Friday, July 24, 2009

HOMEFRONT: One-Sided Towel

I've got a one-sided towel.

Can you believe it?

Usually, when one purchases a towel—hand, bathing, beach, or otherwise—one expects both sides to work. It's not even a consideration in the purchase. Size, color, style, nap—these are the things we are concerned with when purchasing the normally reliable household item.

But this is a bum bath towel. Only one side—the grey side shown in the photo—behaves in a properly towel-like manner. The offending side, the blue with grey stripe side, behaves like Fred Biletnikoff's stick-um towel. You try to dry your arm, it's like Velcro. Stuck. It seems once that side touches human skin, it slams the brakes on.

Ah, you say, just flip the towel vertically and the Velcro-effect will disappear. Not so. (And what do you think I am, an idiot?) With the towel in that direction, it's like trying to dry yourself off with wax paper. Slick as ice. Falls to your feet if your not careful. It's absorbency negative.

How the hell did this faulty product ever reach the store shelves? Aren't towels rigorously tested? And where was the inspector with the little paper number to assure that yes, indeed, both sides of this particular towel are in good working order? "Inspected by nobody," obviously.

I guess I should be happy, of course, that one side of the towel is in proper working order. Lord knows there are plenty of people out there who have towels with both sides broken, or no towel at all. I'll somehow adapt I'm sure. But when something like this happens, where one of the fundamental assumptions we make about the world—you know, gravity, taxes, death, two-sided towels—is suddenly contradicted, right in your own shower, it forces one to do a little reassessing. Not only reassessing the whole bath towel paradigm, but reassessing the very nature of trust.

Now I'm afraid to even open the new package of kitchen sponges I bought this morning . . .

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

HOMEFRONT: Michael Lewis' Unadulterated Truth

This Fathers Day I received a copy of the new Michael Lewis book Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood (Norton). Within a few pages of starting the book, I knew I was going to like it. Lewis writes: "the main reason I kept writing things down [is] this persistent and disturbing gap between what I was meant to feel and what I actually felt." I think any father who is honest about his emotions knows exactly what Lewis is talking about.

Lewis, the author Liar's Poker and Moneyball, has been primarily a financial writer for the past 20 years. This autobiographical new book on being a father (thrice over) is based on journal entries Lewis made after the births of each of his children. Throughout the anecdotes and observations he presents, Lewis struggles—sometimes consciously, sometimes not—with this central dichotomy of emotions: how he thinks he should feel, presumably based on some cultural norm or some cultural notion of an ideal father, and how he actually feels as a father, be it angry, annoyed, frustrated, bemused, indifferent, maybe even homicidal. As Lewis suggests, we're told—by who? nobody knows—that we should feel a wide variety of levels of joy in fatherhood, yet those joyful moments, in real life, can sometimes be too far and in between.

I have two sons, 10 and 6 years old, and I can honestly say I have never loved any two people in the way and with the complete dedication that I love them. But they drive me fuckin' NUTS half the time. Maybe even 53% of the time. It appears to be their job, to drive their parents crazy, and they're really quite good at it. Like Lewis, I sometimes find my sons' antics absolutely hysterical, or simply amusing, or a bit tedious, or really, really stupid, or annoying as hell. And like Lewis, when my reaction to the kids' behavior is of the more negative brand, that's how I react—negatively. The cultural ideal of how a "good" father "should" react often rears its head in these instances: I should be more tolerant, I should celebrate their ingenuity and natural curiosity, I should revel in their joyous being!


I should react the way I react. Sometimes it's us parents against them kids, and as any student of war knows, you never expose to your opponent a soft opening or chink in the armor. It is said that Sun Tzu, the 6th century Chinese author of The Art of War, slept with one eye always trained on his children, even the infants. He knew better than to leave an opening—I mean, you don't think The Art of War was strictly intended for military strategy, do you?

While reading Lewis' book, I found myself hyper-aware of these conflicting fatherly emotions. In a drugstore the other day, my youngest son, when told for the 50th time that no, I wasn't going to buy him a toy, told me that it "really pisses me off when you say no, dad." I was surprised to hear such an adult phrase come out of his mouth. I almost cracked up—partly because it was so funny, and partly because, as someone who works with language both as work and meaningful endeavor, I find it hard to get to worked up about "bad" words and "good" words (they're all good in my mind) and this situation seemed to demand I manufacture some jive about inappropriate language. So I split the difference: I began my admonition sternly and with parental disapproval, but quickly softened it because I knew he probably didn't understand how weird it would sound to people other than his dad. I quickly moved to the next aisle before he could ask me why "piss me off" wasn't such a good thing to say for a 6 year old.

