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TV News of the Day

Good/bad news: HBO has ordered a fourth season of Treme, but a) it's only going to be five episodes long and b) after that, c'est finis. I'm grateful for any amount of this show with which they are willing to provide me, but why is it always the best stuff that ends up having to struggle for survival? I would have happily taken less of The Sopranos (nothing against that show, it just pales in comparison) if I could get a whole lot more Treme. A drama that can entertain, educate and enrich, simultaneously, as well as this program does, well, as I said in the note I wrote to HBO, producing and airing this series is practically a public service (if public service came in the form of parties with a lot of great food and music, that is). I hope (probably naively) that it becomes the example that other producers attempt to emulate, even in their own ways, because this shows what television can be. It shows what far more television should be. I watched the Season Three finale last night, and it literally made me high.

Completely unexpected good news: apparently, after what I thought was a definitive cancellation, AMC has ordered a third season of The Killing. Having already resigned myself to its absence, this is a veritable boon. Which I would probably be even more enthusiastic about if I hadn't learned about it on the same day that I learned about Treme. Although, along those same lines, the television landscape would be far richer if more networks were willing to gamble on the sort of crafted mood pieces that The Killing represents.

And now, this...

I never watched The West Wing, not for lack of interest but because it was one of those shows that I kept vowing I was going to catch up with one of these days and it just never happened. Having watched the first season of Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom, I now want more than ever to take a look at the man's earlier success.

The new show is, in theory anyway, an attempt to clunk together the heads of the two sides of the political divide and knock some sense back into them. The catch is that it's also about scrupulous honesty, and Sorkin's reputation as a famous Hollywood liberal aside, an honest portrayal of the current political situation would simply not be possible without acknowledging that, foibles of the one party notwithstanding, it is the other party that has abandoned reason en masse as if commanded to by God, which all too many will likely claim to have been in their autobiographies.

Jeff Daniels plays Will McAvoy, the head anchor for a fictional cable news network who has gotten a lot of shit over the years for playing it safe. One night Will finds himself on a panel in front of a college audience, trapped between a pair of pundits, one liberal, one conservative, who are ripping into each other while he maintains the "quiet dignity" of the "moderate." After a student asks the panel to name what makes America the greatest country on Earth, Will, pressed by the moderator to give a real answer and possibly under the influence of cold medicine (and possibly hallucinating his ex-girlfriend Mac (Emily Mortimer) in the audience egging him on), spews forth unexpected candor, excoriating those to both sides of him (literally and figuratively).

Garnering not altogether welcome or unwelcome attention from the incident, he ends up revamping his nightly news program, to the delight of his rabble-rousing boss, played with joyful profanity by Sam Waterston. (Waterston's presence, aside from always being a great bit of casting, also makes a lot of sense in this case. As an activist, Waterston was involved in Unity08, a group that advocated for a presidential ticket that was either non- or bi-partisan, in hopes of bridging the increasing ideological divide.) His new team includes the afore-mentioned Mac, very intelligent but flighty, as the new Executive Producer, new girl Maggie (Alison Pill), also very intelligent, also flighty, who got kicked up the ladder by circumstance, new guy Jim (John Gallagher, Jr.), who did warzone correspondence with Mac and is often the smartest guy in the room (with his own occasional moments of flight), McAvoy's arrogant old EP Don (Thomas Sadoski) who technically left to work on another show but can't help being pulled into the sturm surrounding the new program, tech guy Neal (Dev Patel), who writes Will's blog, since, as Mac says, Will can't find his blog, and financial wizard Sloane (Olivia Munn), whom Mac believes will help the audience understand economics better than many other analysts because those other analysts, "won't have your legs." (She certainly makes me want to pay better attention. After slogging through a stint on a lo-fi, wacky cable show about tech, the beyond-fetching Ms. Munn is proving herself to be one of the most interesting young actresses out there, with both this show and recent film roles. There's no denying it: I am smitten.)

One of the show's running jokes is that Sloane, despite her smarts and good looks, is utterly socially awkward, although you'd have an easier time finding a character on this show who isn't socially awkward in one way or another, made easier to take by the really excellent cast's rich stew of character. The assorted social storylines that drift through the politics can be either entertaining or distracting, depending on your temperament and/or mood, but they also lead Sorkin occasionally to have characters talk in His Girl Friday-speak that skews the realism a bit. This is actually something of a relief at times, but I'll leave the why for later.

