Monday, July 31, 2006

The Insomnia Report Super-Special Celebrity Edition!

"Blaaah! I'm Sir Georg Solti! Former conductor of the Chicago Symphony! Blaaaah! Don't I look like Dracula? But I'm not! Blaaah! I was a dynamic force on the podium, acclaimed worldwide for my forceful interpretations of the Romantic repetoire! Blaaah! And besides, Dracula was Transylvanian! I am, on the other hand, Hungarian! Blaaaaah!"

Quick poll! Who's your favorite Delfonic? I like the guy in the middle, personally. My only problem is that I'm not sure which one is the guy with the real high voice. I suspect it's the guy on the left. If this is the case, I like the guy on the left.

Earlier this week, Strawberry Shortcake was pulled over in Malibu for driving well over the posted speed limit. Once in the custody of sheriff's deputies, she unleashed a drunken barrage of threats, sexist insults, and anti-Semitic non-sequitirs. Although she has since issued a public apology and entered into a treatment program, Hollywood observers still wonder whether or not this scandal will have a lasting effect on Shortcake's career. Other, perhaps more cynical observers, feel that such bad behavior will only give her more publicity, particularly since her new film, Banana Magic Fun For Everyone!, is slated to be released later this year...

ITEM! UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has recently been spotted in some very swanky South Beach hotspots in the company of George Clooney, party girl Nicole Ritchie, two as-of-yet-unidentified Venezuelan bikini models and Russian premier Vladimir Putin!

ITEM! Suave Kofi is known in all the capitals of the world for his smashing ensembles, witty repartee, and fancy footwork on the dancefloor!

ITEM! Born in Ghana, educated in Minnesota, based in Manhattan, and fabulous world-wide, Secretary General Annan can often be seen in Armani, in Prada, and on CSPAN, negotiating cease-fires!

Understand this, gentle readership: the Insomnia Report will make no apologies for posting gratuitious photographs of Ashley Judd. In fact, it is only the thinnest sliver of tastefulness and blogging ethics that prevents me from illustrating every single post on here with pictures of Ashley Judd. Some people might contend that there are enough pictures of Ashley Judd on the internet. Some people might make the case that it would be inappropriate to begin a long post on, say, pre-Perestroika Soviet poetry with a photograph of Ashley Judd. Those people are deeply foolish and I feel no inclination to enter into dialogue with such an unreasonable sort. What I want to ask them, however, is this: why do you hate Ashley Judd so? What did she ever do to you? Was it one of her brilliant turns on the silver screen that twisted your soul into a pantomine of hate and destruction? Was it her fetching Oscar gown of several years ago that polluted your mind into its current sham of indecency and bitterness? Search your consciences, Ashley Judd haters, and begin the long, arduous, but ultimately necessary process of healing. It's not too late.

Just because you probably haven't thought about Richard Simmons for awhile...

Sunday, July 30, 2006

From the "creepy weirdo" files...

Yesterday, I read this article in my local paper. It’s about a small-town English teacher who, apparently, rigged a camera in his bathroom so that he could watch and record his daughter’s 12 and 13 year old friends taking showers. What’s more, he also supposedly owned a collection of voyeur-type photographs looking down the tops of very young girls. This is in addition to the cache of “Barely Legal” style porn he kept and his history of being reprimanded for calling one of his ninth-grade students “sexy”. Clearly, all these things suggest a man who is, at the very least, a sick bastard. If he is found guilty—and it seems like a pretty safe bet that he will be—I hope he goes away for awhile.

But punishment is not what I want to talk about here. What interests me in cases like these are the failures in detection. Why weren’t this man’s predilections discovered earlier? Could there have been a way to intervene before he indulged his awful fantasies? It is not controversial to say that people who are sexually attracted to children and teenagers often choose to work in capacities that give them access to the objects of their desire. It is just as banal to say that most environments where children are present—schools, day care centers, etc.—are hyper-vigilant to the possibility of sexual abuse. Yet this abuse still happens. It’s rare, of course, but in a culture where “catch-the-perv-LIVE!” specials get top ratings and child-care workers consider it an unacceptable risk to be left alone with their charges, it seems like such violations should be even rarer. But what happens instead is that everyday people are hampered more than the sexual predators—on the one hand, you have well-intentioned teachers, aides, etc. who have become paranoid about false accusations, while on the other you have parents who fear, often unreasonably, that their children are the next to be victimized. Too often, when an incident of abuse like this one occurs, it only deeps the paranoia of the former and the anxiety of the latter. In other words, we don’t learn how to recognize and deal with the actual victimizers, we only entrench our anxieties.

But is this perhaps the best we can expect? Child molestation is understood to be the worst crime a person can commit. And the weightier the crime, the weightier the accusation. Most people I know would rather be considered a murderer than be suspected of molesting kids. That accusation has the power to end careers and derail lives. Since it is such a powerful thing, people in authority seldom toss it around lightly.

I think of it this way: I work in a place where children are present. If I heard one of my co-workers call a twelve year-old “sexy”, I would be appalled and disgusted, pretty much no matter what context the comment came in. Because such a statement would indicate, at the absolute least, a profound lapse in judgement, I would have to report what I had overheard to my higher-ups. But what would I do if I was one of my higher-ups? Should they fire an otherwise-good employee for calling a kid “sexy”? Presumably, they would be ignorant of the rest of this guy’s sordid hangups—the stash of teenage smut, the voyeur thing, etc., etc. Do they have grounds to dismiss somebody for one remark? Should they? It seems to me like they’re stuck in a hard spot. They can fire him and risk stalling someone’s career and jeopardizing his future (as well as perhaps provoking a lawsuit or two) or they can give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they’ll shuttle him off to some counseling, maybe they’ll hit him with a bit of probation, but it’ll all be on the hush-hush. Obviously, in this case, they made the wrong decision. But, honestly, I don’t know if I would make a different one if I were in their place.

Part of the problem, I think, is that it can be awfully hard to pin down the significance of certain behaviors. If you or I were to call a twelve year-old “sexy”, it would be a tasteless joke, wrongheaded stab at irony, a mistake, something like that. When this guy did it, he meant it. If you or I touched a kid on the shoulder, we’d be doing it to be friendly, to be comforting, or whatever. If a child molester does it, he’s doing it for manipulation, intimidation, and thrills. The act is the same, it’s the final intention that’s different. An innocent thing can, when done by a twisted person, become something far more sinister. How do we differentiate between the two? Can we?

I suppose that there will never be a perfect solution to this. We can’t come up with a test to give all prospective child-care workers to determine if they’re sexual predators or not. Even if we had a test like that, most child molesters would be able to fake it out easily. What needs to be done—and here I’m speaking generally, and not about this particular case—is that people need to be attuned to patterns of behavior. We don’t need to be excessively fearful—the vast majority of children will never come anywhere near a sexual predator, but we shouldn’t be blindly trusting, either. If students repeatedly complain that some teacher makes them feel uncomfortable, there might be something there. If the teacher spends his evenings in internet chatrooms secretly communicating with god-knows-who, there might be something there. If that same teacher’s wife finds a heap of Catholic schoolgirl porno, there might be something there. It has to be added up.

The trouble is that these things are so easy to put together in retrospect. It’s much more difficult to intervene before sick fantasies become real and unspeakable fetishes take their first victims. At what point does suspicion go from being a paranoid, cruel thing to being necessary? I have no idea. It’s a hard call.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The job search is getting desperate...

As many of you already know, I am currently in the midst of a grueling, self-esteem ruining job search. Basically, what happens is I fire off my resume again and again into that howling void of nothingness and despair known as the job market, only to suffer as the echoes of my own unemployability and obsolescence come back to me, whispering to me that I should have majored in marketing, should have majored in journalism, should have majored in anything but English Literature and Sociology. It’s sad. What’s even sadder is that there are so many unattainable, lavishly-paid jobs that I’d excel at had I the credentials and/or the connections. Here are just a few:

ONE: Newspaper opinion columnist

I’m sorry, but this has to be cushiest goddamn job the world has ever seen. Getting paid cash money to spout off a few hundred words twice a week? Hell, I could do that in the five minutes between breakfast and the crapper! Do you hear me, Star-Tribune? I’ll be your word-whore—I’m cheap, I’m facile and I’m flexible. What do you need? A guy who casts a “quirky” eye on all the boring-assed aspects of domestic life? A mild-mannered liberal who acts like all America ought to care about what happened at a Burnsville school board meeting? A bearded cat who writes faux-gritty pieces about bar owners named Sal and how the beauty queens in his day were much better than these skinny tarts you have today? Whatever you need, I’ll do it. Christ, I’d even be one of those conservatives who are shocked, shocked! about whatever bullshit controversy they’ve made up this month—although, if I’m gonna do that, I’m going to need a fake name. I have my dignity to preserve, after all...

