Some Day A Real Rain Will Come: What Travis Bickle Can –And Cannot– Tell Us About Tucson (Revisited)

taxi-driver

Voices In Our Heads

You talking to me?

It is the pivotal scene in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and it remains one of the seminal moments in movie history. Not so much because of its improvisational nature, or the uncanny way Robert De Niro (playing the alienated and ultimately violent Travis Bickle) disappears into this character, managing to seem invisible and menacing all at once. Most important, this short scene echoes a question that all of us, to a certain extent, ask the world every day.

“Are you talking to me?” we ask, and the tone may be inquisitive, rhetorical or defiant. It may be those and many other things. Mostly, as we interact in a mechanized, sped-up and increasingly unreal reality, we want to make sure people know we are there. We use our voices, our eyes, our frowns or smiles, our horns, our phones, our e-mail, our clothes and a thousand unspoken thoughts to affirm that our presence does not go entirely unnoticed.

In a way, it was easier a few decades ago, around the time Taxi Driver (1976) was released. There was no Internet, no texting, no cell phones, no cable TV, no electronic anything. If you needed to reach out and touch someone, you had to do just that. It’s possible that with the proliferation of devices and toys, in our information-overload moment (which, as it relates to art, content and information, is definitely not a negative thing), we are lonelier than ever before. This ground has been well-covered and there are compelling arguments on either side. On one hand, it can be conjectured that by remaining indoors, behind a glowing screen, we’ve effectively cut ourselves off from old-fashioned interaction and our communication—however ceaseless—lacks intimacy and engagement. On the other hand, people who in another era (including this one) may be best described as socially awkward (due to a variety of societal and self-imposed factors) have myriad opportunities to connect that simply did not exist even ten-to-fifteen years ago.

And the above observations almost entirely relate to action as opposed to reaction. It’s difficult to accurately gauge precisely how a constant bombardment of content, opinions and steadily louder voices is affecting our perception. Not too long ago it was a common joke to talk about (either in celebratory or castigating tones) how we had one hundred channels to choose from via cable TV. Now we have hundreds of channels, as well as streaming video, social media, blogs, and a dedicated website for every news channel, program and talking head in the world. And all of these voices are trying to tell, or sell, us something. Always urgently, never off message, constantly competing with all the other noise to get inside our heads and influence our opinions in one way or another.

 

Who Owns The American Dream?

You’re in a hell, and you’re gonna’ die in a hell like the rest of them.

It was horrifying enough when we had Travis Bickle types who, for their various reasons, sought violent ends to make some type of statement or try and quell that voice screeching non-stop in their ears, like a demented wasps’ nest. Taxi Driver, though wrongly or at least simplistically described by too many as the story of a psychopath, is very much a cautionary tale about what can happen when an alienated citizen has no one to talk to. The fact that it’s set in one of the busiest cities in the world is less ironic than tragic: anyone who has spent time in a bustling urban environment can confirm that it’s sometimes—if not often—the case that one can feel most alone when surrounded by millions of people who don’t know or care about them.

Loneliness, alienation and even violence are sufficiently commonplace as to be unremarkable facets of American existence: watch the news or consider your own life story. This certainly holds true in any society, particularly our plugged in but often disconnected post-millennial era. It seems safe to suggest these conditions are most rampant and profound in the United States. There are countless reasons and/or symptoms, and they are rooted more in myth than reality. For instance, while America does not have the rigid and stratified class systems that still plague Europe, we do have a collective addiction to the white-washed fantasy also known as the American Dream.

Lest that sound like a facile dismissal of a very complicated and, in many ways useful illusion, there are undeniably certain aspects of the American Dream parable that are provable and worthwhile. The ceaseless influx of grateful immigrants is sufficient testament to the inherent promise of an ostensibly free society. The same promise luring men and women to illegally enter our country is the same impulse that served as a siren song for Irish, Italian and other immigration movements through the 19th and 20th centuries. And yet, this speaks to the dream of America itself more than what we call the American Dream. Being able to do something is altogether different from being able to do anything. Most of these immigrants (then, now) are obliged to work excruciating hours doing horrific work at woeful wages, and the only thing making it tolerable is that it is (usually) better than the alternative.

The proposition that any of us, regardless of who we are and whatever our initial station in life can, with the correct combination of industry, initiative and luck, ascend to a status of wealth festers as one of the more powerful, if poisonous fictions our country has produced. More, it is not merely promulgated but actively inculcated: history books and sentimental movies tend to tout the exceedingly rare rags-to-riches allegory while ignoring, denying or conveniently dismissing the typical reality, which is that the working poor are likely to remain exactly where they are. In fact, as we’ve seen in the last few decades, this is more—not less—the case in a political and cultural system that has steadily ensured that those who have more will get more, usually directly at the expense of those who have little.

This dichotomy between what we see on screens or inside magazines is not new, but commercials, ads and websites telling us how can be or who we should be are incalculably more prevalent and powerful in today’s world. Thus, the same types of alienating forces that the lonely, angry and outcast citizens have historically been subject to are alarmingly more intense in a 24/7 info-tainment unreality. Which brings us to the Republicans in general and the Tea Party in particular. The GOP has auto-piloted the Horatio Alger story to the extent that counties receiving the most federal aid will lash out most indignantly (if ignorantly) about the perils of “big government”. Indeed, generation after generation illustrates that those who benefit most from higher taxes (and who have the least likelihood of ascending to the upper tax brackets) are consistently fanatical about keeping taxes low for those who earn the most. There are an unfortunate number of tragedies we commit as Americans, but this is one of the more profound examples.

Someday A Real Rain Will Come…

Loneliness has followed me my whole life…there’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.

One of the more devastatingly poignant (or poignantly devastating) scenes in Taxi Driver occurs when Travis sits, silently in his apartment, watching the attractive and fashionable folks dancing on TV. Alone in his sweltering studio walk-up, the look on his face—at once longing, frustrated and confused—reveals the hastening recognition that he will never attain the easy, if superficial, security he sees on the screen. With subtlety and lack of sentimentality (the script is actually somewhat slight, which only underscores the astonishing work De Niro turns in), we see that Bickle is the ultimate loner, an underground entity who is as much insect as human, scurrying in and out of his pointless and preordained routine.

Add to this the fact that he is a veteran, perhaps the most overlooked, yet prescient touch of the film (flash forward thirty-plus years to see how we treat our soldiers when they return from the wars we ask them to fight; little coincidence that it’s the same party that salutes the flag most tearfully who are quickest to slash and burn the programs designed to provide physical—and especially mental—assistance). The result of these circumstances and lack of choices provide us, circa 1976, with a character sketch of someone who, if one thing leads to the next, might opt for a more sociopathic solution to his problems. Importantly, Bickle is not revealed as a man destined to snap; while he is far from blameless for his predicament, he is very much a casualty of the world (the real one and the manufactured one) that he can’t master but must exist in. Therefore when he decides “my whole life is pointed in one direction…there never has been any choice for me”, it is both a confession and a one-man verdict, his indictment against this world.

There is some irony, looking back on the candidate he turns his grim attention toward: Palantine, running under the campaign slogan “We Are The People”, seems to espouse a very optimistic (if clichéd) message. (Further irony in that this notion of a collective synergy only amplifies Bickle’s isolation.) Imagine all of these elements contributing to Bickle’s disintegration placed in the context of our contemporary culture, with venom being spewed 24/7 by charlatans and circus clowns like Beck, O’Riley and Palin. Imagine Travis Bickle watching Fox News each day. If you can, you may begin to see why the concern and loathing of the Tea Party movement had much more to do with what happened this week in Arizona and little to do with comically misspelled signs and morons telling the government to stay out of their Medicare.

