Monday, December 7, 2009

Nicolas Cage Wins UN Award For His Millions In Donations & His Work

Can't some celebrities do any substantial, gainful charitable work without drawing attention to themselves?
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Seamy? Steamy? Sexy?

And now, a Hardee's commercial deemed too risque by North Carolina broadcasters:

As always, some people can't seem to get it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

What Next? Banned in Boston? Banned in South Africa

Imagine my surprise when I read in today's Huffington Post about a Sprite commercial that was banned from airing in Germany because of the sexual connotations depicted:

Here, courtesy of YouTube, is the offending commercial in question.

And the Hays Code decreed that "translucent materials and silhouettes were more suggestive than mere exposure."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Peggy Noonan, Thou Art Loosed...

For Peggy Noonan to describe Sarah Palin's selection as John McCain's running mate as "political bullshit" was an understatement.

Though she expressed her reservations about Palin's qualifications as a one a heartbeat away from the reins of the Presidency, now that she tendered her resignation as Governor of Alaska, Noonan unleashed a scathing editorial in the Wall Street Journal' pointing out how unfit and unqualified Palin really was:

"In television interviews she was out of her depth in a shallow pool. She was limited in her ability to explain and defend her positions, and sometimes in knowing them. She couldn't say what she read because she didn't read anything. She was utterly unconcerned by all this and seemed in fact rather proud of it: It was evidence of her authenticity. She experienced criticism as both partisan and cruel because she could see no truth in any of it. She wasn't thoughtful enough to know she wasn't thoughtful enough. Her presentation up to the end has been scattered, illogical, manipulative and self-referential to the point of self-reverence. "I'm not wired that way," "I'm not a quitter," "I'm standing up for our values." I'm, I'm, I'm.

In another age it might not have been terrible, but here and now it was actually rather horrifying."

Noonan goes on to add, "She is a complete elite confection...she might as well have been a bonbon," and "She makes the party look stupid, a party of the easily manipulated."

Needless to say, it took Tina Fey's satirical evisceration of Palin on Saturday Night Live to show how unfit and how way over her head and out of her depth Palin really was. And given the relentless critiques offered by blogger Shannyn Moore -- who is now being threated with legal action by Palin, who likewise threatened the New York Times, the Huffington Post, the Washington Post, MSNBC, and other media outlets who dared to attack her.

Ironically, the harshest criticism of Palin herself came from conservatives themselves: Kathleen Parker, Richard Cohen, Andrew Sullivan, and even Peggy Noonan have consistently attacked Palin's qualifications and whether she had the capacity to function as the nation's chief executive.

And finally, Noonan offers a critique -- and some sage advice -- that makes perfect sense given the dominance of the GOP by its wingnut fringe:

"Here's why all this matters. The world is a dangerous place. It has never been more so, or more complicated, more straining of the reasoning powers of those with actual genius and true judgment. This is a time for conservative leaders who know how to think.

Here are a few examples of what we may face in the next 10 years: a profound and prolonged American crash, with the admission of bankruptcy and the spread of deep social unrest; one or more American cities getting hit with weapons of mass destruction from an unknown source; faint glimmers of actual secessionist movements as Americans for various reasons and in various areas decide the burdens and assumptions of the federal government are no longer attractive or legitimate.

The era we face, that is soon upon us, will require a great deal from our leaders. They had better be sturdy. They will have to be gifted. There will be many who cannot, and should not, make the cut. Now is the time to look for those who can. And so the Republican Party should get serious, as serious as the age, because that is what a grown-up, responsible party—a party that deserves to lead—would do.

It's not a time to be frivolous, or to feel the temptation of resentment, or the temptation of thinking next year will be more or less like last year, and the assumptions of our childhoods will more or less reign in our future. It won't be that way.

We are going to need the best.

And what does the GOP have to offer? Sarah Palin? Michele Bachmann? Bobby Jindal? Mark Sanford?

Can you guess as to why some national nightmares never seem to end?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Illogic and Illiteracy That is the Fox News Channel

For those who think the Fox News Channel is T double E double R double R double I double F double I double C-C-C-C-C, you need to have your heads examined.

Just when you thought Sean Hannity's selective editing of President Obama's press conferences to make him look bad wasn't obscene enough, the alternative news web site presented its Media Putz of the Week award to Fox News for another cardinal journalistic sin: mislabeling misbehaving Republicians as Democrats. In bestowing this dubious distinction on them,'s editors explained:

This week's Media Putz award is brought to you by the letter D, as in Democratic, the letter R, as in Republican, and the letter F for Fox "News" that can't seem to tell the difference between the letters D and R.

