Friday, June 26, 2009

Nobody Asked Me, But...

Thanks For The Thrill(er)s!
I don't have the snark in me today.
I had a nice eulogy planned for Farrah, about a young boy who through a combination of hormones and later, an appreciation of her character, loved a woman who never knew he existed. And then...well, now I have to write about two cultural signposts in America.
First, let me write about Farrah Fawcett. Farrah was the embodiment of what became known as T&A-BC television. Her single season on Charlie's Angels (the first crime drama to feature next to zero violence, we should point out) catapulted a nearly unknown Texas blonde from obscurity (absent the occasional shave commercial) to superstardom. If indeed the 70s could have a single pin-up girl, Fawcett more than lays claim to the title with her iconic poster.
She followed in the footsteps of actresses before her like Marilyn Monroe, turning her body into art and art into her body. Not nearly as talented as Monroe, she nevertheless managed to find roles later in her career that defined her craft to show she could act, and not just jiggle for the camera.
Fawcett paved the way for actresses to follow, from Suzanne Sommers to Lydia Cornell (a regular reader of this blog) to Christina Applegate to...well, whoever the blonde-du-jour of this decade is, probably Tara Reid.
By all accounts and like Monroe, she started out with trouble dogging her footsteps: a difficult marriage, paparazzi following her, and some antics better left unsaid. How many television stars and movie stars could have followed that script?
Fortunately, through love, she quieted and settled her life, and she lived a full and rich life, and died happy. What small comfort Ryan O'Neal can take from that, I hope it helps. she certainly changed his life, as well.
She became proud of who she was and she touched the world. We can only hope the same for all of us.
And now, to MJ.
It's difficult to write a eulogic piece for Michael Jackson. You can't ignore the musical genius or the fact that, well, like Astaire, the man could dance a bit. His artistic vision is legendary and the only thing we really need to note is Thriller is the best selling original album in history.
And you can't ignore the creepy side of him, the little boys, the outrageous behavior, the tragic attempts to be accepted as normal. It's very very hard to reconcile those.
I'll take a stab at it, being the observer of the human condition that any blogger should be.
People have variously claimed it was his childhood, the brutality of his father and the almost icicle-like passivity of his mother (after all, she didn't step up to protect her kids), that made him who he is. There is truth to this, but there's more, and no one really wants to look at the evidence.
When I think of Michael Jackson, I see a boy frozen in time in his adolescence, let's say thirteen or fourteen. He is, or was, exploring the world, and his boundaries.
And that's going to include seeing what he can get away with, and also coming to terms with his sexuality, without appreciating the extent of the consequences and that actions cause reactions. Too, his infantile (used without judgement) expressions of hope for peace and love and harmony in the world speak to me of someone who didn't really understand the world around him, who had a very naive view that, if we could each just ask ourselves to change our ways, we could feed the hungry, stop nuclear wars, unbreak hearts.
As he said in his signature song "Man In The Mirror." Curiously, that song also displays one shining moment of self-knowledge:
I've Been A Victim Of A Selfish
Kind Of Love
It's Time That I Realize
That There Are Some With No
Home, Not A Nickel To Loan
Could It Be Really Me,
Pretending That They're Not
 And here, I think, we have to take a closer look at his life. Michael Jackson was literally the Boy In The Bubble, and it is here that I believe his life froze. Enormous success at a tender age, and he never really had to deal with the real world outside. He maintained the naive world view that all pre-teens have. Ironically, he saw things in "Black Or White."
Indeed, in that song, we see the strange dichotomy of MJ's life:
I Took My Baby
On A Saturday Bang
Boy Is That Girl With You
Yes We're One And The Same
And I Told About Equality
An It's True
Either You're Wrong
Or You're Right
You're not black or white, but you are right or wrong. The strange collision of divergent ideas is the hallmark of adolescent thinking, and being unable to reconcile two opposite ideas defines the frustration that teens feel. You feel an urge, but must fight it because the world tells you its wrong, but you feel the urge strongly, but the world tells you its really wrong, but you really want to do it, but you can't.
Coddled and protected (except from his father), Jackson viewed the world around him from behind a clear wall. Unable to touch and unable to be touched by the world, he relied wholly on his handlers.
It's clear that some of these handlers had other agendas and those agendas did not put the needs of this child first. When he did badly, as all children do, he was not punished but protected from the consequences. When he was punished, it was violently, abusively, and painfully, but it was not punishment for what he did, but what he was: a freak of nature, a boy with a man's soul and a woman's voice. He was an emotional hermaphrodite growing in a forcedly androgynous body.
That he ended up touching growing boys inappropriately was inevitable. It's not an excuse, but a description, for Jackson certainly had the resources to find the help he so desperately needed. For that, we can be angry at him.
But we cannot hate him and I suspect this is the problem the US media is having with his death. Because the mainstream media had such great sport with this tragic car crash of a life, making cruel jokes at his expense and tut-tutting the obvious pain he felt, they never took a really close look at him. They never looked at the man in the mirror.
At his death, we see this discontinuity in the coverage. If instead of mocking his weakness and urging him to find the help he needed, to break out from behind his handlers and let the world just love him, we could have focused on his genius.
Instinctively, his audience knew the pain. We may have all made fun at his expense, and in that we all bear a measure of responsibility, but we knew the jokes rang hollow.
That hollowness was chalked up to the subject matter: pedophilia, which should be shunned. As a victim of sexual abuse myself, I can tell you that I would want my attacker sent to prison for the rest of his life. To me, that would be justice, but I also know that I speak from my anger and my fear, and the greater part of me, the better angel, begs that my attacker be studied and understood, so that in some small way his story can help us find treatment for and more important, prevention of, future attacks on defenseless children.
In truth, the hollowness we felt in telling those jokes about MJ was more fundamental than that: he was sick and we knew it, and we watched in horror as he swirled down the toilet that was his personality. 
MJ, I pray that you find the forgiveness in death that your home could not give you. For my part, I've spent the last half day contemplating your music and your genius, and your pain.  
One final note on the death of Michael Jackson: it is possible in death he will have accomplished the rehabilitation he was unable to find in life. If my suspicions regarding the circumstances of his life bear out to be true, his death will focus a spotlight strongly on the abuse of not only prescription medicines, but steroids. Based on the fact he was training with Lou Ferrigno to strengthen his fragile body for his upcoming farewell concert grind, I have few doubts that in some form, steroids were used to enhance his muscles, and give him more stamina.
If his death can make kids realize it's not just professional athletes who die after their careers are over who are affected by steroids, but even superstars who look nothing like the bloated giants of the NFL.
In this, he may touch millions of kids. The right way.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sanford & Sun

