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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Occupation: Foole

"Fuck you!"

Max Beerbohm dismissing a cockeyed critic? James Gibbons Huneker panning an inferior opera? George Saintsbury's allegorical assessment of a lesser Romantic poet?

"Fuck you!"

No, I'm afraid it was our good friend, Christopher Hitchens, reacting to anti-Bush laughter and applause on Bill Maher's "Real Time" last night.

The old dear was in rare form, spouting off lies while defending not only the ongoing wars, but Bush's very person, including the Prez's much maligned intellect. And that was in the seven minutes I watched. I swore to myself that I'd avoid the "Real Time" premiere, even though I know the show's producer, Scott Carter, and think that it's Bill's best showcase to date, despite my many disagreements with him, especially when it comes to Israeli violence. Once I saw that Hitch was slated as a panelist, I told myself, "Perhaps next week's show."

But there I was, surfing channels in the dark, when suddenly Hitch's Ralph Steadmanesque visage lit the room. So I stopped just in time to see him make an even bigger and redder ass of himself than he usually does, flipping off the audience at least twice that I saw, grumbling about their "frivolous" ridicule of the man leading our glorious Middle East crusade. I must say I was stunned, not by Hitch's language, which is how he normally speaks, but by his inability to form a rudimentary argument, preferring instead to spew a succession of howlers and, above all else, taking personally any slight against Bush, perceived or real. Hitch long ago became a court intellectual, a statist reactionary, in fact; but I don't think I've ever witnessed such self-pitying behavior on his part. The poor thing looked deeply hurt by the audience's rejection of his nonsense, and he reacted as only a wounded child would when not receiving the love he believes is his due. I wish I could show compassion, but the blood stains on Hitch's jacket and hands cancels any empathy I can muster on his behalf.

Fuck us? Sure, Christopher. Whatever you say.

I awoke early this morning to the sound of eloquently-spoken English. The wife was watching a video of Edward Said talking about Western perceptions of the Arab world. I stood next her, rubbed the red from my eyes, and soaked in Said's words, lamenting the fact that he's no longer with us, especially at this moment in time, and most especially after watching Hitchens' carnival sideshow last night. Said and Hitchens could no longer discuss the Middle East by the time Said was about to die, so I know he got a glimpse of where his old friend and colleague was going. Imagine what Said would say if confronted with Hitchens' behavior on "Real Time," assuming he could find words adequate to the moment or that he would even deign to respond. Perhaps Said would simply shake his head and move past this human trainwreck, hoping to avoid further crashes down the line. As long as Hitchens is given nationally televised platforms on which to fall apart, we the living must try to do the same.

WATCH & LISTEN: To Paul McCartney, from "Magical Mystery Tour." A song written especially for Hitchens, well ahead of the political curve.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Abyss Bites Back

More of the same today as I'm prepping for Wed night. Y'know, there's nothing more uplifting than reading even more about modern Middle East history. Tribes with flags, as Charles Glass put it. If only they were armed with just flags, I might revise my anti-flag bias, but only a bit.

Al Franken's PR offensive continues, this time via an upcoming docu about his "fighting back" the GOP. How inspiring. We certainly need more pro-war/pro-corporate centrists running for office, as Franken plans to do against Norm Coleman in Minnesota. This movie is part of his political celebrity campaign, so expect online libs to throw whatever confetti's left over from their Ned Lamont celebrations Franken's way. Hillary's, too.

When in New York next week, I hope to catch "Factotum," in which Matt Dillon plays Hank Chinaski, Charles Bukowski's alter ego. Dillon's a lot better looking than Bukowski and has a deeper voice, but he seems to grasp Bukowski's essence in the scenes I've seen. Not surprising -- Dillion gave an excellent performance in the audio book for Jack Kerouac's "On The Road"; and while Kerouac and Bukowski are completely different writers, Dillon finds what makes these authors' prose and personal style unique and subtly, completely embodies it.

Here's the "Factotum" trailer:

And here's the real Bukowski, from an interview in 1976.

