Friday, June 26, 2009

The Man in the Mirror

Yesterday the world was shocked to hear of the death of Michael Jackson. It certainly came as a surprise to me, since he was apparently readying a 50-concert stand in London, which was sold out in hours. The tributes have started in earnest, in every media, and deservedly so. Even National Public Radio is airing a tribute as I type this.

Michael Jackson truly was a stellar talent. His songwriting, singing, dancing and all-around performing skills were hard to equal. From humble beginnings in Gary, Indiana, he became one of the most widely-known people in history. Everybody in practically all corners of the world knew him and his music. After millions in album sales, acclaimed videos and performances, his career was derailed by his personal foibles and demons but he seemed poised to make a comeback, starting next month.

But his personal troubles were almost as staggering as his triumphs. For those of us possessed of a certain maturity (translate: old enough) we remember the round-faced nine-year-old with the high, perfectly-pitched voice belting out "A-B-C" and busting some great dance moves, fronting for his family band. You couldn't help but like him, and his immense natural talent was a wonder to behold. But there was a dark side to his personality which increasingly manifested itself as he transitioned to adulthood. He seemed preoccupied with children and youth and unnaturally so, much to his detriment. Obsessed with the story of Peter Pan, he truly was the young boy who refused to grow up. This had so much to do with the fact that he was denied anything resembling a normal childhood. From all accounts his father was an insanely abusive and strict martinet with all his children, beating them and driving them to achieve almost impossible tasks or face dire physical consequences. Thrust on stage at a very early age, he never really left it. It became so much a part of his life; the constant scrutiny, being in the public eye, being on stage vulnerable for the world to see. But as long as the money came pouring in from the records and concerts, it was certain that on stage is where he would stay. His family certainly bears the brunt of the blame for this, along with record labels and concert producers. Unavoidably, Jackson himself shares some complicity in the making of an extremely public life and the ultimate unraveling of that life. You can't help thinking so many warning signs were deliberately ignored for the sake of making millions of dollars. That is a very powerful incentive which obliterates and obscures everything else.

Through his music Jackson sought to erase the dividing lines between race, gender, ethnicity and sexuality, reaching for a truly barrier-free world. In fact he altered his own body to a nearly-unbelievable degree as he tried to merge all races and genders into one person, himself. As this personal transformation careened out of control, instead of becoming a person encompassing all variations of race, ethnicities or genders, he descended into a nether world, a limbo between the races and genders which increasingly isolated him and turned him into somewhat of a freak of nature. He tried to get past the barriers that our differences create for us, but I have always felt that was the wrong thing to do. Our differences should not be ignored or glossed over or blurred away - they should be celebrated and embraced. They are what makes us different and unique, and human beings are meant to be different and unique. It would be very boring if everyone looked and acted the same. Our differences are our strengths, they are what make us human. Jackson tried to circumvent them, and ended up alone, sad and very troubled. Instead of being everything, he very nearly ended up being nothing.

It doesn't surprise me that the tributes being aired everywhere today all seem to focus on his disturbed and chaotic personal life. That certainly cannot be ignored but there is so much more to appreciate with his music and his artistic accomplishments instead. Everyone mentions his Thriller album and that indeed was a blockbuster, but my personal favorite album of his was Off The Wall, which seemed to me a much more personal and intimate account of the transitions and changes he was going through, as he vainly tried to get control of his personal life and move into adulthood. Thriller was the birth of Michael Jackson, Superstar and Cultural Icon, while Off The Wall was the birth of Jackson the performer, the visionary and the all-too-human boy trapped in a man's body yearning to take the next step to being an adult, and for the briefest of time periods, it was almost within his grasp.

