Murphy’s Law, Vol. One: A Primer

M LAW cover

In this collection of essays, reviews and ruminations, best-selling author Sean Murphy attempts to tackle the world in writing, one topic at a time. Selecting a sampling of his most popular pieces as well as some personal favorites, Murphy ranges from music to movies, literature to politics, sports to tributes for the departed. At his blog, Murphy’s Law, and as a columnist for PopMatters and contributing editor for The Weeklings, Murphy has combined enthusiasm and proficiency in the service of short and extended analyses. Throughout this compilation he shifts seamlessly between culture, the arts and an ongoing interrogation of American society.

Why is Robert Johnson the most influential American musician of the 20th Century? How—and why—did Dennis Miller go from being one of the better comedians in the world to a humorless hack? Why are even the most gifted novelists unable to write convincing sex scenes in their fiction? Was the first round of Hagler vs. Hearns in 1985 the most exciting three minutes in sporting history? Is it reasonable to suggest that Chinatown is the only perfect American film ever made? What does it mean to declare Stephen King the Paul Bunyan of letters? Is it possible we don’t adequately celebrate either Moby Dick or The Great Gatsby? Why should everyone consider cancelling their subscription to The Washington Post? Does nostalgia play a defensible, even necessary role in one’s art or life?

Equal parts reporter and raconteur, Murphy brings an informed acumen to essays mercifully free from academic jargon and pretension. His subjects cover so-called high and lowbrow and just about anything in between, and it’s obvious throughout that his only agenda is to celebrate, or castigate, or cross-examine his own impulses and predispositions. By turns studious, confrontational, hilarious and philosophical, Murphy’s Law, Vol. One will leave readers better informed, provoked and, hopefully, inspired to discover the work of some geniuses who’ve fallen outside the lower frequencies.




“I’m An Idea Man…”

Predictably, that bastion of sober, probing and reasonable analysis, The Washington Post (more on my relationship with that rag here, here and here) has surveyed our political moment and is ready to offer up some insight.

To wit, the admittedly astonishing (though not improbable, considering how Republicans have now cycled through every possible alternative to Romney) ascension of Newt Gingrich. (Put another way: it wasn’t until Herman Cain –a man with no legislative experience to start with– quintupled-down (and counting) on Gary Hart and watched his ludicrous campaign implode from every angle, that Newt got his momentum. Stop and think about this: until Cain made it all but impossible to vote for him, he was the guy the base was ready to get behind. So Newt should be at once grateful and humble; the party did not come around…the music stopped and he was the last guy dancing.)

As if on cue, the headline in today’s paper declares: Newt Gingrich as president could turn the White House into an ideas factory.

Yeah, a bad ideas factory.

Nuggets like these, for instance:

“What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” Gingrich asks. “That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”

“Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works, so they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday…They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it’s illegal.”

(Kid janitors) “would be dramatically less expensive than unionized janitors…(child labor laws are) truly stupid.”

That’s just three of the more egregious “ideas” Newt has floated. And that is just from this year. If we roll the videotape –and you can bet Romney will begin to do just that– we’ll have a dossier that is equal parts amusing and appalling; hysterical in many senses of the word.

More on this, later; but I don’t think people need to get their panties in a bunch about this blowhard: Romney is reading the polls and the only thing more dangerous than a desperate man without a soul is a wealthy desperate man without a soul. The attack ads will direct themselves. And that is before we acknowledge that Newt’s worst enemy is himself, so I for one am salivating at the myriad ways he can (and will) savage himself on the national stage in the weeks ahead.

But the one thing that needs to be nailed down: Yes, Newt is an idea man. And virtually all of his ideas are regressive, far-fetched or ill-advised. He has not proposed feeding mayo to tuna fish yet, but I’m sure he has some amazing insights he can’t wait to share with a wondrous world. Stenographers at The Post: get your pens out.


Richard Cohen, Charles Krauthammer, and Me

Richard Cohen: Still Clownish After All These Years

Props to for doing some heavy lifting in the service of exposing hackery this week, courtesy of their amusing –and recommended– “Hack Thirty” feature. In a mild upset, they have decreed the scarcely readable Richard Cohen the hackiest of the bunch. Hard to argue with: on style points alone and the odious mix of shamelessness and opportunism that is his trademark, Cohen is tough to top. Of course, given the chance, I would be unable to elevate anyone above the ceaselessly reliable and cretinous Charles Krauthammer.

