Thursday, April 29, 2010

And now an important contribution to American culture and youthful aspirations from Diesel Jeans

I don't know about you, but the first time I saw this I wanted to vomit. In the past Diesel's advertising has gone bottom feeding for attention with near-pornographic images that included S&M scenes, complete with topless female dominatrixes holding bullwhips.

But this isn't merely pornographic. This is sociopathic. It discourages exactly what America needs, and encourages what we don't need. And it's serious stuff. What'll they be telling kids next? "It's cool to be a fool, so drop out of school?"

Diesel's outrageous pandering in search of attention is nauseating. And it doesn't just stop with this headline. More copy from the campaign: "Smart may have the brains but stupid has the balls." If you get deep enough into the advertising, you'll eventually discover that it purports to be encouraging out-of-the-box thinking. But hardly anybody, most especially kids, is going to go digging for Diesel's own textual analysis.

Sounds to me like an invitation to hold up a convenience store and gun down everybody who happens to be there.

If Diesel has nothing better to say, it has nothing America wants. Don't buy Diesel Jeans.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Gun “rights” advocate tells point-blank lies to panic his constituents. The loser? United States security. Is this subversive?

The gun lobbies really ought to be more careful whom they put on their mailing lists. It would lessen the likelihood that responsible citizens like me would call them out.

Case in point: I very recently received an e-mail from Dudley Brown, Executive Director of the National Association for Gun Rights. That's his picture at right.

Gun-crazy organzation unwittingly

sends the crank an e-letter

“Dear NAGR supporter,” Dudley Brown’s e-letter began.

Me an NAGR supporter? If he believed that, he had to be smoking something highly illegal. But I read on.

“Please forgive my bluntness, but the United States Government thinks you’re a terrorist,” he informed me.

Well, now I knew he was pulling my chain. But I figured I’d read along with the gag.

Dudley’s next statement was, “And now they’re trying to pass a bill allowing gun-grabbing Attorney General Eric Holder to revoke all your Second Amendment rights at will if he has ‘a reasonable belief’ you could pose a threat.’”

Personally, I think that if the AG really did had a reasonable belief that I’m a threat, he ought to make sure I don’t have a gun. Hey, you wouldn’t want me to shoot up a subway car full of innocent commuters, or blow away anybody’s kids at some high school. So what’s Dudley complaining about?

Goons, gun owners and

“little old church ladies”

Dudley goes on to tell me that the “goons” at the Department of Homeland Security has targeted “gun owners, honorably discharged veterans and little old church ladies as threats to the security and stability of the United States of America.”

Really? Well, not only that, says Dudley, but…

“Even a gesture as simple as placing a pro-gun bumper sticker on your car, or supporting a pro-gun candidate makes you a potential “domestic terrorist” in the eyes of the thugs running our government.”

Holy cow! Wow! Yeow! That really does sound scary. It’s even scarier than that when Dudley declares, “and to add insult to injury, Barack Obama’s Surveillance Czar Janet Napolitano sees no difference between law-abiding gun owners like you and violent racists who murder and vandalize.”

What in the world is

Dudley talking about?

That’s absolutely nightmare-making—all those loaded words like “murder” and “violent racists” until you find out what the hell it is that Dudley is talking about:

“I’m talking about H.R. 2159,the shockingly misnamed ’Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2009.’” Dudley’s walk on the wild side of the Big Lie even applies to Republicans like Peter King who generally supports a pretty wide open interpretation of the Second Amendment.

“These anti-gun Republicans-in-Name-Only want to disarm you because they fear your pro-liberty views,” says Dudley, and in addition…

“In fact, your love of freedom frightens them so much that they’re now going to great lengths to label you a domestic terrorist.”

Boy, that had me so scared that I went and looked up the actual bill, “The Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2009.”

The truth about HR 2159

And guess what?

