Monday, April 25, 2005


It’s been said that, during some of the more raucous moments of his star witness’ cross-examination, District Attorney Tom Sneddon - who’s been at the forefront of getting Michael Jackson on trial - could be seen cradling his head in his hands, visibly dejected at how poorly she was comporting herself. Between her admissions of having lied before, and her fears of being kidnapped in a hot air balloon, one wonders if the judge was ever tempted to hand her a shovel and advise her to start digging up.

Fortunately for the jurors’ sanity - and not, perhaps, for Michael Jackson’s - the weight of other evidence and testimony may yet see him convicted of the crimes he’s accused of. But if that witness had been all they’d had, the Prosecution’s case might well have been sunk right then and there.

Sneddon made a number of cocksure, “shoot from the hip” comments regarding Jackson and his music, when he’d announced the charges against the singer back in 2003. I wonder if he wanted to eat any of those words this last week?

(I think the blanket answer would be “I’m not going to discuss that.”)

Speaking of eating your words: Police have arrested Anna Ayala, who made headlines a short while ago claiming to have found a human finger in a bowl of Wendy’s Chili. (Kentucky Fried Chicken immediately apologized for someone having licked too hard)

The police arrested the woman for Grand Larceny, as she’s cost Wendy’s about $31 million dollars in lost business through the hoax, and claimed that Ayala was a litigation-prone con-artist. Maybe she shouldn’t have had her lawyer call up the fast food giant to talk lawsuit - er... settlement - before they’d found who lost the digit?

Now me, I’m wondering why Mrs. Ayala didn’t just claim that Wendy’s had hypnotized her into eating herself fat and stupid at their restaurants, instead. In the wake of such self-serving documentary drek as Super-Size Me, there’s a chance someone might have actually believed that.

So what’s the connection between “human” chili and “hugging” children, other than the obvious joke? If we’re willing to take it on faith that the mother of Jackson’s accuser was more interested in cash than justice - rather than a poor witness for a good case - then these individuals may be two more heads of the dreaded Finger Beast.

You’ve never heard of the Finger Beast? It’s a killer, let me tell you. It costs the American legal system untold amounts of time and money every year. And it’s forced who knows how many people to pay up to avoid damaging headlines and legal problems, not to mention the lingering stigma of having been accused of something - which is all it takes to have you proven guilty in the court of popular culture.

At some point, the Finger Beast figured this out. It could thereafter be seen pointing its eponymous part at anyone big enough to be seriously hurt by bad publicity, and rich enough to be willing to squirt out some hefty cash to avoid it. Thus was the Finger Beast made wealthy, one under-the-table payout at a time.

The problem was that the Finger Beast became a legitimate part of America’s way of doing business, public or private. Someone calls up and says they found a dead, fried rat in their KFC dinner box? See how much they want, pay it and shut them up. Someone says you got them up the stick at a the company’s Christmas Party? See how much they want, pay it and shut them up. Someone calls up and says they found a mouse in a beer bottle? Oh, wait, that was a movie... wasn’t it?

Now, unless it can be conclusively proven that aliens dropped the finger into Mrs. Ayala’s chili on the way back to her table, her past activities would strongly suggest that this matter is par for the Finger Beast’s course. No surprises there, other than Wendy’s surprisingly sane and intelligent way of handling the crisis.

As for the Jackson trial, it remains to be seen if there was any fire from the smoke caused by the singer’s questionable behavior with and towards young boys. The fact that he gave into the Finger Beast in 1993 - to the tune of $20 million, if some reports are correct - doesn’t mean that he actually did anything, given how payoffs have become common practice. But it sure doesn’t help his case, either, especially in the light of other, more credible witnesses.

If anything, it would be good if America used the medium of the Jackson trial - and the sad, developing case of Mrs. Ayala - to take a good, long look at how it deals with being hit up for hush money. But as long as the media is willing to treat accusations as convictions, it’s more than likely that the Finger Beast will continue to be well-fed.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Speechless Indecency

You could easily be forgiven for not really noting - much less caring - that noted FeministAndrea Dworkin popped her clogs last week. It was sort of ironic to learn that a womyn who had nothing but hatred for men, to judge by her writings, left a husband behind. But that she'd gotten married to anyone, much less "the Enemy," was something of a shock.

After all, we hadn't really heard that much out of her for some time. Her doughy face hadn't been seen as often in the press after her hey-day as an anti-porn crusader back in the 80's and 90's. She hadn't written anything notable in years, hadn't been rented out to speak about anything, and except for the occasional retrospective or "remember when...?" interview, she more or less disappeared. She could have become a cow mutilator for hire for all we knew. Maybe even a pole-dancer.

