Oprah, Truth, Politics, and Bullshit

I mentioned before that I have a pretty good bullshit detector. So a couple of months ago when my friend was raving about A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, I told her it sounded like bullshit to me. I was dismissed, as usual, for being the negative, jaded, cynical Jerry everyone loves and hates. So when it was revealed that most of A Million Little Pieces is, in fact, bullshit, I got some satisfaction.

The reason A Million Little Pieces got so much attention initially is because of Oprah Winfrey. Oprah raved about the book, made it her book-of-the-month, and interviewed James Frey, becoming his biggest celebrity endorser. When it became apparent James Frey was full of shit, Oprah immediately defended him, calling the incident “much ado about nothing”.

A lot of people were upset with Oprah, including me, for defending a liar and playing down the importance of truth. But when I think about it, it is understanable. Oprah is human, and it's only human nature to want to defend something you've invested in so heavily. People do it all the time. Lord knows, I've done it. The important thing is that you take a step back, breath, and realize what the truth of the matter is. And that is waht Oprah did.

On yesterday's Oprah, she had James Frey on. She apologized to the audience for reflexively defending him and being duped and called him out for lying. She wasn't gentle either. It appeared that Frey thought he could "Aw, shucks" his way out of it and retain Oprah's good graces. Wasn't happening.

So what does this have to do with politics? Well, Frey's attempts to explain himself are know in Washinton as "spin". Another name for spin is bullshit.

Whenever there is news that makes the Bush Administration look bad, they simply re-focus attention off of that matter onto something else, usually "national security". The Administration gets caught illegally wiretapping citizens? BushCo just says, "no, it's legal" and the press accepts this as good enough. When evidence that it is indeed legal comes out, then it turns into, "we're trying to protect you from the terrorists". Oh yeah, the terrorists, forgot about them, do whatever you want, George. Like somehow you can't be for civil liberties and for fighting terrorism at the same time. Like it's simply fine that Quakers are being spied on. It's just ridiculous that our "leaders" are allowed to lie to our faces and never be held to account. In the words of David Cross: Are we a nation of six-year olds?

Maybe George needs to make an Oprah appearance. Maybe she's the one to call bullshit bullshit.


I Don’t Need Society

I probably could come up with a better title for this post, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to reference a DRI song.

I am pretty much a contrarian. If you tell me the sky is blue, I will argue that it’s not. If you tell me it’s not blue, I’ll argue that it is. So you’d think in a social setting I’d be Mr. Jerky Jerkface, but that’s not the case. See, I understand that, as George Costanza would say, “We’re living in a society!”. And since I understand that, I do not curse in public (private is an entirely different fucking matter), I hold doors open, I say please and thank you, I don’t send food back (unless it’s really “special”), I tip no matter what, and I try to crack a joke whenever possible. Basically, I overcompensate for the anti-social being I am by trying to be as polite as possible. Why? Because we’re living in a society.

So, it does sort of sadden me to watch as civility and empathy break down before my very eyes. Neither of these events is earth-shattering, but each made me cringe and wonder where the fuck we went wrong as a people.

Incident #1: Smart & Final

Okay, so I’m behind this middle-aged, upper middle class couple at the Smart & Final. Why would an upper middle class couple be shopping at Smart & Final, you ask? I have no idea, but they dropped a couple of hundred on some frou frou type shit. Okay, so they pay and leave. I step up to pay for my crap, and the woman comes back in, barges up to the cashier, and said something like, “I need to speak to your manager. A homeless man just begged me for change and he needs to be removed from your parking lot.” She calls a manager, he goes out there, I pay for my stuff and leave the store. As I’m walking towards my car, I see the manager walking the homeless guy to the edge of the parking lot. As I drive away, I see the homeless guy walking alone into the night. It was fucking heartbreaking. More than the fact that this guy had no money and no place to sleep, he had no one . What’s his story? Is he mentally ill? Where is his family? Has he been offered help? Has he refused help? However you look at it, it’s a sad situation.

