Wednesday, May 31, 2006

On gays, not, despite your most deeply-held fears, settlin' down

Okay, so in light of the recent finding by a Superior Court judge that Georgia's gay marriage amendment is unconstitutional, and the subsequent Supreme Court review of said ruling, Guv'nor Sonny has promised to call a special session of the General Assembly starting August 9 should the ban not be upheld.

Now, said special session could cost Georgia taxpayers up to $40,000 a day, but it would be worth every penny to protect us from the all-powerful scourge of Gays Settlin' Down, which threatens our lives and livelihoods and heterosexual marriage as we know it.

Except that it really doesn't.

And except that gay marriage is illegal in Georgia whether or not the amendment passes.

There is no imminent threat here. Gays aren't going to start sponteneously planning their dream June weddings now that homophobia is no longer officially enshrined in the state Constitution. The people's right to establish legislation through legal, constitutional channels is not at risk. And for Sonny to imply otherwise is, at best, a cheap ploy to satisfy his Republican base in preparation for the gubernatorial election.

Or, at $40,000 a day, not so cheap.

What really bugs is that all of this was foretold back in 2004. Constitutional scholars and experts predicted that the violation of the single-subject rule would have us arguing the constitutionality of the amendment for years after its passage (true). Many also speculated that the single-subject violation was deliberate (arguable); supporters of the amendment feared that,left to their own devices, even opponents to gay marriage might be willing to support civil unions. By combining the two issues in one amendment, legislators made a bet that Georgia voters hated gay marriage more than they liked civil union and would be willing to throw out a baby or two with the bathwater.

And that's what's got Sonny's panties in a wad right now. He's afraid that, given the opportunity to give gays some basic partnership rights without actually calling it marriage in so many words, Georgia voters will choose tolerance over homophobia. While I can't speak to Sonny's personal views on gay rights, I know that his brick-red fundamentalist Republican supporters need a hard line on this so they can convince their supporters that sodomites aren't going to be treated like human beings in the great state of Georgia, not while they draw breath.

Guv'nor Sonny wants to make sure that the will of the people is respected in Georgia. I happen to agree. I personally can't wait to see what voters say when they're offered a reasonable, acceptable compromise instead of far-right-wing political pandering. But the world isn't going to come to a crashing end if we have to wait a year to see that happen, and it doesn't have to happen at the cost of $40,000 a day.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

On Michael Hayden: This Is Your Soundtrack

Okay, so the Senate Intelligence Committee voted 12-3 to recommend Michael Hayden as the new CIA chief.

I can't say that I don't have a little bit of trouble with the thought of the man in charge of President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program now in charge of the CIA (although the fact that he'd be spying on other people and not, hopefully, violating the civil liberties of Americans is somewhat comforting). Now that I think about it, that sort of cloak-and-dagger surveillance does seem more suited to the James Bond-ish stuff you always associate with the Central Intelligence Agency, so he might be well suited.

My only question there would concern Hayden's apparent affection for wiretapping and data mining, when some former CIA operatives have said that such impersonal and removed methods have resulted in the problems we've been having in recent years, and that the real solution is less technology and analysis and more actual human contact. But what do I know? I'm just an American citizen who'd love to keep both my civil liberties and my nation's security by any means necessary.

Anyway, this Not-Even-Friday, Not-Even-Random, Not-Even-Ten goes out to CIA Michael Hayden. Stay the hell out of my underwear drawer and my e-mail inbox, Mike.

The Not-Ten:

1. Johnny Rivers, "Secret Agent Man"
2. Guster, "I Spy"
3. U2, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
4. Hatebreed, "I Will Be Heard"
5. Billie Holiday, "I'll Be Seeing You"
6. El Bosco, "Satellite"
7. Barenaked Ladies, "Call and Answer"
8. Skunk Anansie, "Secretly"
9. Take 6, "Like the Whole World's Watching"

Your whatever goes below.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

On Big Brother (better late than never)

Okay, so bless their hearts, the AJC's Woman to Woman column is frequently a couple of weeks - or months - behind on the issues. They take their first swing at domestic wiretapping this week, long after the story originally broke and in the wake of recent allegations of information sharing by phone companies (which the FCC says it can't investigate because of the classified nature of the information involved. Convenient).

But better late than never, I s'pose, and Diane and Shaunti do dive into the topic enthusiastically. And when I say "enthusiastically," I mean that Diane misses the point but manages to keep it in the ballpark, and Shaunti grabs her bat and glove and shows up at the hockey rink.
Somewhere in the world right now – even here on U.S. soil – some evil men are delighted at how quickly Americans forget hard-learned security lessons. I’m astounded that Diane thinks we are complacent about losing our privacy: I think we’re far too complacent about losing our lives.