Speaking of skewed realism, let's get back to that first speech. As befits a series opener, it is an attention-grabber, not least because it's one of those hyperarticulate, thoroughly reasoned moments of spontaneity that practically never happen in real life and that no one would ever be permitted to get away with if they did. (David E. Kelley is a master of this sort of thing, and I always attributed it to his background in law. Sorkin isn't a lawyer but does have quite a few in his family so maybe there is a connection.) It's also an out-of-the-gate attempt to cushion the show against accusations of outright political bias, since McAvoy, as previously noted, savages both pundits at the same time. The line that most sticks in my head is the one aimed at the liberal, which caps with the question, "If liberals are so smart, why do they always lose?" It's a great line and does its job, but I'm fairly certain that Sorkin, being pretty smart himself, knows the answer to it. Leftism asks people to think of themselves as a part of something larger, occasionally to put aside thoughts of pure personal gain to the benefit of the greater picture. Rightism - at least in its current big picture American incarnation; I know there was a time when this wasn't the case - has somehow concluded that a bunker mentality is the better option. Society doesn't really matter. Separate, but equal (well, separate anyway), Whatever's going wrong is always - repeat  always - somebody else's fault - an other, out there, pick one from the chart - and we'll continue to tell you that so long as you're on our team, but if you're not, not only is everything your fault, your life sucks because our loving God wants it to.

McAvoy goes on to lament the loss of common sense, civility and can-do in the nation. In basic terms, this viewpoint should not be able to be seen as right or left...and there's where the real tragedy lies. Because in this day and age, it is almost exclusively the left that's doing more than just paying lip service to the sort of things that McAvoy (who is a lifelong Republican, it's worth noting) talks about in the remainder of his rant: a willingness to celebrate the nation's successes while still accounting for its failures; the fight against poverty as a genuine social disease, not the poor as same; the detriment of a populace given a collective ulcer through constant fearmongering; the detriment of a press that got invited to the party, got drunk, and woke up finding it had been utterly compromised; the detriment of sneering at knowledge and learning to the point that truth, not subjective truth, which does, of course, exist, but actual demonstrable facts are treated as fungible; the shameful cockwalk we have done far too many times and over far too much of the globe; the perplexing feeling of looking back on what this nation has accomplished in the past and wondering why we don't seem able to do even half of that, and the distasteful fact that the stasis has of late been less a matter of people saying, "We can't do that," so much as, "We won't do that so long as that guy is in office, and boo-fucking-hoo to the consequences."

And I'm not trying to paint an absolutist picture here in regards to the ideological divide. Sorkin is right to take shots at liberals. We deserve it. (I would also argue that we're better equipped to take it, given the willingness of leftist entertainers to take shots at their own side, guaranteeing at the very least that we get to hear funny shots taken at us.) Both sides of the political divide are made up of people, which means both sides are subject to the same petty human foibles. Democrats lie, leftists obfuscate, liberals leave out convenient truths, etc. But, and I'm probably repeating myself, we're talking about the difference between isolated bad acts by random individuals versus an entire party that seems to have decided that reality is optional and truth means nothing just so long as your side wins.

And thus it is that, while Sorkin is sure to be accused of pandering to the left, they may be the ones he's most entertaining but they're not the ones he's trying to reach. Hell, he doesn't need to; they're the choir. No, his true intended are the sensible Republicans and conservatives the rest of us are hoping against hope are still out there. That's why the final episode of the season had McAvoy broadcasting about the Tea Party and how he would no doubt be characterized as a RINO by them, a charge he deftly returns in the season's final soliloquy, a flare sent up to the sane, trapped in a dead sea of gibbering lunacy, urging them to swim towards the open arms of common sense, if not necessarily of common mind, and to stop thinking they can continue to float indefinitely by clinging to a plank made of false equivalance. To recognize that there is a difference between progressives trying to bring more like-minded candidates into the Democratic Party so that people that truly represent them are there to work with the other side and the Tea Party trying to bring more like-minded candidates into the Republican Party so that people that truly represent them are there to refuse to work with the other side. Some may think I get some sort of pleasure out of saying that, but trust me, I don't. Not even a little.