My older son presents far more complex issues, thus far more complex paternal feelings and emotions. He is by nature a gentle soul, and though he's not above an occasional big brother cheap shot if he's annoyed by his younger sibling (like an elbow to the back of his little brother's head as he walks casually by), he's a very self-contained and considerate 10 year old boy. Bit of a space cadet at times, but he's well-liked by his friends and appears to be rather popular among the 4th grade boys and girls.

As a dad, one of the things I worry about with my older son is that he too willingly acquiesces to other people's wishes—even when he really doesn't want to do something or go somewhere or whatever the case may be. Not to MY wishes, of course—if he doesn't want to do something I'm suggesting (like, say, clean up all the shit he's dumped out of his overstuffed backpack on the kitchen floor), his kid deafness kicks in or he gives me the 10 year old "O.K.," which essentially translates as "Screw you buddy—I'll pick up that stuff after request #3 and no sooner."

But I do worry about this easy acquiescence in all non-home/parent matters. For example, we recently installed a portable basketball hoop in our driveway, and as I struggled in the hot son to get the infernal thing put together, both my sons dribbling basketballs dangerously close to my head, the annoying neighbor kid who seems to appear magically as soon as my kids step outside to play came running up to us, wanting to shoot some hoops. "Sure," I said, all the blood vessels in my head thumping in time as I struggled with a recalcitrant support beam, "but let the boys shoot a bit first—it's their hoop." My six year old, apparently more naturally territorial than his older brother, echoed this stipulation: "Yeah," he said, "it's our net so let us play first."

The portable hoop in place, I tugged on it a few times to make sure it was secure, and dropped the green flag. "Shoot away, boys." My six year old whipped a ball so close to my head—and so far from the bottom of the net—that I nearly hit the deck to avoid my glasses slamming directly into my eye sockets. The annoying neighbor kid turned to my 10 year old and said, "Here, pass me the ball." And my son did. Without hesitation. The neighbor kid started tossing the basketball up at the hoop, grabbing his own rebounds and shooting from all over the driveway. My 10 year old—who played basketball on his 4th grade team—stood by watching, obviously wanting to take some shots. Even my six year old seemed baffled: "Hey," he said to the annoying neighbor kid, "give my brother the ball—it's our hoop." (I know it's 6 year old possessiveness, but I was so proud of the little guy for standing up for his older brother.) The annoying neighbor kid went on shooting. Now I was starting to get annoyed, both at the annoying neighbor kid and at my 10 year old—but more at my son to be honest. I asked him, " Did you want to try out the new hoop?" "Yeah," he said. "So why don't you ask for your ball back so you can take some shots?" A shrug. "O.K.," he said. But he made no effort to ask the annoying neighbor kid for the ball.

This happened recently, while I was reading Michael Lewis' book, and I must say it's been stuck in my craw ever since. Why was I getting progressively annoyed at my 10 year old that he wouldn't do anything to rectify the situation? That he wouldn't stand up for what he wanted? I suppose I should've ignored it and let the three kids work it out among themselves. You know, let boys be boys, that kind of thing. The kind of thing the distant "should" fathers Lewis recalls in his book might do. But it's my 10 year old son, and I worry quite a bit about this acquiescent behavior pattern. Is it simple fatherly protectiveness? Possibly. Could it be that I want my boys to stand up for themselves and learn not to be easily pushed around by other people? I'm sure that's part of it. And is that far too judgmental of a father about his own child? I'm guessing some would say yes. Yet, this is the very core of Lewis' book and, I believe, his honest assessment of fatherhood: it's complicated, it's funny, it's demanding, it's rewarding, but it's ultimately as much (or more) work than bliss, and that anyone who tells you differently is either yanking your chain or really isn't all that involved in his children's lives.

