treatment--that DO work. WHYYYYYYYYYYY???? This is akin to throwing virgins into the volcano in order to change the weather, and upon discovering that this stupid practice has no effect, concluding that the answer is "We need to throw more virgins into the volcano." Are we really so revoltingly dogmatic that we're willing to throw good money after bad in a pitiful attempt to reverse biological programming which has shown itself demonstrably unsusceptible to such reversal???

Yes, yes we are.

But what we're really doing is so much more. Because we know--we know that kids are having sex. We don't want to think about it--we clap our hands over our ears and chant "LALALALALALALALALA" every time the subject comes up. (Unless of course the subject comes up on perennial favorites like 90210, Dawson's Creek, and The O.C.--then it's cool. Because they're not our kids getting laid. We suck.) But clap and shout all you want, parents--your kids are making the beast with two backs. And by keeping them ignorant about it--by not giving them their educational due--you're not just increasing the likelihood of an unwanted grandchild, or a life-scarring abortion. You're putting your childrens' health--and their lives at risk because you're so f***ing squeamish about, well, f***ing. You don't want your children to grow up? Fine. Keep it up. And more and more of you will get your wish. Because your children will not live to see maturity.

I shouldn't wish that on you, I suppose. But the darker, angrier part of me does. Because abstinence-only "education" (and please note the subtle use of quotation marks--those indicate irony!) is like putting a loaded gun in the hands of each of your children and teaching them nothing about gun safety except "Don't pull the trigger." Happy landings, cowards. Oh, and thank you, Mr. President, for making the lives of the young people in this country even worse than they already were. I suppose "No Child Left Behind" means "No Living Child Left Behind." F*** the dead--after all, they don't pay taxes.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Visions of Dean

So it's looking as if Howard Dean just might be the new top dog of the Democratic Party. And naturally, this potential event has prompted hand-wringing on the left side of the aisle and slavering on the right. The Red Staters and their punditry are wickedly sniggering at the possibility, given that they've successfully convinced America (with the aid of a truly wretched press-corps) that Dean is a screaming, unstable maniac. (These are the same folks who, cattle-prodded by the Bush crew, convinced us 5 years ago that John McCain, as a result of his service in Vietnam, was going to pull a Christopher Walken-in-The Deer Hunter once in office, as revolting a smear as has ever been perpetrated on a veteran. Where was Bob Dole to b*tch-slap these people back into their slimy caves? As a side note, don't you just love those photo-ops where McCain has to stand next to Bush--where the man who volunteered and suffered imprisonment and torture for his country, only to return to a thankless nation and build a career and a life based on ambition and merit, has to stand next to the smug, richer-than-thou prick who used his privilege to dodge any risk to his snivelling, pasty-white butt and had the world handed to him anyway by consistently failing upwards? And McCain has to vow his support and approval of this guy. And you can just see the white-hot hatred barely suppressed by party loyalty. Frankly, if McCain were ever going to flip out, 'Nam-style, he'd've done it by now. Regardless--)

Let me just say for the record: I think Howard Dean is the right choice. He's only 'controversial' to the losers on the right, and to the even bigger losers on the left who've let themselves been brainwashed by the losers on the right. Look: maybe I'm reading this wrong, but it seems to me I'd rather have a smart, passionate man who genuinely believes in the principles of the party running that party than a colorless schmuck who just wants to figure out how to pander to the elusive 'swing-voter.' Because you know what? Let me be (probably not) the first to say it:

F*** the swing-voters. F*** 'em left, right, and sideways 'til the handle breaks off. They--not the loons on the left, not the bigots on the right--they are what's wrong with this country. Why? Because they're ciphers. They have no core beliefs. They hold nothing sacred, or even dear. They are engaged by nothing and nobody. Don't kid yourself--'swing-voters' are not the cool, calm intellectuals who don't affiliate themselves with either party because they want to reflect on each issue with the objective, logical detachment it deserves. Hah! What do think this is? Switzerland? Canada? A country with a decent educational system? 'Swing-voters' are 'swing-voters' because they don't give a sh** either way. These are the people who vote for Bush because Kerry looked silly in his hunting outfit, or because they prefer Laura to Teresa. Who vote on stupid, silly, trivial motives because they don't know or care to understand the platforms of the candidates. Also, in case you hadn't noticed, 'swing-voters' are p**sies. Total, utter, scared-of-their-own-shadow p**sies. How else to explain the tentative, pathetic attempts to appeal to them on either side?--God, the spectacle of those candidates making their fumbling, oh-so-hesitant attempts to coax those voters gingerly out of their holes, with all the dignity of a 14-year-old kid trying to figure out how the clasp on his girlfriend's bra works before she changes her mind about letting him get to second base. Apparently, 'swing-voters' will stand for nothing that smacks of, you know, decisiveness. Of courage. Of greatness. Because these things court 'controversy'--and that sort of thing sends those 'swing-voters' scurrying back into those holes. Dean yelled a few times at a rally. The clip gets played over and over. And every 'swing-voter' now assumes that he's a raving radical. For God's sake, it was a rally. You're supposed to yell at a rally. But no, no, he "alienated the swing-voters" by showing passion and excitement and the desire to encourage his supporters to do the same. God, what a loon.

You know, Teddy Roosevelt was once shot--shot--while giving a speech. The bullet passed through the thick text of his pocketed speech and entered his body. Did he stop and take himself to a hospital? Did he leap off the platform to safety? No, he did not. He went on--and this is what he said to the understandably noisy crowd:

"Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet - there is where the bullet went through - and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best."

And he finished the f***ing speech with a bullet in him. It just makes you weep to think of that kind of indomitable spirit and courage and how no president in recent memory has even come close to it. Now imagine if someone like Dean had done that today. He'd've been written off as a maniac--a showboater--a cowboy trying to 'prove' something. What a sad, little world we live in, and what little men inhabit its halls of power.

You know what? The Democrats need Dean. They need him a lot. They need someone who refuses to pretend that there's no difference between the two parties--or that the Democrats are the "centrist" party--there is no centrist party, folks. If we're going to be liberals, let's be f***ing liberals! Let's stop ignoring our core beliefs for the sake of appealing to a couple of uneducated yahoos who probably won't even show up on election day and, should they do so, will be more likely to vote on the basis of the color of our ties than on anything we may have said or done. Let's be Democrats, dammit. If we're wrong--if we lose elections--then at least we lose them because we laid out our plans and beliefs honestly and the people did not agree with them, not because we couldn't dupe them into thinking that we're really "just like the Republicans, only more moderate." The Republicans ain't scared of laying their agenda on the line, warts and all--hell, the Republicans could run on an open ticket of "F*** the n**gers, f*** the sp*cs, f*** the Jews, f*** the f**gots" and not lose a single red state in the process. Because everybody knows that that's what they believe--because they haven't hidden it. We need Dean. We need his honesty. We need his passion. We need to remember why we joined the party in the first place--because we believe what he believes. We need, in short, to remember that we are the party of progress--that we fight and argue and strive because it's only through us that slaves get freed, that women get the vote, that Native Americans stop getting slaughtered (too late on that one, but oh well), that we stop funding Central American death squads, that old people don't die in penury, that women don't bleed to death in back rooms on butcher's tables because abortion is illegal, that black men don't get lynched to a nation's indifference, that the murder of gays is met with horror and outrage instead of silence--that our country becomes a better, more moral place. We are the moral party of this country--and if we let ourselves get browbeaten by the right--by the people who want to tear down the wall between church and state, who want gays silenced forever, who scorn the rights of the many by calling them "failed policy," who think that the rich are somehow more deserving of governmental protection than the poor, who don't give a s*** about the environment because it doesn't have an effective lobby and it's really profitable to f*** it up--if we cave to these people, we deserve to lose. We deserve to lose.

