... is to accept the fact that he was assassinated by a lone gunman. For 50 years, we have mistaken superstition for enlightened skepticism, built suspicion upon suspicion rather than fact upon fact, narrated innocent people into guilt and succumbed to peer pressure that everything ought to be doubted, including things you can see right in front of your face, if it makes us feel some control over history ... if it makes us feel somehow less helpless. It is a way of saying we'll indulge alternate realities rather than find other, more productive things to do with our time to impact our own lives and human history. Conspiracy theories are your own way of saying you won't do the due diligence of thought, that you would rather doubt simple, unhappy facts rather than live with them. It is religion by any other name. You'll do that inspiring but flawed, misunderstood and not-altogether effective president a bigger service if you quit dragging his memory through the mud of your own neuroses. Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Three bullets were enough. The first eyewitness accounts were the right ones.
After you've painted yourself into a corner, almost brought the economy to the brink of ruin with a credit and currency crisis, and undermined the Constitution and subverted democracy to preserve your own minority value system, destroying a village to save it in a way that would make Marxist-Leninists proud, a pretty smart thing to do at this point would be to point fingers at those jackbooted thugs at the National Park Service.
--*Kanye and Kim's new mansion. How does it compare with a hole in your skull? --*The Elusive Nipples of Miley Cyrus.
--*Acid or industrial press: Which is the most effective way for the government to do away with Edward Snowden?
--*Jennifer Aniston emerges from home without hat and sunglasses.
--*How the government can kill you where you are standing right now.
--*How to burn fat while eating an ice cream sundae and watching reruns of "Friends."
--*This deflated balloon looks remarkably like Josh Hartnett's shrunken scrotum after a swim.
--*Is this a picture of Lady Gaga? (We can't ever be too sure these days!)
--*Breaking: This idiot doesn't know how to spell "cereal."
--*Will Cameron Diaz ever get any younger?
--*Parent capturing child's tantrum over candy goes viral.
--*Child gets even with fake molestation charges.
--*We approached Justin Theroux with a billy club, just to see what he would do.
--*Brides on fire: A pictorial.
--*The most delicious yogurt in the world happens to be 40 feet from this writer's apartment.
--*Viral video: See why this dog is doomed.
Country star Mindy McCready died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound on February 17. What are we learning from Internet trolls about her life and music? --*She was an angel.
--*No she wasn't, she was a bad mom.
--*Yeah, she abandoned her kids.
--*No she didn't, she tried to get them back.
--*Yeah, by kidnapping them. Drug addict!
--*Yeah, and her music blows.
--*This was a senseless tragedy.
--*If by "senseless" you mean everybody saw it coming a mile away.
--*You guys don't know her pain. I know she kidnapped her son, did drugs, forged prescriptions for OxyContin, drove drunk, overdosed while pregnant, jumped bail, neglected her children and murdered a dog. But are those things worthy of judgment?
--*Rest in peace, Mindy.
--*Rot in hell, Mindy!
--*I don't believe the hate I see on the Internet.
--*I don't believe the hate I see on the Internet and I am only three years old.
--*Dean Cain is hot!
--*The church is very strict about suicide and she will not be saved. Love, Pope Benedict (ret)
--*The Second Amendment is the law and nobody can change that. Just try.
--*Look, Mindy never did anything to me personally, so I guess I'll give her a pass.
--*I wish I could just hug those two children close to me, feel their little hearts beating against mine, fondle their hair, whisper to them, "It's OK. It's OK" while I explain to them that their mother was a drug-addled screw up.
--*Why does Roger Clemens get to be involved in EVERY scandal?
--*I don't know. I trust Dr. Drew implicitly and I still think he can save her.
--*I do not trust the liberal media! Mindy is alive!
--*Whore whore whore!
--*You are an evil pig for saying that.
--*He's just trying to get a rise out of you and her fans.
--*Don't tell me who I can call evil.
--*No, fuck you!
--*My sister looks like Mindy McCready.
--*Good, maybe your sister will kill herself.
--*You've got to be pretty messed up to make Tom Sizemore look good.
--*When I think of those poor children, it just gets me thinking about my own life and my OxyContin additions and the outstanding warrant I have and my constant fear that the police are going to break down my door any minute. And I just think of those poor, poor children.
--*When I got in an argument with my boyfriend about going out with the girls, I put on "Guys Do It All The Time" by Mindy to rub it in his face. And when we broke up and got back together, I had to play him "Ten Thousand Angels" to let him know I wouldn't fall for it all again. And when we did get back together and broke up again I played "You'll Never Know."
--*Is there any question about why he left you?
--*I don't know, I'm pretty smart about these things. I think this had something to do with the 9/11 conspiracy.
--*An ecclesiastical question: Is that dog going to hell?
--*I never met Mindy, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and blame myself for her death.
--*Death diminishes all of us. Even Mindy McCready's death. I think.
--*Her Web site headline is "I'm Still Here." Will somebody please do something about that?