In other words, Dworkin suffered the fate best reserved for people of her ilk: another washed-up relic whose glory days had long since passed her by, she had not burned up, but slowly faded away in obscurity.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said the poisonous ideas she expressed, or the Victim Culture she and fellow traveler Catherine MacKinnon helped promote. The notion that popular culture - with or without actual penetration - is a harmful substance that needs the same amount of governmental regulation as DDT has not only taken root in America's political culture since their time, but has been enjoying bipartisan watering.

And the latest flowers to grow from that poisoned soil are some frightening fuckers, indeed.

This article from Salon spells out the nasty details. Note how the already-increased fines for indecency are being proposed to go up to half a million dollars per infraction. They're also wanting to delve into the traditionally-safe realms of cable TV, and considering following Howard Stern right over to satellite radio (which is currently safe from the FCC) as well.

Also note that there is considerable support for turning such infractions into criminal matters, and having not only broadcasters, but the people who wrote the material, arrested on suspicion of having broadcast indecent material.

Saying that scares the hell out of me is putting it mildly, maybe about as mild as the shows these people would apparently prefer we watch.

I haven't been this worried about this worried about government intervention in our right to speak and be heard since the Clinton Administration. Back then, Attorney General Janet Reno (and where is she, now?) was actually threatening Hollywood with "action" over things like Beavis and Butthead, Deep Space 9 and the Adventures of Briscoe County Jr. And our Philanderer In Chief, with Tipper Gore in tow, was all too willing to pay lip-service to the loons who wanted to bowdlerize popular culture "for the sake of the kids."

That was the genesis of the television rating system still in use today, and the so-called V-Chip in our televisions. One would think that, between these two technologies, it would be a rare thing for anyone to be exposed to something they don't want to see: adlibbed whoopsies and "wardrobe malfunctions" notwithstanding, anyone who can program their VCR should be able to protect their family from smut. And if they really can't, well, maybe they should consider tossing the thing out the window and actually reading the books that sit on their shelves.

But that's too problematic for Mr. and Mrs. Smith of Anywhere, USA, it would seem. We're told that when Victoria Secrets did their flesh parade special, the FCC's complaint lines were swamped. They had more or less the same reaction when Janet Jackson's pierced hooter was "accidentally" exposed during the Super Bowl's halftime show, though that's a little more understandable (I doubt the game was rated TV-M)

On the other hand, Ms. Jackson's boob was, up to that point, the most-requested TiVO moment of all. That could indicate that while many people have a problem with such spectacles on their television, many more don't have that same problem. But the FCC ignores the preponderance of 'want' over 'don't want,' because they see their mission as keeping the airwaves both uncluttered and clean, if only to stave off yet more crashings of their complaint lines.

That they, and Congress, go after that which is unclean with an unusual vehemence can be laid at the feet of our nation's culture vultures, who have conned us into thinking that "indecency" is a very harmful thing. And while this viewpoint was once the bastion of the moldy-fig right and their theocratic hangers-on, "liberals" like Tipper Gore, Senator Joseph Lieberman, Catherine MacKinnon and the now-late Andrea Dworkin helped make it increasingly "hip" for the left to jump on the bandwagon.And we're now reaching the point of critical mass, where, as the article was kind enough to point out, voices of moderation and restraint in this matter seem as "out of it" as censorious liberals once did.

One of the articles I linked to, up above, pointed out that one of Ms. Dworkin's sadder contributions to our social and political culture is that "far too many young women today would rather be bitten by a rabid dog than be considered a feminist." Sadder still would be a total capitulation of our nation's ability to be treated like grown-ups, just for the sake of "the children" and those who are too lazy or unintelligent to figure out how to protect themselves from things like South Park.

I'm speechless. I really am. But I hope the vast majority of Americans can regain their voice and speak against this nonsense before our rights go the way of Andrea Dworkin - forgotten and then dead.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Small Notations

Once more, the season of short, sharp points is upon your humble correspondent. I really should try to turn one or more of these into a full-blown column, but the blank page defies easy taming, and I have a few other pages to tame in the meantime. Mea culpa.

Having John Bolton sit as the American ambassador to a body that he not only despises, but wants to do away with entirely, is hardly likely to make the United Nations any better. Then again, I’m hard pressed to see how it could get worse. I’m still hoping his nomination gets torpedoed, though.

People really need to just get over the fact that Prince Charles was cheating on Diana with the lady he’s how gotten married to. Not only is it extremely old news, but a look at British history shows that Kings and Queens were not always the best-behaved of individuals-sometimes with disastrous consequences, and high bodycounts. If all Charles has really done wrong as heir to the throne was have a long-term affair with the woman he really should have married in the first place, then he’ll hardly be the worst King in their history.