My little essay about Brian Wilson earlier this week inspired a lot of mail, and one kind reader forwarded this page from WFMU's Beware of the Blog. On it you'll hear a tape of Murry Wilson testing the patience of his much more talented son, and the rest of the Beach Boys as they try to lay down "Help Me, Rhonda." But the real meat is found in the four Peter Bagge cartoons about Murry's madness, co-produced by "Simpsons" regular Dana Gould, and featuring the voice talents of the old "Mr. Show" crew of Paul F. Tompkins, Jill Talley, and Tom Kenny, aka SpongeBob. Really funny. Here's Part 1 to get you started.

Back to the books. Nationalism. Racism. Oppression. War. Lies. All around brutality. Boy oh boy, is this gonna be a swingin' weekend!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Abyss Bites

A peace-oriented crime spree is brewing in nearby Ferndale, and local police are trying to stem it by charging two anti-war activists with "disorderly conduct and inciting motorists to honk."

Honking motorists! Can car bombs be far behind?

Actually, the above is part of some petty harassment against a few dozen anti-war protestors who show up every Monday evening at a Ferndale intersection and wave placards at passing motorists. To be expected in our freer than free country. But what I didn't know is that urging drivers to honk their horns in favor of, say, impeaching Bush, is illegal. There's a small group of older activists who do this regularly in front of the post office in downtown Ann Arbor, but then, A2 is filled with peace creeps, so what can you expect?

As I've noted here recently, Michigan drivers do far worse things than honk their horns on cue, like tailgating at 90 mph with one hand pressing a cell to an ear. I don't think I've ever seen tailgaters pulled over by cops. But honking because you hate war? Sorry, pal. In Michigan, horns are for alerting drivers that you want them out of the way so you can further exceed the speed limit while yakking on the phone. Horns may also be used to express road rage, a common sight on local highways and streets (for some reason, Michiganders are extremely tense and wound up), that is, when direct physical assault isn't possible. Note that one of the protestors, a 78-year-old World War II vet, was attacked by an offended motorist before the guy was pulled off and arrested. Honk his horn for peace or impeachment? Not on your life, hippie.

Last week, when I wrote about my fascination with and adventures in advertising (a post that is back to its original length), I failed to mention the good people at Adbusters, whose site is on my blogroll, after all. So please visit the Busters when you can. When I checked in the other day, I came across something I missed first time around, though how this happened I have no idea. I think I would've remembered this:

These are two members of the US Marine Third Battalion in Iraq, psyching themselves up for their 2004 assault on Fallujah by re-enacting a scene from the Ridley Scott film, "Gladiator." Not really sure what to make of this, given what we know about that assault; but I do wonder if any Iraqis witnessed this open-air performance, and if so, how they took it. It's one thing to be invaded by forces who know little to nothing about your country or culture. But to watch them play Roman warrior dress-up in preparation for a modern military attack? Americans are fucking crazy, would be my first thought. But then, I've had a lifetime of experience on this front.

Members of this same battalion are currently being investigated in connection to the Haditha massacre. What movie did they re-enact before that spasm of violence -- "Goodfellas"?

And speaking of military assaults, it's always comforting to see the next generation of American officers getting the training they need to engage the wider world.

After watching the hostage video showing Olaf Wiig and Steve Centanni, the Fox News employees captured in Gaza, two thoughts hit me. One, I certainly hope that when they say they're "fine" and being treated well, they're telling the truth. As awful as Fox is towards the Palestinians, kidnapping their people doesn't do much to advance the cause, so far as I can see (Hamas feels the same -- omigod! I'm in agreement with Hamas! Don't tell the Decent Libs!). The other thing is how low-key and seemingly casual they appear. It wasn't all that long ago that hostage videos featured men in masks pointing rifles, handguns and knives at the heads and throats of those being held. Of course, the Fox captives may have had weapons aimed at them off-camera. Only they know. But it did remind me of a David Cross satire of hostage videos, if that's the right way to describe it. It's funny but a little unsettling, at least to me. Which is good -- comedy should reflect the madness it attacks in order to better emphasize the horror. Cross pulls this off in his usual manner. But it's the final visual tag that kinda rattled me when I first saw this. Take it from a guy who once wore a bunny suit in public.