He left the world an enormous legacy of music and art, and I really hope he has found the peace which so tragically eluded him during his fifty years on earth.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Another Day, Another Scandal

Once more we are treated to the sight of one of our august elected officials acting like a lovesick teenager and completely betraying the trust of their constituents and the integrity of their own ideas by getting caught in a tacky, tawdry extra-marital affair. South Carolina governor Mark Sanford apparently woke up the other morning and decided he could not get through the day without hopping on an international flight down to Buenos Aires to see his squeeze-on-the-side Maria Something-Or-Other. Telling no one where he was going or when he would be back, Sanford blithely turned his back on his family and his responsibilities of his leadership position and just left, forcing his staff to sound like totally clueless idiots by making them serve up some drivel about him "hiking the Appalachian Trail" to "get away for a while." When he was busted by a reporter getting off a plane in Atlanta he knew he had gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and a seedy, blubbering, squirm-inducing, public apology was next on the list of terminal embarrassments that are in his immediate future.

Sanford, who was also the head of the Republican Governors' Association (a terrorist organization if I ever heard of one) was being groomed for a possible presidential bid in 2012. I'm thinking he should look into a local Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise instead. Other Republican governors who are also likely presidential contenders are the eternally loathsome Alaska governor Sarah Palin (Tammy Tundra), Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty (Snoooooze), Mississippi's Haley Barbour (any guy named "Haley" is automatically disqualified) and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (HAHAHAHA! I'm so sure!).

Politicians acting like swine in the middle of their spring rut is nothing new; in fact it happens all the time. Eliot Spitzer resigned the governorship of New York after he was discovered engaging the services of a high-priced hooker. The country was treated to the double spectacle of his rubbery face and beady, shifty eyes as he tiptoed around his behavior, and also his wife standing by his side, looking like she just wanted the earth to open up and swallow her. Her embarrassment and mortification were epic, and an acknowledgment that her marriage was a complete sham. Then a while ago there was Governor Jim McGreavy of New Jersey who had a same-sex dalliance with some guy from Israel and the nation was treated to the TMI details of that little snogfest. Just last week, Senator John Ensign of Nevada, another potential Republican presidential contender in 2012, announced he had an affair and resigned from the Senate leadership. At least he had the good grace to resign, something which is apparently lost on Sanford.

And then there's the classic case of Idaho Senator Larry "Wide Stance" Craig, who got caught toe-tapping for a little male companionship in an airport restroom. Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, Craig adamantly denied his guilt and shrilly declared his heterosexuality, which turned more stomachs across this country than the latest salmonella scare. His wife looked so pathetic standing by his side, but she obviously had neither the mental capacity nor the worldly experience to even dimly understand what was going on.

Democrats get caught with their pants down almost as much as Republicans, but when it happens to a Republican it is especially gratifying, because they are the party of social conservatism and family values. They are constantly bellowing about how those godless liberals and gay people are destroying the family and the sanctity of marriage. It seems to me that these Republican man-sluts are doing more to destroy the sanctity of marriage and respect for the family than all the gay and lesbian couples across the country who are in committed relationships and only want those relationships recognized and validated like those of every other tax-paying, native-born citizen.

Sanford was a darling of the Republican right for at least initially turning down economic stimulus money for his state and also for his socially conservative views, but I guess that was all for show because he obviously has no respect for his vows of matrimony and his family. And many Republicans have all their fake piety and sanctimonious bullshit on display as they listen to Sanford's rambling, disjointed confession and say, oh he has sinned, he's a human being, let's all forgive him. Where is this magnanimity when it comes to accepting people with different lifestyles and political views? Where is this open and loving spirit when they gleefully rejoice over the cowardly, cold-blooded murder of an abortion provider? Where is this gentle, forgiving spirit when they spend millions of dollars to pass discriminatory amendments to state constitutions?

All this is very indicative of the rot and hatefulness which is at the core of the Republican party. One thing all Republicans seem to have in common, and indeed seems to be a genetic prerequisite for party membership, is their towering, unbelievable and monumental hypocrisy. Their mantra apparently is, "Do as I say, not as I do." They impose standards of morality and personal conduct on every citizen of this country and then see nothing wrong when they choose to violate those standards themselves. For a fellow Republican it's always all sweet forgiveness and grace; for everyone else, it is loathing and disdain for their lack of moral character and respect for religion.

