Victory For Gay Rights & America 2010

Aquarian Weekly 8/18/10 REALITY CHECK

MOSQUES, SLEVIN, NEWT & THE NAZI POPE How Drilling Into One’s Skull Can Cease Religious Extremism

I am more than distracted this week. Appears I’ll have to deal with another shift at the top of this magazine. Change has never been my strong suit. The details of Master Patrick Slevin’s exit are murky, and from my brief conversation with him this week I can tell this is no negotiation ploy or Brett Farve maneuver. He is serious about moving on. It is what happens when you have to run a magazine or a steam engine or circus for any length of time — many moving parts, irregular intangibles, messy, messy fragments. For Slevin, five years was his limit. This is a lifetime for the centered, but for the emotionally wrought, the true Newt Gingrichparanoids, it is something of a world-class achievement. Lord knows, it is nothing I wish to contemplate or even dare envision. It is a hearty sort who treads the masthead lightly. Slevin did it well, and we wish that whatever private sector gig he now slides into, it would be quieter and filled with less publicity hounds and voodoo dolls.

As for me, I have found a new passion; the expunging of all religious edifices in and around the island of Manhattan. My partner will be Newt Gingrich, with whom I have decided to enter a tontine, a sort of secret blood sport against all religions, cults, and Tom Cruise. Personally, I like Tom Cruise, but the Gingrich people assured me his actions lately have been “highly motivated by foreign sources” and that, they said, could not stand.

Recently my attorney friend sent me an e-mail detailing Gingrich’s plan to exact vengeance on the Saudis, whom he claims will not allow a Christian house of worship to be built in their atavistic theocracy, therefore the proposed mosque or Islamic Center to be opened two blocks from Ground Zero is a no-no. This kind of half-cocked radical thinking intrigues me of course, for it is rare that any politician, especially a disgraced one with a penchant to go off the rails in dimly vetted talking points, would have the gall to take on religious freedom, the cornerstone of how the bulk of this continent was overrun by Europeans in the first place.

Excited by Gingrich’s “theory”, I placed a call this week to his Washington office, but was unable to get him on the phone. Although I knew he was there. Gingrich, like all proud members of the trepanation set, tend to breathe loudly. This can clearly be heard over any phone line, specifically with the type of bandwidth we’re dealing with these days. A healthy length of gray coif may hide the holes in Gingrich’s skull, but it cannot fool me. I know all about trephining. Many of my closest colleagues have used it in desperate times to take the edge off. I hardly think it is revealing anything tender by stating emphatically that Patrick Slevin needed it to run this magazine for half a decade and Gingrich needed it to run the United States Congress, and no one alive can blame either of them for it.

It may be odd, even unsettling for some to accept the practice of drilling small holes in the skull to relieve pressure and expand consciousness, but not for Slevin or Gingrich or Tom Cruise for that matter. These are men of foresight, doers — not cheap little religious peons, who harbor a powerful need to spread their ancient superstitions all over the most enlightened stretch of land in this great nation.

It may be odd, even unsettling for some to accept the practice of drilling small holes in the skull to relieve pressure and expand consciousness, but not for Slevin or Gingrich or Tom Cruise for that matter. These are men of foresight, doers — not cheap little religious peons, who harbor a powerful need to spread their ancient superstitions all over the most enlightened stretch of land in this great nation.

But let’s try and forget voodoo dolls and trepanation for a minute and get down to brass tacks. There is a spate of religious fervor going on in this country, played out all over the world. It has led to the most vile, violent and bizarre behavior capable in the human condition. The graves of the faithful are outnumbered only by the greedy and stupid; all enviable human traits, which blessedly separate us from the other mammals. Earth creatures are normally moved by random instincts of hunger, sex or territoriality. The human mind, however, has developed a “fear center” with the knowledge that our days are numbered, a clock ticks somewhere and someone has to be tending it.

Therefore, it is hard to believe that most Muslim clerics are not extremists or that most Catholic priests are not pedophiles. There is a sense now that the yoga craze is a front to humanize the deadly aims of Hindus and that the Anti-Defamation League is harboring an undercover Kabal of IDF agents, whose mission is to assassinate Persian hot dog vendors. Their recent missive that “ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain — unnecessarily — and that is not right” reeks of fascist leanings. “Not a question of rights”, but “what is right”? Who decides what is “right”? And “In our judgment” goes a long way, bub.

This brings to mind the ugly background of the current Pope, who was a Nazi. It is true. The Pope was a Nazi, which is more like he is a Nazi, since, like alcoholics, once a Nazi always a Nazi. This was something the Gingrich people told me they would look into, now that they are in charge of the evil spread of religious freedom. Since it is mandatory that all American presidents be depicted as Nazis, despite no actual affiliation with the Nazi Party, to which, by the way, Pope Benedict XVI absolutely was or is, it must fall under the category of dicey affiliations.

I understand this. And the Gingrich people now know it. I have no way of truly understanding my former managing editor’s take on Catholic Nazis or Islamic terrorists, so I will stop gratuitously dragging him into this column for cheap laughs or a proper send-off. I only hope before he leaves his post the bastard makes one last call to the jackasses who handle Radiohead. Never in all my time working with Slevin had we been so decidedly jerked around by cretins as we did when dealing with Radiohead, none of the members of which have sided with Hamas or the Nazis to my knowledge, but there were surely signs of strategic trepanation.

Holy shit, things around here have gone awry. Let’s tie this one up and send it in. It’s Slevin’s last issue, and this one had to be gangbusters. It is the least the Reality Check News & Information could do for a fellow solider in the war against worship. Hell, yeah.

So fuck Islam and Judaism and Christianity and L. Ron Hubbard or Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wacky Shari’a bullshit.

As Newt likes to say; “If it’s not mine, shut it down.”

It has a nice ring to it; like “Goodbye Master Slevin, you shall be missed.”

Now get me J.J. Koczan on the phone. There’s a Buddhist Temple going up in Wayne.

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“Animals, Whores & Dialogue” Review

Aquarian Weekly 7/28/10 REALITY CHECK

HAPPY BIRTHDAY DOCTOR THOMPSONIn Praise of “Animals, Whores & Dialogue”

In my situation, and I believe this is really the key to what I’ve done all my life; I’ve been extremely aware of not being taken into the system. – Hunter S. Thompson “Animals, Whores & Dialogue”

Animals, Whores & DialogueThe Outlaw Journalist sits restively at his writer’s throne; an unassuming swivel chair pushed slightly back from a cluttered kitchen counter. He is staring at a well-worn IBM typewriter, as if its silent challenge is beyond comprehension, despite all the tumultuously wonderful years of glorious soliloquies it has rendered for the man. A man now legend — looking very much his age; a ravaged mid-sixties — dressed in the midnight uniform of his craft; dark shirt and jeans offset by a white safari cap pushed down to the eyebrows where a pair of black reading glasses have slipped to the tip of his nose. It is mid-November of 2003, Owl Farm, a purported fortified compound deep in the Colorado mountains, and filmmaker Wayne Ewing is capturing this intimate image of Hunter S. Thompson at work for all eternity; the rare, grizzled genius felled by the vast white nothing.

“Blank paper,” the Father of Gonzo sighs, “the curse of the writing class.” The camera moves from the starkly mocking visage to the icon of latter 20th century satire, irony and mayhem as he chuckles to himself; “There is no writing class.”

These are the incredibly transparent moments in time, shot, compiled, reviewed and edited by Ewing after over 15 years of following, filming and working with the great Doctor Thompson, which make up his new documentary, “Animals, Whores & Dialogue”. These were also moments left on the cutting room floor, when his first brilliant documentary, “Breakfast with Hunter” hit the streets in 2003 — a few months before this opening scene and one year prior to the suicide of its mercurial subject.

When speaking to Ewing then on why “Breakfast with Hunter” — this space correctly described its portrayal as “done with due respect and enviable insight” — did not display more of the master at work, the filmmaker mused; “Watching Hunter write is quite like watching paint dry.”

