Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Hurricane Katrina: Two Observations

Not such a funny post today.

The mainstream media and blogosphere are covering the devastation of Hurricane Katrina all too well. Thus, I will not try to add to the frenzy here ... except for two points that I have not yet heard:

First, not to minimize the horror many are facing in Mississippi and Louisiana this week, but perhaps Katrina will give us Americans some perspective on the similar hell faced much more often in many other countries.

Sure, the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami--with around a quarter of a million deaths--got a great deal of attention from the entire world. But when was the last time you saw days of media saturation (sorry) about a typhoon hammering South China or the maelstroms slamming into Bangldesh on a regular basis?

Almost every year, thousands (or tens of thousands) die there, and millions more suffer, yet we barely even notice. Perhaps the pictures we are all seeing this week from our own country will grant us a window into the brutish life millions of others face nearly every year.

Second, we know about the difficulty in evacuating so many people from rooftops, especially in New Orleans, because of all of the disastrous flooding. They are looting, they are starving, they are starting to die of thirst ... but we cannot get enough helicopters in there to rescue them all.

We see them waving "Help Us" signs, and we hurt just thinking of what they are going through.

Wait a minute ... we are SEEING them, aren't we?

And how is that? It's footage from a news helicopter!

So why the hell are the news helicopters circling around and taking minutes-long video of these people, only to fly away to capture more footage instead of grabbing some of them?

Regardless of whether these poor souls should have--or could have--evacuated when they were warned to, may the Force be with them.

Monday, August 29, 2005

"Witnessing," Groin Pains, and the Road to Hell

There I was, minding my own business. Racing through the channels between Metal Mania on VH1 Classic, beach volleyball on NBC, and the Weather Channel’s tropical update.

And then I saw God.

Bear with me, dear readers. This post will take some time to get through.

God did not actually appear on my television, of course … but someone selling his version of God did. More specifically, this somebody was hosting an infomercial wherein interviewers “witness.”

They bully people on the street. Prod them to admit their violations of all Ten Commandments. Convince them they have bought a one-way ticket to Hellfire and Damnation, which I think is currently in western Sudan. And the accosted sinners cry like babies. They profess their acceptance of Jesus—or at least the show’s interpretation of Jesus—as their personal savior.

Disturbing enough just on the face of it. But what stopped me like a kick in the crotch was the identity of the host.

Our spokesman, our guiding light, is none other than Kirk Cameron.

Maybe you know him as lanky teenager Mike Seaver from the 1980s sitcom “Growing Pains.” Well, guess what—he’s all growed up now, and he has gone evangelical on us.

For those of you who dare not tread in radical Christian Web sites, let me give you the skinny on his new cause, “The Way of the Master.”

The melodrama begins with “Almost everyone thinks they are a good person … but the question you should be asking is, ‘Am I good enough to go to Heaven?’”

Thankfully, Kirk and his similarly self-righteous partners will be glad to tell you that the answer is no, and instead you will go to hell. You see, THEY know the one true way, the path to salvation that must be right for everybody. And they are not shy about telling you what it is.

Then we have “Who is God to you? Is he only a god of love and mercy? He’s a figment of your imagination. You’ve created a god in your own mind that you’re more comfortable with. You may call it your ‘personal belief,’ but God calls it idolatry.”

Thank you, Mikey Seaver. Here I had thought that your God gave us brains to use them, to interpret things. But now I realize that we should just follow YOUR interpretation rather than think for ourselves, because anyone who sees God differently than you do will go to hell.

They point out a verse in the Book of John (Author’s note: They are not referring to the dirty joke book you keep in the bathroom for toilet reading) that says, “He who hates his brother is a murderer.” Thus, they claim, if you have ever been angry with anyone then you have violated the commandment against murder. And you will go to hell.

Oops, I am a goner. Because these arrogant proselytizers are triggering some big time anger issues right now.

Kirk and friends also inform the viewer that any man who has looked at a woman with lust has committed adultery and will—you guessed it—go to hell.

But did not God—or evolution, or little green men from Mars, or any creator in whatever system you choose to believe—hardwire us to find other humans attractive PRECISELY BECAUSE it aids the propagation of the species? This wonderful “solution” to the “sin” of lust would leave the world pretty much empty of people in about a generation. Not many people to “save” then, are there?

And it goes on and on. So what, you may ask, are the justifications for these views that should be pounded into everybody? Bible verses.

Yes, I said Bible verses.

But if these verses must indeed be followed literally, as the evangelicals claim, why are they not preaching against eating shellfish—which is clearly disallowed in Leviticus?

Is Kirk going to sell one of his daughters into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus? Where is their “witnessing” for stoning, which has the nod from God as a punishment?

After all, all these things are in the Bible—quite explicitly, actually. (See the amazing “Open Letter to Senator Rick Santorum” for more.)