Not a word in the bill about bumper stickers, little old ladies, or honorably discharged veterans. It’s all about people who are “known (or appropriately suspected) to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism, or providing material support thereof, and the Attorney General has a reasonable belief that the prospective transferee may use a firearm in connection with terrorism.”

It also applies to people who “may use explosives in connection with terrorism.”

Nowhere does the bill single out you, me, the little old lady next door or war vets—unless you happen to be planning to blow up an airplane full of innocent passengers, or a government building full of American citizens, or you happen to be planning to shoot up a U.S. Army base. Acts of terrorism or treason, all.

Telling lies for fun

(and your money)

So either Dudley is lying through his teeth to freak out people who simply happen to own guns so they’ll send him money, or he has a constituency of traitors and enemy agents—which of course would imply his National Association for Gun Rights is a subversive organization.

Problem is, if Dudley and the National Association for Gun Rights get their way, it’ll be all that much easier for a terrorist to launch the next 9/11 or Oklahoma City. Or simply to walk into a crowded room full of innocent people somewhere and open fire with his personal AK47, bought and paid for at some gun show somewhere.

Can any patriotic citizen seriously be for that?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

When the going gets tough, the mavericks turn into jackasses

Looks like maverick John McCain is about to become ex-maverick John McCain in an effort to keep on being Senator John McCain.

Turning his back on some of the key things he stood for only a year or so ago, he's now bending with the wind on, for starters, immigration reform.

This is the guy who once put up with abuse as a POW? His spine seems to have turned to jelly.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The New York Times lets a committee of camels write an Op-Ed piece about “Internet transparency.” Or something like that I, uh, think.

I saw an article called “How To Regulate the Internet Tap” on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times this morning. A little voice started screaming frantic warnings in my head.

“Don’t bust your brain or your eyeballs reading this,” warned the voice.

The article is relatively short (I've just counted 525 words). It had six authors. This means that if they all contributed equally, each one wrote 85 and 8/10ths words. And the most ominous sign of all was, they were all academics. And what the hell is an “Internet tap?”

This article was clearly a prime example of a committee effort. And it instantly reconfirmed the wisdom of the old saw, “A camel is a horse created by a committee.”

To give the prose its due, I confess that I actually find it less impenetrable than Fort Knox. But not much less. Or perhaps a more suitable description of the text would refer to the flow of extra-heavy molasses along a one-degree incline, or watching paint dry.

At any rate, those six professors from various departments and centers at Georgetown, Stanford, NYU and UC Berkeley somehow put their heads together (Were there travel expenses involved? Is that why tuition costs at those universities are so high?) and came up with this stirring penultimate thought:

As American policymakers decide what should be done about net neutrality, they would do well to consider the precedents set by Europe’s new framework. The goal should be to develop — through a deliberative process involving regulators, the public and affected companies — industry-wide disclosure requirements that provide consumers with easy-to-interpret information on company-based limitations on access, use of services or applications.

If you read that to yourself slowly a few times, you should get it, more or less. I love the part about “easy-to-interpret information” best of all.

Finally there’s this rousing conclusion:

When it comes to the Internet and net neutrality, ensuring transparency promises to enhance the evolution of this dynamic market. Imposing heavy-handed rules about how providers can operate will only hinder it.

Speaking of heavy hands, who on the copy desk let this clunker in? I mean, I know you feel sorry for professors so desperate to avoid perishing that they gang up in groups of six to publish 500 words that come down to encouraging more or less everybody not to regulate the Internet with a heavy hand so we can have "transparency." Who except Joe Stalin and Adolph Hitler could be against that?

But journalists are in much deeper economic peril than tenured professors. It ought to be the other way around. Professors ought to invite journalists—while there are still any competent journalists left—to present original ideas in plain English at universities.

Oh sorry, I forgot. If you present original ideas in simple language, you might make the whole faculty look bad.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Scottsboro Boys—an uncomfortable reminder and a dramatic mindbender

It’s out of keeping with my cranky and mostly-political persona to do favorable theater reviews, but I’m making an exception in this case.

