Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Barbarism and Barbarella

As we've seen before, some weeks there's no news. Other weeks, like this one, there's too much. Where do I begin? How do I thread it all together? Is there a common theme, Wes? I often talk to myself this way, to feel as though I have close friends in my head.

Speaking of close friends, George Bush, a Christian, has close friends in Saudi Arabia's government and royalty. He might want to speak to them about the little raid conducted on a "clandestine" church in suburban Riyadh that netted 40 illegally worshipping Christians. Since it is legal to practice Christianity in Saudi Arabia in the privacy of one's own home (it's like drinking 40-ouncers here!) you would think that it would be GOOD that it was a clandestine church. That means "private." But the Saudi's don't see it that way. To them it means "sneaky."

Speaking of oppression of lifestyles -- and I bet you think I'm headed for Washington State's non-passage of a law to stop discriminating against gays, but no! I'll do that later! – we see that a "study" in England has determined that office workers suffer a greater loss of IQ from reading email and text-messages and taking phone calls at work than from smoking pot. Email etc. takes 10 points off your IQ, smoking pot takes only 4 points off.

I have so many questions at this point. 1) Where can I sign up to participate in such a study? I would like to have my IQ lowered by the pot, thank you. 2) When they say "study," what exactly do they mean, anyway? Do they just pass out the joints, take up clipboards, and walk around stroking their chins? Or are there electrodes implanted in brains? 3) Only 4 points off for the pot!? So why is it illegal!?

Oh, never mind, I know the answer to that last one! It's illegal because there's a law against it, and we can't have lawbreakers can we? Golly, I don't know if there is any connection, but here in the news it says that even though violent crime is way down in this country we still have more people in prison than just about any other country in the universe.

OK, one more news story and then I'll shut up for another week: we're talking about oppression again, only this time it isn't oppression of a lifestyle, exactly. We're talking about the incident that occurred while Jane Fonda was in Kansas City on her book tour, and a Vietnam Veteran, Michael Smith, spit tobacco juice in her face for having been a traitor to America who had "spit in the faces of war veterans for years."

Since many of you readers are too young to remember the Vietnam War, I will summarize it for you. We picked up the war right about where the French had lost it. It was popular for a while, then it became unpopular. So a lot of people expressed their displeasure with it, including the star of the movie Barbarella. Most of those people have not been accused of having spit in the faces of war veterans for years, since actually not as much of that occurred as has been reported. Jane Fonda herself did not ever spit, literally, in anyone's face, as far as I know. But Jane Fonda was the star of the movie Barbarella.

Tom Hayden could protest the war to his heart's content, but Jane Fonda was a woman, and that's all this is about. It isn't really even about Vietnam. It certainly isn't about treason, because Jane Fonda just wanted what our president at the time eventually gave us, and called good.

It's all about oppression. Mind your superiors. Don't pray to Jesus in Riyadh. Don't smoke pot. Three strikes and we'll put you away for life. No uppity women, especially during wars. Oh, yes, and don't forget Rule #9: There's always a war.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Legged Forces? Ha!

OK, I have a weird sense of humor. I'm not going to tell you I don't giggle during funerals. How could death not be funny? I guffaw at expressions like "hand soap" and "light bulb." Have you ever used elbow soap? No? Are your elbows filthy? What's the opposite of a light bulb? A dark bulb? A heavy bulb? How many Deadheads does it take to change a heavy bulb, man? These things occur to me the instant I hear the words, no matter how often I hear them. I laugh without warning or explanation, and then people around me slowly back away.

So I set forth topics here with considerable trepidation. I worry that the things I find hilarious may be only mildly humorous to my readers. Or worse, I think I might make some crack about some subject, and everyone might recoil in horror, and my friends might have me locked up for my own protection and emergency psychiatric care.

That might happen for example if I wrote this column about Andrea Dworkin and my thoughts on how gay pornography can only do violence to women by excluding them, and how "f*** you" is really a very nice thing to say to someone: "F*** you." "Why thank you very much, I'd enjoy that immensely. And you get f***ed, too." "Thank YOU. You are ever so gracious!"