We are so lucky to have Mike Seaver and his born-again buddies to sort through all those pesky verses for us. It must be a burden to decide for the rest of humanity which verses pave the way to eternal damnation and which ones can conveniently be ignored … but they seem to enjoy it. God bless them.

It may surprise you that I actually think Kirk means well. Maybe my fond memories of “Growing Pains” are exerting their influence; perhaps I just tend to give people the benefit of the doubt.

But he should remember that the road to hell—with which he claims to be so familiar—is paved with good intentions.

As while they break people down in public and lead group prayers on the street, maybe they should read a different Bible verse, from Matthew. It says, in part, “when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. … But, when you pray, go into your room and shut the door.”

Kirk, it is far past time for you to go to your room and keep your praying there where your God says it belongs.

Or else you are going to hell.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Into the Blogosphere, DC’s Mayor Goes

Well, well. Now I’ve seen it all.

Actually, that is an overstatement. I have not seen the much anticipated Snoop Dogg-Clay Aiken remake of “Free Bird” come to pass. Flying cars, Bin Laden behind bars, and green men from Mars have all eluded me.

And I have yet to see a lingerie-wearing, lust-propelled Angelina Jolie at my door.

But I HAVE lived long enough to see Washington D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams start a personal blog.

Right now, I hear many voices saying to me that it is not so unusual for politicians to have blogs. (OK, I know it’s just you and your multiple personalities, Larry.) But it is indeed unusual for a DC mayor to be literate enough to put his virtual balls on the virtual table, leading me to read the entries and pass on the following observations:

#1: You will not find our man Tony’s picture next to “prolific” in the dictionary. It has been ten days, and he has put up only two posts. Wise observers will recognize that the mayor of the nation’s capital cesspool is a bit busier than David Amulet … but I still say that once a week does not cut it.

#2: His posts, both of them, have been pretty much what one might expect from a bow-tie wearing public administrator. His debut posed such questions as, “What is a blog anyway?” and “Is it an almanac capturing my far flung and scattered interests in fields ranging from ornithology to baseball?”

#3: Mayor Williams is seeking to start out on a good foot with his peeps by declaring that his personal blog will “serve a useful purpose in connecting me and the citizens I serve.”

This last one really grabs you, doesn’t it? How sweet.

How nice of him to reach out and play with us online … while Washington continues to endure more murders per capita than nearly any other large city in America.

Almost 200 homicides in 2004. Twenty-four murders in the last eight weeks alone. And these figures are considered GOOD for the District, compared to the even more alarming carnage of the past twenty years.

Please don’t get me wrong—I like a leader who is in touch with his or her electorate. I actually think Anthony Williams is a relatively good chief executive for the District. At least this Washington leader has avoided headlines with the words “videotape,” “crack,” and “arrest” next to his name.

But a mayor who spends time on his blog warning readers of future “disgusting comments” and creating “quasi prime directives” (no, I am not kidding) simply creates the perception that he would rather type musings on his laptop than help his constituents dodge the bullets speeding through their bedroom windows.

Not to mention that in his latest post, Williams paraphrases Yoda.

That’s MY turf, Tony. Step off.


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

US Television: Falling into Enemy Hands?

When it comes to TV, my only regular programs are We Are the 80s and Metal Mania on VH-1 Classic. And this spring, I must admit, I got sucked into the show “Lost.”

Other countries, I hear, have quality programming. They say “The Office” started as a British show. Canadian broadcasting puts on entertaining and informative material, so they say … but I find that hard to believe.

Regardless, I do not watch much television. Yet I am always fascinated by the networks’ slate of new shows for the fall TV lineup.

So as a public service I hereby offer my uninformed initial thoughts on a few of the potential gems we will be seeing (at least for a few episodes before cancellation) next month.

On UPN, we will get a Melrose-like soap called “Sex, Love and Secrets.” Subtle. I have not seen much about this show, but I suspect it will be a family drama about honesty, chastity, and platonic love.

Positive: There just is not enough sleaze on television; this winner will bring balance back to the medium.

Negative: They might think it is “cute” to bring Andrew Shue back to prime time. I think he went to Dartmouth—isn’t that awfully close to Canada?

Fox will bring us “Head Cases,” about a young hotshot attorney who returns to the bar after a nervous breakdown only to find that his former colleagues are not interested in his services any longer. So, naturally, he teams up with a mentally unstable partner and entertainment ensues.

Positive: Star Chris O’Donnell may be too busy with this show to be drawn into reprising his role as Robin in the Batman movies.

Negative: He may be the first TV lawyer to wear a mask and Technicolor tights. And he looks Canadian.

One that I have seen ads for is ABC’s “Commander-in-Chief,” with Geena Davis playing a vice president who ascends to the Oval Office. We all hope that her new role will not do to television what her embarrassing leads in “Earth Girls Are Easy” and “Cutthroat Island” did to theaters across America. Phew.