So then it is only fitting that Ewing’s stirring follow-up takes its title from a humorous scribbling atop the aforementioned IBM typewriter, which Thompson describes later in the film as “a relief just to read.”

“It’s very unusual to have a film where the main character sits in the same place over a period of about ten years in different scenes,” Ewing told me this week, a few days removed from the film’s release, celebrating what would have been Thompson’s seventy-third birthday. “To have it work is truly a piece of alchemy that only Hunter could be responsible for.”

“Animals, Whores & Dialogue” is a remarkable glimpse into Hunter S. Thompson’s “process”; the act of getting the whirlwind of sledgehammer phrases banging playfully around his skull onto the page, whilst he sufficiently feeds his psyche with booze, dope, music, ranging his spastic ammo on every media distraction from piles of newspapers to his ever-running televisions, and, of course, gathering an audience for “the show”.

“Animals, Whores & Dialogue” is an investigation into a southern gentleman of letters, deconstructing what he describes at one point in the film as “a miracle”. This ability to take the core of individual experiences and craft them into engagingly poetic accounts, as only Hunter S. Thompson could.

“It was that way,” Ewing recalls. “Sometimes we did what many of his previous editors would do; tape record stuff, then transcribe it, let him go at it, spruce it up, and that would be it. It’s fairly typical. It’s how he did it.”

In addition to the haphazard style of pouring his thoughts on the blank of the page, “Animals, Whores & Dialogue” delivers the most intimate portrait of a true American original.

“Hunter really came through as a bright and shining spirit through the whole project,” remembers Ewing. “There wasn’t any particular genius on my part to think it was a good idea to hang out with Hunter Thompson and film everything I possibly could, but for whatever reasons Hunter trusted me and that’s why I was able to get the kind of footage that I did, and the whole project took on a life of its own, especially after his death.”

Over the years Ewing says his camera became an extension or evolution of the great experiment of Gonzo Journalism. Its probing gaze actually takes the place of Thompson six months after his death, as his friends and family pay tribute — an extremely moving scene at the close of “Animals, Whores & Dialogue” — or as the director described shooting it, “chilling”.

“It was as if Hunter was manipulating things from the grave,” Ewing explains. “I more or less resurrect him. Suddenly the camera, after ninety minutes of pretty much non-stop observing him at one point or another in the kitchen chair, suddenly takes on his point of view. And that wasn’t something I planned to do, but right before we were going to light the candles on the cake, Ed Bastion, longtime friend and former campaign manager from Hunter’s sheriff’s race in 1970, said, ‘Wait, you should get in the chair! You should be Hunter with the camera’. And as you can see from the footage, there’s not a dry eye in the house.”

This truly sentimental moment is the culmination of two hours of a tour through the inspiration, making, and celebrity of Hunter S. Thompson, through his words, work, and the poignant reflections of his childhood friends, colleagues, and those who knew and loved him most.

“Animals, Whores & Dialogue” is an investigation into a southern gentleman of letters, deconstructing what he describes at one point in the film as “a miracle”. This ability to take the core of individual experiences and craft them into engagingly poetic accounts, as only Hunter S. Thompson could. “Anything else I did in my life, I was punished for,” the Outlaw Journalist states in one of several contemplative moments in the film. “When I worked at writing, I was praised.”

Ewing says he always knew there would be a sequel to “Breakfast with Hunter”.

“There was so much material left behind, so many good scenes; the problem was I could never figure out how to put it together. Then I came upon that scene I shot in November of 2003 when Hunter was writing a Hey Rube column, which at the time I thought really went nowhere, because it’s the quest. He’s just writing and never gets it done. And I suddenly came up with the idea of using that as home base, that he would continually throughout the film be trying to write this column, and that would be the glue that held the whole thing together.”

The Weapon of ChoiceSince “Breakfast with Hunter” and the author’s death in 2005, Ewing has kept in touch with The Desk, and during that time, and for much of our discussion this week, I had to remind him of the importance of his work. “Animals, Whores & Dialogue” is living history, a treasure in the long line of American literature in that it captures the consciousness and motivation, the fears and triumphs of a seminal talent. It’s as if someone had access to Mark Twain or as Ewing cites, William Faulkner for weeks on end, culling the most telling signs of where the genius arrives and how it evades, which truth be told, it did for Thompson most of his life — these hits and misses, but never without the plentiful grind.

As Thompson philosophizes in the film, “I figured out what you have to do in this world — to be able to do one thing better than anybody else, no matter what it is. Find it.”

Once again, as with his first film, Ewing’s choice of scenes, whether it’s Thompson reading aloud from his work or talking about his love and need to write, accentuated by a muted smile, the face contorted with sudden joy, the tongue lashing out, the almost stunning awe at what has come from him; the indescribable wherewithal to get the thing on paper. That’s the Hunter I knew in brief but memorable encounters.

“I think this film, more so than ‘Breakfast with Hunter’, truly gives you a sense why we all felt so lucky to be able to hang out in the kitchen with Hunter, what was so important about it,” Ewing concludes. “Not just the art and the writing, but the magnificence of his personality. He was an incredibly endearing human being, and you felt fortunate to be his friend. You understand completely why his mother describes when he was four or five years old all the kids in the neighborhood waiting for an hour or two on the front porch for Hunter to come out to play. So we were really lucky to be able to play with Hunter.”

Thanks to Wayne Ewing and his “Animals, Whores & Dialogue”, so are we.


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Open Letter To British Petroleum

Aquarian Weekly 6/9/10 REALITY CHECK


To Whatever Incompetent Asshole It May Concern,

Jesus Bar-Hopping Christ, what the fuck is going on?

Plug the fucking hole already.

This is beyond irresponsible corporate shenanigans now. Sure its criminal, but I don’t give a shit about criminal. I expect most of you oil skags to rape land, price fix, bribe officials and other business-as-usual stuff. But I also expect when you drill into the ocean that you have a method to plug the goddamn hole when it leaks or explodes or some other fiasco within, say, a month’s time.

What is this now; fifty days and counting?

BP RollingThis goddamn catastrophe has gone on so long I have been unable to avoid writing about it. I figure spinning outrage on oil barons fucking up the environment is akin to whining about the Catholic Church covering up pedophilia. I mean, let’s apply some selective creativity in subject matter here. But this is beyond ridiculous now. This, I dare say, and I am hardly a purveyor of hyperbole here, may be the worst environmental corporate disaster in my lifetime.

I repeat, upon reviewing your abysmal record, which shows “760 willful safety violations” as charged by the Occupational Health & Safety Administration in the last three years alone, and horrific EPA toxic release data dating back to 1991, along with massive fines for 104 oil spills in a one-year period between 1997 and 1998, I really don’t give a hovering shit. I need oil. I like heat and my car and I don’t care how many Arabs and volunteer armed forces have to die for it.

Just plug the fucking hole already.

Shit, I expect a company that in 2005 had its largest refinery explode killing 15 poor Texans and injuring 180 more to be a callous conglomerate of money-hording scum. But these are Texans we’re talking about, after all. No one outside of that god forsaken desert patch of yahoos cares a lick about Texans, especially those who expire from its leading export, which, let’s face it, and has regurgitated from its diseased womb an alarming number of vapid rich and powerful mediocrities. Those saps would have likely shot themselves in the street anyway.

So I hope I am making this as clear as possible; I am not your run-of-the-mil environmentally compassionate, anti-big business, head-in-the-sand, sign-waving troglodyte. And I am not being facetious when I state emphatically that I worry not a lick about your sordid past or your spectacularly criminal business model or the millions you use to purchase chunks of my government. I accept that this kind of knuckle-grinding immorality comes with the territory.