But since I’ve been doing my part to expose Cohen’s clownishness for more than five years, I figured I’d celebrate his anointment. If you care to see the pieces dedicated to the ultimate Washington insider, you can check them out herehere and here. Having been a long-time (but as of 6/19/09, former) subscriber to The Washington Post, I’ve suffered through more than my fair share of Cohen columns.

In the open letter after his ridiculous Colbert article, one of my main issues was how supine and craven the MSM had been all throughout the Bush years. That Cohen, after being converted by the chicken-hawks in ’03, finally used his prominent media space to defend Bush was thoroughly intolerable. It makes me fairly nauseous re-reading this, all these years later:

For instance, you inexplicably call Colbert a bully for the ostensible impunity with which he lambasted Bush, to his face. This begs the immediate question: doesn’t it take a little more courage, not to mention perspicacity, to say in person, as a comedian, the very things well-paid writers like you were not able, or willing, to say in the safety of Op-Ed pages for the past several years? More to the point, how often has this president put himself in the position to be ridiculed, much less forced to answer simple questions from reporters?

Not only is it abundantly documented how obsessively Bush avoids unpleasant or uncomfortable intrusions upon his eggshell sensibilities, but one of the primary (and painfully apparent) goals of his protectors and paid apologists has been to shield him from being accountable, or even (seemingly) aware of any facts that run counter to the fantasies he and his cronies have conjured up in the safety of their well-fortified situation rooms. This is a man seemingly allergic to introspection, comforted by cliché and available for fabricated words of encouragement after the dust and danger have cleared. Indeed, the only people being bullied are the citizens (be they reporters or democrats or non-Kool-Aid drinking members of the GOP) who dare to question or critique the president or his policies. Maybe you’ve forgotten about the carefully screened audiences Bush spoke to and took the occasional, scripted questions from on the campaign trail (and his entire tenure has, under the shameless machinations of Karl Rove, been one ceaseless campaign), or the folks who were tossed out of these same spectacles for having anti-Bush stickers on their cars.

The hits, of course, kept coming. In one of the other pieces, I tried to succinctly articulate –after stating the obvious: that Cohen is a clown– why people like him (and Broder and Friedman) are so dangerous to a functioning democracy that should be able to count on it’s columnists:

When it suits him, when it’s convenient, Cohen could perhaps be described as left-leaning. But between his stances (on war, on Israel, apparently on torture) he is as effective –and insufferable– a mouthpiece as any neo-con crackpot. Indeed, he is even more effective (and harmful) because he is ostensibly writing as a “liberal” in an ostensibly “liberal” paper (Washington Post). Of course, this canard is easy to deconstruct, but in the shorthand illogic of our times, he is, by default, a liberal by virtue of even being a member of the MSM.

It was certainly courageous of Cohen to have his mea culpa on Iraq about three (four?) years after the fact. And, to me, he really jumped the shark during the Colbert incident (which prompted this open letter). Compared to the True Believers on the Right, Cohen’s clownishness is more innocuous than not; but considering he is regarded as a steward of progressive thinking (I threw up in my mouth just typing that), he is quite dangerous indeed. Watching a Washington, D.C. insider carry water for the worst administration in history is its own special sort of torture.


Oh, and reducing the debt, too.

An ostensibly rhetorical question I read (and get asked) quite often these days is “Why bother?”

Why bother getting invested in politics?

Why bother reading all those papers and blogs and magazines?

Why bother wasting time since they are all the same?

Why bother voting?

Well, there are lots of good reasons, some of which are immediately evident to anyone who takes the time to be moderately informed and is aware of not-so-complicated concepts like cause and effect. That the policies of our former administration (and, more importantly, the power-to-the-powerful ideology that informs those policies) bankrupted our nation and –this is the toughest one to grasp– made us less safe is not a matter of opinion; it’s not debatable and there is no room for any possible nuance.

Also, there is only one type of Socialism being practiced in America today and it has been in effect for longer than one year. It’s Corporate Socialism. For evidence to support this claim, I submit every action taken by every Republican politician since 1980. Case closed, your honor.

To the haters, I certainly feel your pain, to a point. Yes, watching the Democrats try to govern is an often painful and occasionally pitiful spectacle (it’s amusing: Harry Reid is at once a man who should never, under any circumstances, have gotten involved in politics, yet he is, in the final analysis, the prototypical politician). Of course, in their defense, a reasonable person understands that actually attempting to govern is messy, difficult and frustrating. Particularly, as people like Andrew Sullivan regularly point out, our nation has become increasingly ignorant, self-absorbed and childish: we don’t want any government interference, we don’t want to pay taxes and we demand to see all of these pesky problems go away and take care of themselves (or even better, the stance of the Ayn Rand worshipping Libertarian-leaning bozos: just leave us alone and the world will govern itself, but if my house catches fire or a burglar breaks in or the roads need to be plowed or the country is attacked some non-tax funded enterprise better be at the ready to protect me!)