Hypocrisy really does find its highest, truest expression in the Republican party. And you can bet your butt I'm going to wallow in all this delicious schadenfreude at the expense of the Republican party for as long as possible. I suggest you do, too, because it's great fun and they so deserve it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Afghan Star

Marvelous story from Afghanistan on the evening news tonight. They have their version of our "American Idol" talent show called "Afghan Star." It is wildly popular over there and millions of people watch it on televisions that were banned a decade ago.

The news story showed lines of male contestants waiting to audition, and like the US version, showed judges wincing in pain at some particularly bad would-be crooner. There were female contestants as well, and one of them showed a lot of promise and kept making it through to the next round. At one televised performance, this young woman did something that shocked the country and left many viewers gasping in disbelief. What did she do?

She danced onstage!

And I'm not talking some wild Beyonce-esque booty-shaking. She just did a sprightly little two-step across the stage in time to her music.

This is something that is apparently so alien and unheard-of in the Islamic culture of Afghanistan that many people were thoroughly scandalized and shaken. Some male viewers reacted badly, saying that she should be stoned or even killed. There have been death threats made to her, and the video showed her tearfully reuniting with her mother and sisters, who were told that she had been killed.

All for dancing on television. This shows the amazing difference in cultures from this side of the world to the other. On this side we are treated to an astonishing flood of body parts and a lot of graphic rump-shaking, boobie-bouncing and hoochey-coocheying all in only several hours of television viewing on most any night of the week. On the other side of the world people freak out when a fully-clothed young woman does a joyful, exuberant dance as part of her performance.

To that brave young woman I say, you go, girl! Dance away, dance your little heart out. Joy is contagious, spread it around as much as you can. Maybe someday soon everyone in your country will be dancing to the music of freedom.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Been There, Done That

Lots of news stories today about the recent Iranian presidential election. The incumbent Ahmadinejad is claiming a landslide victory while at least half the country is screaming "foul." I know you're not supposed to criticize someone for their physical appearance but that guy creeps me out big time. He looks like he has a number of lemurs or chimpanzees or some kind of simians in his recent family tree. Just like George W. Bush used to creep me out because he looked so much like MAD magazine coverboy Alfred E. Neuman. But as we ruefully found out in 8 disastrous years of his presidency, merely looking like an idiot is far less destructive than actually being an idiot.

So everybody in this country is tsk-tsking that the Iranian elections are obviously a fraud. Americans should be quite familiar with fraudulent presidential elections because we had a doozy in the fall of 2000, in the Bush-Gore contest. There was that incredibly surreal, unbelievable situation in Florida with the hanging/pregnant/whatever chads on the paper ballots. I remember video of all these elderly election workers squinting intensely at the paper ballots like they were watching Internet porn without their bifocals. On election night Florida kept bouncing back and forth between the red and blue columns like it was made of rubber. In the weeks afterward the lawsuits were as thick as mosquitoes in the Everglades. And in a blatant, ridiculous exhibition of partisanship, the scrawny, brittle Florida Secretary of State at the time, Kathleen Harris, certified the election results in Bush's favor without even counting all the ballots. Harris always reminded me of some hideous, repellent zombie from a horror movie who would come to life at night and eat insects and rodents. She looked as if she would smell like some unholy mixture of mothballs and cabbage. In the end the whole hellish situation was put to rest by a stunning, unprecedented interference by the Supreme Court, with the Chief Justice resplendent in his Star-Wars-drag-queen embroidered robes, ruling in favor of the Republicans. So much for judicial impartiality and respect for the Court.

So, it looks like Iran will continue to resemble a nascent nuclear power with a crazy homeless person at the helm. How lovely; I don't suppose just once things could actually work out for the better, could they? However, Americans don't have any reason to feel haughty or superior to the Iranians or question the wisdom of the outcome. After all, I'm sure the world thought the same thing whenever George W. Bush was elected to his second term in 2004: What the hell were they thinking???

Friday, June 12, 2009

EyeWitless News

(6 p.m., turning television on...)

Voiceover: EyeWitless News, Phoenix's oldest and loudest news program... with reporters Jim Redact and Cynthia Kluski-Zoupa, starts NOW!