The Scottsboro Boys is an unlikely musical comedy about an American tragedy. It's playing off-Broadway. It deserves to be on Broadway.

In March of 1931, there was a fracas on a freight train between young groups of white and black “hobos” who were using what was then a popular means of travel among those hordes of broke and unemployed Americans. The free-for-all led to the arrest of nine teen-aged black youths on charges of rape, based on the dubious accusations (and later on, the highly incredible testimony) of two young white women who were also hobos on the same train.

The nine "Scottsboro boys" were initially sentenced to death. Their kangaroo court trial and conviction became a cause celebre, taken up by northerners, initially including the American Communist Party.

There were appeals, reversals, retrials, more reversals, and a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case—and on and on. In the end, the Scottsboro Boys escaped the death penalty, but justice was nevertheless denied and the system did not work.

All this hardly sounds like the stuff for singing, dancing and comedy. But the team of John Kander and Fred Ebb, who wrote the music and lyrics, and David Thompson who wrote the book, pulled it off, just as Kander and Ebb did with similarly tragic and ironic material in the musical Chicago.

To be sure, the play has its historical (or at least interpretive) flaws. Not least among them is that it paints Samuel Leibowitz, the New York lawyer who defended the Scottsboro boys after the first trial, as something of a legal hack who advised Haywood Patterson to plead guilty in exchange for immediate parole. Patterson had such formidable strength of character that he refused, choosing instead to finish his life in prison.

But Liebowitz, having seen the intractability of the racist legal system in Alabama at the time, was probably doing the best anyone could under the circumstances. He was acting as much as a hostage negotiator as a lawyer. He got as many of the Scottsboro boys out of prison as he could and saved the rest from the electric chair, no mean achievement for that place and time. In fact, one accounting describes his cross-examination of one of the obviously fabricating rape victims as “merciless.”

But this is a musical comedy after all, and a mind-blowing one at that. An anti-racist spectacle, it uses as its primary conceit an ancient racist convention—the minstrel show. In further twists, blacks play not only blacks but also whites and white women. and, in an end-of-show number, the black cast plays whites who are playing blacks. Many in the cast have multiple roles.

It all comes off as a challenge not only to force us to remember America’s long history of racial injustice, but also as a nervous-making kind of Cuisinart chopper-dicer-blender of our own racial assumptions, good, bad or otherwise.

I was particularly impressed by the performances of Colman Domingo and Forrest McClendon, each of whom played a variety of roles, and Julius Thomas III who played Roy Wright, the 12 year old facing the electric chair, with such utter conviction that one could see the terror in his eyes from several rows back.

Which is not to say that the performances of any member of the cast was anything less than impressive. For example, Brandon Victor Dixon gave the character of Haywood Patterson, the prisoner who refused to plead guilty and walk free, with a completely convincing mixture of rage and dignity. Christian Dante White and Sean Bradford several times made the transition from terrified black youths to lying white tramps and back again, and had me believing it. Sharon Washington, the only woman in the cast, provided a haunting presence as "A Lady." John Cullum, the only white actor, (you may remember him from the TV series Northern Exposure) pulled off his own multiple rules with perfection.

I take it as a good omen that Cullum was in this off-Broadway show. His last off-Broadway appearance was in Urintetown, a musical that deservedly made it to Broadway.

If you live in new York or you're planning to visit New York any time soon, you can order tickets online here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

We interrupt this blog to bring you some important messages from America’s militant morons

What is it with the teabagger movement? Isn't it enough to clearly demonstrate you're an all-around nincompoop? Or do you also have to flunk a spelling test to join?

At any rate, it seems that anybody with a camera can capture a moment of teabagger idiocy. For oodles more of this unintentionally funny stuff, just go to (from which I, umm, "borrored" these photographs

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Enraged conservatives: “Stop saying that spanking causes violent behavior or I’ll beat the crap out of you.”