Travis gets his guns after a frightening encounter in his cab (and having heard about the violence fellow drivers have suffered). Only after he feels himself finally out of options does he contemplate using his gun on an innocent person (and later, people). Even in 1976, this was sufficiently compelling commentary on the ease with which Americans get access to guns. Today, appallingly, gun laws are looser than ever (and—shocker!—one political party defends this madness with the same tenacity they bring to cutting taxes and eliminating federal aid programs) and instead of a lone madman with one round, we have the sickening spectacle of semi-automatic weapons. Flash forward to Columbine, Virginia Tech and Tucson.

It slowly comes into focus: it is easier, now, for more people (except perhaps the politicians and mainstream media, the two most culpable parties) to understand the calculus that made this weekend’s tragedy predictable and, perhaps, inevitable. There are and—as ass-covering TV talking heads remind us—always will be lunatics in our midst who will kill and maim others and there is little we can do (other than disarm them). That said, it is way too easy to suggest this was an ambivalent act with random victims: in the same state the cretinous Sarah Palin put gun-sights on in a map of “targets”. It’s not necessary to pile on Palin, no matter how much blood she has on her carefully manicured hands; it is every bit the supine and opportunistic media’s fault, since they have breathlessly provided this imbecile with a public platform every step of the way. Special disgust, certainly, must be reserved for the reprehensible propaganda machine at Fox News: that so many Americans receive their “information” (and/or marching orders) from these scavengers debases us all.

And so, while the GOP gleefully fed the ill-conceived ire of the Tea Party faithful, they continued to double down on the very things that have caused so many of these folks to feel genuine hardship. It would almost be comical, except for the immorality and the guns. If someone in a red (or blue) state wants to endorse candidates who blithely promise to increase the collective misery, one can only laugh—unless one can’t help but cry. But when we see these candidates urging “Second Amendment remedies”, we need not wring our hands and ask how we all share the blame. No, the bulk of the blame can easily be laid at the spit-shined shoes of the pied pipers leading these rats to the water’s edge. That, an older and/or more cynical observer might suggest, has always been the case. Except now these rats are packing heat and they don’t mind taking out as many of us as they can, smiling as they do it.

This essay originally appeared in PopMatters on 1/26/11 and is now in Murphy’s Law, Vol. One –available now.

Share

Some Day A Real Rain Will Come: What Travis Bickle Can –And Cannot– Tell Us About Tucson (Revisited)

Voices In Our Heads

You talking to me?

It is the pivotal scene in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and it remains one of the seminal moments in movie history. Not so much because of its improvisational nature, or the uncanny way Robert De Niro (playing the alienated and ultimately violent Travis Bickle) disappears into this character, managing to seem invisible and menacing all at once. Most important, this short scene echoes a question that all of us, to a certain extent, ask the world every day.

“Are you talking to me?” we ask, and the tone may be inquisitive, rhetorical or defiant. It may be those and many other things. Mostly, as we interact in a mechanized, sped-up and increasingly unreal reality, we want to make sure people know we are there. We use our voices, our eyes, our frowns or smiles, our horns, our phones, our e-mail, our clothes and a thousand unspoken thoughts to affirm that our presence does not go entirely unnoticed.

In a way, it was easier a few decades ago, around the time Taxi Driver (1976) was released. There was no Internet, no texting, no cell phones, no cable TV, no electronic anything. If you needed to reach out and touch someone, you had to do just that. It’s possible that with the proliferation of devices and toys, in our information-overload moment (which, as it relates to art, content and information, is definitely not a negative thing), we are lonelier than ever before. This ground has been well-covered and there are compelling arguments on either side. On one hand, it can be conjectured that by remaining indoors, behind a glowing screen, we’ve effectively cut ourselves off from old-fashioned interaction and our communication—however ceaseless—lacks intimacy and engagement. On the other hand, people who in another era (including this one) may be best described as socially awkward (due to a variety of societal and self-imposed factors) have myriad opportunities to connect that simply did not exist even ten-to-fifteen years ago.

And the above observations almost entirely relate to action as opposed to reaction. It’s difficult to accurately gauge precisely how a constant bombardment of content, opinions and steadily louder voices is affecting our perception. Not too long ago it was a common joke to talk about (either in celebratory or castigating tones) how we had one hundred channels to choose from via cable TV. Now we have hundreds of channels, as well as streaming video, social media, blogs, and a dedicated website for every news channel, program and talking head in the world. And all of these voices are trying to tell, or sell, us something. Always urgently, never off message, constantly competing with all the other noise to get inside our heads and influence our opinions in one way or another.

 

Who Owns The American Dream?

You’re in a hell, and you’re gonna’ die in a hell like the rest of them.

It was horrifying enough when we had Travis Bickle types who, for their various reasons, sought violent ends to make some type of statement or try and quell that voice screeching non-stop in their ears, like a demented wasps’ nest. Taxi Driver, though wrongly or at least simplistically described by too many as the story of a psychopath, is very much a cautionary tale about what can happen when an alienated citizen has no one to talk to. The fact that it’s set in one of the busiest cities in the world is less ironic than tragic: anyone who has spent time in a bustling urban environment can confirm that it’s sometimes—if not often—the case that one can feel most alone when surrounded by millions of people who don’t know or care about them.

Loneliness, alienation and even violence are sufficiently commonplace as to be unremarkable facets of American existence: watch the news or consider your own life story. This certainly holds true in any society, particularly our plugged in but often disconnected post-millennial era. It seems safe to suggest these conditions are most rampant and profound in the United States. There are countless reasons and/or symptoms, and they are rooted more in myth than reality. For instance, while America does not have the rigid and stratified class systems that still plague Europe, we do have a collective addiction to the white-washed fantasy also known as the American Dream.

Lest that sound like a facile dismissal of a very complicated and, in many ways useful illusion, there are undeniably certain aspects of the American Dream parable that are provable and worthwhile. The ceaseless influx of grateful immigrants is sufficient testament to the inherent promise of an ostensibly free society. The same promise luring men and women to illegally enter our country is the same impulse that served as a siren song for Irish, Italian and other immigration movements through the 19th and 20th centuries. And yet, this speaks to the dream of America itself more than what we call the American Dream. Being able to do something is altogether different from being able to do anything. Most of these immigrants (then, now) are obliged to work excruciating hours doing horrific work at woeful wages, and the only thing making it tolerable is that it is (usually) better than the alternative.

The proposition that any of us, regardless of who we are and whatever our initial station in life can, with the correct combination of industry, initiative and luck, ascend to a status of wealth festers as one of the more powerful, if poisonous fictions our country has produced. More, it is not merely promulgated but actively inculcated: history books and sentimental movies tend to tout the exceedingly rare rags-to-riches allegory while ignoring, denying or conveniently dismissing the typical reality, which is that the working poor are likely to remain exactly where they are. In fact, as we’ve seen in the last few decades, this is more—not less—the case in a political and cultural system that has steadily ensured that those who have more will get more, usually directly at the expense of those who have little.

