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                                       politics + culture

Sunday, April 30, 2006

the Colbert moment

Blogger awol called me and told me to read/watch last night's "moment" at the Washington Correspondent's dinner. (Thanks to Frederick of dkos for the transcript.)


That speech was more than a roast. It was more than humor. (And even in that regard, if you ask me, the last part with the video falls flat.) What Colbert just did wasn't even, in the electoral sense of "who wins or gains," all that political or partisan.

What happened last night night was an epochal blow for the unvarnished truth. The "wall" of BS that runs through DC...the "wall" of lies and business-as-usual that keeps us citizens on the outside of the cozy fiefdom of the press, the parties, the establishment...just had the first big chunk taken out of it in years courtesy of an accidental hero, a jester, a clown.

That speech was a visceral repudiation of politics in this country made all the more powerful because the vehicle for delivering that message was a comedian whose appearance on the podium had the "accidental" effect of letting the fox into the henhouse.

They should have known better.

Hell, letting Stephen Colbert up there in 2006 is like somebody inviting Jello Biafra to give a speech on the same podium as Ronnie Reagan in 1983. Colbert's über-Americanism is an updated version of a punk pose made popular by songs like the Dead Kennedys' "California über alles"...who in turn took chapters from Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times and Shakespeare's Hamlet..."a play's the thing, to catch the conscience of the king." At a certain point the hypocrisy and corruption of the establishment becomes so blantant the only thing to do is to use a "play" to explode the comfortable lies of the powerful from within...taking up their own rhetoric, their own pose, and using it against them.

The truth can't hurt, can it?

Of course it can. Ask the jester. Ask the clown.

And that's exactly what Colbert did in a bravura performance whose legacy will at a minimum be one or two phrases that will be used to sum up George W. Bush for the ages:
I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound -- with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world.

The greatest thing about this man is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man's beliefs never will.

It's one thing to hang a phrase like that on a sitting president from the comfortable distance of a TV studio or an editorial page...but to do so on the same podium is chutzpah of the highest order. That one was for the history books. Literally.

You see, the hens...the press and the White House...invited the fox to the henhouse for a reason: to coopt him. If you can laugh and share a joke, if you can defuse the "critique" by inviting the critic into the clubhouse, then the wall of BS not only stands but withstands attempts to bring it down earnestly through politics and punditry. "Hey, check out this clown...too funny...he's one of us!" In effect, they invited Colbert, on some level, in order to defang him.

Of course, the hens made a grave mistake thinking that Colbert's schtick was going to have the same effect as Bush's frat-boy "where's the WMD" pranks. The two are fundamentally different. When Bush makes fun of himself and invites the fourth estate to pal along, it's simply one more enabling ploy...it reinforces the wall of BS by pointing out that "hey, we all know this town runs on lies and corruption...isn't that a larf!" When Bush makes funs of himself in front of the press it makes his lies and their obeisance no big deal.

It's not the same with someone like Colbert. Colbert isn't earnest. Like all comedians, he's only in it for himself. (And hats off to him when it benefits us.) Further, since the disinfectant of the truth is the root of all comedy, Colbert simply used the tools of his trade to wicked effect. The fox couldn't help it if the hen house was full of plump targets. (One of those targets, Antonin Scalia "got it", and laughed along heartily as only someone with a lifetime appointment can.)

The point is, the jester Colbert, with his buffoonery, with his send up of the "FOX news" persona, did something that NOBODY has yet done: he defined the bad conscience of DC in forthright terms in front of the guilty parties in a language they understood clear as day. In lambasting "King Bush" and his obvious flaws, Colbert also described the utter poltroonery and obsequience of his "Court" for the last six years. That's what hung in the air over the crowd. The awkward silence was deafening.

They may have come to kiss the King's ass...

but last night Colbert served the DC establishment their posteriors on a platter.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

liz phair

It's hard to say to someone who didn't catch it at the time exactly how well Liz Phair hit the nail on the head with a series of albums (Exile in Guyville, Whip Smart, and to a lesser extent Whitechocolatespaceegg) in the nineties. Yeah, these discs (in particular the first one) were all over the critics lists...without buying into all that acclaim, and even though Phair has subsequently been less beloved by critics and fans, I think that work holds up well.

To put it simply, Liz Phair had something to say and she said it. The music really speaks to a time (80's/90's)...and an attitude (raw honesty). For myself, I keep listening to these records and finding new things. If you haven't checked them out, I'd recommend any of the three. This lyric, from Exile in Guyville, gives a taste of what I'm talking about:

I was flying into Chicago at night
Watching the lake turn the sky into blue-green smoke
The sun was setting to the left of the plane
And the cabin was filled with an unearthly glow
In 27-D I was behind the wing
Watching landscape roll out
Like credits on a screen
The earth looked like it was lit from within
Like a poorly assembled electrical ball as we moved
Out of the farmlands into the grid
The plan of the city was all that you saw
And all of these people sitting totally still
As the ground raced beneath them thirty thousand feet down

It took an hour, maybe a day
But once I really listened, the noise
Just went away...

-from "Stratford-On-Guy, Exile in Guyville Matador 1993
Lyrics thanks to Aaron Walker

That's not necessarily typical Liz Phair...she writes mostly about life and sex and, well, life and sex, but I guess I'd say this: in retrospect, looking back, even though she was seemingly singing just about herself...Liz Phair made some songs that speak to the raw experience one small generation of folks. In doing so, however, she created some songs that define a moment.

