Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Stout's Out—Army Purges Gay Soldier

As I predicted back in April when this story first broke, Sgt. Robert Stout, a decorated soldier from the 9th Engineer Battalion who was wounded in Iraq, has been discharged from the Army. His crime? Stout is openly gay.

The high-minded bigots over at the Pentagon have decided, in the words of our embarrassing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, that Stout is not qualified to serve his country because his presence poses "an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability."

That Stout and soldiers like him could be so summarily cast aside at a time when the military is having such a horrible time with troop retention and recruitment is testament to just how vehemently the armed forces cling to their homophobia.

Here's a suggestion: If they want to increase morale and promote good order and discipline, why don't they focus more on their huge torture problem and less on their hateful anti-gay purges? Now, there's a question worth asking.

Deep Throat Revealed (Really)

The wait may actually be over! This article says that W. Mark Felt, a 91-year-old ex-FBI agent, told Vanity Fair that he is Deep Throat. His claims have not yet been verified, but if true, this revelation would solve one of the great political mysteries of the 20th Century.

I have to say I'm a bit disappointed that it's not Dick Clark, but I'll get over it. And no, you can't guess Felt in the Deep Throat Death Pool, you cheaters.

Update:Bob Woodward has not confirmed this news, but talk about a non-denial denial! Bernstein's equivocating, too, and Hal Holbrook could not be reached for comment.


Monday, May 30, 2005

Too Little, Way Too Late

I guess it's nice that they finally let Colin Powell set the pace for something, but the Indianapolis 500 is hardly what I had in mind.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Let's Send Ted Koppel to Gitmo!

The commie-nazis at ABC's Nightline are up to their old America-hating tricks again. For a second year in a row, Ted Koppel will read the names of soldiers who have been killed in the Iraq war. On Memorial Day of all times! The gall! Not to mention the temerity. Memorial Day is no time to memorialize Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country.

Let me join Arthur Chrenkoff, GOP Bloggers, AlphaPatriot and, of course, my brothers and sisters over at Free Republic in condemning Nightline for their nefarious perfidy.

As any red-state-blooded American patriot knows, reminding people of fallen soldiers on Memorial Day only detracts from the real meaning of this glorious holiday: enjoying the Indy 500 without having to contemplate uncomfortable truths.

So, let's pack Ted Koppel off to Gitmo where he belongs. I wonder how long he'll survive after they flush his Teleprompter down the toilet.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Oops!...I Did it Again

Like a wine-soaked drifter who can't kick the sauce even as each drunken belt leads inexorably down the path to an excruciating and pathetic death, I tuned in to Britney and Kevin: Chaotic again this week.

Cletus and Brandine have made an astonishing train wreck of a series so far. First off, it is filmed so poorly that all other reality shows look like Orson Welles masterpieces in comparison, and this is far and away the least of its problems.

The biggest problem with Chaotic is that it shows Brit as she (presumably) really is—acne, psychosis and all. And who exactly is this Mrs. Federline? None other than the female Michael Jackson; a child trapped in an adult's body. In the first episode she displayed her propensity for making silly faces and offensive noises. Episode two finds her glassy-eyed and stoned in the back seat of a car in Copenhagen cracking up over fart jokes. In her relationship with Kevin, she carries on like an infatuated junior high schooler, making grand, naive pronouncements about the nature of love and chewing gum and making out at the same time.

For his part, Kevin, who shocked audiences in the first episode by taking not one, but two showers, acts like a man who knows he's struck gold. He seems adept at exploiting Britney's insecurities while simultaneously satisfying her egomaniacal need to always be on camera. (On a related note: Based on Britney's narcissism and the levels of inebriation attained by the couple, there's a very good chance that there's some slack-jawed yokel porn out there waiting to be unleashed on the market. When this will happen, right up there with the identity of Deep Throat, is one of the great questions of the 21st Century.)