Which is the reason The Newsroom's social subplots, silly as they can sometimes be, are occasionally a relief. The first season dealt with events of the recent past, some of which, like the election of the increasingly ridiculous 112th Congress, still represent fresh wounds. I would watch anything from the collective works of Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan and Katherine Heigl if it would momentarily distract me from the fact that people like Steve King, Joe Walsh, Michelle Bachmann and Allen West are making decisions that affect peoples' lives. But that historical proximity, assuming the show continues in this vein, has very interesting potential for Season Two. My original feeling about the upcoming election was that, if the tide must turn and we must have a GOP president, Romney might be the least objectionable of the bunch. Compared to the assorted levels of crazy and dangerous represented by the likes of Santorum, Gingrich, Cain, Perry and Bachmann, I'm still tempted to say that. But the man has proven himself to be even more of an opportunist, even more of a purveyor of reptilian unguent than we already knew he was, and such an unbelievable liar to boot, that that little bromide I gave myself has ceased to be effective. (He's still probably preferable to the others, but that's like being the restaurant with the fewest recorded fatalities on Botulism Row.)

That said, regardless of the outcome of the election (as I type this, it's today; Jesus...), presumably Season Two will deal with the run-up to it, which means addressing the startling amount of mendacity the Romney campaign has utilized. One wonders, will I watch it with a feeling of relief or anguish at what might have been? Will the social subplots continue to be a mixed distraction or will I be digging my nails into the seat cushion, waiting, nay, hoping, to see the latest way Sorkin can think up for Maggie and Jim to fail at becoming a couple? We'll find out soon enough.

Either way, I'm looking forward to the new season. More intelligence, more wit, and more Munn.
I can say, as a liberal and someone who respects the concept of the Olympics but doesn't have any particular personal stake in them, that Romney's words about the British preparedness for the big show don't really bother or offend me as such. Mind you, I don't have a problem if they end up turning people off of him - they were, after all, impolitic, tactless, unnecessary and generally unstatesmanlike, in other words thoroughly in keeping with his character, i.e. that of a man who really shouldn't be given too much power over anyone or anything.

But what really gets me is, why, on this occasion, when the specific purpose of his trip was to cast himself as a world class diplomat, does he suddenly decide to tell the unvarnished truth (as he sees it anyway)? He has spent the entirety of his campaign thus far traveling all over this country, lying like someone just told him that lies fall from the lips and turn into gold pieces, but give him an innocuous soundbite moment for an international affair that's all about everyone just getting along for a little while and he turns into your drunk uncle. In other words, in a situation where a little white lie was exactly what was called for, he vomits out his true feelings. But in the grander process into which he has placed himself, the integrity of which demands his honesty, he behaves like someone who would lie about the time of day.

Christ, I hope people are paying attention.

Tucker

The first time I took Tucker to the hospital, he ended up taking me with him, in a manner of speaking. I had taken plenty of cats to the vet before, but he was the largest I had ever tangled with and I was unprepared. Not too long before I finally managed to get him into the carrier, he sank his fangs deep into my arm.

As it turned out, I was also unprepared for the consequences of such an occurrence (spurred in part by the blase attitude towards my wound I received at the vet's but that's a separate issue). I merely tried to scrub it with as much disinfectant as possible, not realizing that a wound that deep required actual attention, a reality I was awoken to when the following day's visit to the ER resulted in my first-ever hospital stay, some of the strangest days of my life that I would be a fool not to spin into fiction at some point (another separate issue). Five days later I was out. Tucker returned home a couple of days after that, diagnosed and treated for a urinary tract problem that would continue to plague him.

For a long time I would tease him with this story in the way that pet owners do, pretending that their animals understand every word they say. I actually felt that it was something of a bond between us. Tucker may have felt otherwise. He was very wary around me even before the entire biting incident, which led to the speculation that he may have been abused (an all too common possibility with rescue cats) and by a man at that (an all too common possibility, full stop, I'm sorry to say). But while the skittishness never completely went away, things did progress. Gradually I began to understand that it was okay to approach him under certain circumstances but not under others, from certain angles but not others. The real breakthrough came when he began to approach me. I start most days sitting in a certain chair drinking juice and reading the paper or a book, and at some point he decided he was going to come up beside the chair and make noise until I paid attention to him, purring like the motor of a Harley when I did.

I've never known a cat with quite as unique a set of noises as Tucker. He had squawks he would let out that caused me to nickname him "Swamp Cat" for their wild, backwoods quality. He could converse like you wouldn't believe. If I imitated whatever sound he made, he would answer back in kind; we could keep that up for minutes at a time. Sometimes his outbursts literally sounded like he was saying "WOW!" as if having made a startling discovery. His spontaneity was something as well. In the midst of a quiet room, he would suddenly let out a bark as if making goddamn sure that his opinion was heard. What the subjects of these outbursts were I couldn't say, but he clearly felt quite strongly about them. Thinking back, I realize he hadn't done his talking thing for a little while. Perhaps I should have taken that as a sign.