TWO: Late-night satellite television show trend guru

Now, I should probably admit it right off: I’m not always up on what the kids these days are doing. This doesn’t really matter, though, not when you have an aptitude for coming up with breezy nonsense that, when combined with the imprimatur of a down-market Dish TV station, just might convince a handful of stoned dudes a few minutes from passing out. Do you doubt me? Well, my friend, perhaps it behooves you to check this shit out:

—“Ideas are what powers innovation in the global marketplace of the future. To thrive in this post-postmodern economy, a business must be a dolphin—swift, agile, intelligent. The days of the sperm whales—your IBMs, your Fords, your General Electrics—are long gone and good riddance, I say! I’m a dolphin man, and my stock purchases reflect that!”

—“It may be just me, Walt, but it seems like Hollywood’s getting ready for another summer of blockbusters and big busts!”

—“Let’s get down to brass tacks. I want to talk about men’s shirts: in 2006, tight is alright and stripes are mighty nice. Back to you in the studio, Lou Dobbs!”

—“You see, Oprah, sexy will always be ‘in’, but these days, what’s ‘in’ is even sexier. And, make no mistake, it’s a take-no-prisoners kind of sexy. A sexy that says I’m here, I’m ‘in’, and I’m sexy!”

THREE: Guy who writes the rap songs that tell kids not to use drugs

Look. I understand as well as anyone that trying to keep kids off drugs is a losing game. There are few tasks more futile and lame than explaining to children the horrors and misery and family shame that will be heaped upon them if they use illegal drugs. This is especially true since, in our culture, it is apparently unacceptable to speak about mood-altering chemicals in any way that isn’t distorted by hysteria and bullshit. And it is especially especially true because anti-drug educators so often prefer to present their hysterical bullshit in a way that shows that they have no idea what the young people of today are into. I am talking, of course, about astonishingly bad public-service rap: a beat so stale even that French hip-hop infant would have thrown it back, some adenoidal voice rhyming stiltedly about “demon crack”, and maybe a backup chorus of soul singers without any soul. You know, the sort of music that smart kids in college sit around getting high to. I have no shame. I can dash off a few hundred of these if there’s some money in it for me. For instance, has there ever been one of these ditties written about khat? Well, there ought to be!

Hey, friend, listen to what I say
It’s MC Clean, kickin’ it real today
Gonna rock the mike, gonna get the flow
Gonna tell your health class what you got to know
Talkin’ about a lil’ weed from Africa’s horn, yeah
Think it’s harmless, but I gotta warn ya
You start eatin’ that stuff
Life’s gonna get ruff
‘Cause that khat ain’t so hot, yo!
They call it khat, qat, jaad, and mirra too
The Djibouti chew, down in Mogadishu
Messes up your mind, tastes real rude
Keep that ol’ khat-dealer away from you!
Take too much, suckers get faded
Hyperactive, psychotic and constipated!
What’s that, you’re feelin’ like tryin’ some?
Want something to get you all wired up?
Man, you better stick with the Diet Coke
‘Cause that khat’s one baaaaad joke!

Friday, July 28, 2006

You're not alone, Old Norm, you're not alone...

Reading all the fuss about our lesser Senator’s father getting some geriatric-man action in the parking lot of a blue-collar pizza bar has put me in a reflective, wistful frame of mind. Not that I’ve ever brought a woman through the thirty-eight chambers of bliss in the parking lot of a St. Paul dive joint before, mind you. No, Kevin-M is much classier than the fathers of most Republican senators: when he finds a woman willing to subject herself to unprecedented vistas of sensual pleasure, he wouldn’t dream of confining himself and his beloved to a lowly automobile, however luxurious and spacious. Well-appointed hotel rooms and secluded forest clearings are more my style. Perhaps I’m naive, but I believe this consideration is appreciated by the ladies, who seem freer to enjoy my ministrations when there isn’t the possibility of innocent children and officers of the law happening past.

Besides, I feel that privacy only enhances the glory of erotic congress. It is, at the very least, a necessary prerequisite for the clown-suited dwarves, singing eunuchs and magical rainbow-straddling unicorns that I need to command in the process of showing a lucky woman all her beautiful body is capable of. You see, too many of my brutish and hairy gender are chained to the idea that lovemaking is a purely physical act. This is as foolish as saying that Republicans are good for the economy. The sexual act---or “introducing the one-eyed spelunker to Little Miss Never-You-Mind”, as I prefer to call it—is something which takes place as much in the mind as in the genitals, however hot, engorged, and awe-inspiring as those genitals happen to be. It is a psychological, spiritual moment, shared for all eternity by two souls entwined by love and red wine and Astroglide, and it should not be reduced to a gross and rude biological function. It is more than that. At least with me it is.

But I seem to have gotten off the point. Which is that I’ve seen people “doing it” in public lots of times. Do you want to hear about some of them? No? You don’t? Well, then, too bad for you! Because I’m gonna tell you, dammit! Ha-HAAAA!

ONE: That Good-Old Gotham Goin’-At-It

When I lived in New York, I worked at the Museum of Modern Art, which is just a few blocks south of Central Park. When the weather was nice, I would sometimes go up there on my lunch breaks and eat a hotdog or two amidst the closest thing to nature that Manhattan has to offer. If you haven’t been there, let me tell you: Central Park is beautiful and glorious and I wish I could have spent even more time there than I did. Even nowadays I sometimes miss it. It is a place of respite, of serenity, of recreation and—more than anything—of top-notch people watching.

Take, for instance, the time I watched two homeless men having a bit of frenzied butt love. They were over by the pond at the southeastern end of the place, and I suppose they might have thought they were being discreet by doing their business deep in a grove of trees a few yards away from the main paths. This was New York, though, and there are always a thousands of people nearby, no matter where you are. From the bench I was sitting on, I could see them as well as you can see the words on this website. I had just spread out my napkins on my lap and was taking my first look around when they caught my eye. Now, I was at an age when I was no longer an ignorant naif, but I swear to God that my first thought was, Oh, look, that guy dropped his keys and that other guy is helping him find them! It was only a few moments afterward that I noticed that the key-searchers were not wearing any pants and were, in fact, well-along in a spot of sodomy. You just don’t expect that on your lunch hour, I suppose.

Anyway, I got up and found another bench to sit on. I’m not one of these preening moralists, but there is a difference between what I support in theory and what I’m willing to put up with when I’m eating. Their brazenness impressed me, though. There were pampered Upper East Side children frolicking all about and elderly folks were wandering the paths willy-nilly. Anyone could have seen them as easily as I had. But, still, that’s life in the city for you...

When my break was winding down and I was walking back to work, I saw them again. They were going at it just as furiously as before, only now they had changed positions. There was something sweet in that, I think, something that made the rest of my shift dealing with clueless tourists and unbearable art snobs a little easier. I’m not a good enough writer to explain it, though.

TWO: American Gothic

One day, a few years later, I happened to be on an Amtrak train between Chicago and Milwaukee. There isn’t much ground to be covered between the two cities, and so the train spent most of its time shooting through affluent suburbia and industrial wastelands. For a few minutes, however, we went banging through a pretty rural stretch, where fields of some indeterminate crop stretched off into the distance on both sides and the sky overhead was big enough to be impressive. As my good friend Greg lounged beside me, slipping in and out of sleep, I stared out the window at the Midwest hurrying by. I’ve always been fond of looking out the windows of speeding vehicles. Silos, signs, and shitty old barns—those things can make me genuinely happy. I love to watch them whip past. I could stare at them all day.

What I don’t like to see, however, are obese country couples rutting like wild animals in the beds of their pick-up trucks. Which is what I was subjected to just a few miles over the Wisconsin border. They were parked maybe ten feet from the tracks, in the shade of a forlorn overpass. They had, in what seems to be a theme of the public schtuppings I’ve seen, taken off only their pants and left their t-shirts on. I saw Harley Davidson logos on both of them: the man thrusting above the dropped-open back gate and his paramour, splay-legged and frizzy-haired in the back. They were two soft objects, softly colliding. In the second before they disappeared from my window, the man looked like he was trying to perfect an elaborate new way of falling over and the woman looked like she had never once moved a centimeter in her life.

“They’re having sex,” I said to Greg, who jerked awake and asked me what the hell I was talking about. “Those people out there, they were doing it...” I explained.

“What?” he asked.

“There were two people. They were out there. They were having sex. Like, in a pick-up truck,” I went on, somewhat breathlessly.

“You were seeing things,” Greg explained, “Because you’re a pervert.”

“No. It was real,” I said, to which Greg could only reply with a dismissive “pffft” noise. Perhaps he considered this an insurmountable debate closer, but he didn’t bank on the guy sitting directly behind us, who immediately and valiantly rose up to defend my position. “Hell, yeah!” he shouted, “They was ugly too!”

My snug nod must have gone on until we were well into the greater Racine area.

THREE: Highway Hijinx!