Postlude: Yesterday, I watched a three or four year old boy gripping a medium-sized tree branch and swinging for the fences at a row of flowers in one of the public parks near my house. I looked around to see if there was an adult attached to this wee deviant. Yes, there was. A dad. Sitting on a park bench, fiddling with his iPhone and glancing up every few seconds to check on his son or smile broadly and bark half-assed encouragement every time the boy said "Look daddy." I watched this duo for a minute or two, and the kid really figured out how to actually decapitate the flowers with consistency. As I thought to myself that I should probably go over and say something to the guy about letting his kid destroy someone's dedicated gardening, I saw a woman holding an infant making a beeline toward the boy and his father. Whatever she said got the dad's attention. He looked up from his iPhone at the woman, looked at his son knocking off flowers like Mickey Mantle, and smiled a big fatherly smile. I could barely hear him saying something like "he sure does love baseball" or something similarly asinine. He made no immediate move to get up from the park bench.

Man I wanted to punch that smiley asshole.

Monday, July 20, 2009

MUSIC: A Less Powerful Jesus Lizard

In the spring of 1997, I saw what I consider to be the best rock show I've seen in my life—and that's thousands of and thousands of shows. Twelve years later, that accolade still stands.

It was The Jesus Lizard at the Metro in Chicago. The band had been touring for quite awhile in support of their stellar 1996 album Shot (Capitol Records). I'd seen the band the previous year at The Vic Theatre in Chicago (an amazing show in its own right), as well as a dozen other times over the years, every performance exactly that—a performance. But something happened at that Metro show that every regular (addicted?) concertgoer hopes for: synergy.

The Jesus Lizard, as a band and as individual players, the crowd, as mass participants and individual energy sources, and the venue—sound mix and volume, lighting, atmosphere—all these elements converged at the same time for the same purpose with peak concert experience results. Singer David Yow was in great form, egging on the crowd and seemingly the band, stage diving and being carried to the back of the venue, never missing a line or a growl. He was like an exposed ball of muscle and nerve, the sheer energy pouring into the venue like an adrenalin shot directly into the heart. The band was exceptionally tight—you could clearly hear the nanoseconds of silent space between notes and chord shifts. They sounded like a hurricane—overpowering, devastating, unrelenting. That may be what I remember most about the show: the force of the music, every note, pounding against my skeleton, stirring my marrow. As a music journalist covering the show, I tried my best to maintain some semblance of analytical distance. But I failed. Miserably. It was joyous.

I saw the newly reformed Jesus Lizard at Pitchfork last Friday (7/17). Been looking forward to the show since it was announced. All the elements seemed in place: the crowd of accolytes were obviously stoked, the venue was comfortable and well designed (Pitchfork really does a great job in creating a fan-friendly event), and it was apparent from the opening song that The Jesus Lizard had come to play. Their performance was first-rate: Yow kept the audience engaged, some of that trademark energy washing over at least some of the crowd nearest the stage, and Denison, Sims, and McNeilly were remarkably tight for a band that hadn't been touring constantly for a few months. As a fan, I enjoyed the hell out of the performance. But something was missing.

I couldn't feel the music.

It simply wasn't loud enough.

About five minutes into The Jesus Lizards' set, I realized the unfortunate limitation: at an outdoor venue, where the sound is quickly dispersed, I wasn't going to be able to feel the music unless I stood within feet of one of the speakers. And I wasn't interested in running the sweaty, shirtless human grease chute to attempt speaker proximity.

The good news is that The Jesus Lizard will be back in Chicago, at Metro, for a couple of shows at the end of November. Inside, where the sound and energy that is a Jesus Lizard show will be contained and, as always, a little dangerous.

POLITICS: The Oppressed White Man

It's a damn shame what they did to the white man.

After centuries of nurturing men and women of all ethnicities, welcoming with open-arms the wide mosaic of skin colors and accents that have come to our shores, and putting the needs and desires of others before theirs, the poor, maltreated white man is, inexplicably, being oppressed once again by the vindictive, vicious minority rulers of our great country.

We watched again this week this deplorable humiliation when Supreme Court nominee Queen – nay, Czarina! – Sonia Sotomayor brow-beat and humiliated half a dozen white public servants when they attempted, graciously, honorably, and with utter deference to Sotomayor, to ask her a few modest questions about a couple of things she has said in speeches over the course of her career. These poor downtrodden Senators didn't dare venture into asking Judge/Supreme Latina Sotomayer about the actual legal cases she has decided over the past 17 years on the bench — the Senators didn't dare, for fear of the judge's obvious wrath and disdain. (And after all white men had done for her throughout her life — the sheer ingratitude!)