At least I’m willing to admit it. There may be hardheaded, wise-ass sarcasm peppered with miserable cynicism here, but you won’t find an ounce of hypocrisy. Whether the rest of us shake our heads in disgust or moan on talk shows or whip off poetic disdain for the evils of Big Oil, we all need it, jack. We need to drill for it. Thus, we accept the consequences. We’re all adults here. Our patience and standards have a variety of weird levels that are hard to press when it comes to getting the stuff. We may get all pissy and boycott you guys and buy it from someone else, but it changes nothing, really.

You guys are our sugar daddies and we’ll take our beatings and eat your dung and turn around and thank you so very much. We sleep with the great whore and we sleep well.

Do you see anyone boycotting the colossal piles of crap made by child slaves in Chinese basement sweatshops? I have more shit from China in my house right now than not. We just had an Olympics there. It was our best joke: A celebration of the human spirit in the home office for human misery. Never mind that, they poisoned our children. Forget that, we borrow money from them so we can wage wars all over the Middle East for our oil. Honestly. We get it. You’re the worst. We’re the worst.

Just plug the fucking hole.

Do you think we’ve forgotten the horrors of 9/11? Nah. It came and went and we still pump the oil. A badly formulated and ill-conceived war to kick a half-assed dictator out of Iraq, and we still keep on truckin’ and SUVin’ and well, you get the picture. You guys are our sugar daddies and we’ll take our beatings and eat your dung and turn around and thank you so very much. We sleep with the great whore and we sleep well.

Hell, we slept right through your 2006 oil operations in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, when neglected corroded pipelines unleashed five-thousand barrels of oil all over our nation’s most pristine landscape. But you know what? Fuck Alaska. Its last goddamn governor is a pox on our collective IQ and quite the proponent of drilling-baby-drilling as I recall it. Let Alaska burn.

Just plug the fucking hole.

And if you can’t plug the thing, at least cop to it. Jamming mud and garbage down there and hiring dweebs to build robots to piddle around is embarrassing. I can take greedy, apathetic monsters for my Oil Men, just not ineffectual boobs. Those guys get into government. You guys are supposed to be coldly efficient with the occasional wink-wink environmental hazard or easily explainable and paid-off faux pas, not this incredible clusterfuck. People mock the media all the time, but right now online there is a submerged, 24/7 video surveillance of this disaster constantly pumping bilge into he Gulf of Mexico. It’s really quite inventive and ingenious and it kicks like gangbusters. The camera works great. Your shit doesn’t, and therein lies my problem with the situation.

And forget the government intervening. People down there are not too keen on the government helping with disasters. Chances are the people “helping” were probably hired because they were someone’s drinking buddies. We already know the fuck-ups we’re dealing with up there. Leave them out of it. Private sector will fix it. It’s the American way, or some other tired bullshit. We make it up as we go along, but it works in some strange way, unlike your company, which cannot plug a fucking hole in fifty fucking days.

Plug it. Damn it.


Thank you.


jc Oil Whore

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Jerome David Salinger – 1919 – 2010

Aquarian Weekly 2/3/10 REALITY CHECK


J.D. SalingerThe aura around this book of Salinger’s — which perhaps should be read by everyone but young men — is this: it mirrors like a fun house mirror and amplifies like a distorted speaker one of the great tragedies of our times — the death of the imagination.

I believe that the imagination is the passport we create to take us into the real world. I believe the imagination is another phrase for what is most uniquely us. Our boy Holden says, “What scares me most is the other guy’s face — it wouldn’t be so bad if you could both be blindfolded — most of the time the faces we face are not the other guys’ but our own faces. And it’s the worst kind of yellowness to be so scared of yourself you put blindfolds on rather than deal with yourself…”

To face ourselves. That’s the hard thing. The imagination. That’s God’s gift to make the act of self-examination bearable. – John Guare – Six Degrees of Separation

I say that the true artist-seer, the heavenly fool who can and does produce beauty, is mainly dazzled to death by his own scruples, the blinding shapes and colors of his own sacred human conscience. – J.D. Salinger – Seymour: An Introduction

There was always something comforting about knowing that J.D. Salinger was still shuffling around the bending country roads of Cornish, New Hampshire, picking up his mail, stopping for a muffin and getting the grocery shopping done. It was reassuring, like kick-offs in the autumn and a first pitch in spring, haircuts and holidays; Ol’ Mr. Cranky is still holed up in that large tin barracks on his woodland property banging away on an old Underwood, wrinkled beyond recognition but every gray hair in place. But alas, on a frozen New England January day, the author recluse, the last human standing who can claim Great American Novel status, checked out for good.

This was just another in a series of exits for Salinger, albeit his last. He’d not only made “checking out” an art form, his raison d’etre, but eventually outlasted Howard Hughes as American’s most impenetrably ardent hermit. The subtler terminology for such behavior would be “retreating from unwanted attention”, which in an ironic twist worthy of his most striking characters transformed him from dropout scribe to silent legend.

Thus, stalking Salinger, although in recent years as the Boomers got older and less inclined to search for intangible things like lost youth or hope unanswered, was in itself an art form; the media, the fans, the curious – getting a glimpse of the man who penned The Catcher in the Rye just once, maybe get a photograph or God willing have a brief encounter, was an enduring obsession.

There were hundreds of stories and countless periodical or televised introspective guesses to whatever the hell happened to J.D. Salinger, a man, who at the age of thirty-two published his one and only novel, a 236 page ode to the awakening from the sweet bliss of childhood ignorance into the stark, cold realities of becoming a compromised, disingenuous bit player in a fixed game. Adulthood is the enemy of its protagonist, Holden Caulfield, perhaps the most famous and deconstructed literary invention in the latter half of the 20th Century, the post-war, business booming, super-power American Century. It was to usher in the rise of the Middle Class and its everlasting explosions of atomic destruction, rock and roll and television.

A team of psychiatrists working ’round the clock daily for decades could scant crack the level of psychosis replete in these stories, bloated with characters so vividly bizarre and charmingly damaged by religion, commerce, war, family, sex and the gnawing curse of intellectual curiosity they crawl inside your head and force a sinister smirk through the tears.

In some ways it was the shedding of untruths about America in the sixties, not the button-down, smile-and-ignore-the-horror fifties that made The Catcher in the Rye what it would become, a dog-eared, coffee-stained Bible for practicing Hippies, striving to reject a slaying of the wild spirit engendered in those whose only worries surround skinned knees and cruel barbs, a pinky rolling forever lost into a sewer drain or the sun setting on another day of infinite imagination. There was an entire movement based on it, and aside from perhaps the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, Woodstock or the uprising against an unjust war, only the first read of Catcher could best indoctrinate a generation of the spoiled and disillusioned.

Its author, however, was nothing of the kind. J.D. Salinger was the second child to well-to-do Upper West Side Jewish/Catholic parents, who sent him to Manhattan’s best schools and encouraged his love of the arts, eventually shipping him abroad to an exclusive Austrian trade institute until forced to flee from Nazi terror, a terror he would confront in 1944 as an infantryman on D-Day, where he miraculously survived the slaughterhouse of Utah Beach and frigid hand-to-hand mutilation at the Battle of the Bulge. Being among the first of forever-scarred soldiers liberating the concentration camps awarded J.D. Salinger an extended stay at an army mental hospital, an experience which formed the deepest recesses of several of his most memorable short story characters; drained and soulless creatures who returned from the war bitter, distant, and harshly cynical.

During the campaign in Europe, the young Salinger sought out and found Ernest Hemingway, with whom he carried on a correspondence for months, exchanging ideas and gaining inspiration. Rare for giving attention to anyone not killing, fighting or drinking, Papa ignited in Salinger a series of beautifully crafted short stories published in the famed New Yorker. The first such venture was a prelude to a theme stretched to its limit in Catcher, A Perfect Day for Bananafish, a delightfully disturbing “check-out” afternoon for an unbalanced young man named Seymour Glass, who begins innocently enough telling fairytales of fictitious ocean dwellers to a young girl in the surf on a sunny beach only to end up blithely traveling up to his darkened hotel room to discharge a pistol into his brain. In between there are the materialistic blathering wife and the purity of a child, another “phony” adult and an “unblemished” child inspiring a man’s unexplained exit.