But the important thing to remember is that it's not possible to have both. Either the President willfully violates the Constitution, or Osama bin Laden will personally kill you. There is no middle ground, so don't wander around thinking there is.
I have two words for Diane or anyone else who prefers to snipe at the NSA data-mining program for being intrusive and “unlawful” (which it isn’t), instead of being thankful that our government does try so hard to protect privacy. Two words: Zacharias Moussaoui.

And I have two words for you, Shaunti: diaphonous sushi. (What d'you mean, "relevance"?)
A few years ago, I read the fascinating 9/11 Commission Report cover to cover, and its Moussaoui discussion puts the current NSA debate squarely in perspective. In August 2001, we had captured a suspected Qaeda operative who, alarmingly, had been learning to fly (into the Capital or the White House, as we now know). We also had his captured laptop, and several weeks in which we could have tied him to the man who was planning the impending attacks, and from him to several other hijackers – exactly the sort of connect-the-dots effort intended by the NSA program. But despite urgent requests, FBI headquarters wouldn’t grant a search warrant for Moussaoui’s laptop, saying enough probable cause hadn’t been shown. In other words, saying this man’s privacy trumped national security.

Now, I could take this opportunity to point out that domestic wiretapping falls under FISA, which court has rejected all of four warrant requests since its inception nearly thirty years ago. But I'd hate to shatter Shaunti's illusions that Zack Moussaoui's Compaq was the key to preventing the 9/11 attacks, and that Bush's lil' "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States" memo would just have been a distraction from the real security issues.
A theoretical desire to protect privacy at all costs is laudable, but despite what the ACLU and Diane implies, most Americans are and should be completely unwilling to pay that “all costs” price. The NSA isn’t after the Youens of the world, who want to harm one person at a time: they are trying to stop the Moussaoui’s, who want to kill millions.

A theoretical desire to protect privacy at all costs? Is this desire truly theoretical? Or is it just that most Americans don't accept the impact of unwarranted government intrusion because, up until now, it's been secretive and impersonal? What if we did make it a little more personal for "most Americans"? Let's say the NSA has instituted a bedroom-by-bedroom search of all households in America, digging for leads on terrorist plots. When they empty your underwear drawer into a garbage bag and take it back to the office to dig for evidence, would "most Americans" think, "Oh, it's no big. I don't have anything but panties in there anyway."

Moreover, is it an efficient use of government resources to search every underwear drawer in the country for evidence, or would it be more efficient to dig through the BVDs of only those terror suspects who are suspicious enough to warrant a warrant?
The average American doesn’t want the government to miss another chance to keep us safe. Immediately after 9/11 when we understood just what we were facing, most Americans supported large increases in surveillance authority. And even in March 2006, before the media made a mountain out of this NSA molehill, an ABC poll found that 54% of Americans thought the expanded authority should continue, even if with no warrant.

The average American also believes that a bearded man sits up in the clouds and makes decisions that affect our daily lives, but the Constitution says that such beliefs don't get to directly influence the activities of our government. Once upon a time, the "average" American thought that it was okay for schoolkids to be segregated by race, as long as the schools were ostensibly "equal." I'm not saying that democracy is a wash, but people are willing to submit to a lot of things under the influence of fear that they might not be willing to accept in other circumstances. And the government has been doing a pretty good job of keeping us afraid since 9/11.
Diane, you say we just don’t care enough. No, I think we just disagree with you.

Right back atcha.

I laid down my opposition to the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program here, when it first came to light in December of last year, and again here when Alberto Gonzales was defending the program to the Senate Judiciary Committee. My arguments haven't changed much in the months since: Where is the line drawn between liberty and security? If these searches really do "satisfy the requirements of the Fourth Amendent," why not just get a warrant? Does the President really have the authority to countermand the Constitution in the interest of national security? And would people be willing to submit to random cavity searches if they knew they had nothing hidden in their rectums?

But you've read all of that already. What I want to hear is a reasonable argument in favor of the NSA's wiretapping program and the (purported) data mining of phone companies. I want to hear from people who actually support such programs, and from people who don't support them but can take a fairly decent Devil's Advocate-y swing at defending them. I'd like to know what's so important about the programs that it's acceptable to violate the Constitution, and what the NSA is doing that makes the FISA warrant process impossible.

And I'd also kind of like an answer to the rectum question. Morbid curiosity there, I guess.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

On the best lede ever, and a Dixie Chicks roundup

Okay, so the Dixie Chicks made it onto the cover of Time magazine for their new album and completely unpenitent return to country music after a self-imposed three-year exile (a summary of the article can be found at The lead paragraph is the stuff of dreams:
Natalie Maines is one of those people born middle finger first.

As a high school senior in Lubbock, Texas, she'd skip a class a day in an attempt to prove that because she never got caught and some Mexican students did, the system was racist.