Even Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, known for his life-long dedication to helping minority men advance their professional careers (Sessions feels so strongly about this that he sometimes refers to such men as his own "boy") and for his dogged attempts to eradicate the vermin strain of white supremicists known as the Pot-Smoking Ku Klux Klan, could only muster the courage to ask Sotomayor two questions for fear of what horrible fate might befall him before such a legal bully. Sessions tried heroically, asking the same questions over and over again and again, but to no avail: Sotommayor would only condescend to make obviously insincere apologies, speaking slowly and deliberately as if she thought Sessions (and other Senators) might not understand the words she spoke. Oh why must white men of good heart and true cause be so publically belittled!

Senator after Senator, steering clear of the monstrous Sotomayor's actual legal decisions — god knows what she might have done had they concentrated on those! — fell victim to her superior Latina demeanor and status. Because these brave, brave white men have been able to completely sublimate their own backgrounds and experiences and act, time and time again, only in the best interest of the most oppressed of our American brothers and sisters, this judicial hearing proved once again that despite all of their efforts, despite their decades and centuries of selflessness and dedication to the common good, white men simply cannot get ahead in America. The minority ruling class in this country simply will not allow white men a place at the table — not even a fair chance at succeeding in this great country.

Maybe what we need today, after all these years, is some kind of Affirmative Action for white men. But good luck getting something like that past a Supreme Court that will now have TWO women, an African American man, and only six white men.

Monday, July 13, 2009

POLITICS: John McCain Is Batshit Crazy

Just watched John McCain today on "Meet The Press."

What he says about Sarah Palin's cut-and-run as Governor strategy and her future in the Republican party is simply . . . crazy talk.

Watching this clip may remind you of two important facts:
1) ah yes—that's why American didn't elect this man president
2) OH MY GOD! What if we had elected him as president?

I'm guessing this clip will take a bit of heat of Ms. Palin for a day or two. It's one thing for the former Miss AlasKA to act all batshit crazy on her own account, but having a would-be president like McCain follow with an exceptionally nutty performance like this . . . well, see numbers 1) and 2) above . . .

POLITICS: Sarah Palin Is Batshit Crazy

So much of the punditry surrounding Sarah Palin's recent announcement that she is cutting and running from her elected job as Alaska's Governor has been painful to watch and listen to because it seems most everyone, regardless of news outlet or political leanings, is talking around the most obvious fact: Sarah Palin is batshit crazy. Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan had some choice critical words for Ms. Palin in a recent Wall Street Journal column, but even she stops short of stating it plainly: Palin is batshit crazy.

Listening to her resignation "speech" last week was both embarrassing and kind of depressing. I've heard more coherent ramblings from people well into day two of a sleepless coke jag. What the hell was she talking about? She starts out by listing all the mavericky accomplishments of her 2-plus years in office, of which she is very proud—so proud that she' going to quit. The bulk of the speech is rambling, illogical, frenetic at times, and completely non-sensical at other times. Palin said it's the quitters way to "milk it," so she's going to quit . . . which makes her a non-milk-er? Or just a plain ol' quitter? And is that what she means by no more "politics as usual"? Crazy people politics?

Because Palin the maverick is the FIRST and ONLY person to have been dragged through the media coals, she dollops out plenty of blame on the unfair treatment she has received from the press since being tapped by John McCain for his ill-fated presidential bid last year. Didn't Palin tell us last year that she found Hillary Clinton's whining about the media treatment she'd been receiving regrettable? Call me crazy, but I believe Ms. Clinton and our current President (called a terrorist sympathizer, socialist, Muslim, non-U.S. citizen) came under some pretty intense media scrutiny throughout the 2008 campaign. Only they didn't quit—or milk it.

When Palin debuted on the national stage last August, she gave the Republican ticket quite a bounce in the polls. She benefited greatly from the typical media feeding frenzy when someone first breaks onto the national scene. But the media is programmed to do what it does—both positive and negative—and it seems when Palin was treated no longer like a newcomer curio, and the media began to dig into the substance on Sarah Palin, she didn't care much for the scrutiny. And let's be honest: she didn't help her cause in the least. Once she was allowed to speak to the press directly, she sounded unqualified, incapable, and downright juvenile at times. It didn't take long for the American public to realize that, no matter her folksy charm and rough-hewn AlasKA (her pronunciation) style, Sarah Palin simply was not ready to be a 72-year old heartbeat away from the Presidency.