Those of us who have gone through the third grade remember that a D can be made with a straight line and a half-circle, and an R is a P with an extra right leg sticking out.

To be fair, perhaps the folks at Fox "News" suffer from a highly unusual form of dyslexia, where they go to write the letter R and it comes out like a D. For example, in a classic Monty Python sketch "Travel Agents," Eric Idle's character can't say the letter "c," instead he substitutes the letter "b." Michael Palin's character suggests he say the letter "k" instead of the letter "c."

The good news for Fox (and bad news for us) is that their illness comes and goes. Fox "News" only has this problem with Republicans go bad, the latest example was Gov. Mark Sanford from, that's right, R-SC. That is R for Republican.

Credit: Democratic Underground

There have been other moments of non-lucidity. When Rep. Mark Foley had his problems, Fox "News" declared him a D instead of a R. There is even a screen capture when Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) defeated Lincoln Chaffee (R-RI) in the Senate race in 2006. In this graphic, the parties are switched around, as if Fox couldn't believe someone named Whitehouse would belong to the Democratic Party.

Credit: Democratic Underground

Being in denial is not much of a way to go through life, and it's a really lousy way to run a news operation. But Fox is only pretending to be a news operation: "we have anchors, we have opinion shows, just like a real cable news operation."

When Republicans do poorly, FNC tries to hide the facts. When Democrats do poorly or okay or even great, Fox finds a way to spin it in a different direction. That's not news; that's propaganda.

But it's clear that Roger Ailes and his flunkies at Fox "News" are starting to swallow their own propaganda: "Republicans, good; Democrats, bad." So when a Republican governor goes up to confess that he has a mistress in Argentina, he should be identified as Mark Sanford (R-SC), not (D).

As Stephen Colbert put it, "When someone misbehaves, it's natural to assume he's a Democrat, even when he is the head of the Republican Governors Association." (emphasis mine)

This isn't to say CNN, Headline News, or MSNBC don't have screw-ups in their screen crawls. The sad truth is that people with too much work on their hands in all elements of the media don't have the time to make sure what is being presented has been spell-checked or examined for grammar issues. But the other cable news outlets don't have a pattern to their mistakes that is ideological; their screw-ups are just that: scre-wups.

You have to wonder what the punishment is at these places when there is a screw-up of this type:

Regular cable news outlet: "How could you make that mistake? You made us look stupid and foolish! Pay more attention next time!!"

Fox "News" Channel: "You know you put a D instead of a R in front of Mark Sanford's name. Just for that, I'm forcing you to take the last doughnut and take the rest of the afternoon off with pay. And I don't want to see your face around here until tomorrow morning!"

The MSM loves treating FNC as a legitimate news outlet, but we know better. At some point, passive/aggressive behavior, subconscious behavior, well, isn't. The Fox "News" continuing pattern of "deliberate" screw-ups in a specific fashion is part of the master plan, the masquerade of disguise as a news operation. For once again putting propaganda before news, we award Fox "News" the Media Putz of the Week award.

Needless to say, many (myself included) don't call it the Faux News Channel for nothing.

And while they're at it, they should save the labels for

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

That's Obitutainment? Enough is Enough!

"America was not mourning the death of a human being: It was bowing down before celebrity itself. The whole thing was a gigantic lie, and faintly obscene -- a disservice to the idea of mourning, and ultimately to Jackson, whoever he was." - GARY KAMIYA, as quoted in

I personally boycotted watching the Michael Jackson memorial service on television today. It had nothing to do with what Vanessa Richmond coined as "obitutainment fatigue." It had more to do with the sickening nausea factor of the shameless media exploitation and the extravagance that went with it, not to mention the pretense and hypocrisy of his celebrity "friends" on stage who were hogging the camera as they were eulogizing him.

Now where were they when Michael was experiencing legal and financial troubles? Did they show up at the Santa Barbara courthouse to provide moral support? Did they bother to sit him down and lecture him on how to conduct his affairs? Did they try to put a brake on his extravagances and other self-indulgences?

Hell, no!

But then, they weren't there when they crucified Our Lord, either.

Now is there anyone else besides myself who is so sick and tired of the wasted time and space that the media devoted to him and his death?

In the meantime, I'll just go to my bedroom and start taking up crocheting again.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Scattered Snapshot of the Way They Were...

The 1969 Northeast Braves, during one of roller derby's winter road tours.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Rest Peacefully...

Iconic character actor Karl Malden (1912-2009) and 50's singer/sitcom star Gale Storm (1922-2009).

Rest peacefully. Both of you will be missed.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Another Icon Passes Over Before Us...