Saddam's genocide trial by Iraq's kangaroo court has been adjourned until . . . . September 11. Who knew 'roos had a sense of irony?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

One Mind At A Time

True story from last night.

Doing the blue collar gig in the large office building when I come across a friendly guy's office and stop to chat. Like me, he loves sports, and that's what we usually talk about (of late, the Tigers' playoff chances). Like the weather, sports are a safe social topic, for if, in the Land of the Free, you talk openly about politics or war, you might anger, sadden or even frighten anyone who may be eavesdropping. But this guy and I have developed a rapport, and it appears that he, too, hates our war-world and is open to critiques and alternative explanations.

In the midst of our chat, the Middle East came up, so I stepped further into his office to answer a few of his questions. Though over 90 percent of the workers were gone, I could hear a few keyboards being hit in some nearby cubicles, and I didn't want to risk having my words misconstrued, or worse, taken at face value by a caged-in numbers cruncher.

We've talked briefly about Iraq, Israel and Lebanon before, so this wasn't new ground. Plus, the guy knows that I'm prepping for an upcoming debate in Tarrytown, NY, so he feels safe airing his own views on this issue. We discussed the ramifications of Hezbollah's stubborn resistance, the sorry state of Gaza, the ongoing misery in Iraq, when he asked me about the history of Zionism. Seems he doesn't know much about it, but is interested in it. I recommended a few books, like Simha Flapan's "The Birth of Israel" (a must-read for any beginner), and briefly reviewed some of the Zionist thinking and philosophy formed in the years leading up to World War II, as well as the early Israeli state history that followed that devastating conflict. It's always fascinating to see the expression on someone's face when they first learn about this stuff, as if some great heavy secret has been revealed that opens their once-closed world. I always emphasize that this history is easily available to anyone who desires to read it, and that the early Zionists were not shy about stating their opinions. It's all right there. All you need do is look.

No wanting to press my luck, I ended my little teach-in via some self-deprecating remarks, and exited while he laughed (the ol' comedy training comes in handy at times like this). I finished pulling trash in the main office area, then went into the men's bathroom to bleach the urinals, clean the toilets, and scrub the sinks. A few minutes later another guy who I sometimes talk to entered to take a leak, said hello as I wiped down the mirrors. A moment of silence passed before he asked:

"So, are you two guys philosophers or something?"

"What do you mean?"

"I heard you guys talking. The Middle East, right?"


"Like, what's up with that?"

"Don't you follow the news?"

"Nah. Who gives a fuck. I read the sports page."

"Well . . ."

"I mean, are the Arabs crazy or what?"

"No crazier than us."

"The hell with them. Who cares what the fuck they think."

"Maybe you should care what they think."


"Well, given that we're killing thousands of civilians and helping to tear up countries --"

"Ack. They'd hate us no matter what."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because we're the top dog, that's why."


"Yeah man. We're the best. That's why they hate us. Later."

And he left.

So there it is, Sonsters. One guy is curious and hungry for new information about issues that matter. Another guy has his head in a box (assuming he wasn't putting me on, though I didn't get that vibe). Which mindset do you think best defines modern America?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Pity the New York Times. Yes, it remains the predominant US source for what is cleverly called "news." And yeah, the bots who write for it have tremendous access to all levels of political and cultural life. This is understood. But when I read the Gray Lady these days, I sense fear in her pages -- fear that the Times may not have the clout it once had. Fear that it is perpetually behind the curve. Fear of domestic Phalangists who seem to honestly believe that the Times is synonymous with "treason" (whatever that is). And of course, like most major corporate outlets, there is the fear of The People, in most cases bloggers, those of us who can analyze domestic and world events without having it explained to us by and filtered through the traditional mouthpieces.

