Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Campaign to Nowhere: The First Debate

It’s quite a show but not quite a debate
When two men battle to be head of state.
The old dog growls and snaps at the young pup
And tries to make him drink the loser’s cup.
The youngster only has to stand beside him
To point up how the years have ossified him.
And both of them lie on their backs and purr
Just to be stroked by Henry Kissinger.
(Or did they do the stroking? Hard to tell.
But either way, they both give off his smell.)

Meanwhile, beneath those fearful pheromones,
They’re each wearing their signature colognes.
Obama’s deferential and McCain
Looks like he’s suffering from denture pain
And wants to blame it on this pompous dunce
Whom he will never even look at once.
“The Senator,” he sneers, “misunderstands.”
(He’d slap Barack if he could raise his hands.)
Obama, gentlemanly and polite,
Keeps saying “Yes, the Senator is right,”
And you can hear the sound across the land
Of liberal forehead smacked by liberal hand.
“Don’t tell him that he’s right, you undergrad –-
He’ll clip it out into a TV ad
And make you look like Illinois’ prize boob!”
(Ten minutes later, it’s up on YouTube.)

This is the style of Arizona’s boy --
He answers every question with a ploy.
McCain’s idea of “think outside the box?”
A running mate who stumbles when she talks.
McCain’s most recent stunt? Beyond the pale.
It only needs four lines to tell the tale:
“Fuck you –- I’m being Presidential here.”
“Fuck Congress and their bailout bill of fear.”
“Fuck the debates -– I heed a higher call!”
“Fuck it –- I guess I’ll show up after all.”
And there he is repeating the refrain
That his last name is Maverick, not McCain.
Each time he speaks, he opens up again
The canyon that divides the Now from Then –-
THEN: shopped like mad at an exclusive store.
NOW: claims he never set foot in the door.
THEN: thirty years of showers at the club.
NOW: “No no no -– I took baths in my tub!”
THEN: chauffered in a limo everywhere.
NOW: “No –- I walked. I walked because I CARE!”
THEN: honest, loyal, faithful as a nun.
NOW: "My mistake –- that was wife #1."
There are so many ways you can make fun of ‘im.
Obama doesn’t try a single one of ‘em.
He’d rather make a cogent point instead
Which is like writing DOORMAT on your head --
Upon which, just to make the scene complete,
McCain obligingly wipes off his feet.

And when the posturing is all but done,
Both men will say “He lost –- which means I won!”
They will go back to their safe campaign bubble
Where deviation from the script spells trouble.
They’ll preach to the converted, and (like God)
Make promises the faithful will applaud.
They’ll lick their wounds and plan impromptu jests,
Give speeches to increase their campaign chests,
And face off two more times before we vote:
Donkey v Elephant, with us the goat.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Scenes from the Panic of '08

"Coffee? Who needs coffee? All I have to do is go to the trading floor and inhale the panic, and I'm wired for the next eight hours."

Merrill analyst on the sale of Merrill to Bank of America: "I didn't go through this whole interview process to work at a commercial bank."

Anonymous Goldman Sachs exec: "I lost half my net worth in the last month!"
Broad Street Shoe Shine Guy: "That splash you hear is my heart bleeding for you."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: " . . .the Bush administration has mishandled Wall Street, and . . . its refusal to adopt stricter rules led to the current crisis."

Anonymous Morgan Stanley analyst: "Where's my toaster?"

Warren Buffet: "The pie is always getting bigger. Especially my piece."

Tom Brokaw: And while you're at it, how about bailing these people out?
Me and everybody else I know: "I'd like a piece of that too, please."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Dave the Knife

My brother David does his (in)famous karaoke version of "Mack The Knife" at his wife Cindy's 50th birthday party . . .

Monday, September 22, 2008

Dana Falconberry in New York

The latest artist to join the 02:59 Roster is Michigan-born Austin-resident Dana Falconberry. Gifted with a voice that floats and dives from silky to edgy and a little-girl-lost air that gets totally demolished the moment she starts to sing, Dana did a CD release swing through New York in the last couple of weeks, playing a number of great shows across the city.

Her new CD, Oh Skies Of Gray, can be pre-ordered on Amazon.

Here she is at Googie's, doing "Singing Lullabies," 8/27/08:

And hre she is at The Living Room, doing the River Song, 9/17/08:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The D Word

Trying to get a handle on the current financial meltdown?

Start here.

Then go here.

And then go here.

I don't know about you, but when I was in school, I was taught that the reason America had a Depression was because banks were also capable of investing as well as taking deposits. When the investments failed, the deposits disappeared, and parks around the country became the residences of so many homeless people they were called Hoovervilles. Here's a picture of the one in Central Park:

The Government responded to the Great Depression by passing the Glass-Steagal Act, separating investment firms from banks, and creating the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1933. In 1999 Clinton signed the Financial Services Modernization Act, effectively repealing Glass Steagal, proving once again that nobody in this country learns from history, particularly its so-called leaders.

