The story that came out of Valdosta State University on April 17th is like a grab bag of what’s wrong in this country. If you weren’t paying attention, here’s the short version: a small protest group had set themselves up at VSU and, as part of their demonstration, had laid an American flag on the ground and were walking on it. Tipped off by a student, Air Force veteran and former Playboy model Michelle Manhart came onto the campus and, while arguing with the protestors, grabbed their flag and refused to give it back. Campus police were called, and they literally had to wrestle Manhart to the ground to get the flag (i.e., “the stolen property”) back, at which point they returned it to the protestors (i.e., “the rightful owners”). Manhart wasn’t charged, but she was banned from campus activities in the future.
Conservatives, of course, have rallied to Manhart’s side. Manhart, for her part, is unapologetic, citing the flag as a “symbol of freedom”, and saying that it “belongs to the whole country”. Expect protests and counter-protests to follow.
Read on to see my short and incomplete list of what’s wrong with this story:
If you don’t know history, the ship seemed like an odd duck.
The Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ships served from the 1960’s up into the 1990’s (I spent four-and-a-half years on the class’s namesake, the Iwo Jima). They were carriers for helicopters and the occasional VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) aircraft. They worked in recovering the Apollo capsules, including the ill-fated Apollo-13. They supported relief efforts and evacuations. Their primary purpose, though, was to transport and support US Marines.
Like a lot of the different classes of amphibious assault ships, the Iwo Jima-class ships were named exclusively after battles from Marine Corps history – Inchon, Saipan, Tripoli, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, etc. But one of them always stood out - LPH-11, the USS New Orleans.
Like I said, if you don’t know history, that seems out of place in that list. But it's not.
Read on . . .
“The difference between life and the movies is that a script has to make sense, and life doesn't.” - Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Did you ever catch Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
It was an Aaron Sorkin show, hitting the air right after The West Wing wrapped. Starring Matthew Perry and West Wing alumnus Bradley Whitford, it centered around a Saturday Night Live-esque sketch comedy show, and all the antics and anguish that went on behind the scenes, both with it and with the parent network.
It only lasted a single season – a unique flub for Sorkin – but I liked it. And it had a moment that I always found particularly chilling. Now, with the hullabaloo over the Seth Rogen flick The Interview and the embarrassing knuckling-under by Sony and various theater chains, that moment seems particularly relevant.
Read on . . .
This is what they do.
I was lurking through Free Republic, as I sometimes do. It’s a sometimes-painful, sometimes-humorous, sometimes-sad hobby that lets me see what’s being discussed (and what’s being ignored) by the Rightwing Fringe. Or at least, by that portion of it gullible enough to believe Jim Robinson when he tells them it takes eighty-five grand a quarter to run a glorified message board.
And today, I saw something that hits the painful-humorous-sad trifecta, at least for me. It's sad, and painfully grotesque, and it's even funny in a "you're so pathetic it makes me laugh" kind of way. The Freepers have found a funny (for them) way to answer the “I Can’t Breathe” movement that’s risen up in the aftermath of the Eric Garner failure of justice.
Read on . . .
"When I came back from Luang Prabang / I didn't have a thing where my balls used to hang / But I got a wooden medal and a fine harangue / Now I'm a fucking hero." – Dave Van Ronk, "Luang Prabang"
I am a veteran of a happy war.
My war started on August 2, 1990 when Iraq invaded the neighboring country of Kuwait – the culmination of a dispute over oil and territory at least partially fostered by competing agencies in the US government. A few weeks later, my ship – the USS Iwo Jima – set out as part of the buildup for what would be called Operation Desert Shield, and would later transit into Operation Desert Storm. We were one of the first amphibious assault ships sent. Two carrier battle groups – built around the Eisenhower and the Independence – preceded us, as did the battleship USS Wisconsin. Many others came after us.
And this Veteran’s Day, I think back on how I was treated during and immediately after that war, and it how it compares to veterans of wars before and after mine. . . and what that says about us all.
Read on . . .
Senator McConnell, good job. You meandered your way to a 17-point win over Allison Lundgren Grimes. Yes, she made some stupid missteps and had the all-too-often Democratic disease of being scared of her own Progressivism, but still, a win’s a win.
Senator-elect Perdue, kudos. You also pulled off a damn-near 17-point win over Michelle Nunn. Maybe it’s just a bad time to be a political legacy in Georgia (right, not-Governor Carter?), but you managed to overcome the negative image of your “Yay, outsourcing” persona and get yourself a seat at the big table.
And Governor Brownback, Holy Jesus on a Flaming Tricycle, I did not see that coming. Apparently sending your state’s economy spiraling down the drain isn’t enough to lose in Kansas. Or maybe you just have enough Kansans with that pure faith that Supply-Side economics is going to kick in any minute now, and make that $46 million shortfall go away.