But as I sat immobile, stunned that a show could actually make me long to watch anything else on UPN, a thought occurred to me. What if Britney isn't a mega-moron after all? Maybe Chaotic is really a crafty attempt to make herself seem so unattractive and worthless that the tabloids and the general public will lose interest and will leave her and her beau alone to a life of peace, tranquility and Cheetos. That would be a brilliant idea, using the full weight of the publicity machine in a ploy to escape from its clutches. Can there really be any other explanation for all those night vision shots of Britney without make-up?

Oh Britney, you're stupid alright—stupid like a fox!

Monday, May 23, 2005

Which Side is the Dark Side?

The killjoy wing of the Republican Party is back at it, this time with the shocking revelation that (gasp!) there just might be a liberal bias in Hollywood. They have singled out the uber-blockbuster Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith for their censure, due to its purported anti-Bush message.

The fanatics over at Free Republic are calling for a boycott of the film, as is a group called Patriotic Americans Boycotting Anti-American Hollywood—that's PABAAH for short, which sounds like something your grandfather might say after inadvertently stumbling onto a Ludacris video on MTV.

Craig Winneker, editor of Tech Central Station Europe, who wrote an article that more or less sums up the anti-Sith argument, laments what is "disturbingly—and rather awkwardly—evident: a recurring anti-Bush, anti-Iraq war message."

First, it must be noted that almost every line of dialogue in this film is awkward, not just the allegedly offending passages. That said, the paranoiacs on the right are inferring an anti-Iraq war bias from the following message: using war, or the threat of war, as an excuse to overthrow a democratic government and replace it with a totalitarian dictatorship is really, really mean. Especially when you kill Wookiees in the process.

The fact that this is identified by the boycott-happy whiners as a left-wing, anti-American idea says a lot. That the right-wingers identify their own position with that of the merciless Sith overlords of the Empire (an Empire which eventually strikes back, by the way) says a whole lot more. Apart from a passing resemblance between the post-electrification Darth Sidious and Dick Cheney, there's not a whole lot going for the Iraq war parallel.

A rational person might be more likely to compare the film's events to the rise of the Third Reich or of Stalin's USSR (the Empire's foot soldiers are even called "Stormtroopers," fer chrissakes). An even more rational person might recognize that they're watching a science fiction movie that has little if any bearing on the real world.

This is what Winneker has to say about the film's greatest sin:
The ultimate [anti-Bush] reference comes in the climactic duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi on the planet of Mustafar, which seems to have long ago failed in its struggle against global warming. "If you're not with me, you're my enemy," Anakin shouts to Obi-Wan, who responds: "Only a Sith lord deals in absolutes." Yes, and so, it would seem, do neo-cons.
What a load of piffle! The whole Star Wars franchise deals in absolutes. There are Rebels and there is the Empire. Luke wears white and uses the Force; Darth Vader wears black and uses the Dark Side of the Force. Star Wars is the ultimate cinematic embodiment of the Manichean worldview. As such, when Obi-Wan tries to woo Vader away from the Dark Side, we as an audience know that he is destined to fail, and this failure is what sets up the ultimate confrontation between good and evil that comprises the original trilogy.

The idea that one can choose between the Force and the Dark Side—between good and evil—is a central theme of Star Wars. The notion that this line was tagged on as a petty dig at President Bush requires quite an assumption. And remember, when you assume, you make an ass out of me and you—mostly you.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Majesty of the Senate

Overheard on the Senate floor:
Billy Frist: This game is stupid. New rules!
Harry Reid: No! No do-overs.
Billy: Oh yeah? Our team's bigger, we'll just make you.
Harry: Cheater!
Billy: I know you are, but what am I?
Harry: A big dumb cheater!
Billy (fingers in ears): La, la, la, I can't hear you!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Worst Band Names Ever