This latter feature was seen in yesterday's edition, in a piece by the New Republic's Ryan Lizza about the demystifying power of YouTube (no point in linking to it, as it falls behind a pay wall within days). Seems that politicos and those who advise /steer them are worried that any "off the cuff" remark made on the stump might immediately haunt whoever said it, linked to countless sites, seen by millions and perhaps millions more should mainstream outlets amplify it. As Howard Wolfson, Hillary Clinton's chattering teeth, told the Times, “It is a continuation of a trend in which politicians have to assume they are on live TV all the time. You can’t get away with making an offensive or dumb remark and assume it won’t get out.”

Matthew Dowd, a former Bush insider, added, “Politicians can’t experiment with messages. They can’t get voter response. Seventy or 80 years ago, a politician could go give a speech in Des Moines and road-test some ideas and then refine it and then test it again in Milwaukee . . What’s happened is that politicians now have to be perfect from Day 1. It’s taken some richness out of the political discourse.”

In other words, YouTube has disrupted the traditional formation and development of political lying, pandering, and obfuscation, and this forces candidates to - gasp! - actually deal in direct modes of communication, which the vast majority cannot and will not do. To a political elite like Dowd, this is something to mourn, which should make the rest of us very happy.

As Gore Vidal once observed, American politics is reserved for energetic mediocrities, of which we have a limitless supply. But now we also have the means to trip them up from time to time, assuming that showing mediocrities being energetically mediocre has any lasting effect on the larger mass.

I'm not sure how much real power YouTube or any related video site truly has. But like the Web that made it possible, YouTube helps chip away at corporate political and media gates, which makes the gatekeepers nervous, angry and insecure, though a few, like Wolfson, try to play both sides of the gate:

“It does create more accountability and more democratization of information in the process.”

Well, yes and no. I'm afraid that those who are afraid of us will find fresher methods of propaganda. Also, an obscene statement can be considered perfectly benign, depending on the topic. When Senator George Allen called college student S.R. Sidarth a “macaca," Allen was forced to apologize, since Sidarth had captured the slur on tape. But when Hillary Clinton called for the mass murder of Lebanese at a public rally in New York, which was caught by many cameras, no apology was deemed necessary, since slaughtering Arabs is politically acceptable in the US. Of course, Hillary soft-peddled her war cry by saying she "supported" Israel's aggression, but support for that enterprise from a top American Senator is a direct endorsement of flattening buildings and shredding civilians. So YouTube and the Web can do only so much, given where we are at this point in time. Making attitudes like Hillary's shameful in the public eye will require a form of political activism and education that employs the Web, but doesn't solely rely on it to effect the changes that are vitally necessary.

FLASH! In today's Times, there's a story about how more and more Americans want to be celebrities, no matter how fleeting or embarrassing. Thank you, Gray Lady! I don't know how we'd get along without you.

AND! What domestic Phalangists see when they read the Times. Move your mouse over each headline and share their delusion!

Monday, August 21, 2006


SUVs & minivans -- is there some way to confiscate them, drive them out to deserted areas, and blow them all up? If so, I'd be all for it. This is not a call for random violence or property destruction, but one of social beautification. Call me a dreamer, but I believe that eliminating these rolling beasts would do wonders not only for the American landscape, but also for our national mentality. And of course there's the environmental angle to consider, once the final flames die out in those distant desert graveyards . . .

Such thoughts came to me while dodging said beasts over the long weekend. As I mentioned Thurs, the family and I struck out for Western Michigan in what will have to serve as our summer vacation. Unlike educated and economic elites, we working stiffs must grab what free time we can, when we can. And I have to admit that while I dreaded what we might encounter in the sticks, the wife, kids and I had a pretty damn good time. Oh sure, there were a few unsettling sites, to me, anyway. But then, my antennae have been extra sensitive of late, and it doesn't take much to rattle my spine. One interesting theme I noticed on back rural roads is that every small town we drove through had at least one big gun shop (in one town, a huge sign boasted of "500 Guns, Right Here!"), several liquor stores, and churches.

Firearms, booze, and religion. Ya cain't git more 'Murican than that, Son.

The other prominent thing that hit me is that apart from TV, there's no real news to be had. You have to look hard to find any national newspaper, and of course, no one talks about the real world, save for the predictable "Support The Troops" t-shirts and car magnets. I saw how easily Americans can divorce themselves from what's happening Over There in Our Name. I knew this already, but you have to be in deep Americana to fully appreciate it. The one news item that did break through the general ignorance and apathy was the newest chapter of the JonBenet saga. This you couldn't avoid, but more on that later.