Since the election of 2008, Palin has continued to reveal her lack of competence and, frankly, her exceptionally thin political skin. The pundits on the Left take exceeding joy in the weird stuff she says and does, and the true believers on the Right try to justify her flaky behavior and convince themselves that there's real substance and potential behind those frosted glasses (note from Independent America: there's no potential. Really. Don't kid yourselves). And with this recent resignation, Palin has removed the one solid building block on which she could, possibly, maybe (but probably not), build a new political future for herself. Hard to run on being a 2/3rds-term governor of a state with barely 685 thousand people. Come to think of it, President Obama, who was demeaned for being a first term Senator running for the highest office in the land, served four of his six-year term. That's also 2/3rds of his term, but it's almost double the years Palin served as Governor, and let's face it: Obama was elected Senator in 2004 in the 5th largest state in America with 3.5 million votes, which is about 30 times more than the mere 114,000 people that voted for Palin in 2006.

The line in Palin's resignation ramble that I think most reveals her unbalanced mental state is this: "Some say things changed for me on August 29th last year—the day John McCain tapped me to be his running-mate. I say others changed."

Others changed? Like who? The rest of world?

I think this reveals how completely insulated Sarah Palin is within the parochial mind of Sarah Palin. In one day last August, she went from being the Governor of the third smallest state by population to the unforgiving klieg-light stage of national politics. Palin may not have changed, but neither did the national spotlight—it is an unrelenting, viciously scrutinizing microscope that is not for the weak, the squeamish, nor the quitters. If Palin's folksy incompetence didn't play on the national stage, it's not because the stage changed—it's because Palin wasn't, and thus far isn't, a credible player on that stage. For her to suggest that her problems are somehow the result of everyone else in the world "changing" suggests a person who is either A) so narcissistic that she is unable to perceive who she actually is in relation to the rest of the world; B) so paranoid that she must suffer from a severe persecution complex; or C) is batshit crazy.

I know the Palin apologists are only too happy to point the finger at the evil media and horrible partisan politics for Palin's embarrassing public unraveling, but consider the sources: Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, Laura Ingram—these are the same numskulls who touted her as the future of the Republican party and "more experienced than Barack Obama" during last year's election. And Bill Kristol, Palin's own Henry Higgins, seems to think this a bold, wily political move on Palin's part. (Kristol is certifiable at this point. The same guy who pushed Palin as a VP candidate is also the same guy who claimed the Iraq war was going to be short, very inexpensive, and that the Iraqi people would greet America as liberators. Why does any respectable news outlet even give this man airtime or copy space anymore?) Crow as they all might, the American public weighed in on Sarah Palin eight months ago. And as every proud citizen of this country knows, America doesn't really care much for quitters. Especially crazy ones.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

MEDIA: My Sean Hannity Obsession

I confess: I'm obsessed with Sean Hannity.

Not a stalker kind of obsession. Nor a weird-fan-with-pictures-all-over-my-bedroom kind of obsession.

I'm rhetorically obsessed with Hannity.

"Great American" Hannity is Fox News' poster boy: he seems so earnest, like he's really concerned about the little guys' (and gals!) plight, and he knows how to expertly use the thinnest strand of fact to buffalo his viewers and listeners into thinking he's telling them "the truth." In fact, he's the perfect embodiment of the whole Fox News philosophy. Forget O'Reilly (jackass), forget Glenn Beck (infantile weirdo), forget that totally unhinged Fox morning "Friend" Steve Doocy (Douche-y?)—when it comes to pure disingenuousness and propagating the government victim mentality, Sean Hannity's your man.

What I'm obsessed with is the near perfection of Hannity's jive shucking. He's like a machine: input any given topic and he'll explain to you, in seemingly rational, seemingly fact-based rhetoric, why the problem is the fault of liberalism and its adherents and why the only solution is the one he's offering—which usually involves cutting taxes, removing all government regulation or oversight, and trusting the conservative oligarchy to do what's best for themselves—er, I mean, what's best for the common good. Oh yeah—and mention Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of conservatism. Mention Reagan a lot.

Take, for example, something like global warming. It's a sitting duck for Hannity:
  1. there's no real evidence for global warming (look how cold it has been this spring!)
  2. there are thousands of scientists who have proved global warming is a hoax
  3. cap and trade and other such governmental regulations are simply a way for liberals like Al Gore to heap thousands of dollars of new taxes on American families ("the highest tax increase in U.S. history!") and keep the American economy from thriving
  4. our air and water are cleaner than they have ever been in the past 100 years
  5. countries like China that pollute our planet 100 times more than the U.S. (made-up-on-the-spot "fact") aren't curtailing their greenhouse gasses, so why should we? To let liberals like Al Gore . . . (see #3)
  6. it's a false crisis liberals are trying to use reduce the number of jobs in America so everyone has to be dependent on government welfare programs in order to live, which is the ultimate goal of the liberal philosophy—which has now become radical socialism.
And then Hannity takes a breath and moves onto items number 7 through 14. I mean, how the hell does he do it all in one breath?

