OK, the tenth anniversary of the worst foreign blunder Uncle Sam has ever committed has come and gone, but the post-invasion headlines remain the same:
Explosions in Baghdad kill dozens and wound scores
“International Herald Tribune, 3/20/13
For Iraqis, no time for reflection, only desperation
“ International Herald Tribune, 3/19/13
Iraq War Intelligence Was a Lie
“Daily Telegraph, 3/18/13
No Country Since 1945 Has Suffered More
“Daily Telegraph, 3/18/13
Ten years on, death still stalks Baghdad
“Daily Telegraph, 3/14/13
I could go on. The only victor has been Israel, whose nuclear domination of the region has been assured once the great bluffer Saddam was removed. Iraq is now a very weak nation split in three, with the Kurds up north, the Sunnis around the middle, and the Shiites down south. Uncle Sam spent four trillion dollars and is now broke. Nearly five thousand young Americans lost their lives and at least 30,000 were wounded, some grievously, blind, without limbs, and needing hospitalization for the rest of their lives. Iraqi casualties were estimated to be as high as one million, a number that is dwarfed by the number of Iraqis who became displaced.
And in the midst of this tragedy, that smirking criminal shyster Dick Cheney is given a whole hour by HBO to play Edith Piaf’s signature song, “I Regret Nothing.” Of course he regrets nothing; decency and honesty are not in his vocabulary. After all, didn”t Cheney the brave warrior avoid the Vietnam draft by taking five deferments? As they say, only in America folks, only in America.
And it gets worse. My friend Russell Seitz, a Harvard professor”please don”t hold it against him, he’s a very nice person”sent me a picture of a nine-foot bronze colossus of George W. presently adorning downtown FushÃ«-KrujÃ« in Albania. Russell did not specify why the bronze statue went up, but I can guess. It’s because W. facilitated Albania’s criminal classes to invade Europe when he handed Kosovo to the drug gangs that rule it. It is certainly not for his heroics in Vietnam, because like Cheney, W. stayed safely behind the war zone.
Derbs make dash for freedom “ China’s long game “ Sing-along-a-Peng “ Microaggression “ Born too soon “ Ogooglebar “ How to get the thigh of the grasshopper “ Harry Reid’s Believe It Or Not “ No halba InglÃ©s “ Norks gone wild “ SCOTUS and the gays “ Say rude words, lose your constitutional rights “ Lessons of Cyprus “ One is the loneliest number “ The Moon Is High.
If my kids turned out to be gay, I”d say, “Oh great, there go my grandchildren” and move on. But if my son turned out to be the guy at The New York Times who covered modern dance, I would lie in the bath and dig a razor blade into my wrists so deep, you”d think there were vaginas living there. And if my daughter ever moved to LA, I”d send her my head in a box. Los Angeles is to life what New York City is to a woman’s ovaries. It’s an elephant’s graveyard where stupid losers go to die. Here are 10 reasons why.
1. EVERYONE LOOKS LIKE THEY”RE ON METH
If they”re not going to an audition, they wear floppy sweatpants that scrape along the ground, worn-out flip-flops, and a tank top that doesn”t fit. They carry around tiny dogs as if they were purses. Their hair is ratty and dyed blonde and they”re always smoking a cigarette like a guy in jail hoping not to get caught. Even cool people in LA dress terribly. They either look like dads dressed up as hipsters for Halloween or giant babies who have been locked in the grunge closet since 1993. I think this is because they never go out, so they never have a New Yorker goin”, “Where you goin”?“
2. IT ALL LOOKS THE SAME
Beverly Hills is hilly, Venice is a nice homeless beach, and Santa Monica is a pretty place for gays to eat lunch, but the rest of it consists of highways, byways, and billboards. All you do in LA is drive and it’s amazing to be in a car for nine hours and see nothing but billboards for The Voice next to ratty palm trees and abandoned carpet stores. Does anyone live in this city?