Positive: A White House drama may be a good thing, especially because “The West Wing” is starting to get that stale cracker taste.

Negative: Davis’ name on the show is “Mackenzie Allen,” which sounds oddly Canadian.

All this is only serving to reignite my paranoid fear that our neighbors to the north are secretly infiltrating our country’s political leadership and media elite (probably according to the secret battle plan, “Yukon Storm.”)

As you know, Canada-born Peter Jennings recently died. That must mean something. And Bryan Adams IS touring our country right now.

Scary, I know.

So this fall, you all watch these American TV shows and feed me any evidence of the Canuck advance. I’ll be remaining vigilant for any signs of a remake of “Northern Exposure.”

Monday, August 22, 2005

One Hell of a Honeymoon

Although usually hyperaware of titillating news stories, I somehow missed one last month that is just too bizarre to let pass without comment.

I regret that I am six weeks late. Blame it on John Roberts, Tommy Lee, and Jim Cantore. And, of course, Jessica Simpson’s breasts. Somehow the honeymoon disappearance of George Allen Smith in early July slipped right by me.

While on a 12-day cruise on Royal Caribbean’s “Brilliance of the Seas” in the Mediterranean, Smith just up and vanished. Gone. Without a trace.

Well, except for some blood. And lots of juicy innuendo.

You see, the fine journalists at A Current Affair have been all over this story. But even with their stellar investigatory work (and other journalists’ efforts), the authorities are just not talking. Some unverified details are nevertheless making the rounds:

In case you have not heard, the apparently happy couple spent the night of July 4 celebrating their recent nuptials by drinking, gambling, and—according to some reports—getting very social with a group of young men.

Oh yes, and Smith may have won a large amount—tens of thousands of dollars—that night in the casino, where some witnesses report seeing Smith and his bride fighting. Some say that her husband’s failure to object to another man groping her led her to kick him in the beanbag—and storm back to their room alone.

Then he may have gone back to the room to find her, but at least one witness says that she was gone and he returned to the casino. (Some reports say the next morning she was awakened in a lounge area, where she seems to have passed out.) Regardless, Smith ended up drinking even more and supposedly had to be carried back to his room by three men.

Then things got strange.

Passengers reported hearing a scream and loud noises, including a loud thud, from the couple’s room early in the morning of July 5. And then there is the blood that the crew found inside the room … and the large stain with a bloody handprint on the outside balcony.

Sounds like a recipe: Take loads of cash. Add copious amounts of alcohol. A dash of frolicking and groping. Mix in screams and blood stains. Put on steady heat until morning.

And what do you get? A missing body. An invisible husband. A swimaway groom.

I am sure that investigators are looking at several possibilities. A marital argument that got out of control. Group sex gone awry. Simple greed, as drunk men attempted to steal money from an even drunker man’s cabin and ended up tossing a bloody corpse overboard to try to cover their tracks.

What I do not hear is the obvious answer. Think about it—who has been trying to nail down TV rights for her life story? Who has been prodding the networks to cough up even more dough? And what terrible act could she perpetrate to spice up her tale even more—and line her pockets even more deeply?

Coming this fall to a television near you: “The Runaway Bride: Murderess on the High Seas.”

And I’ll bet all the money in George Allen Smith’s cruise ship cabin that Jennifer Wilbanks’ ass-clown fiancée would STILL want to marry her.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Latest Celebrity Fling

I saw the big news last night. Yes, I am referring to Madonna’s horse accident.

Be honest—when was the last time you heard about anything in her life? Fifteen, twenty years ago you could not wake up without Madonna-this or Madonna-that burrowing into your skull. But lately it has been all Jessica Simpson. Michael Jackson. Lindsay Lohan. Tom Cruise.

Team Jolie vs. Team Aniston.

I never thought I would see the day when the Material Girl got less press than Rob Schneider's Deuce Bigelow. But now, all is right with the world. She is in the headlines again.

This time, however, it is not for her usual kind of ride. Yesterday, Mrs. Guy Ritchie instead demonstrated her Christopher Reeve impersonation.

For once, let us cherish that she is only a borderline actress.

Despite riding the horse like a virgin, Madonna must have been under a lucky star … shined on by a ray of light. Although her recovery will be no holiday, she—not for the first time in her life—got off easy. She will live to tell the story of her accident.

After all, her injuries seem to be limited to one shattered collarbone. Several fractured ribs. One broken hand. True blue bruises. And one cracked cone-bra.

Suddenly the world’s eyes are back on her, as if the last decade of shunning the spotlight and raising her kids in relative seclusion never happened. We have our Madonna back, and this time we are not going to let her go so easily.