Along with his lifelong penchant for “checking out”, disgust with mature matters and the worship of youth, particularly young girls, Bananafish began for Salinger what would become the literary undercurrent of a career shadowed by the enormity of Catcher. Seymour would only be one, if not the most significant of the Glass family, the entirety of which the author would mine for several and varied metaphors in his seminal works; Nine Stories, Franny and Zooey, and Raise High The Roof Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, his only other published books.

A team of psychiatrists working ’round the clock daily for decades could scant crack the level of psychosis replete in these stories, bloated with characters so vividly bizarre and charmingly damaged by religion, commerce, war, family, sex and the gnawing curse of intellectual curiosity they crawl inside your head and force a sinister smirk through the tears. Not even a chubby little sophistic drone like Mark David Chapman’s marrow-sucking assassination dreams born of Holden Caulfield lore could hope to dwarf them.

And then J.D. Salinger checked out, never to publish again.

After the final Glass installment, Hapworth 16, 1924 in 1965, Salinger’s battle to remain as he once wrote as his “rather subversive opinion that a writer’s feelings of anonymity-obscurity are the second most valuable property on loan to him during his working years” was won. He wrote, but we didn’t read. Several books by his daughter and former young assistants and lovers revealed some, but not enough. Only two biographies have been published, one rather forgetfully bland one and Ian Hamilton’s boundlessly interesting, In Search of J.D. Salinger, which by legal reprisal happenstance brought forth Salinger’s only public utterances in court interviews.

It was Hamilton’s constant harassment by Salinger to stay away, prompting the author to cut off friends and business associates, sue every known publishing house in New York coupled with the subsequent amateur pilgrimages that proved a hearty impetus for a memorable discussion with my friend and colleague Dan Bern on the rights owed to Salinger’s many worshipers that he publish again. Later, an aborted book idea to travel to Cornish and sit in the local coffee shop and take in the aura that had shrouded the town for a taste of the final steps of the mysterious J.D. Salinger only wetted our appetite to understand further the kind of mind and talent that could deny the innate need for the consummate artist to celebrate success.

But that is all gone now, with Jerome David Salinger, who checks out with the mind and heart of the Holy Trilogy and one masterpiece.


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Ghost Of Free Market Past (Ayn Rand)

Aquarian Weekly 12/23/09 REALITY CHECK

THE GHOST OF FREE MARKET PAST How Any Rand’s Individualist Orthodoxy Spirits The New Right

The worst of all crimes is the acceptance of the opinions of others. – Ayn Rand, as quoted in Goddess Of The Market” — Ayn Rand And The American Right by Jennifer Burns

Ayn RandUltimately, it was the controversies surrounding my third book, Trailing Jesus which helped drive its modest sales, but none of it has consistently equaled the response to what some labeled my brazen inclusion in a list of like-minded philosophers of the historical Jesus a quote by world-class atheist, Ayn Rand. To which I often retort that if Jesus and Ayn had ever spent any time together in a locked room, neither could decide which of them was indeed God. And in my estimation after six years of research, beyond Friedrich Nietzsche, Rand’s first and lasting philosophical hero, only the icon of Christianity could equal Rand’s unyielding defense of the individual as moral arbiter of his/her fate. And just as the figure and scope of a Jesus can be all things to all people, thus is the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

It is hard to find anyone, whether philosopher, psychologist or pop culture icon, which has filled more socio-political voids than Ayn Rand. Her wildly consumed novels have spawned millions of dedicated followers, sparked historic movements, and launched varied institutions, remaining as influential today as any of their contemporaries. And now that many of these same contemporaries, both disciples and detractors, begin to slip into history, and her legend grows with queer abandon, a renaissance in Rand’s pristine moral imperative of hallowed selfishness over evil altruism dawns a new age in America’s lasting ideological battle; the progressive collective rationality versus rugged American free-market individualism.

To that end, talk show hosts, columnists, protestors and political pundits routinely resurrect the nearly eighty year-old writings, teachings, and rants of Rand to plug their personal ideals, however disparate. From TEA Party enthusiasts to Don’t Tread On Me fanatics, Right Wing showman and fiscally conservative economists, there is always plenty of the Randian spirit readily available to be co-opted. Never has this been more evident than in the fallout of today’s crumbling economic implosion born of rapacious malfeasance and individual irresponsibility leading to the inevitable expansion of federal regulation and government intervention.

Nearly thirty years after her death, Rand strikes a figure that can remarkably embody the basic tenets of anarchy while also espousing a strong sense of patriotic duty — a dedication to personal responsibility in the perpetuation of capitalist ideals. And once again, as the new century hits its second decade and the winds of change shift dramatically, the timing of author, Jennifer Burns’s biography, Goddess Of The Market — Ayn Rand And The American Right is almost eerie.

“There is an infinite attraction to Rand and her philosophy because it is so unattainable,” Ms. Burns told me this week. “She spent a lifetime trying to create individualists out of human beings, who are social creatures at base, but because we are social creatures we struggle against our destinies and wish we could be what one reviewer said of Howard Roark (Rand’s practical idealist hero from The Fountainhead), that he is the superman — completely free, independent without a care for others, thus never feeling pain or disappointment, super-human.”

Rand’s superhero protagonists, specifically in her spectacularly popular novels, her relentlessly structured essays and the cult of her personal philosophy called Objectivism, wherein the mystical Disneyification of an entire generation is obliterated in a torrent of cold reasoning and self-reliant myopia, speak to the vastness of the American schizophrenia; a relentless pursuit of individual gratification basked in a noble reach to empower the whole.

Goddess Of The Market is the first book authored by a non-Randian disciple nor an ardent Objectivist, who was not only allowed access to Rand’s personal papers but places this schizophrenia into modern context.

“Rand is unique because she has clarified what is really a Christian theme of a charitable redistribution of wealth as immoral,” Burns says. “She’s able to dramatically strengthen the argument against the expanse of the state over the individual in less practical and more emotional terms.”

“Rand is unique because she has clarified what is really a Christian theme of a charitable redistribution of wealth as immoral,” Burns says. “She’s able to dramatically strengthen the argument against the expanse of the state over the individual in less practical and more emotional terms.”

Like the America Rand envisioned and was to forever worship as the triumph of science and progress over the mystical imprisonment of a Czarist and later a Communist Russia, her personal contradictions (Burns describes her as tempestuous and moody and in her book Rand appears spiteful, vengeful and randomly petty) were ignored for the greater “truth” in the glorious “pursuit of happiness”.

“The grand paradox that powered Rand’s career is the offshoot of a philosophical system she constructed as an absolute truth, which is if one was to reason properly one would come to a universal conclusion, ” Burns notes. “Yet the people most strongly attracted to the message of individualism aren’t as strongly developed as individuals and perhaps the most susceptible to this type of orthodoxy.”

This explains The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged as key contributors to youthful literary exuberance, as Kerouac’s On The Road or Plath’s The Bell Jar seems to resonate among the impressionable.

“I always laugh when people pass Rand off as some kind of joke, like ‘Only teenagers read her’, Burns says. “Yeah, teenagers do come to her, and since that is when many of us form our beliefs for a lifetime, I think that’s pretty important.”

At the root of Rand’s influence and orthodoxy are the harsh realities of Objectivism. Even for the most zealous supporters, no matter how loyal, all are not included. Those not worthy of its distinctions are left without the slightest empathy. The “blessed” ones are most cherished for their art of invention, artistic brilliance, ingenuity and progress and may then reap the rightful rewards. Unlike the religious parameters of those “chosen” or “saved” in a specific faith gaining ultimate spiritual emancipation, Rand’s exalted few are merited by action, production and success.