Unlike many of my fellow bloggers in Blogtopia (©Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo) wide, my attitude towards this story is "I don't give a flying fuck."

Here's why:

1) I believe that in order to fix the very real problems facing this nation, we have to beat the bastards on substance.

2) I don't believe that a person's humanity is within bounds. It wasn't for Clinton and while we had great sport with hypocrisies at that time, that was a different era. There, the Republicans were attacking the very foundation of the nation over a blow job. What's at stake here? Not a goddamned thing.

3) As an erstwhile philanderer myself, I can guaran-damn-tee you this his hurting his wife more than him, and we ought to respect that, unlike the Republicans who went after John Edwards after he dropped out of the race.

Now, issues of substance have been raised, both here and elsewhere. Let me address those.

1) Sanford ditched his sworn duty to the people of South Carolina. Possibly. That takes into account the stories that his staff and his wife "did not know his whereabouts" and then made up a story.

That is a very, very VERY large assumption on our part. Which is more likely: a high profile governor "abandoning his post", or his staff covering for a very public (
his wife admits she'd known for months) affair?

Occam's Razor and all.

Sanford jeopadized his state. What if an emergency had happened? Now, here is a truly substantive point that has no defense, and should be brought up.

But let's face facts: it's small beer and hardly worth the left getting all giddy over. The state will handle this and that should be all we need to cover.