My daughter pointed out the numerous anti-suicide billboards seen along our journey. There did seem to be a lot of them, and while I've not researched the suicide rates for that area of the country, I doubt these were put up simply to cover empty ad space. There is a sense of desolation there, and I cannot imagine having to grow up under those conditions if one had any curiosity about the world or a measure of creative intelligence. I lived in the boonies as a teen, and it wasn't fun. In fact, it was quite depressing, which is why I got out as soon as I could. For those who can't or won't, God knows what what's going through their heads as they endure the rigid monotony of that world. I suspect that those billboards are aimed at them.

Despite this backdrop, we enjoyed ourselves immensely. The amusement park wasn't terribly crowded, and I got to ride several rollercoasters, which I love. I took the boy on his first serious rollercoaster ride, not a terribly big one, but for him a large step. He had a look of panic in mid-ride, but I squeezed his hand and told him to yell. Yelling when you're being shot around up and down at fast speeds is the only way to go, and he let out a little yelp before the cars came to a quick halt.

"Next year," I told him, "we're doing the Corkscrew," a ride that takes you upside down and sideways.

"No way, Dad!" he said, looking wide-eyed at the looping tracks.

I patted his head. "We'll see . . ."

My daughter and I rode the Corkscrew, which took some coaxing on my part. She nervously strapped herself in, but after the ride, she was all smiles. I convinced her to go on the park's second largest rollercoaster with me (I knew she'd never consent to going on the monster one, and even I had my doubts about that thing), and as we stood in line, she studied the track layout and wondered how high the first hill was. The more she surveyed the hill, the higher it grew in her eyes. Finally, she asked that we leave and ride something less daunting. She confessed to being a little embarrassed about backing out, but there was obvious relief in her eyes. We bought some cotton candy instead, a frightening ride for my aging, brittle teeth.

The next day, all of us went on a 40-minute dune buggy ride over the sand mounds near Lake Michigan, which was great. We then visited a historic village nearby, complete with one-room school, tiny church, blacksmith shop, post office, etc. I really enjoy this stuff, and have since childhood, when I would tour similar sites in rural Indiana. I feel an instant connection with mid-19th century prairie living, as awful and dangerous as it must have been. I'm not a believer in past lives, but I always get an immediate jolt of deja vu whenever I smell those old wooden walls, read the tiny textbooks in a classroom, scan the tintype photos of stern-looking people long dead. It feels familiar and in a way comforting, despite the lack of electricity, antibiotics, air conditioning and central heating, among other contemporary delights. I could probably live with the music of that period, though once ragtime and jazz came into being, I'd be too old and reactionary to appreciate it. So there's a downside to living in that "simpler" time.

At the end of the day, we hit another part of Lake Michigan, the boy and I splashing in the surf as the sun went down, the women sitting in the sand, absorbing the beautiful vista. I never get over the vastness of that lake, and it's nice to swim in water free of seaweed and jellyfish. And while the waves aren't as big as Malibu's or Long Island's, they were tall enough for me to teach the lad how to body surf. Once he got the swing of it, he threw his lanky frame into the waves over and over and over again, allowing the current to determine his landing. As was the case when he was an infant, when he'd cry as we removed him from the bathtub, we had to literally drag him out of the water so we could find the "authentic" Mexican restaurant I'd seen advertised the night before. The food was delicious, and reminded me of the Mexican fare I've enjoyed in LA. It was the filling end to a wonderful day.