Because my parents used to have a fetish for very large vehicles, it often fell to them to haul my thousand high-school friends around. For the most part, they shouldered this burden uncomplainingly and I was allowed to enjoy my adolescence without ever realizing for a moment how annoying I must have been. To think of it now, it seems that my dear mother probably deserves some sort of gratitude for the endless evenings she spent, trucking a van full of hyper-active, hormonal teenagers across the metro area. Before we got our drivers licences, we were at a funny age. Technically, we were adolescents, yet we still clung onto the final fading strands of our childhoods. Thanks to this transition period, we managed to be both totally fixated on sex and, at the same time, fond of making funny faces at the cars in the other lanes.

I remember one instance in particular. I believe we were tooling down Highway 62, a whole bunch of us—boys and girls all together and all psychosexually confused—jammed into my mom’s van on the way home from some occasion or other. As the boys tried to prove their alpha-ness by being more obnoxious and more loud than the rest, the girls egged us on in their subtle, terrifying ways. Soon we were competing to see which of us could mock the passing motorists the most, resorting to more and more desperate measures to get the girls to laugh. If the girls laughed, we were golden. If they didn’t, we had no reason to live. All the while, my mother focused on the road, perhaps reminiscing over the days long gone when I used to be cute.

Eventually, we began to pass a smart sports car. Like Catskills comedians on methamphetamine, we began to fire off as many half-baked insults as our juvenile minds could devise. It was incumbent on each of us to speak as loudly as possible, so as to be heard over all the rest. The van filled with our sometimes-squeaky, sometimes-deep voices as the sports car drifted further and further to the back windows. When it was almost lost to the highway, and just before we were ready to let it drop from our attentions, we saw something interesting. We saw a woman raise her head from the driver’s lap. She had a goofy, dazed look on her face and she was, if I remember correctly, wiping at her lips.

We young people were struck silent for about half a second. And then we went absolutely apeshit. “OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD!” the girls screamed. “SHE WAS! TOTALLY! LIKE! WITH HER MOUTH AND STUFF!” the boys hollered at each other. This went on all the way to our exit. We discussed it as thoroughly as we could with my mom in the front seat. We were at the point in our lives when there’s a great deal of uncertainty as to whether such behavior was unbelievably gross or unquestionably awesome. We sort of danced around all that with bad jokes and conjecture. Somebody was convinced that the woman had to be a hooker. Somebody else pointed out that doing that is against the law and also somewhat dangerous.

It was, without a doubt, the most exciting thing to happen in the world ever. Or at least since a kid named Brian got a boner during the swimming unit of gym class.

But, after the initial thrill wore off and half my friends had been dropped off, I started to get worried. I had the feeling that, once mom had me alone, a “talk” would be forthcoming. I didn’t want that. There was nothing that I dreaded more than a “talk” with mom. The how-its-done talk. The condom talk. The your-partner’s-pleasure-is-important-too talk. At that age, these nightmares still rung in my ears. I couldn’t bear for another one to be added to that unholy canon.

I had no choice. I pretended to fall asleep even before my final friend had finished skipping up her driveway. And it worked, too.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The 2,404,193rd sign of the coming American apocalypse...

Here in the United States of America, we have access to the most powerful and advanced medical equipment in the world. Hospitals are well-stocked with fancy life-saving tools which, if used promptly, can detect all manner of disorders before they reach the critical stage. Engineers and inventors are busy refining these wonderful creations to make them even more amazing, and—with any luck—we will one day have a government which will make it a priority to provide universal access to these brilliant, expensive, miracle-working machines.

But by then we may be too fat to fit in them. It’s a strange world we live in.

Way to go, Old Norm, way to go...

Yesterday the 81-year old father of Minnesota’s lesser Senator, Norm Coleman (aka the Toothy Tool), was cited for indecent exposure and lewd conduct after being caught having sex with a woman more than half his age in a parked car near Red’s Savoy pizza restaurant in my hometown of St. Paul. I have several thoughts about this.

ONE: It seems to me that we, the voters, ought to replace the son with the father. Coleman pere clearly has the energy, the “people skills” and the youth appeal for the job. And I bet we can convince him to be a Democrat, too.

TWO: Red’s Savoy has excellent pizza, but you often have to wait a long time for it. On a busy evening, the average patron would have time to leave the restaurant, have sex in their car, pick up their laundry, do their grocery shopping, landscape their backyard, have sex in their car again, get in trouble with the cops and make a few ashamed phone calls before their dinner would be ready. You’d think, however, that they’d put a rush on the ex-mayor/current senator’s dad’s order.

THREE: Who actually calls the police when they see a couple having sex in a car? Sure, maybe you gawk for a few seconds, maybe you point and laugh, maybe you even call some other random passerbys over to have a look-see at the old guy and his lady friend goin’ at it, but summoning the authorities? That’s not just lame, it’s mean.

FOUR: I really don’t like Norm Coleman. I’d rather have a urine-soaked sponge as my senator. I’d rather have rusty spikes driven through my balls than listen to him speak. I’d rather be cornholed by a pack of rabid porcupines than watch him get re-elected. None of this, however, should be taken to mean that I’m not happy that his dad is getting laid. To try and score some political points on this would be tasteless, tasteless, I say!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Something to consider...

Somewhere, in this great land known as the United States of America, there is a suburban office park. Perhaps it is named Brook Run Grove, perhaps it is named Olde Creek Hills, perhaps it is named River Glen Cove: the name isn’t important. Nor, for that matter are the buildings themselves, which are probably single-story, largely-windowless earth-toned things surrounded by curvy roads and vast parking lots filled, during normal business hours, with newer-model sedans and reasonably-clean sport utility vehicles. These are simply the trifling details that the naked eye can pick up as it hurries past on the frontage road, on the way to the Culver’s or the Dennys or the Perkins. No, what really matters is what goes on inside this building, this utterly unremarkable building.

In there, scientists and engineers work respectable eight hour days trying to create a better kind of toilet paper. Under contract to some behemoth household-item corporation, they are all experts in toilet paper design. They know how soft it can be before it starts to clog pipes, they know how much of it they can squeeze onto a cardboard roll, they know what kinds of perfumes and dyes are least likely to provoke anal allergic reactions. They have formulas and data to back them up. Their mission, for which they are rewarded with a decent middle-class income, is to devise a new kind of toilet paper, one which will surpass all consumer expectations and be capable of carving out a worthy market share. Mind you, they are not charged with creating a radical new toilet paper, one that will force the world to rethink the concept of toilet paper—no, no: leave that to the mad geniuses of the toilet paper trade. To be cliched about it, they see themselves as builders of the better mousetrap, only their mousetrap doesn’t catch mice, it cleans your ass after you take a shit.

If all this is really happening somewhere, my question is this: what do they use as a “test-substance” on their prototype toilet papers? In the name of science and discovery, do they use real human doodies? Or do they have a less-nasty, artificial-substance which serves the same purpose? If they do, I would like it to have some sort of cool name like “Pseudo-Stool” or “Non-feces” or, most preferably, “Scattex”. And, as everyone who has a bad diet knows, human excrement comes in a wide array of textures and consistencies, so this would probably require our humble truth-seekers to have several mixtures of their odorless, thoroughly-un-nasty quasi-dung. These could be, for the sake of argument, known as “Scattex Alpha”, “Scattex Beta”, and “Scattex Too Much Cheese”.

With these tools and their innate intelligence, a team of devoted men and women undergo the sometimes-torturous, sometimes-inspiring process of science. They don’t do it for fame, of course. They don’t really do it for money, either. No, they do it so that one day, perhaps five or ten years down the road, you, the consumer, will have a nicer time of it in the toilet.

Isn’t it time that we offered these anonymous miracle workers our thanks?

How do you know an anti-Semite when you see one?

I’d like to address the thorny issue of Israel and anti-Semitism. It has often been noted that a lot of conservative ideologues tend to dismiss any criticism of the Israeli government’s actions as motivated by a secret or not-so-secret hatred of Jews. This is regrettable. For one, it seems to me that large swaths of the American right-wing have comparatively little interest in peace in the Middle East and/or security for Israel. No, their main interest lies—as usual—in intimidating their foes and justifying the incompetence of their party and their leader. By accusing their adversaries of bigotry, they’re trying to shut down any constructive discussion of the issue that develops upon lines contrary to their ideology while, simultaneously, trying to expunge their own reputation for—how shall we put it?—taking less-than-valorous sides on racially-charged domestic issues (their anti-immigrant hysteria, their post-Katrina ghoulishness, their longstanding success in exploiting white fear for electoral gains, etc., etc.) Throughout all this, they seem oblivious to the fact that, by toying so promiscuously with the charge of anti-Semitism, they end up mucking around in the same dismal swamp as the repulsive Jew-haters think they’re taking a brave stand against: they mistake “the Jews” for “the Israeli government”. In this scheme, what the IDF does is exactly coterminous what the Jewish people do. Therefore, to support it is to support Judaism and to oppose it is pretty much the same as despising all Jews.