Perhaps none of us saw this coming: the final end of a long, downward slide down a slippery slope from super-stardom to tabloid-splattered scandal straight to infinity.

This wasn't some shticky, cynical attempt for attention by a media whore. This was a cry for help that may have fallen on deaf ears. There were no big bangs, no megaton explosions, not even the ripple effect from radioactive fallout. Only a chorus of loud lamentations and whimpers after the fact.

Michael Jackson, the iconic King of Pop, died from apparent cardiac arrest at the age of 50, which may have been exacerbated due to possible abuse of prescription drugs, including antidepressants, prescription painkillers, and all other matter of pharmaceutals open to tabloid speculation.

He was born in 1958 into an extremely dysfunctional blue-collar family in Gary, Indiana. His father. who toiled in the steel mills to provide for his family, was abusive towards his children, and Michael often borne the brunt of his father's ire, particularly when he didn't meet his demanding standards.

However, as Earl Ofari Hutchinson notes in the Huffington Post, the rationale behind Papa Joe's abusive behavior was his drive to whip his sons into shape as a performing act and to get his sons into show business, which in turn would provide a ticket out of the ghetto once and for all.

Photo credit: Frank Barratt/Getty Images

The Jackson 5 were signed by Motown Records in the late 1960's -- discovered not by Diana Ross, but by Gladys Knight and Bobby Taylor, who kept recommending them to Berry Gordy, who in turn finally signed them once he saw their potential viability as a recording act.

Though they scored big on the pop charts in the early 1970's and spawned a raft of imitative acts: The Osmonds, the DeFranco Family, even 1990's boy bands like New Kids on the Block, N'SYNC and the Backstreet Boys.

Though his brothers Jermaine and Jackie would prove to be fine singers in their own right, Michael was much more than the group's intangible element; he was the focal point of the act, performing like a diminutive microcosm of James Brown. Michael would also enjoy a side career as a solo performer ("Got To Be There," "Ben," the underrated "I Wanna Be Where You Are"). But his appeal also was that he gave voice to adolescents experiencing very adult emotions. And when you hear him singing "Never Can Say Goodbye," "Maybe Tomorrow," or "I'll Be There," he was delivering a message his peers could relate to.

Michael was also enjoying success as a solo artist ("Got To Be There," "I Wanna Be Where You Are"). So when Berry Gordy wanted to break Michael off from the group and have him go solo, Papa Joe vetoed the idea, more out of family solidarity than commercial considerations.

Photo credit: Motown Records

By the mid-Seventies, Michael and the other Jacksons (sans Jermaine, who stayed with Motown in part because he wedded Berry's daughter Hazel Joy), they pulled their stakes and signed with Epic records. Papa Joe masterminded this because his sons were being stifled, both creatively and financially.

After a pair of abortive false starts, the Jacksons finally found their voices, and began to hit their commercial stride once again in 1979 with the single Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground).

But that did not prepare the public for the phenomenal pop success Michael would enjoy in the 1980's with a string of powerhouse albums: Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad, andDangerous.

Credit: Associated Press

But with that success came controversy surrounding his eccentric public behavior and the tabloid-fueled stories that fed on frenzy, which led him to to be tagged with the moniker "Wacko Jacko." It was not just the incessant self-mutilation through cosmetic surgery and skin bleaching to alter his features. Nor was it his abortive marriage to Lisa Marie Presley and his subsequent fathering of three children via unorthodox (if that's the word) means. It was also his Neverland ranch, where he tried to create some childhood fantasia to fuel his fantasies. And with it came the stories of inappropriate behavior around children, bordering on outright pedophilia. This would culminate in one of the most sensational celebrity trials in recent memory.

I only saw Jackson perform in person just once: during a 2003 segment during the television taping of a American Bandstand anniversary reunion show at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Jackson's perfectionism was in force, as he performed his number a second time, feeling the performance could have been much better than it was. Still, reading into his performance, it seemed to be Michael feeling more comfortable in the company of his male dancers than the woman who came out to tempt him on stage.

I also took part working as a background extra during E! Entertainment's re-enactment of the Michael Jackson molestation trials. Since television cameras were not allowed inside the courtroom, they re-enacted the courtroom proceedings based on the transcripts that were sent via fax from the Santa Barbara county courthouse.

Moreover, I was hardly predisposed to cut Jackson any slack. Media-whoring celebrities like Jackson who get caught in flagante delicto and run afoul of the law inspired not only schadenfreude, but also a perverse form of sympathy.

But something strange happened during his molestation trial. Yes, he acted weird, but at the same time he was all too human. He knew he was headed for trouble, and he had no idea of how it was going to end up. It wasn't premeditated. It wasn't scripted. It simply unfolded organically, like any good story does. In the end, the prosecution fell on its own sword and Jackson was acquitted. As one juror succinctly noted in the aftermath, "What you had was Captain Ahab going after Moby Dick."