Speaking of surf and beaches, I'm currently in a serious Beach Boys/Brian Wilson state of mind. This was jump-started a week or so ago when I caught on VH1 Classic the TV movie "The Beach Boys: An American Family." It appeared on ABC in 2000, and was produced by the actor John Stamos, who plays drums in Mike Love's band and apparently wanted to portray Dennis Wilson in the film. Thankfully, he was prevented from doing so, but the film, while factual in many areas, is quite fictional in many others, especially when it comes to Love, who's shown as the Boys' realist and ultimate savior. Brian Wilson's creative genius is acknowledged, but grudgingly so, his emotional fragility and numerous insecurities and fears whipped up to a cartoonish froth, which of course allows Mike Love's character to put the band back on the correct and profitable path. The people behind this film clearly cribbed much from Steven Gaines' book, "Heroes & Villains: The True Story of the Beach Boys," but mysteriously left out a lot of Love's own bad behavior, like beating and verbally abusing his wives, for example. Had Brian Wilson done anything like that, you can bet that Stamos and company would have dramatized it from every available angle. (A fine rebuke of that film can be read here.)

Anyway, I've been deep in Brian Wilson's music, from "Surfin' USA" to "Smile," one of the most moving and inspiring albums I've ever heard. It never ceases to floor me the sounds Wilson heard in his head, some of which still defy conventional musical understanding, and many of which move me to tears. "Pet Sounds" is part of this, too, an introspective look at longing, joy and regret, miles away from the traditional Beach Boys themes of cars, girls and surfing, which is why the Boys, especially Mike Love, hated and feared it (as did Capitol Records) when Wilson first exposed "Sounds" to them. But they went along, laying down vocal tracks for music already recorded by Wilson and Phil Spector's seasoned session players, the Wrecking Crew. "Smile," however, was even further out for the Boys (though Dennis Wilson seemed to appreciate it), which is why it was abandoned until 2003, when Brian Wilson and lyricist Van Dyke Parks reunited and finished their masterpiece.

Sadly, the wife and daughter don't share my enthusiasm for Brian Wilson's music. My daughter's 15 and currently into Nine Inch Nails, so Wilson's stuff must sound like poppy mush to her (she does like "Wouldn't It Be Nice," however); but the wife's antipathy stuns and confuses me. She plays piano, loves Broadway show tunes, gospel, is extremely well-schooled in classical music, among other genres, yet apart from "California Girls" and "Good Vibrations," Wilson does very little for her. During the trip I played both "Pet Sounds" and "Smile," adding some early Beach Boy tunes like "I Get Around" which, despite Mike Love's dopey lyrics, shows the first real progression in Wilson's composition. Pursed lips and a blank stare. She conceded that Wilson is talented, but believes that he was stunted somehow as a composer. I replied that others near the Wilson camp believed this as well. Chuck Kaye, once part of A&M Records, whose publishing arm bought the rights to the Beach Boys' music from Murry Wilson, Brian, Carl and Dennis' embittered and abusive father, told Steven Gaines, "[Murry] was a sick fuck, that's who that guy was. He reared a brilliant genius of a son [Brian], raised him as a total neurotic. Look what could have been and what is."

The wife immediately concurred with Kaye on this point. But for me, if "what is" is incomplete, I cannot imagine what a stable and secure Brian Wilson would've produced, though I'd love to hear it, even if it would shatter my senses (in a pleasant way, of course). In any event, here's a clip of Wilson playing "Surf's Up" from the original "Smile" sessions for a 1966 CBS show about pop music, hosted by Leonard Bernstein (with commentary at the end from Van Dyke Parks). It's but a mere acoustic glimpse of a larger, magnificent tapestry.

Back at hotel Saturday night, after our large Mexican meal, the wife and boy retired early in the adjacent room while my daughter and I flipped through channels and came across NBC's "Dateline" special about JonBenet Ramsey and the man who confessed to raping and killing her. You have to hand it to NBC -- just days after John Mark Karr claimed to be the missing piece in this crime puzzle, they threw together a report covering every aspect available, then aired it as soon as they could for the tabloid-hungry public. But the report offered nothing terribly new. The first third was a reprise of the Story So Far. The second third was a sketchy profile of Karr, complete with testimony from a now-grown woman who briefly had Karr as a substitute teacher in the second grade. Her recollection seemed more "Now that you mention the guy . . ." than any kind of serious remembrance. But hey, "Dateline" has deadlines, and ratings can't wait, so you go with what you can grab on the fly. Overall, it appears that Karr has possessed child porn and displayed certain pedophilic tendencies. But nothing was concretely established. The final third of the report tried to find ways to connect Karr to JonBenet, but even host Hoda Kotb had to admit that there were more holes than connecting facts, so the viewer was left up in the air -- until the next flurry of specials, which are bound to come, now that Karr is back in the States.