But this week we aren't going there. We are going to the land of sure-fire universal humor. We are talking about the likes of monkeys riding Labradors, ducks wearing Groucho Marx glasses, and squirrels water-skiing. We are talking about GW Bush's iPod playlist.

What a gift this is! For those of you who were living in a bomb shelter all last week, an aide of our president has revealed GWs iPod playlist, according to a New York Times story. Mr. Blake Gottesman, Bush's personal aide, actually downloaded the songs on the list to Bush's iPod, because Mr. Bush is so busy freeing the world, but we are all certain that the list reflects Bush's tastes, or at least his tastes as understood by someone extremely close to him. So what we have here, boys and girls, is nothing short of the George Bush Rosetta Stone!

Sure, the New York Times didn't publish the whole list. They only teased us with a dozen or so titles and a general description of the rest. But that general description came through the filter of the New York Times, the most respected newspaper in the world of the 90s. If that doesn't make it golden information, it's at least really shiny information.

So what do we know about George Bush now that we didn't know before? Well, for one, he likes "My Sharona," a song about an old perv hot for a much younger girl. So Bush is a letch. We know that the list is heavy on boomer rock and short on R&B, AKA "colored music." Based on secondary sources, we are fairly confident that there is no Elton John, although we are still awaiting confirmation. There is evidently only one female artist on the list.

We are sure of this: if George weren't president he'd be an all-the-time cowboy-hat-wearing crying-in-his-milk ex-alcoholic I'll-buy-your-beer but I'm-on-the-wagon-myself kind of letch. Just like he acts!

Our final conclusion: George Bush is an ex-alcoholic, racist, mostly sexist, homophobic, wannabe pedophile. This information will be very valuable to foreign governments seeking to know how George Bush will react in a crisis. He'd react like anybody you've seen on the Jerry Springer show, only in slow motion.

Now, looking at that assessment, consider this: The US Justice Department and the Bush Administration, through things like the PATRIOT Act, wants to know what YOU read and what music YOU listen to. After their agents have found that out, what would their assessments of YOU look like?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Nothing News Under the Sun

Let's talk about the current lack of news!

I don't know how things are for you way out there in the future, three days from now, but here in your recent past nothing is happening. No world religious leaders have died in the last few days. No heir apparent to the throne of a major constitutional monarchy has wed within the last five or six days. If we're involved in a new land war anywhere nobody bothered to tell CNN. Headlines say China blames Japan for everything, but that's not news.

Oh, sure, there's the usual smattering of the homeless news that I enjoy so much. As a homeless news junky I make sure that I read all the homeless news there is every day. Today is as typical a day in the homeless news biz as they come. I will describe that typical day for you.

Today, as every day, there's at least one story about a big fire somewhere that leaves a whole bunch of people homeless. Sometimes it's a giant brush fire in Mozambique that renders whole villages worth of people homeless. Sometimes it's an apartment complex in Toronto or Budapest or Cincinnati. Today it happened in Duluth.

I always think of the people made homeless by fires as the luckiest of all the recently become homeless in the world because they have the easiest answer to the question, "Why are you homeless?" Others of us have to say things like: "Long-standing government policies regarding housing development, mortgaging, real estate laws, rental laws, subsidized housing, and zoning, have resulted in a desperate shortage of housing affordable for poor people, and I am one." The fire victims get to say: "House burned down."

Next, there's the homeless animal story. Today it's the story of "Blackie," the Dalmatian/Border collie mix, who became abandoned when her homeless owner froze to death under the Queensboro Bridge in NYC last December. It's a feel-good story. Thanks to some concerned private citizens, United Action for Animals, and a group called the Mayor's Alliance for NYC Animals, Blackie was housed until recently on the Upper East Side, and she has just this week been driven to a new permanent home in Philadelphia. The story, which appeared in the New York Daily News, also names three of the concerned citizens who helped out. But the original owner who froze to death is unnamed.