This dichotomy between what we see on screens or inside magazines is not new, but commercials, ads and websites telling us how can be or who we should be are incalculably more prevalent and powerful in today’s world. Thus, the same types of alienating forces that the lonely, angry and outcast citizens have historically been subject to are alarmingly more intense in a 24/7 info-tainment unreality. Which brings us to the Republicans in general and the Tea Party in particular. The GOP has auto-piloted the Horatio Alger story to the extent that counties receiving the most federal aid will lash out most indignantly (if ignorantly) about the perils of “big government”. Indeed, generation after generation illustrates that those who benefit most from higher taxes (and who have the least likelihood of ascending to the upper tax brackets) are consistently fanatical about keeping taxes low for those who earn the most. There are an unfortunate number of tragedies we commit as Americans, but this is one of the more profound examples.

Someday A Real Rain Will Come…

Loneliness has followed me my whole life…there’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.

One of the more devastatingly poignant (or poignantly devastating) scenes in Taxi Driver occurs when Travis sits, silently in his apartment, watching the attractive and fashionable folks dancing on TV. Alone in his sweltering studio walk-up, the look on his face—at once longing, frustrated and confused—reveals the hastening recognition that he will never attain the easy, if superficial, security he sees on the screen. With subtlety and lack of sentimentality (the script is actually somewhat slight, which only underscores the astonishing work De Niro turns in), we see that Bickle is the ultimate loner, an underground entity who is as much insect as human, scurrying in and out of his pointless and preordained routine.

Add to this the fact that he is a veteran, perhaps the most overlooked, yet prescient touch of the film (flash forward thirty-plus years to see how we treat our soldiers when they return from the wars we ask them to fight; little coincidence that it’s the same party that salutes the flag most tearfully who are quickest to slash and burn the programs designed to provide physical—and especially mental—assistance). The result of these circumstances and lack of choices provide us, circa 1976, with a character sketch of someone who, if one thing leads to the next, might opt for a more sociopathic solution to his problems. Importantly, Bickle is not revealed as a man destined to snap; while he is far from blameless for his predicament, he is very much a casualty of the world (the real one and the manufactured one) that he can’t master but must exist in. Therefore when he decides “my whole life is pointed in one direction…there never has been any choice for me”, it is both a confession and a one-man verdict, his indictment against this world.

There is some irony, looking back on the candidate he turns his grim attention toward: Palantine, running under the campaign slogan “We Are The People”, seems to espouse a very optimistic (if clichéd) message. (Further irony in that this notion of a collective synergy only amplifies Bickle’s isolation.) Imagine all of these elements contributing to Bickle’s disintegration placed in the context of our contemporary culture, with venom being spewed 24/7 by charlatans and circus clowns like Beck, O’Riley and Palin. Imagine Travis Bickle watching Fox News each day. If you can, you may begin to see why the concern and loathing of the Tea Party movement had much more to do with what happened this week in Arizona and little to do with comically misspelled signs and morons telling the government to stay out of their Medicare.

Travis gets his guns after a frightening encounter in his cab (and having heard about the violence fellow drivers have suffered). Only after he feels himself finally out of options does he contemplate using his gun on an innocent person (and later, people). Even in 1976, this was sufficiently compelling commentary on the ease with which Americans get access to guns. Today, appallingly, gun laws are looser than ever (and—shocker!—one political party defends this madness with the same tenacity they bring to cutting taxes and eliminating federal aid programs) and instead of a lone madman with one round, we have the sickening spectacle of semi-automatic weapons. Flash forward to Columbine, Virginia Tech and Tucson.

It slowly comes into focus: it is easier, now, for more people (except perhaps the politicians and mainstream media, the two most culpable parties) to understand the calculus that made this weekend’s tragedy predictable and, perhaps, inevitable. There are and—as ass-covering TV talking heads remind us—always will be lunatics in our midst who will kill and maim others and there is little we can do (other than disarm them). That said, it is way too easy to suggest this was an ambivalent act with random victims: in the same state the cretinous Sarah Palin put gun-sights on in a map of “targets”. It’s not necessary to pile on Palin, no matter how much blood she has on her carefully manicured hands; it is every bit the supine and opportunistic media’s fault, since they have breathlessly provided this imbecile with a public platform every step of the way. Special disgust, certainly, must be reserved for the reprehensible propaganda machine at Fox News: that so many Americans receive their “information” (and/or marching orders) from these scavengers debases us all.

And so, while the GOP gleefully fed the ill-conceived ire of the Tea Party faithful, they continued to double down on the very things that have caused so many of these folks to feel genuine hardship. It would almost be comical, except for the immorality and the guns. If someone in a red (or blue) state wants to endorse candidates who blithely promise to increase the collective misery, one can only laugh—unless one can’t help but cry. But when we see these candidates urging “Second Amendment remedies”, we need not wring our hands and ask how we all share the blame. No, the bulk of the blame can easily be laid at the spit-shined shoes of the pied pipers leading these rats to the water’s edge. That, an older and/or more cynical observer might suggest, has always been the case. Except now these rats are packing heat and they don’t mind taking out as many of us as they can, smiling as they do it.

Share

Some Day A Real Rain Will Come: What Travis Bickle Can –And Cannot– Tell Us About Tucson

Voices In Our Heads

You talking to me?

It is the pivotal scene in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and it remains one of the seminal moments in movie history. Not so much because of its improvisational nature, or the uncanny way Robert De Niro (playing the alienated and ultimately violent Travis Bickle) disappears into this character, managing to seem invisible and menacing all at once. Most important, this short scene echoes a question that all of us, to a certain extent, ask the world every day.

“Are you talking to me?” we ask, and the tone may be inquisitive, rhetorical or defiant. It may be those and many other things. Mostly, as we interact in a mechanized, sped-up and increasingly unreal reality, we want to make sure people know we are there. We use our voices, our eyes, our frowns or smiles, our horns, our phones, our e-mail, our clothes and a thousand unspoken thoughts to affirm that our presence does not go entirely unnoticed.

In a way, it was easier a few decades ago, around the time Taxi Driver (1976) was released. There was no Internet, no texting, no cell phones, no cable TV, no electronic anything. If you needed to reach out and touch someone, you had to do just that. It’s possible that with the proliferation of devices and toys, in our information-overload moment (which, as it relates to art, content and information, is definitely not a negative thing), we are lonelier than ever before. This ground has been well-covered and there are compelling arguments on either side. On one hand, it can be conjectured that by remaining indoors, behind a glowing screen, we’ve effectively cut ourselves off from old-fashioned interaction and our communication—however ceaseless—lacks intimacy and engagement. On the other hand, people who in another era (including this one) may be best described as socially awkward (due to a variety of societal and self-imposed factors) have myriad opportunities to connect that simply did not exist even ten-to-fifteen years ago.

And the above observations almost entirely relate to action as opposed to reaction. It’s difficult to accurately gauge precisely how a constant bombardment of content, opinions and steadily louder voices is affecting our perception. Not too long ago it was a common joke to talk about (either in celebratory or castigating tones) how we had one hundred channels to choose from via cable TV. Now we have hundreds of channels, as well as streaming video, social media, blogs, and a dedicated website for every news channel, program and talking head in the world. And all of these voices are trying to tell, or sell, us something. Always urgently, never off message, constantly competing with all the other noise to get inside our heads and influence our opinions in one way or another.

Who Owns The American Dream?

You’re in a hell, and you’re gonna’ die in a hell like the rest of them.

It was horrifying enough when we had Travis Bickle types who, for their various reasons, sought violent ends to make some type of statement or try and quell that voice screeching non-stop in their ears, like a demented wasps’ nest. Taxi Driver, though wrongly or at least simplistically described by too many as the story of a psychopath, is very much a cautionary tale about what can happen when an alienated citizen has no one to talk to. The fact that it’s set in one of the busiest cities in the world is less ironic than tragic: anyone who has spent time in a bustling urban environment can confirm that it’s sometimes—if not often—the case that one can feel most alone when surrounded by millions of people who don’t know or care about them.