His urinary problems necessitated him eating a special kind of food. It was apparent that he had grown somewhat bored with it, but there wasn't much that could be done about that. Not that he didn't try - he was always sneaking up to the other cats' dishes and trying to shove his face in, but I had to stop him as much as I could. After all, enough of that stuff could mess him up bad. (And possibly me in the process, if history tells us anything.) Thankfully, he always succumbed to common sense and returned to his own dish.

Until the day I noticed that he wasn't. Knowing that it's not good for cats to go without food for very long, I decided to let him eat whatever he wanted just to get protein into his system. When he sniffed the food he had just a few days before been so eager to pilfer and walked away, I knew something bad was up. I tried several different options to get him to eat and there even seemed to be a bit of hope when he would nibble a little here and there (along with the fact that, speaking as someone who has seen a lot of sick cats, he exhibited many signs of *not* being sick), but the hoped-for progress didn't materialize. Inevitably we wound up at the vet.

At first they were thinking infection, but blood tests soon told a different story: feline leukemia. They told me that his current woes weren't necessarily due to that, and that if he did also have an infection that cleared up with anti-biotics, we might be able to manage his condition. I took him home and began giving him his medicine. Needless to say, he was...resistant. By the end of the first day I had several new wounds on my hands, which I washed and rubbed with Neosporin like a new recruit to the OCD brigade. It was a testament to how far we had come that, after hiding for a while after these medicinal sessions, he would come out and come over to me, wanting attention as if nothing had happened.

When I brought him back for a follow-up a few days later, the vet was more than blunt: the medicine didn't seem to be doing anything, he still wasn't eating, and in her opinion every course of treatment available would likely bear little fruit. I was prepared to consider whatever we could do to make him better, but she gave it to me straight: the blood tests indicated to her that the disease was already attacking his marrow. All of our options would put him through a lot of bad, bad stuff and likely wouldn't make much of a difference, if any at all. She told me that even though he might not seem terribly sick, he was, and truth be told his behavior did indicate a steady decline. She advised putting him down as soon as possible since his not eating would mean an immediate feeding tube would have to be inserted down his throat. I considered the possibility of taking him home for another day, but the idea of putting him back in a safe haven only to have to rip him out of it again so soon afterward just made me feel sick. They were prepared to go there and then and I decided it was for the best. They let me spend some time with him alone. He put his chin down on my hand. I joked with him about his having put me in the hospital one last time and thanked him for the time we had together.

I will be forever grateful that we managed to get so much closer over those seven years, that he gave me a sign that he understood how much he was loved, and for all the times I got him to say "WOW!"

RIP, my sweet friend.

What You Say?

"Ten years from now we're going to be sorry we're doing this [but] it has to be done."- Quote attributed to anonymous CIA officer from recently released report on agency abuse of detainees.

I know many on the left are upset with Obama's progress and I don't blame them, for the most part, but I have to say, while I expected something like this to come out eventually, I had no idea it would be so soon. And again, I know some expected it to surface on Day Two, but, let's face it, that was never going to happen. This is certainly one place where conservatives should outright plotz over the idea of bureaucracy and red tape, because it contributes so much more time for gassing up the getaway car and getting the stories straight.

But I'm not here to talk about that; I'm more interested in briefly examining that quote. People often like to brush aside semantics, but you can sometimes tell just as much from the way someone says something as you can from what they say. While the above is, coming from a person who operated under the aegis of the Boy King, a remarkably honest statement, notice that it's still a dodge. It's still very much in keeping with the neo-con philosophy.

A true admission might have gone, "Our reasons are just and our motives are pure, but the truth is that what we are doing is illegal and morally unsound." "Unsound." You like that? How's that for a big old benefit of the doubt? (Along with all the rest of it for that matter.) And yet the placing of the self-stroking before the confessional does actually matter. Because the other way, he's basically letting himself off the hook. Not much more than assuaging his own conscience. This was (is) the neo-con language. English has no subjunctive; Neo-Con has no admissive. Or perhaps what we are witnessing here is the extremely rare "soft admissive." A confessionary tense that somehow still ends up asking you to kiss the speaker's ass.

One day I'd like to see one of these people - one of the big dogs would be great, but I may have a better chance of seeing a UFO - come out and admit the monstrous nature of what took place. Couch in it terms of how unbelievably awful some of the people you were pursuing were - that part is true after all - but do us all a favor and put that part first. Let us all know that you now realize that becoming those people you hated so much was a bad idea. A bad, bad idea.

But I have a feeling that's where the really long wait kicks in.