After Maines joined the Dixie Chicks, and the Dixie Chicks became the biggest-selling female group in music history -- with suspiciously little cash to show for it -- she and her bandmates told their record label, Sony, they were declaring themselves free agents. (In the high school that is Nashville, this is way worse than skipping class.)

In other Dixie Chicks news:

Bill O'Reilly gets tole by Natalie Maines, courtesy of TBogg.

Pat Boone thinks he is someone and calls the Chicks to task for their criticism of the President, who deserves their support, much like he supported President Clinton once 'pon a time (courtesy of Sadly, No!).

As of today, Taking the Long Way was ranked as the most heavily downloaded album on iTunes, "Not Ready to Make Nice" was the 52nd most downloaded track, and the album was the top seller at It's been described as "the best Dixie Chicks album few may buy" - or not.

And for those who have been writing breathless letters to local newspapers, aghast that the Dixie Chicks still refuse to apologize for the 2003 comments, which they refer to as "The Incident" - they just released a single called "Not Ready to Make Nice," which proclaims their unreadiness to make nice. They could have called it "Don't Look for an Apology, Because Bush Is Still Fucking Things Up." They could have called it "I Have to Flip You the Middle Finger in a Song." Y'all, come on.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

On gays settlin' down: This Is Your Soundtrack

Okay, so I know I'm a little late on this, but a girl is busy, so give her a break.

This Not-Even-Friday, Not-Even-Random, For-That-Matter-Not-Even-Ten goes out not to Judge Constance Russell, who was only doing her job (and good on her for that), but for all the gays out there interested in settlin' down, as well as all of the straights out there who don't see why they shouldn't.

The Ten (almost):

1. The Beach Boys, "God Only Knows"
2. Gladys Knight & The Pipps, "If I Were Your Woman"
3. The Chemical Brothers, "Hey Boy Hey Girl"
4. The Original Broadway Cast of Avenue Q, "If You Were Gay"
5. Blur, "Girls & Boys"
6. Otis Redding, "When a Man Loves a Woman"
7. Joss Stone, "Fell in Love With a Boy"
8. Sting, "The Secret Marriage"
9. Wet Wet Wet, "Love Is All Around"
9. Kay Starr, "Lover Man"

Your Ten (more or less) goes below.

Friday, May 19, 2006

On the reintroduction of rational thought

Okay, so just an update for those of you keeping score: The Gwinnett County School Board voted unanimously to allow Harry Potter books in school libraries. I'd like to lift my glass to said school board for injecting a little bit of sanity into what was becoming a deeply ridiculous debate.

I'd also like to lift a chalice of dragon's blood to Laura Mallory for making the rest of us look a little bit smarter in comparison.

Looking back:
On the fundie-mentals of reading
On Laura Mallory: This Is Your Soundtrack

On gays settlin' down: Part Two of Two

Okay, so I've laid out my (admittedly armchair) legal opinion on Georgia's gay marriage amendment, but in the interest of full disclosure, I feel that I should clarify my own opinion on the subject of gay marriage.

Straight people, get the hell over yourself.


I covered this back in 2004, back before Amendment One was passed, and I know I haven't been silent about it since. But it's never a bad idea to revisit, to elucidate, to lay things out in easy-to-digest bullet points. So why not?

Straight people are a threat to straight marriage. Kevin Federline is a threat to straight marriage. Angelina Jolie (bless her boobs) is a threat to straight marriage. Elton John? He's a threaten to good fashion sense, sure, but I don't think his union is the one that's crushing America's traditional morality under the wedge heel of his silver-embellished, diamond-encrusted platform boot. Dear friend Evan proposed that the only legislation sure to protect the sanctity of marriage would outlaw celebrity marriage; I have to agree.

Gay people are not a threat to straight marriage. The fact that my dog breathes oxygen is no threat to human respiration. The fact that my fish sits in a lovely bowl on the counter is no threat to our waterways. You know what does threaten human respiration? Pollution. Man-made pollution. If humans are worried about being able to breathe, maybe we need to stop spitting carcinogens into the air, and if we're worried about being married, maybe we need to stop spewing crap into our own marriages.

The government needs to stay the hell out of marriage. Controversial, I know. Here's my take: Most marriages have both a religious and a civil component. First, you go to the courthouse to get your marriage license and prove to the state that you're not trying to marry your sister (not applicable in the state of Kentucky). Then, you go to the church/temple/beach/sylvan glade/Elvis chapel, and the priest/rabbi/minister/moon priestess/King confers the blessings of a given deity on your union.

Some marriages don't both with both components. I could easily find myself a consort and drag him to a Justice of the Peace for a marriage that would be recognized by the state but not (necessarily) the Catholic church. Alternately, I could drag the same poor sclub before my friend Sam, an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church, but without a marriage license, our marriage wouldn't be recognized by the state.