Loneliness, alienation and even violence are sufficiently commonplace as to be unremarkable facets of American existence: watch the news or consider your own life story. This certainly holds true in any society, particularly our plugged in but often disconnected post-millennial era. It seems safe to suggest these conditions are most rampant and profound in the United States. There are countless reasons and/or symptoms, and they are rooted more in myth than reality. For instance, while America does not have the rigid and stratified class systems that still plague Europe, we do have a collective addiction to the white-washed fantasy also known as the American Dream.

Lest that sound like a facile dismissal of a very complicated and, in many ways useful illusion, there are undeniably certain aspects of the American Dream parable that are provable and worthwhile. The ceaseless influx of grateful immigrants is sufficient testament to the inherent promise of an ostensibly free society. The same promise luring men and women to illegally enter our country is the same impulse that served as a siren song for Irish, Italian and other immigration movements through the 19th and 20th centuries. And yet, this speaks to the dream of America itself more than what we call the American Dream. Being able to do something is altogether different from being able to do anything. Most of these immigrants (then, now) are obliged to work excruciating hours doing horrific work at woeful wages, and the only thing making it tolerable is that it is (usually) better than the alternative.

The proposition that any of us, regardless of who we are and whatever our initial station in life can, with the correct combination of industry, initiative and luck, ascend to a status of wealth festers as one of the more powerful, if poisonous fictions our country has produced. More, it is not merely promulgated but actively inculcated: history books and sentimental movies tend to tout the exceedingly rare rags-to-riches allegory while ignoring, denying or conveniently dismissing the typical reality, which is that the working poor are likely to remain exactly where they are. In fact, as we’ve seen in the last few decades, this is more—not less—the case in a political and cultural system that has steadily ensured that those who have more will get more, usually directly at the expense of those who have little.

This dichotomy between what we see on screens or inside magazines is not new, but commercials, ads and websites telling us how can be or who we should be are incalculably more prevalent and powerful in today’s world. Thus, the same types of alienating forces that the lonely, angry and outcast citizens have historically been subject to are alarmingly more intense in a 24/7 info-tainment unreality. Which brings us to the Republicans in general and the Tea Party in particular. The GOP has auto-piloted the Horatio Alger story to the extent that counties receiving the most federal aid will lash out most indignantly (if ignorantly) about the perils of “big government”. Indeed, generation after generation illustrates that those who benefit most from higher taxes (and who have the least likelihood of ascending to the upper tax brackets) are consistently fanatical about keeping taxes low for those who earn the most. There are an unfortunate number of tragedies we commit as Americans, but this is one of the more profound examples.

Someday A Real Rain Will Come…

Loneliness has followed me my whole life…there’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.

One of the more devastatingly poignant (or poignantly devastating) scenes in Taxi Driver occurs when Travis sits, silently in his apartment, watching the attractive and fashionable folks dancing on TV. Alone in his sweltering studio walk-up, the look on his face—at once longing, frustrated and confused—reveals the hastening recognition that he will never attain the easy, if superficial, security he sees on the screen. With subtlety and lack of sentimentality (the script is actually somewhat slight, which only underscores the astonishing work De Niro turns in), we see that Bickle is the ultimate loner, an underground entity who is as much insect as human, scurrying in and out of his pointless and preordained routine.

Add to this the fact that he is a veteran, perhaps the most overlooked, yet prescient touch of the film (flash forward thirty-plus years to see how we treat our soldiers when they return from the wars we ask them to fight; little coincidence that it’s the same party that salutes the flag most tearfully who are quickest to slash and burn the programs designed to provide physical—and especially mental—assistance). The result of these circumstances and lack of choices provide us, circa 1976, with a character sketch of someone who, if one thing leads to the next, might opt for a more sociopathic solution to his problems. Importantly, Bickle is not revealed as a man destined to snap; while he is far from blameless for his predicament, he is very much a casualty of the world (the real one and the manufactured one) that he can’t master but must exist in. Therefore when he decides “my whole life is pointed in one direction…there never has been any choice for me”, it is both a confession and a one-man verdict, his indictment against this world.

There is some irony, looking back on the candidate he turns his grim attention toward: Palantine, running under the campaign slogan “We Are The People”, seems to espouse a very optimistic (if clichéd) message. (Further irony in that this notion of a collective synergy only amplifies Bickle’s isolation.) Imagine all of these elements contributing to Bickle’s disintegration placed in the context of our contemporary culture, with venom being spewed 24/7 by charlatans and circus clowns like Beck, O’Riley and Palin. Imagine Travis Bickle watching Fox News each day. If you can, you may begin to see why the concern and loathing of the Tea Party movement had much more to do with what happened this week in Arizona and little to do with comically misspelled signs and morons telling the government to stay out of their Medicare.

Travis gets his guns after a frightening encounter in his cab (and having heard about the violence fellow drivers have suffered). Only after he feels himself finally out of options does he contemplate using his gun on an innocent person (and later, people). Even in 1976, this was sufficiently compelling commentary on the ease with which Americans get access to guns. Today, appallingly, gun laws are looser than ever (and—shocker!—one political party defends this madness with the same tenacity they bring to cutting taxes and eliminating federal aid programs) and instead of a lone madman with one round, we have the sickening spectacle of semi-automatic weapons. Flash forward to Columbine, Virginia Tech and Tucson.

It slowly comes into focus: it is easier, now, for more people (except perhaps the politicians and mainstream media, the two most culpable parties) to understand the calculus that made this weekend’s tragedy predictable and, perhaps, inevitable. There are and—as ass-covering TV talking heads remind us—always will be lunatics in our midst who will kill and maim others and there is little we can do (other than disarm them). That said, it is way too easy to suggest this was an ambivalent act with random victims: in the same state the cretinous Sarah Palin put gun-sights on in a map of “targets”. It’s not necessary to pile on Palin, no matter how much blood she has on her carefully manicured hands; it is every bit the supine and opportunistic media’s fault, since they have breathlessly provided this imbecile with a public platform every step of the way. Special disgust, certainly, must be reserved for the reprehensible propaganda machine at Fox News: that so many Americans receive their “information” (and/or marching orders) from these scavengers debases us all.

And so, while the GOP gleefully fed the ill-conceived ire of the Tea Party faithful, they continued to double down on the very things that have caused so many of these folks to feel genuine hardship. It would almost be comical, except for the immorality and the guns. If someone in a red (or blue) state wants to endorse candidates who blithely promise to increase the collective misery, one can only laugh—unless one can’t help but cry. But when we see these candidates urging “Second Amendment remedies”, we need not wring our hands and ask how we all share the blame. No, the bulk of the blame can easily be laid at the spit-shined shoes of the pied pipers leading these rats to the water’s edge. That, an older and/or more cynical observer might suggest, has always been the case. Except now these rats are packing heat and they don’t mind taking out as many of us as they can, smiling as they do it.

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One Nation Under A Groove or, Burn, Baby! BURN!

Another great moment in American douchebaggery!

Despite the fact that we’re on somewhat of a losing streak in recent years (thanks, Wall Street!), one of the reasons America remains a place so many people want to live is that we do so many things so very well. That whole Constitution thing is pretty swell. The Bill of Rights turned out to be pretty righteous, wouldn’t you agree? And despite our occasional internecine struggles, it’s mostly been a family affair; we are all in this together. We’ve kept it real as one nation under a groove: the black, the white, the red and the brown, the purple and yellow, as that statesman and patriot Wonder Mike once put it.

