28 April 2007

Cheesy Journalism

Bill Moyers gets it.

If you haven't seen it, watch it.

17 April 2007

Virginia is for (Gun) Lovers

Michael Daly writes in the NY Daily News:

Still love those guns, Virginia?

Ready to admit that it's madness for any psycho
to be able to saunter into a gun shop and acquire
firepower capable of killing 32 innocents?
Feel different now that the blood is the blood of
so many of your most promising young people?

You've been shrugging for decades as illegal guns
from your state plague our city, killing and
maiming and terrorizing New Yorkers by the
thousands, at one point comprising 47% of the
guns our cops recovered.

You even yukked it up with a "Bloomberg Gun
GiveAway" raffle at a gun shop that sold at least
22 guns used in crimes in New York.

You went into a tizzy when Mayor Bloomberg
sued some of your gun shops after undercover
agents made fraudulent "straw purchases."

Your idea of gun control has been to pass a law
making it illegal for undercover agents like those
Bloomberg sent South to make such buys.

You seemed to think it was no big deal when an
aide to your junior U.S. senator got caught
carrying an automatic pistol into the Capitol, you
having voted Sen. James Webb into office as an
avowed opponent of gun control.

You had a big debate this year about whether
Virginia Tech was wrong to discipline a student
who was caught carrying a licensed pistol to

Never mind that a Virginia gun license is not half
as hard to get as a driving license.

Never mind that there are so many guns lying
around that an escaped jailbird managed to get
hold of one and kill a cop and a security guard at
the edge of the Virginia Tech campus at the start
of the school year.

Yesterday, the shooting was in the heart of the
campus, which suddenly felt like the the bleeding
heart of the whole nation

(h/t James Wolcott)

12 April 2007

So it goes.

"Self-portrait" by Kurt Vonnegut

If the names Killgore Trout, Billy Pilgrim and Bokononism
mean anything to you, then you probably already know
that America has just lost one of its greatest authors.

Like most fans, I was introduced to Kurt Vonnegut’s work
in high school. Indeed, Cat’s Cradle was the first reading
assignment I ever truly enjoyed (and finished!) The style,
the humor, the ideas contained within that book hit me like
a bolt of lightning on a clear day. Back then, it was the
playful language (delivered in the bite-size, staccato
rhythms of a great stand-up comic) and the absurdly silly
plots (which often involved aliens, time-travellers and used
car salesmen) that made me an instant fan.

As an adult, I can appreciate the deeper aspects of
Vonnegut’s books. I came to realize, for instance, that
Slaughterhouse-Five isn’t really about a man who travels in
time and is held captive by the Tralfamadorians on a
distant planet. It is, in fact, about a man desperately trying
to maintain his sanity and faith in humanity after
witnessing the terrible costs of modern warfare. Vonnegut,
who witnessed these horrors firsthand as a POW in
Dresden during World War II, didn’t need a lot of words to
get the message across.

A guard would go to the head of the stairs every
so often to see what it was like outside, then he
would come down and whisper to the other
guards. There was a fire-storm out there.
Dresden was one big flame. The flame ate
everything organic, everything that would burn.

It wasn’t safe to come out of the shelter until
noon the next day. When the Americans and
their guards did come out, the sky was black
with smoke. The sun was an angry little pinhead.
Dresden was like the moon now, nothing but
minerals. The stones were hot. Everybody else in
the neighborhood was dead.

So it goes.

Kurt Vonnegut was notoriously difficult to pigeonhole. Equal
parts Mark Twain, George Orwell and Ray Bradbury, his work
defied conventional genres and labels.

But Tom Shippey, an Oxford scholar and author of J.R.R. Tolkien:
Author of the Century,
coined a term that describes not only
The Lord of the Rings creator but also Vonnegut and many of
his peers. He calls them traumatic authors -- writers who are
forced to use elements of fantasy to express the profound (and
unspeakably horrible) truths they’ve experienced in life.

Shippey writes:

The authors are trying to explain something at
once deeply felt and rationally inexplicable,
something furthermore felt to be entirely novel
and not adequately answered by the moralities
of earlier ages...

...this ‘something’ is connected with the
distinctively twentieth-century experience of
industrial war and impersonal, industrialized
massacre; and it is probably no coincidence that
most of the authors concerned (Tolkien, Orwell,
Vonnegut, but also Golding and Tolkien’s close
colleague C.S. Lewis) were combat veterans of
one war or another. The life experiences of many
men and women in the twentieth century have
left them with an unshakable conviction of
something wrong, something irreductibly evil in
the nature of humanity, but without any very
satisfactory explanation for it. Nor can they find
such an explanation in the literature of previous
eras: Billy Pilgrim’s friend Rosewater in
Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five agrees that,
‘everything there was to know about life was in
The Brothers Karamazov, by Feodor
Dostoyevsky. ‘But that isn’t enough anymore’.
Twentieth-century fantasy can be seen as above
all a response to this gap, this inadequacy.