Then I thought of the lady who complained and got angry. His struggling to survive was such an inconvenience in her life. Poor thing. Being asked for change. THE HORROR! I’m not saying I like being hit up for change by homeless people, but I say no (or, sometimes, yes), and guess what happens? They say God Bless and that’s the end of that. I’m sure it’s not great for business to have people begging for change, but is it really that big of a deal? Have we become so calloused that we can’t stand to have to interact with those who have nothing? I don’t care if it’s their own fault, mental illness, or just plain bad luck, show some fucking empathy.

Incident #2: Los Jarritos

Los Jarritos is a Mexican Restaurant here in Sacramento. You can eat like a king for under $5. For like $2.00 you can get a great burrito, and for $4 you can get a gut buster that even my fat ass has to make two meals out of. Their prices are so low, and the food is so good, that I often wonder how they stay in business. My last visit there, two things bothered me.

First, with your order, you get a free tray of chips. Cool. You simply help yourself to them. If you want more, there’s a jar to put a quarter in. They trust you to be honest. And most people are. I like that. You see where this is heading. At least three different people went back for more chips without paying. You are getting a ton of food at a great price and you can’t chip in a fucking quarter to help offset the cost? What the fuck is wrong with you people? Not you reading this, but the fuckheads in this story. You reading this, you are fantastic and honest and would never rip Los Jarritos off for a quarter. Nor would you make a scene when your $2.00 burrito isn’t as large as the $4 burrito. Yep that’s the other thing. This…..this…bitch (calm down, I was going to use the C word) starts yelling at the owner about how her burrito isn’t big enough. The burrito was plenty big, especially for $2.00. When the elderly owner of this mom and pop restaurant tried to make things right, she was met with, “just take the fucking thing and give me my money back.”

These may be two minor, isolated incidents in a wonderful, civil country. But I highly doubt it. I’m betting on things just going downhill, as the suburban rejects who beat a homeless man to death (they should get the death penalty, but they are white, so they won’t), and the scumbags who tried to kill someone at random, prove.

I knew I was cynical for a reason.


Alito and Abortion

Although the left has their panties in a bunch over the Supreme Court nomination, I’ve been pretty silent on the subject for a couple of reasons.

The first is that, while I find his views reprehensible, he is the nominee, so the Senate should grill him (which they didn’t do very well), then vote. Let the cards fall where they may. I actually do buy the Republican “up or down vote” (God, I hate that phrase) line, even though they are completely hypocritical about it (Harriet Myers, anyone?).

The second reason is that I think having an extremist court may be the best impetus for a national change of mood. It’s called overreach. Just like in Congress, where the people now get to see the result of handing the legislative branch to the Republicans is corruption on a massive scale, having the court tilt to the right will do much of the same thing. Can you imagine the uproar if the Court overturns Roe vs. Wade? Blue states will still allow abortions, and red states will prohibit them (they pretty much already are, passing regulatory rules aimed at abortion clinics, making them nearly impossible to operate). I’m a male in a blue state, so I can say this kind of thing without having to face the real life consequences. But I truly believe when the court overreaches on the issue, the backlash against Republicans will be felt for decades. While they may talk a good game, I have the feeling that most Republican strategists are aware of this, and are actually scared of the issue actually getting to the Supreme Court.

The Republicans are generally anti-abortion, and they control the Presidency, Congress, and will soon dominate the Supreme Court. So it’s time for them to put their money where their mouths are, and overturn Roe vs. Wade.

I fucking double dog dare them.


Fuck Bode Miller

Oh man, am I sick of this guy.

Bode Miller, if you don’t know, is the best skier in the U.S., if not the world. He’s been getting a lot of press because of the upcoming Olympics, and he is an absolute phony.

He’s not a phony on the slopes. In fact, he’s pretty amazing to watch. But off the slopes, he’s managed to fool the media with his "outsider" shtick. I’m not buying it. My bullshit detector went off right away after seeing him on 60 Minutes and then reading about four billion articles on him.

Here’s the basic story getting shoved down our throats: Bode is the son of hippies, who grew up without running water, he’s leery of money, which he says corrupts, he doesn’t care about fame, parties like a rock star, speaks his mind, and often skies hung-over, if not drunk.