Redact: Good evening. We begin our broadcast with breaking news. (Turns to left side) Adam Lambert, runner-up in the recent "American Idol" talent contest, has just announced that he is gay! (Cut to Kluski-Zoupa)

Kluski-Zoupa: That's right, Jim. The stunning disclosure came in the most recent Rolling Stone magazine and was quickly picked up by every other media outlet in the country, even the National Review. And it seems that it caught just about everyone completely off-guard. For details, let's go to reporter Ray Cathode on scene in Hollywood. (Cut to remote shot).

Cathode: Jim, Hollywood has been in an uproar ever since the news first hit several hours ago, and as you can see from the burning buildings and overturned cars behind me, it hasn't been received all that well. There are reports of shock, anxiety and complete disbelief from all corners of the world. Let's sample some of that, and go over to our correspondent in London. (Cut to 2nd remote)

Random English Guy: Well, mate, I was just havin' a cuppa with the hen when word came on the telly that that Glambert bloke likes to have bum fun. Well the missus fell off her stool onto 'er arse and commenced to rollin' round on the floor caterwaulin' that it was all bogwash and Glambert ain't no poufter. Neither of us 'ad 'im spotted as a rent boy and we reckoned it was some right codswallop. We was gobsmacked! (Cut back to previous remote)

Cathode: Um... yeah, well, that conveys very clearly the sense of disorientation and confusion that has almost universally greeted this news. Emergency rooms and hospitals all over the country have been flooded with patients complaining of symptoms ranging from simple lightheadedness to advanced schizophrenia as people try to cope with the ramifications of this admission. Take a look at this. (Cut to 3rd remote)

Random American Housewife: Well we just can't believe it. We hoped is wasn't true but when we saw the latest issue of Rolling Stone we knew it was. We didn't think all the leather outfits and eye makeup meant anything, everyone in Hollywood wears that. Even my sister's kid wears eyeliner and he likes girls. We think. Anyhow this is really upsetting to my daughter Kelly who stayed up for 23 hours straight voting for him. She actually took his picture off her bedroom wall and put the Jonas Brothers back up. (Cut back to first remote)

Cathode: There you have it, Jim. We have also heard rumors that the daughter of singer Cher and the late Sonny Bono, Chastity Bono, is going to undergo a sex change, but that hasn't been confirmed yet and we feel certain it is a cruel hoax, calculated only to make people's anxiety worse. Back to you in the studio. (Cut to anchor desk)

Redact: Thanks, Ray. Reports keep coming in from every corner of the country expressing complete disbelief and denial on the Lambert disclosure. We will resume our team coverage in a minute. (Turns to right side) In other news, the National Institutes of Health have announced the discovery of a treatment for cancer which is made from nitrogen, sea water and sand and has proven 99.7% effective in eliminating all forms of the disease. Also, scientists at NASA have confirmed that they have been in communication with a highly advanced alien civilization in the Canopus star system eleven light-years from earth, who have promised to share with Earth their advanced technologies if we would send them Paris Hilton. NASA confirmed that Ms. Hilton has already been strapped to a Saturn-5 booster rocket sitting on a launch pad at Cape Kennedy and they are awaiting further instructions from the aliens. (Turns to right side again, is now facing away from camera) We'll be back with more about the Lambert announcement after these messages. (Cut to twenty minutes of commercials)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Cavalcade of Stupidity

I guess they don't call them the "fly-over states" for nothing. You know, the middle part of the country between the left and right coasts. The vast, nameless, faceless heartland, the place where the "real America" lives, as we are told over and over again. The backbone of this country, where stuff gets done and old-fashioned values and ideas still hold sway.

Apparently they are also the repository for all the stupidity and ignorance in this country, too. A small but significant news item came to my attention today. It seems someone who owns 5 Burger King franchises (which probably qualifies them as a business tycoon) somewhere in Arkansas or Missouri was using the signage attached to his restaurant to broadcast the opinion that "global warming is baloney." The Burger King corporate office was going after them because part of their franchise agreement says that they cannot use the restaurant to espouse any political position. Not that the message is complete idiocy, only that they shouldn't use the signs attached to the restaurant to spread the aforementioned idiocy.