I expect daily press conferences. Hourly medical updates. Minute-by-minute speculation on her white blood cell count, her inside-the-cast itches, and her nipple hardness.

All this on a day when she was supposed to just take a nice, quiet, private little ride for her 47th birthday. Instead, the Italian got tossed by the stallion.

Don’t even tempt me to make a “mount” joke.

Monday, August 15, 2005

OIl Prices: Up, Up, and Away!

I have never been one to care about rising gas prices. I have never paid attention when the media has hyped the cost of a tank of gas.

Hell, I never even looked at the receipt after I filled ‘er up. (The car, not the prostitute. Them hookers are tax deductible if you have a good accountant.)

It is just a waste of time to fret about such things, I thought. What am I going to do, not drive to work because each gallon costs a few cents more?

Those people whining about gas prices were just whiners—the same folks who complained about the cost of houses … movie tickets … vegetables. But that was just not me.

Until I bought a luxury SUV.

At the time, it seemed like such a good idea. A vehicle with real speakers, GPS, and a rear end camera; lots of fun uses for that last one. And not only could it survive an impact with my old car—the dumpy little Honda CRV—it could crush that thing like Barack Obama squashed Alan Keyes in last year’s Illinois senate race.

But now, one year later, two twenties jump out of my pocket whenever I drop below a quarter tank. Every time I even drive by a gas station now, my wallet crawls around my waist and slaps my beanbag.

And pay attention, ladies and gentlemen: it is going to get worse before it gets better.

According to Oil Politics International, several hotspots around the world could cause markets to get all wiggy: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela.

We have panicked over $50 per barrel oil. Then $60. This week, nearing $70. But if any of these places really go downhill, we are looking at $100 per barrel.

Wait … do you hear that? I think my old Honda CRV is laughing at me.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Crüe Review

In my last post, I “analyzed” the revival of 80s hair metal.

Last night, I lived it.

No, dear reader, I did not put on a Spinal Tap-esque wig and turn my amps up to eleven. Instead, I went to see the Crüe.

More specifically, I joined thousands of Caucasians—most of whom I suspect came in keg-filled buses from Wal Mart—at the Mötley Crüe concert at Nissan Pavilion. If you are not familiar with the nation’s capital, “Nissan” is the Washington D.C.-area’s pre-eminent outdoor concert venue for acts that can draw more than 10,000, but not the 50,000+ that will get you into RFK Stadium in the District’s charming eastern sector.

And they put on a SHOW. This was pure entertainment. Loud, raucous, balls-to-the-wall multimedia entertainment.

It was the best known, and the best, Crüe lineup. Nikki Sixx. Tommy Lee. Vince Neil. Mick Mars.

Reunited, and it feels so good.

Flanked by two screens measuring 30’ by 40’ each, our heros took the stage in a blaze of hellfire and flesh befitting their reputation—and the name of their current tour: Carnival of Sins. And let me tell you, the boys lived up to that theme nearly as well as one can in a large public venue.

Flames shooting several stories into the air. Makeup out of a George Romero film. Midgets parading around in chains.

And scantily clad, often topless, women climbing girders, dangling from trapezes, and humping each other in something akin to a leather-and-spikes lesbian outtake from Eyes Wide Shut.

I thought I was in a kinky, fun version of hell.

Or Bangkook. (Oops, I mean Bangkok ... sorry about the Thai-po.)

Nikki, of course, was solid on bass. And Mick played much better than I remembered. But Tommy and Vince were the stand outs—and for different reasons.

Tommy, frankly, was a disappointment. Do not get me wrong: he played well throughout the set. He even won the crowd over by screaming how much he loved us—and by using his camcorder to show, on the venue’s uber-screens, the crowd’s ample supply of women flashing their ample breasts.

Tommy’s solo, however, was less a drum event than some adolescent Peter Pan fantasy. Instead of showing us how well he truly can play, he chose to fly back and forth by cable harness between two platforms high above the stage and hit a few steel drums to an annoying backing track.

Vince, on the other hand, was the biggest surprise of the show. I had feared he would have a raspy, has-been voice. I was anticipating cringing at a bloated and lame shadow of Vince’s former, quasi-Roth self.

I expected, in short, Sally Struthers with an Adam's apple.

Instead, he belted out everything from “Live Wire” to “Primal Scream” with authority. He held the mike out to the audience more often than Donahue … but when he did sing, he hit his notes. And, despite my dread before the show, he looked reasonably healthy for someone about to turn 45.

On the whole, I give this concert a solid thumbs up. Although the band did not share the naked hotties with the audience, much to my dismay, they DID share something else worth cherishing, something not common enough in our all-too serious lives.

One hell of a good time.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Hair Today, Not Gone Tomorrow: The Revival of 80s Hair Metal

Why can’t we let go of 80s metal?