The above Hannity-style screed is typical of the "fact"-based rhetoric he espouses regularly on his radio and TV shows. Let's take a look at his "facts" one by one:
  1. this is the kind of anecdotal "evidence" you hear from the jackass sitting next to you on the train when we get a 40-degree day in June. "Where's that global warming when we need it, huh?" Usually followed by chuckling and great self-amusement by said jackass. The verifiably erratic weather we've experienced over the past few decades might provide a little more valid evidence of our climate being out of whack. And that freaky 70-degree weather we've been getting in the dead of winter? According to Hannity, it's perfectly normal weather fluctuation that we've had on our planet since it was created (as if he'd know, right?).
  2. Hannity's right—there are thousands of scientists who discount global warming. Just like there were thousands of scientists who believed the earth was flat long after the actual science proved it not so. But cut away the global warming denying scientists that are paid representatives of energy and oil companies (who somehow continue to show up as "experts" on Fox News programs), and Hannity's still right—there are thousands of scientists who disagree. What he doesn't tell you is that there are HUNDREDS of thousands scientists who have done the hard science over the past few decades to identify the issues and causes of global warming. Admitting honestly that a small percentage (2%? 3%? maybe 5%?) of scientists consider global warming a hoax simply isn't effective support for the jive Hannity's shucking.
  3. this is where Hannity and his ilk begin to get shrill. Even a little batty. As we've seen from the initial CBO reports as well as independent analysis of a cap and trade system, the cost to American households would probably range in the thousands of dollars—over a 10-year period. (Four grand over ten years comes to just under 2 cents a day—an outrageous tax on American families, no?) But Hannity prefers to just use the first part of that CBO finding, the thousands of dollars part, inferring it's thousands of dollars per year. What he also doesn't mention is that we already have cap and trade systems for other contaminants like sulfur dioxide, which has worked effectively in reducing acid rain. Of course, Hannity throws in the part about Al Gore wanting to keep the American economy from thriving because it's red meat to the brainiacs who take Hannity at his word. He offers no evidence because, really, why would he need to—makes perfect sense that a former Vice President wants the American economy to fail, right?
  4. Hannity's once again a little bit right: our air and water has been cleaned up greatly in the past 30 years—because of the efforts of those pesky tree-hugging environmentalists who thought it was a bad sign that the Lake Erie tributary Cuyahoga River caught on fire because of the pollutants dumped into the water for so many decades. Even Congress took notice, and in 1972 that left-wing radical environmentalist President Richard Nixon signed the Clean Water Act, which has helped restore Lake Erie to a healthy state, as well as protecting all of our waterways. Same with the Clean Air Acts passed over the past thirty years. Of course, Hannity doesn't mention any of this—that citizens pressuring Congress eventually resulted in laws to help clean up our air and water. Really hard to figure this Hannity rhetorical flourish because, according to Hannity, the environmentalists are supposed to be our enemy, so who are the "Great Americans" who helped clean up our air and water? I guess he'd like you to believe that it all happened by earth's own processes. Or that the benevolent industrial complex in the U.S. took it upon themselves to stop polluting.
  5. now there's a wise argument: why should we do things that are really good for our natural resources and the earth's atmosphere when those other countries aren't doing anything? Hannity's got a point, right? Shouldn't we too be allowed to crap all over our own precious resources? I thought we learned our lessons with the fiery Cuyahoga River, the nearly dead Lake Erie, Love Canal, acid rain, etc. Who are what is Hannity trying to protect here—the quality of life in the United States? Or the rights of industry to (again) despoil our air and water? Could it be he's protecting the rights of the Chinese to crap all over their natural resources so we here in the U.S can still buy cheap Made In China goods at Wal-Mart? Oh yeah: the "fact" about China creating 100 times more greenhouse gases than the U.S.? According to the U.S. Energy Administration, China surpassed the U.S. somewhere around 2006, and China's emissions may be as much as 20% higher by 2012. Not a positive development for the planet by any means, but again, Hannity doesn't trouble himself with actual facts . . .
  6. finally, in case he missed anything, or still left any doubt in one of his more savvy listeners, Hannity tosses out the pure batshit crazy stuff. There's nothing factual in it whatsoever. It's Hannity's summation, based on all of his "research" and gut-instinct knowledge, of his opposition's philosophy and goals. It's usually quite canned, as he repeats it multiple times during every broadcast: "highest tax increase in U.S. history," "the radical Obama supports the Marxist takeover of America," "this Socialist, unilaterally disarming administration." Marxist, Socialist (two completely different philosophies)—it really doesn't matter to Hannity. May as well toss Fascist in there as well. When the speaker doesn't know what these ideas actually mean, you can sure bet the brain trust that follows him doesn't either.