Poison Smiles

I belong to a few small online forums, and one in particular is particularly small. It doesn't even have a theme per se; just a number of people who met at another forum and eventually gravitated to a smaller place. Two things are relevant to the rest of this: 1) we do talk about politics and we are all fairly liberal and 2) to keep the place free we are subjected to adbots, meaning that the pages upon which we talk politics get political ads.

Regrettably, the adbots are tone deaf and subsequently quite a few of the ads we get skew conservative. (I've never taken the time to calculate a ratio, but if I had to guess, I'd say we get more rightist ads than lefitst, although that may just be my own awareness of the biases of our corporatized culture talking.) It's annoying, but generally tolerable. After all, it's not as if I didn't already know that divergent views were out there. But today I saw one that really pushed my buttons because I cannot for the life of me fathom how anyone could be be happy to be represented by such a thing.

The thing starts out by announcing that New York State is on the verge of legalizing same-sex marriage (I still can't believe Iowa beat us to it, but, I tip my hat to them nonetheless). It then fades to the next screen, which basically says, "Is that what you want?" and then urges people to contact their state senators. Now, described as such, it's not especially egregious (you know, apart from the inherent bigotry). What  really pisses me off is the accompanying graphics on the second screen. We see a man and woman and their young son with their heads all scrunched together and smiling fit to split their skulls.

The implication is more than clear. "Oh, just look at how ponies-butterflies-and-rainbows happy we are! Daddy's raise at the cotton candy factory just came through, which means we can finally afford that vacation to Elfworld where we will tip all of the waiters with eskimo kisses!" (Storm clouds would now appear above.) "Oh, but how shall we relax on our vacation when we know that there are yucky people out there who are actually considering treating the homos as if they were human beings! Well, that would just make us so sad! All the flowers would wilt and the fountains would dry up and the kitties and puppies and bunnies would get the runs!!"

Admittedly, I wax hyperbolic, but with good reason. I am a pacifistic man, but this shit makes me want to punch someone. How in the fuck could anyone think it a noble thing to suggest that your happiness is contingent on someone else being demeaned? I have yet to hear an argument against marriage equality that doesn't crumble under scrutiny, but this one comes to us pre-crumbled. There is simply no sense or decency in the suggestion that people you don't know being granted rights you yourself believe to be an essential part of life will somehow impact your own enjoyment of those rights. Even, once again, putting aside the repugnant bigotry of it all, why would someone wish to cheapen something they hold so dear by insisting that the fabric of it is so delicate it can be shredded by others justly enjoying it as well. Marriage is not a pool that everyone has to swim in. That's kind of the point. It's two loving individuals building a pool of their own.

I actually began writing this before the California Supreme Court's extremely disappointing decision to uphold Proposition 8, but that decision made the post just that much more relevant. Those of us who value justice and equality may have cause to be angry at this decision, but we can get some comfort in knowing that, as with most progressive causes, time is on our side. With each successive generation, the prejudices of the past become less and less prevelant and subsequently less and less relevant. And we move closer and closer to the day when someone who would use a picture of domestic happiness as a means to deny the same to someone else will be too ashamed to even try.

Porous Was She



While channel-surfing the other day, I happened across an episode of Spongebob Squarepants. I hadn’t seen the show for a while and as I was watching it, an amusing memory surfaced.

 

I used to work in a video store. This was before the DVD revolution, so we trafficked mostly in tapes. After several years behind the counter, I was promoted to assistant to the owner, which was a blessing as it minimized my exposure to the clientele, leaving them primarily for the younger employees to deal with. And owing to certain factors, the demeanor of said clientele undoubtedly being one of them, we had a relatively frequent turnaround in counter staff during my tenure. Some of them came from a pretty well-known acting school around the corner – in fact, speaking of Nickelodeon, one of them went on to host a very popular show for pre-schoolers – and some of them came from the neighborhood. Lizz was one of the latter.

 

Most of the people who worked there over the years were, at the very least, nice. We did have some bumps in the road, including a guy who it turned out was slowly spiriting tapes out of the store for his private collection and who only returned a small portion of them when he was caught (the loss of Blood Freak hit me particularly hard) and a guy whose standard argument whenever there was a disagreement about the quality of a film was that he had a different (read: better) perspective because he had been to film school; not an invalid position, but also not an inviolable trump card either, especially coming from a guy who’d probably never even seen Blood Freak. But Lizz was something special. A whipsmart, creative, quite beautiful punk rock chick, she was pretty much what I would have custom-ordered in a fellow employee, if such a thing were possible. Actually, fuck ‘fellow employee,’ she was pretty much what I’ve always looked for in a girlfriend, and if there hadn’t been a significant enough age difference between us to kind of matter, I might have explored that possibility.