However, unflinching philosophical orthodoxy aside, Rand is most potent as a political juggernaut, with pen and verbal assault, which she deftly used during her lifetime and left behind in her volumes of work. They were rendered as body blows to both the modern Conservative movement (Building a Christian Right edict in the war against Communism, William F. Buckley spent decades trying to discredit Rand’s hard-line materialism and staunch atheism) and her favorite whipping post, Liberalism.

From the days of the New Deal to the Great Society, Rand stood in firm opposition of any government intervention for any purpose, including “just” foreign wars and the conscription that accompanied them. And although appalled by Southern racism, she supported Barry Goldwater’s stance for state rights and against a Civil Rights bill. Moreover, Rand, while being a beacon for the rights of women and anti-censorship, in which she fought both battles to the teeth during her professional life, thought feminism asinine while also managing to support abortion and wrote vehement screeds against Hollywood propaganda for the Left, going as far as speaking on behalf of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

In the end, though, it is Rand’s insistence, almost a passionate demand for the individual over almost any collective that places her neatly in the messiah line-up. Libertarians, anarchists and anti-government fist-pumpers and sign-wavers look to her as their shining example, perhaps today more than ever.

“Objectivism, whether you agree with it or not, is part of the American intellectual experience,” Burns concludes. “Ayn Rand has had a profound impact on so many Americans, defining how they think about capitalism, markets, and the question of morality.” In the weirdest of evolutions, the idea of trusting the human intellect and its lust for greed and expanding the limits of true freedom has led to some of the most ignominious failures of this democracy, as has its subsequent remedy, an expanding government clampdown, whether Trust Busters, The New Deal or The Big Bank Bailout. It speaks ultimately of Rand’s fatal flaw — the fatal flaw in the human spirit, to be our own worst enemy and as Twain once coined, getting the government “of the people and by the people” we deserve.

As Goddess Of The Market so intriguingly points out, Rand stands as a figure of absolute truth against so many American contradictions, not the least of which is what the new Right today must face if it is to gain a foothold to power again, a sense that at the core of the true American spirit lies the dollar sign and not the crucifix.

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In Praise Of Woody Allen’s “Whatever Works


Aquarian Weekly 7/15/09

In Praise of The Master’s Latest Opus, “Whatever Works”

Whatever love you can get and give, whatever happiness you can provide, every temporary measure of grace, whatever joy you can filch from this immense void of nothingness, whatever works. – Boris Yellnikoff from “Whatever Works”

"Whatever Works"It was somewhere in the painful drudgery of penning an overview of a bogged down Health Care debate in Congress that I decided to chuck the entire thing and write about the new Woody Allen film, Whatever Works instead. In a mind-numbingly prolific and brilliant career filled with several and varied celluloid masterworks (forty-two in forty years), my favorite filmmaker, and an indelible influence as a writer and award-winning curmudgeon, has once again hit the mark. With Hollywood mired in a string of regurgitated formulaic schlock and even the independent sources beginning to repeat the same dark, gut-wrenching themes, Allen has continued to present a freshly consistent string of darkly funny, thought-provoking satires on the human condition and modern society at large.

From the opening salvo to the final soliloquy of Whatever Works the very spirit of what this space has represented for nearly a dozen years is unerringly portrayed in the form of one of Allen’s most hilariously nihilistic characters to date; Boris Yellnikoff, played with an overdose of toxic venom by the laconic Larry David, whose general flavor is summed up with “I am a man with a huge world view surrounded by microbes.”

Using the obliteration of the dramatic “Fourth Wall”, originated in Allen’s first true cinematic masterpiece, Annie Hall thirty-four years ago, David repeatedly looks to the camera and unleashes his outrage at what he has determined from years of reality bombardment and a keen sense of prescience is a mindless, violent and depraved society of nitwits and suckers floating through an insipid series of failures as a race. But Yellnikoff’s tormented, self-proclaimed genius existence has rendered him an emotional cripple. He repeatedly attempts and fails at suicide, yet ironically fears death; waking up several times throughout the film shouting, “I’m dying!” When his wife, whom he eventually dumps, of course, asks if she should call for an ambulance, he argues, “Not now, eventually!” and bemoans the concept of not existing as “unacceptable!”

It is an existential theme Allen has mined many times before in Stardust Memories (1980) and Deconstructing Harry (1997), but not nearly as sharply contrasted to whatever happens around him. Allen beautifully juxtaposes Yellnikoff with his beloved New York, where people are alive, creative, romantic, and almost goofily optimistic in the face of his smarmy despair. It is no coincidence the protagonist subsists in a basement hovel imprisoned in the expanding corridors of China Town, an aging Jewish academic, railing against the failures of Western culture, politics, and art in the shadow of an emerging Eastern empire. Even when a young, naïve Southern girl in the grand tradition of Eliza Doolittle winds up on his doorstep begging for sustenance, which eventually brings her overtly myopic Bible-thumping parents – all eventually embracing the city’s freeing Bohemian temptations and finding true happiness in self-realization – it has absolutely no affect on Yellnikoff, save for providing fodder for his condescending wise-cracks along the way.

Yellnikoff’s art is his lifestyle and worldview, which both serve as a convenient excuse to ignore human contact or engage in the simple pleasures of social interaction, in a way a twisted reflection of Oscar Wilde’s famous quip; “I want to make of my life itself a work of art.”

And make no mistake about it; Whatever Works is Allen’s most political film. There have been polemic hints and jabs in his vast canon, whether his prose – last year’s heady and oft-hilarious Mere Anarchy – or 1983’s Zelig, but Whatever Works reeks of vicious slams on the NRA, the religious right, the giddy superciliousness of modern liberalism or just about any general philosophy. To his harrumphing friends, Yellnikoff, in the signature Larry David snide but lovably demented tone, blurts, “Democracy, socialism, or the teachings of Jesus, all great ideas with one undeniable flaw, they all assume the better nature of humanity, that if we allow people the freedom to make their own choices they will choose to be kind and generous and sympathetic.”

The other of Allen’s grand themes is on display in Whatever Works; the illusion and beauty of art; whatever the medium – its soothing elixir either masking the harsh realities of life – The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Bullets Over Broadway (1994) or acting as a dangerous narcotic that is no substitute for genuine emotion or a connection to the life experience, Celebrity (1998), Sweet and Lowdown (1999). But here it is not as obvious. Yellnikoff’s art is his lifestyle and worldview, which both serve as a convenient excuse to ignore human contact or engage in the simple pleasures of social interaction, in a way a twisted reflection of Oscar Wilde’s famous quip; “I want to make of my life itself a work of art.”

It is here where the casting of David as Yellnikoff is simple perfection. His legacy as co-creator of the torturous craziness in Seinfeld and his successful HBO stint with the consistently amusing Curb Your Enthusiasm, wherein everyone is duped, pissed, and unnaturally selfish to the point of megalomania with no redemption or learned experience in sight puts him in Allen’s unblinking spotlight. He is relentless, dour, condescending and yet a weirdly relatable composite of Groucho Marx and Dostoyevsky’s Ivan.

Among several stellar performances in the film is the Southern triumvirate of Ed Begeley Jr., as the easily tempted moral patriarchal poser, his overly dramatic and perpetually flustered ex-wife, Patricia Clarkson, and their wide-eyed belle of a daughter, Melodie, who is the adorable antagonistic foil for Yellnikoff, played with great empathy and wit by Evan Rachel Wood, following in the footsteps of such Oscar-winning female luminaries as Diane Keaton, Diane Weis, Mira Sorvino, and Penelope Cruz.

For Yellnikoff and quite frankly his author, Melodie represents the random lunacy, unpredictability and splendor of life’s little joke; how two completely disparate personalities in age, intellect, sensibility, and geographical origin, can meet up and imprint their character on one another, spiking holes in the film’s otherwise dimly comical skepticism. This is not unlike Allen’s own bizarre courtship with Soon Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his ex-lover, Mia Farrow.