3. TRAFFIC IS APARTHEID
I”ve always thought that people who live under communism slowly lose their souls. LA is worse. The place is so sprawled-out, grabbing a beer means going to jail for drinking and driving. You”re left with no choice but to stay indoors, unemployed and alone. For a city virtually made of cars, you can”t get around. If you”re in Venice and you need to get downtown, you had better wait until 10AM after the traffic dies. When you”re there, you had better get out before 3PM or you won”t be able to get back to Venice until 6PM. Your whole day revolves around these tiny windows of unclogged freeways and that means you”d be lucky to squeeze in more than two meetings a day. Trying to socialize is futile. I met a Jewish guy there who grew up near West Hollywood, and he said he never bothered making black or Hispanic friends because he knew a regular commute to East LA would be impossible.
4. NOBODY DOES ANYTHING
Every time you ask someone in LA what they”re working on, it’s always the same pilot from last year and it’s always the only thing they”re doing. A pilot is about 40 pages. That should take a day to write and maybe six days to shoot. What are you doing for the other 51 weeks, masturbating? How can you afford it? We”re told film is their biggest export, but when I check the OnDemand on my TV, I”ve seen everything. There’s only about a new movie a month on that thing. There are almost four million people in Los Angeles and they can only give me 12 movies a year? Costa Rica has the same population and they give us 200 million pounds of coffee a year. Get to work, you fucking flakes.
5. SPANISH ARCHITECTURE
What is this, Zorro? You can paint the cinderblock walls of your home orange and have illegals plant all the exotic trees you want, you”re still living in the same cement house they use to hand out free condoms in Mexico. What was Randy Newman talking about?
Why are you hugging me? Was I lost at sea for seven months? Are you my twin sister? You hug your kids because you want to wrap your arms around their funny little torsos. You hug your wife because she likes that and it may lead to something after the kids go to bed, but I don”t hug my friends” friends. People in LA don”t just hug you. They squeeze the shit out of you and hold it there. I find the only way to get these bitches away from me is to put up my hand for a high five but when you do that, they look at you like leprosy is back. Sorry, hugging someone you don”t know screams, “I”m full of shit” so loudly, it’s even more insulting than calling someone a leper.
A nice package arrived by post just as I was going to ring a friend in London and inquire how old and how good was a title whose bearer uses it more often than a footballer says the F-word. I will not name the bum because I did a few weeks back and he doesn’t need more publicity.
All I’ll say is thank God for the Almanach de Gotha, which arrived in brilliant cardinal red for 2012 and beautiful Byzantine yellow for the 2013 edition. I thank the publisher John Kennedy because the 189th edition of the Gotha comes in very handy. There are more phonies flitting about than there are blonde Russian hookers, and the Almanach is the ultimate judge of who is real.
The person I was ringing London about, incidentally, ain’t hardly up with the real oldies, but they made it through morganatic marriages and other such climbs. Your humble high-life correspondent is mentioned twice, both times through marriage, which makes me look like a gigolo, but what the hell, I’ll take it; I’m in the Ionian Isles Gold Book, which for some strange reason is not included in the Almanach.
“If I sometimes pay a compliment to a lady, I don’t expect to be called a pig for it.”
So women made me, according to the good book, which is only fair. I’ve spent the better part of my life thinking, yearning, lusting and chasing after them, so the least they could do is ennoble poor little me. Melanie McDonagh wrote in the March 9 Speccie on the 50 years of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. How I remember the dates of late March 1963, although back then if I heard the word Friedan I would have thought it had something to do with freedom in Sudan, a place from which I had recently escaped once the locals decided to nationalize my dad’s giant textile factory. (The 5,000 workers who toiled in air-conditioned comfort all lost their jobs and the factory was wrecked and burned to the ground after only two years of the Mahdi’s Africa-for-the-Africans nationalist government.)
Why do I remember the date so well? Easy. Already engaged to the French Cristina de Caraman, I arrived in New York and fell madly in love with an Anglo-American girl who later married the great James Toback, a director and screenwriter (Bugsy) and raconteur extraordinaire, and a man who would win a fortune in any sports quiz program, something he refuses to do as he deems it much too plebeian.
While tripping the light fantastic with the Anglo-American gal, I was also taking aim at an all-American girl who had spent time in Paris but could only answer “Daddy’s in Detroit” when someone said “Bonjour” to her. (No linguist she.) The all-American called me one night crying over the telephone that she had been attacked and that I better come over. I lived at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel gratis as my parents kept an apartment there all year, and the all-American was living at the Carlyle.