But this is stupid. It is possible to support the state of Israel and respect its right to self-defense and, at the same time, deplore its government’s actions towards the people of Lebanon. It is possible to, in good faith, advance an argument that successive Israeli administrations have treated the Palestinian people poorly at best and criminally at worst. These are not blanket condemnations of Judaism or sinister, veiled pleas for Israel’s destruction. They are, like any statement of opinion, open to debate and prone to challenges from other perspectives, however. And, put simply, it is this debate that the American right-wing prefers to keep at a low level, one that involves a lot of thunder and name-calling and little actual progress.

That these waters are so muddy, of course, isn’t entirely the fault of conservatives. There are countless shitheel anti-Semites out there, and there are a whole bunch of scary motherfuckers who’d like to kill as many Israelis as they can. No one worth listening to would dispute that. Furthermore, it would be foolish to claim that there aren’t some serious anti-Semites on the fringes of the left. There are, and they’re batshit crazy. Like far-out fanatics anywhere, they obsess over their chosen enemy, ascribing all the evil in the world to it, ignoring and/or rationalizing away the evidence that doesn’t confirm their worldview, and generally making major-league asses out of themselves. They should be, and generally are, ignored. When right-wingers take reasoned criticism of the Israeli government’s conduct and conflate it with these sad people’s rantings, they only succeed in pulling off a shabby trick, the kind they vociferously bitch about when applied to them. Well-meaning conservatives, naturally, don’t like it when they get compared to the KKK just for raising questions about affirmative action. In a perfect world, they’d even get angry at being shoehorned in with the Minutemen simply because they oppose illegal immigration, although nowadays many right-wingers seem to think the comparison does them some sort of credit.

It is a strange twist to our postmodern era that bad intentions often hide themselves within benign opinions. Now that most forms of racism and bigotry have been stigmatized, the “smarter” racists and bigots have learned to adopt a language with broader appeal. There are people who hate all those from different tribes but speak only in soaring rhetoric about justice and freedom. Similarly, there are those who fear and loathe Jews, but have learned to conceal this character defect underneath language acceptable to those who don’t share the prejudice. Nowadays, when bigots speak in public, they usually speak in a kind of code that gives a veneer of deniability to the disgusting implications and intentions beneath. These people do not deserve our consideration. They pollute the discourse and corrupt anyone they manage to sucker. Any peace movement deserving of the name ought to make it a point to understand this dynamic and avoid the sort that will co-opt their cause for bad ends. That many organizations and alliances fail to do this is one of the reasons that I seldom want anything to do with them.

Regardless, the fact that a ragtag assortment of idiots hates Israel should not drive thoughtful people away from thoughtful debate just because they fear being associated with that pack of impotent scoundrels. It is, to me, shameful and irresponsible when the self-proclaimed defenders of Israel stoop so low to fend off criticism. Anti-Semitism is a serious charge, after all, and it is cheapened when it is hurled about promiscuously or used as a club to batter your ideological opponents. I know a great many people who are, like me, concerned or appalled by the course the Israeli government has chosen. None of them are anti-Semites. Now, we may be mistaken or misinformed, but–if so--that is a matter for argument and evidence to clear up. It isn’t grounds for name-calling or the pre-emptive use of untenable accusations.

But perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. The American right-wing’s support of Israel often strikes me as a pretty hollow thing. Sure, they’ll get outraged on it’s behalf, but—let’s face it—professional conservatives are pretty sluttish with their outrage. When the time comes (and I sure as shit hope it comes soon) for a forthright, humane and binding peace process, that whole armchair infantry will have moved on to their next cubicle and cul-de-sac campaign to save civilization. They are trivializers. They make every debate they join more obnoxious and less enlightening. To far too many of them, support means smearing and cheerleading is the same as courage.

Monday, July 24, 2006

A message to the people of Canada: you are pretty

My friend Mel called me up shortly after I had arrived back from my trip to Milwaukee/Chicago. She spent her weekend in Vancouver, and briefly explained all the fun she had up there. In the course of this, she offered the casual remark that the people up there are more attractive than the people down here. Now, I was too road-weary and headachey to pursue the matter further, but I got the impression that Mel—certainly no stranger to the hot-cha herself—was making the argument that Canadians are, on balance, better looking than Americans.

This, naturally, wounded my patriotism and I found myself becoming quite agitated. It seemed to me absurd: how could a nation of hockey-drunk, bilingual, unfailingly-courteous, nature-loving non-warmongers be prettier than us here in the good ol’ U.S. o’ A.? My understanding was that my country was on the leading edge of the sexy, issuing forth the lithest, the supplest, the fittest, and the toothiest specimens the human race has to offer. Our blondes are blonder, our buttocks are rounder, and our muscles are muscley-er. And, if beauty is truly less about raw appearance and more about confidence, shouldn’t we Americans also come out on top? We’re the only remaining superpower! In the great nightclub of nations, we’re that dude in the V.I.P. booth, swilling Cristal, puffing out our chest in our new shiny striped shirt, doing body shots with Britain, and occasionally going “Whoooooo!” as we teeter to the bathroom. If that’s not hot, what is?

But, deep in the heart of me, I knew that Mel was (as always) right. Our quiet neighbors to the north have lapped us in the comeliness department. It isn’t even a “to-each-his-own” matter anymore. It’s become so obvious that I feel I have use standardized-test analogies: CANADA is to SEXY as THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is to LET ITS GYM MEMBERSHIP LAPSE. Or, if you prefer: CANADA is to “DAMN, BABY!” as THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is to “WHERE ARE MY GODDAMN CHEETOS?”

I can’t say it any more simply than this: you need a couple of stiff drinks to get into America these days. Not Canada, though. Canada’s the type you’d hit on at the grocery store. America’s the nation that smears on the Walgreen’s makeup, louvers itself into a top two sizes too small, and goes from place to place trying to impress everyone. America is a skank, in other words. Canada is a lady. A pretty lady.

And I’m not just saying this because I have a touch of the Quebecois in my background. I’m saying it because I’m disappointed in my nation. You see, Canada is a country coming out of its youth gracefully. It knows it isn’t an apple-cheeked adolescent anymore. It accepts that and considers it a good thing. Canada is making the transition from a sexy young nation to a sultry middle-aged nation. The United States, on the other hand, seems to be having its mid-life crisis early. It doesn’t want to grow up. It wants to hang out in ho-clothes down at the mall eternally, buying more shoes than it can afford and getting into clawing fights with the brats at the food court.

I’ll always love America, of course, I just hope she outgrows this trampy phase. Until then, I’ll be hanging out by the curling ice, making googly eyes at foxy, foxy Canada.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Goin' to Milwaukee

Here’s the deal. In a few hours, I will be heading off for the mysterious and sinister shores of Lake Michigan. Specifically, the municipality of Milwaukee, a place of myth and intrigue. Because I cannot be sure that they have the advanced technology that I require, I probably won’t be able to provide too much fresh content for this website. While I’m gone, please enjoy this list of interesting facts about my glamorous vacation destination:

----Most outsiders pronounce Milwaukee as “Mill-Wahh-Kee”. This is incorrect. According to the natives, it’s actually pronounced “Muh-Wahh-Kee”. And a drinking fountain is a “bubbler”. And a cash machine is a “Tyme Machine”. If the Southeastern Wisconsin Tourism Bureau has a difficult time of it, this kind of trifling bullshit is probably a big reason why.

----Santiago Calatrava’s spectacular addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum is, like, ten times cooler than anything in your lame city. So there.

----The name “Milwaukee” comes from an ancient Algonquin word meaning “only ninety miles from Chicago”.

----Contrary to popular belief, Milwaukee does not smell like beer. It seems like doom, betrayal and broken dreams.

----Milwaukee’s downtown is an appealing, compact city center with an abundance of graceful, well-maintained old buildings. There is, however, one butt-ugly skyscraper that almost ruins the whole effect.

----Jeffrey Dahmer was from Ohio (sort of).

----Minneapolitans tend to be snotty about Milwaukeeans, considering them unsophisticated and uncouth. Milwaukeeans, for their part, like to kill, butcher and eat every Minnesotan they can find.

----Some people, mainly PR flacks, call Milwaukee the “City of Festivals”

----The drive from the Twin Cities to Milwaukee can only be described as “long-assed”

----What do Peabo Bryson, Carmen Electra, Dudley Moore, Condoleeza Rice and Juan Carlos I, the King of Spain have in common? They’re not from Milwaukee!

----I’ve been to Milwaukee about five or six times, and I like it more each time. This is either because it’s one of the most unpretentious, laid-back, and fun cities in the Midwest or because it’s slowly poisoning me with its evil.

Have a good weekend everybody. I’ll catch up with you all on Monday...

Kittens with two faces: are they FRIEND or FOE?

It might be just me, but it seems like more and more kittens are being born with two faces. As to why this may be, I’m afraid I’m not qualified to say. It could be global warming, it could be radiation in the groundwater, it could be the contemptible trickery of SATAN, or it could be just a fluke. Who knows? What I do know is that a world where two-faced felines run rampant is a world very different from the one I grew up in. A world where the sky was blue, the dirt was dirty, and kittens reliably had but one face.