--*Satin Satin Satin!
--*The spelling is "Satan" you dipshit.
--*Mindy, you were let down by so many people. Your mother, your father, BNA Records, the father of your first baby, the judges, Roger Clemens, the parole board, Dr. Drew, Vivid Entertainment, the father of your second baby, the Arizona police, the Tennessee police, Capitol Records, Dean Cain, Drake Berehowsky, The View, the makers of Darvocet. ... So many people let you down.
--*You all need help! There is so much hate here.
--*I hate you.
--*I hope you rot in hell and Satan himself gives you a punji stick infection and drinks blood from your skull you impotent wuss. And I hope he pokes your eyes out and eats them like marshmallows that he roasts over licking hell flames before putting them down his gullet and then I hope you can still see with them as he shits them out into fire shit ... We love you Mindy!
--*I hope for Mindy's sake, comments are going to be disabled soon.
--*Katy Perry's mint green dress reminds viewers that if it was good taste they were worried about, why were they watching the Grammys in the first place?
--*A smile can change your day, but John Mayer can change it back.
--*You just can't say "Chris Brown's greatest hits" without smirking anymore, can you?
--*Most of the night's awards go to some hot new group named "Hashtag."
--*After finally finding true love and ending a life of romantic drama and turmoil, Taylor Swift releases her new song, "No Fries, I Don't Need The Carbs."
--*Let's see. How the pop. Band fun. Likes it when we. Mess around with punctuation. How do you. Like getting your band name. Totally lost in a sea of. Confusing text. Assholes?
--Grammy producers lamented that it really helps the "wow" factor of the show if Whitney Houston dies hours before the ceremonies start.
--*Prince announces that the song "Somebody That I Used To Know" by Belgian-Australian artist Gotye has won the Grammy for best pop song of 1983.
--*After being snubbed for a Grammy in the category of best recitative for his album of spoken-word encyclicals, Pope Benedict resigns the papacy in protest the next day.
A little video I made for my song "Ford 632."
This is a bit of an update to yesterday's post. The cowards at "The Rumpus" didn't post my comment. So you can officially file that site under the heading "Glib, small-dicked wussies masquerading as dissenters but secretly afraid of dissent." Yes, a cumbersome file name, but I'm not much of a bureaucrat.
Again, I'm not one for sad anniversaries, but I have noticed that I do commemorate 9/11 in a very special way. Every year, I seem to become a Republican for a day. This isn't by design; it simply seems to be the nature of the arguments I have. When far leftists tend to discuss Sept. 11, they usually have one of two problems: 1) Even if they kindly acknowledge it as a mass murder (thanks, pinkos!), they still have to carefully couch their language so that it meets the prescriptive of their doctrinaire worldview (America's behavior on the world stage means this action was understandable). Or 2) They deny we were attacked altogether and insist 9/11 was an inside job.
I tried to pulverize that first argument yesterday, though I left out a couple of side notes: If the writer for the Rump Ass considered his "compassionate celestial" view more carefully, he would have realized that a celestial view isn't a compassionate one at all. It's simply indifferent. I would challenge the writer to interview a family member of one of the 9/11 victims, to ask specifics of how their loved one died, and then dare ask the question: "Did you know, when your husband ran back into the building to save those last three people on the stairwell, who America was giving money to in El Salvador in 1983?" As it happens, I did interview family members after 9/11. It caused me great anguish because I felt their pain in many ways was none of my business. I should have known, however, that I was helping keep their memories alive. This clod at The Rump Ass, however, brags about his unfamiliarity with those who died, and therefore his Wittgenstein-like refusal to speak of things he knows not. It's for a very simple reason. If he ever had to interview a family member or write a profile of somebody at Cantor Fitzgerald who died instantly and had never even heard the name Osama Bin Laden, he would go back and look at the horrible article he wrote for the Rump Ass and he would destroy it. He would print it out and dip it in kerosene and burn every word and bury the ashes in quicklime. And he would have wished to god he had not spoken with such glibness and vanity about compassion being selective. He would have realized he traded empathy for doctrine. This guy says, 150,000 people died around the planet on 9/11, so why are 2700 Americans special? Should I similarly disregard anybody who died in Rwanda in 1994 because each of those days saw thousands of deaths elsewhere? Does it not bear remarking that most people don't die horrifically everyday for political reasons when they are struck down by machetes or trapped in buildings that have turned into ovens? The Rwandans just wanted to kill each other, so why should I care or hope my government should do anything about it? If the author chooses not to show compassion for political reasons on 9/11, then he would have to spread that dispassionate view equally to Rwandans. Can he? Would he?