Here is an old Soviet-era joke, from the subgenre in which dimwitted peasant Khruschev plays Costello to smart seminarian Stalin’s Abbott.
Stalin and Khruschev are touring the East European satellites in Stalin’s personal locomotive.
They are sitting in the carriage chugging along when Khruschev leans over to Stalin and says: “Comrade Yosif Vissarionovich, help me please. I never know which one of these countries is which. Where are we now?”
Stalin: “What time have you got?”
Khruschev, looking at his watch: “Ten AM.”
Stalin: “Well then, according to the schedule this must be Czechoslovakia.”
Time passes. Again they are back in the carriage chugging along. Again Khruschev asks Stalin: “Where are we now?”
Stalin: “What time have you got?”
Khruschev, looking at his watch: “Four PM.”
Stalin: “Then this is Hungary.”
More time passes. Again Khruschev leans over to Stalin: “I’m sorry to be a nuisance, Comrade, but I’ve lost track again. Which country are we in now?”
Stalin: “What time have you got?”
Khruschev pulls back his sleeve to check the time. “My watch! It’s gone!”
Stalin: “Ah, then this must be Romania.”
This joke is a slur on the noble Romanian people, whose hospitality I once briefly enjoyed. My wife also reminds me that her first dentist in the USA was Romanian, and a very fine dentist he was and apparently still is. The stereotype of Romanians as a nation of thieves is, ethnic Romanians are not shy to tell you, the fault of the Gypsies, who are especially numerous in that neck of the woods.
Here I must insert the usual disclaimer for the benefit of readers too feeble-minded to grasp sophisticated mathematical concepts such as “average” and “variation.” I am sure”I have no doubt whatsoever“that there are many worthy and talented persons of the Gypsy ethnicity.
Gypsies in the generality, however, are bad news, working as little as they can while stealing as much as they can. Romanian Gypsies seem to embody the negative side of Gypsyhood in a particularly concentrated form. In Britain, to which they have had some limited access since Romania joined the European Union in 2007, they have specialized in stealing entire houses while the homeowners were on vacation.
(“Anti-racist” hysteria has reached totalitarian levels over there, so the fact of the thieves being Gypsies is rarely mentioned. If you talk to British people, however, you will learn that, as the Brits say, “even the dogs in the street know it.”)
At the beginning of next year, just nine months from now, that limited access becomes unlimited. Romanian Gypsies will then be just as British as the British, or at least as British Gypsies.
Except that they won’t. I lived for 35 years in Britain and don’t recall any news stories about Britons”no, not even British Gypsies”stealing the houses of vacationing fellow citizens. The “squatting” phenomenon has been around for a while, but it targets abandoned or long-unoccupied buildings.
I am speaking here of human group characteristics at the ethnic or national level. Although a deeply unfashionable topic nowadays, peculiarities of national character used to supply much of our humor, from Shakespeare’s comic Welshmen to late-20th-century Polish jokes. National Lampoon did a fine compendium of the underlying stereotypes at about the last moment when it was possible to do so without being hauled off to the Ministry of Love for interrogation.
Cyprus is a small island in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Turkey and Syria. On a map it seems to belong more in the Middle East than Europe, but for a host of historical reasons it is included. The 1.1 million people who live there are citizens of the European Union.
I don”t live there, so should that matter to me? It matters because the banking abomination being attempted in Cyprus is the first of its kind in modern times”the literal confiscation of “taxes” from bank accounts. Cyprus should matter to you if you have money in any Western bank, prefer to use credit cards instead of cash, or believe in the rule of law.
Cyprus is basically insolvent and the economy is about to repeat scenes you”ve watched in every movie about the Great Depression. To stop it from happening, the European Union offered a loan, but only if the government of Cyprus “taxes” bank accounts.
How can the government tax bank accounts? They cannot; they can only steal from them. It is called a “tax” because to call it theft invites revolt against the government. A bank account is a repository for private property that has already been taxed. It would be as if the government came to your garage and “taxed” your car by pulling a wheel off in the middle of the night after you already paid for it.