Did I say ‘people?’ Maybe I really should say ‘The British Press.’ It seems they’re the ones who were stirring up every little molehill about the impending nuptials into a new mountain to proclaim from. I realize that’s par for the course for that country’s unique brand of journalism, but it’d be nice if they could lead by example-for once-and just deal with it.

It doesn’t bother me that Christian Identity bomber Eric Rudolph is most likely going to get consecutive life sentences rather than the death penalty, as this keeps him from becoming a real martyr to their sick and depraved cause. What bothers me is how this highlights the hypocrisy of the use-America Right, who are still demanding that “Islam” deliver an apology for 9/11. If Muslims around the world who have nothing to do with Al-Qaeda have to apologize for the actions of that tiny, sick-minded minority to ever be trusted again, do Christians around the world who have nothing to do with Christian Identity have to apologize for them, too? Or do we have to wait until - Goddess forbid - those Identity freaks perform an act of terrorism comparable to 9/11 to get one?

If you want a snapshot of how full of hot air the Blogosphere can be, check the rightward blogs’ reaction to the discovery that the now-infamous Schiavo memo was for real after all. The shorthand is that they don’t want to own up to having freaked out over nothing, and apologies and retractions are very slow in coming. There’s crow aplenty, here, for those wondrous defenders of “real journalism,” but lets remember that Congressional memos are the stuff of ill-gained legend on both sides of the aisle.

Speaking of hot air, it appears that I may have helped contribute some to a story. Remember the “Zombie Teen” case I talked about back in February? Well, in the meantime, we’ve learned from the Prosecutors that the story which got him in trouble wasn’t about zombies, was not a class assignment, and was actually reason for concern. He was released on bond, but is back in jail after visiting the school, against orders.

More importantly: in that same article, his grandparents state that they hope he gets help because he’s been “diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and often refuses to take his medicine.” Why the hell didn’t that little detail about Mr. Poole bubble to the surface back in February? From where I’m standing, that could help explain a few things...

The Pope’s funeral was a study in uncomfortable manners. The odd seating arrangements had countries that aren’t on good terms with one another sitting right next to one another, and part of the ceremony called for people to shake hands with their neighbors. We’re told that Tony Blair actually fled the scene when he realized he’d have to sit next to Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, who he’s had a cold war with for some time now. This left poor Prince Charles to hold down the fort, and he couldn’t escape a polite handshake with the man, who invited Charles to come down and be a guest anytime he wanted. We’re also informed that Israel’s President got a handshake from both Syria’s Assad and Iran’s Khatami, but the Iranians later hotly denied that the handshake ever took place, calling it a trick of the “Zionist media.”

The post office wants more of your money, again: the 1 class stamp is set to jump from 37 to 39 cents, with all other rates sliding on up around 5.4% as well. This will, of course, be accompanied by a 5.4% decrease in friendliness, timeliness and overall quality of service. Sooner or later it will cost five dollars to send a letter across town, and the postal clerks will be allowed to throw dodgeballs at your head as you approach the desk, so as to not have their morning coffee, doughnuts and email interrupted by actually having to work.

Speaking of price increases: gasoline might go up to four dollars a gallon if op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman has his way. His solution to the coming problem of far too many cars on the road, and the current problem of democracy deficits in the Middle East, is to hike gas up so far that no one can really afford it. That way, the icebergs won’t melt, and all the oil-rich countries will be forced to diversify their economy, women will have to be put to work, and their citizens will demand - and get - political and social reform. Friedman calls this strategy “geo-con,” and there’s a con in there, alright - especially if he thinks Americans are going to sit still for having their livelihoods disrupted any worse, just to reap benefits for countries who really don’t like us all that much. I guess it’s just as well President Bush doesn’t read newspapers, and is unlikely to be exposed to that whopper.

In even more ludicrous news, Cookie Monster is going to go on a diet. Well, not exactly, but he is going to be smacked upside the head with the notion that cookies are a “sometimes food.” This is being done to try and combat obesity amongst children, and instill better eating habits into them. Maybe they should just turn off the TV, go outside and play then - leave my Cookie alone!

And finally: we’ve learned, thanks to a recent reprinting of his pioneering dictionary, that Samuel Johnson’s definition of a rant was "high-sounding language unsupported by dignity of thought."

We try, Mr. Johnson. We try..