But let's look at No. 2, the 9/11 Truthers. I was once working with a filmmaker from Germany on a Long Island movie, and we hit it off. Then on the subway ride home he tried to convince me that no men in caves could have brought down the Twin Towers, and that it was obviously a controlled demolition. I was thoroughly disgusted. It was a bit like finding out you've hit it off with a racist or an anti-Semite or a cannibal. One of the first things any engineer, philosopher, writer, linguist, philologist or doctor would know in his respective field is the rule of simplicity. It's called Occam's Razor and it means you don't overcomplicate simple insight to fit a theory. Engineers don't try to improve on the Pythagoras theorem by changing the numbers in gravity. Writers don't come up with a hundred jargon words to say "The dog walked down the street." Doctors don't triple check a broken arm by opening a person's heart. And a real thinker doesn't remove the plane from a plane crash. This is logic so simple that my infant son would know it. And yet every time I'm on this here CB radio called the Internet I must confront people who say that the Twin Towers were brought down in an inside job, theoretically because g-men had days and days and days to plan and ably overcame bureaucracies and witnesses not noticing the tons of explosives being placed around the complex. The smoking gun: George Bush wanted war in Iraq. Therefore he destroyed the towers. There. It's proved.
The fact that so many Americans believe this is truly chilling. These people are also, we presume, driving cars and raising children and handling knives. If you point out the fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc, they have the easiest retort in the world--they simply add you to the plot. Dehumanize you and your argument. George Bush has programmed you. It doesn't occur to them that if you simply agreed with them to avoid confrontation, you would be much more of an automaton, much more a tool of somebody else's will.
Why do people complicate simple insights? Helplessness. When the world seems bigger than you are, when you personalize complex events and the world makes you feel small, vulnerable, feckless and inferior, a conspiracy theory is one of those things that gives you false sense of power. You are suddenly part of a group of people who know a secret. Having joined a group, having become a joiner in the worst sense of the word, you ironically enjoy a feeling of false emancipation. You think you are a free thinker, even though you haven't done the work free thinking requires: due diligence, proving steps, finding chains of causality, finding the simplest explanations. Having your ideas put up to scrutiny.
It is doubly repulsive because the Truthers, I think, are the people who made the world safe for another detestable "-er," the Birther movement. I see these two buds inextricably intertwined like roses on a trellis. It was the Truthers who created a toxic polemical environment where even proof of Barack Obama's citizenship with a birth certificate was no longer proof. Witnesses were no longer witnesses. Hospitals are no longer hospitals. Hawaii is no longer a state. The real insight is that Barack Obama is black, and so how could he be president, ask the Birthers, of "our" country. The same logic is at play with Truthers. "George Bush wanted a war, so how could 9/11 have really been plotted by the people like Islamist extremists who made categorical confessions of their own guilt?"
The rest is window dressing. Truthers pull out lots of meaningless specific heat capacity calculations to prove their theory that paper fires don't melt steel. You try to tell them that steel doesn't have to melt in order to stop doing its job, and for that you'll get called a Manchurian candidate. Or they point out that falling debris can't fall down on top of more debris with the speed of gravity because the building itself is "the path of least resistance." In other words, the Twin Towers should have fallen over on their sides if they were destroyed by planes. Never mind that a house of cards wouldn't fall over "on its side" if you knocked it down. Never mind that if you watch videos, the impact points of destruction start from the top and move down, where the falling floors cumulatively add new destructive weight, whereas controlled demolitions start from the bottom (using gravity as a weapon, perhaps the best weapon). Raise your hand if you saw the Twin Towers crumble from the bottom.
But again, by getting into these arguments, you remove the planes (some people actually try to do that too, by making 9/11 the world's greatest advertisement for PhotoShop ever). To remove the planes makes you a non-thinker. A partisan who places himself at the center of a paranoid web of strange facts and non-facts. I'd feel better frankly, if many of these people just admitted they were lying. Then they would merely be scumbags. Instead, they poison the sort of thinking required of enlightened individuals to synthesize, dialectically, a better world. They're making us all stupider.
I thought to further my contribution to a better world, I might offer some of the better Web sites debunking the Truthers. Here is one from a site called "Implosion World." They say they are independent. So to Truthers, that means they're probably part of the plot.
And then there's this wonderful YouTube video that gives common sense descriptions of what happened when the planes hit the towers. If you are a non-Truther, I bid you a nice time enjoying your brain.
After young Florida mom Casey Anthony was acquitted for the murder of her child, Americans are asking: What have we learned? --*Whenever you're going to borrow a shovel, always delegate that task if there might be a dead infant in your life.
--*A young mom has important choices to make in life, starting with whether she should use chloroform or ether.
--*The idea of closure is a hoax propagated by the media, the Bible and Nancy Grace, when we ought to know that real closure is never possible in a world of irreversibility at the quantum mechanical level.
--*A lynch mob, we ought to remember, doesn't deserve any justice. If real reasonable doubt belayed the execution of a person, we ought to see a bit of sunshine in that because it means emotions didn't drive our justice system.
--*Emotions drive our justice system.
--*The guy in "12 Angry Men" was probably way more guilty than Casey Anthony, and yet we cheered when he was let off the hook. Maybe you should go back and watch 12 Angry Men again.
--*Perhaps if you put as much energy into the cases of innocent blacks as you do seemingly guilty whites, the world would be a better place.
