Monthly Archives: October 2004

glurk vs. glork, round 10

10/17/04

Before we go any further, you have to watch the video of Jon Stewart destroying Tucker Carlson on CNN’s “Crossfire”. It’s quick but violent, and can be seen here or here or here or here, or if you’re a pussy, you can read the transcript here.

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Pretty stunning, isn’t it? It may have been the most incredible piece of television to air in the last five years, though its embarrassing frankness will never end up on those Best TV Ever™ moments like when that guy threw the hatchet at the dummy’s crotch on Johnny Carson. Nope, this will be filed away in CNN’s “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” bin of self-delusion.

The upshot of this clip will be, well, nothing (of course), but like the Nixon/China cliché, this is the sort of smackdown that could only have been delivered by the least likely of sources, during the week when his book was at the top of charts. Jon had his moment, and he fucking used it.

The clip is uncomfortable-making. It throws away all the rules of television grace, and it might even seem a bit disingenuous of Stewart to tackle “Crossfire” when everybody knows the show is a farce anyway. What he did, though, was remind a few of us what it was like to feel “outrage.”

Outrage, as a concept, was never given to us as children. My generation, if I’m still allowed to use that word, had cynicism bred into our DNA; it was innate. Baby Boomers had to come by their cynicism the hard way, but us? Like Leonard Cohen sang, we always knew “the dice were loaded,” so none of CNN or Fox or MSNBC’s warped behavior comes as any surprise.

Jon Stewart, however, is a very early Generation X-er, and is still capable of outrage. Deep in my gut, as I watched this show, I felt the embers flicker of a similar disgust, as though I had briefly woken up from a long sleep, and remembered a time when Walter Cronkite would provide a sure, solid word about the events of the day. I remembered what it was like to turn to the media for facts, and it was so, so painful to fully grasp how low we’ve sunk.

The BBC and PBS are still relatively accessible to most Americans, so there is always respite from the sulfur-laced vitriol and quarter-baked waffle batter that passes for ideas on cable news, but the Stewart clip reminded me of much we have learned to put up with, and it was awful.

The problem is that Tucker Carlson found a niche for himself on the network, being the Alex P. Keaton bowtie-donning neo-iconoclast, and understood that if he played his part, he, his wife and his kids would have a nice income and possible book deals. If there had been room for a leftist counterpart, and if my neck were normal-sized, I would have jumped at the chance too.

But like all neo-con ideologues, he lost his shame sometime around the mid-to-late 90s. When Carlson criticized John Edwards for getting rich off of “Jacuzzi cases” – referencing a suit brought by the family of a girl whose intestines were sucked out of her body by a public pool – I knew he’d lost his mind.

In this clip, Jon Stewart, one of the legendary cool kids from a graduating year further in the past, has come back to school and reminded Tucker that he has lost his way. Stewart is taking a look around “Crossfire” like it was the old high school gym festooned with cruel posters about the opposing team, and can summon up nothing but disgust.

That’s what happens when you go looking for outrage, and only find numbness and spectacle. The question is this: will we ever care enough to bring shouting matches like “Crossfire” to their knees? Do we even want a civil discourse? Baby Boomers were late adopters of irony; maybe us Gen Xers can muster up a latter-day conversion and finally find something to offend us.

UR 2Good 2B 4Gotten

10/14/04

Okay, so Sean responded to yesterday’s blog by posting this on his own. I started writing a response, but then it got long enough that I’ll just put it here:

Dude, your characterization of Bush’s record on national security is woefully simple-minded. Yes, we were attacked, and then we attacked Afghanistan in return. Yet I’m 99% positive any Democratic (or Libertarian or Natural Law or Whig) President would have done the same. Fuck, even Jimmy Carter would have opened up a can of falafel-flavored whoop-ass on those soccer-field executionists.

But if you think the Taliban has no power, or that warlords aren’t running roughshod over the country en route to supplying 75% of the world’s opium, or that these elections really have legitimacy outside city limits, then you’ve been watching too much cable news with Joe.

Also, Bush attacked Iraq, which in the estimation of every sane observer of Middle East politics and elder statesmen has actually INCREASED odds of international terrorism. Over 15,000 civilians have died – with perhaps 100,000 wounded – and almost 1100 American kids. It was a colossal, global fuck-up on a Biblical scale. The “elections” slated for next January, if they happen, will be a farce worthy of Molière.

And if you’re going to credit Bush for having only ONE terrorist attack and none since, why doesn’t Clinton get credit for having NO terrorist attacks? Let’s also not forget it was 5 years between the first WTC bombing and the next mass-casualty event (the embassy bombings in East Africa). Bush hasn’t had another terrorist attack because of some decent work by America’s intelligence (which would have happened under any President), the de-centralized nature of the enemy, and, I suspect, a load of dumb luck.