So it goes.

I had the good fortune of seeing Kurt Vonnegut at a book-
signing event for Timequake in 1997. I was sad, though a
bit skeptical, when he announced it would be his last
novel. Though he stayed true to his word, Mr. Vonnegut
continued to live, speak and write for another decade. The
essays he wrote and appearances he made in those last
years were always bittersweet affairs. His weariness with
the world and pessimistic view of human nature could no
longer be obscured or diluted with ironic punchlines.

His final book, A Man Without a Country is a collection of
those late essays. It is vintage Vonnegut, stripped of all

Humor is a way of holding off how awful life can
be, to protect yourself. Finally, you get just too
tired, and the news is too awful, and humor
doesn’t work anymore. Somebody like Mark
Twain thought life was quite awful but held the
awfulness at bay with jokes and so forth, but
finally he couldn’t do it anymore. His wife, his
best friend, and two of his daughters had died. If
you live long enough, a lot of people close to you
are going to die.

It may be that I am no longer able to joke -- that
it is no longer a satisfactory defense mechanism.
Some people are funny, and some not. I used to be
funny, and perhaps I’m not anymore. There may
have been so many shocks and disappointments
that the defense of humor no longer works. It
may be that I have become rather grumpy
because I’ve seen so many things that have
offended me that I cannot deal with in terms of

This may have happened already. I really don’t
know what I’m going to become from now on.
I’m simply along for the ride to see what happens
to this body and brain of mine. I’m startled that I
became a writer. I don’t think I can control my
life or my writing. Every other writer I know
feels he is steering himself, and I don’t have that
feeling. I don’t have that sort of control. I’m
simply becoming.

All I really wanted to do was give people the
relief of laughing. Humor can be a relief, like an
aspirin tablet. If a hundred years from now
people are still laughing, I’d certainly be pleased.

01 April 2007

Refreshing Honesty

In today’s New York Times, a former Bush campaign
strategist quits drinking Kool-Aid for Lent.

He said his decision to step forward had not
come easily. But, he said, his disappointment in
Mr. Bush’s presidency is so great that he feels a
sense of duty to go public given his role in
helping Mr. Bush gain and keep power.

Mr. Dowd, a crucial part of a team that cast
Senator John Kerry as a flip-flopper who could
not be trusted with national security during
wartime, said he had even written but never
submitted an op-ed article titled “Kerry Was
Right,” arguing that Mr. Kerry, a Massachusetts
Democrat and 2004 presidential candidate, was
correct in calling last year for a withdrawal from

Impressive. Maybe someday Matthew Dowd will let me
publish his essay along with my never-before-seen article
from 2003, “How the Red Sox will win the World Series.”

In the last several years, as he has gradually
broken his ties with the Bush camp, one of
Mr. Dowd’s premature twin daughters died, he
was divorced, and he watched his oldest son
prepare for deployment to Iraq as an Army
intelligence specialist fluent in Arabic. Mr. Dowd
said he had become so disillusioned with the war
that he had considered joining street
demonstrations against it, but that his continued
personal affection for the president had kept him
from joining protests whose anti-Bush fervor is
so central.

But it’s the thought that counts, right? Just like all those
right-wing warmongers who considered enlisting to fight in
Iraq, but didn’t out of continued personal affection for
attacking other people’s patriotism and protecting their own

He said that he still believed campaigns must do
what it takes to win, but that he was never
comfortable with the most hard-charging tactics.
He is now calling for “gentleness” in politics. He
said that while he tried to keep his own conduct
respectful during political combat, he wanted to
“do my part in fixing fissures that I may have
been part of.”


Mr. Dowd does not seem prepared to put his
views to work in 2008. The only candidate who
appeals to him, he said, is Senator Barack
Obama, Democrat of Illinois, because of what
Mr. Dowd called his message of unity. But, he
said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if I wasn’t walking
around in Africa or South America doing
something that was like mission work.”

He added, “I do feel a calling of trying to re-
establish a level of gentleness in the world.”

Have you noticed that as President Pissypants’ approval
ratings continue to fall into the abyss, more and more cynical
shitheads like this guy suddenly decide that it’s time for
everyone in Washington to break out the peace-pipe and
sing kumbayah?

Now that Iraq is officially a clusterfuck, the Constitution is in
, and the Republican party is on the ropes, those of
us who have been right about this stuff for the past six
years (and attacked for it) are supposed to play nice with
these idiots?

If I may borrow a phrase once used by our current vice-
while speaking to a colleague in the U.S. Senate...

Go fuck yourself.