I think that if we want to reform marriage, we need to get the government out of it entirely. Yes, the state does have some interest in civil unions, in terms of taxes and children and partner rights, but that's as far as it needs to go: civil union. The interests of the state hold regardless of the genders of the people being united. If a couple is prepared to live in such a way that those interests are sustained, the state has no reason to approve the union of a man and a woman where a man and a man wouldn't be similarly approved.

After that, the actual issue of marriage is left to the institution that invented the conceit in the first place: churches. Churches can continue to bless those unions that they always have, or expand their repertoire if they choose. Straight people who disagree with gay marriage can find a church that doesn't perform them, and gay people who want to enjoy the same blessings that straight people do need only find a cleric to distribute them. Protection of the sanctity of marriage is thus returned to the only entity actually capable of sanctifying things in the first place: God.

On gays settlin' down: Part One of Two

Okay, so Georgia's gay marriage ban was voided Tuesday when a Superior Court judge found it in violation of the "single-subject" rule. Amendments to the state constitution can only address one subject at a time, and Judge Constance Russell found that the amendment in question tries to address both gay marriage and civil union.

We'll set aside for the moment that experts were predicting this very controversy when the amendment was propsed back in 2004. Now, the people are up in arms that Judge Russell should overturn legislation that passed so overwhelmingly. This "activist judge" is denying the will of the people, they're saying. The voters of Georgia have declared that they don't want gays settlin' down, and so it's Judge Russell's job to keep gays from settlin' down.

Even, apparently, if it's unconstitutional.

There seems to be a growing sense of rule by fiat in the country. The Will of the People is paramount, and nothing, not rule of law, not longstanding constitutional amendment, can keep it from being honored. We want national security, and if that can only happen in violation of the Fourth Amendment, so be it. We want an amendment against gays settlin' down, and whether or not that amendment has been passed in accordance with the state constitution, we're going to get one.

It's that accordance with the Constitution thing that's the rub. Both the state and federal constitution have been passed to, more than anything else, guarantee the rights of the people and, in some cases, protect them from the government's everpresent potential for tyranny. The rules laid out by the Constitution(s) force the government to follow certain procedures before moving in on the rights of the people, whether by physically placing a tap on a phone or searching a house or by passing laws limiting the rights of the populus.

It's easy to dismiss those rules when they're affecting someone else. When your phone isn't being tapped ("I have nothing to hide!") and your relationship is unthreatened ("Sanctity of marriage!"), it's easy to brush aside the legalities.

But when your own rights are in danger, it's a lot easier to get excited. Take, for instance, the ongoing debate over the Second Amendment. At any given point, both state and federal legislation is in the works that might threaten a person's unlimited right to bear arms. Some of it is well-conceived; some of it isn't. Some of it is constitutional; some of it isn't. But lobbyists on both sides of the issue fight passionately in support of their position.

No matter the subject, a law's only defense is it constitutionality. Rules must be followed. I's must be dotted and T's must be crossed. A "good" law (and in most cases, "good" is merely a point of view) is only as strong as its writing. A good law, like a good house, has to be built on a strong foundation, and if it isn't, it's just as unlikely to afford protection.

Whether or not the gay marriage amendment is a good one, it's worthless if it doesn't abide by the rules laid out in the state constitution. Whether or not Judge Russell is an activist, she's a judge, with an extensive education and experience in the law, and she's doing you a favor. If the people of Georgia want to keep gay marriage settlin' down, they'll vote for it now the way they voted for is in 2004. But what they vote on has to be constitutional.

On things that aren't real

Okay, so The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction.

You know. Fiction.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

On things that, unsurprisingly, continue to fall

Okay, so we were all disappointed (in the sense of being not terribly surprised and, for that matter, not terribly disappointed) when President Bush spoiled our gamble-y fun by dropping to a 29 percent approval rating mere days after the launch of a betting pool that didn't have him doing that for another week.

Well, screw that. Per the suggestion of Bill-once-but-no-longer-in-Johnson-City's suggestion, we're shifting the target from a sub-30 percent approval to the Nixonian low of 27 percent (you're right, Bill, that's a really satisfying word. "Nixonian." Love it).

Doug has called May 22, and Brian has taken what appears to be the safe road and gone for this Thursday, May 18. Bill's down for May 19. Feel free to stick with your old guess or leave a new one in comments, and I swear that if Bush hits 27 before tomorrow afternoon, there will be much drinking in the Practically Harmless household.

Friday, May 12, 2006

On George W. Bush: This Is Your Soundtrack. Again.