 

(Side note. They did screw up my order in one way: she was, improbably enough, a Republican. This was actually the second time in my life I felt affection for a punk rock chick only to find out she swung to the right, though this one was slightly easier to take, as the first one had been a bona-fidey love situation. Interestingly, both instances also resolved themselves the same way. In each case, it turned out that the impressionable young woman had basically been aping her parents’ beliefs, and a little independent thought eventually sent her 180-ing towards good old humanistic liberalism. But I digress.)

 

Having Lizz around the store made the place a lot easier to take, and even fun at times. Case in point: her decision one day to cast the assorted employees as characters from Spongebob. Two of her choices were remarkably a propos. The store subbing for the Krusty Krab, the owner would be Mr. Krabs, and, boy, did our boss live up to his, shall we say, rigid pecuniary attitude. Similarly, one of the other clerks had both the dour disposition and shiny be-stubbled pate of Squidward. To be fair, he wasn’t actually a miserable person at all, but when he was in complaining mode, the resemblance became far greater. Never more so than when Lizz informed him of her casting choice.

 

Lizz herself would take the title role, and the thought of her in that outfit was both hilarious and disconcertingly sexy. But as this reminiscence washed over me, I realized that I couldn’t remember which role I was supposed to occupy. I thought maybe Patrick – not the most becoming assignation given the limited brainpower of Spongebob’s starfish friend – but that didn’t seem right. The smallest and most evil of Bikini Bottom’s residents, Plankton, could have been fun, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t it either.

 

And then I remembered that she had given me a part of particularly high prestige indeed. She wanted me to be Gary, Spongebob’s pet snail. I believe she even justified it by saying that Gary tends not to say too much, but is actually the smartest one in the room, a flattering if undeserved comparison. Now while I would have gladly worn a shell on my back if it meant I could have sat in Lizz’s lap while she tickled my eyestalks, the truth of her choice probably lay within the fact that, even though she was in high school and I was pushing 30, she seemed to connect with me more than with anyone else in the store. Despite Gary’s comparatively infrequent appearances, it was a matter of the significance of the part overshadowing its size, which took a small joke meant to kill a little time during a dreary routine and turned it into a genuine moment, a pleasure both to experience and remember.

 

And so, Lizz, from Warped Memory Lane to wherever you are now, I hope you are happy, prosperous and well, and I say with all sincerity:

 

“Meow!”

Two Left Fate

 

New York Aberrant, March 14, 2009

 

While some may disdain the increase in public security cameras (and let’s not even get into the worldwide amateur film festival that has resulted from all the cell phones out there), what society at large has lost from the sense of constant scrutiny has been a gain for us here at the Aberrant in as much as we are now sometimes able to back up our stories of hiccupping reality with actual video evidence. [And I can already hear the Underwoods being fired up for letters in defense of the purely anecdotal. -Ed.]

            Case in point: the whimsical near-fate of baked goods deliveryman Victor Dueñas. A native New Yorker, Dueñas has been schlepping bread and assorted pastries for Brooklyn’s Dough Remy Bakery for decades. He feels completely at home behind the wheel of his truck and is made to feel likewise in the various stops around his route. It’s the in-between that preyed on his mind. Or rather two very specific parts of the in-between: fire escape ladders and metal basement doors in the sidewalk.

            “It’s kinda dumb, and I wish I could say it comes from something in my childhood or something, but the truth is I don’t really know when these fears started. I vaguely remember that the fire escape thing kinda started as a notion – you know, something that just occurred to me – that just stuck, and then I couldn’t be close to one without thinking about it.”

            Dueñas, 46, is a thin-haired man with a small pencil mustache. Physically, he’s of fair size, much of it muscle, but even those well-equipped to deal with the city’s human dangers are still prone to certain universal factors, such as gravity. And along the way, Dueñas found that he couldn’t pass underneath a fire escape ladder without worrying that it was going to fall suddenly and crack open his skull. Similarly, he found that passing over a metal basement door in the sidewalk also suffused him with the fear that it was going to open up beneath him, sending him plunging down metal steps or onto a concrete floor covered in the kind of grime that makes the sidewalks seem positively lickable, not that he’d care since his neck would be broken.

            “It can be embarrassing,” he continues. “I mean, it’s not usually that difficult to avoid walking over one or under the other, but it does happen that it becomes unavoidable – these streets can get crowded, y’know – and if someone sees you making special pains to walk around them, well, it can lead to uncomfortable questions. Especially since I knew – or thought I knew – that it was largely irrational.”