By the way, now we know why he was able to refuse the stimulus package...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


We may never know for certain the role, if any, the CIA and MI6 has played in fomenting the Iranian protests, but I do think these two items are linked in some way:
TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Iranian authorities said Wednesday they have arrested several foreign nationals, some with British passports, in connection with the country's post-election unrest.
WASHINGTON — President Obama hardened his tone toward Iran on Tuesday, condemning the government for its crackdown against election protesters and accusing Iran's leaders of fabricating charges against the United States.
Obama fancies himself a pretty good poker player (by all accounts I've read, he is) and so what I'm seeing here is a classic bluff: caught with his friend's hand in the cookie jar, Obama is trying to fishtail his pursuers by divesting himself of any knowledge of the British nationals in Iran. He attempts this by amping the pressure on his opponent, "upping the ante" as it were. 
Despite all appearances, poker is not a card game. It's played with cards, but it is a really good test of one's ability to size up someone else's behavior, and as such is far more psychological than a mere game of chance. You don't win with your hand, you make the other guy lose with his.
Many in the popular press have said this was Obama's capitulation to the Republican party, that the pressure on him to upgrade his rhetoric is his way of getting the GOP off his back.
Bollocks, to continue the British theme. Re-read that article about Obama's poker strengths, and then consider this:
Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way. (wish that was original with me, but it's a paperweight on my desk)
In other words, making him lose with his hand.
President Obama has very carefully made the case for supporting the opposition uprising without making any overt attempts at interfering with the democratic process or sovereignty of another nation, no matter how anathemic that nation is towards us. This was the lesson lost on both Bushes (you may recall that Bush the Elder goaded the Kurds into rising up against Saddam Hussein, only to abandon them after Gulf War I).
Thus, Obama has left the patina of propriety against Iran's charges that Obama has meddled in its internal affairs. Ahmadinejad's words carry weight within Iran and to an extent the Muslim world, but beyond that, cooler heads recognize that Obama has been scrupulously careful in his choice of words.
Let's assume that I'm right (usually am) and that the CIA has been operating behind a curtain to instigate an uprising. We would not expect Obama to come out and pre-emptively admit that he has done this based on the capture of some British nationals. On the other hand, not ramping up the rhetoric, particularly in light of the death of Neda Agha Soltani, would have been viewed in many quarters as a singular admission of complicity.
The Republicans, for sure, would have gone after Obama hard on this. After all, millions have witnessed her death on YouTube and the nightly news now. But her death occured four days earlier, certainly in time for Obama to have his posse make the rounds of the Sunday morning talk shows to condemn Iran more forcefully.
And yet, he waited. And then the Brits were captured.
I suspect this broadside was fired in order to return attention where it rightfully should be focused: On Ahmadinejad and the Ruling Council, and their attempts to tamp down what is clearly a significant minority if not a majority of Iranians. Ironically, none of this was necessary as Ahmadinejad probably won the election in the first place, albeit not by double digit pluralities.
Politicians make mistakes, especially when they believe they are beyond reproach.
So, under the political cover of his domestic critics (see, they aren't useless idiots!), Obama was able to lash out at Iran with little to fear in terms of repercussions, and should an American turn up in the Iranian net, well, that's just a decoy now, since Obama has raised the stakes.
Another chip in the pot.
It's hard to say where this is headed. For one thing, no matter who won the election, Obama is going to have to deal with the Ruling Council through their stooge. For another, Ahmadinejad would have a strong voice, even a shadow government, should Mousavi prevail, and Ahmadinejad would have to be confronted eventually. Obama's hand seems fixed.
Now, it's just a matter of getting the Iranians to lose with their cards.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Why Gun Laws Need To Be Harsher

People named on the government's terrorism watch list have successfully purchased firearms hundreds of times since 2004, government investigators reported yesterday. In one case, a known or suspected terrorist was able to obtain an explosives license, the Government Accountability Office reported.

U.S. lawmakers requested the audit to show how people on the watch list can be stopped from boarding airplanes but not from buying guns. Under federal law, licensed firearms dealers must request an FBI background check for each buyer but cannot legally stop a purchase solely because someone is on the watch list. The study found that people on the list purchased firearms 865 times in 963 attempts over a five-year period ending in February.