If necessity is the mother of invention, then a road-trip along the desolate I-70 corridor in Illinois is the mother of random conversation. So it was that my wife and I came to discuss the worst band names of all time. (This is the worst names, mind you, not necessarily the worst bands, but there is a whole lot of overlap.) Passing judgment on band names is an inherently subjective pursuit, so I would like to propose a set of criteria to bring a modicum of consistency to this project. There are always exceptions to the rules, but in general:

Band names should never be only one syllable
While monosyllabic band names have been around for years (Free, Bread, Can, Yes), their popularity has risen alarmingly since the 1980s. Relatively benign (but silly) band names like Ratt and Kix have given way to a glut of bands with names like Train, Fuel, All, Tool, Tar and Cake, proving that less is rarely, if ever, more. While these names may have seemed muscular or pithy after a few bong hits at the band meeting, nothing grates on the nerves or screams "we chose our name at random out of the dictionary" more than a monosyllabic band name.
Unforgivable: Staind
God-awful: Phish
Awful: Live (no matter how you want to pronounce it)
Honorable Mention: Creed, Spoon, Ween, Slint, Rush, Crunt, James, Seam, Ride, Squeeze
Exceptions: KISS (because it may be an acronym for Knights in Satan's Service, which is awesome), Queen (because it's truth in advertising) and Fear (because that's pretty punk rock)
Fun Fact: Monosyllabic band names can almost always be improved by the addition of the definite article. The Who, The Fall, The Kinks—all great band names that would be horrendous if not for "the."

Band names should never contain prepositions
When I hear a band name like Puddle of Mudd, it sends me into a homicidal rage. As lame as it would undoubtedly remain, Mudd Puddle is a much better name for a band. This category is extra-special, because it has what must be the worst band name of all time.
The Aforementioned Worst Band Name Ever: Archers of Loaf
Not Much Better: Letters to Cleo
Virtually Indistinguishable From #2: Fountains of Wayne
Honorable Mention: Rage Against the Machine, Alice in Chains, Souls at Zero, Mouse on Mars, Apples in Stereo, After the Fire, Porno for Pyros, Tears for Fears, Death Cab for Cutie
Exceptions: There is a major exception to this rule, and that is if the preposition is part of the classic band name formula: [someone] and the [something] [preposition] [something else]. For example, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, or Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Someone should really call their band Brevity and the Soul of Wit, don't you think? Also, Lords of Acid is a pretty awesome name.

Band names should never contain numbers
Never, never, never! Come on, people! Why would anyone want their band to sound like a household cleanser? We are Formula 409, are you ready to rock? Most of these bands have a hard enough time appearing not to be mass-marketed products to begin with.
Innumeracy: Matchbox 20
Square Root of Crap: Seven Mary Three
Count Me Out: Sevendust
Honorable Mention: 3 Doors Down, Blink 182, Sum 41, 98 Degrees, 311, Haircut 100, Front 242, UB40, 5ive Style, Six Finger Satellite, 808 State, 10 Years After, Sixteen Deluxe, Sham 69, Three Dog Night and on and on ...
Exceptions: If the number in the name is the same as the number of band members (for example, Gang of Four, The Dirty Three, MC5), then it's generally ok. This is not ok for Maroon 5. Other acceptable number bands include 999 (British emergency phone number), U2 (spy plane) and Five for Fighting (obscure hockey reference). Finally, I kind of wish that Four Jacks and a Jill from Spinal Tap was a real band.

Band names should not be intentionally misspelled
Nothing is less hip than an obvious attempt to be hip.
Krap: Limp Bizkit
Baaaad: 'N Sync
Un-4-tunate: Def Leppard
Honorable Mentions: Korn, Linkin Park, Boyz II Men, NOFX, 24-7 Spyz
Exception: Lynyrd Skynyrd (because revenge against gym teachers is sublime)
The Mother of All Exceptions: The Beatles

Band names should not be stupid catch phrases
We're fun; we're whimsical—we're Wham! Kill me.
Talk to the Hand: Enuff Z'nuff
Don't Go There, Girlfriend: No Doubt
Oh No You Didn't: Take That
Honorable Mention: Go West
Exception: Nomeansno gets a special pass because they're two Canadian guys who aren't really P.C. feminists

Band names should not contain the word 'Mister'
Mr. Big, Mr. Bungle, Mister Mister. Enough said. No exceptions.