It’s probably too early to determine how all this will shape up. Will the two-faced kittens be a force for universal enlightenment and peace? Will they seize command our souls and force us into servitude and perdition even in the afterlife? Or will they be morally-neutral, like regular faced kittens? We will have to wait to learn the answers to these questions. Also ambiguous is just what these two-faced kittens will eat with their two freakish mouths. My gut feeling is that they will have an insatiable lust for human pancreas, but I’ve been wrong about these sorts of matters before. We do know one thing, however: kittens with two faces can communicate with ghosts via telepathy. Science has proven this. Only the superstitous and stupid dispute this.

Now, if I may be so indiscreet as to bring up politics, I must say that I hope that the dawning of the age of the two-faced kittens does not become a partisan issue. I know, I know, these are polarized times and it often seems like eventually everything must take a side on the left-right spectrum that we’re so infatuated with. Still, allow me to be the first to raise my voice in favor of a bipartisan approach to the two-faced kitten dilemma. While I have, in the past, strongly criticized our President and will continue to do so, I have to admit that his handling of Klaadar, the 400-foot long squid-beast that recently attacked Baltimore Harbor, was appropriate, firm, and competent. Not only did he protect the citizens of that great city from being devoured by a vicious, horribly mutated crustacean, he also managed to prevent the vast majority of Americans from finding about it.

I concur heartily with this approach. Not only is it the appropriate one for dealing with Klaadar and his Atlantis-bred, bloodthirsty ilk, it is also the only responsible way to save our species from the Pod People of the barren ice planet Drambek, from an army of amoral Morpho-Droids, and–of course–from the dreaded Eye of the Aztecs. As of now, we cannot be sure whether or not these kittens should be counted among these terrible scourges of humankind.

But, as the wise among us understand, the last thing we need is a panic on our hands.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

There Are No Foreigners In New York

There are a lot of times when I miss New York City. These times include, but are not limited to: when I watch a movie set there, when I hear a Brooklyn accent, when I go to a Jewish delicatessen, when I listen the music of the Velvet Underground, when I look at a great work of art, when I meet a beautiful woman who doesn’t take any shit off of anyone, when someone says “standing on line” instead of “standing in line”, when I see a train go by, when it seems that the sky would be better off hidden behind tall buildings, when I’m searching for a restaurant that’s open at three in the morning, when I’m surrounded by people speaking some other language, when I find a piece of especially well-conceived graffiti, when I overhear strangers telling dirty jokes, when I can’t sleep, when I dream of crowds, when the summer gets so deep that the city starts to stink, when the winter here has gone on for months and shows no sign of letting up, when these small cities on the plain start to feel too tame, when all the open spaces start to get suffocating, and when it seems like all the world needs is more strangers crammed in all around me.

I romanticize it more the longer I stay away. Minneapolis is tiny and provincial, filled with people numbly going through with routines they hate and lives they didn’t ask for. Minnesota is just a pretty patch of land scattered with insular and passive-aggressive Scandinavians. It’s a place where people politely shy away from exuberance, from passion, from difference; a place where the only acceptable course is a gradual tilt towards obsolescence and the only worthwhile vacation is to some lake cabin somewhere else in the state. I was born here, raised here and, in many ways, I love it here. But I don’t have any illusions about it anymore. To me, Minnesota is just a place. New York is more than that.

I sort of like having the city this way, understanding it only through my memories and its legend. That way I don’t have to remind myself of all the bullshit I put up with when I lived there. All the detestable rich kids preening and posing and driving up the rents. All the hours I spent uncomfortably contorted on some jam-packed subway train. All the times I was in a rush and got stuck behind hordes of slow-moving tourists. All the stares I’d get if I happened into a place already staked-out by some other subcultural grouping. All the fights the neighbors had on the fire escape. All the headaches I had that were made worse by the car alarms that went off every fucking five minutes. That’s all gone now. I’ve let it go and replaced it with the city’s grand and preposterous myth.

New York is for the restless. It’s for the striving, the troubled, and the dissatisfied. The oppressed gravitate there, and it doesn’t matter what they’re persecuted by. Governments, economics, ignorance, hopelessness—New York takes them all in regardless, gives them a home and shows them a world where everyone is escaping something, where every color, character and kind runs together in the city’s fathomless canyons. It’s the greatest cultural implosion the world will ever see. Everyone’s a foreigner in New York. Everyone’s a misfit. There are no foreigners in New York. There are no misfits.

And, on some nights, just the memories of it burn brighter that my sleepy new home ever could.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"Rowdy" Roddy Piper, the girls of Scooby Doo, and a young Roy Orbison say "Happy Birthday, Greg!"

Regarding Neck Rub-gate

Dear President Bush,

Stay away from the Chancellor
. Stop working your goofy frat-boy moves on her, stop staring at her from across your little G-8 summit meetings, stop trying to pass her silly love notes written in your execrable German. In other words, just stop.

Because I saw her first. Do you hear me? I saw her first. And I love her more. You can bring nothing to this woman besides a regretted fling, an abiding distaste for Brut aftershave and an embarrassing silence in many future conversations. In the great Siegfried myth that we’re living in, you are Hagen. Trust me, our Brunnhilde wants nothing to do with you.

You oughta stick with Laura. She’s more your speed.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Kevin-M for Attorney Generalissimo!

Yesterday, after a series of scandals far too dull to re-hash here, DFL endorsed candidate for Minnesota Attorney General Matt Entenza bowed out of the race. Who gives a shit?, you might ask. Well, I do. I give a big shit, actually. It’s always been one of my goals to wield power over all the“little people” of my home state. Consequently, an opportunity such as this was just too much to pass up. You see, in an alarming number of my fantasies, I hold a bejeweled scepter and ride in a silk-upholstered throne past throngs of supplicating minions. Naked minions. Flowers are thrown in my path and pumas bow down at my command and arriving from far off on the eastern frontier is a saffron-robed envoy. This envoy looks a lot like Colombian singing sensation Shakira. She rides up to my retinue on a steed of the purest white and dismounts with rare grace, approaching me with none of the fear, none of the trembling that she-envoys too often demonstrate when they gaze upon my steely visage. “Your royal highness, the most esteemed and brilliant Warrior Sultan Kevin, I bear with me a message from the Countess. I am under the strictest orders to deliver this message in private...” she purrs and my court gasps in shock. Their murmuring, however, is quickly silenced by my voice, booming out over their pathetic babble. “This pleases me,” I say, “Come, let us repair to the royal sauna...”(*)

You get the picture. What I’m trying to say is that I intend to be Minnesota’s next Attorney General.

I can hear some of you quibble already. Aren’t you already running for Congress?, you might be asking. Well, it’s true, at one point I was a serious contender for the First District seat in the United States House of Representatives. But that campaign is now moribund. I’m afraid that I didn’t read the “So You Want To Be A Congressperson?” fine print carefully enough. If I had, I would have read that a member of the House is expected to live in the district he or she represents. This, to me, is bullshit. I mean, have any of you actually seen Minnesota’s first congressional district? It’s nothing but moo-cows and soybean fields as far as the eye can see! I doubt you could even buy a six dollar latte. Six dollar lattes are important to me. So, I’m sorry, people of that part of Minnesota, but you’re not going to have me up there on Capitol Hill, giving voice to your deepest aspirations and defending your simple values. Get some other clown.

Besides, as your Attorney General, I will be in an even better position to bring forth a golden age of glory, peace and interstellar harmony. Some of my policies might strike the average Minnesotan as “strange” at first, but let’s face it: the average Minnesotan thinks wearing clothes that actually fit is “strange”. So we can’t be tied to their prejudices and preconceived notions, can we? Of course we can’t! If you will, imagine at state where...

—Wal-Mart is only allowed to operate as long as they rent our their buildings to young people to use as anarchist hardcore punk collectives during non-business hours.

—Health care is compassionate, thorough and free of charge for all non-assholes

—Prince is given official clearance and a lavish staff budget in order to determine, once and for all, what the “Minnesota sound” sounds like

—My enemies are summarily executed while my friends magically get all-expenses paid vacations in the South of France

—Minnesota finally begins the paperwork needed to become a province of Canada

—The official state motto is changed from whatever goofy crap it is now to “Minnesota: Where Immigrants Rule And Republicans Drool”

The future promises to be kick-ass, don’t you agree? But, and I hate be a downer here, the future won’t happen at all unless you and all your friends, family and pets get out to the polls and vote for me to become your next Attorney General.

Think of it. Aren’t you sick of having some jackass lawyer as your Attorney General? Wouldn’t you rather have some guy who promises that, every time he gets on television, he’ll shout out the word “scrotum” at least once? Think about it, Minnesota. Think carefully. That’s all I ask of you.

That and a ride to the mall sometimes.