We keep it real, which isn’t to say that we are not immune from being real wrong. Our mistakes are indelible stains on our history, no matter how hard some of us endeavor to deny or conceal them.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, eh?

In February, 1942, Executive Order 9066 was issued. That is, the infamous presidential/executive order that, validated by America’s state of war, gave a president (FDR) the power to consign various ethnic groups (see: the Japanese) to internment camps. Not too coincidentally, the individuals targeted happened to be Americans belonging to the ancestry the U.S. was concurrently fighting in WW II (the aforementioned Japanese, as well as Germans and Italians). Over 100,000 Japanese-Americans were spirited away to these camps. Not unlike the concentration camps, one thinks about this period in history and thinks (hopes?) it was far back in our past. Considering the 20th Century was already half-over puts it in immediate, and painful, perspective. About sixty years ago, millions of Jews were being slaughtered in Germany and tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans were being forcibly sent to internment camps. Less than two generations. On good days, we look at this and say “how could it have happened?”. On other days, we look at Guantanamo and it’s difficult to feel too proud of the progress we’ve supposedly made. 

 

This picture has haunted me ever since I first saw it, over a decade ago.

A Japanese family, en route to an internment camp. Neither defiant nor indignant (they could not afford to be), they are quite obviously eager to illustrate their solidarity. Acquiescence. Approbation. The miniature American flags, the victory signs, the smiles. The fear behind those forced gestures. (Not forced because they were fake, but because they were obligatory; imperative as the bare minimum to ensure that the worst was not automatically assumed.) Look closely at how the father sets the tone: he understands the score. Smile, this is your life. The kids are either too old to protest (the older daughter) or too young to fake it (the son). But it’s the young girl in the middle (middle of the picture, middle child in the family) that conveys the intolerable hypocrisy and inhumanity of the situation: she is the only one without a smile on her face or a flag in her hand. She is old enough to understand, but young enough to be understandably petulant about her circumstances. No matter her age, she knows this unwilling exodus is unnatural, unacceptable. And her face (more than a million subsequent words decrying the conditions that led to this embarrassing moment in U.S. history) is able to convey the very human cost of counterproductive policies begat by hysteria.

Never again, one thinks, looking at that picture. It was unfortunate, but that was half a century ago, we’ve evolved into e-mail and instant communication across the globe, certainly we shan’t act that rashly again. Surely we’ve seen enough of this appalling history to ensure that it’s never repeated. Obviously we have made amends and are stronger, as a nation, for what we commissioned in the name of national security. Clearly we could never dive into the deep end again, indulging the uglier side of our collective sensibility. Fortunately we’ve come a long way since the dark ages of our (parents’) infancy.

Haven’t we…

Which brings us to this Quran burning crusade.

Fortunately, it looks like even the most reprehensible ringleaders of anti-Muslim sentiment (see: Sarah Palin) have declared this activity an “unnecessary provocation.” Which begs the question: how far over the edge (and/or desperate for an audience –and cash) are you if you manage to make Sarah Palin sound like a sane voice of restraint? We’ll have plenty of politicians on both side of ideological fence taking an opportunity to talk tough (into cameras) and remind us about American values which, apparently, don’t extend to mosques (that aren’t really mosques) being constructed on Ground Zero (even though it’s not really at Ground Zero).

Personally, I’m grateful to this “pastor” and the cretins who will put fire to paper on 9/11 in order to prove a point. Because, unbeknownst to these imbeciles, the point they are making is that, as those commercials used to say, a mind is a terrible thing to waste. And while we can’t (or shouldn’t) waste too much time trying to convert the willfully ignorant to enlightenment, we can (and should) keep a wary eye on these very un-American activities. How ironic, by the way, is that? As ever, the people most vocal (and ostensibly concerned) about conduct contrary to America know the least about our history, including the intent of those immigrants (!) who wrote the documents they believe they are defending. If you want to strain the metaphor, it might not be unreasonable to suggest that when anyone burns another person’s bible, they are indeed setting ablaze our Constitution.

These folks, who, we know roam our nation in greater numbers than we might have imagined, (and are so easily whipped into a frenzy by their masters), are more than a little behind the evolutionary curve. While Fox News gets their Fascist on, and Rush gorges his fat ass on profitable cynicism, these has-beens and never-will-be’s (the bigots, the uneducated, the willfully ignorant, the impotent imbeciles, as well as the doctors, lawyers, teachers and parents) find the voice that never answers them in church, or at the office, or in their cars, or in the bedroom or –worst of all– in their own dark and empty heads when the lights go out.

One on hand, you have to laugh at these simpletons who want to “bring our country back”, meaning the good old days when blacks and women knew their place, homosexuals dared not show their faces in public and the bible held firmer sway over a greater portion of the populace. Presumably these same tea baggers  don’t want to also bring back cars without air conditioning and houses without running water, smallpox without vaccine and surgery without anesthetics and a few dozen other of our least favorite things from a time when the world was a whiter shade of pale.

And it’s not at all difficult to connect the dots between the type of magical thinking employed by the bible thumpers and the Ayn Rand-obsessed Libertarian lunatics (how perfect –and appalling– a commentary on the cultural Koyaanisqatsi we are currently struggling through that the son of the Libertarians’ savior is named after the most humorless and phlegmatic popular novelist of the 20th Century. Painfully popular. And imperceptive. (And influential. Right Alan? Atlas shrugged; Jesus wept.) Indeed, the only redeeming thing I can think about Ayn Rand is that she partially inspired one of Rush’s great early albums.

The part that is not funny, of course, is that this is still happening on our watch. As a nation we are deciding what we tolerate and what we will stomach. It’s useful to know how much work is left to be done, and bigots burning bibles is a reminder that we need to get busy. The last few months leave little question that it will be harder (now, later) to whitewash –pun intended– these regrettable instances. They have been scattered through American history like a resilient rash: those times we remained idle while darker hearts strangled our collective souls.

Well, what are you going to do about it, Whitey?

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William, It Was Really Nothing or, The Faux Pi of Sarah Palin

Memo to Sarah Palin: when Lady Macbeth cries “Out, damn’d spot!” she is not talking to her dalmation.

I found Sarah Palin’s latest tearjerker invoking William Shakespeare particularly interesting on two levels (and, I say tearjerker in the sense that her indefatigable self-promotion combines with illimitable delusion to produce these types of comments, which at once induce laughter unto tears which then prompts one to weep for our future). First, it was, of course, The Bard who wrote the following lines, which demand to be quoted in full for a variety of obvious reasons:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

I know, right? (This is life imitating art, super-sized.) But second, it is more than a little appropriate to consider that the other great William (Faulkner, that is) utilized this poetry for the title of one of the towering literary achievements of the last century, The Sound and the Fury. It is amusing (aside from the audacity) that Palin likens her creative license (or that of the semi-literate cadre of ghostwriters who Tweet for her) with masters of the form who on occasion changed the language. The difference, aside from the fact that they could actually speak the language with no small degree of proficiency, is that for artistic folks who innovate and advance our template for communicating or creating, one must already have mastered the fundamentals. This is demonstrably true of Slick Willy (Shakespeare) just as it is true of will.i.am (Faulkner), as it is true of Salvador Dali or Ornette Coleman. Can you dig it?

