Thursday, April 22, 2010

Book Con

With all the talk swirling about epistemic closure on the right, I thought I would do my part to broaden my own information intake, which I openly admit skews quite liberal. I perused National Review's The Corner, and came across this entry, an advertisement for conservative books:

I'm not going to comment on the Mumia book because I don't know enough about the case, and because I am somewhat embarrassed about my own support of the Free Mumia movement as a restless 14 year-old, based entirely on the fact that Rage Against the Machine told me it mattered.

But regarding the other two: the Crusades book comes as something as a surprise, simply because I didn't think anybody would defend an episode that is still used to define the "Clash of Civilizations" today. But then I realized that there are vested interests in keeping such clashes going (namely those who believe not just that there is a God, but that he has battalions). Exposure to this sort of thing is the whole point of this exercise after all, so I consider it a personal victory.

The Goldberg book, though, is eminently predictable. The Liberal Media is a perennial complaint of the right, so of course they would tie Obama to it. But how graceless an effort! The book's title, in its entirety, is Bernard Goldberg Presents: A Slobbering Love Affair, Starring Barack Obama: The True (and Pathetic) Story of the Torrid Romance Between Barack Obama and the Mainstream Media. It makes one long for the concision of the other Goldberg, Jonah's, book. Say what you will about Liberal Fascism, at least its author is into the whole brevity thing.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Familiarity Breeds Contretemps

Across from the McCall Veterans Memorial I sit, awaiting the impending Tea Party demonstration with a NASCAR enthusiast’s thirst for disaster. It’s five o’ clock, and there is to be a protest here to commemorate and vilify Tax Day, according to a roughly 35-word flier that misspelled “Veterans.” McCall has a relatively robust Democrat/liberal contingency--of the all but three counties that went to McCain in 2008, Valley County is one of a handful in which the margins were less than double digits--but this is still Idaho. The nearby back country Secesh area was named as a nod to Southern secessionists. A robust turnout would not be surprising.

Yet the space is empty. Further complicating matters, my computer battery is dead, depriving me any chance to real-time blog the proceedings. I retreat into a neighboring bistro to charge said battery. Across the street four people talk amongst themselves. Could this be it?

I return some twenty minutes later, and their numbers have doubled. I see them cross the street, expecting them to make their stand, but instead they spend time reading the names on the memorial. Pacing the sidewalk, I consider an approach. It becomes obvious hovering from a distance will do me no good and makes me look creepy and suspicious besides-—if there’s one thing paranoiacs do not need, it’s validation of their fears—-and so I cross the street with a pad of paper and pen in hand, digital camera in my pocket.

The demographics are the usual Tea Party brew of white, aging, and angry. The timbre of the participants’ speech is one of indignant agitation, and there is a man in white and sky blue stripes glaring at me with an expression inhabiting the somewhere twixt a scowl and sneer. On the periphery sits a man who often reads his Bible at the coffee shop at which I work, characteristically silent.

The group’s de facto leader, so distinguished by the clipboard in his hand, asks me if I’m a Tea Partier. I’m not.

“Who do you represent?” No one but myself, I say, truthfully. He points out the notebook and pen, and I tell him it’s just for my personal blog.

Satisfied for now, he returns to the conversation under way before my arrival, saying to the others off-handedly that he is a former Republican. This is slightly interesting if only for the word ‘former,’ but he then proceeds into depressingly familiar territory, veneration of Sarah Palin, who “won’t take anything from anybody.” The sky blue scowler continues his vigil, and a man crosses over and takes a seat next to me.

“Did any of you watch Glenn Beck last night?” a woman asks. Sounding most incensed, she reports that federal government employees will have to accept the health care plan. “How many of them are actually going to?” She then starts talking about Amendment 28, which subsequent Googling reveals to be an amendment to the United States Constitution under consideration—by which I mean it is the basis of some internet petitions—which reads thus:

Congress shall make no law that applies to any citizen of the United States that does not apply equally to all US Senators and Representatives. Congress shall make no law that applies to any US Senator or Representative that does not apply equally to all citizens of the United States. All existing laws and regulations that do not meet these criteria shall be declared null and void!

The exclamation mark would be a first for the Constitution.

After invoking an amendment that would reiterate what is already law, the woman intones, to someone who does not have nor want insurance, “They can get in your bank account, buddy.”

The conversation pivots to the subject of the present gathering. The clipboard bearer notes, ruefully, that the guy who organized this didn’t even show up. “It’s hard to make a change with six-to-eight people.” I’m reminded of the first protest I ever took part in, against the impending Iraq war back in early 2003: sparely attended, cold, and for bad measure situated next to some goofy, vaguely sexual bear statues downtown. A concerned citizen drove by yelling, “Burn Iraq!!!” Passersby here and now are thus far indifferent. It’s hard to say which is worse.