* DISCLAIMER: Not an actual Kevin-M fantasy

You need more Memphis Slim in your life

These days, I’ve been enjoying the music of Memphis Slim. You should too. Because, of all the great musicians to come out of the American South, Memphis Slim is one of the very best. Sure, there are blues singers who are more well-known, like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. And there are blues singers who hew more closely to the folk roots of the form, like Bukka White and Memphis Minnie. Charley Patton and Robert Johnson are more “historically significant”, if that’s a criterion by which you judge music. Junior Kimbrough and John Lee Hooker are more raw and scary-sounding, if authenticity is your thing. But Memphis Slim, in my book, tops them all. Why? It’s simple, really: Memphis Slim is his own man, making his own music.

Here’s the deal. Too often, the blues comes across as a static, limited form. You’ve got your hard-luck lyrics and your keening guitars, thumping drums and ringing piano, sometimes a screeching harmonica and sometimes a moaning sax. To someone not completely in love with the genre, it ends up all sounding pretty much the same. At it’s best, it sounds like down-low and soulful background music. At it’s worst, it’s like one long beer-commercial. Memphis Slim, however, is unique. He had more of a song-writing sense than most of his contemporaries, and more of an arranger’s ear. As a result, even his material sounds fresh even decades after it was recorded. It cannot be mistaken for “generic blues”, even though it employs all of the usual tools of the form. In Memphis Slim’s hands, those tools are just the beginning, not an end in themselves. So, while all those artists I listed in the previous paragraph are certainly great and important musicians, I find I cannot listen to a whole album of their work without getting antsy. Not so with Memphis Slim. I could listen to him for hours and hours on end.

But maybe I shouldn’t be so theoretical. Any appreciation of Memphis Slim that ignores his tremendous piano abilities and his beautiful, booming voice is missing the point. Sometimes his hands create delicate little trills, other times they thunder like nobody’s business. Sometimes he croons, other times he hollers. Sometimes he’s funny, other times he’s lovestruck and lonesome. It doesn’t matter what he does, it all sounds good to me.

He was a complete and generous artist, one of mid-century America’s finest. Which is why it bears mentioning that all his native country offered him was obscurity, penury and racial terrorism. The United States of that era was cruel and ignorant, and so he decamped to Paris in 1962 There he held court as one of the foremost overseas ambassadors of black music, eventually becoming a Commander in the French Order of Arts and Letters. He died in 1988, at the age of 72.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Lost my will to live somewhere in the frozen-foods aisle...

Look. I realize that you—my vivacious and enormously-attractive audience—are busy people. You’ve got appointments to keep, clients to manage, and glamor to exude. No matter what continent you’re on or what sort of web browser you use, you manage to juggle important responsibilities with an active, stimulating social life. When you come here (and I’m very, very flattered that you come here, especially you Brazilians), you want trenchant commentary on the pressing events of the day and feature pieces on poo-slinging punk rockers. You do not want to hear about my trip to the grocery store.

Well, too bad for you. Because I went to the grocery store today and I’m raring to tell you all about it. Settle in, beautiful readership, and I’ll try to make this as painless as possible...

Alright. Usually, when I want to buy food, I go to one of two places: (a) a touchy-feely organic co-op or (b) an upscale fancy-dancy yuppie haven. While both of these places are close, they are not the nearest grocers to my apartment. The closest place for me to buy food is a little place I’ll refer to as The Grocery Store On The Threshold Of Hell. Or, for brevity’s sake, The Shittiest Goddamn Grocery Store In America. Oh, that’s no shorter than the first, is it? I suppose I’ll have to call it The Florescent-Lighted Hellhole Of Shame And Rotting Produce. Or perhaps The Hideous Chamber Of Surly Cashiers And Overpriced Toilet Paper.

Forget it about the name. Whatever name I choose can only convey the barest fraction of the awfulness of this place. Imagine, if you will, a large room painted a less-than-appealing dried- blood color and crossed by aisle after aisle of things that are similar to, but not exactly what you want. Around the fringes of this shameful place is a disarrayed display of fruits which will turn brown the moment you get them home, a butcher’s corner crowded with all manner of inedible fleshy things, and a long row of refrigerators holding huge jugs of milk, all of which expire in less than sixteen hours. This is the frame which surrounds the thirty-six varieties of whitebread, the festering lagoon of spilled tomato sauce, the marked-down bottles of diabetes-inducing fruit drinks, the baffling profusion of barbeque chips, and the ATM machine which screeches and screeches and screeches like some kind of horny carrion bird.

For you timid types, do not worry, you will not have to suffer Satan’s Shabbiest Grocery alone. Oh no. No no no. You will, in fact, be surrounded by people who hate the place just as much as you do. Some hate it so much that they’ll have no choice but to take it out on you. “Motherfucker better not be taking the last case of Diet Coke,” they will mutter under their breath as you take the last case of Diet Coke. Others will bang their overloaded carts into your ankles, rolling their eyes in exasperation at your stupid habit of lingering too long by the headache medicines. Throughout all this, shirtless children will roil around you and strange men will wander past, bellowing one curse word after another into their cell phones. Finally, the employees will be ever-present, ever-willing to cluck their tongues at how dumb you are for asking for a paper bag. No one gets a paper bag at The Food Vendor Of The Damned. You get a plastic bag, no matter what. And if you bought three items, you get three plastic bags. One for each of them. That’s just the way they roll there. Don’t bother wondering why.

But such thoughts will be far from your mind as you take hold of your sixteen plastic handles. The only thing you will be thinking then is, thank you sweet Jesus, I’m done, I’m done, I’m going home and never coming back here...But—alas—you aren’t finished. For you still have to walk out into the seven zillion acre parking lot, an unlit and cracked expanse of blacktop home to countless abandoned cars and no less than a dozen junkies and derelicts who will not rest until they shake you down for “bus fare”. Compounding the peril are the former customers of the Nightmare Wasteland Awful Awful Place who have made it to their cars and are speeding away with no regard to your rights as a pedestrian. Will they kill you? It depends on how fast you run! Run, doomed grocery shopper, run! Run for your life! Run far, far away from this miserable hellhole, never to return!

And on the weekends it’s even worse.

The Kids Are All Right-Wing

Okay, so I’m reading this article in the Star Tribune about how Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota’s Democratic senate candidate, is out-polling Mark Kennedy, the repulsive Republican tool. And it’s a pretty encouraging little article, too, but one line needs to be dragged out and studied in greater detail. Here it is:

Kennedy is most popular with younger Minnesotans -- he leads Klobuchar 63 to 16 percent among those under age 25 -- and with Republicans, but he is behind in nearly every other category the July 6-11 poll measured.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this. To me, Kennedy is pretty much the absolute antithesis of youthful cool. He’s a lame-o chesire conservative whose tongue is stained a chocolatey-brown color from being lodged in our sitting president’s rectum for so long. What do the post-adolescents see in him? Is it his sexy plaid ensembles? Is it his vacant grin? Is it his position on the estate tax? I can’t say. I honestly can’t say.

Nevertheless, it probably isn’t good news for the Republicans that their man is only favored by that one demographic. Because for years and years they’ve been harping on how the schools are failing to educate our children, pumping out class after class of people who don’t have the smarts and the facts to become fully-functioning, responsible citizens. Maybe that wasn’t all bullshit after all. Maybe they had a point there. Plus, I hasten to remind them that the under-25 set is notoriously lousy at turning out on election day. Usually, they’re too busy smoking pot, having casual sex and working on their Myspace pages to remember to go down to the polling station. A candidate would have to be a fool or a Green to rely on them.

Regardless, be on the lookout for right-wingers to hold this poll up as either (a) incorrigibly biased or (b) evidence that the Youth of America are finally waking up from years and years of evil liberal indoctrination or (c) both of the above.

All you need to know about the U.S.A. in the 21st century...

(photo shamelessly swiped from The Poorman)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Hard rockin', hard livin' pantless sociopath...

This weekend I watched a documentary on the late, unlamented hardcore punk icon G.G. Allin. I was interested in seeing it because, back in my surly youth, G.G. Allin was understood to be the most extreme of the extreme. My friends and I, all honor students from loving families, were into punk rock, but we wouldn’t dare to go to a G.G. Allin show. When G.G. Allin played, he hit people. He set things on fire. He took off all his clothes and cut himself with beer bottles. Most notoriously, he sometimes even took a shit on stage and threw it around. The stuff we liked—stuff that sounded like trash compactors stuffed with glass bottles and screaming orphans, mind you—was like Benny Goodman next to G.G. Allin. Sure, we had our adolescent angst and our outsider outlooks, but if someone offered us tickets to a G.G. Allin show, we’d say no thank you, sir, we’ve got a big civics test coming up tomorrow. And we promised mom we’d clean out the garage. And we had to go to the nursing home to help out with activity hour that night anyhow. We fancied ourselves punk rock, but we weren’t that punk rock.