We have become a country of children who want to skip the main course and go directly to dessert, every meal, and then complain that we’ve gotten fat. And that in itself is a problem: that allows the Republicans to continue to frame the idea of shared accountability and responsibility as an inherently negative or intrusive notion. Let me be clear: that is, upon cursory inspection, a decidedly anti-American sentiment. The idea that paying taxes and supporting regulation of the food we eat and air we breathe is some type of burden implemented by a leering Big Brother is beyond moronic and borders on offensive. The idea that we can have no taxes, no regulation, no government involvement, unfunded wars and private interests in charge of everything  is exactly the intelligence-insulting ideology that landed us where we are now. And, for the last time, and as Thomas “What’s The Matter With Kansas” Frank elucidated, vigorously endorsing the notion that the wealthiest .01% of the population should not pay any taxes is going to put exactly zero cents in your pocket and create precisely zero jobs.

So, in sum, yes it is discomfiting to watch the Dems go about their business. But then you look across the aisle and see the obstreperous opposition digging in with monomaniacal zeal to do nothing (other than obstruct, oppose and stymie any effort made to get us out of this mess). You have to hand it to them, though, stoking the “Tea Party” frustration, which is largely a result of the situation their actions put this country in (and, based on the virtual absence of a single minority at a single one of these gatherings, a rather unhealthy dose of old-school bigtory). That, of course, is a topic I (and many, many others more insightful than myself) have adequately addressed. For now, the prevailing issue that has cleaved the country in half is the topic of health care. If any further evidence was required (!!) about what is at stake and what the consequences of doing something (Dems) versus doing nothing (GOP) are, take a look at the invaluable Paul Krugman in today’s New York Times.

But for anyone still on the fence, or who can claim, at this point, to be genuinely ambivalent and/or persuaded that both sides are mirror images of one another, I point you to yesterday’s spectacle at CPAC:

Easy to appreciate the racist overtones there, huh? The comical association of “The Left” with Woodstock hippies, blah blah blah. That, of course, is run of the mill, Lee Atwater hogwash. Been there done that. Nothing to see here. Et cetera.

But to really get a sense of the farcical alternate universe these clowns inhabit, consider the featured speakers:

First, the rock star reception given to proud torture advocate, war criminal and suddenly outspoken former VP Dick Cheney. That alone speaks volumes.

Second, the dark lord’s daughter, Liz, who is racing at warp speed to find a new low in the apparently bottomless pit of political mendacity, gleefully ignoring reality and, following her father’s lead, doing her darndest to distort and malign, had this jaw dropper: “There is no polite way to put this: Obama’s incompetence is getting people killed.” Indeed, if he’s not careful, he may have an attack like 9/11 happen on his watch. But what more do you expect, and how deliciously appropriate (but not ironic, because the oblivious press and hapless Democrats will be predictably unable to connect the dots here) is it that the same week the party who likes to claim sole propriety on keeping Americans safe (the worst domestic attack in our country’s history notwithstanding) is upping the irresponsible rhetoric, we see the walking punch line that is Bernie Kerik sent to the slammer. Keep in mind, this is the same imbecile that self-proclaimed tough guy Rudy G. (Mr. noun, verb, 9/11 himself) ardently endorsed as our next chief of Homeland Security. Folks, the mind boggles.

Finally, we have the current ringleader of the so-called insurgent Right: Marco Rubio, the man Dana Milbank –one of the rare reliable voices from that ever shrinking pool of talent at The Washington Post,— geniusly calls the “Anti-Crist” in a must read, throwing raw red meat at the pack of insatiable hyenas. In admirable brevity, Milbank itemizes Rubio’s (and the current GOP’s) vision for how to get out of the mess they created: double down.

Rubio’s agenda: across-the-board tax cuts, lower corporate tax rates, and abolishing taxes on capital gains, dividends, interest and inheritance. Oh, and reducing the debt, too.

Denial of accountability? Check.

Denial of reality? Check.

Denial of actual measures required to help, and not hurt, Americans? Check.

This is why you have to choose sides. This is why you can ill afford (literally and figuratively) to let these cackling, wealthy and well-insured weasels lull you into a state of impotent rage or, worse, apathy. Because aside from the ceaseless corporate welfare they will fight for, their ultimate ambition is to render the actually literate and sentient amongst us fed up and indifferent. Without awareness, and with no resistance, they can more easily continue their unchecked assault on our collective well-being.


