Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Quips and Quotations

The weirdest trajectory since he proposed the magic bullet.

--Keith Olbermann, on Arlen Specter's defection from the Republican Party. Specter was an assistant counselor for the Warren Commission.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Red State Blues

Notice how conservatives have been co-opting liberals lately? Not the issues, but the style.

First there was Tea Bag Day. Political rallies or demonstrations have long been associated with the Left. Yet here were right-wingers carrying signs, chanting, and performing agitprop street theater. More than a few were dressed like Uncle Sam, and, let's face it, if you didn't know Uncle Sam was Uncle Sam, you might think he was an aging hippie, what with the beard and multi-hued garb. Nobody stripped, as often happens at more liberal gatherings, but maybe next time they'll find a way to that doesn't offend the Christian Right (does Wal-Mart carry bloomers?)

Another thing conservatives have co-opted is paranoia about the government. Paranoia about the government used to be exclusively liberal. I know that sounds a bit odd as liberals are the ones that supposedly love government. But there's government, and there's government. Liberals like Social Security, Head Start, FEMA, that kind of government. But liberals have always been a little leery, at least since the 1950s, of the FBI, CIA, and the military-industrial complex. Really, any government entity with guns (or recording devices). Any government entity meant to keep us secure. However, the Department of Homeland Security recently issued a report warning of right-wing extremism, and now it's the conservatives who are up in arms. Some have even taken to referring to the report as "McCarthyism". McCarthyism! It's the liberals who are supposed to worry about that! Republicans worrying about McCarthism is a little like Democrats worrying about Ralph Nader (well, Democrats do worry about Nader, but for a whole different reason.)

Finally, the conservatives--well, at least one very famous conservative who collects apologies the way ancient tombs collect dust--have co-opted multiculturalism. Rush Limbaugh recently complained that the Somali pirates recently shot to death in the successful rescue attempt of American merchant captain Richard Phillips were, in fact, "teenage black Muslims". Rush was actually complaining that liberals weren't complaining. And why should liberals complain, when Rush is doing it for them?

So, is there anything left from the Left for the Right to co-opt? Well, there's guilt. Conservatives have been mocking "liberal guilt" forever. Well, here's their big chance to feel guilty themselves. It doesn't have to be whatever it is liberals feel guilty about. It can be something uniquely their own.

Torture, say.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Futures Market

I once went to a psychic fair. I don't really believe in that stuff, but, like Fox Mulder, I want to believe. In anything. God, Zeus, Ouija boards, fortune cookies, eight balls, etc. If you don't believe in anything, then you're just stuck with, and in, a cold, meaningless Universe, constantly seeking succor in soulless materialism. Quite frankly, I'm sick and tired of soulless materialism. At least I am when I get my credit card statement. With that in mind, I set out on my spiritual journey. Holiday Inn. The Cypress Room. 12-8. $10 entrance fee.

I entered the Cypress Room, and sat down with the first available soothsayer. I had expected an exotic looking woman dressed like a gypsy, but this was just a 40sh lady in a blouse and slacks who looked like she could have been a cub scout den mother.

"What can I do for you?" she asked cheerfully.

"I want you to tell my fortune," I replied.

"Palm reading or astrology? I do both."

"Which is more accurate?"

"That all depends which one you believe in more."

"I'm not sure I believe in either."

"Oh, you don't believe? But you should always believe, because if you don't--"

"Give me those two choices again"

"Palm reading or astrology."

"You said palm reading first. I'll go with palms"

"That's an odd way to decide, but OK. It'll cost you $20.

"Um...Is astrology cheaper?"

"Nope. They're both $20"

I pulled $20 out of my wallet, and handed it to her. She took the money, and then my right palm, and studied it carefully.

"Ah, you have one line going across, and then a smaller one running parallel, and then one long slant. See?"

I looked at my palm. Sure enough, I had one line going across, a smaller one running parallel, and one long slant.

"So, what does that mean?" I asked.

"I won't know until I examine your left palm."

So I held out my left palm.

"Ah," she said. "You have two kind of parallel slants that fade away."

I looked at my palm. Sure enough, two kind of parallel slants that faded away.

"And?" I asked.

"Hold on," she replied. From under the table, she pulled up a soft cover book about the half the size of a metropolitan yellow pages. It was titled Bilgewater's Complete Guide to Palm Reading .

"You're consulting a book?" I asked.

"Well, you said you're not sure whether you believe or not. I thought a book might seem more credible."