--*Most people believe that Casey Anthony still has to answer to her maker someday. Make no mistake, that is a comforting thought only to the deluded person believing it.
--*We got Osama bin Laden, woo hoo!
I just wanted to wish everybody a Happy Fourth of July. My newborn son arrived home from the ICU a week and a half ago, and I haven't had much time to post, especially given the thoughtful, meticulous and manifestly obsessive/compulsive way I draft these epistles to you, my dear readers. But just because I haven't written much down on the subject of my son's arrival doesn't mean I have nothing to say. So I'll just describe it in one word: It's the aleph. It feels like life has started again. It's magical, tiring, infuriating and frightening being a dad. Every day I worry that I'll do something stupid and accidentally kill him, and then get my strength back when I see that he is indeed alive and breathing and happy. I'm also in love in many ways I never thought I could be. Now I know why people feel compelled to look at pictures of their children--even if the children are standing right next to them. Now I know what it's like to feel like you love someone so much it hurts. Even when he is vomiting and peeing all over you.
There's a beautiful line at the end of "Bright Lights, Big City" (a book that has been called overrated so often that everybody has seriously underrated it) in which the protagonist, having suffered a life of bohemian dissolution, realizes he's going to have to learn to live all over again. I think of being a dad the same way. There are lessons and ideas and things passed on to me by my parents that I took for granted, that have become so ingrained you forgot they were important. Now I have to deconstruct myself and rebuild and share what I know, making sure not to skip the important parts. I'll have to teach my boy how to live in a moral universe and somehow re-attack the paradoxes and dilemmas and ironies that made the journey frustrating, distressing and sometimes heart-breaking. I'll have to tell him how to love completely, and then at the same time, someday, be able to let him go.
The journey begins.
As a young mommy on the go, one of the hardest decisions you'll have to make is choosing a baby stroller. Some are as tricked out as motorcycles; others are traditional like baby prams--good if you live in Victorian England, but not so good if you ride the subway.
If you are subway rider, you'll love the Citi Mini baby jogger. With the Citi Mini you can take your baby to hell and back and not even muss the three hairs on his head. Put aside the fact that these compact, lightweight, functional cruisers collapse in a nano-second. They also come in wicked fierce colors! If you're a New Yorker like me, though, you'll want to paint it black!
Many young mommies might hear from their OB/GYNs that they have a "low-lying placenta." This can be a great worry in the third trimester, because it means that the placenta is blocking the cervix, increasing the chances of a C-section. But never fear, young mommies! There is still time for the placenta to move up into the right position, closer to the upper uterus where there is better blood circulation and nutrients--and thus less risk of pre-term delivery. However, if after 28 weeks the placenta is still low-lying, it's time to reduce or stop exercise and leave off the sex. I know that daddies will be unhappy, but baby will thank you!
You've got to give Newt Gingrich credit. He manages to carry the torch of leading intellectual light of the Republican party, even as he says nonsensical things to boobs. It's admirable because despite the fallibility of the man on paper, his celebrity is unshakable reality, the same way Kim Kardashian's is. Just as she is now "a singer," a fact true enough to resist critique since she indeed sings, Gingrich is now the Republican party's thinker, because he indeed appears to be breathing and thus his thinking must be taken for granted. His latest caveat to the faithful is that America within his grandchildren's time will become socialist and secular but also Islamist. Work that out. He said it to a bunch of evangelicals. Not as a theologian, he reminded them, but as a historian, one who had nothing historical to point out except that everything the Christians believed was true. We might ask, if indeed the evangelicals are right, what need is there for history? What must a historian say to evangelicals? Why even wave those credentials? All we can find in history are strange peculiarities like the fact that our "Christian founding fathers" had several closet atheists among them, including chief framer Thomas Jefferson, who is mainly a Christian by default, since he held no beliefs recognizable to modern Christian ears. Gingrich is shocked that the courts of our country have grown "steadily more secular." Yes, we should finds it indeed blood-chilling that secular courts should be the progeny of a manifestly secular document, the U.S. Constitution.
It's chilling that a historian might not challenge a few people who might need a history lesson. Instead, he has done what historians ought not be in the business of doing: predicting the future. FYI: It's Muslims everywhere. In our halls, streams and sink traps.
I once met a German filmmaker who was visiting our country during the thick of the Iraq War. He was shocked and disgusted by what he found. The generations of Germans who followed the Nazis had been, in the long process of de-Nazification, warned repeatedly about the misuses of propaganda, taught how to resist it when it was used by malefactors and mountebanks. And what had my German friend found when he got here: It appeared to him that the United States had not yet purged its own attraction to brazenly chauvinist, nationalist appeals by narrow minded politicians seeking short-term gain. Our country had seemingly vanquished his, but in the end we actually lost on the ideals. Sorry krauts, guess we owe you for that one.
