Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Smells Like Team Spirit

I know a few sports fans —impossible not to, in mainstream America — and notice their loyalties usually lean more towards a team uniform than any individual athlete. So, living in Connecticut as I do, you can’t help hearing about Joe Blow, who wears the Patriots’ uniform when he plays and is also a magnanimous philanthropist, stellar role model and all-around helluva guy … until he’s traded to some team out in California which defeats New England in a crucial game, and you won’t hear anybody outright say “Joe Blow is worse than Hitler” but you will hear a few neutral, straightforward observations: “Hitler was a bad man, yes, but he never scored any touchdown against the Patriots to disqualify them from the Super Bowl. Just pointing out.”

That’s team loyalty. It’s harmless and even fun for millions of fans of the Patriots or any other professional sports franchise. But what’s cute when applied to the Patriots is a poor substitute for patriotism, so here’s why America is doomed: too many people on both ends of the political spectrum bury loyalty to individual principles beneath loyalty to Team Republican or Team Democrat.

The left wing’s wallowed in it ever since Obama came to power, the ones who firmly opposed the TSA on civil-liberty grounds back when it was a Bush baby, then became TSA boosters once “criticizing TSA” entailed “criticizing Obama and his political appointees.” That’s how the prison camp at Guantanamo could be a civil liberties travesty when George Bush refused to close it, and a vital plank in our anti-terror platform once Obama wouldn’t.

And the right wing’s no improvement. Too many Tea Partiers whose concern for “unsustainable national debt” or “out-of-control government power” didn’t materialize until the exact nanosecond a black Democrat started wielding that power. Where the hell were they during the Bush/Cheney years? I remember: crying “traitor” when people like me suggested, “Government’s gone out of control since 9/11” or “Congress and the president are spending too damn much money.” No, the right wing brooked no such talk when Team Republican held the White House and the legislative branch too.

Which is why I halfheartedly favored Team Democrat up until it won Congress in the midterm elections, then the White House in 2008, and everyone did the exact opposite of what they promised: not curtailing military spending and expanding civil liberties, but vice-versa.

The country’s falling apart. We can’t upgrade our crumbling infrastructure because our money supports a military more costly than every other military on earth combined. The poor and middle-class see their taxes raised and their benefits cut to fund bailouts, pork and ridiculous corporate welfare.

My state bribes rich movie producers to come film here. My taxes are going up, but at least I have the following state-subsidized bragging right: “Hey, you know the ‘corpses float downriver’ scene in the Tom Cruise War of the Worlds remake? They filmed it right near my house! Impressive, no? You can touch the hem of my garment, if you wish.”

Maybe they’ll cut the movie budget, but they’re still putting nude scanners in the airport and I’ll have to pay for that too. And there’s no way to fix anything, not when the majority of Americans put team spirit and partisan loyalty over love of country and every noble principle ours once claimed to stand for. Best thing that could happen to America would be if the party-line Democrats and party-line Republicans all got together in a big bipartisan love feast and choked on each other in flagrante soixante-neuf.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Final Chapter Of Dennis Lorenzetti's Story

A couple weeks ago I mentioned my dismay at learning of the death of Dennis Lorenzetti, a homeless man I chanced to speak with and write about one afternoon in the summer of 2009. Lorenzetti froze to death behind a low-rent supermarket last December; when a local journalist (and former colleague) named Rick Guinness learned of it, he searched online for any mention of Lorenzetti and contacted me after finding my story from July 2009.

This week Rick's story about Lorenzetti ran in the Hartford Advocate, the alt-weekly I wrote for until the Great Tribune Company Meltdown Of Aught-Eight.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Yo, Bleephead, Bleep My Bleeping Bleep

Like all American adults, I am a fragile and delicate flower who will surely wilt if ever exposed to the harsh scary world beyond the hothouse in which I reside. At least that's what the FCC believes, which is why, even when my night-owl self watches television during the wee small hours of the night when all the wee small impressionable young people are in bed, I still hear BLEEEEEEP whenever an actor says anything capable of wilting the petals off his hothouse flower audience. (There's nothing wrong with watching mobsters murder their business rivals in cold blood, but hearing mobsters say bad words while they do it will psychologically scar you.)

Relevant childhood anecdote: as a kid in Virginia I'd often watch after-school cartoons on local indie channel 27, which was owned by Pat Robertson and eventually went on to become the Christian Broadcasting Network. That channel aired The 700 Club, but the majority of its programming was identical to that of every other indie channel: cartoons older than my parents, ancient movies, syndicated sitcom reruns ... anything for which the broadcasting rights could be had cheap.

Channel 27 also aired old episodes of The Jeffersons, while new episodes still aired in primetime on the Whatever network. I liked the show, so I'd watch it in primetime and on 27 too. And one trait the George Jefferson character had was this: sometimes, when he was very mad or annoyed, he'd sort of scrunch himself up, and then explosively say "Damn!" This was considered funny, and the audience or laugh track always went wild.