Um... a sign on a Burger King? That's what amounts to a forum in that area? Really? And categorizing a complex environmental issue in a word such as "baloney?" Is that a scientific term? Are the schools in America that dismally incompetent that they produce adults with the intelligence and sophistication of a petulant six-year-old?

Just what will it take to get people to wake up to the global warming crisis? Does the Arctic ice have to completely melt away? Does the Arctic tundra have to melt and release enormous quantities of heat-trapping methane gas into our already-stressed atmosphere? Methane is like 200 times more efficient than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere. Do all the world's glaciers have to melt over the next 50 years and cut off supplies of fresh water to millions of people? Does the sea level have to rise three feet and radically change the coastline of the United States, essentially redrawing the maps of Florida and New York City? Instead, despite these and many other documented, scientifically validated warning signs of impending ecological disaster, we get some moron with his flame-broiled Whoppers dismissing this crisis as "baloney."

I will never understand why people in this country wear their stupidity and ignorance like a badge of honor. Why is there such an undercurrent of anti-intellectualism in American culture? It starts in the schools, where the smart, brainy kids are labeled as "geeks" and "nerds" and athletic achievement is very much prized over scholastic achievement. Americans are so intellectually lazy, they just don't expend any effort to understand the issues which affect all of us; indeed, affect the entire world. Admittedly some issues are rather complicated but they can be framed in such a way that most people would be able to understand the underlying concepts. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth documentary does this incredibly well. But no, Americans choose the easy way out and ignore the signs and evidence under their very noses, preferring instead to do the ostrich-head-in-the-sand bit and pretend nothing is wrong. It must come from a culture where everything you want is available to you and the rest of the world is merely a giant warehouse for stuff you want and a garbage dump for stuff you don't.

Worse yet, they often use religion as their defense. A congressman from Kansas went on record as saying that global warming was a hoax, because only God can cause the end of the world and mankind has nothing to do with it. And I'm sure many people went along with that. That's just a convenient way of absolving themselves from any blame for the mess things are in right now, and responsibility for taking any action in the future which would work to avert a catastrophe. After all, why do anything to reverse global warming if it's all up to God, anyway? Just forget about it and go on with your lives, it's out of your hands. The same thing is happening with the phony debate around "evolution vs. intelligent design". There is not one iota of scientific evidence for intelligent design, but volumes of evidence for evolution. People refuse to learn anything about the science underlying evolution because it's just a whole lot easier to say that a supreme being created everything and be done with it. No messy fossil record or natural selection to deal with.

Now I realize that not all people who live between the coasts are complete dimwits, I'm sure there are many of them who are as appalled as I am with the arrogant, deliberate dumbness of their neighbors. Living in the backwards, regressive state of Arizona I certainly have no room to criticize any other state. And I am not begrudging people the freedom to believe in religion or anything else they want to believe in. It's just when their ignorance and stupidity starts getting in the way of taking steps to solve a problem about which we are getting very clear, unmistakable warning signs and when their religious delusions start to influence local and regional decision-making that the real damage occurs. Not just to them, but to every living creature on this planet. And that is definitely unacceptable and something no one has the "right" to do.

In the end, it won't be a foreign terrorist with a bioweapon or a nuke in a suitcase which will truly spell the end to America, it will be the ignorance of their citizens, who steadfastly and deliberately wallow in their own stupidity and continue to think they've found safety in the darkness of religion and superstition. Fat, dumb and happy, they go on their way as if nothing at all is happening, just like cattle to the slaughterhouse.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sadly Ironic

Last Sunday saw the murder of Wichita, KS abortion provider Dr. George Tiller by anti-abortion rights zealot Scott Roeder. That's the sad part. The ironic part is that the murder was committed in church where Dr. Tiller was serving as an usher. The fact that some evil, hate-filled individual, who presumably professes to be devoutly religious and is serving "the will of God," saw it necessary to bring their psychopathology into a place of worship and commit one of the most heinous acts possible in the presence of a congregation, the victim's wife, and again presumably God Himself, boggles the imagination. What kind of deranged dirtbag thinks it's okay to murder someone during Sunday services in a church?

