Saturday, April 02, 2011

Random Thoughts

:: So not only does GE make a $14.2 billion profit and take a $3.2 billion tax benefit and pay nothing in taxes, but now it's asking employees to take benefit cuts? They're demanding a wage freeze, a cut to lower quality health care, and the elimination of a defined contribution pension. To steal a thought from Lewis Black, I'm amazed that their workers don't rise as one and slay these robber barons.

GE; they take good things from life.

Bet this story doesn't get any play on MSNBC...

:: Rand Paul: "I was happy to see that Newt Gingrich has staked out a position on the war, a position, or two, or maybe three. I don’t know. I think he has more war positions than he’s had wives." Also: "Fox News can’t decide, what do they love more, bombing the Middle East or bashing the president? It’s like I was over there and there was an anchor going, they were pleading, can’t we do both? Can’t we bomb the Middle East and bash the president at the same time?"

I'm no fan of Rand Paul, but that shit's funny.

:: According to a CNN poll, the Tea Party has a 32% favorable rating in America. And their disapproval rating went up 15% among low income households. Was it the ignorance or the racism that did it? Or is it too much to hope that poor people (and in this case, that constitutes households making less than $50,000 annually) have figured out that Teapublican politicians are just as into money and payoffs as any other politicians?

:: In another poll, Quinnipiac has found that President Obama's support is at an all time low. 48% disapproval, 50% saying he doesn't deserve re-election, and only 37% saying they'd vote for him against an unnamed Republican candidate. Not looking good. I don't like Obama, either. You all know how disappointed I am in him. But if the Republicans run some idiot like Bachmann, where do you go from there? Voting for Obama seems pointless, but voting for Bachmann is just stupid and destructive.

:: President Obama's big energy plan is to reduce dependence on foreign oil by a third in the next 15 years. Really? That's it? That's so weak. Look, it's the fucking future, all right? I'm sick of dicking around on these things. In 15 years, I'll be 50 years old, and the best you can do by the time I reach the half-century mark is that we'll maybe possibly be a third less dependent on foreign oil? Fuck you. That is not an energy plan, especially since we're going to be reopening the debate on ANWR drilling as a result of it. Not good enough. I'm sick of this country's half-measures. Nothing is ever going to get done if we keep saying everything is the next generation's problem.

:: So... Libya.

I don't even understand what our commitment is in Libya right now. We're bombing, which isn't doing much to help. We've got clandestine CIA agents there now, and that's not helping, either. Hillary Clinton has talked openly about the possibility of arming the rebels. You know that, if it does happen, we're going to be talking about military advisers and people to train the armies, and then Special Forces and a battalion... when is it going to end? There's already talk of bringing down some of our troops in Afghanistan. Just how involved in the Middle East do we have to be and how much good has it really done for them and for us?

By the way, 56 people were killed in Tikrit this week in a siege by Sunni militants. Even though military actions are over in Iraq.

Illinois Representative Tim Johnson introduced a bill to defund whatever it is we're doing in Libya, and I have to say, he's got a point. Barack "Rule of Law" Obama didn't consult Congress before committing military resources in Libya, and honestly, I'm beyond sick of the executive branch jumping into military action on its own whims. I didn't like it when Bush did it, and I don't like it when Obama does it, either.

But since Obama's political strategy is to let everyone else frame the parameters of the debate, I guess we'll see how he reacts, since acting just seems like too much of a stretch.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Just... Just Yes

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Pee-Wee Herman Show (on Broadway)

Some things are just too beautiful to cheapen with words... but I will try.

Becca and I sat and watched this special last week and were just overcome with love for it. One of my favorite things ever is the original Pee-Wee Herman Show comedy special that aired on HBO in 1981. They still show it on their various channels, and I still catch it every so often, and it always makes me laugh. It's a little rougher and more adult than either of Pee-Wee's movies (the great Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and the lesser Big Top Pee-Wee) or the seminal Pee-Wee's Playhouse, one of the Saturday morning shows that I watched the longest (by 1990 I'd given up pretty much every other Saturday show but that and Muppet Babies).

What we have here is a return to Pee-Wee's origins, but also a celebration of the Playhouse and its rich cast of puppets. This is a revival of that original comedy show, adult humor and all, but with a lot more gags and a lot of updating and it all takes place in the TV version of the Playhouse. So there are Conky and Pterri and Globey and Magic Screen and Clockey and Randy and the King of Cartoons and others, and new additions like ShamWow (hilarious!). But it's also the same basic show as it originally was (this is a revival, after all), with the same basic plot (Pee-Wee wants to use his wish to fly, the love story is still intact--though now it's Cowboy Curtis and not Captain Carl who pines after Miss Yvonne) but new set-ups (the Playhouse is being wired for the internet). So you do kind of know where the whole thing will end, but there is so much new material here that it feels brand new.

I think this was especially made for my generation; people who grew up watching Pee-Wee's Playhouse (there's even a Penny cartoon) but who know the stage show (yes, he still uses the Mr. Bungle film) and the adult irreverence that was originally a large part of the character.