What if we’d had a president that invaded Afghanistan and then put $120 billion into finding OBL and dismantling AL Qaeda units around the world? I mean, how frickin’ awesome would that be? We’d be so far ahead on the “War On Terror™” that I might actually consider letting my future children go to school in Manhattan. As it is, I won’t let them near the Brooklyn Bridge without a parachute and a chemical suit.

I blame Bush for this. He has given me dreadful anxiety about my family, you included. Most of this is the usual unresolved getting-beat-up-on-the-playground issues from the lonely streets of Cedar Rapids that have nothing to do with terrorism. My OCD put me in the loonie bin back in 2002, and I understand it better now. But Bush has fundamentally undermined our basic safety, and if we get hit again, the rest of the world will say “those fuckers had it comin’.” The European papers won’t say “We Are All Americans,” it’ll say “No Fucking Duh.”

I know you feel the same way about him that I do, but you can’t have any serious mention of the Bush Doctrine in your blog without owning up to what a horrifying piece of history he’s made us live in. There is no room for apologia when it comes to that miserable punk-ass chimp.

o tempora, o mores

10/13/04

History is never kind to eras that look like the Dark Ages, and it runs roughshod over individuals from those eras. For instance, we view Londoners contracting cholera from a pump handle in the 17th century as a bunch of numbskulls, even though they were going on their best information.

Thus, I want it right here in black and white: I KNOW FULL WELL HOW STUPID WE ALL SEEM RIGHT NOW. Watching tonight’s debate, future kids at the Radio and Television Museum will wonder how the election of 2004 was even close. “Did Bush have some sort of hypnotic control?” they will as their teachers. “Did everyone know something about Kerry that we don’t?”

The answer is no. There are people in this country who think they have a steady diet of good information, and they viewed last night’s debate and still thought Bush would have made a better president. Crazy? Yes, but true. America, like the world, is frequently messy and does just the opposite of what you might think. Where else but America could a movie like “Super Size Me” come out, and the company in question, McDonald’s, makes a whopping 42% more profit than last year?

It’s the same reason that anorexia rates go up whenever they do a Movie of the Week about it (hilariously called a “Jenny, Eat Something” movie by Vince Vaughn in “Swingers”). We are just bizarre, contrary, perverse beings.

But to try to apologize to our future brethren, let me just say that a) these are scary times, and b) the good guys, at last, put up a fight.

This third debate was a pale imitation of the first two, not as numbing as the second, and not the blowout of the first – but it’ll do. Bush can’t help that he looks like a monkey when he smiles, which is his only other emotion besides rage. When he started waxing evangelic about his prayer-time before sending kids to war, I wondered aloud: “does anybody but me find this really creepy?” Unbelievably, the answer turned out to be yes.

In effect, the debates have become the 3-point shot of American politics: the great equalizer. Months of spin, negative ads and 24/7 biased news coverage can actually be erased over the course of four and a half hours. In an era where very little except anti-depressants and soy latt

equus

10/12/04

I’m dreadfully sick with whatever Tessa had last week, and thus spent the last 36 hours in a Nytol-induced stupor. BUT… Tessa’s Aunt Brenda woke us up at 2:30am last night to tell us that her horse Miss Chief finally had her baby. I’ve always wanted to witness the birth of a horse, so we stumbled out into the field, where the foal had already been delivered, and immediately began walking upright. It was pretty fantastic.

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motor neuron speedway

10/11/04

There’s an old saw that says “conservatives are liberals who have been mugged.” I’d like to say that “liberals are conservatives who have seen their loved ones waste away from Alzheimer’s and paralysis.” You Republicans will find stem cells “ethically troubling” and “needing more research” until you actually watch a paralyzed family member stick a tube into their penis hole so they can urinate.

I mean, I guess I get it, if you actually believe the human spirit begins at conception. Personally, I don’t care if you take all our sperm and eggs and make a super-race of whiny Scotsmen, but I respect your right to be squeamish about harvesting embryos for stem cells.

But mostly, you’re just being inaccurate. The stem cells we’d like to research come from lines that ARE ALREADY AVAILABLE AND ARE GOING TO BE THROWN AWAY. Living in those tiny samples of tissue are the cells that could have saved Christopher Reeve this weekend, and will keep my mom from going blind before I have a child to show her.

Bush’s pandering to the Religious Right has claimed another victim, and nobody will put the blame where it belongs. In the meantime, Reeve has died, and so has Jenifer Estess, two people I was SURE would make it. I was POSITIVE Chris Reeve would walk again, if only to make this country drop their prissy evangelical hang-ups and jump on the bus. I was POSITIVE Jenifer would get better, somehow sneak a stem cell into her breakfast, and emerge from her apartment to enjoy a Magnolia cupcake.