The man sitting next to me strikes up a conversation by asking my political affiliation. Nominally Democrat, I tell him. He says he was unhappy with the lack of transparency in the health care legislation, how nobody knew what was in the bill. I respond that they had posted the bills before the votes, and he parries with the claim that none of them read the bill. Congressmen have staffs to do that, I say. He admits he hasn’t read a lot about it.

He says people should live within their means. Who, I asked. Individuals? State government? Federal?


Well the thing with the stimulus package, the whole reasoning behind it, is that in a downturn no one is spending, the economy is slowed, and so only the federal government can deficit spend in order to stimulate the economy until it’s back on its feet again.

He admits he hasn’t read a lot about it.

We start talking local. I size him up. He is middle-aged and modestly dressed, his Napa Auto Parts hat being the most remarkable part of his wardrobe. I introduce myself.

“Oh, you’re Gail’s son!” My mother’s reputation precedes me.

I tell him I graduated here in 2004. He hasn't been involved in the high school for years, though, and so he doesn’t think he knows anyone from my class. I throw out a few names of classmates that come from a similar background. Sure enough, he knows their fathers, went to school with one of them in fact. He has a daughter who had graduated here, but that was years before. She’s parked on the curb and is coming out to see him. They chat lightly. The Amendment 28 lady walks up and joins the conversation.

“It’s not much of a turnout.”

“At Crusty’s [Pizza] there’s going to be a celebration for passing health care reform. Who would be celebrating that?” I should mention my friend whose house just this morning caught fire, who had to be flown to Salt Lake City for treatment after he burned his hands and feet when he went back in and unsuccessfully tried to save his dog, who doesn’t have health insurance. But I don’t.

Amendment 28 starts inquiring of my background.

“Do you work?” Well, yeah. “Where?” Right over there, actually. I point across to the coffee shop where I had been sitting at the beginning of this.

“Oh, the Fogglifter! I haven’t been in yet.”

“You should,” The man’s daughter says. “The food’s great. The owner, Steve, is so nice.” This is the first time I’ve gotten a look at her, and I recognize her as the gal who does our inventory at work. I saw her just a couple hours ago during closing.

Amendment 28 notices my Albertson College shirt. “Oh, Albertson! I went there. Years ago, back before they changed the name. That was what first brought me out here.”

The group coalesces around Clipboard. I say something, ask something, and he stiffens. “Why should I talk to you? You’re not from around here.” Well, yeah, I am, I stammer, except for the last five years—except for five years, I’ve lived here since 1990.

“Yeah? Who are you?”

I introduce myself.

A collective “Ohhh” follows. My mother’s not even a Republican.

A car pulls up, and out of it steps a muscled man with red short-cropped hair and goatee, in sunglasses and a white T-Shirt that says God, Guns, and Guts Made America, and I realize Marilyn Manson was serious when he said he got his “Do you love your guns, god, and government?” lyric from a bumper sticker.

I take out my camera, to take a picture amongst the group, since their numbers have grown, if slightly. Clipboard tells me he’s not having his picture taken.

Guts says he has signs, to everyone’s delight. ‘Everyone’ includes me, for inflammatory political rhetoric is like pornography: the intended audience gets off on it while everyone else is by turns appalled and amused. Guts’ wife (I assume) obliges us, coming forward with a pug—-a blight on doghood that offends nature by requiring a Caesarian Section to enter this world—-with paper signs reading “Liberty” and “Or Death” attached to the sides of its harness, offending good taste and PETA in one go.

Accordingly the dog shakes free of its harness and attempts to escape its predicament.

Guts plants an “IRS FAIR TAX” sign in the grass, earning a honk, and brings out a couple flags, American and Gadsden, which Amendment 28 and Clipboard hoist skyward. They get a friendly honk from a passing car.

More talk:

“…Do you guys know about Ron Paul?”

“He’s a libertarian that runs as a Republican.”

“His son Rand is running in, Virginia, I think?” Kentucky, I correct him. At this point I’m not sure if disclosing the fact I interviewed Ron Paul for exactly a minute and twenty seconds two years ago would engender admiration or fierce jealousy.

“…Is this affiliated with the Boise Tea Party?”

“…We’re going to get more rallies going, get people elected.”

It’s nearing six o’ clock, and I have to meet someone to celebrate our having successfully indoctrinated a class of fifth graders into the liberal joys of theatre, so I ask Clipboard if I can ask him a few questions.

“Sure,” he answers.

I thought I heard you say your name was, Dan?

“Dennis. Dennis _______”

And you said you’re a former Republican.

“Was. But they don’t care, they just all scratch each others’ backs.”