Slash and Duff from Guns N’ Roses are carrying Scott Weiland on their backs—and keeping him out of rehab—via Velvet Revolver, and selling millions of records. Rob Halford has rejoined Judas Priest, which is drawing bigger crowds than they have had in almost 20 years. Mötley Crüe collectively penned a best-selling book—and is selling out arenas as big as those in their heyday.

Correct me if I am wrong, but most of us who listened to this stuff fifteen years ago felt guilty about it, right? This was not “quality” music; we did not stay up late thinking about the time signatures and complex arrangements of Bon Jovi’s releases.

Misunderstand me not—yes, I am channeling Yoda tonight—but I do truly love the metal. Especially the hair metal.

There is the relatively good: Def Leppard, Dokken, Queensrÿche, Ratt, Tesla. Then there is the bad: Poison, Slaughter, Winger. And yes, the downright ugly: Europe, Faster Pussycat, Twisted Sister.

See, you can, how the “good” is truly relative.

But even as I love it—as I rock and I roll and I revel in it—I realize that it is not actually GOOD music.

Hence my surprise at the ongoing appeal, and the recent revival, of 80s metal. I thought it was a fad, a passing thing. I thought my CD rack would become something friends came over to marvel at, as if these discs were relics from a forgotten age … like a curio cabinet with Chinese fans or Native American arrowheads.

An auditory museum, this is. Angel Witch. Autograph. Blue Murder. Cinderella. Danger Danger. Firehouse. Frehley’s Comet. Hanoi Rocks. Keel. Krokus. L.A. Guns. Raven. Tora Tora. Trixter.

No, I am not making these up. We are talking multiple Quiet Riot albums here.

What I thought would become a novelty is now wicked cool. I have friends asking ME if I want to catch Priest’s show. If the Bret Michaels show has tickets. If I am free to go see the Crüe.

How much has 80s metal permeated our culture when Ozzy Osbourne helps kick off a national cultural trend, the reality show? When Tommy Lee follows him by enrolling at the University of Nebraska, with cameras rolling? When David Lee Roth is the leading candidate to take over Howard Stern’s radio show?

Kidding I am NOT, my Padawan learner.

My memory must be failing. I do not remember, when growing up in the 80s, experiencing a 60s revival. And the 90s did not bring back the 70s; grunge music made us feel like killing ourselves, but we could not work up the energy and wound up crashing on the couch—the decade did not spur us to dress in bad plaid and grow afros. Somehow now, in the new millennium, we are building new altars to the demigods that we barely admitting listening to twenty years ago.

Although it is nice to say, “I told you so,” and show off my Whitesnake cassettes, it feels kind of funny. Something about stunted growth … reliving the past … wanting to get with ex-girlfriends one more time. It is a slippery slope, better left to the dustbin of history.

Yet something inside me yearns. The boy inside the man beckons. I cannot help sliding a Whitesnake album in the CD changer. Appetite for Destruction ends up blaring in the car. I pop in the Poison, I crank the Crüe.

Feels good, it does. And is that not what the 80s were all about?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Why IS the Mona Lisa Smiling?

I am not the first—and I certainly will not be the last—to complain about Hollywood’s uncanny ability in recent years to turn a good book into a bad motion picture.

Sure there are some exceptions to the movies-from-books-suck rule. Fight Club, overall, was well done; last year’s Big Fish was quite good. But most of the time we end up instead with something like The Bourne Identity, The Time Machine, or American Psycho. Even 2003’s Cat in the Hat was a letdown from the book.

So it is strange indeed that I find myself a bit optimistic as I await the release next year of a film derived from a popular novel. No, it is not because I am anticipating another massacre of a quality tome … quite the opposite.

This film really SHOULD be better than the book.

Coming to a theater near you in May 2006: The Da Vinci Code, based on Dan Brown’s mammoth-selling novel of the same name.

Maybe you have heard of it. Or maybe you have been trapped on a mysterious island with Charlie from Party of Five. Pick one or the other, there is no third option.

The book, quite simply, was a worldwide blockbuster.

But it just was not that good. The writing was wooden, the plot progression clunky.

So how can I be even cautiously positive?

Well, for starters, the book’s concept had more promise than Dan Brown delivered. I love the idea of a well-crafted story that combines suspense and action with legend and historical controversy. Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, for example, does it well. Perhaps director Ron Howard can do better on the screen than Brown did on the page.

One good sign: The makers passed on Brown and instead had Akiva Goldsman pen the screenplay. Not that Batman Forever was the stuff of Oscars, but it is a step in the right direction.

Another: The makers got Jean Reno—the talented albeit overused as serious-and-gruff-yet-likeable middle-aged Frenchman—to play a key role. Reno shined in The Professional and Ronin; he even made the first Mission Impossible not totally suck.