Sarah Palin is in what seems to be a historically unique position in that the more she embarrasses herself, the better it turns out to be for her career. And bank account. Sarah Palin is hated and loved in equal measure, always a good niche market. And she is popular, to a large extent, because her legion of dimwitted acolytes find, in her looks, attitudes, pronouncements and propensity for faux pas (faux pi?), a reinforcement of many things they want and need to believe. She is popular the same way boy-band pop stars are popular: she sells copy because the things that come out of her mouth are the things that a great many people want to hear. There is a formula for insipid pop music and there is a formula for pseudo-populist hucksterism.

What is different about Palin—and what makes her dangerous—is that while virtually every move she makes is calculated and carefully calibrated to resonate with the semi-literate and unreflective Americans whose bigotry is set on cruise control, she is not entirely disingenuous. Indeed, the things that most annoy the principled, learned and sentient citizens happen to be the things that are unaffected and/or unrehearsed. That is, her astonishing, almost impossible-to-properly-fathom ignorance. But that didn’t stop Ronald Reagan (whose amiable dunce routine, in fairness, looks downright Socratic after eight years of his Vice President’s son and Palin’s scorched earth ill-will tour). The problem, now, is what we have wrought as a nation with our voracious appetite for insipidity: being dumb is not only no longer an obstacle, it is a short cut. People like Reagan (and, to a lesser extent, his V.P.’s son) had to work hard to overcome their manifest intellectual shortcomings. Imagine how much time and energy is freed up (to fundraise, for instance) if you no longer have to fake it ‘til you make it. Think of how inordinately liberating it must be to celebrate—and be celebrated—for keeping it unreal on the campaign trail. Consider how much more confident one can be in one’s untested and uninhibited convictions if one never has to explain them.

I don’t blame Palin or her fans for this phenomenon. The staggeringly unenlightened have always been amongst us; mostly innocuous platforms like Facebook and Twitter have just given them more ways to connect and commiserate. No longer do misguided cretins have to conduct solitary diatribes in their attics or consult with their tinfoil hats in a dark room; now they can plug in, connect and blame the godless, the gays, the immigrants and the evil machinations of Socialist-minded social servants with one hand comfortably snuggled in the bag of Cheetos. They can incite riots and excoriate the elites without even leaving the comfort of their recliners.

But I suspect that even if social media (and, of course, the Internet) had been available two decades ago, an unabashed simpleton like Sarah Palin could never have made it out of Alaska back then. And for this I blame our disintegrating, increasingly useless mainstream media. The only thing liberal about today’s media is the appetite they have for horse races and sensational gossip over more mundane matters like what policies (take health care reform) actually contain and who they actually benefit, or making readership aware when a particular pol or pundit is straight-up lying. But we know this is treacherous ground to tread because, as Dr. Stephen Colbert established, the truth does have a liberal bias.

Which brings us to Sarah Palin’s latest crime against the English language and (more distressing) cocksure condemnation of racial and religious intolerance. No, not her own, but the ostensible hatred a certain ethnic and religious group harbors. That would be Muslims or, in Republican parlance, towel-heads. You see, because of 9/11 Muslims hate Americans, want to kill us, and their religious beliefs—and those who practice them—are violent and insidious. They also are not white or Christian, which is two strikes against them from the get-go. But this manufactured outrage over a Mosque in New York City is actually a teaching moment. In one imbecilic sentence, Palin is illuminating the misguided thinking that even allows someone to go there. Rather than attempt to disentangle the convenient (and conveniently backward and bigoted) sleight of mind that can equate Muslims with terror and a Mosque with violence, let’s try to use this insulting illogic in another scenario where Palin currently applies it. Below we have an image of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. As my perspicacious friend Tony James reminded me, Timoth McVeigh was Catholic, so clearly we need to tear down St. Joseph’s Old Cathedral (indeed, the proposed Mosque will be two blocks from Ground Zero; this church is practically across the street!). Needless to say, the average American redneck cemprehending that comparison would be as conceivable as the average Christian conceding that Jesus wasn’t, in fact, a honky.

Instead, the focus has almost entirely been on her beyond-W butchering of English syntax and no one (outside of the progressive blogosphere which, while useful and necessary, is mostly preaching to the choir) seems terribly concerned in addressing the racist and moronic reasoning that would even lead one to endorse such backwards thinking. (That said, it must be mentioned that the collective genius of humanity has rallied in a time of need, and is busy at work on Twitter making appropriate mockery of Palin’s bungle. Enjoy the hilarity @ #shakespalin.) Naturally, the emphasis has involved a “discussion” of whether she intended to make up a new word (duh) or whether we should take it seriously (DUH). Less than a little effort is made to remind anyone that everything she is saying is historically wrong, mean-spirited to the point of psychosis and flat-out racist. One could also make a case that she is persecuting another group’s religion, something Christians, for all of their whining and “War on Christmas” crapola, should be at least a tiny bit sensitive about. Of course, as we know in America the only groups who are genuinely persecuted are white fans of Jesus and billion dollar crybabies who pay too many taxes (Ha).

(Sidenote: it is either disconcerting or enticing—and possibly both—to consider what would happen if people like Palin and her ilk were really forced to sit down and actually read the bible or the Constitution (including the Bill of Rights) and understand who Jesus really was (even as a fictional character) and who the founding fathers really were (based on the things they actually believed and wrote which, unlike the authors of the bible, bear their signatures). Would heads explode? Would pre-packaged ideologies, at long last, suffocate on their own fumes? Would something approximating enlightenment ensue? Would reading lessons be necessary first?)

A prediction: There is an unforseen silver lining in all of this. Most of us have suspected for quite some time that Palin is the de facto leader of the G.O.P. brand; the only people unwilling (or understandably unable) to acknowledge this are the insiders and party elders themselves, who have so much to lose if and when she ultimately steps out of her Fox-News bunker and pre-scripted press releases (which she calls speeches). Once she puts herself in the proverbial crosshairs of even cursory (and at that point inevitable) media scrutiny, the lies will unspool and the façade will crumble and a modicum of sanity will be restored to our woeful world. And along the way the unthinkable will happen: the Republican contenders will necessarily have to go on the attack. That is when things will get very interesting indeed.

And people will write about it, we will laugh about it, and we will do everything in our power not to learn from it.

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Jay Leno: Company Man

Doesn’t that picture put both of these imbeciles in perfect perspective?

Hey, Tea Partiers count for ratings, too!

Listen, I don’t begrudge Leno. Make all the money you can dude. There has to be something to compensate for contorting yourself into a harmless, plastic, inoffensive, ass-kissing, shameless gerbil. To the victor go the spoils and that hollow husk where your soul used to be sure smells a lot like something spoiled a long, long time ago. Rock on, you insecure, grasping, desperate, backstabbing weasel. He who dies with the most toys wins! (Remember that bumper sticker from the Reagan ’80s? Maybe he has that bumper sticker on each of his 3,000 antique hot rods.) Leno became a waste of skin two decades ago, so it seems silly to point out the obvious. One just wonders if, on some levels, this corporate pawn who has HOLLYWOOD tattooed on his paper heart is aware that he has become the only thing worse than our most ambitious but brainless politicians: the guy who eagerly gives them a platform. All in the name of good clean fun!

As always, Bill Hicks got there first. He was correct twenty years ago, of course. But it is our cultural loss as Americans that even Hicks could never  have imagined how bad it would get.