There are also the many and varied classic Woody Allen twists and turns, strangely formulated encounters and plenty of laughs in Whatever Works, which may not be his best work but an uncanny synopsis of his most celebrated films’ general philosophy – life is filled with one frighteningly random chaotic pratfall and unexpected disappointment after the other, but sprinkled with just enough humor, love, art, and exciting distraction to keep us from snuffing it.

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Michael Jackson 1958 – 2009

Aquarian Weekly 7/8/09 REALITY CHECK


In the woods, too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period so ever in life is always a child. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Michael Jackson is America’s celebrity experiment. A kind of preternatural Skinner Box child, who grew up in a fishbowl with no boundaries and sense of self beyond what the Billboard charts indicated. – MICHAEL JACKSON IS IN DEEP SHIT REALITY CHECK 2/16/05

Michael JacksonThe scars of physical and emotional child abuse were always etched on Michael Jackson’s countenance, long before he deconstructed his face to mask it. It is one of the great feats, this incredibly talented prodigy — exploited, beaten, and robbed of precious childhood innocence and the foundation of self esteem by those who claimed to love and protect him — becoming one of the most influential and dominant forces in American pop culture.

It is a wonder the man the papers continue to flippantly call Jacko didn’t end up balled in a fetal position, sucking his thumb and babbling nursery rhymes. And maybe he did; holed up in his many bunkers from the Neverland Ranch to secret compounds and hotel suites from London to Nigeria. But that was long after he had overcome being reared by a twisted gargoyle of a father and his enabling matron, and bearing the pressures of carrying his fairly competent musical siblings, who relied heavily on his startlingly gifted talents and incandescent star quality to even get a sniff of life outside of Gary, Indiana.

From the start, Michael Jackson was the bread-winning, bacon-hauling strength and breath of the Jackson Five — those sparkling eyes, blinding smile, and a playfully endearing personality far beyond his eleven years. And although anyone who came close enough to this phenom clung hard to his hem at every turn, it was the young Jackson’s ability to focus on the blessed music that allowed him to not only endure, but thrive. It’s curing melodies and furious rhythms, the highs and lows of its keys and its soothing structure of scales, arrangements and the flawless dance steps of campy routines that accompanied it all.

Jackson’s juvenile voice — the one that predated the falsetto yipping adult screech version — barely trained, raw, and preternaturally distinctive was one hell of an instrument. What he’s doing in “I Want You Back”, “Got To Be There”, and “Never Can Say Goodbye” is downright eerie. He alone created the Jackson myth: A bottomless well of magically imbued DNA, when all along it was little Michael and a bunch of hanger’s on.

You think a moderate talent like Janet Jackson would have been outfitted with a Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis School of Funk tutoring if her name had been Jones and her brother wasn’t the biggest pop star on planet earth?

This was a being literally created to entertain, so much so that all of the lunacy that became his personal life was just a way for him to keep up the performance, maintain the “put on”. The Show was his safe place, like his arrested development, a state of naive inertia, caught between a clamoring for the affection of millions and the abject horror that they would eventually uncover his demons.

Hey, but child stars, whether mediocre ones like Danny Bonaduce or legends like Shirley Temple all have their tales of woe. It’s as old as traveling carnival freaks and pathetic dog acts; cute kids who can carry a tune and hoof a number to pay daddy’s bills. But it was far more than that for Michael Jackson, who was almost immediately emasculated by his family and driven hard by the factory corral at Motown, both of which conspired to tell the world that the already amazing whiz kid was three years younger at a time when a pre-teen boy is eager to add a half-year on every turn of the calendar, to inch closer to his more mature and handsome older brothers who were banging groupies across darkened hotel rooms on endlessly grueling tours.

It was a strange confluence of emotions for a boy caught in the spotlight, hobnobbing with glitzy celebrity, handling nagging newsmen and appeasing clamoring fans, trapped in airless studios for weeks and run ragged in rehearsals, while also being healed and exhalted by song. For Michael Jackson, it was more than a love affair with showbiz and the adulation that came with performing; it was a measure of pride and identity. Most of all, it was escape. Escape from the looming prospect of failure in the shadow of an incessant badgering for perfection, all the while being looked upon as nothing more than a cash machine.

It is why years later Jackson told gurus and spiritual advisors he wouldn’t dare trade the sacrifices and abuses he endured as an imprisoned child star for a life filled with the peaceful anonymity of uneventful mediocrity. This was a being literally created to entertain, so much so that all of the lunacy that became his personal life was just a way for him to keep up the performance, maintain the “put on”. The Show was his safe place, like his arrested development, a state of naive inertia, caught between a clamoring for the affection of millions and the abject horror that they would eventually uncover his demons.

In J.Randy Taraborrelli’s exhaustive 1991 biography, Michael Jackson; The Magic & The Madness there emerges a character that defies all psychological reasoning. It is as though you are peering into not so much an abnormality in the human condition, but one without the proper wiring to cope at all. And this is the nut about all the bizarre and allegedly criminal behavior of the aging and morphing Michael Jackson; he was expected to act as if he were a properly developed and nurtured person, when he was anything but.

And maybe you can say as much for his genius, of which there is little doubt — its impact equal to that of any African American artist of the 20th century, and that’s saying something. For genius is defined in Webster’s as a “peculiar, distinctive or identifying character or spirit”, right next to “a personification or embodiment especially of a quality or condition”, which could scarcely better describe Michael Jackson from the tender age of eleven until his final breaths in a lavish Hollywood estate a week ago, with all the good and strange stuff in between.

In an interview I conducted for this magazine in March of ’08, Counting Crows front man and prime songwriter, Adam Duritz reminisced about the impact the Jackson Five had on his initial love of music. Turns out the first album Duritz owned, like myself, a seventies kid raised on pop and soul and folk and humming melodies and showstoppers, was the Jackson Five’s fourth studio album, “Maybe Tomorrow”.

As an aside, I chuckled to myself, “What happened?”

And without thinking, Duritz, a man who has publicly grappled with his own demons of fame and identity whispered, “Oh, he’s in there somewhere.”


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Open Letter To My Wife

Aquarian Weekly 6/17/09 REALITY CHECK

OPEN LETTER TO MY WIFE PART II A Continued Apology Ten Years In The Making


I send this missive to press on the tenth anniversary of our marriage from a hotel in Barcelona, Spain, where you lay beside me in one of your rare restive states, mouth agape, right wrist resting awkwardly on your forehead; your breath slow, but steady. It is the finest example I have that you have survived me, something I did not predict a decade ago in this space, when we were far away in Syracuse, NY getting hitched. It was a cowardly act; putting down every horrible thing I had wreaked on my loved ones and those who were unlucky enough to cross my path in a pathetic attempt to publicly expunge all this bile without your knowledge. But no jury would convict me. I just didn’t want to queer the deal. Ultimately it was nothing more than cute and it brought me a meager pittance to submit it, but it didn’t mean a goddamned thing.

Before The FloodTurns out you knew all about it, didn’t you? After all, you lived with me, and not the Me that I rolled out at parties or professional jaunts or even family affairs, but the real Me. What the hell does that mean? Fuck if I know, but you do, and that’s all that counts. I rely on that instinct to strip away all my well-crafted facades and leave me a bloody, emotional, blithering child. It’s a good feeling to be “reduced”. Hell, yes. I recommend it to anyone with this kind of mind-numbing ego.

But you never ran from the tornados, darling. Not you. Not ever. This is why you are the finest of women, which makes you the finest of humans, because we all know a man could not begin to scale the heights you traverse daily. It is always a trip to awe to watch you move. It is something between cat and silk. I’m afraid to describe it anymore. I close my eyes and see you dance and that’s good enough, so that image will have to be good enough for the reader too. Good luck with it. It’s worked for me.