What is the purpose of this rally, what are your specific grievances?

“Government.” Silence ensues. “Simple as that. It’s out of control, it’s too big.”

Any specific policies?

“It’ll be a hard road. Start over. Start all over.” I wonder, not aloud, if this is before or after they get people elected.

I thank him for his time. My business now finished, I put my pen and paper pad away and walk toward the road. Behind me, Dennis calls out.

“Tell your mom I said hi.”

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Show Photos

For anyone not keeping up the the minutiae of my life: the show I was involved in until a couple weeks ago was SatTire Theatre, a night of short plays I put together with one of my friends. Two of the plays were my own. I directed one of them, The Conversation, along with Christopher Durang's 'dentity Crisis. The project was fraught with stress and peril (we started planning it about two weeks before we started rehearsals, and pulled it off by the skin of our teeth), and so I only got to take some nice photos from The Conversation. This is just as well, since I spent a great deal of time on the lighting to get the visuals I wanted. The photos, taken by Virginia Thrash, are now online.

In other news, I should be done with my account of the Tax Day Tea Party protest tomorrow. Narrative prose is haaaaaard....

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Live-Blog That Wasn't

So I decided to just spend as much time amongst the Tea Partiers as I could before I met someone for dinner. I'm going to do a long-form account of the protest, usch as it was, to be posted later. So much for my 250th post.

Party Like it's 1959

To commemorate the government's dastardly national holiday of Tax Day, there's to be a Tea Party here in McCall. Here's the announcement:

Here, as of ten minutes ago, is the first chapter of McCall's citizens taking back their country.

My computer battery is dead, so I'm shuttling back and forth between the *ahem* protest, and a nearby space where I can plug my computer in and post periodic updates on what will be my 250th post. It's not exactly live-blogging, but it should make for some interesting reading. There were four people gathered in the parking lot across the street when I left, perhaps debating at what point their numbers would constitute a crowd to make them look a little less out-of-the-mainstream. Maybe that will have changed when I get back.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Funny Thing About ICP

Exhibit A: The New Insane Clown Posse single, "Miracles:"

Funny stuff.

Exhibit B:'s Textbook for Juggalos, introduced thus:

There is so much magic, so many unexplained phenomena occurring every day, that the Detroit Clown Madness Duo simply can’t contain its awe.

Oddly, what the Insane Clown Posse categorize as “magical unexplained mysteries” involve things like “rainbows” and “giraffes” and “magnets.”

Somewhere down the line, the public school system has failed Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope. That’s right, I blame not Misters J and Dope, but the system. The burden of education falls on the shoulders of our teachers, not students. If the traditional methods of teaching aren’t getting through to a child, it is the obligation of the teacher to find a new method that will.

Funny stuff.

Exhibit 3: The Detroit public school system in question.

Funny Stuff.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Poland: The Political Made Personal

Poland’s president Lech Kaczynski and 96 other Polish government officials died in a plane crash today. The loss of human life and the damage it’s done to a nation that has suffered plenty already—they were traveling to Russia to commemorate the anniversary of a WWII-era Soviet massacre of 22,000 Poles—should be enough to elicit condolence from anybody who cares about these things. Should be.

I came across a reaction to the disaster on JoeMyGod, a page I’ve frequented for gay news and a good yuk at the expense of the ignorant. The post was titled, “Anti-gay President of Poland Dies in Plane Crash With 96 Others” and, aside from an extended quote about the accident, existed mostly to point out Kaczynski’s extreme stance on gay marriage (that it would bring about the end of the human race). Much of JMG’s commentators responded accordingly, with crows of delight that a homophobe had been scrubbed from the Earth. Because in the moments immediately following a national tragedy, brandishing your pet political causes is what’s most important.

If words fail in responding to the crash, then what to make of the foul words of these responses? I should hope it would be enough to say that however repugnant one finds his opponents’ ideas, there ought to be afforded a baseline respect.* But apparently it isn’t, so perhaps a few thought experiments are in order. JMG’s readership is, I assume, largely American liberal, so I pose a few questions calibrated toward their particular prejudices:

1. Do those celebrating Kaczynski’s death oppose the death penalty, as most liberals do?
2. What was their response to the assassination of George Tiller?
3. What if Barack Obama is assassinated?

If these ghouls delight in the accidental death of an anti-gay politician, then for consistency they ought support the state-sanctioned death of violent criminals—including gay bashers! Likewise, if Kaczynski’s freak accident is to be celebrated, then his politically-motivated murder, had events played out that way, should have been applauded, as some did that of Kansas abortion provider George Tiller. By that same token, then, the Tea Party rapture that would greet an Obama assassination would simply have to be chalked up to a difference in opinion. But JMG readers like Obama, or at least don’t want him to die, so if that were to happen, maybe they could take comfort in how awesome it would have been if Bush had been gunned down or choked to death on a pretzel, because if someone doesn’t like someone else, then he is entitled to bask in his opponent’s physical destruction, no matter the respect the office commands.