Which, looking back on it now, was a good thing. Because, after seeing the man in action, one conclusion becomes inescapable: G.G. Allin was really, really messed up. And not in the good “rock-and-roll outlaw” way that he and his army of enablers/fans fancied. He was a felon with a band (not a very good band, but still...) or, more accurately, a very loud sideshow geek. The film is full of people—including G.G. himself—spouting off about the freedom his act represents, but the connection between human liberty and taking a dump in front of a bunch of churlish misfits with bad haircuts is left ambiguous. I imagine it’s supposed to be some sort of neo-primal thing. If that’s so, it makes sense that G.G. and his devotees have to reach for lofty terms like “freedom” and “anti-authoritarian” to describe his schtick. After all, who would trust a guy who can cogently and subtly describe his need to smear his turds up and down his chest? That would be even worse, I guess.

Which brings us to another element of G.G.’s appeal: his “realness”. Punks, more than most people, are preoccupied with authenticity. That’s fine, but I can’t help but think that their understanding of the term might be just a tad reductive. To them, teenagers and young adults all, authenticity is infantile. It’s obtained by not obeying whatever stand-in for mommy and daddy comes along—the cops, the club owners, various uptight and gainfully employed people, etc, etc. With G.G., this is taken to the absolute limit: he doesn’t even kowtow to toilet-training! What a badass!

The footage of him performing in various dingy clubs is illuminating, if you can stomach it. It would take an adolescent to find anything transgressive in his behavior. Overweight, with a shaved head that seems contrived to keep his audience from realizing that this is a balding man quickly approaching middle age, he throws random punches at people in the crowd, beats himself in the head with his microphone, and belches out poetic bon mots about how much his ass stinks. The effect is more like watching a beer-gutted, aging, naked man having the mother of all temper tantrums. It’s not cool. It’s kind of sad.

Even more troubling—and this is a subject the movie seems to want to gloss over—is his penchant for violence against women. Here we have footage of him throwing a female heckler against a wall, but this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. Mentioned briefly, but not elaborated on, was G.G.’s prison term in Michigan. I’m sure his audience would like to think that his incarceration was due to a repressive society not being able to deal with his elemental truths, but in reality he was locked up after pleading no contest to raping and torturing a woman. That the kids who put so much stock in their pathetic idol could ignore or make excuses for this sort of thing shows, perhaps, that hypocrisy isn’t solely the domain of the sell-outs and suits of the world.

Since G.G. kicked the bucket (predictably enough, by heroin overdose in a shitty walk-up on the Lower East Side), there hasn’t been anyone crazy enough or shameless enough or “real” enough to lunge into the smelly gap he left. Marilyn Manson might aspire to the same sort of asshole hedonism, but he’s basically a member of Kiss born a few decades too late. And his music is pretentious stupid instead of just being stupid-stupid, which makes all the difference as far as punk credibility goes.

No, G.G. was sui generis. There will never be another G.G. Allin. And—to paraphrase Martha Stewart—that’s a very good thing.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Hell in a handbasket

I’m not sure what to say about the recent events in Israel and Lebanon. I try not to be one of those web-pundits who feels they have to weigh in on every current event, regardless of whether or not I have any particular insight into it. I follow the stories in the news, of course, but that doesn’t mean I’m competent to pass judgement on these happenings. That’s what experts are for. My field is English literature, my expertise is modern fiction, and my thoughts on Middle Eastern politics are strictly amateur hour.

That being said, I wish people over there would stop killing each other. That’s pie-in-the-sky stuff, of course. It is an especially flamboyant fantasy since so many parties retain a vested interest in keeping the region as fucked up as possible. Oil companies, arms dealers, religious fundamentalists, brutal dictators, impoverished masses and avaricious demagogues–this not a recipe for a peaceful region. The Middle East is, to make an obscene understatement, a challenge. There might have been a time when the United States had the power and the will and the authorityto help solve such thorny problems, but—alas—we don’t live in 1946 anymore. Now we just muddle around over there, buying oil from one autocratic regime, overthrowing another, and rattling our sabers at a third. At times, it seems all we have to offer the Middle East is money, bad advice and bigger explosions.

I’m speaking about the United States, of course, because I have no idea what Israel should do to ensure its security, nor do I know what the Palestinians can do to get a workable country of their own. Kidnapping and killing each other doesn’t seem to be accomplishing anything other than making the impasse more vicious. I won’t get into that whole “who started it/ who’s the victim/ who oughta blink first?” issue, though. You’ll be disappointed if you look for heroes among the leaders of any side in this struggle. The heroes don’t get on the news over here—they’re the thousands and thousands of ordinary Israelis and Arabs who risk their lives just by living and still don’t hate each other, and still haven’t given up the dream of peace.

UPDATE: If you'd like to read commentary more informed than mine, please go here and here and here.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The dark side of reproduction...

A few months back, I was browsing in the basement of a local used bookstore. This was the middle of the day, so I pretty much had the place to myself. At least I did until Lil’ Trevor and his unbearable mother came down the stairs. The latter situated herself in front of a shelf on the other side of the room and began to root through their stock of remaindered Jane Smiley novels while Lil’ Trevor, he of the apple cheeks and roguish grin, began tearing around the place like a bipolar baboon on bad methamphetamine. “What are you finding Trevor? What are you finding?” his unbearable mother screeched every so often.

Occasionally, Trevor spouted off some gibberish in reply, but for the most part he was too busy shrieking at the top of his lungs over and over and over again to pay his mother much mind. “Are you singing?” she would ask him, “What’s that you’re singing?”

I gritted my teeth and kept on shopping. People letting their bleating, snot-crusted, germy progeny run wild in public is just something you have to get used to if you want to live in contemporary America. These days, when you pump out a brat, the entire world becomes an extension of your living room. You just show up and take over the place, letting your precious little lump of suet do whatever they want to. You couldn’t imagine clipping their wings. They’re a fledgling American, after all, you want them to grow up secure in the knowledge that they own the world and every single thing in it.

I could go on and on about this. But, that day, I steeled myself to ignore them. There was a book on the lowest shelf that looked interesting, so I kneeled down to have a look at it. In doing so, I presented an irresistible target to Lil Trevor, who was currently devastating the poetry section. He came waddling over, shrieked in my ear, and proceeded to grab my ear. “Gaaaah!” he said and began the complicated process of working his free fingers into my nostrils.

This was more than I could bear. “Aarrgghh!” shouted as I leapt to my feet. Lil Trevor let out a delighted squeak and went rushing away then, but my cursing had caught the attention of his unbearable mother. She came flowing over in her flowy dress and, once she had established that I hadn’t done any harm to darling Trevor’s self-esteem, began to chuckle at me.

I was not amused, however. I gave her my worst scowl, but it must not have had any effect because—and I swear I’m not kidding here—she just beamed and said, “Trevor’s been exploring faces recently.”

In the secret heart of me, I kind of lost it for a moment. Nevertheless, it was with admirable poise and calm that I informed the unbearable mother that, while I really didn’t give a shit what Trevor was exploring, I would appreciate it if, in the future, she kept him the hell away from me.

From the look she gave me then, you would have thought I said something indecorous. She stared at me for awhile, her mouth opening and closing at random intervals, until she finally hollered out for Trevor to follow her up the stairs. When they were gone, I savored the silence. I got back down on my knees and flipped through book after book, my soul alight with the peculiar glow that comes from even the slightest of victories.

You might be surprised to hear that I read something absurd on the internet!

Occasionally, I like to read a few right-wing blogs. Don’t worry: I don’t do this because I sympathize with their point-of-view or because I want to broaden myself or anything noble like that. Once in awhile, I check them out to see what the current conservative cause du jour is, but usually I’m just looking to fulfill my daily kitsch quota. The right-wing sites are fascinating to me. Relentlessly partisan themselves, they’re always griping about someone else’s bias. Cocooned in their infallible ideology, they get a kick out of painting their opposition as robotic, talking-points-mouthing drones. Angry on a daily basis about some new affront to conservatism, they nonetheless accuse liberals of being the unhinged ones. It’s weird and exhausting. I can’t see how they can keep it up day in and day out.

Once in awhile, however, I read something that stands out for me. Usually it highlights one of the wacky traits of contemporary conservatism in such a jaw-droppingly spectacular fashion that it can’t be ignored. To that end, I present you with “It’s Time To Get Serious” from the “Anti-Strib” blog, a local website dedicated to hatin’ on Muslims and giving us namby-pamby tax-raising Al-Qaeda coddlin’ liberals the sharp end of the stick. Please go and read it.

Are you back? Good! As you probably noticed, the article was essentially a “hell yeah” to an article on another Minnesota right-winger blog that was, in itself, a “hell yeah” to an op-ed in the New York Post. This is the “Russian Nesting Doll” mode of internet discourse. The point of it all is that we’re not doing enough to kill terrorists. We need to stop with all this wussy catch-and-imprison business, because all that does is give the New York Times the rhetorical ammunition to undermine our national security. To paraphrase Conrad, we ought to exterminate the brutes.

Now, this strikes me as not-very-sound reasoning, but before I explain why, let me confess that have at least a little sympathy for Mr. Rambix. International terrorism is an awful thing. It would be better if we didn’t have to deal with it. I can understand the longing for a Jerry Bruckheimer world where we can simply send a platoon of Rambos into the Middle East to rescue our way of life once and for all. That isn’t going to happen, though, and since it isn’t going to happen many people opt for a kind of magical thinking. Why can’t we just kill the bad guys?, they ask, and the answer that they usually find helps to comfort them.