So there is the toughness of spirit and the tenderness of your feminine wiles, but it speaks nothing of what this crapped on, kicked out, undulating sack of protoplasm has gained from even knowing you, much less being “loved” by you. No one really knows what love means. I never did. I thought I had it down and tore it up and dragged it out and caressed it and sunk into it like a soft chair and was thrown from it like a speeding car careening into a blind ravine, but I was mistaken. I know that now. Love is nothing you grasp. What I have for you cannot fill poems or splatter on canvas. You can’t hum it like a melody or turn it into a foreign film. It seeks no philosophy or religion. It is the unspeakable, the unknowable and I sure as hell wouldn’t reveal it under oath or threat of torture.

I carry your love not as a badge but a scar. It ain’t coming off. Not now. Not ever.

We put it on the line, you and me.

And that is the nut here, huh? We put it on the line, you and me. Through it all we hold the wheel and forge ahead boats against the current. From that day ten long years ago when we stood before our beloved rabble; beautiful people who make us whole, these friends and brothers and sisters and comrades and all the DNA that reminds us that we’ve put together a pretty good crew on the thinnest of rafts. Shit, we filled the loft of that ancient theater and opened our threadbare veins and let it flow, shaved our heads and sprint into the fucking desert. And ever since we have been lost at sea with no hope, strike that, no plans on returning. Let the rest of the walkabouts walk about, we’ll be on the bouncing waves in our serpentine embrace. No one gets in, no one leaves hungry.

Just in case you weren’t so sure, I put it all down on paper; scribbled out something hastily and handed it to you in front of the woman who married us, some local judge who butchered my middle name and could hardly believe we turned the whole thing into a bohemian ritual. I don’t recall the exact words, but it said something about never letting you down or always being right there for you and I am sure I have broken that promise. Promises tend to have weak handles. It’s something I once read on the bathroom wall at the White Horse Tavern. It is something I learned the hard way more than once. But one thing is certain; you have never let me down and have always been there for me.

For that and all the things that make up this complicated, mysterious, foreshadowing, caustic, sexy, drunken, hard-charging, pistol hip-shaken, kick ass woman, I am eternally in your debt. I’d thank you if it weren’t maudlin and beneath the truth and could hardly carry the weight of this infinite smile you put on my weathered face.

Ten years of marriage plus nineteen odd months of this impenetrable bond; we’ve lived in three places and shared five cats and miles of road and air and valleys of grief and mountains of joy and volumes of music and rivers of booze and the kind of laughter that you can’t trade even on the black market.

And you still had the grit to give me one more thing; this person, this girl, this piece of us that is without question its own uncompromising, noisy, two-fisted shining spirit of you, a porcelain goddess with a wicked grin and those special moves from heaven. Yeah, she grooves, mama, and it shows no signs of stopping. Hope she keeps putting us in our place, this place, the place where we got it going on; and apparently on and on.

Hah! It’s good to know nature has a sense of humor and it works overtime around here.

I truly hope I’ve held my end of this bizarre bargain. Lord knows it pales in comparison to what I have once again failed to impart in these scanty words I pound out this morning.

Here’s to ten more from the desert to the sea and all the rest of those dark areas inside my beating muscle.

You’ve been there. You stay here.

You know.


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What Is News?

Aquarian Weekly 4/22/09 REALITY CHECK


Okay, this is rarely a subject I write about, but talk about incessantly with friends, colleagues and family: What is news? In other words, what should be something we know about nationally or as we used to say in bullpen sessions in bare-bones weeklies, what is newsworthy? Should there be a national litmus for defining news, as opposed to a random happening that might be interesting if examined ad nauseam. Local news is exempt from this discussion. It is always going to be loaded with stuff like brush fires and community drives, the odd burglary and the always-popular weather anomalies. Then there is the obligatory cute story about kittens or a guy breaking the state record for sitting in a tree. Because it’s extremely difficult to fill print and air space anywhere, especially in say Omaha, Nebraska, local news doesn’t count. Neither does morning television or radio count, which are both chockfull of banal absurdity. But national news needs to have some standards of coverage, which I argue it has abused beyond repair.

Tea Party '09I was reminded of all this when a debate began over the coverage of the so-called TEA Party protests, which were dubious in their construct for several salient reasons, not the least of which was that tea was not literally involved and of course its falling short as an homage to the original Boston Tea Party since it was not over “taxation without representation” but just taxation. I get people don’t like taxes or the government to spend money, even if they ironically love entitlements, a large military, infrastructure, air travel, and the entirety of the monetary system. But really, who is in favor of taxes? This is what I call a slam-dunk issue and thus no need for heralding the protest, like anti-war rallies. War is bad. We get it. Give me something I can work with like the fight against cat juggling or Mother’s Against Kicking Babies.

But nevertheless a protest is definitely news, even if it is cringingly promoted by a major news organization and as a result almost completely ignored by others. This usually reeks of a staged event, like something out of Citizen Kane, so then how much of it was an actual story as opposed to another in a random string of barely interesting human endeavors kick-starting another news cycle?

News Cycle, which means a 24-72 hour period when one story becomes the most important thing in the civilized universe and then disappears completely, is also a major culprit for jamming odd events or arbitrary tragedies into a form of celebratory voyeurism. There are too many of these babies to recount, but you know what I mean. One is going on right now. Pay attention to see if it lasts the week. I doubt it.

To put to bed current events and get to the universal argument of what is news and what isn’t, we go to the Pirate/U.S. Navy story, which absolutely is news. In fact, it is big time news. When an impoverished nation bores outlaws of the high seas and holds up the greatest navy in the history of human kind, it is a cranking story. It has international intrigue, national security interests, life and death outcomes, and may ultimately affect the nation’s health and well being. This compared to say a kidnapping of a ten year-old in Bucks County, Pennsylvania is not newsworthy outside of Bucks County. Maybe if the kid was the offspring of an inaugural transcontinental flight pilot or perhaps if the ten-year old were the kidnapper, then we’d have something, otherwise, if Mr. And Mrs. Smith loses their kid to a crazed neighbor for a few weeks, I don’t need to know about it.

We are the world’s drug; the true opiate of the masses. We’re the dangerously mercurial lover that is untrustworthy and vindictive, but so goddamned fun.

This kind of thing has been a problem since the 1980s in broadcast/network news. It is a terrible epidemic of what I call the “Kid Down The Well Syndrome” – my own spiteful homage to the Depression Era penchant for struggling radio news outlets to bring the drama of small town fire departments’ attempted rescue of stupid, unsupervised children after they were stuck somewhere.

Today the advent of 24-hour news has taken KDWS to another level of minutia. This does not include dime-a-dozen opinion scream-fests hosted by pasty middle-aged men in desperate need of blowjobs and access to history books, but does include marginal stories that have been dragged out for literally weeks. Good examples of this is the death of Princess Diana, which has since taken on this queer Elvis revisionist disease or the JFK Junior airplane crash, or even the demise of someone who was on a constant deathwatch like Ronald Reagan or Gerald Ford. The reason I forgive talk-hosts from this breakdown is that I believe it important that pre-teens learning civics to see that even grown men have a difficult time understanding the stark differences between socialism and fascism. I include the marking of dead major celebrities or political figures as marginal for it is not an on-going event. They are dead. Tell us, and move on.

Everyone knows it was the OJ. Trial that put cable networks on this course. The ratings were nuts, the national furor over the rainbow, and the opportunity for career-building and book deals too good to pass up. Shit, the only reason Greta Van Sustren could afford to reconstruct her face and muck up the airwaves with endless pabulum on desperate boyfriends who prostitute their missing sisters or deadbeat dads smuggling dope from Indonesia to sate a gambling jones or the latest KDWS was Orenthal James Simpson, another reason The Juice should get the juice.

All right, sorry about the bad pun, but this is a particularly galling subject, these missing kids in hotels and abused animal stories do not compare in the newsworthy department to a lunatic Asian guy in Binghamton shooting up the neighborhood because a black guy is president or something fairly wacky like that. That’s news, because lone gunman with a shoulder chip is America’s news bread-and-butter. It’s tradition, so it gets precedence.