Instead, they die. And we sit around and wait for something that will never come from this President. I’ve tried every notion I could to get readers of this blog to vote differently (my current hero is Laurie from Manly Dorm), but think about this: if you get in a car accident tomorrow, and are rendered a paraplegic barely able to sip celery juice out of a straw, one of these Presidential candidates can actually do something about it.

stars at night – sure are bright

10/10/04

Greetings from Cut & Shoot, Texas!

Yes, it’s a real place. Click here for our adventures last year, along with some cute pictures. We’re in the neighborhood celebrating the 88th birthday of Tessa’s grandmother Nonnie, who, upon asking how old she was, promptly said “one thousand.”

I’m going to jot down a few notes about the 2nd presidential debate, even though it’s probably old news to you fasty-fingers on the Internets. We were in the middle of southern New Mexico while it was on, so we cranked the satellite radio and listened to Kerry’s rational discourse and Bush’s hysterical blatherings under a crystal clear Milky Way.

In 1960, the televised debate between JFK and Nixon was called a landslide for Kennedy – but those who heard the debate on the radio gave the edge to Nixon. Not so much luck this time, as Bush clearly sounded unraveled and drunk on Rumplemintz, even on the fucking radio. There were debate moments that bred uncomfortable silence in the car, as both Tessa and I were wondering if Bush had actually eaten an audience member.

My feeling? If the debate had ended after 60 minutes, it would have been another Kerry shellacking. However, the last half-hour dragged, and Bush scored points just by surviving. I though Kerry didn’t handle the abortion shit very well, but came through on stem cells. By the end, it was hard for me to tell who had “won,” so I kept calling Sean on the cell phone for the dailykos mainstream TV wrap-up. As I suspected, it was considered a tie because Bush didn’t actually blow a fuel gasket and completed a few sentences.

I think that’s wishful thinking on behalf of some increasingly upset Republicans. The questions were almost point-blank directed at Bush’s shortcomings, and I don’t see how this debate will stop his slide in any districts that matter. I’d actually feel moderately confident about this election if I weren’t sure the GOP has some nasty goddamn trick they’re going to pull. Something worse than the Swift Boats, something worse than the Sinclair clusterfuck – and my guess it’ll be a November Surprise, with little chance for reaction.

Speaking of which, this laptop I’m on is the only piece of equipment transmitting anything Democratic or progressive for about a hundred mile radius. I’m on a landline connection at Tessa’s uncle’s place, and when Tessa and I talk politics, we have to shut the door and whisper. If they only knew the kind of liberal sites I was visiting under their very own roof!

Her aunt and uncle are absolutely wonderful people, and every time I get rabidly furious at the way Republicans have hoodwinked good, ordinary folk, I always think of them. The GOP Machine has taken advantage of their sweet nature, and there is no real going back; they have swallowed the pill whole. I love Tessa’s extended family as I love mine, but I’m really glad both live in the “safe states” of Utah and Texas.

Speaking of which, here are a few more pictures from our digs:

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P.S. It’s late, and I don’t know if the news is true, but Tessa and I are stunned by the reports about Christopher Reeve. Click here for our accidental dinner with such an amazing guy.

humidity: .006%

10/7/04

I am writing to you from a Flying J truckstop a few hours from Blythe, CA as we begin our trekward East. Tessa hates it when I fuck around on the internet while she just wants to get in the car and go go go, so I will have to make this brief.

In short, I have the following songs in my head, playing concurrently for TWO DAYS and it’s making me batshit. They are:

“Anyway You Want It” by Journey

“Shower the People” by James Taylor

That Song by Avril Lavigne That Sounds Just Like That Other Song by Her

and “Good King Wenceslas”.

Remedies, other than sticking a fast-food spork into my hindbrain, are much appreciated. And Bud, don’t give me any more songs to deal with.

I would like to thank Ayr brand nasal saline spray and Allergan’s Refresh Tears

1,001 arabian reruns

10/6/04

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Tessa has been really sick for the last couple of days, so when we got a meeting on the ABC lot yesterday, I had to perform our act solo. Here’s the thing about being in a pitch meeting, or even a meet’n’greet scenario: it is exponentially better if you are part of a team. It’s exactly like going to a bar – alone, you are Creepy McStalky, but with a pal or two, you’re a gregarious man about town.

A husband-and-wife writing team is not without historical precedent in this town, but it is a throwback, or at least an oddity, in a town full of white 30-year-olds wearing the same Banana Republic untucked shirts, peddling their wares with a like-minded college buddy. I think the missus and I give a pretty damned good meeting, and I know this because I actually have fun at these things, and my bar is set pretty high.