* I’ll admit that I enjoyed** Christopher Hitchens’ dancing on Jerry Falwell’s grave, but in my defense I’ll say that 1) Falwell was old and died naturally, no untimely end there, and 2) Falwell was not an elected national leader, but a spotlight-seeking demagogue; even Poles—including gay Poles—who did not like Kaczynski are in a state of national mourning.
**Edited for redundant phrasing

Burn After Bleeding

The funny thing about slashers is their diversity. On the surface level, they’re all much the same: psycho killer from years past seeks his revenge, disembowels nubile teenagers with characteristic edged weapon, Sex=Death, Final Girl sequence, incoherent twist ending, roll credits. Quentin Tarantino originally conceived Death Proof as a straight-up slasher, but realized he couldn’t do that because the formula is so ironclad. And yet, there are surprising disparities among the various films in terms of quality (compare Nightmare on Elm St. vs. Friday the 13th, to say nothing of Freddy vs. Jason), plot details, and even fidelity to the slasher formula.

The Burning, at first glance, is another Friday the 13th clone, with teenagers getting offed at a summer camp, but it’s a very different beast. In the first place, there’s no attempt to hide the killer’s identity. It’s plain from the very beginning that Cropsy, a former camp counselor turned burn victim, is our crazed killer. The film is at pains to keep us from seeing his face, as it was with Pamela Voorhees, but for the very good reason that it doesn’t want to spoil the wonderfully disgusting trauma makeup provided by Tom Savini of Dawn of the Dead/Friday the 13th infamy.

The next break from the slasher mold may not necessarily be a break. There’s been much hand-wringing over the genre’s misogyny, with culture warriors on one side decrying its exploitative sex and violence against women, and on the other side certain feminists (following Carol Clover’s lead) pointing out the subversive sexual politics going on in many of these films, along with the audience identification with a strong, self-sufficient Final Girl who ends up emasculating the almost always male killer. Whether slashers per se are sexist is an open question; The Burning doesn’t get off quite so easily. The first kill of the movie involves the newly recovered Cropsy picking up a Times Square hooker and sticking some shears in her guts. This in itself isn’t any more morally offensive than can be found in any other such movie, but it sticks out badly, mostly for it having nothing to do with what else is going on.

There’s also the presence of not one but TWO sexual encounters that border on assault, and a character with a Peeping Tom tendency. Granted the movie makes it clear the would-be rapists are colossal douchebags who get what’s coming to them (the characterization is actually far above what one usually must settle for in these kinds of flicks), but the scenes are, well, discomfiting. And not only is the creeper one of our Final Boys (another huge departure from the formula), but we learn of his weird proclivities after the camera itself has been ogling one of the female campers in the shower, much like the near-assault during a skinny-dipping scene. It’s nice the film takes time to deal with sexual deviants as opposed to just parading us with T&A, but having both of them together makes for utter confusion.

I’ve mentioned the Final Boy scene, but a Final Boy in itself is just the tip of the iceberg in how far from the norm The Burning goes. Technically, there are two Final Boys, and they aren’t even final: a cohort of campers makes it back to safety (including Jason Alexander’s character—yes, that Jason Alexander—who’s the most likable of the whole bunch and thus ends up a wasted opportunity), and the police show up in a helicopter afterwards. This has the effect of deflating what tension there is in the sequence, but none of that matters for two reasons: 1) the aforementioned makeup job on Cropsy’s face, and 2) his change of weapon from gardening shears to a flamethrower. It’s batshit crazy and receives no explanation at all, but a flamethrower is just what the film needs at that point.

Of course, The Burning is quite a bit better than Jason Voorhees and his ilk. The story’s logic is stretched but never insultingly so. While the acting is kind of campy (yeah, I went there), it’s never dull or flat out bad, and I gotta say, Jason Alexander makes his character, which in lesser hands would quickly become Odious Comic Relief, work. The very ending, I must say, is also actually pretty neat and doesn't pull any stupid sequel set-up shit that happens way too often. On top of these distinctions and its value as a genre curiosity, it’s also of some film history significance: it was Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter’s first film, and one of the first productions of Bob and Harvey Weinstein, founders of Miramax(!). It’s not superb—a lot of the direction is just flat and botches the kills—but it’s far better than most such movies, and worth checking out.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Now that my show is wrapped (I'm now a produced playwright, zippity doo dah) and I'm returning, albeit temporarily, to a relaxed schedule, I'll resume posting shortly.