God speed, Howard Dean. You've got my vote at least.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Reflections on Disney

So, as the final portion of my wife's birthday celebrations (designed largely to distract her from the unfortunate age at which she's arrived), I took her--at her request, a request I'm convinced was motivated by a desperate attempt to retreat into the pleasures of youth and thereby to convince herself that she is still young and vibrant--I keep expecting to find her staring into the bathroom mirror and demanding to know who the fairest of them all might be--to Disney's California Adventure. I did not go without protest, needless to say. But I love her, so go I did.

It's the first time for me visiting this particularly ill-conceived theme park. I mean, isn't setting a California themed park in the middle of California kind of like setting up a Parisian themed restaurant in Paris? Or a Las Vegas-recreating casino in Las Vegas? Isn't Disney supposed to be taking you AWAY from your immediate environment and into a far-away world where the troubles of that environment cease? And yet here they design a park that rubs that environment in your nose, and their idealized version of it only serves to remind you of the discrepancy between this pasteurized recreation of the ugly truth and the truth itself, which awaits you the second you walk out that turnstile? A Bad Idea, all around, I'd say. Not that there weren't one or two cool things to do there, mind you--I'm enough of a fan of A BUG'S LIFE to get a kick out of their little small-children-oriented area devoted to that movie, which I rushed home to pop in the DVD player--LOVE that movie, which just goes to show that it's really hard to go wrong when you borrow your material from Kurosawa. Someday, just for laughs, I'm going to watch SEVEN SAMURAI, MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, and A BUG'S LIFE in a row. Or maybe not. But still.

Anyway, back to Disney. Now, I recognize that the Disney Experience wouldn't be complete without a soundtrack playing throughout one's stroll throughout the park. And of course the music in question for THIS park had to be California themed. And therein lay the horror, folks. Because, while there are plenty of perfectly fine, upbeat songs about California and it's localities: "California Here We Come," "Hooray for Hollywood," "If You're Goin' To San Francisco" and so forth--I don't love these songs, but they project, as a themepark soundtrack should, an optimistic view of the world being recreated.

But these were not the songs that dominated the catalog of piped-in classics. Oh, no. Instead, we got "California Dreaming," a song that expresses the bleak despair of the eastern winter--a winter of the soul, mind you--and how one dreams of what is never to be--one can never reach the "California" of the song, either as a place or as a balmy cure to the soul-sickness suffered by the singer. This is not what we want to hear as we make our way to the churro stand. (Side note--we most especially do not want to hear--and I'm not kidding about this--a calliope version of this ditty as we walk by the carousel. Sweet LORD.) Or take "California Girls" by the Beach Boys--pop gold, to be sure, but isn't the subtext of the song the fact that the local chicks are much better lays than any of the other skanks in the good old U.S. of A.? Not exactly family fun for the kiddies, is it? And Seger's "Hollywood Nights" was playing, a lovely ballad of a dumb Midwestern kid who comes to L.A., meets a girl on the beach who bangs his brains out, foolishly falls in love with her, only to have her dump him for better times elsewhere, and finds himself staring down at the lights of L.A. in a state of borderline suicidal despair. Cool! Can I get a picture of myself standing next to Mickey with a look of sickened nausea on my face?

What were these people thinking??? Didn't they realize? Didn't they listen? Or was it just a bored committee of losers rubber stamping any song vaguely relating to what they were selling? I think the latter, don't you? (Kind of falls into the same category as Carribean Cruiselines decision to use Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" as their new jingle, ignoring the fact that the song is about the vampiric nature of heroin addiction--"Here comes Johnny Yen again, with a lust for life, with a lust for life..."--um, that's Iggy talking about how the urge to shoot up is coming over him, an addictive urge that sucks away at his ability to live--that not only kills him, but condemns him to a living death in the meantime. You know, the Onion--brilliant folks that they are--did a parody news-story about a bank using this exact song in their ads--only to have life imitate satire--is there anything sadder than life imitating satire?--when Carribean picked it up and actually ran with it. Terrifying, really.)

It just goes to show that it's all been downhill since Walt died.