No offense to the movie industry, but people in TV have their shit together. We have traveled through many barred gates, worn many guest badges, and broken bread with lots of people making your favorite TV shows, and I have found them to be among the sharpest tools in the shed. You can complain all you want about television, but making a show is an honest day’s work, and it never ends until you get 100 shows in the can. These people know what they’re doing.

I used to deride television, mostly because I felt betrayed by it. At some point in the early 1990s, some episode of “Home Improvement” or “Full House” made the whole medium go sour for me, and I swore it off for a decade. But I admit to being humbled by it of late, because I discovered the following:

a) even making a bad show is unbelievably hard

b) we are entering a mini-Renaissance of quality TV

c) like Scheherazade, you only get to live another day if the story you tell has a really good cliffhanger.

page of wands

10/5/04

Since people like talking about these debates the day after (and I want to hear what you think as well), then I’ll go ahead and give another post-mortem to a debate that was definitely “mortem” in the “fun” department.

Give credit where credit is due: Cheney is no Bush. Cheney clearly knew answers to all the questions, even if 57% percent of it was a pack of lies. I found it excruciatingly difficult to believe that the two men had never met, and later on, it was proven they had. That was a major fuckup, seeing as they co-chaired a “prayer meeting,” which could make Cheney look like more of a mean guy than he already is.

But Dick landed a few good jabs to the face, and performed about as well as an arteriosclerotic bag of gelatinous bones can be expected to. Edwards kicked him in the nuts several times, but the problem is Cheney’s scowl makes it looks like his nuts have been pre-kicked for you.

I don’t think Edwards won this debate; simple reminders about this administration’s miserable record did, and Edwards happened to be the conduit. This is going to be a problem for the Republicans, as they can’t run far enough away from the steaming pile of shit they left on America’s living room rug.

I’m not getting cocky about the next two face-offs – Bush could easily look good due to the insanely low bar now set for him – but frankly, I’m surprised his people agreed to three debates. Clinton only had one in 1996, when he was running for re-election. In retrospect, that would have been a bad decision for Bush, who was clearly smoked in the last debate, and thus would have no redemption. But if he falters against Kerry again, it’s going to be very bad for them. They might have to cut bait.

In the end, the impression I saw was Cheney as an angry old man who might have had enough with “dominating the world.” I think the last four years have taken a toll on both him and Bush; both would never admit this, but some part of their subconscious wants out of this shit entirely.

Edwards, in his final shot, was shown beaming, holding his two toddlers in each arm. Pundits and online polls may be blowing angel’s breath up Edwards’ ass, but I do agree the sunny side of the street is where 51% of voters want to be standing.

full-bodied, hint of playfulness

10/4/04

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While the rest of us in the sniveling world of politics-obsession and celebrity-worship are arguing over our deck chairs on the Titanic, the kind, simple folk up in Napa Valley are finishing the 126-hour work week known as the Harvest. Some wineries are getting their charges up at 4 in the morning to pick grapes before the sun ruins them, and before any of them turn to raisins. Leave them even one day too long, and the 2004 Cabernet might totally suck.

We were up this weekend visiting my dad, who lives in St. Helena and is starting a wine of his own. Now, I share many things with my dad – a lifetime devotion to music, a soupcon of charisma, and occasional bursts of profanity, but wine is not one of them.

I turned 30 years old in Nag’s Head, NC with Dana, Lindsay and Chip – and at breakfast the next morning, I made the following declarations:

1. I will never eat an omelette again because I HATE THEM

2. I have to admit to myself that I don’t like wine that much

3. I now grant myself the permission to leave any social situation whenever I want.

Avoiding omelettes is easy. Leaving parties when I got bored was hard, because I was always sure that “fun” was just minutes away – but eventually that became second nature. But I really regret my ambivalence about wine, because everyone else in the world loves a nice glass of red wine, especially Michelle and my dad, who both speak about it the way I speak about- well, pumpkins, the Beatles or the Tar Heels.

But the vagaries of the wine business are endlessly fascinating. The way they graft the grape roots, burn fields with philoxera, and get all excited about specific years is pretty cool, and the bizarre shenanigans surrounding the business is almost cult-like.

Whenever I’m in Napa, I go into the wine cellars and ask to hold the most expensive bottle, because I think any liquid worth $4000 is worthy of a fetish. I’m the same way with exotic olive oils, impossibly expensive perfumes, and ancient Scotch – astronomically expensive fluids turn me on.

Anyway, it’s the end of harvest season, and my dad was pouring his grapes into the de-stemming machine (which replaced stomping, much to my disappointment). He and his partner Richard Walton have named their wine (RW)2 after their initials, and my dad gave me some of their 2002 to taste. And by god, I will do my best to like it.

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