Is the government of Cyprus insane? No, only desperate; the nation was heavily invested in Greece and when the Greek economy failed, Cyprus was likewise exposed. However it still listens when people riot outside the legislature. As ordinary people learned what was about to happen, they vociferously protested, and it was enough to frighten representatives who rejected the plan that the EU’s Troika proposed.
The “Troika” is slang for the tripartite committee of the European Central Bank, European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund. These organizations are the de facto authority in setting financial policy for bailouts (government loans) in the European Union such as occurred in Greece, Ireland, and Portugal.
They probably shouldn”t matter, but ever since Charlemagne many people on the continent have been mesmerized by the notion of a united Europe, believing this increases European power and influence. Alongside the plutocrats in Brussels come the technocrats of the Troika.
Cyprus received about 10 billion euro to remain solvent.
That doesn”t seem like much, comparatively speaking. The Troika has recently funded bailouts many times larger. For example, the Troika offered Greece loans of well over 100 billion euro.
People are making a fuss over the Cypriot bailout because the nation’s annual economic output is only about 24 billion euro. As a consequence, the Troika put the bite on Cyprus to make sure they have some skin in the game.
There’s a difference between “having skin in the game” and “being skinned alive.”
Cyprus agreed to a bailout plan on Monday that may cost “large investors“ up to 40% of their bank deposits.
What do people really mean by the word “vibrant?”
Until the disco era, “vibrant” was used only rarely, mostly in connection with vibrations, literal or metaphorical. A quick search online finds no examples of “vibrant” in the works of George Orwell or John Updike, one in Evelyn Waugh‘s (“that silence vibrant with self-accusation”), and two in Vladimir Nabokov‘s. (Humbert Humbert looks up to a “vibrant sky” through “nervous” rustling branches.)
According to Google’s Ngram, “vibrant” was an occasionally used word from the 1920s into the early 1970s. But then its share of all the words in books roughly quadrupled by the mid-2000s (when a few people finally started to make fun of it).
In 2013, it’s hard to avoid the word. For example, on Monday, President Obama announced, “Immigration makes us stronger”it keeps us vibrant….”
Similarly, when new Secretary of State John Kerry paid a visit to German Chancellor Angela Merkel last month, he announced that the American-German relationship is “one of our strongest, most vibrant alliances.” (Is “vibrant” the post-Cold War version of “dynamic?”)
And downtowns are always vibrant, or will be Real Soon Now: “Planners in Maine Envision Vibrant Downtowns.”
In particular, “vibrant” comes up relentlessly in real-estate-related articles. Vibrancy is the nirvana of urban planning.
Every so often these days, the word is used reasonably. For example, the Washington Post‘s obituary last weekend for 94-year-old Cuban jazz great Bebo Valdes said he “helped create a vibrant, melodic style of music.” Presumably, most styles of music are more or less vibrant, but it’s hard to begrudge this usage.
Since roughly the disco era, however, “vibrant” has been the utility infielder of journalistic adjectives. If you wish to communicate to readers that they are supposed to think positively about something or someone but you can’t come up with reasons that are plausible, discreet, or acceptable in polite society, just toss in the word “vibrant.” As your mother would have taught you if she were a contemporary newspaper editor, if you can’t think of anything nice to say, just say “vibrant.”
Before the Vibrancy Era, “vibrant” didn’t necessarily have positive connotations. Nabokov’s 1948 short story Symbols and Signs, for instance, told of an incurably deranged man to whom “Man-made objects were…hives of evil, vibrant with a malignant activity that he alone could perceive….”
But now, “vibrant” is a synonym for “doubleplusgood.”
That’s why earthquakes are not “vibrant.” For example, if you Google “vibrant” and “earthquake,” you can find references to Haiti’s “vibrant literary community” and the “vibrant Haitian civil culture,” but not to that unfortunate country’s 2010 earthquake.
And yet questions remain, especially about the manifold ways the word is used in writing about communities.
In New Orleans, for example, why are both the post-apocalyptic Lower Ninth Ward and the prelapsarian Garden District, where Angelina and Brad like to lunch, frequently described as vibrant? Why are Latino communities always vibrant? Why is downtown Dubuque, Iowa vibrant, while Valparaiso, Indiana is not merely vibrant, but visionary? Why are contemplative art galleries considered essential to vibrancy?