Now, the general portrait of a gun dealer is someone who is a very narrow patriot: guns are necessary in order to keep the tyranny of government at bay, but they would never be used unnecessarily.
Apparently, not even that much. Suddenly patriotism and homeland and personal security fall by the wayside when profit becomes the overriding concern.
Interesting how greed can trump enlightened self-interest, the very basis of capitalism, isn't it? Here we have numerous instances of a gun dealer selling guns or explosives to a bunch of people whom the government, the BUSH administration in most instances, deemed a threat to the security of the nation.
So it's not like we have a bunch of "militiamen" (domestic terrorists with an acceptably cretinic agenda) purchasing guns to keep BATF agents at bay. These are folks the FBI won't let get on an airplane.
These dealers are selling weapons to presumed terrorists with no place to go...meaning the odds jump that the same gun dealers may be dealing with the aftermath of their greed right in their own home towns.
Worse, I can almost imagine that some greedy bastard went one step further, and told his other customers that "them terrists is loadin' up on guns, so kin Ah sells ya this here semi-auto unner th table?" I certainly hope I'm wrong, but my guess with respect to the inherent greed of humanity is I'm right. We'd sell our countrymen out for a bowl of soup, and now, I'm betting, we'd sell our neighbors out, too.
You can blame the loophole in the law, and the temptation to do so is pretty strong. After all, if you can't legally stop someone from buying a gun, then you're just following orders, right? But let's face facts: it's very easy to just say no.
And they cannot. It is apparent that not only should this loophole be shut tight, but that gun dealers should face increasingly stronger punishment for lapses in judgement. A gun is intended to harm. Period. In many instances, I have no problem with that, but we ought to limit the sale of weapons to only those instances as much as possible and since we've given loopholes of all sizes to gun dealers to slip through, then it's only fair that when they do screw up, it ought to cost them a lot more than just a few bucks.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Money =/= Freedom

Kris Kristofferson once wrote that "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose."

Truer words were never written. To be truly free, as any Buddhist, even Jesus Christ himself, would tell you, requires surrendering all your worldly possessions in search of your soul.

Sadly...we live in a different world. So we've created this false front: to be free takes money. The more money, the more freedom.

And believe it or not, there's some truth here, too. If you accept the rules of this game, then you need at least as much money as it takes in order to satisfy your needs. Above that, you start to get greedy, and the rules of humanity start to ebb away, as I wrote last week.

Paradoxically, then, you become less free with the more money you have. You have to pay taxes, of course, because goodness knows enough people are greedy enough that if they have one dollar and their neighbor has none, they wouldn't dare give him fifty cents or even a quarter and the country needs roads and bridges and police and firefighters and doctors and so on.

Freedom is a life lived without responsibility except those you personally accept as your own. The greedy anti-tax crowd would tell you that taxes are unacceptable, but they are the price for living in this "free" society. You accept them.

There comes a point, however, when more money can buy you a sort of freedom. It is at this point that you can buy freedom from politicians.

You see, power, like money, is not freedom. The social construct of power is that you have a duty to those over whom you exercise power, to protect them, and to look out for them.

Indeed, the great cognitive dissonance of American politicians is to reconcile taking money from the powerful and repudiating the powerless, all while trying to secure enough votes of the powerless in order to remain in power.

Last week I wrote about rational markets, about how in theory markets are effective only when everyone has equal access to information.

But look around you. This isn't happening. Right now, you're ingesting all sorts of chemical crap with your food because the USDA has not required food processors (you can't really call them anything but) to clearly label foods as genetically modified, say, or to even fully disclose when they've screwed up in packaging a product, unless it creates a public health crisis.

You'd think this doesn't matter, but when genetic modifications of food require the E. Coli bacteria to express genetic traits like herbicide resistance into crops, and there's a spike in E. Coli outbreaks...well, let's just say a bunch of Messicans didn't stop washing their hands suddenly.

And that's just one instance of what goes on under the table that you don't know about. For example, did you know the African wheat crop was being wiped out? Is it any coincidence that this is happening just as the attention of the GM folks has turned to wheat?

Wheat, corn, rice, cotton...these are all staplec crops of the American consumer.

Are we free? I'd argue not, not so long as tinkering with this basic kind of crop can go on under our noses and we are not kept apprised of it.