I shan’t belabor the point another sentence, but to leave you with a short list of what is news and not news, so if you see it, you can quickly identify it and either be well-informed or turn the station/page. If you stay with the story, you’re going to have to admit that even though you do not buy the National Enquirer and do not consider yourself a nosey rubbernecker, you’re either completely bored with the concept of your own existence or simply too lazy to turn away from Headline News and the ear-piercing claptrap coming out of the angry woman with the retro haircut.

News/Not News Top Ten

1. The president’s choice of pet is not news. Dog rips out president’s jugular is news.

2. Anyone saying something really dumb like “Hitler was a fair diplomat” or “So-and-so likes to hump squirrels” is not news. Government either spying on its citizens or its officials voting on bills they have not read or understood is news.

3. Any law broken on a cell phone camera is not news. A law broken that costs you money like banks being run like casinos is news.

4. Internet scams on the elderly and kids are not news. Internet viruses that infiltrate our international spy network are news.

5. Any domestic squabble, violence or general bad behavior, unless it becomes serial and spreads throughout a fairly large region of the country is not news. Raul Castro poisoning his brother’s cigars is news.

6. Someone famous announcing any new revelations about their sexuality is not news. The homosexual community gaining their civil rights is news.

7. In fact, anything about someone famous, unless they are running for major office, saving the Third World (not talking about it, actually saving it) or firebombing a village – this includes sports celebrities, who are dumber than dirt and even less important, is not news. Fuck celebrities. This is never news.

8. Nothing a former civil servant has to say, especially those who will be dead much sooner than later and thus have no stake in the issues being decided is not news. An Al Gore vs. Dick Chaney pheasant shoot at the equator is news.

9. Dumb ass boyfriends of defeated candidates dumping their pregnant teenaged girlfriends are not news. If dumb boyfriend takes on almost future mother-in-law for Alaskan governor’s office, then it’s news.

10. Any jackass mauled by bears at the zoo is not news. Same bears being awarded custody to jackass’s children is news.

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Stewart vs. Cramer

Aquarian Weekly 3/18/09 REALITY CHECK

SEND IN THE CLOWNS Satire & Bluster Tap Into Nation’s Anger

Jon StewartFor two consecutive weeks, the shenanigans of a radio talk show commentator and a Comedy Central satirist infused their will on the vox populi. What is business as usual in the world of fringe insights primped up in mockery became at first fascinating oddities, then frantic topics of debate, and finally the exposing of some pretty serious ills.

During the first days of March, right wing radio master showman, Rush Limbaugh made an appearance at the CPAC convention in Washington D.C. A rabid gathering of disenfranchised hardliners, the Conservative Political Action Conference has welcomed heads of state, former and future presidents, old-world brainiacs, influence peddlers, religious loons, and corporate land rapers, all movers and shakers inside what until recently has been the rock solid base of the nation’s conservative movement. Ostensibly, Limbaugh was to rally the troops and continue to defend his assertion that any conservative and/or Republican worth his salt should root for the current president to fail. However, the black-clad jock spent most of his lengthy address bashing the current environment in the Republican Party as weak and its leadership misguided, making a final stand against what is at best a designer buffet of worn-out ideologies, the origin and authenticity of which he claims to hold dear.

Love him or hate him, deny his influence or bask in his megalomania, one thing is certain, Limbaugh’s hard-ass assault on the sinking vessel of conservatism is warranted and perhaps needed more than ever. And this became patently obvious in the days following the liberal fallout, media backlash, moderate recoiling of Limbaugh’s diatribe.

Many Republican members of congress, holdovers from the spend-thrift days of George W. Bush, who’d enjoyed years casting anti-war sentiments as un-American, began immediately denouncing the notion of “wanting the president to fail” as defeatist. Having spent the previous weeks appearing either fiscally responsible or politically petty, they were in the throes of stridently defending unanimous votes against any and all versions of the federal government’s massive stimulus bill. It was not the time to appear as merely spoilers or a blockade to the mad attempts of the Democrats to enact what has been for over a year now the will of the people to do SOMETHING/ANYTHING.

Then for reasons only known to he and his shrink, RNC Chairman Michael Steele, who fancies himself something between Kanye West and Henny Youngman, while appearing on yet another in a seemingly endless array of variety shows, demeaned Limbaugh’s influence on his party and called his act “incendiary” and “ugly”. When Limbaugh excoriated him the next day as an empty shirt and a myopic vaudevillian, Steele curled into a fetal position, meekly apologized and disappeared into the ether. This pathetic performance by the “de facto” head of the GOP was on the heels of Georgia congressman Phil Gingrey making an appearance on Limbaugh’s show to kiss his sizable but formidable posterior.

This is how the system, screwed as it is, works best.

Limbaugh proved, albeit in an inimitably fractious and juvenile way, that there is a voice in the Republican Party that has been lost; the fiscal straightjacket wing; the wing that had been, and in many recent cases by Limbaugh himself, hijacked by misogynistic social marauder homophobes from the God Police. In a few well-placed tirades and verbal jousts Limbaugh vividly exposed the gaping maw in the Republicans’ damaged flanks, something the timidly inarticulate car salesman approach of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal wildly failed to accomplish after Barack Obama’s wiz bang address to congress last month.

Filling the vacuum of Rush Week in the news cycle, Daily Show host, Jon Stewart all-but dominated the pop culture wing of the news this past week with a scathing rip-job of the dog and pony shtick known as CNBC. After Stewart brilliantly deconstructed the now infamous Howard Beale wig-out by Rick Santelli, in which the network’s exchange floor reporter derided “deadbeats” who bought homes above their means as the true culprits in the nation’s housing meltdown, CNBC’s most visible voice, Jim Cramer crisscrossed the media circuit belittling Stewart and his “funny little show”.

Stewart’s “funny little show” is Comedy Central’s golden nugget, a mostly progressive satirical look at the day’s news that has been trumped into must-see college stoner television, and a damned hilarious pounding of all-things hypocrisy. Stewart, a once journeyman comedian cum actor, cum host de jour, has helmed the Daily Show’s gaggle of fiendishly intelligent goofiness for over a decade, during which time he’s given birth to the equally witty Colbert Report and more than once playfully taken on other over-hyped cable pundits like Bill O’Rielly, but never to this much fanfare and spitefulness.

Before long the Daily Show began gleefully hammering Cramer in a game of old-fashioned dozens, playing clips of the maniacal prognosticator demonstratively unfurling one monumentally wrong prediction after the other for months. This brought the high and mighty NBC family into the war of words, which continued to make the once proud news organization look defensive and amateurish, engaging morning show hosts, nightly anchors and commentators into the fray. All the while providing delicious fodder for Stewart and his band of cut-up savants and the facility over each and every show to pull out what Stewart finally exclaimed were “inept at best and criminal at worst” flippantly proffered suggestions for investors to entrust their hard-earned money.

The story ended later in the week when Cramer, fresh from an ironic appearance on the Martha Stewart show, visited the Daily Show, where he stammered like a guilty school kid in the principle’s office as Stewart and crew played streamed online video of Cramer admitting to an embarrassing series of insider trading malfeasances.

Stewart’s smolderingly vicious and brutally honest surgery of the nonsense that passes for sober reviews and previews of the volatile nature of stock market play was both frightening and illuminating. Cramer, for his part, perfectly played the exposed Wizard of Oz as the stuttering, befuddled man behind the curtain. Cramer, Stewart most assuredly pointed out, is the unfortunate but indisputable face of an unfathomable monster known as speculative market trading which could no more bring vast riches to the lazy dreamers of our nation than it can be a thermometer of our economic solvency or strategic governance.

The Republican Party is still mired in ridiculous mud slinging over culture wars and fiscal mishaps, and the world of financial journalism is still blank stares sold as unblinking certitude, but for two straight weeks a pair of clowns – one from the Right and one from the Left – took the best our American free speech and blessed dissent could offer, wrapped it up in an entertaining brand of fisticuffs, and ultimately brought to light that which must be illuminated.

This is how the system, screwed as it is, works best.

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