Mostly, “vibrant” serves as a placeholder. For example, in January, The New York Times headlined an article about a not-too-bad black neighborhood in homicidal Chicago: “Diagnosis: Battered but Vibrant.” It’s a polite thing that white people say when they can’t think of anything else.
Often, vibrant is used to signify “growing.” Reporters especially like to find Mexicans “vibrant” as a tribute to their swelling numbers. In The New York Times last year, Adam Nagourney wrote redundantly about Los Angeles’s “vibrant and expanding population of Mexican-Americans.” In this context, “vibrant” signifies “minority…but not for long!”
The “microaggressions“ website reads like comedy. It is pathetic and funny, yet it is beginning to look like the manifesto of our future overlords: a tyranny of the aggrieved, abetted by the powerful, lording it over anyone who dares open their yap. It sounds crazy, but it isn”t. It is happening daily in “culturally advanced” areas of Western Civilization.
Last week’s most celebrated microaggression: Miz Adria Richards experienced dismay at the telling of an off-color joke at a Python programming language convention. Miz Richards was not being addressed directly; she eavesdropped on someone else’s conversation. It was not a very clever joke, even if you speak nerd. The dastardly malefactor made a dorky jape about his large dongles. Dongles are those USB things that have replaced floppy discs. Miz Richards doesn’t seem to know this. She also took umbrage with an alleged subsequent statement about “forking that guy’s repository.” The phrase “forking a repo” refers to using someone else’s software for your own development purposes. It is generally considered a nerdy compliment for someone to fork your repository; it means they think your software is good. The forker’s friend, who was referring to an earlier speaker at the conference, claims the comment was intended in exactly this fashion. Miz Richards took it as some kind of off-color joke that demeans women and prevents them from becoming software engineers, despite the fact the speaker was obviously referring to “forking” a male.
Open-source website “github“ makes an actual crude pun about “hardcore forking action“ when you fork a repository and nobody has complained yet. I guess one would have to actually fork some software from the thing to notice this; not a common occurrence in the lives of the perpetually aggrieved. Miz Richards herself had made a much more crass dong joke a mere two hours earlier on her Twitter account. Apparently the sinfulness of dong jokes depends on who is telling them.
Self-aggrandizing witch hunts seem to be the 21st-century approach to dealing with juvenile humor. Miz Richards proceeded to instigate one by Tweeting a photo of the sinners and her interpretation of their hurtful words, which she deemed to be “Not cool.” She later compounded this with a bubble-headed blog post in which her dismay was transmuted into “Yesterday the future of programming was on the line and I made myself heard.”
In a sane society, the entire incident would have been ignored. Instead it was taken up by the sanctimonious mob and trumpeted to the skies as an incident of Towering Importance. The dorky dongle-joke guy was cashiered from his job. He has a wife and three children. Don’t make dongle jokes if you have a wife and three children. Dongle jokes are not technically illegal, but in our modern era of social totalitarianism, they may as well be.
Hackers from 4chan, who tend to be fond of dong jokes, were outraged at this injustice. They proceeded to cause problems for Miz Richards’s employer. Now she has been made redundant. This may seem like some kind of twisted justice, but I have a hard time seeing it that way. The best possible outcome from this is lawsuits galore, with our dong-joking dongle-offended heroine taking up an even more destructive career as a full-time Torquemada.
Had history veered off course ever so slightly, we”d mock evangelical Christians for playing George Carlin albums backwards and listening for demonic messages in the resulting garble.
Parents would sue Saturday Night Live over their teenaged son’s suicide. Jack Chick comics would warn young people to steer clear of Second City shows instead of heavy-metal concerts.
This might have happened if all those witch-hunting (and never quite finding) fundamentalists had known that the guru of late-20th-century comedy was a self-described warlock who cast magic spells onstage.
Del Close is the founder of “long form“”the snotty gnostic cousin of populist “games”-based short-form improvisation. He is to comedy what Les Paul is to rock: the dearly beloved, slightly obscure innovator who altered his discipline dramatically while making countless other artists rich and famous.
(That said, there’s no evidence that the late luthier worshiped Lucifer.)
Few people beyond the comedy cognoscenti know Del Close’s name, but that may change if either or both of two biopics about him are ever completed.