Okay, Bode, here’s some suggestions. You don’t want the fame? Stop granting interviews to anyone with a pulse. You don’t want the money? Don’t take it. Or donate it to charity. You like to party? So do thousands of spoiled frat boys. You ski hung-over? So do thousands of spoiled frat boys. I mean, Christ, you did an interview for Maxim. Does anything scream frat boy more than that?

If Bode was a quiet, humble skier, there would be minimal press coverage. But create a fake, anti-fame, anti-money, semi-bad boy persona, and bada-bing bada-boom, here comes the fame and money.

Stealth marketing at its finest.

EDIT: So I go get my mail, and motherfucker is on the cover of Time. If dude hated exposure any more, he'd be president.


Letterman Is God

After my mom died in 1989, I was obviously going through a rough emotional time. Nothing was the same anymore, and my thoughts veered towards the morbid all the time. In addition to family and friends, one of the people who got my through all that, strangely enough, was David Letterman. No matter how shitty my day was, there Dave was every night, making me laugh with his sarcastic wit. I know a lot of people don't "get" Dave, but man, I sure did. Night after night, Dave sent me to bed in a good mood. This continued for over ten years, and through a lot more death and instability. But a couple of years ago, for unknown reasons, I stopped watching Letterman. Well, I think its about time I rekindle my affections for Dave.
If you haven't caught this already, last week one of Dave's guests was that lying windbag Bill O'Reilly. Instead of kissing O'Reilly's butt, Dave challenged him. The highlight of the exchange was Dave saying, "I have the feeling that about 60 percent of what you say is crap." Dave, that number is waaaaaaay too low, but I love you anyways. I look forward to renewing our relationship.

Watch the video.

Pussy To The Rescue

So, next time a mouse sets your house on fire, maybe your cat will save you.
COLUMBUS, Ohio - A man who fell out of his wheelchair says his cat apparently called 911 for help.

Police received a 911 call from Gary Rosheisen's apartment Thursday, but there was no one on the line. When they called back and got no answer, they decided to check things out.

In the apartment they found Tommy the cat lying by a telephone on the living room floor.

"I know it sounds kind of weird," Officer Patrick Daugherty said.

Rosheisen was unable to get up because of ministrokes that disrupt his balance and pain from osteoporosis. He also wasn't wearing his medical-alert necklace and couldn't reach a cord above his pillow that alerts paramedics that he needs help.

Rosheisen said he got the cat three years ago and tried to train him to call 911, unsure if the training ever stuck.

The phone in the living room is always on the floor, and there are 12 small buttons - including a speed dial for 911.

"He's my hero," Rosheisen said.


Karma Is A Bitch

Why you shouldn’t burn animals alive:
FORT SUMNER, N.M. – A mouse got its revenge against a homeowner who tried to dispose of it in a pile of burning leaves. The blazing creature ran back to the man’s house and set it on fire.

Luciano Mares, 81, of Fort Sumner said he caught the mouse inside his house and wanted to get rid of it.

“I had some leaves burning outside, so I threw it in the fire, and the mouse was on fire and ran back at the house,” Mares said from a motel room Saturday.
Village Fire Chief Juan Chavez said the burning mouse ran to just beneath a window, and the flames spread up from there and throughout the house.

No was hurt inside, but the home and everything in it was destroyed…

“I’ve seen numerous house fires,” village Fire Department Capt. Jim Lyssy said, “but nothing as unique as this one.”


Miners Vs. Murderers

Kinda weird, but there happen to be two huge stories involving men in comas. Who to focus my sympathy on?

Coma patient one is Randal McCloy, Jr. Mr. McCloy worked at the Sago mine, where 12 of his coworkers were killed after an explosion. McCloy survived, but is in an induced coma, and remains in critical condition.

Coma patient two is Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister of Israel. Sharon is also in an induced coma after suffering a stroke. I could go on and on about his accomplishments, but three words prevent me from thinking anything good about the man: Sabra and Shatila. In 1982, 800 people were massacred when Ariel Sharon, then Israeli Defense Minister, ordered Phalangist militiamen into the Sabra and Shatilla camps, where they, under Israeli supervision, carried out the massacre over two nights and a day.

