Saturday, August 29, 2009

POLITICS: WWJD about Health Care?

Among the contentious, TV-friendly images we've seen this past month from health care town halls across the country, a few have stood out the most to me — probably because of what's revealed by the protesters in the clips and probably because some of the clips have been in cable news rotation like Top 10 summer singles.

Perhaps you'll recall this chart-climber from August 11th during an Arlen Specter town hall meeting in Lebanon, Pennsylvania (the protestor has his crazy say from about :45 seconds into the clip through the 2 minute mark):

Really? This guy's threatening Specter and all his "damn cronies" with God's judgment because they're talking about trying to provide health care for all Americans?

O.K. So what would Jesus do?

Luke 9:1-3
[1] When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, [2] and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. [3] He told them: "Take nothing for the journey -- no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic."

WHAT? No extra tunic? Jesus apparently wasn't yet aware of all the benefits and care-giving bounty of the health insurance companies. He lived in backwoods Nazareth, a podunk burg in the Roman Empire. He'd have had to travel to somewhere like Ancient Yemen, "the Insurance Capital of Arabia," to learn how the sick should be treated in a free society. Jesus was a simple man, a homebody really, who chose to stay with his people and help the least of his brothers and sisters. It was the least he could do, right?

I've heard and read a number of citizens invoke Jesus' name in their diatribes against providing health care for all Americans, which continues to baffle me. It's sometimes invoked as having something to do with freedom and the Constitution, which makes no sense at all – Jesus had quite a few rules to impart to his flock, and he gave stern warnings that if they didn't do as he said, it was the eternal hot box for them. Not much of a Constitutional kinda guy, really.

But think about it: if Jesus did come back to earth, do you really think he'd be strapping a gun to his thigh and fighting for the rights of insurance companies to jack up premiums, deny patients' coverage, and make obscene profits at the expense of the sick and diseased?

Thursday, August 13, 2009


My friend RJ sent this along. Elvis Costello tipped him to it.

Bing Crosby, Diana Ross & The Supremes, and Jose Feliciano zipping through a medley of '60s pop hits. What more could one ask for in old school stardom cheese? You really do have to see this to believe it. I'll wait . . .

How many times did you have to lift your chin off your desk?

This clip is like a massive car wreck. At the same time you're horrified by the carnage, you keep staring because it's a fascinating human event. This clip is from 1968. Revolution in the air, summer of love, Vietnam, the women's rights movement, civil rights -- America society in 1968 was going through elemental changes (for good or bad) that would have decades-long effects. Ross & The Supremes and Feliciano represented a new world of civil rights and race relations in the U.S., though they were by no means radicals. They were the culture-approved "faces" of minority pride, meaning they didn't scare white people and they seemed, "gosh, kinda just like us white people."

So what is Bing Crosby in this? Crosby's time and culture had passed -- and was moving farther and farther into the rear view. Sure, he still had drawing power on television, which in 1968 was but a mere teenager, but his era and style of music had all but disappeared. The days of the crooner were dimming. This was a time for singer-songwriters expressing truths political and personal. There were still crooners/singers putting out great music, but many of them were relegated to occasional Top 40 slots -- good money, minimum cred, yet frequent access to the old school TV avenues.

Let's be clear: even at 65, Crosby really did have great pipes. In this clip, however, I think we're watching an old guard entertainer trying to gain a little hip cache with young folks, baby boomers who were not only brought up on guys like Crosby but were now the largest chunk of the population, and at the same time the young hit makers try to get a little mainstream STARDOM cache from one of the old guard. Look at the setting: TV studio with an orchestra in the background (old guard), the singers "casually" sitting on stools singing contemporary hits by The Beatles, Motown, Bakersfield country (new guard).

It's such a weird amalgam of the state of the music industry and the state of American culture in 1968 that the quality of the performance seems almost immaterial. They all have superlative voices, but really, how cheesy can you get? And maybe that's what sticks out most about this clip: it's like a 1950s TV performance by five artists who don't believe for a minute that what they're doing is heartfelt. They know it's forced, they know that we the audience knows its forced, but it's what STARS do, right? (At least it's what they did in the past.) The performance is a recreation of a star system era long gone in the era that helped demolish it.

Nice hat on Bing, though, eh?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

MEDIA: An Alter-nate View

Newsweek senior editor Jonathan Alter reveals his Chicago native roots in "What's Not to Like?," an excellent column on the health care debate. Alter is a cancer survivor and he uses his own experience with the health care industry as a stepping off point for his commentary.

The reason I say Alter reveals his Chicago native roots is because "What's Not to Like?" recalls the spirit of Mike Royko, one of the city's most heralded newspaper columnists. Alter was born in 1957, and any aspiring journalist growing up here worth his or her salt would've been a regular reader of Royko's columns. One of the keys to Royko's unique style was his ability to cut through the noise surrounding an issue or event or person in the news spotlight and pinpoint clearly the nub of the situation. Of course, another key to Royko's style was his ability to use techniques like sarcasm and parody to vicious effect. He was usually a real straight shooter (and a remarkably tight writer), but when the situation required it, Royko could be a adept and subtle satirist.

I grew up reading Royko and I used to cut out his columns and put them on my walls or save them in a folder just so I could reread and study them. Royko is one of the reasons I wanted to be a newspaper writer at one point. And as a Royko fan, one of the greatest compliments I ever received when I was writing the original print "Roadkill" column through the '90s for the Chicago-based entertainment magazine Illinois Entertainer was when a record store owner I knew told me one of my columns reminded him of something Royko would do. The column was about Pat Buchanan and his race-baiting presidential run in 1992 or '96. If I recall correctly, I may have even used Royko as a character in the satire—so maybe that record store owner had a little help in making the connection. But it sure made me feel good whenever I went into that record store and saw that column (amid others—this guy was a "Roadkill" fan) taped up on the store wall.