Gingrich might still have a chance at becoming the presidential candidate in 2012, one whose past infidelities and marriage butchering (the kind of antics that make still-married Bill Clinton look positively saintly) will be a turn off to the one group he's trying most desperately to court: the Bible thumpers.
The man is a tragic political figure in many ways. Even skeptics admit he's always loved big ideas--he was a friend of the Internet early and seemed less a reactionary than a cold-blooded futurist, one whose clarity in a post-New Deal world might be necessary or even helpful (maybe even disinfected, we hoped, of racism). But in his other lung, he has always loved him the filthy smelly swill of partisan politics and been willing to roll in it like a pig in shit, loved it enough to compromise all his ideals for small political gains, been willing to lead a plurality of shitheads to minority political death. You might accuse Clinton of the same impulsive emotionalism, except that Clinton continued to pursue his big ideas and still manage to win elections (and remain married to his wife--as of 2011, anyway).
Gingrich, unlike Clinton, has always showed the unerring stupidity to win battles and lose wars. Now he would solve the problem of our political divisiveness by imposing a rigid Christianity throughout the land, something that independents, Obama skeptics that they are, will not tolerate.
The desperation and hind-titty playing is obvious almost daily as Gingrich tries to position himself as anointed 2012 white hope following Sarah Palin's post-Tucson meltdown. Within a two-week period, Gingrich chastised Barack Obama both for going to Libya and for not going to Libya fast enough. He blasted an anti-authoritarian revolution in Egypt as being somehow corrupted by its occurrence in an Islamic country. He told Obama to act more like Reagan and less like Jimmy Carter. For those of you who trust "historian" Gingrich on this, a bit of digging into a fifth grade history book will remind you that Jimmy Carter made peace between Egypt and Israel and Ronald Reagan led an air strike on Libya that failed to remove its president. There is a good reason to criticize Barack Obama's approach to a troubled Libya. If Gingrich had gone for the analytical tack rather than the soundbytes, he might have ended up looking less like an idiot every time events changed within the day. Instead, he looks like he's willing to say anything. He looks small.
I liken him to the conservative mirror image of Charles Foster Kane. The great man who might be lurking in there is too much a slave to his compulsions, even it seems to his libido. He cannot seem to get beyond the concept of "us" and "them," and yet doesn't seem to realize that his "us" is getting smaller and his "them" is increasingly including the rest of us.
One hesitates to harp on platitudes at such an awful moment for the people of northern Japan, when so many thousands of people have been killed in the deadly earthquake/tsunami, when we all watch in horror as trucks, fishing smacks and even houses float away and the people in the area are threatened by nuclear reactor meltdown and radiation sickness. However, the human being is a narrative-seeking creature and we seek to reframe and reframe events even before they've finished eventing. So I will comment a bit on the comments, even as my heart thinks of Japan and its pain. There are many issues here to wring hands over, one of the most high profile of which is the future of nuclear power. The disaster will likely set back the acceptance of this kind of energy creation all over the world, even though that would mean a continued reliance on fossil fuels that are not only contributing to global warming but also have their own safety issues and numerous catastrophes. Oil rig explosions and coal mine collapses don't threaten thousands of people with thyroid cancer all at once, but cumulatively you could say that their effect is more insidious and more deadly. Last weekend, Slate offered a smart assessment of what might happen if we turn our backs on nuclear power. Unfortunately, the author wasn't prudent enough to wait a few days to see whether some reactors in Japan might actually prang before assessing the situation. By the next day, his comments were already covered in cobwebs as the Fukushima Daiichi plant started leaking radiation. One reactor saw three backup cooling systems fail and its rods become dangerously exposed. By Wednesday, the U.S. government was telling Americans to stay 50 miles away from the plant.
There are lots of enthusiasts saying that with prudent policy (and the foresight not to build nuclear reactors on fault lines) then nuclear power still offers us the best way out of this hot house orchid environment we're creating. But you'd also have to argue that it requires the right kind of oversight and regulation and the full confidence of people in a strong government. So for that reason, I'm still skeptical. Sure, levees work against floods, but as the people of New Orleans would tell you, they're only as good as the bureaucracies that keep them up to date. Tight-fistedness over the expense for a decent levee system and jurisdiction arguments over emergency response led to the New Orleans catastrophe. Meanwhile, we could hardly trust a free market to take care of safety. In 2010, corporate cost cutting, arrogance and a past contempt for safety regulations at BP offered the backdrop for the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Twenty-one concrete stabilizers are great. Six are cheaper. That ought to be a sobering thought to free-market fundamentalists. Yet nothing sobers people drunk on ideology. Not even a plate of crow.