Okay, so it's just like George Bush to ruin our fun. For those of you participating in our Things That Fall Betting Pool, the good money, it appears, was on May 11. Courtesy of Bill in Portland Maine at Daily Kos, we have Harris Interactive news that a whopping 29 percent of Americans approve of the way that Bush does his job, and that 69 percent feel that "things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track."


I'll consider Bill (in Johnson City, Tennessee)'s suggestion of re-launching the pool to guess when Bush's approval rating will match the Nixonian record of 27 percent. In the meantime, this Friday Not-Even-Random Ten goes out to our president, George W. Bush, warmonger, eavesdropper, brush cutter, buzzkill.

The Ten:

1. Guster, "Parachute"
2. Dave Matthews Band, "Let You Down"
3. Arlington Priest, "The Stone"
4. Shirley Bassey, "Don't Rain on My Parade"
5. Madonna, "Rain"
6. Bananarama, "Cruel Summer"
7. Diana Krall, "How Deep Is the Ocean"
8. Norah Jones, "One Flight Down"
9. Dido, "Slide"
10. Alicia Keys, "Fallin'"

Your Ten, or whatever, go below.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

On things that fall

Okay, so before you read this, go into the nearest bathroom, stare yourself down in the mirror, and do a good minute or so of facial stretches and exercises. Big face, little face. Big face, little face. Half a dozen times. I'll wait.

Done? Great. It's very important that you stretch appropriately before attempting the kind of shocked expression necessary to respond to the following news: George Bush's approval rating has dropped below freezing.

Yeah, I know. Take a minute to compose yourself. Then, behold the trends, if you're a trend person (and who isn't, these days?). Or, alternately, if you're a visual person, take a gander at this'n:

Yeeeah. When I say "Ouch," I mean it in just a little bit of a schadenfreude-y way. And it's schadenfreude not because I have such severe dislike of Bush, because I actually don't (ask my about my lack of abject hatred for our commander in chief), but because I told you so. I did. I told you and I told you and I told you and I told you, and you were all, like, "Well, John Kerry looks like a horse, so meh," and now look what you've done.

Whew. Ahem.

Anyway, that's water under the bridge. What's important now is that y'all have learned your lesson (about six years too late, but whatever), and it's showing in the polls (not that they really mean anything at this point, but whatever again). Per CBS and the New York Times, as linked above, Bush's approval rating has gone from 42 percent at the end of January to 34 percent at the end of February to 33 percent at the end of April, and, well, here we are.

Unfortunately, traditional betting pools don't work too well over the Internet, if only because collecting a dollar per square from a guy in Kuala Lumpur is an absolute bitch. So we're going to make it a little more simple: Pick the day when you think that President Bush's approval rating will first duck below 30 percent, and leave it in comments. Whoever gets within two days on either side of the actual event wins his or her choice of Flying Spaghetti Monster apparel from CafePress, courtesy of your friendly neighborhood blogger.

See below for official rules. No purchase necessary. Many will enter, few will win.

Selection of dates is first-come, first-served. Dates available will fall in the two-month period between today (May 10, 2006) and July 10, 2006. In the event of a tie, the contestant who picks the closest day before the event in question will be declared the winner. Declaration of winners and distribution of prizes is entirely at the discretion of management. Not applicable in conjunction with any other offer. If a rash appears, immediately discontinue use and contact your physician. Do not use while driving or operating heavy machinery. Swim at your own risk.

On obnoxious bleating

Okay, so this post actually has nothing to do with Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter or the Republican National Committee. No, it has to do with cars, and with ads. Specifically, with car ads. Specifically, this car ad, which I've heard best described as "morse code spasmed and seizured and coughed up this ass-basket of a song."

"Ass-basket." Must write down for future use.

Anyway, this one is worth an open letter.

Dear heartless bastards at JWT,

You have made the world a worse place. Because of a choice you made, the world as a whole is ever-so-slightly less bright, less pleasant, and the English-speaking, television-watching world may never recover.

I understand that it's hard to resist when a pretty blonde girl sends you a copy of her song. I'm sure your first reaction was, "Ooh, pretty blonde girl, song about driving. Awesome!" However, upon actually listening to the song and realizing that it sounded rather like a duck being raked across a cheese grater, your reaction should have been to throw the CD with great force into the nearest incinerator. No, sirs, not trash can - incinerator. Such things cannot be allowed continued existence.

Instead, though, you went completely in the other direction and made an ad out of it. This is unforgivable. The song is heinous. It's obnoxious. The lead singer's voice makes my eardrums actually spasm, resulting in a strange vibrating sensation in the side of my head and a sound kind of like a helicopter in a Vietnam War movie, which is unpleasant but thankfully drowns out the sound of the ad. I have no choice but to boycott not only Ford, but also your other clients, including Kraft, Estee Lauder, Nestle and Pfizer, until this monstrosity is taken off the air (I will continue to patronize Cadbury and Smirnoff as a show of good faith).