See you on the bread line.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Recipe for a great wedding

It just takes 15 things.



A great DJ:

A fantastic band:


The bride on a go-cart:




Some guy from New York who won't stop dancing:

At least one Village People song:

The maid of honor and a bridesmaid doing cartwheels:

Minor structural damage to the hotel:

The cops getting called at 2 AM for a noise violation:

(This is a recreation. If it was an actual photo, it would have shown Andrew brushing his teeth.)

And -- oh yeah -- a granny dance:

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Campaign to Nowhere

“So what do you think about the election?” says the lady cab driver.

Thoughts that pass through my head in the next three seconds: I am in Staunton Virginia being driven to a wedding rehearsal dinner by a woman who had just bemoaned the fact that the local state penitentiary has been gutted and is now offering condominium units for two million dollars each. You can smoke in the Waffle House, little girls try to get you to give them a ride to weddings, and complete strangers are so polite my New York DEWS is on red alert.

“I just wish they’d talk more about the issues,” I say, taking the “I’m Sarah Palin and I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about” option.

“I don’t think McCain is going to win,” the cabbie says.

Aha, I think, she’s for McCain. I give her another fence-sitting opinion, the one I’ve been using for about two months now. “If the middle of the country thinks we’re at war, McCain is going to win. If the middle of the country thinks we’re in a Depression, Obama wins.”

“I don’t like either of them saying they’re going to bring everybody back from Iraq. I think, the day they come home? That’s the day the war will come here. That’s the day all the people we’ve been fighting over there will take the fight to us. Because they’ll start thinking we’re so weak we can’t stop them.”

And if that happens, we can kiss goodbye to having conversations like this without also having them transcribed via satellite, I think. But basically I agree with her. Thanks to W, we’re fucked.

“We can’t bring them back,” I say. “Not that quickly.”

“We can’t," she says, and then we talk for a while about how Saddam was an evil tyrant who deserved to be taken down, but after we did it, we had no plan for the next step.

“Nobody’s thinking ahead,” she says.

“Hey, we’re America,” I say. “Home of the credit card. We don’t have to think ahead. If the bill comes due, we’ll throw it on another card.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” the cabbie says, and then she totally confounds my expectations.

“I like the way Obama speaks,” she says. “He seems to know what he’s talking about. Is he the Democrat?”

“He’s the Democrat.”

“I’ll probably vote for him, then. My family always votes Democrat.”

Cripes, I think. Rick Davis is right -– this election isn’t about the issues.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dark Knight in America - 4

After seeing a bunch of clown-masked hoods rob a bank and kill each other off until there are only two of them left, these are the first words out of the Joker's mouth:

No. I kill the bus driver.

These are the second:

I believe that what doesn't kill you . . . simply makes you stranger.

And there you have him -- a killer of innocents who gains strength not only from cheating death but from taking other lives, the way Renfield believes he'll gain immortality by eating more and more insects and animals. If Renfield was a serial killer, this is how he would operate. He would kill more and more people and become more and more supernatural, and the same principle operates here.

So does the supernatural element -- there's something spooky about the Joker. Where does he get all those explosives? Never explained. How does he set up each new threat so quickly? No idea. Does he have henchmen? Yes, but we never see them in operation. Along with "My God, what did it have, 20 different endings?" it's one of the two big complaints I've heard from people who didn't like the movie ("How does he DO all that stuff? It's just not realistic.").

No, it's not, and it's not meant to be. So what is it, if it's not realism? Simple answer: it's a nightmare. And not just any nightmare, but our current national nightmare.

To quote Dana Stevens, in two plus hours Chris Nolan does more nuanced thinking about the war on terror than we've seen from the Bush administration in seven years.

And in the words of Rupert Murdoch's new leisure activity, the Wall Street Journal:

Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past. And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society -- in which people sometimes make the wrong choices -- and a criminal sect bent on destruction. The former must be cherished even in its moments of folly; the latter must be hounded to the gates of Hell.

Personally, I go into fits of Cesar-Romero-as-the-Joker laughter whenever I think of George W Bush actually giving us back our rights after he's taken them away in the name of a temporarary emergency. The emergency is permanent, people; it's Oceania-vs-Eastasia permanent, because the villains, like The Joker, are incredibly resourceful, everywhere-at-once, boogeymen.