She lay the book out in front of me so I could read along. She flipped to a chapter or section titled RIGHT PALM, and from there to a subsection titled PARALLEL LINES and from there to a sub-subsection titled LONG SLANT, eventually coming to a drawing that sort of looked like my right palm, except there seemed to be more space between the parallel lines. Anyway, she went to a left palm box on the right hand side. She guided her index finger down until she came to sub-sub-subsection titled FADE AWAY. She turned to the next page, and found a sub-sub-sub subsection titled PARALLEL LINES. Underneath all that was a prediction:

You are due for a surprise.

"What kind of surprise?" I asked.

"Oh, the book won't say. If you knew what it was, it wouldn't be a surprise, would it?"

"Well, when will this surprise happen?"

"The book won't tell you that either. If you knew the exact day and time of the surprise, you'd be expecting it, and there'd be no surprise."

"Can I see that book a second?"

She slid the book toward me.

I looked at the copyright. "This book came out four years ago. How do I know the surprise didn't happen in the last four years?"

She slid the book back toward her, and flipped through a few pages. "OK, it's right here in the introduction. 'Prophecies are not retroactive. Recipient must be fully informed'"

"I don't feel like I'm fully informed."

"Let me see what they mean by 'fully informed'. I'll look in the index."

"I'm surprised you're so dependent on a book. It kind of takes the mysticism out of it."

"Ah! Did you hear what you just said?! You're surprised! The prophecy came true!"

"What are you telling me? That the prediction is the prediction?!"

"As long as you heard the prediction before the prediction came true. There's nothing retroactive going on here!"

At that point I was ready to walk away in anger, except...The prediction had come true. I was surprised. But wait--when she first plunked that book on the table I was a bit surprised, and that was BEFORE the prediction. Of course, after the prediction, I was even more surprised that my surprise WAS the surprise.

"Do degrees of surprise count?" I asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Never mind. You said you do astrology?"

"That will be another $20."

Another $20! I had already spent $10 to get into the fair in the first place, and then $20 on the palm reading. This spiritual journey was costing me more than soulless materialism! Still, when better to take the leap of faith than when you're in the hole? I gave her another $20.

"First off," she said. "When's your birthday?"

"December 15."

"So you're a Sagittarius. What year were you born?"


"What time?"

"I don't know the exact time. It was in the morning."

"Predawn or post dawn?"

"Um, predawn, because I remember my father once telling me he was about to go to bed, when he suddenly had to rush my mother to the hospital."

The fortune teller nodded, reached under the table, and produced a book titled Bilgewater's Complete Guide to Astrology. Again, she laid the book out in front of me to see. She flipped the pages to a section or chapter titled, not surprisingly, SAGITTARIUS , then to a subsection titled DECEMBER, 15, then to a sub-subsection titled 1961, and to a sub-sub-subsection titled MORNING, and finally, a sub-sub-sub-subsection titled PRE-DAWN . Underneath all that was a prediction:

You shall experience sorrow.

"What kind of sorrow?" I asked.

"Oh, the book won't tell you."

"Now, why not? There's no surprise involved!"

"Maybe not. But if you know what the sorrow is, you'll steel yourself against it, and it won't be so sorrowful."

"OK, this is enough psychic phenomenon for me. I'm sorry I even came."

"Ah! Did you hear yourself? You said you were sorry!"


"The word sorry is derived from sorrow. Or sorrow is derived from sorry. One of the two. Sorry-sorrow, sorry-sorrow, sorry-sorrow!"

I guess she had me there. I had come in contact with the supernatural. If only the supernatural hadn't ended as soon as it begun.

"I don't suppose you read tea leaves?" I asked.

"Oh, I left that book at home."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Recommended Reading

Liberal news media? Yeah, right.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Star Search

Of late, I've been thinking quite a bit about Lindsay Lohan and Rich Little.

First Lindsay Lohan. A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across an article about her on The Huffington Post that was actually a link to some gossip site. It seems Ms. Lohan had just had a lover's quarrel with her girlfriend, one Samantha Ronson, and was seen standing outside a nightclub screaming "The bitch left without me!"

OK, that's about as salacious as this post is going to get. Remember, Rich Little's coming up. He's anything but salacious.

To be honest, that Huffington article was just salacious enough that I had to read it twice. I swear I had no idea until right then that Ronson was Lohan's girlfriend. In fact, I had never even heard of Ronson. But here's the real scary part:

I wasn't entirely sure I knew who Lindsay Lohan was!

I mean, I had heard the name before. A couple of years (or perhaps months) back, when Britney Spears and Paris Hilton were getting in all sorts of trouble, Lohan was often lumped in with them, usually as an afterthought. It was often something along the lines of: "Britney and Paris were driving drunk and naked through the streets of LA, swearing at the top of their lungs and making fun of chess nerds. Oh, by the way, Lohan was seen the same night upchucking into an open manhole!"

Like I said, she was an afterthought.