And some of the original cast are back: Lynne Marie Stewart (Miss Yvonne), John Moody (Mailman Mike), and the irreplaceable John Paragon as Jambi (and Pterri). Phil LaMarr is especially welcome as Cowboy Curtis.

This is a wonderful show; if you haven't seen the HBO special and you were a fan, you really should. Becca was nostalgic as hell (she said she teared up a little on first seeing the Playhouse set), and I laughed my ass off from start to finish.

Paul Reubens, you continue to be a genius.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Song of the Week: "Pleasures of the Harbor"

From my favorite Phil Ochs album, 1967.

Dear DC Comics

The fact that you have no interest in publishing something like this goes a long way to explaining why I've found your comics so unreadable in the past 10 years.

George Carlin's Last Words

I tore through this "sortabiography" (as Carlin put it, because "memoir" sounded pretentious and "only criminals and politicians write autobiographies"). It reads with the same breezy tone, layered thoughtfulness, and brutal honesty as the last 15 years of his stand-up concerts had; it was like getting to see one last Carlin concert.

I've been a big, big fan of George Carlin for a very long time. What's funny is that I discovered him basically by accident, when my library started to carry comedy albums and I started randomly checking them out and found out exactly what my comedy needs were. This happened when I was in junior high, about the same time Nick at Nite started airing SCTV and Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In and The Best of Saturday Night Live, so this is when I was really discovering what I liked in comedy, and finding people who have influenced my life in various ways.

When it came to George Carlin, I knew I'd really found someone I would always be listening to. I actually started with the albums What Am I Doing in New Jersey? and Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics, and they were a revelation. So much of what I was beginning to feel about the government, about the world, about the cruel and selfish way people often dealt with one another: brother Carlin was laying it all out. In a lot of ways, those albums helped shape who I became and how I viewed the world (with a mixture of weary sadness and suspicion).

As I journeyed through Carlin's discography, I was actually not that interested in his earlier work, because so much of it was just observational, occasionally amusing riffs on bodily noises or childish habits. My mainline drug was the political stuff, the wry and angry look at how people value property over each other, the way language is used to soften the truth or outright lie.

It's interesting to read, then, in Carlin's final expression, that he only felt he really understood the artistry of his comedy in the 1990s and after. He's honest enough with himself to admit that, after a couple of really good albums in the 70s (Class Clown and Occupation: Foole), he was pretty much coasting. A lot of it was the marijuana and especially the cocaine, and problems at home with an alcoholic wife and a strung-out daughter whom he felt it would be hypocritical to parent.

He's very frank and open about the mistakes he made, the shit jobs he did, and the way drugs ran his life for over a decade. I think one of the more interesting things about the book is how matter-of-fact he is about those mistakes and what they cost him. He's not defensive about it, nor is he introspective to the point where he takes chapters and chapters detailing it. He just cops to it, talks about it, and then goes on to some other thing. It's a beautiful work, because it comes across as the story of a life by someone who thinks it's pointless to lie but doesn't need to pat himself on the back for being so honest, either. Here's my life, here's how I felt then, here's how I feel now, and here's some other stuff.

The best aspect of the book, I think, is the way Carlin talks about how his comedy developed over the years: beginning with his characters in the 60s, moving on to the honesty and then the laziness of the 70s, developing his mind and getting it back together in the 80s, and finally reaching his true artistry in the 90s. He's able to analyze why he did what he did without sounding dry or doing too much navel-gazing.

Tony Hendra, the National Lampoon and Spy great, organizes all of this marvelously, creating a flow through careful editing. As I said, the book is breezy; it's well-paced and fun to read. Carlin and Hendra worked together on this book for 15 years, right up to Carlin's death, and it's a testament to Hendra's talent as an editor that the book's voice is authentically George Carlin's. It doesn't feel like a product left over from interviews and notes, with someone pretending to be George. Hendra's too talented for something so shoddy.

The only lingering sadness is the final chapter, in which Carlin talks about how he'd like to turn the book into a concert and do the concert on Broadway. His triumphant New York moment. It's sad that this show's never going to happen. But in Last Words we don't really get a dream unfulfilled; we get a life discovered, and the final work of a brilliant, honest man who found what he wanted to say and wasn't afraid to say it.

What's Wrong with the Internet No. 49,306

Most of you know my particular hatred for the sentiment porn that goes around in the form of email chain letters. They used to be distastefully tinged with religion. Now, they're just weirdly threatening.

I got this one in my inbox this morning, and I thought I'd share with you all the spectacle of a letter offering you good luck in decidedly sinister terms. (The letter and poem are in italics, any bolded emphasis is mine.)

READ Alone..... Especially the POEM

I believe whatever is in store for us will be for us.

Obvious. Also, whatever happens to us will happen to us, and whatever we eat will be eaten by us. Have I ever stated my theory that all of these emails were actually written 60 years ago by Criswell?

The poem is very true, unfortunately.

Make sure you read the poem!

And what exactly makes this poem so important? Well, here are some examples.