The Joker is the Designated Enemy. He could be anybody under that makeup. Even the people chasing him. Because there's a third way to interpret this movie politically. It's not just a right-wing power fantasy or a left-wing nightmare about how and whether or not you become a terrorist in order to fight terrorism. It's also a parable about the Bush administration. If you replace "gangster" with "politician" in this movie, then Gotham City turns into Washington, and the Joker isn't a villain any longer -- he's a media consultant. (Okay; I know; redundant.) He's the guy your team hires to take out the other team's candidate. He's the guy who does all the opposition reasearch to find the weaknesses and attack them.

In other words, the Joker is this guy:

Other posts in this series:

The Man Who Laughs
The Shadow
The Premise

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Pleasant Dreams

Last night, I was part of a undersea rescue mission investigating the recent increase in both intelligence and violent anti-human behavior in the world's fish. While mini-subbing down to the Lab at the bottom of the Pacific, we were attacked by angry goldfish, who suicide-rammed our motors and broke them just as we were about to dock. "We're stuck here until it can get repaired," said the captain, and I'm thinking, "Oh God, I'm never getting out of here. This is it. We're so far down we won't have time to feel the pain when all that water breaks through and crushes us like eggshells. We'll have about half a second and then SQUASH!!!"

One of the goldfish managed to get into the sub and chew at a crewman's arm, which now has to be amputated. He's taken to a decompression coffin where we all have to take turns standing next to him while the surgeon sharpens his saw by cutting through a concrete block. Every now and then we get a radio report of more fish attacks along the coast; it's like Hitchcock's The Birds, except with gills and scales.

After the crewman gets his arm amputated at the elbow, we all adjourn to the central chamber of the Lab, which is all glass and neon lights -- the big movie reveal as we enter the chamber is that you can look up and see nothing but dark ocean over your head, with shadowy sharks and octopi swimming around just outside the reach of the lights. Then a shark swoops in and whacks the glass, causing a bell-like noise to reverb throughout the Lab.

"We're sitting here like kelp," I say, and when everyone else laughs, I realize that I am the comic relief in this movie, which means I am going to die a lonely black-comic death about two-thirds of the way through. Which is when I wake up.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Weekend Update

Annie Savoy's Law. If the world is made for people who aren't cursed with self-awareness, then this weekend confirmed that I am from another planet.

Friday, September 5, 2008

i'll take manhattan

Dark Knight in America - 3

Where do arch-enemies come from?

Batman's came from a 1928 silent movie called The Man Who Laughs, starring Conrad Veidt. Bob Kane saw the movie and the image of the title character stuck with him . . .

. . . and became the model for the character's look when he made his first appearance in Batman #1:

Originally a homicidal mastermind, the Clown Prince of Crime soon became more clown than criminal, which led to inadvertently hilarious moments like these:

It wasn't until 1973 that the Joker returned to his roots with a literal vengeance, in the Denny O'Neill penned "The Joker's Five-Way-Revenge." Every modern interpretation of the character (from Alan Moore's The Killing Joke to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns to Heath Ledger's embodiment in The Dark Knight) is a riff on the villain in this story:

And in this story, you can also see a seed of darkness get planted in Batman's character, one that's watered by Alan Moore and tended by Frank Miller until, like a weed, it pretty much overruns everything else in the Bat-Garden, and winds up as a twisted romance in the only place that makes sense -- an asylum:

What The Dark Knight does is return us to that moment where the seed is planted, so we can see how the Joker waters and tends it. Because that's his job in the movie. If you say white, he'll be black. If you say black, he'll play white. He doesn't have an origin -- he just has stories about how he got his scars, and he'll tell a different one depending on who's listening. He has unlimited access to explosives and money, but he's not interested in getting rich; he's much more interested in blowing shit up. He's got no sex life (unlike Jack Nicholson's Joker, who gets all Jack over Kim Basinger); he's much more interested in screwing with your head.

And his favorite head to screw is Batman's. Why? In terms of the story, because it's a test of character that spins off from the end of the first movie, Batman Begins, and the line "I'm not going to kill you. But I don't have to save you." This is where the shadow is created, in the margin between acting and not-acting; this is where the darkness begins and gives birth to everything that happens in the second movie.

Between the absolute
And the exception
Falls the Shadow.

Between the provocation
And the retaliation
Falls the shadow.

That's where The Dark Knight takes place -- in an arena where the only character laughing, the only character having any fun, is the one who is going to show the hero just how much of a tool he is for thinking he's pure and how much of a joke his values really are in the real world.

Why? Because the Joker is a terrorist, and that's what a terrorist does. He doesn't want to destroy your country--he wants to destroy your country's values. And the moment you compromise your principles even once is the moment he wins.