That answer is, of course, that we can’t because “half of America, the MSM, and many of our lawmakers are not serious about the “War on Terror”. A messy foreign problem thus becomes an easy, black-and-white domestic issue. If liberals would just get serious about the War on Terror, if the New York Times would just stop stabbing Bush in the back, we would win. For conservatives of this stripe, terrorists are the enemy they don’t understand and aren’t comfortable with. They’d much rather duke it out with their fellow Americans, the detested liberals. That way the debate can be on their terms, fought with the tried-and-true rhetorical tools they’ve grown so adept at. With this in place, they don’t have to know many actual facts about the history of the Middle East, the capabilities of our intelligence services and military, and the current conditions under which the War on Terror is being fought. They can simply imagine that all that tangled business will just work itself out if their ideological adversaries stopped being so adversarial.

And let’s parse that proposal a little further. Putting aside it’s moral dubiousness, how would this “kill ‘em all” policy even be possible? What information would we gain about possible terrorist plots if all we did was summarily execute them? While the New York Post asserts that “few [terrorists] have serious intelligence value...”, how exactly would we know that if we just shot them on sight? How would we know they were a terrorist to begin with? Or should we just kill anyone who fits our “terrorist profile”? That they hold this proposal out there as a way to avoid further embarrassing human-rights scandals is amusing in a sick sort of way. Furthermore, how will this end terrorism? Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the whole martyrdom angle hold a lot of appeal for terrorists these days? Do they seriously think that potential terrorists will be deterred by this “become a terrorist and we’ll kill you!” program?

The sad and scary truth is that there’s a lot of terrorists out there. There are only going to be more in the years to come. We can’t slaughter our way into an golden age of peace and security. Terrorism shouldn’t be thought of as a discreet group of evildoers that we can just kill into oblivion but as a sociohistorical phenomenon, one we’re still learning to deal with. Conservatives like to caricature liberals as hippie-dippy types who think that we can end terrorism by being nice to extremists. While I know of no actual, flesh-and-blood liberal who thinks like this, I’ve read plenty of right-wingers who have their own feel-good fantasies about the War on Terror. Put their starkest form, those fantasies all say pretty much the same thing: our civilization is the only thing standing in the way of saving our civilization.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The suspense is over...

In the world of international sport, one question hangs on everyone’s lips. That question is, of course, just what insult did Italian footballer Marco Materazzi toss in the waning minutes of the World Cup finals in order to provoke French legend Zinedine Zidane into headbutting him? Some suspect that Materazzi made an untoward comment about Zidane’s mother. Others believe that the captain of Les Bleus, the son of Algerian immigrants, was referred to as a “terrorist”.

In the interest of helping millions and millions of soccer fans across the world achieve some sort of closure, we here at the Insomnia Report have decided to fire up our sophisticated video-enhancement and lip-reading technology in order to determine exactly which hurtful words were spoken. After intensive analysis, several sleepless nights, and no less than five million three hundred and sixty three thousand four hundred and seventeen viewings of the incident, I have finally deciphered Materazzi’s garbled, venomous slur.

It was: “Donald Rumsfeld’s jockstrap hangs loosely upon you, bald Frenchman!”.

Knowing this, I feel that Zidane’s actions were more than justified. A man can only take so much, after all.

A warm welcome to my readers from Brazil...

Boa vinda! Pardon por favor meu Portugese mau. Eu quero dizer que eu sou feliz que você lê meu Web site. Eu tenho uma curiosidade grande sobre seu país e sua cultura. É meu sonho a visita dia Rio de Janiero, sao Paulo, Baía e Belo Horizonte. Seria uma honra a viajar a um lugar que fosse home a assim muitos músicos, artistas e escritores grandes. Nos estados unidos, nós chamamos o vigésimo século "o século americano". Com sorte, o 21st século será sabido como "o século do americano sul".

Com o aquele dito, permita por favor que eu insulte meu presidente. Porque George W. Bush é um asno andando e deve estar em um jardim zoológico. É o clown o mais feio da guerra no circus de ridiculous e de povos. Não o deixe em seu país. Não é sexy bastante.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The worldwide sickness...

Today there has been a series of terrible bombings in Mumbai. When I first heard of this, I thought of how India is so often the victim of this kind of violence. Mumbai itself, back when it was known as Bombay, suffered a similar multiple bombing back in 1993 that left over 200 dead. In 2003, a pair of bombs in the city left almost 50 people dead. The struggle over the Kashmir has provoked many horrible massacres and bombings, including a brazen gun assault on India’s parliament in New Dehli in December, 2001. Recently, I’ve been reading up on the 1985 Air India Flight 182 bombing, where over 300 people (mainly Canadian citizens of British descent) died over the Atlantic ocean in a terrorist attack attributed to Sihk separatists. This was part of a long, vicious struggle over the Punjab region, a struggle that also claimed the lives of prime minister Indira Gandhi (assassinated by Sihk bodyguards on Halloween, 1984) as well as thousands of everyday Sihks who were massacred by vengeful mobs.

India, unfortunately, is a very dangerous and volatile place. If today’s bombings are the work of Al Qaeda (and they seem, at least on first glance, very similar to Al-Qaeda guided or inspired attacks in Madrid and London), then it means that the long-suffering Indian people have yet another band of fanatics to be on their guard against.

Sometimes it's hard to be polite...

In life, it is important not to be too judgmental. Naturally, there will be people that you don’t get along with. There will also be whole groups of individuals who you’ll be inclined to dismiss, scorn, and/or ridicule. It is usually best, I think, to quash those urges. Give into them too often and you become one of those dickweeds at the family barbeque, spouting off about how the liberals are ruining this country or how Albanians eat too many onions or how feminists are bad because they fail to shave their armpits on the rigorous schedule that you demand. This kind of thing is fine for dull people who need a little rage to make their lives seem worthwhile, but most people should strive to stay out of that trap. The world is a complex place and any safe, simple categories you construct will be immediately slapped down by reality in all its amazing diversity.

That being said, allow me to confess that I’ve got no time for libertarians.

You know what a libertarian is? A libertarian is a Republican who’s read too much science fiction. A libertarian is that guy (because, seemingly, they’re all guys) who will provoke an argument with you at the drop of a hat, only to declare himself the victor five minutes later because you haven’t read some obscure Belgian’s economic treatise and so you obviously can’t have anything intelligent to say about market forces. A libertarian is the sort of dude who will proclaim himself in favor of all sorts of hedonism and debauchery, yet will blanch like a Victorian abbott at the decadence on display at your average outstate Ruby Tuesday’s. Libertarians operate under the impression that their beliefs are too profound and subtle to be accepted by the common run of dumb people, which conveniently shields them from nagging doubts that their beliefs may be as error-ridden and prejudiced as anyone’s. Libertarians sometimes run for public office, but they never win. No one wants to elect some guy who’s only in it for himself. The libertarians who are wise enough to be ashamed of John Stossel are seldom wise enough to be ashamed of Ayn Rand or Rush.

If I hear someone say that they’re a libertarian, I immediately think: Oh Christ, I’ve got to get away from this jackass... Most days, I’d rather have my balls chewed on by a pack of wily otters than have a discussion with a libertarian. I suppose I’m a bigot when it comes to libertarians. If you are reading this and you’re a thoughtful, generous, modest and civic-minded libertarian, I apologize. I’m a dick. There’s really no excuse for me.

But do you want to know another group that really gets on my nerves? People who think that the September 11th attacks were a United States government conspiracy. I mean, that’s just asinine.

Conspiracy theorists have a powerful urge to consider themselves “clued in”, they need to see themselves as possessors of insight and knowledge that the naive masses of sheep-like, official-story-accepting drones cannot handle. They cling to minute scraps of pseudo-fact and ignore their own common sense. They take coincidence as pattern and don’t blink at dismissing actual patterns as fiendishly-clever C.I.A. diversionary schemes. They find it hard to believe that cave-dwelling fanatics could execute such a complex operation, but apparently consider it reasonable that a state bureaucracy could do the same thing to its own people, manage to pin it on a bunch of cave-dwelling fanatics, and have none of the thousands of people that would have to be involved in such an plan ever spill a single detail to anyone. Occasionally, a few claim to be interested in evidence, but usually they’re just interested in exaggerating whatever evidence might prove them right and minimizing the vast amounts of evidence that suggests that they’re just wasting their time. With a great many conspiracy theorists, there is nothing forensic about it: it’s all ideology. The United States destroyed the World Trade Center because that’s what the United States does. The United States is bad, ergo everything bad that happens in the world can be traced back to it’s deviousness. This is not a quest for truth. This is demonology, plain and simple.

Like libertarianism, it’s distressing that so many intelligent people choose to spend their energies this way.

I could go on and on. But I'm done ranting for now.