And another: The early movie poster shows the Mona Lisa, not the lead actor. A nice trend, also used in War of the Worlds—which would be a rare good trend in the film industry if it gains momentum.

So, despite all the obvious reasons why this will be a Hollywood blockbuster with more flash than substance, I must remain hopeful. I just WANT this to be a better movie than it was a book. Please, can I have just this one favor?

The biggest obstacle in my way is Forrest Gump.

Yes, that is right—I said Forrest Gump. The lead role, the part of the egg-headed symbologist Robert Langdon, is handled by Tom Hanks.

I will admit that Hanks has performed admirably in several films, but I would have preferred Kevin Spacey.

Or even Jude Law. I've heard the screenplay, unlike the book, has Robert Langdon screwing a nanny.

Monday, August 08, 2005

President Bush: Linkin' Up With the Past?

David Amulet is not an avid tabloid reader, so it is not often that he can say the following: The Weekly World News is on to something.

This bastion of definitive sourcing, fact checking, and overall journalistic integrity was recently the ONLY news outlet to report the biggest development in the Bush administration’s handling of Iraq since November 2004, when the US military supposedly treated Fallujah like Godzilla treated Tokyo.

This time, it is news on several planes of existence. For we have learned, through the stellar investigatory skills of the Fourth Estate, that the ghost of Abraham Lincoln advises President Bush on the war in Iraq.

Erstwhile Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sam Stewart reports that Lincoln’s apparition attends all high-level sessions on Iraq—and that when he first appeared, he gave poor Dick Cheney another heart attack.

Our lanky ex-president took offense at a four-letter word during a meeting, noting that he never took that kind of language from General Grant. Honest Abe even arrived at one such gathering with an axe, threatening anyone who gave him “sass.”

It is all there, in the Weekly Word News story. Trust me.

You naysayers out there may discount this out of hand. It is all too easy, in today’s skeptical world, to dismiss this dispatch from Washington as just another liberal slant. A conservative lie. A Jayson Blair creation.

Need we be so quick to judge? Why must the prospect of an executive specter drive us to the safety and comfort of our preconceived notions of the possible?

We are too hasty about the benefits of connecting with the supernatural. Think about it—could this incorporeal statesman from days of long ago impart some wisdom to W? (Note to reader: rhetorical question. Please say “yes” to yourself now. End note.)

And, because you agree, here are some possible experiences our phantom adviser could bring to bear to assist on our current commander-in-chief:

First, there are those pesky rumors that the Lincoln may have tasted a morsel of the love that dare not speak its name. And I am not referring to those eerie feeling you have toward Spot when he humps the couch.

If indeed our ex-president dabbled in the homoerotic arts, he would be an outstanding choice—even from beyond the grave—to help ease conservative concerns about John Roberts, given his pro bono work for gay rights activists.

Second, let us not forget Abe’s untimely end at the hand of John Wilkes Booth. (Unless you are conspiracy theorist extraordinaire and believe that Castro, the CIA, or Joe DiMaggio went back in time one hundred years and shot the lethal bullet.)

That experience has just GOT to qualify you to counsel our chief executive. I can already hear the conversation in the Oval Office: “Mr. President, I understand if you really need to attend that gala at the Kennedy Center—after all, I do have this strange empathy with JFK … so much more than with James Garfield, Rutherford Hayes, or Chester Arthur. But if you must go, do avoid that nice balcony seat over the left side of the stage, know what I mean?”

And third, let us not forget that whole Civil War thing. Lincoln witnessed the country ripping itself apart—like the 2000 election, but with more guns and stuff—and may be able to prevent it from happening again.

Is there any doubt that if the Democrats end up nominating Hilary we will see the same kind of national friction that set off the guns at Fort Sumter? In the 1980s, I heard a lot of people say they would move to Canada if Jesse Jackson became president … but that will be NOTHING compared to the mass exodus if Bill’s bride makes it to the White House.

Abe was wise. He held our country together (albeit with blood). He told us that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Perhaps his wraith can save us all yet again.

Please Mr. Lincoln, if you care about America—PLEASE steal that under-serviced Rodham vixen from her conniving husband. Take her to Canada, make a home in beautiful Montreal—perchance she will love a place that reminds her of France. Take her to Spain, make a home in sunny Ibiza—maybe she will like a country that ran like a frightened dog from Iraq when al-Qaeda attacked.

Take her to Greece—perhaps she will love the isle of Lesbos.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Dukes of Hazzard: Hollywood's "Best" This Weekend

Here is one of many reviews this weekend echoing my previous comments on the trash Hollywood is putting out. In this case, it is the travesty called The Dukes of Hazzard.

My favorite line in this review? “This flick is a car wreck with boobs.”

When in Doubt, Shout "Liar!"

There is a disturbing trend in American politics. Actually, there are several … but I will reserve today’s vitriol for just one.