Other posts in this series:

The Premise
The Shadow

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Dark Knight in America - 2

The streets are empty, except for two people. One of them has a gun, but he's not going to shoot first, because that isn't fair. He's waiting for the other guy to make his move, because by his code, he can only shoot in self-defense, not in anger, not as a pre-emptive strike. Not against this opponent. Too much is at stake.

It's a typical Western showdown, and we could be watching it in the streets of Tombstone, or Dodge, or Deadwood. But we're not. We're watching it in Gotham City, and the gunman who's withholding his fire isn't the hero -- it's the villain.

In a movie that manages to turn everything on its head (including rotating the camera so that the final monologue from the villain is rightside-up instead of upside-down), the subversion of the classic frontier showdown manages to link The Dark Knight to an archetypal American myth, a traditional Hollywood trope, and a scary political echo all at once.

You'll find the Myth under V for Vigilante. The gunman who uses his death-dealing power for good, sometimes behind a badge, sometimes outside the law, and whose story always breaks into two distinct parts, like that of Beowulf: the rescuing hero who saves the town from violent outsiders, after which he becomes the dangerous gunman who must be ostracized from decent society because of the violence he represents, either by being kicked out of town or by giving up his guns and marrying the schoolteacher.

In April 1931, Street & Smith Publications took this myth, threw out the hero part, and created the original dark knight -- The Shadow. The Shadow was a black-hat who acted like a white-hat, a vampire-like scourge of crime designed to terrify criminals before blowing them away with his big fat guns. Not for him, the possibility of settling down with a schoolteacher -- the Shadow embodies what could have been an unpublished stanza from TS Eliot's "The Hollow Men" (published in 1925): "Between the law/And justice/Falls the shadow."

But the Shadow wasn't a 24/7 crime-fighter -- he had a series of other identities (not just Lamont Cranston) in which he lived during the day, like a reverse vampire inhabiting several different coffins at once. (He only became specifically Cranston during the radio show.) And in 1939, Bob Kane and Detective Comics combined the vampire image, the vigilante myth, the crooks-can-be-terrified goal, and the daylight-playboy/nighttime-avenger figure, and created Bruce (Batman) Wayne.

Oh yeah--and the big fat guns? Totally part of the character for the first couple of years --

-- until that Hollywood trope I mentioned above enters the meme. There are several ways to describe this trope -- only the bad guy shoots first; the good guy only fires his gun to defend himself; violence can never be pre-emptive -- but the easiest way to describe it is with two words: Good Violence. Good Violence never starts the war; Good Violence wins the war. Good Violence never fires first; Good Violence only fires when provoked by Bad Violence.

This trope took the gun out of Batman's hands and changed his myth to include the commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill." Thereby creating a second shadow, not just between law and justice, but between provocation and retaliation. If Batman had kept the gun? You could have drawn a straight line from him to a certain San Francisco cop. Who is also a vigilante, in his way.

In The Dark Knight, the Joker stands squarely on the side of Bad Violence -- except when he faces the Batman. Only then does he use Good Violence and wait to see what Batman does. Will the vigilante fire first? Attack first? Give in to the Bad? And if he doesn't, can the Joker ever be stopped?

And the political echo? The Joker's not just saying, "Unless you become like me, you're never going to stop me." He's saying, "If you don't shoot first, it's not because you have principles -- it's because you're a Liberal, and all Liberals are pussies."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Dark Knight in America - 1

In 1984, Hate Week is celebrated from April 4th to April 10th. Along with waxwork displays, military parades, and incendiary speeches, you sing the Hate Song, and the Ministry of Truth distributes atrocity pamphlets which are designed to enrage the population of Oceania against their heartless and subhuman enemies.

In America, Hate Week is celebrated whenever the Republicans have a political convention. Along with waxwork politicians, military posturing, and incendiary speeches, you sing the Hate Song against the liberal media, you run against Washington no matter how long you've been in office, chant "USA! USA!" at every opportunity, and the Ministry of Truth distributes press releases against atrocities that all seem to have their basis in either a woman's right to choose or a man's right to own a gun.

What does this have to do with the biggest summer blockbuster ever?

Simple: the Republican party thinks it's Batman, when actually it's the bitter, scarred side of Two Face.

And where does the Democratic party fit in all this?

Simple: the Democratic party think's it's Batman, when actually it's the Harvey Dent side of Two Face.

In honor of America's Hate Week, we'll distribute our own atrocity pamphlets here, as we look at liberal stupidity, conservative rage, women as hostages, villains as terrorists, and a complicated definition of the word "hero."

In other words, I'm finally going to write a review of The Dark Knight the only way I know how -- by reviewing the country's political system as well. Because that's why the movie is so dark, so deep, and so popular. It's about America, and whether it actually gets the heroes it deserves, or just deserves the heroes it gets.