Japan's government has also become the news. Supposedly, the island is run by a techocrats, not politicians. Who knew? Of course, you should have known, America, because you have 47,000 troops there and have helped run the place, at least militarily, since 1945. Though we didn't exactly colonize Japan, the American influence on political life there is hard to ignore. America's legacy, the article says, is a defanged political class in Japan, which has been led instead by integrated business and bureaucracy. As those sectors wane, no powerful political leadership apparatus has been built in their stead. The New York Times article is fascinating for bringing this up, but it also raises troubling political science questions about what leadership means. What the article seems to tacitly ask for is a grandstanding politician in Japan to mug in front of the cameras to tell people they are going to be all right. But I wonder to what extent that kind of leadership is the invention of the media, especially a cult-of-personality media like the kind we have here in the West. If I were in northern Japan right now, I'd want knowledgeable local leaders telling me the truth, dispensing facts and potassium iodide tablets and not lying to me about the real nuclear threat. The article also posits that Japan might benefit from a strong opposition party making political hay out of the catastrophe to offer accountability. But the Japanese, because of their cultural bias against (and, oddly, their subjugation by) a two-party country, don't really have or want two strong parties of their own.
It reminds me again of Katrina. There are people who are still angry that that horrible turn of events in the weather was politicized. (Would Democrats have blamed Noah for the flood?) But if you have ever worked for the government, you know that the tragedy in the gulf was indeed a government failure--a small government failure, that is. You might see a power vacuum in Japan. But was it worse than the one we saw in New Orleans, where citizens in the richest country on earth were left dying in a parking lot for the whole world to see on CNN?
I wanted to send money to Japan, of course, but my favored organization, Doctors Without Borders, was not earmarking for the catastrophe. I wondered why and Slate again offered me some idea: Japan is too rich. The money earmarked for the tsunami might not be used. But it would be restricted and not redeployed, which means it sits in Japan and does nothing. And then if Turkey was ravaged by an earthquake next week, well ... tough titty for Turkey.
I might anyway, just because I feel helpless and hurt for this country, which I visited last year and loved. Helplessness is probably part of the reason we tell stories and overanalyze. Just one of the ways we cope.
The big entertainment news this week was that "True Grit," a film largely shunned at the Golden Globe awards, suddenly leapfrogged over the competition to become the second-most-nominated film at this year's Oscars. Why, you wonder? I submit this answer: Because it was one of the best films of last year! A work that somehow managed to be visually superb, verbally dense (no contractions!) and formalistic, spare, violent, exciting, misanthropic and warmhearted all at the same time. Stuff that was lost on the star fuckers at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who call their show the "Golden" Globes, but barely offer a hedge against inflation. Especially star inflation. No, the real surprise is no surprise at all--that the Golden Globes don't count. But you're likely to see a proliferation of more award shows anyway, because unlike the S&P 500 in the last decade, they've actually created some wealth. Especially for Ryan Seacrest.
Another scandal erupted this week when critics in Britain decried the the questionable historical accuracy of "The King's Speech." Evidently, according to the movie, England is ruled by a royal dynasty. But it turns out they have no political legitimacy whatsoever. Whoops! Call the gaffe squad!
If you have seen "The Social Network," you likely admire it as much as I do. Indeed, it is very, very hard to make an exciting movie about typing, mouse clicking and legal arbitration hearings. But those qualities in and of themselves don't make the movie better than "True Grit." Try speaking without contractions all day today and still make yourself sound interesting. That's even HARDER.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives, having postponed legislation for a few days to observe a more civil tone after a weekend of violence, has returned to work in a spirit of compromise and unity with the Democrats across the aisle, introducing a new piece of legislation showing the shared convictions of a nation coping with loss. It is known by its unifying title, the "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act."
"Hey, wait a minute ..." said Democrats. "That's not very nice."
A largely symbolic piece of legislation, since the Democrats still control the Senate, Republicans tweaked it a bit so it read instead, "Shooting Down the Health Care Act Act." In lieu of that, they suggested the "Cutting Life Support on the Health Care Act Act," and "Killing Health Care Reform In A Bathtub," and the "Returning to a Belligerent Posture Following A Weekend of Mock Civility Act."
"After the tragic events of last weekend, we have hopefully returned to a new era of friendship, noblesse oblige and tact," said majority leader Eric Cantor as he introduced the "Terminating the Health Care Bill With Extreme Prejudice Act."
Were those bills to stall, Republicans say they would introduce the "Euthanizing the Health Care Reform Act With An Overdose of Morphine and Digitalis," and the "Guns Don't Kill People, The Health Care Reform Act Kills People Act." Like the others, these bills aim to remove last year's main Democrat achievement, a law aimed of insuring 95% of all Americans by offering subsidies to small businesses and increasing the age at which children can no longer remain on their parents' insurance plants. If that bill fails, Republicans say, they will continue to pursue a spirit of concordance and compromise by floating a bill, again largely symbolic, called the "I Fuck Your Health Care Bill in the Eye Socket Reconciliation Act," and if not that, they'll try the "You Talking To Me? Health Care Reform Assassination Act."
Other titles for future legislation, should these not pass, are the "Beheading the Democrats' Stupid Health Care Legislation," the "Snuffing Out the Health Care Reform with a Pillow Act," the "Throwing Lit Matches At Democratic Faces Act," the "Sowing Discord For Cheap Political Points Act" and "The Patriot Act."