Check back for others. I am sure they will be spilling out soon.

What is rankling me is a tendency that has been growing for years—incrementally enough that we barely notice it has become standard fare. I am talking about the all-too-common practice of labeling a view you do not share a “lie.”

AKA: Advocacy of an alternate view is “lying.” Anyone who disagrees with you is a “liar.”

Lie. Lying. Liar.

To lie, however, means to make an intentionally false statement.

It is NOT to state a position that is controversial or even incorrect. It is NOT to express a belief that is unpopular or even repugnant. It is not even to take a country into war based on information that you wanted to be true but had no way of knowing was not, because just about everyone in the world agreed on that information.

Such a thing may be seeing what one wants to see. It can be annoying, it can be sad, it can sometimes be mind-numbingly stupid.

But it is not always, or even often, lying.

Accusing someone of being a “liar” is a particularly nasty epithet. Yet I hear it being used de rigueur on the radio and TV talk shows of the left AND the right. The worst case, of course, was the very title of a recent book by left-wing author whom I will not dignify: “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.”

Lie. Lying. Liar.

Unlike most political analysts, apparently, I do not assume that those with whom I disagree are deliberately telling falsehoods. I truly believe that most of my critics—no matter how illogical or ridiculous I find their ideas—actually believe the facts and arguments they share with me to be true. Even when I think their suggestions would only hurt those they intend to assist, I believe that these folks actually do mean well.

This is not, of course, what you will hear from a growing number of political commentators. No, they would rather disrespect any poor soul who disagrees with them.

How to undermine a critic’s arguments? Accuse him of telling lies. Insist that he is lying. Call him a liar.

Lie. Lying. Liar.

But calling anyone who dissents a liar is simply inaccurate. It offends reason. It dumbs down debate. It is an incorrect use of the word—and a morally repugnant tactic.

And anyone who disagrees with me is a liar.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Funeral Attendance: A Coup-rageous Act for African Leaders

I will be the first to admit that I am NOT an African politics expert.

Disclaimer: I am not an avid consumer of academic production on statecraft in Dark Continent.

Never been to Zambia.

Malawi? Togo? Equatorial Guinea? Nope, nope, nope.

Truth in advertising: I know less about African affairs of state than I do about Angelina Jolie’s breasts.

One could argue, then, that I am not well placed to step out on a limb and give advice to African leaders. My education and experience give me absolutely no authority or credibility on this account, some would say.

But I am nevertheless qualified to hereby announce David Amulet’s Two Rules of African Politics.

RULE #1: If you are an unpopular African leader with dictatorial tendencies who has stayed in power through flawed elections, without the firm support of the military, DO NOT LEAVE THE COUNTRY FOR A FOREIGN HEAD OF STATE’S FUNERAL.

RULE #2: See Rule #1. Rinse. Repeat.

You see, I will go on my hunch that you have not been closely following Mauritanian politics lately. Let David fill you in.

President Maaouya Taya of Mauritania flew to Riyadh early this week to attend the Islamic funeral of the late Saudi monarch, Fahd bin Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud. (Or, as his buddies called him, King Vegetable.)

And while good old Maaouya was gone, Mauritanian military officers seized power, ending his 21-year rule.

Maybe my memory is flawed … but has this not happened about a gazillion times in Africa during the past few decades? The learning curve among African dictators, semi-despots, and presidents-for-life is slower than among juice-shooting baseball players. By this point, you would think they would know to send an underling or two to these funerals.

Of course, we may want to give President Taya the benefit of the doubt. He lives in Mauritania, after all … so we should consider the possibility that he planned this whole thing as a face-saving way to get out of his ruler gig and retire somewhere pleasant.

Think about it—would YOU want to live out your final years in a capital named Nouakchott? And how embarrassed would you be to show your face in Africa as the only continental leader who voluntarily stepped aside?

Perhaps our boy wanted to play more bridge, hit the links, maybe play some shuffleboard on Carnival Cruises. Hanging out for one day in Riyadh—even in the summer—might be worth it to get away.

Then again, Taya has fled not to Fort Lauderdale but to Niger—site of the world’s famine du jour. Not exactly prime retirement real estate.

Theory blown.

Thus, we are left with the sad-but-true explanation: Another leader was dumb enough to fall for the military leaders’ old line: “Sure, Mr. President, go ahead and fly to the funeral … we’ll watch over things here for you!”

So I log off tonight with some words for President Bush—sending VP Cheney (who is not going to run in 2008) and your daddy (who has already been booted out of the presidency) to Riyadh to pass America’s condolences on your behalf was a swell idea.