My daughter and I laughed through much of this wretched program. But it wasn't a casual or mocking laughter. We were more appalled than anything else, and laughter seemed the only sane response. Ten years after her brutal death, the American corporate media continues to drag JonBenet Ramsey's body across the public stage, knowing that people will crowd to see her and anyone related to her murder. There are plenty of Iraqi and Afghani JonBenets who've been butchered in less plush surroundings, and there's no mystery as to how or why they were killed. But this would require actual journalism to reveal, and besides, the bulk of America couldn't care less about those whose names they'll never know. At least that's what our "news" media appears to believe. To them, American consumers prefer stories about pedophilia, child rape and murder, presented in the gaudiest colors. Judging from the big ratings that JonBenet still generates, who's to say that they're wrong?

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Going away for a few days with the family, and yes, this will include more mixing with fellow Americans in public places, in one case, an amusement park. How amused I'll be after a couple of hours amid rides and crowds remains to be seen (factor in also the crazed Michigan drivers, among the worst I've ever encountered), but I go into it with some optimism, given that I'll be with the three people closest to me. That helps. So no new posts till Sun, but more likely Mon.

A few things:

I'm part of an upcoming panel in Tarrytown, NY. As the press release puts it:

Horror and Chaos in the Middle East:
Who's to blame, and is there a remedy?

Wednesday, August 30th, 7:30 pm

A panel discussion featuring:

Morton Klein and Sidney Zion vs. Dennis Perrin and Nada Khader

Moderated by WABC radio host Ron Kuby at the legendary Tarrytown Music Hall (minutes away from MetroNorth)

Did the latest round of atrocities begin with the Palestinian abduction of an Israeli soldier or was it triggered by the Israeli abduction of a doctor and his brother from Gaza? Are Israel and America attempting to further destabilize the Palestinian and Lebanese territories for their own benefit or is Israel (with America's support) simply defending its people against the unprovoked attacks of its neighbors? Ultimately, what are the genuine motivations of the movers and shakers on all sides? What role does the existence of religion play in all this? Can real peace ever flourish when people primarily identify themselves with diametrically opposed faith-based belief systems? Could a tilt towards secularism in conjunction with an all-out assault on poverty yield a more hopeful future for everyone? Come join us as we address these questions and grasp for solutions.

The panel discussion will be followed by Q & A from the audience.

More: here and here.

If any readers nearby can make it, please do. I expect myself and Mort Klein to bump heads more than once. Thank God for my metal plate.

And speaking of the Middle East, here's an informative discussion between Thomas Ricks, the Pentagon correspondent for the Washington Post, and Noam Chomsky. Note how civil the exchange. Ricks doesn't always agree with Chomsky, but he does show him respect, which is returned. And contrary to what some liberals claim, Noam doesn't sound anything close to over-the-hill. Far from it. Listen. Learn.

Did you ever think we'd see more wall-to-wall JonBenet Ramsey cable coverage in our lifetimes? I honestly believed that was over, but that's what happens when you think positively. I notice on my Yahoo page the headline, "Man Says He Drugged, Had Sex With Ramsey" -- who was, let's recall, six-years-old. Perfect necro-porn fodder for news junkies and media heads. Should take us right through Labor Day.

Here's one of the best scenes from David Lynch's "Lost Highway." Just because.

And here's John Lydon and PiL on a show called "Check It Out" from 1979. The song is "Chant" from PiL's "Metal Box," one of the best reactions to rock and roll ever recorded. Then Lydon, after receiving a surprise video attack on his music and reputation (not shown here, but I've seen it elsewhere), responds as only he could and still can. Too bad bassist Jah Wobble's audio is bleeped. But you get the gist of what he's saying.

Have a safe, stress-free weekend. I know I'll try.