But channel 27 didn't like the word "damn." They lacked the cutting-edge bleeping technology available to modern broadcasters, though, so what they'd do instead was turn the sound off for the fraction of a second George needed to pronounce the word. ALL of the sound. So you're watching the show and hearing all sorts of background noise -- laughter in the audience, Florence saying one thing, Weezy saying another -- and then, suddenly, a moment of dead silence before all the noise started up again. I always found it very jarring, same way it jarred me when I'd be reading in a quiet room, and didn't realize the refrigerator or heat pump was running until it shut off. The resulting silence always seemed a lot louder than the previous sound-I-hadn't-noticed.

Even as a kid I figured out: "When I watch The Jeffersons at night, I hardly notice when George says 'damn,' but after an episode on channel 27 in the afternoon I can tell you exactly how many times he said it and exactly what he was doing each time." In trying to hide George Jefferson's presumably scandalous language, all channel 27's sound engineers did was call more attention to it.

America would be a marginally less stupid place if only the middle-aged bleephead bureaucrats at the FCC were capable of the same insight into human nature I had as an eight-year-old.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Camden And Clinton: Two Flavors Of Drug War Stupidity

If you dig post-industrial dystopian decay, the United States offers ample opportunity for you to live your dream, and the opportunities keep growing. They're easy to find via a simple two-step process: 1) look for an American city that had a strong and prosperous manufacturing base 50 years ago; and 2) not anymore, it doesn't.

The manufacturing decline provides the post-industrial decay, while the dystopia stems largely from our draconian drug laws. Over at the Guardian I discuss the sad state of Camden, New Jersey -- and the intellectual bankruptcy of Hillary Clinton -- in light of recent developments in America's eternal War On Drugs.

You'll notice a bit of a typo in the headline; some luckless intern must've been off his game this morning. Of course, my spellcheck program for this blog keeps insisting I've misspelled "dystopia" and "dystopian," so this could simply be the latest example of computers rebelling against their human masters, which (according to my fave sci-fi authors) is something that happens a lot in nightmarish dystopian hellscapes like the one Camden is transforming into.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Simple Pleasures: Harsh Winter Edition

My DVD collection includes thousands of hours' worth of movies, TV shows and cartoon shorts covering all genres and dating back over a century, yet in the past three days, my chief viewing pleasure has been standing outside and watching water -- actual non-frozen liquid water -- drip off snowbanks and vanish down the storm drains.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Evolution Of Desperation

My third anti-TSA column in as many months is online at the Guardian -- well, a somewhat bowdlerized version of the column is online. Originally, the last two paragraphs said this:
When gropings make small children scream in terror, TSA director James Marchand (cribbing a page from the paedophiles' playbook) advised agents “If you can come up with some kind of a game to play with a child, it makes it a lot easier.”

Indeed, and makes it easier for pervs on a playground hissing “Let’s play Stop the Terrorist” too. Still, if TSA glosses over Ventura’s lawsuit as it has all the others, if American parents intend teaching their children that TSA’s treatment is an acceptable precondition for travelling within the borders of their own country, I have a better idea: Parents, abandon all pretence and outright raise your kids to be strippers or prostitutes. If they’ll spend their lives ogled nude or physically fondled by strangers they don’t know and don’t even find attractive, at least let them make a little money at it.
What truly frightens me are the lawsuit precedents I mention in my latest column: TSA has generally been losing or settling the various lawsuits brought against them -- yet still, they keep pushing forward rather than backing down. The American people don't want this, the American courts won't approve it, and still TSA does not care. The agency and the unelected poliitcal appointees who head it have abandoned all pretense of accountability, all pretense they are "public servants" rather than "the public's masters."

When the "scan or be groped" policy first came into effect, I wrote a Guardian column titled "Get Your Hands Off Me, TSA!" which ran on November 17, eight days before Thanksgiving. True fact: when I first pitched it to my editor, the original idea was to focus on the National Opt-Out Day Protest scheduled for Thanksgiving Eve. My editor initially planned to run the piece the day of the actual protest, then changed his mind and ran it a full week before that.

And I was relieved. Why? Because back then, as late as last November, I was still optimistic enough to think "In light of the outrage this policy is generating, TSA is sure to back down. The policy will likely be repealed before the Opt-Out protest even starts! If he waits until Opt-Out Day to run my Opt-Out column, it'll be as obsolete as an op-ed urging Nixon to resign."

In other words, I figured the groping policy would go the way of the short-lived "bathroom ban" after the Christmas bombing attempt of 2009. It hasn't. It most spectacularly hasn't. It's even spreading; as my most recent column mentions, the House of Representatives voted 417 to 3 in favor of a bill that would expand TSA to cover all forms of mass transit.

Yet the whole issue has largely fallen off the mainstream media radar, assuming it ever registered to begin with. I've written before about what I call the media gaslighting of America -- respected pundits sneering that only the most selfish and sexually uptight prudes would take umbrage with the TSA, rather than grovel before the altar of the false god Safety.

Sinclair Lewis got it wrong. He said, "When fascism comes to America, it'll be wrapped in the American flag and carrying a cross." But no -- it's wearing latex gloves and hissing "Let's play Stop the Terrorist."
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