Men are not particularly known for their psychological introspection. It's painfully clear that Jackson was living in an autistic-like alternate reality. He clearly had no moral compass to show him right from wrong. No man in his right mind would allow young boys to share his bed with him during overnight sleepovers. Jackson's pattern of behavior was something that clearly cried out for some form of psychological explanation.

Credit: Reuters (l)

I'm neither defending nor condemning Jackson -- such judgments, from both outsiders and from within the entertainment industry, are meaningless. Whatever we presumably knew about Jackson came from the news media and the tabloids. His behavioral quirks and other eccentricities may have overshadowed his immense musical gifts. However Jackson's legacy is judged will happen, and it won't necessarily be pretty. He knew the rules of the game, he broke them repeatedly. And now, karma finally has caught up with him, and he has paid for that dearly with his own life.

Looking at pictures and videos of Michael during his final weeks, he resembled more and more like a white dwarf -- that shriveled-up remnant of a red giant that exploded into a supernova, unleashing all its energy and power throughout the universe before atrophying into that final state. Cosmetologists do have a way of making the dead look beautiful, but once you strip the corpse of its cosmetology, that banality of death still exists.

Still, the news of his sudden yet tragic death was about something much deeper than sex, or race, or even the celebrity culture. It was awful, but for his fans, it was painfully real and traumatic at its core. And painful as it is, in our repressed American racial, sexual and cultural landscapes, the real enemy in this case is not race, or gender, or the celebrity culture, or one's sexual proclivities, or even authenticity. The real enemies are artifice and plastic.

Just as the 1982 film Britannia Hospital used a public hospital as a metaphor for the societal decay in Great Britain, the Neverland ranch – its name derived from the land Peter Pan lived because he refused to grow up -- stands as a symbolic metaphor for the childhood that was denied him, as well as the fantastical, hermetically-sealed fugue state that would later become Michael Jackson’s life.

It is indeed a sad commentary in itself that Michael trumped Neda, Farrah Fawcett and Mike Sanford in our media consciousness. This speaks volumes about how celebrities are deified and worshiped in ways they shouldn't be. And it also speaks volumes about how we prioritize our own concerns, and where those real concerns should lie.

And while the world mourns Michael's untimely death, there are still Iranians experiencing brutal repression at the hands of a theocratic regime bent on striking terror into the hearts and minds of their citizens, as well as the impending threat of North Korea joining the nuclear club.

Now don't we have more pressing issues to contend with?

In the meantime, rest peacefully, Michael. The Lord God will understand and say, "Well done."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Another Descent Into Disgrace, Just in Case...

If you found the tabloid feeding frenzy surrounding the public exposure of extramarital infidelity surrounding Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) was contributing to your nausea and indigestion, now comes the disappearing act surround Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC), whose own recklessness gave the title "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" a whole new meaning.

To recap what went down, Sanford went incognito for five days, flying off to Buenos Aries, Argentina to do some soul-searching while his aides and family were freaking out over where the hell he went off to. One of his aides claimed he went off to the Applilatian trails to do some hiking alone.

But once confronted, he had no choice but to go into Augustinian mode and confess his transgressions to his constituants.

This outrageous escapade leaves you wondering as to who's really minding the store in South Carolina.
As Rebecca Freitag notes at

"The responsibility inherent in public governance is non-negotiable. To just pick up and leave the country without telling anyone, or contacting your office for what was at least four days, is a strong message of irresponsibility, even if it's not a recreational trip, and a family matter. That's not a quality most people would want in a candidate.

Not only from a government official standpoint, but from a family standpoint, as well, because he left his wife and four kids waiting for him to come home on Father's Day weekend at their beach house. I don't know many Republicans who would stand by that. Although he seems to do this frequently, say some reports, isn't it a little peculiar that his wife Jenny didn't seem to mind? He said at the press conference that Jenny's parents were with her then, and most, if not all of the week."

What started as an innocuous exchange of casual e-mails snowballed into a full-bloom back street affair. And even as he was trying to get his mistress to go back to her husband for the sake of her children, citing "God's law" requiring even bad marriages to stay intact?

And when you have an elected official running off to Buenos Aires, Argentina to spend his time there crying a Niagara of tears over doing his family wrong, this is not just gross negligence or even dereliction of elected duties. It is pathetic narcissism, plain and simple.

And it doesn't take a psychiatrist much to diagnose and treat even this bizarre case of one's acting out.