            So uncomfortable did it make him that he vowed to overcome both fears, and with a little personal strength (and a little therapy) he was successful. Which makes what happened this past Tuesday all the more ironic.

            “I’m in Murray Hill, making a delivery at one of my regular stops, a Korean deli. I’ve dropped off the shipment and I’m walking out just as these two young ladies are about to walk in. So I step to the side to get outta their way. Suddenly I hear a, I don’t know, a kind of a cracking sound above me. I look up. The goddamn ladder- ‘scuse me, the ladder from the fire escape is falling right towards my head. Now everything seems to be in slow motion, although it actually happened so fast, I didn’t even have a chance to react. My brain is screaming run, but before I can even move, I realize that the ladder is falling, but it’s not getting any closer. And that’s when I notice the strange feeling beneath my feet, which, it turns out, is because there ain’t nothing there!”

            Yes, indeed, both of Mr. Dueñas’s bygone fears came true at once. The ladder above him fell and the door to the basement of the deli, upon which he had unwittingly stepped, opened, simultaneously. And the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, since the fall into the basement, where he landed on some soft bags of garbage, prevented the ladder from cleaving his brainbox in twain. He emerged from the basement somewhat slimy, but unhurt.

            “My ma, God bless her, thinks it’s a miracle. The funny thing is, having successfully put those fears behind me in the past, I’m disinclined to think of it as anything more than wild coincidence and dumb luck.”

            And in other dumb luck news, one of the security cameras inside the deli managed to capture the entire incident through the window, lending credence to what might otherwise be dismissed as shag of the dog. Aside from Mr. Dueñas’s disappearing act, additional entertainment can be had in the reaction of the two girls for whom he stepped aside, as the startled reaction of one sends the other careening through the door and into a stand of individual-sized snack packets. Footage available exclusively at the Aberrant website for those in search of a glorious example of random order or just a good cheap laugh.

 



Note: The Aberrant is, for the nonce, a fictional newspaper. No such publication exists. Yet.

Just a Little Light

Note bene: Despite the spate of recent entries, this was never intended to be a political blog, not exclusively anyway, but it was intended to be updated far more regularly than it has been. I have no problem writing about politics when that’s what’s on my mind (and will prove as much in a minute), but I’m also going to try to be a bit more varied, especially as I have some new ideas, along with some old ones only scantily utilized, that I hope will turn into regular features, most of which will definitely be on the lighter side.

And now…

The Fox show 24 has recently started its seventh season, and once again the world it inhabits has been plunged into a chaotic frenzy. The producers have always managed to finesse at least a little bit of real world relevance into their fictional plots, creating a kind of parallel universe to our own (not a bad time to mention that they got the first black president into office at least seven years before we were able to, and they’ve just checked off the first female president column as well) and this time it’s based around the idea of genocidal militias in a made-up African nation.

I have been a fan of this show since its inception. Even in the lesser seasons, and skirting around the stupider plot diversions, it consistently delivers some crackling espionage action, and that’s coming from someone who isn’t a particular fan of either spy stories or action movies, although that’s not even the biggest reason why I’m a somewhat unlikely adherent.

For those unaware, the show has come under fire on numerous occasions, particularly in the liberal blogosphere and from human rights groups (the latter of which shouldn’t be exclusively liberal, but it seems to work out that way) for its persistent depiction of torture as an effective tactic. To read a really terrific article about the entire subject, go here. (And I would add how satisfying it is that the case for the negative effects of such things is actually unintentionally bolstered by some of the comments of those who would deny it. Question: How do you discredit a conservative? Answer: Turn on his microphone.)

But the truth is, the show is not, as might be concluded from the torture issue, a platform for conservative philosophies. Crackling espionage action or not, I simply couldn't have stomached it this long if it were. As is mentioned in the article, one of the creator/producers is a diehard rightist (friends with the High Priest of Gas and Nazi Barbie, and he’s in good company given some of the shit that comes out of his mouth), but the writing staff is, overall, quite mixed politically. And while they do tend to stack the deck in regards to the US being the good guys (not an entirely unrealistic thing, it should be said), they haven’t been afraid to show that the mere act of sitting in the Oval Office does not suffuse you with righteousness, nor have they shied away from characters debating the wisdom of ever-troublesome interventionism and the possible motives behind same.