(The Delmonic Interviews, an all-star 2002 film tribute to Close, is screened rarely, and then only to acolytes. See “gnostic” above.)
That such projects even exist demonstrates the worshipful regard in which Close is held by former students such as Bill Murray, Betty Thomas, and Mike Myers, all of whom were connected to those yellow-lit movies at one point.
From the late 1960s until his death in 1999, Close taught long form at Second City Toronto and Chicago and served as SNL’s “house metaphysician.” No wonder the names of his other devoted disciples read like a comedy hall of fame: Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, John Candy, Andy Dick, Chris Farley, Shelley Long, and Gilda Radner, to name a very few.
At the risk of sounding as Kool-Aid drunk as those evangelicals obsessed with backmasking, there’s something a bit…Faustian about that list, what with everyone on it doomed to one sort of hell (addiction) or another (one-hit-wonderhood.)
“Witchcraft in Hollywood? That explains everything,” frustrated culture warriors will joke. Except”blame my cradle Catholicism”I”m not sure how funny some of this is.
Close’s longtime collaborator Charna Halpern is helming one of the movies about his life. In a 2012 interview, Halpern describes their first meeting:
I heard he was doing a show at an art gallery with some of his students from Second City. And Del was a witch. He was Pagan. I went there one night and he had his robes on, and it was dark and it was Halloween so he made it really scary. He had his magic wand….[H]e was evoking gods of the East and demons of the West….
Halpern adds that she was into Transcendental Meditation at the time, so she and Close fought about whether or not the students were sufficiently “white lighted,” that is, protected from demonic possession, what with all these invocations in the air. Close shot back, “I protected the building!” Unimpressed, Halpern walked out but didn”t stay away for long.
In the definitive biography of Close, one student complains to a Second City producer that “Del is invoking the Devil” in class. His creepy “invocations” remain legendary in the improv community and are featured in his classic textbook. In one exercise, students “invoke a “god” that they create themselves from their own group vision,” usually an object they are supposed to “worship.”
The Republican National Committee has produced an “autopsy” on what went wrong in 2012, when the party failed to win the White House and lost seats in Congress.
Yet, the crisis of the Grand Old Party goes back much further.
First, some history. The Frank Lloyd Wright of the New Majority was Richard Nixon, who picked up the pieces of the party after Goldwater’s defeat had left Republicans with just a third of the House and Senate.
In 1966, Nixon led the GOP back to a stunning victory, picking up 47 House seats. In 1968, he united the Rockefeller and Reagan wings and held off an October surge by Hubert Humphrey, which cut a 13-point Nixon lead to less than a point in four weeks.
In 1972, Nixon swept 49 states. The New Majority was born. How did he do it?
Nixon sliced off from FDR’s New Deal coalition Northern Catholics and ethnics—Irish, Italians, Poles, East Europeans—and Southern Christian conservatives. Where FDR and Woodrow Wilson had won all 11 Southern States six times, Nixon swept them all in ‘72. And where Nixon won only 22 percent of the Catholic vote against JFK, he won 55 percent against George McGovern in 1972.
What killed the New Majority?
First, there was mass immigration, which brought in 40 to 50 million people, legal and illegal, poor and working class, and almost all from the Third World. The GOP agreed to the importation of a vast new constituency that is now kicking the GOP into an early grave.
When some implored the party in 1992 to secure the border and declare a “timeout” on legal immigration to assimilate the millions already here, the party establishment repudiated any such ideas.
“We are a nation of immigrants!” it huffed. Well, we sure are now.
And when amnesty is granted to the 12 million illegals, as GOP senators are preparing to do, that should advance the death of the GOP as a national party by turning Colorado, Nevada and Arizona blue, and putting even Texas in play.
Second came party acquiescence in dropping half the nation off the income tax rolls, while making half dependent on government for food assistance, income support, rent, health care and the education of their kids from Head Start through Pell Grants.
Why should the half of America that pays no taxes but survives on federal benefits vote for a party that will cut taxes they do not pay but roll back benefits upon which they do depend?
Third, to accommodate its K Street bundlers, the GOP embraced globalism, empowering Corporate America to shed its U.S. labor force, move its plants to Mexico, Asia and China, bring its foreign-made goods back to the USA free of charge and pocket the difference.