I have seen politicians from both parties act out in so many bizarre ways, Wilbur Mills's dipsomanical romp in the fountain with the "Tital Basin Bombshell" Fanne Foxe being a classic example. But for all the bizarre acts of political posturing and other strange things he's done, this obviously has to take the cake.

Once again, a politician's sexual indiscretions have come back to haunt him big-time.

And looking back at my previous post commenting on the felony child abuse charges that former WWE wrestler Brian Blair is now facing, this 1980's advertising slogan for Head & Shoulders shampoo immediately comes to mind:

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Once your transgressions are posted on the Internet for the world to see, you better have lots of butter in the Frigidare, for your political career is toast. Professionally and personally, given what one's done, they will have a difficult time garnering support from anyone.

But then, this is the Republican Party, replete with its milquetoast of birthers, unhinged wing-nuts, closet racists, and self-loathing closet cases, where family values and marital fidelity are preached, but not practiced.

So the question remains this: will his wife finally give him the boot? Or do what Tammy Wynette suggests and stand by her man?

After all, Tammy says, he is a man.

6/26/2009 UPDATE: Given his penchant for scapegoating those whom hold honest opinions to the contrary, Rush Limbaugh is blaming President Obama for Gov. Mark Sanford's back-street affair with a married Argentine woman. As Tana Ganeva posts on

"Who’s to blame for Governor Mark Sanford having an affair, abandoning his post without telling anyone or leaving emergency instructions, and becoming the latest poster boy for the hypocrisies of family values conservatism? Is it Mark Sanford? Eros? Not according to Rush Limbaugh!

On his show (yesterday), the self-professed head of the GOP — you know, the party of personal responsibility — thinks the person responsible for Sanford’s affair isn’t Sanford, but President Obama.

According to Limbaugh, Obama — in direct contravention of his widely hailed intended purpose — has actually inaugurated an era of hopelessness. The latest victim of Obama’s pernicious plan, which also includes outlawing laughter, is Mark Sanford.

Here’s the sad tale of Sanford’s downfall, as told by Limbaugh: The South Carolina Governor had emerged a broken man from the battle over stimulus funds. (In reality, Sanford was fighting against crucial funding that would have kept South Carolina’s public schools functional and staffed with teachers. In Conservative reality, Sanford waged an epic war for Freedom.)

With the battle lost, and only a limited time before the Federal Government took over and set about abolishing Freedom, Sanford decided: “What the hell? the federal government is taking over, i want to enjoy life.”

At always, leave Rush to play the blame game and point the accusatory finger at other while refusing to take responsibility for what he says and does.

But then, this is conservative talk radio, where unhinged loose cannons need the jaws of life to pull their feet out of their mouths.

This weekend I'll be going to see a community theatre production of Neil LaBute's play Fat Pig. Unfortunately, it will not have Rush Limbaugh in the starring role.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Another Day, Another Free Fall From Grace...

Domestic violence, whether it is wife beating, child abuse, workplace bullying, or whatever, manifests itself in so many ways. It is not just physical brutality, as in a punch in the chest or a blackened eye. It is emotional and psychological, as in bullying and denigrating behavior. And it is economic, as in interfering with one's ability to earn a living.

But when it comes to "sports entertainment" (read: professional wrestling),when does this cross the line from choreographed violence into something more dangerous and frightening real?

Earlier this morning, while surfing the Internet, I stumbled across the news via the St. Petersberg (FL) Times that former WWE wrestler Brian Blair was arrested on Father's Day on two felony counts of child abuse.

It was in clear, graphic terms that, according to press accounts, the following scenario played itself out:

At 4:00 a.m., during a violent domestic dispute in the Blair househod, Brian punched his elder son Brett in the chest. Though Brett tried to walk away, Brian grabbed him and and punched him in the face, then slapped a choke hold on him to where he began having breathing difficulties. Once he released the hold, he grabbed his younger son Bradley by the throat and punched him in the head.

Blair was also alleged to have had a history of domestic abuse. In 1984, a former girlfriend accused him of beating her during an alcohol-fueled domestic dispute. Though Blair was slated to be charged with battery and grand theft (he allegedly took $2,000 in gifts he gave her), the case was never really pursued and charges were not formally filed.

Blair was released without bail earlier today, but the presiding judge barred him from having any contact with his children, The case has been turned over to the Department of Children and Families.

In responding to his Father's Day arrest, Blair said, "It's a real, I guess, unfortunate situation, that it's a misunderstanding that could have been prevented," Blair added, "I have over 7,000 hours mentoring children, and the last thing that I'd ever do is hurt a kid. Sometimes the hardest kids to mentor are your own."