Nor, for that matter, have they ignored the torture issue, though the debate generally ends the same way: with the exact sort of ticking clock scenario experts tell us never happens in real life forcing whoever had a problem with it to realize the error of their ways and consent to the sort of tactics experts tell us don’t really work.

This new season even opens with the main character, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), appearing before a Senate Committee to answer questions about the tactics he has regularly employed. This seemed at first to be a beneficial byproduct of conversations the producers and the show’s star have had with human rights groups, particularly regarding the fact that soldiers in the field have used the same tactics they’ve seen on the show, to the consternation of their superiors. Unfortunately, and I’m a little behind in the episodes so I can’t say whether this part of the story has been further addressed at all, the hearing consists mainly of Bauer telling off the committee members and basically saying ‘non, je ne regrette rien’ (pardon my traitorous French) while the ghost of John Philip Sousa conducts some stirring patriotic music behind him. This was not, I would imagine, what a certain subsection of the audience was hoping to see, although who knows what the future may bring? Famed liberal mouthpiece and comedienne Janeane Garafalo is in the cast this time around and Human Rights Watch aired an ad during the season premiere, both of which are testament to the fact that the show’s politics are not as cut and dried as they may seem and may even be indicative of something else. I guess we’ll see.

But the truth is, the main reason I sat down and started typing this in the first place is because of a moment from hour two of this season. Jack has been swept out of the Senate hearing to assist the FBI in a matter the details of which will already be known to those who watch the show and won’t matter to those who don’t. Some of the Feds working on the case are not too crazy having him around owing to his dangerous reputation, but he endures their barely-veiled hostility. Ordered to sit inside a car and be quiet at one point, the agent watching over him turns and expresses belief that it’s wrong that Bauer has been forced before the Senate. After all, this is a man who has saved the nation at least six times (available at a DVD retailer near you). Jack looks out of the window wistfully and responds:

“It’s better that everything comes out in the open. We’ve done so many secret things over the years in the name of protecting this country, we’ve created two worlds. Ours, and the people we’ve promised to protect. They deserve to know the truth. Then they can decide how far they want to let us go.”

And so, for that one moment at least, all questions of ideological agenda become irrelevant. You can choose to decide how the public really would react if put in charge of that decision (and, of course, results may vary, for any number of reasons), but the simple fact remains that, with that statement, Jack Bauer was more honest about the fact that things such as torture, secret prisons, extraordinary rendition and the like do affect the conscience of the nation at large than the Bush administration, or indeed any of the administrations that preceded it, have ever been.

As to the one that follows it, well, we’re off to a good start. Again, I guess we’ll see.

Out of Season


Once again, the holidays are gone with but a few fumes remaining. Soon, everything will go back to "normal." Which puts me in mind of the most trenchant thing I read this season. It was in an e-mail from one of the far-too-many activist lists I'm on. I wish I could remember which group it was because it really put the skeeball right in the center hole.

The author, by way of season's greetings, mentioned how funny it was being an anti-war, pro-peace activist at this time of year and hearing "Peace on Earth" coming out of everyone's mouth. Out of the mouths of those who, throughout the rest of the year, can't be bothered to do anything in the name of genuine peace, who seem generally unconcerned that our nation is waging war in one country and occupying another, something that should occupy all of us whether we approve of the actions or not. Even more difficult to stomach is the thought of "Peace on Earth" coming out of the mouths of those who otherwise spend their time thwarting peace at every turn. I have no doubt that the White House puts on a stunning Christmas display, or that the current occupants are the least qualifed to speak about the holiday's ostensible message.

Why, it should be asked, did so many people laugh when Dennis Kucinich suggested that this nation needs a Department of Peace just as much if not more than we need a Department of War? Isn't peace something we want? Isn't it something to be desired? Isn't it, indeed, the ultimate objective behind war?

Even most of the hawks would say yes to that; they may or may not mean it, but they'd likely say it, because what are they going to do? Admit that they really work in service of a dangerously entrenched industry that happily profits off of human misery? Admit that in their circle, perpetual war isn't only acceptable, it's desirable? You would think that those who have seen combat would know better than anyone else that it may sometimes be a necessary thing, but can't possibly be considered a good thing.

Ah, but then, most of the hawks in the current administration never saw any combat, did they? Yes, that could explain it. 'It' being the ability to act as if peace were merely a word to be trotted out at the traditional time, and then discarded again as easily as if it were embroidered on a pillow. Not to get too Charlie Brown Christmas on you, but what if people lived their lives as if peace were something important all year long? Important enough to be a major concern of our government. Important enough to warrant its own department. Is that really such a joke? Is it really that funny?

Happy New Year.