There's a whole slew of stories this morning revealing yet more evidence that, “children who are spanked have lower IQ scores and that frequent spanking has been linked to anxiety and behavior problems and higher risk of violent or criminal behavior, depression and excessive alcohol use.”

Nothing earth-shakingly new there. It’s just a confirmation of earlier studies. But as might be expected, there has been fierce blowback all day from the Conservative side of the pre-Cambrian layer.

Conservatives seem to like spanking. So any science that confirms that spanking can harm children arouses fury—most especially the fury of those who grew up getting spanked.

Most of it can be paraphrased this way: “I was spanked frequently as a child and it didn’t do me any harm. Today I’m a grown up, contributing citizen and you can bet I spank my own kids.”

Well actually, here’s one argument verbatim from the Wise Conservatism blog that says, "Spanking isn’t abuse; it’s a method of discipline that children need to become productive, responsible adults."

Science? Science must be wrong, just the same as it is on global warming, and evolution, and vaccination and all that stuff that Conservatives refuse to "agree" with.

What this style of thinking boils down to is, “Facts are just another word for opinions, and I’ve got my own. If I think 2+2=7, that's my opinion and it's just as good as yours. Or maybe this anti-spanking thing is another one of those left wing, pinko, commie, pointy-headed egghead liberal, socialist conspiracies.”

Or as one pro-spanking spanker implies, this is one step closer to taking all our kids away and putting them in brainwashing camps:

How dare you call a spanking abuse? Should we take children away from parents who spank their children? Give me a break. There are too many children in foster care for foster parents to go around now. And yet, you want to take children away from loving parents who just want their children to grow up to be good and caring adults.”

Well m'am, I completely agree with you. Who says a good and well-bred child shouldn't grow into a caring adult who gets into bar fights, drives drunk, and beats his wife and kids black and blue?

Beat the crap out of our kids! It’s the only way to preserve America's freedom (aside from repealing healthcare) right?

Monday, April 05, 2010

8 Things worth knowing about tea parties and the Tea Party "Movement"

  1. While the “Boston Tea Party” happened earlier, the story of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland has sold more copies than any book concerning the Boston Tea Party ever did. That’s why so many people associate tea parties with lunatics and quaintly out-of-it characters.

  1. The Mad Hatter’s tea party was attended by a trembling lunatic who made hats, a process that in those days involved licking a great deal of mercury-infused felt, which made him “mad as a hatter.” Another attendee was a nutty rabbit who was “mad as a March hare.” (They're mad because they're horny.) A third party-goer was a soused dormouse. Finally there was a lost, bewildered and terrified child. Draw parallels where you will.

  1. The story of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party was written by a latent pervert. Although he never married or became a parent, he photographed little girls in the nude and carried pins in his pocket to pin up the dresses of little girls so they could wade across streams with him without getting their frocks wet. Draw parallels where you will.

  1. In the 1960s, a “tea party” was one at which marijuana smoke was inhaled, after which a lot of crazy stuff went on. Where does your own Tea Party stand on this?

  1. While many Republican Tea Party-ites favor waterboarding, the Mad Hatter and the March Hare tried to drown the dormouse in a teapot. Draw parallels where you will.

  1. There is a poem in the tea party from Alice in Wonderland. It begins, “Twinkle, twinkle, little bat/how I wonder where you’re at.” The parallel to this nonsense poem is so obvious that I have to resort to the tired phrase, "You can’t make this stuff up."

Many young children are secretly frightened by Alice In Wonderland. It depicts a little girl stuck in a strange and distorted world she can’t get out of, and symbols of adult authority who are violent and insane. ("Off with her head," threatens one Queen.) Draw parallels where you will.

8. If the Tea Party whackos and their Republican manipulators ever get to repeal Health Care reform, most of these Tea Party whackos and crackpots will be unable to receive psychiatric care for the rest of their lives. Either look before you leap, or pass the milk and sugar.