So why am I obsessed with Sean Hannity? Why am I obsessed with such a disingenuous, fact-manipulating, victim-facilitating hack for any and all conservative ideas and politicians?

Because Sean Hannity is a rhetorical Terminator.

He's like a perfectly maintained machine that is designed to perform one function with extreme speed and unwavering bias. Ever meet someone who is a master of the Six Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon game? Give them a name and within seconds they can begin to make the links to the actor. Give Hannity any topic and he can explain to you, with faulty facts and quarter-truths and absolute certainty, why liberals are to blame. Teenage pregnancy? Because the radical left insists on teaching kids sex education in the schools instead of abstinence and because liberals have been on a crusade over the past 40 years to destroy the American family. Makes perfect sense, right? (This is not a direct quote—but it sure could be.) The failed war in Iraq? Because the radical, treasonous left undermined our great leader President Bush at every turn and allowed evil actors like Iran and Syria to fund the terrorists and kill American soldiers. Isn't that the way you remember the past eight years? Hell, you could even call Hannity's show and gripe about the poor quality of sneakers these days and he would explain to you why the radical left in this country has forced shoe companies to move their production facilities to third world countries to avoid the extreme regulations and prohibitive corporate tax rates (35% for more than $15 million in profits—what do you pay on your 5-digit income?)

You can actually hear Hannity's Terminator-like brain in action, especially when he takes a call on his radio show, trying to keep every topic or idea within the simplistic worldview he espouses. And for me, that's the fascination: listening to him try to put together the rhetorical building blocks to convince his listeners of the warped, paranoid, victimized world view he (and presumably the vast majority of them) cling to like guns and religion. Granted, most of the callers simply want to be on the radio with Hannity, so most of the calls in a three hour radio show sound a bit Chris Farley-ish: "Sean, you're a great American. Remind me of why I should be arming myself against the Socialist-Communist-Fascist-Democratic party that is trying to take away my freedoms and all my possessions and put me in a welfare gulag?"

But when a caller isn't quite buying the Hannity agenda, or is calling to specifically argue against the Hannity agenda, that's when the real rhetorical Terminator kicks into overdrive. You hear how completely limited Hannity is by his ideology as he attempts—sometimes successfully, usually not—to bend verifiable facts that refute his agenda to actually support his distorted worldview through the most amazing tortured logic you're bound to hear. Up is down. The world IS flat. George W. Bush will be remembered as one of America's greatest presidents. It doesn't have to make any sense—it just has to somehow fit and support the point Hannity is making. As long as Hannity believes what he says is the truth, passionately, he's sure he's right. Of course, if the caller has half a brain and can pick apart Hannity's flurry of half-truths posing as "facts," then Hannity quickly reverts to the ad hominem attack (ie. "Why do you hate America so much?") That's when you know Hannity realizes he can't buffalo the caller and wants to dismiss him or her as quickly as possible. You at least have to admire Hannity's quick acknowledgement of potential defeat.

I know this Hannity obsession reveals a certain sickness on my part, but I urge you to listen to his radio show a few times and marvel at the machine-like way his mind works. Hard as it may seem, try to ignore whether or not you agree with the crazy shit he's saying and analyze it structurally: how is he trying to make his point? what two completely unrelated things is he desperately trying to link together? why is everything progressives/liberals do or say so evil and dangerous and icky while nearly everything conservatives do or say is so good and patriotic and blessed by god? You may just find yourself growing more fascinated with the albeit contaminated Terminator-like mind of Sean Hannity.

One last thing: understand that millions of people in this country listen to him religiously and actually believe the nonsense he espouses. Scary, isn’t it?