Blair told reporters that he loves his constituents and hopes to continue his life in politics. "If they were there, I think they'd understand the situation," he said. "The most important thing is that my wife is OK."

But then, this is a by-product of the netherworld of professional wrestling, where things have to be seen to be disbelieved.

The Blair incident is not an isolated one, but rather one in a disturbing pattern of violent behavior that has profoundly impacted those within the business. There were wrestlers who died way too young -- casualties of substance abuse, difficulties coping with life on the road, and in the extreme case of Chris Benoit, hitherto brain concussions that triggered homicidal behavior that tragically took the lives of his wife and son. There are also scattered accounts of lawbreaking: former wrestler Jeff Gaylord was recently arrested for bank robbery, and another former wrestler, Dick Slater, was facing down attempted murder charges in the 2003 stabbing of his ex-girlfriend.

It may not be a problem in the first instance. But when you multiply them manifold, then it does become a problem.

We all make choices, the choices we make do have consequences. There is a difference between an action taken and a action multiplied, as there a difference between microcosmic intention and macrocosmic effect. And the immediacy of disturbing news traveling on the Internet magnifies this even further.

This is not necessarily what a clinical psychologist would call a case of oppositional defiance disorder. Perhaps the most reasonable conclusion that could be drawn is there were contributing environmental stressors and other factors that came into play in the Blair debacle: a devastating re-election campaign loss, difficulties making a transition into another life, possible financial difficulties, all converging into a perfect storm that led to what happened.

I am not trying to pass judgment on Blair, nor am I trying to make a rush to judgment, either. I came out of an abusive family environment with the scar tissue to show for it, and it is through that prism I see things through. I also had more than my share on encounters with serial bullies both in the classroom and in the workplace where, every time I tried to speak up for myself, was targeted for retaliation and retribution.

But then, this is America. And if you're looking for an apt metaphor that describes our current psychopathological state of mind, try explaining separation anxiety disorder to a truant officer.

All in all, this is much more that extremely poor judgment and restraint on Blair's part. What it represents is a perverse attempt at an assertive power statement to reassert control over a family. And such an abusive act -- regardless of who makes it -- only serves to denigrate and diminish us all.

There is no doubt Blair will not be able to mentor children anytime in the future, given what had happened that fateful Father's Day. There are issues Blair needs to address -- not only in anger management classes, but in family therapy sessions. The Blair family needs time to heal, and time to reconcile and to move on.

Now that I got all this off my chest, I can now hold my peace.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My Thoughts on the Crisis in Iran

"Well, you can't climb down
and you can't sit still.
That's a storm
that's gonna last until
the final wind blows,
and when the wind blows
the cradle will rock" - MARC BLITZSTEIN, The Cradle Will Rock

"The revolution will not be televised. It will be Twittered instead." - ERNESTINE WADE, commenting on the Huffington Post

As I write this, my roommate Joe, who is an Iranian and a naturalized U.S. citizen, has been following the still-unfolding events in Iran. Despite efforts by the ruling Islamic Republic to neutralize and blackout the news media from covering the crisis, videos and messages sent out via Twitter and YouTube, as well as bloggers' postings on both the Huffington Post and elsewhere, have provided graphic images and horrific, dramatic narrative about what's still unfolding and imploding within Iran.

What's clearly unfolding before our eyes is a culmination of thirty years of living with the consequences of trading one form of oppression for another -- replacing a monarchical dictatorship presided over by a not-too-benevolent despot to a theocratic dictatorship run by fundamentalist Islamic clerics with a penchant for psychological bullying. Matt Steinglass provides a valuable insight into the psychological bullying that is at the core of the crisis:

"When you make people accept a plausible fiction, you’re just winning that one issue. But when you make them accept a lie which everyone knows is a lie, you’re destroying their integrity, destroying their will to describe the world as they see it, rather than as you tell them it is. It’s the bully on the playground holding the weaker kid’s arm and slapping his cheek with it, saying “Why are you hitting yourself?” Like Vaclav Havel’s grocer hanging “Workers of the world, unite!” in his shop window, once a person has acquiesced to something they do not believe, and which everyone knows they do not believe, they become complicit in their own oppression."