Again, all mostly time-wasting, symbolic titles that won't go to Senate and really don't do anything other than promote the new spirit of harmony.
"Americans after this weekend are showing a new unity," said John Boehner as he introduced the "Screw Unity and Screw U Act." We cannot let a few deranged individuals upset our Democracy and spread dissension, and that's why we support this new bill, subtitled 'The Democratic Criminals Are Assaulting Your Liberties Act.'"
After those bills die predictable deaths, having served absolutely no purpose at all, Republicans say they may simply call it the "Supporting Gabrielle Giffords By Repealing Legislation that Gabrielle Giffords Supported Act."
I've always been fascinated by the story of Malinche, or Marina, the Nahua woman from the Mexican Gulf Coast who was sold as a slave to Cortez, became his translator, his mistress, mother to his child, one of the first mestizos and therefore the symbolic mother of Mexico. I'm obsessed with her story because nobody in literature seems to be as exalted and at the same time maligned. She's considered a forerunner of her new country on one hand and a traitor to her people on the other, a motherly whore. Even her nickname "Chingada" means literally "a woman who is fucked."
Her legend is such that she's been referenced everywhere from Laura Esquivel and Octavio Paz novels to Neil Young songs and even Star Trek.
I myself have been so intrigued by her tale and this legendary beauty of hers, one so great it supposedly undid a culture and bewitched statesmen and warriors, that I've named at least two different characters after her in my fiction. I also wrote a song about her when I was 22, which I'm sharing with you now in an updated version.
"La Chingada," by ER Salo Deguierre is either further exaltation or further insult, depending on how much you think the song sucks. The good news is that, if Malinche were here, she would no longer have to listen to the song on MySpace. That's right, I've upgraded my Word Press account and embedded the song on the blog. Just press to play.
I hope to post (and repost) more music here in the next few days.
La Chingada By Eric Rasmussen
Copyright, 1992, 2010
Marina they trade you for horses And swift galleasses that slice through the seas Marina, they trade you for flowers and meat And took you away from me
When you came back you had learned a new language Were decked out in colors, a mistress to kings But do you remember at all When we sat all alone and knew none of those things?
Marina, caught up in intrigue You helped the invader to bring down a king Sat by while his own people stoned him to death For the shame that he brings
Marina now some fish swims inside of you What kind of child will you be mother to? Will he hate your impossible beauty and body As much now as I do?
I want to talk about my mother Linda Stevens. Sometimes this week when I’m talking to people who knew her I feel a little bit like I’m in Citizen Kane, a movie where everybody has a different perspective on the hero. But Citizen Kane was a tragedy in the classic sense. The hero had big flaws that brought him down. What’s happened to my mother is devastating to all of us. It’s horrible and unfair and we’re all hurting more than you can imagine. But maybe in a way it’s not tragic, because she died being exactly the kind of person she wanted to be. And she had enough time in life to do it. Sixty-one is way too early to go, and yet my mother used that time very well, struggling through extreme personal difficulty to achieve what she did.
When my grandfather talks about my mother, he remembers somebody who woke up every morning and first thing said her devotionals in a moment of extreme privacy, praying for everybody she knew and who needed her, a practice that took so long it often made her late. And as a lot of us remember, she was late a lot. My 10-year-old nephew Colin and niece Sophie remember their grandma as someone who always tucked them in and said prayers. Most of us remember my mother as someone who hated cigarette smoking, but our very close family friend remembers a time when my mother sat with her on a beach and relaxed and smoked an entire cigarette. That story rings true to me about my mother, because I think all of us, no matter who we are, sometimes need to go off and be an entirely different person for a little while. My aunt Linda, her former sister-in-law, remembers my mother as someone who had an intensely personal relationship with God and talked about Jesus with an intimacy, as if he were her best friend. She wouldn’t go see Passion of the Christ because she didn’t want to see that friend being abused. My sister remembers a lot of things, like I do, but especially that my mother, for the first years of our life, was the primary breadwinner in our house while my father, her first husband, was in college and looking for a career. While we two kids and my father stayed home and had fun and watched All My Children, my mom was the one working. Her foster children, Candice and Charisma, remember her as the woman who was buying them nice dresses and taking them to Europe because without my mother things like that would not have been conceivable for them. And it’s no small addition to say that very often my mother broke her own bank making those things happen. She was willing to give of herself totally to give other people the blessings she had taken for granted.
I remember a time a couple of years ago when I came home to visit Oklahoma for a conference I was attending, and my mother had to call me from her cell phone. "Eric, I don’t want to put you out, but there’s going to be an entire El Salvadoran family staying in the house with you tonight." “OK.” I thought. "Can I ... How do I ... What should I ... Well, OK." Other times she would say to me that she was tapping her own bank account to pay for somebody else’s wedding. Many times it got to the point where she had me rolling my eyes. But I had to stop and remind myself that the world would be a better place if there were more people like my mother in it.