But no more, for I read the Huffington article/link twice, and there was no mention of either Britney Spears or Paris Hilton, thus forcing me to finally confront a question I had long avoided--WHO IS LINDSAY LOHAN?!

I asked an acquaintance, who promptly answered my question with a question:


I answered her question to my question with yet another question:

"Well, why should I?"

Finally, she gave a straight answer.


"Well, if she's famous, how come I'm not exactly sure who she is?"

"Have you tried to find out who she is?"

"Other than this"


You have to make the effort.

So I googled Lindsay Lohan and here's what I found out. She's a model, actress, and pop singer. In the last ten years, she rose to stardom in such Disney remakes as The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday.

How could I not know that? The answer lies with Rich Little.

About a year ago I caught Little on David Letterman. He was the very last guest. Maybe not even that if you define "guest" as one who sits down and talks to Dave. Little just did his stand-up routine, as if he was some unknown getting his big chance on a nationally televised program. It was really kind of a comedown for Little, who was quite famous in his day. Famous mostly for imitating other people quite famous in their day. And my day. By that I mean I recognized every person he imitated. Had I gone into a coma in 1980 and emerged sometime after 2005, I STILL would have recognized every person he imitated. He did Jimmy Stewart, Richard M. Nixon, Carol Channing, Truman Capote, George Burns, Jack Benny, Paul Lynde, Archie Bunker, Ronald Reagan, Walter Cronkite, and...Howard Cosell. Howard Cosell? Man, I hadn't thought about Howard Cosell in years! He also was quite famous in his day, but unlike old movie or music stars, there was little chance of an old sportscaster being rediscovered by a whole new generation. Unless that whole new generation happened to catch Rich Little on David Letterman.

Whatever generation, or generations, were in Dave's studio audience that night, Rich Little's routine did get a lot of laughs. As soon as it was over, a surprisingly pleased Letterman (he does have a reputation as a cynic, you know) walked over, shook Little's hand, and asked, "So, what you been doing with yourself?"

I was less concerned with what Rich Little had been doing with himself lately, and more curious as to why he didn't imitate anyone who had become well known after 1980. According to Wikipedia, Little's about 71. So, maybe he's just an old coot stuck in the past. But why THAT past? And, at any rate, he was 42 at the beginning of the '80s, and 52 by decade's end, and not even eligible for Social Security by the millennium's end, so I didn't think senility was the answer. And remember, the studio audience, most of whom looked younger than 71, got all of the jokes.

I picked up the remote and started channel surfing.

Cowabunga! I had my answer!

You couldn't channel surf before 1980. Well, you could, but it would have been a pretty small wave. Just the three networks, public broadcasting, and UHF. Then, in the '80s, came cable, and, in the '90s, the Internet.

Now, I want you to remember what my acquaintance said: You have to make the effort. Not before 1980. In that three network era, finding out who was famous required no effort at all. You had the luxury of total passivity. The burden lay entirely with the famous person. That's why he or she had to hire publicists, press agents, personal managers, media spokesmen and the like. The non famous just had to sit back in front of the tube and absorb it all, even if they didn't particularly want to.

Here's an example. I have never seen a single episode of Kojak. Yet, by 1976, when I was 14, I somehow knew that it starred a bald-headed actor named Telly Savalas who sucked lollipops and asked, "Who loves ya, baby?" Now, I didn't seek that information out. But, by some peculiar cathode ray osmosis, I just knew.

And it wasn't just TV stars. The small screen was also informed by the big screen. That's how I knew, at a very tender age, that some guy with cotton in his mouth named Marlon Brando played a bad guy named Godfather who wanted to make people offers they couldn't refuse. It's not from sneaking into an R-rated movie at the age of 11 that I knew all that. The film's trailers were on TV, and, more important, everyone from Fred Travelina to Frank Gorshin to, well, Rich Little imitated the guy (It was a few years later that I found out about the OTHER Marlon Brando, the young guy in a motorcycle jacket or torn T-shirt who coulda' been a contender while screaming for Stella.)

You even knew, again without particularly wanting or needing to, about public figures outside of entertainment. The President, obviously. But how about Henry Kissinger? Why is it exactly that he is, or was, a more famous Secretary of State than either Dean Rusk, who served under LBJ, or Cyrus Vance, who served under Jimmy Carter? Well, I suppose you could say, "Henry Kissinger was the architect of the policy of rapprochement with China blah, blah, blah...", but I think his real claim to fame was his weird accent, mimicked by everyone from Robin Williams to John Belushi to, well, Rich Little.

But that's now all in the past. With hundreds of networks and web sites and whatever it is people Twitter on, the burden has shifted from the Lindsay Lohans of the world to us, the non-famous. We no longer have the luxury of being passive. We have to make the effort.

Hmm. Maybe I should hire a publicist.