I don't wish anyone ill, but I am fully capable of withholding sympathy.

Get well, Mr. McCloy.

Fuck Kazakhstan

One of my favorite shows is Da Ali G show. If you’re not familiar with it, basically it’s Sasha Baron Cohen playing characters, notably Ali G, a clueless British wannabe rapper, Bruno, a gay fashionista, and Borat, a guy from Kazakhstan who chronicles his travels in America. The schtick is that, posing as one of these characters, Cohen interviews various people, sometimes famous, who have no idea it’s all a big joke. As Borat, he has managed to get a country bar to sing his song “Throw The Jew Down the Well” , and usually he mocks Kazakhstan by saying things like “In Kazakhstan we have many hobbies: disco dancing, archery, rape and table tennis…” and “In America, women can vote but horse cannot! It is the other way around in my country.”

Well, the country of Kazakhstan doesn’t think Borat is all that funny, and have threatened to sue.
In November 2005, following Borat’s hosting of the MTV Europe Music Awards in Lisbon, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry voiced their concerns about the character. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yerzhan Ashykbayev told a news conference “We view Mr. Cohen’s behaviour at the MTV Europe Music Awards as utterly unacceptable, being a concoction of bad taste and ill manners which is completely incompatible with ethics and civilised behaviour”, concluding “We reserve the right to any legal action to prevent new pranks of the kind”.
They have also pulled the plug on Borat’s website, which used a .kz domain. At first I thought, "whoa, that's an overreaction", but as I though more I realized it is probably hard for a country as unknown as Kazakhstan to be mocked. It feeds into Western stereotypes, something I always hate. So while I think Borat is hilarious, I can also understand where the government is coming from.

Then I read some news on the “ethics and civilized behavior” of the Kazakh government.
The mysterious death over the weekend of an outspoken critic of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has prompted calls for an independent investigation, less than a month before the country’s upcoming presidential elections…

On Saturday, Zaman Nurkadilov, 61, a former Almaty mayor and government minister, was found shot dead three times in his home in what police have ruled as an alleged suicide.

“He had three bullets in him. Two in the left part of his chest or heart and one in his head – all of which went through,” Petr Svoik, deputy head of the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan opposition party said from Almaty. “I’m not a forensic expert, but this seems hardly like a suicide.”

Others were more direct, however. “Knowing Nurkadilov’s political position and his forthright manner to express his views, we cannot exclude that his murder was politically motivated,” the BBC quoted opposition leader Gulzhan Yergaliyeva as saying.

Nurkadilov had launched a public campaign against Nazarbayev, accusing him of authoritarianism and calling on him to step down. Working to establish a commission to investigate alleged corruption by Nazarbayev, in an interview with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWFPR) in April 2004, it was clear what drove him. “I will seek the president’s resignation and the announcement of a new presidential election,” he told the London-based group. Moreover, the former emergency situations minister claimed he had documents showing bribery and corruption involving the president.

Earlier this year, however, Nurkadilov, who had compared Nazarbayev to Romania’s ousted dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, was convicted of slandering the Kazakh leader after alleging he was responsible for the July 2004 death of an opposition journalist.
Maybe the Kazakh people don’t deserve be mocked, but their corrupt government sure as hell does. If Borat makes them uncomfortable and shines light on their corruption, that's fine by me.


Another Christopher Hitchens Rant

My chronicles of Christopher Hitchens’ self-delusion continue…

In yet another ridiculous Slate column we get this, to use Chris’ favorite term, piffle:
Then came the moment we all now yawn about, with millions of people waiting patiently and getting purple fingers, which has since been repeated twice, to the point where elections in Iraq—Iraq!—have come to seem routine, even banal.
Who thinks this? Answer: No one. Yes, believe it or not, even we anti-war crazies think elections are a good thing, and, oh my god, we actually believe the Iraqi people show great courage when they risk their lives to vote. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, and we can be anti-war and support elections, too.