And in commenting on the corruption that served to ferment the current crisis, Andrew Sullivan notes:

"I've written before that this reminds me of the American rather than the French revolution - because it is being waged not as a means to destroy the system, but to force it to live up to its democratic promises. And that's why it's so potent. That's also why Obama's emphasis on justice, rather than freedom, is so shrewd. What we have to focus on is simply the election, its fraudulence and the necessity of a new vote. That's all. If those promises are met, the coup-regime will fall. Of course no liberal democracy will instantly follow. Mousavi is not a radical; he's a moderate establishment type. This is Gorbachev not Yeltsin. But this is not something to fear; it is something to embrace, as Reagan did. Spencer Ackerman's great take:

The west has nothing to fear from Moussavi's restorative attempt to reconcile Islam and republicanism in and of itself. Obviously the Iranian government has its interests and desires and we have ours, and they can conflict. But Moussavi's rhetoric, in this important speech at least, is not filled with the anti-western demagoguery that marked Khomeini's and marks Ahmadinejad's. The opposition movement is not a movement of "liberals" in the way that some inwardly-focused American writers lazily imagine. But that doesn't mean that the reformist syncretism that Moussavi offers adds up to an effort that western liberals, intellectually, can't support. What it means is that Iranians are working to redefine their Islamic Revolution, not abandon it, and do so in a way that favors openness and justice and freedom.

To his credit, President Obama astutely and sensibly stayed out of the crisis, differentiating himself by offering moral support for the protesters while not antagonizing the ruling regime. In his speech yesterday in which he responded to the crisis in Iran, President Obama stated:

"The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.

As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.

Martin Luther King once said - "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness."

Unlike a ignoramus like our previous president, Obama came off as intelligent and restrained. Even so, Obama continues to take heat from from neocon talking heads and conservative politicians for what they perceive as his unwillingness to directly and forcefully intervene in the Iran crisis. However, as Washington Post columnist George Will points out on today's This Week:

The president is being roundly criticized for insufficient, rhetorical support for what’s going on over there. It seems to me foolish criticism. The people on the streets know full well what the American attitude toward the regime is. And they don’t need that reinforced.

And Peggy Noonan concurs in the Wall Street Journal:

"To refuse to see all this as progress, or potential progress, is perverse to the point of wicked. To insist the American president, in the first days of the rebellion, insert the American government into the drama was shortsighted and mischievous. The ayatollahs were only too eager to demonize the demonstrators as mindless lackeys of the Great Satan Cowboy Uncle Sam, or whatever they call us this week. John McCain and others went quite crazy insisting President Obama declare whose side America was on, as if the world doesn't know whose side America is on. "In the cause of freedom, America cannot be neutral," said Rep. Mike Pence. Who says it's neutral?"

But perhaps the best distillation of what is hoped for inside Iran is provided by Sullivan himself:

"Did you notice how many times he invoked the word "justice" in his message? That's the word that will resonate most deeply with the Iranian resistance. What a relief to have someone with this degree of restraint and prudence and empathy - refusing to be baited by Khamenei or the neocons, and yet taking an eloquent stand, as we all do, in defense of freedom and non-violence. The invocation of MLK was appropriate too. What on earth has this been but, in its essence, a protest for voting rights? Above all, the refusal to coopt their struggle for ours, because freedom is only ever won, and every democracy wil be different: this is an act of restraint that is also a statement of pure confidence in the power of a free people.

I share the confidence. I wrote a couple weeks back that something is happening in Iran. But it is not the only place where something is happening. The rejection of al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan; the ground-up election of (President) Obama in America; and now the rising up of Iranians for freedom and civility with their neighbors: these are the green shoots of recovery from 9/11 and its wake. Empowered by new information technology, chastened by the apocalyptic conflicts of the last few years, determined to shift course away from civilizational warfare, the people of many countries are grasping for a new order and a new peace. It will not be easy; and it will not be short. But it is the only path worth taking.

And these Iranians are now leading the rest of us."

In the late 1980's during the Tiananmen Square student protests in China, it was fax machines that helped get the message out to the world. Twenty years later, it was Twitter and social networks like Facebook that's getting the word out about what's imploding within Iran.

Now why do you think riot police were raiding the universities and smashing computers? The current regime is desperate to hold on to power at all costs. And what's coming down in Iran is akin to what H.R Halderman said about the toothpaste during the Watergate scandal: once it's out of the tube, there's no way you can put it back inside again. To paraphrase Fannie Lou Hamer, the Iranian people are now marching in the streets en masse because they are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

The Islamic Republic ruling Iran is now cowering in fear, and that's because they fear what Chileans call "the cleansing power of the truth." To paraphrase Gloria Steimen, the truth is setting the Iranian people free and taking it to the streets in defiance. But the truth first pissed them off.

It took a national election rocked by allegations of massive fraud to unleash so much pent-up frustration amongst its citizens. They felt disenfranchised, and perhaps rightfully so, for their uncounted and unaccounted votes represented a referendum against the entire regime. Now they are seeking change by voting with their bodies and y taking it to the streets. The Islamic Republic ruling Iran can only be brought down or changed if they assert themselves by marching in the streets. If they fear the wrath of its own people, it's because they are stuck in a proverbial Hobson's choice: either have to shoot its own people in cold blood or to cede power.