Enjoy Alter's column. Pretty sure Royko would've . . .

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

CULTURE: Birthers Bringing Back The Retard

We've all been trained over the past couple of politically correct decades to politely refrain from using the word "retarded" to describe someone (or even some event). Over time, the word "retarded"—which was used many decades ago as a euphemism for less desirable adjectives—took on a very negative connotation. It became a way to insult a non-developmentally challenged person: "What are you—some kind of retard?" It's a pretty severe indictment of a person's mental capabilities, reserved for the dumbest, most idiotic kind of behavior or thinking.

Enter the "birthers." You know—the people who still believe that President Obama isn't a natural-born U.S. citizen. The people who think his state-issued certificate of birth is somehow a forgery and there's a 48-year worldwide conspiracy in play to protect "the truth" about his birthplace. (And from the protest signage shown, people who seem to believe a cotton cloth is a nationality.)

That's why I'm bringing back retard.

Misguided is too kind of a word to describe the birthers. Mistaken and foolish are certainly true, but the birthers really go far beyond such benevolent terms. This is an active, self-inflicted brand of stupidity.

Thus, retards.

Here's how the dictionary defines retard: a person who is stupid or obtuse; slow or limited in intellectual development.

Per the above definition, I would feel like a complete asshole calling these birthers retards if they were, in fact, a group of "differently-abled" citizens who were simply incapable of understanding what facts are or what our Constitution requires to be president. But that is not the case. The birthers are self-made retards, proudly wrapping themselves in a flag of retardation sewn by their own (apparently very idle) hands.

What the persistence of the birther movement shows us is that some people, no matter the facts or evidence, no matter the repeated reinforcement of the facts or evidence, no matter the ease with which these very same people can verify the facts or evidence themselves, some people will willfully choose ignorance and adopt aggressive stupidity as a preferred mental state. does a pretty good job of covering what they learned when actually handling the state seal stamped birth certificate:

That well-established conspiracy-fomenting rag USA Today covered the repeat verification of Obama's birth just last week by Hawaii state officials and the state's Republican Governor Linda Lingle:

Of course, during the last presidential election, both the Hillary Clinton and John McCain camps pursued this citizenship question vigorously. What better way to get rid of Obama than on a technicality? Both campaigns came to the same conclusion: dead end. Obama's a natural born citizen. But this Clinton-McCain factual conclusion is no reason for the birther retards to stop willfully . . . retarding themselves.

Hey, you know when you’re REALLY retarded? When even Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter think you're an idiot. Fox News' O'Reilly is a loud mouthed jackass who has never let the facts get in the way of whatever loud mouthed jackassy thing he rants about. But even O'Reilly cops to the fact of Obama's citizenship and thinks the birthers are nuts. And Fox News frequent guest harpy Coulter, always up for some Rube Goldberg-like labyrinth of a conspiracy theory, has called the birthers "cranks" and the Obama birth certificate a non-issue.

Just this week, the birthers finally came up with what the claim is proof that Obama wasn't born in the U.S. They've magically produced Obama's Kenyan birth certificate. But, of course, it's a fake. And a poorly executed fake at that. (Turns out it's actually a form from Australia.) Check out some of the errors the forgers made. Talk about retarded:

What's a little troubling about these birthers is that their retardation seems to be contagious, at least to some people you might not necessarily suspect. Like CNN's Lou Dobbs. Sure, he's a one-note song about immigration, but did he ever really seem retarded?

And the retardation virus appears to have hit Republican Florida Congressman Bill Posey who introduced House Bill 1503 which would require all presidential candidates to submit birth certificates and "such other documentation as may be necessary" to prove they are U.S. citizens. A handful of fellow Republicans have signed on to this bill, which the birthers all love, but it seems . . . wait a second. Republican Congressmen? Some from Florida? Retards? Never mind . . .

It has been suggested by some thoughtful commentators that the entire birther movement and its seeming inability to get beyond the fact the Barack Obama was overwhelming elected President is a form of cultural denial. It's an attempt to delegitimize Obama's clear, fair election by saying he somehow isn't one of us, that he somehow won by underhanded means, or that he and the cabal of the voting majority somehow tricked the minority voting block of "real Americans." The United States is changing culturally, ethnically, and politically—has been for the past couple of decades—and an albeit small but vocal percentage of citizens doesn't like it, feels like they are losing their grip on the country they have controlled for so long, thus they are lashing out in this weird, retarded way. I think there may be some truth in this.

Other equally thoughtful commentators have suggested that this birther movement is thinly veiled racism. Because in 2009 the expression of unadulterated racism is, for the most part, offensive to the vast majority of Americans, this birther thing is a way to channel sheer racial hatred into something more acceptable. A movement that called for getting rid of the n***er in the White House would be squashed immediately by even the mildly prejudiced of Americans. But suggesting that Obama is somehow not legitimate gets the idea across in a more palatable way. There may be some truth to this, too, but I have yet to meet and get to know any birthers personally, so I can't fairly ascribe the damaging term "racist" to the birthers as a whole.

But I do know a retard when I see one—or hundreds of them. Don't really have to get to know them or their hearts to understand that when you willfully refuse to acknowledge facts, steadfastly act stupid in the face of facts, or impede your own intellectual development for some warped political purpose, then jack, you ain't nuthin' but a retard.

The short bus will be arriving soon to take you to a Health Care town hall in Columbus, Ohio . . .