The band has been compared to "the B-52s on a gallon of espresso." This is because they made the comparison themselves; no reaonably intelligent ten-year-old would make the same mistake. I'd be more likely to compare it to the time when I was eleven and my friend Allie and I decided to make our own radio show using the intercom in our house. As is obvious from watching the ad, the band desperately hopes they look and sound like the B-52s, much in the same way that I desperately hope that I look like Charlize Theron when I wake up in the morning.

Lead singer Cheri D has said, "We want it [the song] to lead to a big shiny bus so we can go all over the USA and beep for everybody." Heartless bastards at JWT, only you can keep this from happening. Pull the ad. Pull the ad.

Pull the ad.

Every time that horrendous bleating wakes my dog from a sound sleep, I curse you by name.

Much love,

Friday, May 05, 2006

On Zacarias Moussaoui: This Is Your Soundtrack

Okay, so 9/11 conspirator and general failure both as a terrorist and as a human being Zacarias Moussaoui got life in prison instead of death, and he seems to think he's won something.

The Friday Not-Even-Random Ten disagrees:

1. Elvis, "Jailhouse Rock"
2. Shania Twain, "Man! I Feel Like a Woman"
3. Switchfoot, "This Is Your Life"
4. White Town, "Your Woman"
5. Johnny Cash, "Folsom Prison Blues"
6. The Temptations, "Treat Her Like a Lady"
7. Dave Matthews Band, "Cry Freedom"
8. Vertical Horizon, "Shackled"
9. Guster, "What You Wish For"
10. Beck, "Loser"

Your stuff goes in comments.

On things that are, apparently, not funny

Okay, so normally, I wouldn't really care what Richard Cohen has to say about Stephen Colbert. The latter is about twenty times funnier than the former, and better looking to boot. But Cohen just happens to be syndicated in the AJC, and I just happened to read him over my Cheerios this morning, and now here I am.
First, let me state my credentials: I am a funny guy.

Yeah, but looks aren't everything.
This is well known in certain circles, which is why, even back in elementary school, I was sometimes asked by the teacher to "say something funny" -- as if the deed could be done on demand.

And, judging from this column, it really, really can't. But I'm glad his fourth-grade classmates thought he was such a hoot.
This, anyway, is my standing for stating that Stephen Colbert was not funny at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. All the rest is commentary.

Thanks for the warning.
The commentary, though, is also what I do, and it will make the point that Colbert was not just a failure as a comedian but rude. Rude is not the same as brash. It is not the same as brassy. It is not the same as gutsy or thinking outside the box. Rudeness means taking advantage of the other person's sense of decorum or tradition or civility that keeps that other person from striking back or, worse, rising in a huff and leaving. The other night, that person was George W. Bush.

I totally agree. It would have been one thing if Bush had shown up at the Correspondents' Association Dinner with the knowledge that, at such dinners, fun is usually poked at the president. Or if, say, he'd shown up with his very own Dubya impersonator to poke fun at himself. But to take the piss out of our president when all he wanted in the world was a dry chicken breast and a glass of sub-par Chardonnay? That's unthinkable.
Colbert made jokes about Bush's approval rating, which hovers in the middle 30s.

I will admit, I find Bush's approval rating terribly unfunny.
He made jokes about Bush's intelligence, mockingly comparing it to his own. "We're not some brainiacs on nerd patrol," he said. Boy, that's funny.

Our president's inability to Scotch-tape together a cohesive sentence? Also unfunny.
Colbert took a swipe at Bush's Iraq policy, at domestic eavesdropping, and he took a shot at the news corps for purportedly being nothing more than stenographers recording what the Bush White House said. He referred to the recent staff changes at the White House, chiding the media for supposedly repeating the cliche "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" when he would have put it differently: "This administration is not sinking. This administration is soaring. If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg." A mixed metaphor, and lame as can be.

It's a good thing Colbert's entire schtick doesn't center around mixed metaphors and malapropisms. It's also good that he hasn't developed a character whose entire appeal arises from his grandiosity and unselfconscious faux-intellectualism. 'Cause Richard Cohen says that that's not funny, and Richard Cohen knows from funny.
Why are you wasting my time with Colbert, I hear you ask. Because he is representative of what too often passes for political courage, not to mention wit, in this country. His defenders -- and they are all over the blogosphere -- will tell you he spoke truth to power. This is a tired phrase, as we all know, but when it was fresh and meaningful it suggested repercussions, consequences -- maybe even death in some countries. When you spoke truth to power you took the distinct chance that power would smite you, toss you into a dungeon or -- if you're at work -- take away your office.