A lot of people are here today because they might remember my mother as an altruist and lawyer and a member of the choir and a tax preparer and a friend to people in need. I remember her as those things, too, but I also want to stop and remember the woman I met. My parents grew up in the '60s and when I met them they were idealists. When I was a baby the songs she sang to my sister and me in the bathtub were Blowin’ in the Wind by Bob Dylan (which is why we asked that it be played here) and Yellow Submarine by the Beatles. My father always swore that the Frank Zappa records belonged to her, not him. It was part of our family lore that she was painfully shy when she was younger and told me that it took her a long time to come out of her shell. That’s a hard journey that I don’t want people to overlook because I think it puts the person she became into perspective and I think it explains a lot about her compelling need to help people later. But that shy, pretty woman was the mom that I met, and first loved even though it became harder and harder through the years for her to be that person. The times required her to be something new and life required her to give up the shyness and be strong for other people. Yet the memories of my mother the quiet, maybe even kind of hippie-ish woman are still vivid and almost as hard for me to give up. I feel like I’m saying goodbye to that person, too, which makes this very hard for me.
We had a house with too many cats, then too many dogs. And we had my father, her first husband, who was so colorful and who needed so much attention that sometimes it was almost like having a third kid. It was a little much for one woman to sustain. My mother could have and probably should have parted ways with him much earlier but she didn’t because of my sister and me. I believe to this day that most of the strength I have today I have because my mother made that sacrifice for me and they kept our family together for as long as they possibly could. I wasn’t able to tell my father, who died a few years ago, how much he had given me. But happily, I was able to tell my mother. And so again, where there could be tragedy, there isn’t.
When my mother divorced she spent a few years searching spiritually and emotionally and lost us kids to adulthood at about the same time. I went away to college the day she turned 40. And I wondered later if perhaps losing the identity of motherhood quickly was something that had hurt her more than she let on. Because I know her need to be a mother was not gone. Suddenly, one day Bruce Stevens came into her life. I was away at college and barely had time to get home to meet him before the nuptials were planned. With just a few hours to spare I met my new father. Before I had even come home from school, I was having my part written in a wedding and joining a family I didn’t know. It happened fast, and some of us thought at the time maybe too fast. But that feeling was quickly eclipsed when we saw my mother go through a spiritual renaissance. All of the energy she had spent searching and fighting through her shyness and confusion was suddenly extremely focused, and the shy mom who I grew up with turned into this powerhouse of ideas and energy and direction, who could act quickly on any moral imperative only because she thought it was right. And once she knew that it was right, all of a sudden, you could not stop her under any circumstances. A few years ago, she said she was taking as many foster kids and grandkids as possible on a trip to Niagara Falls, New York City and Washington, D.C. In about four days. In a van. From Oklahoma. I insisted that she was crazy. There was no way that trip worked. People in Oklahoma said it wouldn’t work, but when she wouldn’t let up, they said, “Hey, can I go?” And now we have the pictures to prove—she did it.
I think all of us know how hard it is to do the right thing—to take in strangers, to give money to charity, to sacrifice your time and your safety for an idea that’s bigger than you. And yet my mother seemed overnight to be stronger than all of us. She retired from the IRS and in her late 40s started talking about law school. She became a lawyer and started helping the entire family with various problems, even me with tax help. She became such a champion, that every new person in trouble became a project. She tried to figure out what that person needed to offer them strength, find out what their obstacles were and then help them overcome. And at the same time she had to assuage the rest of us who doubted that it could be achieved. Sometimes you felt like you were in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, where George Baily’s father kept breaking the bank, giving to her church, her kids and her foster kids. Most recently, she brought in two dogs, who literally ate her house. There are no more cushions. There are no more rugs. They even ate the remote controls to her television. But my mother was the kind of person who had, through everything she had been through, learned to see from the Sparky and Max’s perspective. Max, the pit bull, was just a giant baby. And Sparky, the constantly barking mutt, was just a little dog who had been taken away from it’s mother too soon.
Well today I am seeing the world from Sparky’s perspective.
--*Rock star yourself --*Mad Men Yourself
--*Jersey Shore Yourself
--*Do Something With Yourself
--*18th Century French Whore With Syphilis Yourself
--*Turn Yourself Into a Tea Party Crackpot
--*Join a Militia
--*Take Back Your Country From the Black People
--*Commune with Other People Who Share Your Unfocused Rage
--*Make Yourself Politically Aware Without Doing Any Reading
--*Do a copycat suicide
--*Mail in an application to become one of the millions of people who murdered John F. Kennedy
--*Set Fire To This Cartoon Tree
--*Set Fire To a Real Tree
--*The "start your own religion machine" tailored to your own particular belief system, one that rejects icons, accepts Jesus as four different substances, replaces fiat currency for a gold standard, acknowledges the existence of Bigfoot, and confirms the superiority of the Beatles over the Rolling Stones.
--*A new application that would show you how you might look different if you had any imagination whatsoever.