Charles Krauthammer is an Immoral Cretin

First, let’s try to get a handle on what constitutes the GOP braintrust as it’s currently constructed.

In short, it’s sort of like the Three Stooges. No really.

First, you have your commentators and pols who traffic in, and trumpet, a willful ignorance that they wear like a sort of imbecilic armor: the Becks, Palins and Dan Quayle/Scott Brown fake everymen: these are the Curlys in the equation.

Then there are the Larrys: the mostly quiet and uncharismatic foot soliders. This would include the behind-the-scenes operatives like Eric Odom, Allen Fuller, and the lucky ones who cannibalize or fellate their way up the food chain, like the supremely insufferable Ari Fleischer, who quickly –and quite profitably– went into business for himself after he escaped the semi-hot glare of what passes for the White House press corps.

And finally there are the Moes: these are the movers and shakers, the ones who actually break into triple digits on the IQ scale, but either through bitterness, backwards thinking or (most often) the irresistible impetus of the almight dollar, dedicate their intellects and energies to discredited, corrupt and usually evil ends. These are the Cheneys, the Rumsfelds, the Roves and that special breed of insidous insect, the conservative editorialist. There are too many of those to count, and the majority of them are forgettable and feeble, but there are a relative handful that have enormous influence. The unholy trinity of this camp would have to consist of William Kristol, George Will and Charles Krauthammer. Especially Krauthammer.

For Charles Krauthammer, there is no stance too reactionary, no debunked theory too embarrassing to evangelize, no course of action too repugnant to rally around. He is an immoral cretin of the lowest order. He is the kind of guy who wipes a shit-stained finger under his nose just so the smell will remind him to keep his misery and distrust on full operational levels. He, like Dick Cheney, is that rare and revolting human being you can actually imagine being dejected by another person’s good fortune. The type of guy who is suspicious of laughter or anything spontaneous. The kind of creep who, not to put to fine a point on it, one could easily imagine having a black, maggot-ridden sore where his heart should be.

Yeah, and the sun sets in the west and the moon turns the tides. What else is new, you ask?

Well, at times even the most despicable and shameless mouthpieces for evil nose-dive for the depths with such force and shamelessness that it warrants notice. This is one of those times.

Today, The Washington Post, that bastion of neo-con accomodation, uh, I mean liberal media stalwart, provides him –courtesy of his role as regular contributor– the opportunity to take stock of the worst recession since the 1930’s, the worst jobs crisis in memory and a media circus cesspool that masquerades as contemporary political discourse on topics ranging from terror attacks to health care and dedicates an entire column railing about…the space program.

No I’m not making a joke or quoting The Onion. Check out the nauseating spectacle here.

Here’s a quick taste for those too smart, or constitionally ill-equipped to swallow this swill in between meals:

First, there is this gem, which you may have to read at least twice to believe (I just took a third swipe at it and I’m not quite sure chutzpah of this magnitude is even legal):

Of course, the whole Mars project as substitute for the moon is simply a ruse. It’s like the classic bait-and-switch for high-tech military spending: Kill the doable in the name of some distant sophisticated alternative, which either never gets developed or is simply killed later in the name of yet another, even more sophisticated alternative of the further future. A classic example is the B-1 bomber, which was canceled in the 1970s in favor of the over-the-horizon B-2 stealth bomber, which was then killed in the 1990s after a production run of only 21 (instead of 132) in the name of post-Cold War obsolescence.

Yeah I know Charles, because our military spending has not continued to escalate (one is tempted to say skyrocket) each successive year, like fucking clockwork (a clockwork orange, that is). Even after the end of the cold war (and the subsequent despair Krauthammer clearly has never recovered from, at least until 9/11 gave him and his armchair general brethren new lease on life) and “old-school” military engagement, when the concept of actually fighting wars with big, bad aerial bombers seems increasingly archaic. Like something from those (bad) black and white movies that remain the only things able to give you a boner these days. As if the military budget did not increase during Obama’s first year. Not that you’d know this by listening to certifiable mouth-breathers like Kristol, Will and Krauthammer, but it’s the cold, plain truth. You can look it up here (Hat-tip to the ever reliable and ceaselessly sane Glenn Greenwald).

But then there is this which I can only admire. Having balls this big should render one unable to wear pants:

This is nonsense. It would be swell for private compaines to take over launching astronauts. But they cannot do it. It’s too expensive. It’s too experimental. And the safety standards for getting people up and down reliably are just unreachably high.

Is this man for real?