CASE 1: Kelly Sedey had one wish, for her boyfriend of three years, David Marsden, to propose to her. Then one day when she was out to lunch David proposed! She accepted, but then had to leave because she had a meeting in 20 min. When she got to her office, ! ! she noticed on her computer she had some e-mail's. She checked it, the usual stuff from her friends, but then she saw one that she had never gotten before. It was this poem.. She simply deleted it without even reading all of it. BIG MISTAKE! Later that evening, she received a phone call from the police It was about DAVID! He had been in an accident with an 18 wheeler. He didn't survive!


See, I remember when these emails used to tell you that you'd have bad luck, or even that you were some kind of selfish bastard. Now they tell you that if you don't forward them right away, you or someone you love is straight-up going to die horribly. What sick mind creates these goddamn emails? Someone who saw The Ring and thought scaring superstitious people with a cycle of death and loss seemed like a lot of profound fun?

Yes, the coming poem is so powerful that not even reading it will cause your loved ones to die.


CASE 2: Take Katie Robinson. She received this poem and being the believer that she was she sent it to a few of her friends but didn't have enough e-mail addresses to send out the full 5 that you must. Three days later, Katie went to a masquerade ball. Later that night when she left to get to her car, she was killed in that spot by a hit-and-run drunk driver.

Wow, poor Katie. She was killed by the universe simply for not having enough friends. It's not enough that you have to try to live your life to fulfill your own needs, but you also have to have enough friends to abuse with a lame email forward, or else the poem will murder you simply for being unpopular. But popular enough to go to a "masquerade ball," because apparently this is 1790.

CASE 3: Richard S. Willis sent this poem out within 45 minutes of reading it. Not even 4 hours later walking along the street to his new job interview with a really big company, when he ran into Cynthia Bell, his secret love for 5 years. Cynthia came up to him and told him of her passionate crush on him that she had had for 2 years. Three days later, he proposed to her and they got married. Cynthia and Richard are still married with three children, happy as ever!

This one seems the most obvious bullshit to me. I mean, this is like the Wizard giving the lion some courage--oh, see, she had a "passionate crush" on you all along, and you didn't have to do anything to win her heart except read some poorly-written poem and forward it to your friends. Success!

It's actually even less work than The Secret, and The Secret is basically clicking your heels three times and wishing for good stuff to happen.

This is the poem:

Around the
corner I have a friend,
In this great
city that has no end,
Yet the days go
by and weeks rush on,
And before I
know it, a year is gone.
And I never see
my old friends face,
For life is a
swift and terrible race,

That last stanza especially reads like this was written by a middle schooler who's just read Tolkien for the first time. Does this poem offend your eyes as much as it does mine?

He knows
I like him just as well,
As in the days
when I rang his bell.
And he rang
mine but we were younger then,
And now we are
busy, tired men.

Wait, you rang each others' bells? Oh, I get it. So you were gay lovers when you were younger, but now you're caught up in the "swift and terrible race" of having jobs and being corporate stooges... well, that's kind of sad, but that's no excuse for your terrible cliches and tortured phrasing.

Tired of
playing a foolish game,

Ugh, there's another one.

Tired of trying
to make a name.
'Tomorrow' I
say! 'I will call on Jim
Just to show
that I'm thinking of him.'
But tomorrow
comes and tomorrow goes,
And distance
between us grows and grows.
Around the
corner, yet miles away,
'Here's a
telegram sir,' ' Jim died today.'

A telegram? Were you really good friends with this Jim? Because if you didn't even rate a phone call, and yet you lived in the same "endless" city, Jim probably didn't like you as much as you like him. I'm just saying, that's some pretty cold shit right there.

But here's my favorite part: the finale.

And that's what
we get and deserve in the end.
Around the
corner, a vanished friend.

We all deserve for our friends to die because we're out trying to make ends meet?


Like, really, what?

Again, you have to accept that the people who write these things really seem to take comfort in the idea that life will take away everything you have simply because you're not spiritual, popular, or apparently idle enough. Yeah, sorry I don't have time to whittle with someone I barely knew in high school and talk about our deep reservoir of feeling, but I've got to work 60 hours a week so I don't lose my house just because I wanted to take my baby to the hospital instead of letting her die from an easily preventable disease. You're right, my priorities are all fucked up.

Remember to always say what you mean. If you love someone, tell them.

Because when you decide that it is the right time it might be too late...

Seize the day. Never have regrets.

Hold on tight to your dreams and win one for the Gipper and such. Random cliched sentiment that douchebags think is profound and important.

And most importantly, stay close to your friends and family, for they have helped make you the person that you are today.

Of course, so have your enemies, your rivals, and anyone else who provided an obstacle to overcome. Really, aren't they the ones who make you try harder?

You must send this on in 3 hours after reading the letter to 10 other people. If you do this, you will receive unbelievably good luck.

Whoa, wait a minute... 10 people? What happened to 5? I distinctly remember that what's her name who was popular enough to get invited to a masquerade ball got murdered by the poem because she didn't even have 5 friends.

The more people that you send this to, the better luck you will have.

What do you gain from this, poem? Other than the possibility of more victims? Is that really all it takes for you?

SMILE, even through your tears!!!!!

And grit your teeth through intense, searing gas pain!!!!!