Liz Phair is worth checking out if you don't know her already.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

happy birthday

Happy Birthday to reader, colleague and good friend....



kid oakland

read it and weep

For base hypocrisy this must read article in today's New York Times takes the cake.

States are currently, with the Bush Administration's encouragement, omitting the test results for minority students in a jerry-rigged attempt to manipulate provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.

What does this mean? What it means is that many non-white children ARE deliberately left out and left behind...and, yep, discounted by the "soft bigotry of low expectations." The hypocrisy is stunning. We've been told about the importance of test scores for years by this president, including emphasizing just this racial breakdown and accountability, and now we find that in many cases it's only the test scores of white students that matter:

To calculate a nationwide estimate, the AP analyzed the 2003-04 enrollment figures the government collected -- the latest on record -- and applied the current racial category exemptions the states use.

Overall, the AP found that about 1.9 million students -- or about 1 in every 14 test scores -- aren't being counted under the law's racial categories. Minorities are seven times as likely to have their scores excluded as whites, the analysis showed.

Less than 2 percent of white children's scores aren't being counted as a separate category. In contrast, Hispanics and blacks have roughly 10 percent of their scores excluded. More than one-third of Asian scores and nearly half of American Indian scores aren't broken out, AP found.

What does this mean in effect? Why is this happening? Well, one thing is that schools and states that have minority enrollment of 10% or 20% are going to have no reason to address achievment gaps, and will be exempt from accountability under the NCLB Act. Believe you me, educators and legislators in those schools and states are willing to THROW OUT the test scores of some of their non-white students in order to avoid that accountability. On the other hand, schools that are majority non-white will be looking at the harshest consequences of the NCLB. For the poorest and most struggling schools, nothing has changed.

Hypocrisy like this should make your blood boil. It sure does mine.

One pillar of our American ideals is a public school system that works for EVERYONE...it's where we learn our basic civic values including respect for the equality of every individual. That was the basic appeal of the rhetoric behind the very flawed legislation of NCLB. People want public schools that work.

With the Bush Administration, however, it's clear that, we should NEVER believe what the say or take on face value GOP appeals to "shared values". Once again, George Bush has gone out of his way to show that some people are more equal than others.

This hypocrisy is galling.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

ah, life! pt. ii

Okay, it's a fair bet that you are wondering where the hell I've been...and why I seem so sour when I do show up.

Here's the scoop.

#1: I really needed a blog hiatus to take care of some personal and financial issues. It's an ongoing process...but I AM doing much better on all fronts. Hooray.

#2: Part of the changes I've made are seemingly minor things like...uh...completely changing my diet and lifestyle and hence, losing...rrr...27lbs and counting. What that means basically is...sitting with my third cup of coffee and grinding out a blog post while eating a doughnut...is a thing 'o the past. Drinking a couple (lite) beers with a bag of chips in front of the computer while that frozen pizza cooks? Ancient history. Staying up till 3AM reading blogs? UN-healthy, at least for me.

I'm not going to lie. Drinking green tea, eating right and spending more time out of doors, while good for me, has pretty much disturbed my "blog-writing and researching ecosystem". Did I fuel much of the stuff I've written in the last year with sugar, caffeine, and junk food? Was the "news junkie" roller coaster linked to the "junk food" roller coaster?

In a word, yes. For me, that was true. And to make a long story short. I know, personally, that's gotta end.

The good news is that I know in my bones that writing has a place in my life. I'm just figuring out how to make the off-line part of that life work for me for the LONG HAUL so as to allow some good ole on-line work. Short term thinking got me where I was...so now I'm "going long" and enjoying, mostly, every day of the process.

And, yes, in the meantime, while I've made big changes for myself...I HAVE gotten less patient with the BULLSHIT of our society. It's hard not to be cynical when you realize that that big chain grocery store you've been going to has basically been poisoning you (with a huge helping hand from yours truly, of course.)

That's not just true for me, it's true for millions of Americans. Like credit card debt, it's our "dirty little secret."

And yeah, it does connect to politics because the exact same big lies and hype...the marketing that leads us to unquestioningly allow our food to be poisoned with hydrogenated oils, excess sugars, jumbo portions, and high fructose corn syrup...is what allows so many docile Americans to vote for the GOP, a party of liars and criminals, because GOP marketing somehow reflects our "American way of life."

The GOP is no different from that canister of potato chips claiming to be good for you due to "0 Trans Fats" per serving.

That's bullshit.

You can wrap the flag around yourself, but that doesn't mean that you haven't dragged that flag through the mud with outright lies and lawbreaking. That's what the GOP has done...in the name of righteousness and the American way of life.

If there's a kernal of hope in all this...it's this. I think all of us in this country...at least those who aren't in that hard-core brainwashed minority...have a HUGE amount of common ground in understanding that we are on the WRONG PATH. (70% of the country thinks we are on the wrong path according to the latest AP/Ipsos poll.)

There is more than one way to fix things once we get on the right track. I'll admit that. That's why we have debate and democracy.

But the point is, if there ever was a time to reach out and tell your neighbor that it's time for a change. In my humble opinion, this is it. This is a time to face facts and change course personally and politically.

For myself, in my tiny world, that much is crystal clear.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Tom DeLay

Good riddance.