Let’s examine the evidence: Krauthammer will go to the mattresses decrying all-things government (except, of course, military expenditures) but suddenly, launching metal machines into space (for what? for whom?) is not only imperative, but cannot possibly be funded by private companies. YOU MEAN THE SAME PRIVATE SECTOR THAT WALKS ON WATER, WARRANTS NO TAX INCREASES EVER REGARDLESS OF PROFIT, AND CREATES JOBS AND PROVES HOW RECKLESS AND INEFFICIENT AND DOWNRIGHT IRRESPONSIBLE A BLOATED GOVERNMENT IS? No, suddenly this is the one activity so sacrosanct and vital to the national interest that it absolutely obliges government backing.

Translation: Go back to sleep America. Nevermind what I’ve been babbling about for decades, this is not an instance of frivolous government waste that helps bankrupt the country and does no discernible good for hardworking Americans. This is not something we could possibly put off until a time when we are out of the reckless debt the polices Krauthammer did –and still does– espouse; this is not something that would actually slash costs, democratize the dissemination of actual goods and services and enable tax-paying citizens to retain a semblance of security and tangible equity for those tax dollars. In other words, this is nothing at all like health care. No, not at all. And not to worry: we can rest assured that the matter of insuring and protecting the same citizens who pay into the system will be a fight Krauthammer will keep stoking until he finally draws his last rattling and labored breath.

What a degenerate swine. What an immoral cretin.


Richard Cohen Is A Clown

This guy makes plenty of sense...just ask him!

This guy makes plenty of sense...just ask him!

Cohen strikes again. What an asshole. See for yourself, here.

Back then, a WP poll gave George W. Bush an approval rating of 92 percent, which meant that almost no one thought he was on the wrong course. At the same time, questions about the viability of torture were very much in the air.

Really, Richard? 92 percent? You mean, perhaps, that more than 9 out of 10 Americans wanted our commander in chief to figure out who attacked us, and strike back? The people who wanted to ensure that we protected our own people? I remember them, I was there. I was one of them. Still am, actually. Here’s the thing, smart guy: your intelligence-insulting proposition is that more than 90 percent of the country gave Bush a blank check to do anything and everything, in the name of protecting us. That ain’t what happened. And your risible attempt to revise history (so blatantly, so lazily) would not be nearly as repugnant if you didn’t know how full of shit you are. But you do. You know you were one of the hysterical insider Beltway sissies who lost all their marbles when it looked like America was not safe.

Like a child clinging to a parent’s pants, you just wanted to close your eyes and make all the bad guys go away. That is why you were loud and proud when you helped trumpet Bush and Company’s bullshit about WMDs in Iraq. Even you, the craven dupe that you are, saw through the cracks and holes in that manufactured plot-line, but hey, we have to pin this on someone. Wouldn’t it be good to kick some ass, kind of restore our dignity and sense of purpose? (All the better if we have someone else do the ass-kicking for us.) You were pretty sure you were wrong, but you went ahead anyway. And that is why you are so transparently desperate, now, to not only revise the storyline (one that is recent enough that any sentient reader can–and will–call you on it), but implicate as many other Americans as possible. Guilt by association is always specious, but it’s particularly repellant when a cocksure columnist takes it open himself to throw the net as wide as he can to bring other folks down to his level. It’s beyond pathetic.

At the same time, we have to be respectful of those who were in that Sept. 11 frame of mind, who thought they were saving lives — and maybe were — and who, in any case, were doing what the nation and its leaders wanted. It is imperative that our intelligence agents not have to fear that a sincere effort will result in their being hauled before some congressional committee or a grand jury. We want the finest people in these jobs — not time-stampers who take no chances.

When it suits him, when it’s convenient, Cohen could perhaps be described as left-leaning. But between his stances (on war, on Israel, apparently on torture) he is as effective –and insufferable– a mouthpiece as any neo-con crackpot. Indeed, he is even more effective (and harmful) because he is ostensibly writing as a “liberal” in an ostensibly “liberal” paper (Washington Post). Of course, this canard is easy to deconstruct, but in the shorthand illogic of our times, he is, by default, a liberal by virtue of even being a member of the MSM.

It was certainly courageous of Cohen to have his mea culpa on Iraq about three (four?) years after the fact. And, to me, he really jumped the shark during the Colbert incident (which prompted this open letter). Compared to the True Believers on the Right, Cohen’s clownishness is more innocuous than not; but considering he is regarded as a steward of progressive thinking (I threw up in my mouth just typing that), he is quite dangerous indeed. Watching a Washington, D.C. insider carry water for the worst administration in history is its own special sort of torture.