Of course, every day, someplace in the world, they are counting homeless people. Reports usually say homeless counts are up from last year, but sometimes they're down in one little town here or there. Let's say you live in Pissatchoo, Washington, and the town's one homeless guy, Max, hitchhikes the twenty miles to Wenatchee. Well that's going to lower your homeless numbers in Pissatchoo. It's all related to statistics and fluctuations and stock markets and missile guidance systems, and it's not really important unless Max scores housing in Wenatchee. Otherwise nothing good happened and nothing bad happened (that hadn't already.)

Finally there is a string of stories every day about new services or shelters that are planned or that are opening up, dovetailed with a roughly equal string of stories about existing services or shelters shutting down or not happening for lack of funds. Today we learn that pretty soon Phoenix will get itself a $24 million downtown homeless "campus," which will actually be more like a shopping mall of homeless services. Meanwhile, further west, Ventura County was having trouble even finding a site for some proposed transitional housing. You win some, you lose some.

Last but not least, there are the stories that tell me that homeless people commit crimes, too. I have yet to pick up a paper and read any headlines that scream "Housed Man Confesses to Nearly 50 Brutal Slayings" or "Apartment Dweller Accused of Eating Rape Victims."

When that happens, that will be news.

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

On Jesse and Other Hams

With the death of Pope John Paul II, we have lost a great friend of the poor and a great supporter of freedom and justice. I find myself thinking it cannot be. He's punking us, right? This is all a gag; the cardinals are in on it; they'll go through the whole process of picking some unknown as the new pope -- white smoke, black smoke, white smoke, black smoke – the new guy will step forward, and -- surprise! -- it's John Paul II again.

Of course, we here at Irony Central feel it is our duty to laboriously root out and expose ironies wherever they are, even surrounding the recently deceased. So we can't help but note that some of JP II's so-called socially conservative positions yield delicious ironies.

Let's take his opposition to the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. It may not be ironic that the Pope considered rubber prophylactics to be unnatural means of preserving the benefits of abstinence without preserving the form, while he considered a tube surgically introduced to the stomach by way of the navel (in grotesque imitation of God's own umbilical cord) to be a perfectly natural means of preserving the benefits of eating, without preserving the form. But there is literal irony in the way that John Paul insisted during his last days on not being taken to an intensive care unit.

Speaking of people whom I mostly agree with but not always, I was struck by Jesse Jackson's last minute push to restore Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. One of his assertions in that regard was especially interesting. He said, "We cannot hide behind the law and not have mercy."

Overlooking the debate over the notion that it is mercy to ignore someone's wish to die with dignity, I see Jackson equating obedience to the law and support of the courts' decrees with evading moral responsibility. This from a man who would have been president?

Here's another rule of mine: if a private citizen disobeys the law in the interests of doing what he thinks is morally right, that's civil disobedience. But if an elected official disobeys the law in the interests of doing what he thinks is morally right, he's substituting his morals for the people's laws and our constitution, and so then he's an arrogant ass.

Jesse Jackson is only spared that judgment by never having been elected. But he tried to talk Jeb Bush into being an arrogant ass. And the irony is: Jeb Bush wasn't! What a strange world we all live and die in.

I'm reminded of another irony connected to Reverend Jesse Jackson that I passed up last year. Remember the big flap about gay marriage that everybody was jabbering about during the presidential campaign? During that time Jesse made a little speech at Harvard in which he downplayed comparisons of the gay civil-rights movement with that of African Americans, saying, "No slave was ever enslaved because he was gay."

In fact, during the slave era, enslavement of Africans was justified on a bogus theory that they descended from a gay man! And Reverend Jackson, being a reverend, should have known that!

You see, there's this passage in the Bible that says one of Noah's sons, namely Ham, "saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without." So then Noah cursed Canaan (son of Ham) with perpetual servitude.

During the slavery era, that little passage was widely interpreted like so: Ham actually had sex with his drunken, passed-out, father, euphemisms aside. "Canaan" did not refer to just one of Ham's sons, but "Canaan" was taken to stand for all the descendants of the offender Ham. These included all black Africans in the view of Christians of those days.

Of course, nobody thought that Ham's crime was solely what we would call it today: incestual rape. No, it was seen primarily as committing a homosexual act. There's your irony.