The clergy threw down the gauntlet and served notice that they will crack down with violent force. The impending strikes by merchants and public servants, and the continued street protests, are sending a direct message to those in power: We shall not be moved, we shall not be bought and sold, and we will not be intimidated. This comes from a people who were imprisoned for speaking their minds and for writing what they think. After thirty years of oppression from a theocratic state, why do you think they've had it up to there?

The response by Iran's leadership was indeed an insult not only to the maturity and alertness of its citizens, as is its provocatively insulting portrayal of its own people acting independently by protesting peacefully, and accusing their healthy civil protest to be an act of undue outside foreign influences. Given the controversies surrounding fraud in the ballot box, the public's trust has been damaged and the Islamic Republic is choosing a dangerously provocative path where it would expose itself for the repressive state it truly is.

Even as I express my solidarity for those seeking change in Iran, I continue to fear for their safety. Clearly, as the grotesque video of Neda being gunned down by riot police and the barrage of the Twitter messages suggest, they have no illusions about the bullets and gun barrels they are up against.

On the (Sad) State of Playwriting

Theater, and particularly playwriting, is in danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant, but not because of the Internet. Or YouTube. Or Hulu. Or even the promising financial allure of a steady paycheck from the Hollywood production mill. The threat comes from within. It comes from playwrights being afraid to assert their authorial primacy and authorial autonomy and control.

Calling bullshit for what it is, of course, used to be central to playwriting. And we happen to be living in times in which the substance in question is running particularly deep. Speaking truth to power, and that includes calling bullshit as one sees it, has never been more vital to our democracy. It also resonates with audiences a lot more than passionless stenography I’m not sure why calling bullshit has gone out of vogue on the theatrical stage — why, in fact, it’s so often consciously avoided.

There are lots of possible reasons.

There’s an increased stultification of the theatrical arts -- from our academic theatre arts programs on our college and university campuses, to our regional theaters and the Great White Way. It's gotten to the point where rocking the boat, or even thinking outside the box, is seen as threatening rather than invigorating. There’s the intense pressure to conform to familiar formats, even as those formats have become ridiculously stifling and formulaic. There also the irrational fear of offending the sensibilities of the audience, as well as the the fear of being labeled partisan if honest views to the contrary are expressed or uncomfortable truths are articulated.

If playwrights don't act on the courage of their convictions, and don't assert their authorial autonomy and control, then we do risk losing our authorial primacy. I still believe that a playwright can write whatever one damned pleases, and that includes calling bullshit for what it is. We just need to get the know-nothing dramaturgs, or the academic hacks, or the corporate shills, or the self-censorship — or whatever it is — out of the way.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

If the Truth Hurts: White House Correspondents' Dinner

Before taking on her current role as Julia Louis-Dreyfus's BFF in the CBS sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine, Wanda Sykes was something of a late bloomer, cutting her teeth on the comedy club circuit before she began parlaying her act into more substantial endeavors (i.e. the short-lived sitcom Wanda at Large)

But Wanda was right in her element at the White House Correspondents' Dinner this past weekend, as she took no prisoners in targeting conservatives with her biting one-liners.

Watch these clips, if you want further proof:

To Wanda, I have three words: You go, girl!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Speaking Truth to Power: "Pensacola Jeff" Shows Them How It's Done

Do you remember those tea parties on April 15, those AstroTurf protest rallies concocted by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News?

Well down in Pensacola, Florida, a brave blogger named Pensacola Jeff did something rather ballsy: He went down and confronted them with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and proceeded to make those Dittoheads look like total idiots:

When confronted with the truth, the real truth, not the made up baloney being peddled by the right-wing radio and TV, the crowd turns to boo the one person brave enough to stand up for the truth.

But then, that in itself speaks volumes about the absence of honest, vigorous intellectual debate.

This incident got media exposure from certain quarters of the MSM, as exemplified by this excerpt from Countdown with Keith Olbermann:

While discussing this phenomenon with Keith Olbermann, actress Janeane Garofalo's initial reaction was this: "There is nothing more interesting than seeing a bunch of racists become confused and angry at a speech they're not quite certain what's he saying. It sounds right to them and then it doesn't make sense."

Olbermann put it well later in the segment: "Our friend in Pensacola there who played them like a 3-dollar fiddle, and led them right down the garden path with nothing but facts and then they went, 'wait a minute, that doesn't sound like Rush Limbaugh.' "

Which leads me to this question: Did these teabaggers flunk out of logic in college?