Sunday, April 03, 2005

John Paul II - Super Pope

They say life isn't at all like comic books. The real heroes are subtle and largely unnoticeable, the villains often get away with portraying themselves as heroes, and not everything comes out neatly at the issue's end. That and the heroes tend to die with alarming regularity, and don't come back after a few years with some kind of amazing - if usually cheesy - storyline to back up their resurrection.

Keeping that in mind, I was more than a little amused to learn, right after his death, that Pope John Paul II had a Marvel comic book of his life printed. I wonder who else might have had an issue #1 made of their life, up to a certain point, but the truth is that I'm almost afraid to find out. It might give me comic book envy.

Besides, I already have my own comic book of the late Pontiff in my own head.

I can hardly remember Panel One, and maybe I'm not really remembering this at all. I'm about seven years old, and suddenly there's a new Pope. His name is John Paul II, and he's from Poland, and that's really all I can make out of this frame.

Why is this so hazy, while other things from that time are as sharp and clear as a newly-printed TPB? Probably because we weren't Catholic - we weren't much of anything, religiously-speaking - so there wasn't much memorable discussion about it. I have greater memories of my mom's annoyance that I wanted Jimmy Carter to win in 1980 because we had the same first name.

As such, the death of the previous Pontiff was marked only by the appearance of the new one. It was much like the Zen Koan "First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is" - Old Pope gave way to New Pope, and life went on.

The next Panel is more distinct: the Pope is being shot. I'm not sure if I remember seeing it on TV, the way I remember seeing it when President Reagan was shot (they took 'Tom & Jerry' off the air). But I do remember reading the next issue of Time magazine, which featured it on the cover under the headline "Why would anybody want to shoot the Pope?"

Why indeed?

As weird coincidences would have it, Ronald Reagan was shot the around the same time. Both of their would-be assassins were described as "disturbed men": the sort of people who - in a more perfect, comic book world - might have gained some weird powers, donned ridiculous costumes and taken to robbing banks or cooking up ineffective deathtraps for local superheroes. But, as we live in reality, and not a four-color funnybook, they got guns and tried to kill important people for reasons that were, for want of a better word, tawdry.

However, one thing has always stood with me, and let's call this Panel Three: it's the image of the Pontiff in a cell with the man who shot him, telling that man that he forgives him.

I don't think Ronald Reagan ever got within breathing space of John Hinkley Jr. for the rest of his life, and who would have blamed him? But here was the Pope, forgiving his would-be assassin, in person.

I seem to remember the Pope being bent over and looking the fellow in the eyes, his expression somber and parental, but also concerned. Meanwhile the other man is either returning an intense stare, or not daring to meet the old man's eyes. I don't remember which, and part of me doesn't want to go find out, for fear of ruining the ideal with the fascism of fact.

And while part me of opines that it was something he really had to do, him being the Pope and all, I don't think it was forgiveness by the numbers. I think he really, actually meant every word. So that Frame's stayed with me, over the years - clear as day and twice as sunny.

There have been times when I've loved the Pope for saying or doing something I wish others would have said or done. There have been times when I've hated him for standing up for things that I think are archaic and wrong-headed, just because they're "tradition" or "doctrinal."

But I have never lost my respect for him at that one, pivotal moment in his career, when he looked his assailant (arch-enemy?) in the face and said he could forgive him even that.

I'm not Catholic. I'm not even Christian. My form of spirituality praises forgiveness, but it also believes in the legitimacy of sacred rage, and says that there are times when revenge is just cosmic justice served with strong feelings.

There are people out there who could stand to have a lack of forgiveness dropped on their heads - preferably along with a blunt object, like a bus - and I don't begrudge myself a smile when it happens.

But remembering that Frame, I find myself aspiring to let go of anger, fear, hate and the desire to do right back unto that other what I had done unto me. I find myself inspired, against all reason and sense of self-preservation, to forgive.

If a large part of what a real hero does is to inspire others to be better than they are, then John Paul II was - whatever his shortcomings - a super hero>

Friday, April 01, 2005

Speaking of Money from Corpses...

List of Schiavo Donors To Be Sold

Tue Mar 29, 4:52 PM ET

Local - WKMG

If you expressed your support to Terri Schiavo and her parents fight to keep her alive, you may begin to receive a steady stream of solicitations, according to a Local 6 News report.

Terri Schiavo's parents have agreed to sell their list of supporters to a direct-mailing firm, Local 6 News reported.

The company, "Response Unlimited" pays about $150 a month for 6,000 names and $500 a month for 6,000 e-mail addresses.

A spokesperson for the Schindlers confirmed that they had agreed to sell the information, but won't say for how much.

Well, I sure hope all those people who've tried to keep Terri "Alive" for longer than she'd have wanted under those circumstances used fake email. Otherwise, here come the viagra ads.