Band names should avoid the needlessly stupid
This is kind of a catch-all category. It's for the Dead Can Dance and Trip Shakespeare's of the world. A band name should be thoughtful, clever if possible. It should not induce nausea and tension headaches. It should not be a complete sentence, use made-up words or be the obvious product of the moron's version of a Dadaist word collage.
God, No: Colonel Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit
Aaargh: Toad the Wet Sprocket
Sigh: Hoobastank
Honorable Mentions: The For Carnation, Everything But the Girl, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Smashing Pumpkins, New Kids on the Block, Presidents of the United States of America, Tripping Daisy, 'Til Tuesday, God Is My Co-Pilot

Naming bands is not an exact science and it's admittedly easier to know what not to do than to figure out how to do it right. It is important to listen to the masters. Unfortunately, for every ? and the Mysterians or Black Sabbath, there are a thousand Alice Donuts and Big Head Todd and the Monsters. It's not impossible to come up with a classic band name these days (see The Darkness), it just takes a lot of restraint and a moment of inspiration. For any bands out there looking for that spark, allow me to suggest Cletus and the Federlines. Your first album can be called Can You Handle Our Truth?

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Terror War in the Toilet

Outrage in the Muslim world over the alleged desecration of the Koran by interrogators at Guantanamo Bay seems to be gaining traction, as protests (sometimes violent) have been reported in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia and elsewhere. The rage brought on by accounts of American agents placing copies of the Koran on toilets and, in one case, flushing it down, is fully justified and needs to be addressed immediately unless we want our already bruised reputation to go down the toilet as well.

What's so disheartening is that Bush and his administration seem to take every opportunity to shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to respecting the people we are supposed to be liberating. It is impossible to try to convince Muslims that the War on Terror is not a crusade against Islam, while at the same time debasing detainees and committing sacrilege against their religion.

Unwilling to seriously address these problems, the administration is more interested in sweeping unseemly incidents under the rug while rewarding the architect of our failed interrogation policy with the top job at the Justice Department.

Bush is constantly talking about a battle for the hearts and minds of Muslims. If these allegations bear out, that just might be a battle we don't deserve to win. The fact that we are in this position in a battle we cannot afford to lose points to nothing less than a failure of leadership. The success or failure of the War on Terror will ultimately be decided on this issue. If we can't convince the Muslim world that we don't have bad intentions, then all is lost. The fact that it's still on open question is a disgrace. It's Bush's problem to fix, and it remains to be seen if he is willing or able to do so.

Update:Newsweek is now backing off this story. With at least fifteen people dead due to riots sparked by Newsweek's allegations, this ranks right up there on the list of journalistic blunders. It doesn't change the fact that the US needs to do a better job of convincing Muslims that we aren't on a crusade, but it sure doesn't help to have a major US magazine bungle things so badly. Let's hope Al Jazeera runs the correction.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Be My Daddy, Uncle Sam

When Thomas Frank wrote his latest book, his subject was the 2004 elections rather than the debate over "intelligent design," but his question still applies: What's the matter with Kansas?

Back in 1999, Kansas' school board, stacked with religious conservatives, voted to downplay the teaching of evolution in schools. Realizing their mistake, Kansans voted these fanatics out at the next opportunity. Now Kansas is embroiled in a debate over whether to teach "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution in state schools.

This theory holds that the universe is too complex to have arisen out of chance and therefore must be the work of an intelligent designer. The people trying to push this theory on Kansas school children are unusually tight-lipped about just who this "designer" might be, but I'll give you three guesses. Here's a hint: in testimony on Friday, William S. Harris, co-founder of the Intelligent Design Network, implied that current Kansas school standards embrace "atheism and naturalism."