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She’s Got Her Whole World In Her Hand

Sarah Palin has officially out-cliched cliche. You can no longer even use the lazy –if entirely accurate and appropriate– depictions like “jumped the shark” or “stranger than fiction” or “a new low” because her capacity for shamelessness and self-aggrandizement is literally limitless. There is, as she displayed once again this weekend, no bottom to where she will wallow in order to score cheap (and untrue) political points, all while ducking any questions of any kind from anyone besides Fox “News”, and eagerly stoking the ignorant, bigoted sentiments of her knuckle-dragging demographic.

But you have to hand it to her. No, really. Can you, under any circumstances, imagine a time when you’d compare anybody to George W. Bush and catch yourself thinking a thought that began with the words “Well, at least he wasn’t…” Wow. Does it get any better for Palin, who has yet to answer a real question from a real reporter (and no, Katie Couric does not count, and even in front of that lightweight with those softball questions –what fucking newspapers do you read?– she made an ass of herself) continuing to mock Obama for, among other things, using a teleprompter. You mean like the one you used for your own speeches? At least, so far as we know, when Obama doesn’t have his teleprompter handy, he doesn’t have to…um…write answers on his hand like a fifth grader during a math exam. Let me repeat: wow.

(Sidenote:

As anyone with a sliver of sociopolitical awarness can attest, many of these Tea Party puppets have genuine and understandable gripes. The dilemma, as anyone with a modicum of historical awareness (and proximity to reality) understands, it’s precisely the policies and obsessions of the GOP that took us from boom to bust in unprecedented and appalling haste. Less than a year ago, one of the only redeeming aftershocks of the Great Collapse was that, at long last, the “free market” farce of voodoo economics, which had reached its unfettered and full flowering during the Bush years had crashed and burned so spectacularly and unmistakably, at least, finally, we had black and white cause and effect for those misguided, irresponsible and demonstrably immoral policies. Ah, but how quickly those least-served by these policies forget! As usual, as ever, it was the taxpayers (!!) who got stuck with the tab, and now we are waist-deep in a massive recession and jobs crisis. Suddenly, fiscal restraint is the operative priority, and these same charlatans who borrowed and spent like there was no tomorrow are decrying the same stimulus they initially supported (that same stimulus that may have kept unemployment from growing to 25% and causing a genuine Depression with a capital D). Rome is burning and the right-wing spin-pigs are not just fiddling, they are actively promoting disinformation and stoking the aforementioned fear and loathing. Not that the idiots foaming at the mouth at these tea parties understand the ways 2+2 =4, in part because they can’t count to four. The GOP, led by the Tea Party Queen who, displaying her ceaseless loyalty to the “real” Americans whose pain she is profiting from, only charged $100k to speak this weekend, scoffs at the blue sky and calls for rain. They tear up the old playbook and throw a Hail Mary into the wind, telling these easily-led assholes the policies extending their unemployment benefits are part of a big government takeover by the Socialist president. And it works. Put us in charge again so we can kill some more jobs and bankrupt the rest of your 401-k and after that, get busy privatizing social security. It’s real America, all right. Real dumb America.)

When it comes to the farce that is Sarah Palin, Andrew Sullivan has done virtually all the heavy lifting, since the MSM has predictably reacted in two ways to the Palin phenomenon: dismissed it altogether (which is irresponsible) or else treated it with the both-sides-of-the-story stenography which has increasingly become their most notable M.O.. I’ve long held the opinion that if/when Palin ever, however improbably (though at this point it seems a hell of a lot less improbable than it did one year ago when she uncermoniously quit her post in Alaska, a circumstance that would have absolutely anihilated all further chances for any other politician in the world) she manages to slime her way to the nomination in 2012, the media will finally, at long last, have no choice but to lift the rather large rock that conceals her sordid and embarrassing (even for a politician) personal life. The inconsistencies, the outright lies, and especially the myriad deficiencies that make her a non-starter as presidential material and a natural leader of the Tea Party mob of half-wits and bigots.

If you truly have no clue what I’m referring to, just visit Sully over at The Daily Dish and, if you have an hour or two, catch up on (some of) what you’ve been missing. One almost hopes Palin gets that far just so the rest of us have the opportunity, finally, to see her actually have to answer an unscripted question. Again, it is to the MSM’s eternal shame that they let this inarticulate piece of bacteria fester and mutate into the media monster she has become. It’s all in the name of ratings and (I reckon?) the ostensible aim of being impartial that they have so cynically stood by, not even bothering to pretend being journalists. But while I know enough to not casually brush off the possibility of her rise to real power, I also am relatively confident that, as happened (albeit way too late in the game) with McCain, the supine media finally takes off its blinders and, (gasp) inquires about the unavoidable gaps and distortions in the carefully crafted mythology.

Speaking of McCain, what a contemptible swine. Good grief, despite the fact that his whole maverick shtick was calculated, insincere and frivolous, there was at least some redeeming value in the man (above and beyond the fact that he courageously served his country, which is an inviolable subject that I’ve never heard a respectable person take issue with). Ever since he sold the ragged remnants of what was left of his old, arid soul to win the nomination in 2008, he has been on a warp speed mission to become the quintessential fake politician –and that is saying a lot considering the competition for that odious crown.

There he goes: the handful of things he actually accomplished, for the good, he’s happily disassociated himself from, in the name of (unlikely) political expediency. it will be fun watching him run for his life in the suddenly too-close-for-comfort race in Arizona (and talk about the chickenshits coming home to roost: he is being out-reactionaried by a genuinely revolting troglodyte). Despite the typical, and farcical shenanigans we have practically come to expect from our pols, the one thing no one could take away from McCain was his eloquence on the matter of torture, he having had some considerable experience on that front. It was genuinely pathetic to see the man, for nakedly obvious (and oblivious) political reasons, actually go all Orwell and doublespeak about the exact same methods that were used against him, claiming they were not, actually, torture (Note: he never was honest, if crazy, enough to say he himself was not tortured, but that the same practices, when used by the U.S.A., do not qualify. If that is not the literal definition of cowardice, I’m not sure what is.)

As if that were not lame enough, his attempt (clearly prompted by the aforementioned threat to what he considered was he emeritus status as senator of Arizona, which has obliged him to lean further rightward) to cling to the old party line on gays in the military, hanging by his shriveled, gnarled and splintering old fingernails to the ugly side of soon-to-be-history should be a case study for future politicians on how not to succeed. Here’s the thing: a remotely intelligent person watches this desperate spectacle and thinks “But how can he kid himself? Also, what about what he is doing to his legacy, how will history not expose his shamelessness?” And the answer, regrettably, is that for a man with no soul and interested solely in extending his ever-weakening, sluggish hold on some semblance of power, legacy and history are luxuries he can’t afford. He has no time for reflection because the shadow behind him keeps getting darker and larger, and he knows better than anyone it will be sooner than later that his craven, corrupted ass will be snuffed out.

And, lest we ever forget, McCain may ultimately be (if he is not already) best known for his most ignoble achievement, which was foisting this talking point with boobs on an unsuspecting country.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Sarah Palin Uses a Hand-O-Prompter
www.colbertnation.com
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Rush Limbaugh: Don’t Hate The Player, Hate The Game

Beneath contempt? Of course.

Shameless? Obviously.

A ludicrous, cowardly ass clown? Clearly.

A bullying blowhard? Yup.

A self-aggrandizing huckster who sells snake piss to imbelices and laughs all the way to his drug dealer? You know this.

Are we really surprised by his latest lowering of the bar?

I’m certainly not.

(Which isn’t to say I almost caught myself shaking my head, not quite in disbelief but in a kind of awed amusement: there he goes again. Seriously, when you not only live in the slimy detritus of talk-radio sewage, but make a (very remunerative) living doing so, there is literally no bottom, nowhere further to sink. Indeed, the gig almost necessitates a blind, ceaseless strain to burrow further and deeper, getting to darker places. In other words, Rush’s latest outrage is merely another day at the office.)