You may yawn about the elections, Chris, but I still happen to think they are a big deal and, as fraudulent as they may be, one of the few bright spots in this mess. Don’t project your own boredom with elections onto others.

Hitchens then goes on to take on Noam Chomsky and his followers. I lean firmly to the left, and not even I take Chomsky seriously on most issues. Once again, Hitchens tries to make the extreme left wing position speak for run of the mill democrats. Maybe I should start putting Ann Coulter’s words in Hitchens’ mouth.

Then, after trying to convince himself that the idea that a new Iraqi government will be Shi’ite dominated isn’t a foregone conclusion (yeah, riiiight), he meanders into a discussion over whether elections preceding the formation of a viable civil society and democratic institutions can succeed. This is a subject that has been studied by academics for decades, and was the a key component of my bible during grad school . I have no idea what point Hitchens is trying to make regarding this. In trying to simplify one of the more complex issues in the political science, he cites a couple of examples which I guess he thinks buttress his position, if you can call Putin a good example.

He closes with the following jaw dropper:
The man who most often tried to rescue his domestic position by the resort to war—"to busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels," as the Bard has it—was, in our time, Saddam Hussein. Huge cemeteries and mass graves, in Iraq and Iran and Kuwait, testify to the horror of this enterprise.
Wait, wait, wait a second. Hitchens is arguing that domestic politics were behind his wars with Kuwait and Iran. That's simply rewriting history and hoping you don't notice. The Iran-Iraq War began, as many wars do, over a long running border feud between the two nations. You can argue that any border war, whether in Latin America or the Middle East has an element of domestic politics and national pride associated with it, but using it like this is misleading and irresponsible. Saddam may have had expansionist dreams, but he was not wagging the dog to deflect attention away from domestic problems. Any "giddy minds" were premptively snuffed out.

The invasion of Kuwait occurred due to a myriad of (misguided) factors. Among these: bitterness over debts owed to Kuwait, Saddam’s ever present goal of Pan-Arabism, border feuds (again), attempting to gain a lucrative port, accusations of Kuwait tapping into Iraqi oil fields, and a historical claim to Kuwait as part of Iraq. These reasons are by and large indefensible, and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was no doubt a mistake and justifiably opposed and repelled by most of the world. But that does not mean you can go back and change the circumstances by which it happened so it fits conveniently into your argument.

There is already an overload of intellectual dishonesty surrounding the war, and Christopher Hitchens, while doing his best to appear intellectually superior to those who disagree with him, adds to it on a weekly basis.

P.S. My Hitchens posts may be a thing of the past, as I've just now found a long running site, Hitchens Watch, dedictaed to debunking the "sinister piffle" Hitchens spews.

Can A Staight Person Be Heterophobic?

Because I think it's happening to me.

So, a guy decides to serve his country, so he joins the military.

The guy is gay.

Because of military regulations (and no thanks to Bill Clinton), the guy has to keep his sexuality secret.

One of the gay guys “friends” outs him at a party.

One of his fellow soldiers beats him up because he is gay, breaking his nose. He is also threatened with a knife.

The gay guy is discharged from the Army.

His attacker is not prosecuted.

This is your America.

Turkey Talk

Why is there still any talk at all of Turkey getting into the European Union?

Turkey continues to prosecute journalists, poets, academics, and writers who “insult the National Identity.” The most famous example is that of Orhan Pamuk, the internationally renowned Turkish author, who dared to write about the slaughter of a million Armenians (as well as thousands of Kurds) in the early 1900’s. Outsiders call it genocide. In Turkey, you cannot use that word; even Pamuk dares not do so.

Now, Turkey is going after a Dutch EU official for criticizing the Turkish military. Apparently Turkey’s history, past and present, is absolutely spotless, for if you even mention historical abuses of Armenians or Kurds, you are “insulting National Identity” and face legal prosecution.

There is mumbling that this sort of thing “hinders” Turkey’s quest for EU membership. What? Hinders? This should end it. Clear and simple. Freedom of speech should be a minimum for EU inclusion. Pamuk’s case being a “test” is an absolute farce. The fact that he is being prosecuted in the first place means that Turkey has failed its test.