So remember, folks: if you tell the truth, but you don't get fired for it, it's actually lies. Lies, all lies.
But in this country, anyone can insult the president of the United States. Colbert just did it, and he will not suffer any consequence at all. He knew that going in. He also knew that Bush would have to sit there and pretend to laugh at Colbert's lame and insulting jokes. Bush himself plays off his reputation as a dunce and his penchant for mangling English. Self-mockery can be funny. Mockery that is insulting is not. The sort of stuff that would get you punched in a bar can be said on a dais with impunity. This is why Colbert was more than rude. He was a bully.

A bully! Oh, noes! Our poor, defenseless president, who only has the executive branch, the judicial branch and both houses of Congress to back him up. Sending tens of thousands of troops off to get maimed and killed in a war over WMD that didn't actually exist, giving government subsidies to oil companies that have been dragging in record profits month after month after month and wiretapping American citizens without benefit of a warrant in direct violation of the Constitution are no reason for ridicule! Poor schnookums.
I am not a member of the White House Correspondents' Association,

Oh, don't tell me...
and I have not attended its dinner in years (I watched this year's on C-SPAN).

... Ouch. Invitation get "lost in the mail," Cohen?
The gala is an essentially harmless event that requires the presence of one man, the president. If presidents started not to show up, the organization would have to transform itself into a burial association.

I hear that joked killed back in fourth grade.
But presidents come and suffer through a ritual that most of them find mildly painful, not to mention boring. Whatever the case, they are guests. They don't have to be there -- and if I were Bush, next year I would not. Spring is a marvelous time to be at Camp David.

I think we'd all love for Bush to take some time off next year. Say, maybe, the whole year. But I think that encouraging Bush to puss out on the Correspondents' Association Dinner because they's all mean and hurt his fee-fees isn't going to do much for his approval rating (which we know to be in the 30s, because Colbert spoke truth to power).
On television, Colbert is often funny. But on his own show he appeals to a self-selected audience that reminds him often of his greatness.

Whereas Bill O'Reilly leaves himself open to taunts from a diverse audience and suffers the slings and arrows like a brave little soldier. And I understand that Days Of Our Lives often films live before an audience of Guiding Light fans, just to keep them on their toes.
In Washington he was playing to a different crowd, and he failed dismally in the funny person's most solemn obligation: to use absurdity or contrast or hyperbole to elucidate -- to make people see things a little bit differently. He had a chance to tell the president and much of important (and self-important) Washington things it would have been good for them to hear.

I know that George Carlin's political commentary is what's kept him in high heels for decades now. Let this serve as a warning to all up-and-coming comedians: Your act can't be funny if it isn't educational. Remember to tell your audience things that they need to hear, unless you're saying things that they need to hear that might offend the sitting president of the United States.
But he was, like much of the blogosphere itself, telling like-minded people what they already know and alienating all the others. In this sense, he was a man for our times.

Maybe they were alienated by his unfunniness. Maybe they were alienated by the fact that he took them to task about as solidly as he did the president. I suppose we'll never know.
He also wasn't funny.

And, in retaliation, neither was Cohen.

On winners and losers

Okay, so headlines all across America said it yesterday: "America, you lost!... I won!" This was the response from Zacarias Moussaoui to a jury's decision to recommend life in prison rather than the death penalty for his role in the 9/11 attacks.

Now, far be it from me to contradict the esteemed deranged terrorist loony, but I must disagree.

Mr. Moussaoui,

You seem to be under the impression that you've won something because the jury decided to let you rot in a federal prison rather than granting you the martyrdom that you've been gagging for since the 9/11 attacks were in the planning stages. Allow me to correct you on a few points.

First of all, let me remind you that even the jury could tell you were little more than a "bit player" in the attacks on September 11. If I recall correctly, al-Qaeda didn't even want you on the planes that day; they tucked you away for another attack later on down the line. Sure. Another attack. A later attack. Did you really believe that when they said it to you? Have you seen American Dreamz?

But let's go ahead and assume that there really was a subsequent attack planned, and that Osama bin Laden wasn't just trying to get you out of the way so he could carry off his terror attack without your Three-Stooges-esque incompetence screwing things up. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that you really did have an attack of your own to carry out. How'd that work out for you? I don't seem to recall further fear, bloodshed or loss of life in the months following 9/11, and that might just be because you got caught. You killed no one. You got the attention of no one. You struck fear into the hearts of no one. The sole purpose of a terrorist is to instill others with terror; what do we call a terrorist who couldn't terrorize the binky out of a two-year-old? A loser.

So that's pretty much where you stand, Zack. No martyrdom. No virgins. No fame, no terror. Your name will become a footnote in a textbook, forever preserved in history as a guy who didn't blow up so much as a Ruby Tuesday's. All you've won is a lifelong hitch in Florence, Colorado, a soundproof cell in the "Alcatraz of the Rockies," where you'll disappear and be forgotten just as easily as that terror attack you failed to pull off. And when some three-hundred-pound bald man named Tiny is making you his woman, I hope you'll be able to yell, "You lost! I won!" and I hope it'll give you some comfort.