There must be a special place in hell reserved for the likes of Roeder and deservedly so, whose lives are so choked with rage and self-loathing that they have to spread it around far and wide, hiding behind the shield of religion, infecting everything they touch and spreading death and sorrow everywhere they go.

But equally repellent and disturbing are the spokespersons for the pro-life movement and right-wing media pundits who go through the same tired routine every time something like this happens. First they condemn the crime in tepid, carefully-chosen words which reek of false piety and insincerity. Then, after doing their due diligence and getting the formalities out of the way, they unleash their true feelings, which are that the victim "deserved" what happened to him or her and it is only a fair and just consequence to their actions. Randall Terry of anti-abortion group Operation Rescue was in the media doing exactly what I just said, referring to Dr. Tiller as a "mass murderer," and took absolutely no responsibility for fomenting and encouraging an atmosphere of hate and lawlessness which directly contributed to his murder. In my opinion Operation Rescue should be designated as a terrorist organization which espouses the vicious murders of health care professionals who are performing a requested, legal service to individuals fully capable of making their own decisions in such matters, and Randall Terry should be prosecuted as accessory to murder before the fact. The world would truly be a much better place without him and his ilk.

Similarly, flatulent gasbag and waste of protoplasm Bill O'Reilly on the asinine, worthless media cancer known as Fox News also tossed in his boring and predictable opinion, issuing a very brief, perfunctory condemnation and then assailing his "far left critics" for taking him to task for his repeated hate-speech in regards to abortion rights. What a sick, pathetic and damaged individual he is. What is it about his life that consumes him with such unbridled hatred of anybody and anything that disagrees with him that he has to spew such invective over and over again each and every day, under the guise of "journalism"? It must really suck to be him, and I might feel a teeny-tiny bit sorry for him if he wasn't such an irredeemable, deliberate and total asshole. The only things sadder than having a broken, disturbed person such as O'Reilly befouling the surface of the earth is having a cesspool like Fox News as a vehicle for his mental illnesses and millions of viewers who gladly partake in his poisonous diatribes every day.

There are a lot of things I wish for in this world. I wish there were no cruelty toward animals, and every pet would be wanted and loved and have a home. Likewise I wish there were no abused and neglected children, and that every child conceived into this world would at the very least be afforded what should be a basic right: a home with parents who would provide the means to at least attempt to reach their potential as human beings. I wish abortion was not necessary, and that children were planned for and wanted. But as long as human beings act like selfish, thoughtless pigs and just do whatever they damned well please because it is their "right," without fear of consequence or responsibility, unwanted children and abortions will still occur.

I firmly believe that the government has no business at all restricting reproductive freedom in women. It is solely and completely the purview of a woman as to what should happen to her body. Conservatives constantly bemoan the lack of "personal responsibility," but it seems to me that a woman deciding her own reproductive destiny is taking on the ultimate "personal responsibility." Or maybe conservatives think everyone should take responsibility for their actions except when it comes to women and their bodies. After all, the Bible says women should always be subservient to men.

Conservatives continue to defile the meaning of religion by claiming they have some kind of Biblical right to commit murder in the name of God and unborn children. They purport to have a "reverence for human life" but still rejoice when an opponent is murdered and see no ethical contradiction in that. There are many men in the anti-abortion movement whose strident, radical positions on the "rights of the unborn" have far less to do with their deeply-felt moral convictions and much more to do with their frustration with lack of control over women's bodies. Women don't need the consent or approval of men to have an abortion, and men don't like these uppity women having that kind of control. It would be one thing if these men just sat in their trailer parks and screamed at their televisions for hours and blamed Barack Obama for their valueless, pointless lives - we could just ignore them. But when they take it upon themselves to murder someone during a church service, then it becomes everyone's problem.

America will never be the "land of the free and home of the brave" as long as there are reprehensible cowards such as Scott Roeder and Bill O'Reilly.