But intelligent design is not creationism. It couldn't be, since "design" and "create" are clearly two different words, right? Look at the IDN website. It doesn't say "creationism" in big block letters, and there's a picture of a double helix on the homepage, so this must be solid, disinterested science. In actuality, the IDers merely seize upon the fact that evolution is not perfectly understood by scientists and attempt to replace it with a theory that is unverifiable and thus irrefutable.

But what about the children and their fragile minds? How can religious parents teach good Judeo-Christian values to their kids if they don't learn them in public school? If only there was some sort of school run by the church that parents could send their kids to, maybe on the weekend—a "Sunday school" of sorts.

There is a deep irony in the attempt to excise evolution from the science curriculum, just as there is in the move to allow prayer in schools or to have the Ten Commandments posted in classrooms. The very groups that advocate so-called "proper" parenting seem to want to cede parental responsibility to the state, turning Uncle Sam into a surrogate father. All these groups with wholesome names—groups like Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the Culture and Family Institute—are actively involved in the effort to make the government take the place of the family in matters of morality and values.

There's nothing wrong with teaching your kids whatever you want at home; that's as it should be. Parents have always augmented or even refuted the lessons kids learn at school with their own teaching. People who have a major problem with what kids learn in the state-run schools have options: private school or home schooling. And if they can't afford that, then they're going to have to take responsibility for teaching their kids what they think they're missing out on at public school.

I can't help but think that those who don't want their kids exposed to secular ideas are afraid that they cannot defend their own faith to their children. Be that as it may, it's not the state's responsibility to shelter kids from ideas that may contradict their parents' religious ideology.

In fact, the effort to force kids to live in a bubble of ignorance actually does them a great disservice. When they grow up, they will be exposed to all kinds of secular ideas and scientific challenges to their beliefs. Do these parents really want them to be unprepared for that reality?

The religious right in this country is in full frontal assault against the innate responsibility that parents have for their own children. The aforementioned groups, along with media nags like the PTC and the Kids First Coalition, want to create a nanny state where no offensive or irreligious idea will ever pollute their children's minds. In doing so they will ultimately strip these kids of the ability to think for themselves. Unfortunately, I think that's the point.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

'Straight Up': The Scourge of Activist Judges

It is with some reluctance and with a heavy heart that I must join the chorus of Republican lawmakers who are speaking out against the abuses of a biased and arrogant judiciary in this country.

Here is what House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has to say on the subject:
DeLay issued a statement asserting that "the time will come for the men responsible for [the Terri Schiavo ruling] to answer for their behavior." He later said in front of television cameras that he wants to "look at an arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at Congress and the president."
Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas cuts right to the chase:
It causes a lot of people, including me, great distress to see judges use the authority that they have been given to make raw political or ideological decisions.... I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection, but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country.... And I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters, on some occasions, where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in, engage in violence.
Hear, hear, gentlemen!

There was a time, and not too long ago, when I would have seen statements such as these as nothing more than crass intimidation and strong-arm tactics worthy of a banana republic or a post-Soviet satellite state. But that was before my heart was broken and my eyes were opened to the truth.

I'm speaking, of course, about Paula Abdul, who gives the term "activist judge" a whole new meaning. As ABC reported last night, the American Idol judge stands accused of improperly assisting—not to mention carrying on an illicit relationship with—contestant Corey Clark in 2003.

First appointed to the bench in 2002, Abdul is at the center of a case that clearly illustrates the danger posed to our democracy by an unaccountable judiciary hell-bent on subverting the Constitution and the will of the people.

Now is the time—before it is too late and yet another generation of Americans succumbs to cynicism—for Judge Abdul to step down. The work of the judiciary is a sacred trust, and as such, is far too important to be placed in the hands of false idols.
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