Much love,

Monday, May 01, 2006

On a day without immigrants

Okay, so today was officially a Day Without Immigrants, a day in which immigrants of all kinds, but particularly Hispanic/Latino immigrants, skipped work and, in many cases, marched to show the impact of immigrant labor on the US. Estimates put somewhere around 500,000 people rallying in Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, plus smaller rallies in smaller towns all over the country.

Mike Collins, owner of 500 acres of Vidalia onions, found himself without 175 "seasonal laborers" today:
“We need to be going wide open this time of year to get these onions out of the field,” he said. “We’ve got orders to fill. Losing a day in this part of the season causes a tremendous amount of problems.”

The pinch was also felt at food processing plants, nurseries (for plants and for babies), construction sites, and just about anywhere else immigrant labor is used. That is, for the record, just about everywhere. A counter-protester in Pensacola had this solution:
“You should send all of the 13 million aliens home, then you take all of the welfare recipients who are taking a free check and make them do those jobs,” said Jack Culberson, a retired Army colonel who attended the Pensacola rally. “It’s as simple as that.”

Which sounds like a brilliant idea, particularly this part:

Culberson: "take all of the welfare recipients who are taking a free check and make them do those jobs."

I have plenty of sympathy for anyone who's looking for a job and can't find one. I've been slogging through a rather depressed job market for a couple of years now, but I've got a college degree; a friend who is still working on her associate's degree has been looking for work on that end of the job market, and her struggle is even more emblematic of what many people are going through right now.

This friend, and I hope she won't mind me sharing just a bit of her story, was working toward her nursing degree when she had to put the entire process on hold to follow her brand-new husband to the other side of the country for Navy flight training. When he decided he didn't want to be an NFO after all, she followed him back across the country, and when he decided he didn't want to be married to her anymore, she found herself without a job (which she had given up when they moved), without a degree (which she had planned to complete as soon as The Bastard got his wings), and without the money to pay for health insurance, tuition, or rent.

Right now, she's living with her family, taking one or two classes at a time as she can afford them and trying to find a job that will allow her to be independent. The problem? Such jobs don't exist. A job seeker without a college degree can be a line cook, a construction worker, a mechanic at an oil change, a maid at a hotel. If an individual has a good command of the English language (and often even if they don't), telemarketing and customer service may be available. Some restaurants will take on wait staff without experience.

If these are the jobs that are available, why don't people on welfare take them? For the same reason that my friend is looking for something more: because a person can't live off of them. A minimum-wage job, paying $5.15 an hour, comes out to only $10,712 a year; some jobs make slightly more, and many food service jobs pay less. Supporting a family takes two or three of those jobs. Two or three of those jobs leave little to no time - or money - for education. No time or money for education means that a person is pretty much stuck where he or she is.

I suspect that Mike Collins isn't paying his "seasonal laborers" any kind of wage that my friend, or a welfare recipient, would accept for a full day of work. But a laborer who was used to even less money, not to mention worse living conditions, education, and healthcare back in his country of origin, would be more likely to take what he could get. If Mike Collins is allowed to pay sub-minimum wages to get his onions harvested, who is at fault: the laborers who accept what is offered, or Mike himself for using workers who are most likely undocumented rather than paying a living wage for a day's worth of labor?

The Day Without Immigrants underlined more than just the importance of an immigrant workforce to American society; it demonstrated just how many employers are willing to break the law by hiring undocumented workers and paying them next to nothing. An American that wishes to be illegal-immigrant-free has to also be willing to pay out the nose for their Vidalia onions. Immigrants will continue to, as one day laborer put it, "cross the border and cross a desert" for work as long as that work continues to be available. The crackdown on illegal immigration starts not with border security or deportation but with Mike Collins and anyone else who hires undocumented laborers.

Another important point to remember is that not all of the immigrants protesting today are undocumented; many documented immigrants took the day off to show solidarity. The proposed "compromise legislation" that passed in the Senate would have aided in legalizing many of the illegal immigrants by making them pay fines and back taxes, then guiding them through the entire immigration process. Many who object to the legislation call it amnesty, implying that a crime would go unpunished, which ignores the fact that the illegal (hoping to become legal) immigrants would be forced to pay a fine before going through the process legally. Anyone who objects to a worker accepting punishment for his crime and paying restitution before seeking citizenship through legal channels has something more than law and order on his mind. One could wonder what Jack Culberson would think of thirteen million hard-working documented immigrants taking jobs from welfare recipients, and whether he would feel any differently if said immigrants were slightly less tan.