For centuries, Punch and Judy shows were all the rage (literally). Our appetite for self-destruction is neither new nor novel; we’ve been perfecting ways to taste the pain for as long as we’ve been upright (and before that we swung from trees throwing shit at each other; before that we crawled in the primordial ooze and threw up on one another). The closest thing we have to these spectacles today is Reality TV and Talk Radio. While some humiliation, desperation and a whole lot of narcissism makes the Reality TV carousel go round, there is an element of selfishness that cuts the inexorable humiliation. In other words, it’s an equal opportunity farce: it’s like gambling or playing the lottery, chances are decent you’ll gain nothing, and the rules could not be clearer. Talk radio, on the other hand (as has been discussed and documented many million times by critics more astute –and interested– than myself) is predicated upon an uneven playing field. The prophets of fury and despair (like so many religious hucksters) offer the illusion of solidarity to their disenfranchised followers. By preying upon their real (or affected) sense of dispossession, these self-declared saviors offer solace by validating the ignorance, prejudices and pains of their flock.

We see it with Limbaugh, we see it with Glenn Beck and we’ll see plenty more of it from Sarah Palin now that she has fulfilled her destiny by getting a platform on Fox News — the purest source of propaganda money can buy.

So what?

Should we protest (and play right into his hands) Limbaugh? Of course not, that will only empower him and augment the sanctimony of his shtick. It’s not often you can call someone a vampire and a whore at the same time, but more than anyone in modern times, Limbaugh is the worst possible combination of everything we despise in humanity. And here is the thing, unlike virtually all the other vermin who fatten their wallets by fomenting unrighteous indignation, there is not a single redeeming value in anything this clownish swine says or does. Nada.

But this was all abundantly obvious almost two full decades ago.

If you want to get fired up, if you really want to feel frightened, consider the fact that Rush’s ratings will skyrocket after today’s shitstorm. Think about that. And be truly mortified for where we are, as Americans. What is most repugnant, when you stop and contemplate it, is that there would be even a single person who might hear Limbaugh’s calculated and cynical hogwash and agree. Or, worse, feel inspired by the way their chosen one brings the hate. The plain, putrid reality is that there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, who do. And will.

Just like there are tons of people who will walk over rusty glass for Sarah Palin. If Limbaugh or Palin were offering these people (the bigots, the uneducated, the willfully ignorant, the impotent imbeciles, as well as the doctors, lawyers, teachers and parents) anything –money, peace, progress, hope— it would just be politics as usual. Or as they used to say, That’s Entertainment.

But the fact of the matter is, nothing is being offered. And the worst part of the whole deal is that the most (superficially) faithful and dedicated believers are being sold a bill of goods that is straight-up nihilism. While Fox News gets their Fascist on, and Rush gorges his fat ass on profitable cynicism, these has-beens and never-will-be’s find the voice that never answers them in church, or at the office, or in their cars, or in the bedroom or –worst of all– in their own dark and empty heads when the lights go out.

It is, and always has been, a game. Let’s stop laughing at it (or ignoring it) and start hating it back. 

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The Washington Post + Integrity = Cygnus X-1

CygnusX1_lg

At this point, I figured I’d said all I could possibly say about my disgust with (and embarrassment for) The Washington Post. Granted, they keep finding new ways to distinguish themselves as a once respectable establishment that has let the rot and refuse festering within turn the whole product rancid. But once one cancels his lifelong subscription and writes a few scathing blogs about it, it’s best to move on to more pertinent things. After all, it’s not as though The Post has stooped so low as to let Sarah Palin disgrace the Op-Ed page.

Oh.

Really? Are you not kidding? At what point do we wake up from this nightmare, or when does someone admit that the last few months have been a joke; an experiment designed to measure the limits of what the public could possibly believe? Can anyone actually tolerate this level of desperation mixed with callow opportunism?

Well, I guess in all fairness, it’s not as though Palin actually wrote this thing. I mean let’s get real.

And it’s not because the piece is (for the most part) grammatically sound; it’s that it predictably and methodically clicks off the Republican talking points, one after another, on the whole “cap and trade” issue. I’m sure there will be plenty of worthwhile retorts infiltrating the interwebs; here is Conor Clarke laying the smack down succinctly, and definitively. Money quote, below:

Just one more point about Sarah Palin’s op-ed in this morning’s Washington Post: the piece does not contain the words pollution, emissions, carbon, or global warming. As Derek says, this is a bit like an op-ed on health care that doesn’t contain the words spending, costs, coverage, or medicine, or a high-school paper on Catcher in the Rye that doesn’t contain the words, um, Catcher in the Rye.

I find this absence sickening. Deciding how to deal with climate change is an uncertain and complicated process. It requires weighing costs in the present against benefits a hundred years in the future. It requires weighing costs in the U.S. against benefits in places like India and Bangladesh. It requires weighing concrete GDP against the moral emphemera of the world’s floral and animal diversity. And it requires sacrificing today to ward off uncertain and unquantifiable future risks. This tremendous empirical uncertainty demands reflection and humility.

And then you have Sarah Palin show up, blathering about how we’re “destroying America’s economy” while we’re “literally” sitting on mountains of oil and drill baby drill and blah blah blah. Sickening.

It would be appalling (and yes, amusing) enough if The Post had the temerity to provide the Op-Ed megaphone to any Republican on any issue related to the environment; but then, you’d think the same thing regarding any issue related to health care, finance or foreign affairs. And as we know, Das Post is not only safe haven for Neo Cons and GOP nut jobs, it is practically their own private country club at this point.

But to enable this disgraced and disgraceful sham of a simpleton to have a public platform, on this of all topics? It staggers the mind. Truly.

I’m no longer asking what has happened to this newspaper’s integrity; it’s a matter of what the next outrage will be. Kind of like Bluto Blutarski, they are rolling, and it might be time to cease being surprised. Their soul may have gotten sucked into that black hole, but going forward, there should be some hilarious wreckage crashing to earth. Stay tuned.

Incidentally, and speaking of Cygnus X-1 (Book One): for the skinniest, dorkiest, whitest man who has ever strapped on a bass guitar, Geddy Lee is a certifiably BADASS MOTHERFUCKER.

glee

Bonus footage. Have to send a shout out to this dude, who seems to have put in the time to actually be able to play along (convincingly!) to the studio version (which, to be honest, is 100x better than the still impressive live version above). Get some!

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You radiate cold shafts of broken glass…

palin

Quitting?

Wow.
What a contemptible coward and laughable fraud she is.

(And if this “plan” is so she can cry foul at the mean nasty (liberal) media for quoting people who worked with  her talking about what an embarrassment she was, and thinks that some time out of the spotlight allowing her to brush up on the many matters, foreign and domestic, that she is so entirely ignorant on…is a good call, so she can ready herself for an inevitable 2012 run…well, I hope that is exactly what she is thinking. First, watching her and the insufferable Newt Gingrich wrestle for center stage will be like roadkill combined with reality TV. Seeing the GOP render itself as the really true believers castigate the RINOs will be delightful, and overdue. And if she makes it that far, let’s just put it this way: if she, or her legion of foolish fans, honestly believe she took some tough questions (despite no press conferences!) in the handful of occasions the staff allowed her out of her cage in the fall of ’08, just wait until she is declared a front running candidate. Bring it on.)

Ha ha! Charade you are…

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