Especially after Rumsfeld was pushing you so hard to go.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

An Unintelligent Design for Teaching Science in Our Schools

In a discussion with reporters yesterday, the president said that we should be teaching ”intelligent design” in our science classes alongside evolution. If you are in the dark on this movement, you should know that advocates of “intelligent design” argue life is so complex that a supernatural agent MUST be pulling the strings, making everything from the rising and falling of the tides to the cycle of life go so smoothly.

Smoothly? Does that include the tsunami that killed about one quarter of a million people? How about the Inquisition? Shuttle explosions? The plague? Deformed babies? The Holocaust? Genocide in Darfur?

Talk about a Pandora’s box. This is the problem with teaching religion, superstition, or belief in a science class.

There are, of course, still the radicals who say that evolution should not be taught at ALL in schools. But this new momentum for “side-by-side” instruction of “intelligent design” is more insidious because it masquerades as enlightened reason.

These Christian activists claim that it is only fair to present an “alternative” to evolution in the schools. Is not education all about exposure to differing views?

We are not trying to push evolution out, they claim, or deny that scientific “evidence” supports evolution. No, they say, we just want kids to know that there is a religious point of view that they should consider.

One must then ask them: why THIS belief? If they are honest about their desire to simply expose children to a non-evolutionary belief-based “explanation,” how about the Hindu creation myth?

Why not introduce them to the ancient Greek belief that a giant bird—the only creature in the great void—laid a golden egg with two halves that became the earth and the sky?

Can we introduce them to the view that aliens keep us as pets in a big-ass cage and watch us for their amusement?

To be consistent with their own argument for putting their approach in the schools, “intelligent design” advocates must acknowledge that any and all of these beliefs are equally suitable as their own Christian creation myth to serve as a faith-based alternative to evolution in our schools.

Funny, though, I do not hear a lot of these folks clamoring for any of these other supernatural beliefs. Only their own. I guess they really do think their view is correct and should be imposed on everyone.

Faith belongs in houses of worship. A church (or synagogue or mosque or temple or ritual circle) is a place for religion ... and last time I checked, there were not many churches teaching modern science.

Not all religious leaders reject evolution—they just do not put it on a pedestal in their houses of worship. They not see it as worthy, in that forum, of equal time with the beliefs they seek to inculcate.

Reason belongs in science classes. A science class is a place for rational thought ... and last time I checked, there was not overwhelming physical evidence for a string-puller in the sky.

Not all teachers reject religion—they just do not put it on a pedestal in their science classes. They do not see it as worthy, in that forum, of equal time with the reasoning they seek to inculcate.

Nor should they.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Pin the Name on the Planet

For almost a century, we have been existing under a false cosmic pretense. Living a lie. Harboring an illusion that we are twiddling about on one of NINE planets in our solar system.

We were comforted by our knowledge, our certainty, that our place as 3rd of 9 was not subject to reversal or revisionism.

Wrong. Sorry about that.

As it turns out, we are not one of nine but rather one of TEN rocks from the sun. And this changes everything.

I was promised that Pluto was it. If I needed to wax philosophic about how far from the mall my distant parking spot was, I would say, “Dude—my car is on freaking Pluto.”

Wrong. Please try again later.

We now have an object larger than Pluto that is WAY out there. Seriously out there. Almost 100-times-further-away-from-the-sun-as-us out there. Even Tom Cruise, on his astral projection trips where aliens reveal to him the evils of pharmaceuticals ... even Tom does not get that out there.

The discoverers eagerly await the judgment of the International Astronomical Union about this object. Then, and only then, will they reveal the name they have chosen to honor their find.

Sure, the smart money is on some obscure Roman god—but here are some alternative monikers for our “new” neighbor:

1. “Mordechai.” Israel seems serious this time about getting out of Gaza—and maybe even the West Bank. If the Israelis pull that off without having right-wing settlers blow the whole place up, we should at least give them a comfortably named planet. Before they decide to occupy parts of any another bordering countries.

2. “Wombat.” Let’s throw our Aussie friends a bone. I mean, they have a continent all to themselves, no powerful neighbors, and yet they STILL have never colonized a single neighbor. They deserve a celestial reward. And for Supreme Ruler of Wombat I nominate Colin Hay from Men At Work—is not the “Down Under” video enough to prove this buggy-eyed freak belongs on another planet?

3. “X.” I have always been a fan of simplicity. Whether we see X as a letter or a number—which would pay homage to the Romans after all—this is a small planet, worthy of only a small name. It also wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to revise all our textbooks by adding an X. Best of all, we can make it a penal colony for anyone associated with the letter, letting us flush planetary waste like Hugh Jackman (X-Men) and Vin Diesel (XXX).

You know, I’m sick of waiting. What does this International Astronomical Union think it is, anyway—the US Senate? What kind of an institution takes this kind of time to debate and deliberate and thoughtfully consider important issues?

I’m making a recess appointment. Meet our tenth planet. I name you “Mean Mr. Mustache.”