I could be crying over the damage I know is coming. Oh, even if you do nothing, there’ll be damage, because we have real and urgent problems for which “doing nothing” is one of the worst things we can do (hint: Climate Change is not a hoax). I could mourn the flood of ghastly policy initiatives I know are coming at the state level, especially here in Florida (yes, congrats to you too, Governor Scott. Sorry, that one just took a little longer to cough up).
But I won’t. On this one day, I’ll be gentlemanly in loss, and choose not to dwell in negativity, and just say “Congratulations”.
Oh, and remind you of a few things you may not have thought of . . . .
Read on . . .
People in this country are panicking over Ebola. Every new case is a headline. Every new suspected case, no matter how flimsy the grounds for suspicion, is a lead story. We are collectively transfixed by the ever-changing tally of "Number of People Who May Possibly Have Been in the Presence of Someone with Ebola".
Yes, that's dismissive. Don't get me wrong - Ebola is a terrible disease - but rabies is going to kill six times as many people in Africa this year, even with this particularly virulent outbreak. And it's unlikely, in the extreme - even with our eviscerated public health infrastructure - that the disease will go much of anywhere in this country.
It's something to be afraid of, but it's something to be afraid of in the same sense of a lightning strike or getting stung by a lionfish at the beach. We've got bigger things to be worried about.
Read on . . .
"Failure is simply the non-presence of success. But a fiasco is a disaster of mythic proportions." - Orlando Bloom
Odds are, you will never see 1972’s The Day the Clown Cried
The film starred Jerry Lewis, who also directed, and was based on a script by Joan O’Brien and Charles Denton which had been kicking around for about a decade prior. By all accounts, the production was fraught with legal and financial troubles. The film was eventually finished by Lewis paying production costs out of his own pocket, with everyone involved almost immediately exploding in a flurry of accusations and lawsuits. Despite Lewis’ claims at the time - that it would be screened at Cannes before a US release - it has been securely locked away for over 50 years now.
It’s no secret why – the film is terrible. I don’t mean just badly acted, or poorly directed. I mean existentially terrible. The plot revolves around a has-been circus clown (played by Lewis) in 1930’s Germany who is sent to a prison camp for mocking Hitler and later entertains Jewish children, ultimately accompanying them to Auschwitz.
Jerry Lewis. Nazi death camps. Any questions?
Lewis hung onto a rough cut, Europa Studios kept the film negative, and various clips and rough copies have popped up, or been rumored to have popped up, over the years. But it will never, ever, be released, per Lewis and everyone who’s ever had legal control over it. Even for a movie industry that is never shy about putting out gigantic bombs and vanity projects (Battlefield Earth, Gigli, et al), this is something special - a true epic fail.
And that fascinates me.
Read on . . .
“If two stand shoulder to shoulder against the gods, / Happy together, the gods themselves are helpless / Against them while they stand so.” - Maxwell Anderson
Once upon a time, my home state had a one-drop rule.
A single documented black ancestor – “one drop” of black blood – defined you as non-white. The actual color of your skin was irrelevant. Whether or not a comb would pass freely through your hair (another test, used later to sort people into races) didn’t matter. If a single great-grandfather or great-grandmother was black, so were you.
There is a moment in the musical Show Boat, when a white man and his mixed-race wife are confronted by a sheriff out to charge the husband with miscegenation. The man pricks his wife’s finger, swallows a few drops of her blood, and evades arrest because he is no longer “white”, and thus their marriage is no longer a crime.
I always thought that was a sweet story – something beautiful in the midst of horror, a blossom on a battlefield. But as I think of it, and think of the Civil Rights struggle of our time, it reminds me of something important – the critics are right: gay marriages are not equal.
Read on . . .
“It's morally wrong to allow a sucker to keep his money.” - W. C. Fields
Sometimes I think about cashing in.
When you look at Tea Party rallies, Republican conventions, the various campaign events around the country, you see a lot of merchandise. T-shirts, hats, bumper stickers . . . maybe down to koozies and keychains, for all I know. Conservative blogs, radio shows and certain subscription-based TV channels pimp even more Conservaswag.
The Right Wing is an echo chamber, after all, and echo chambers thrive on message reinforcement. If you can slap a short, snappy quote that confirms their bias on something – anything – chances are they’ll buy it. And in the age of mail order and internet sales, they don’t necessarily know who they’re buying it from (note how many of their pro-American tchotchkes are actually Made In China).
So . . . why not me?
Read on . . .
"Reality leaves a lot to the imagination." - John Lennon
We have this concept we call “reality”. It’s a bit of a mushy idea.
Is a rock real? Of course it is, we say. It physically exists. You can touch it. You can trip over it. You can break things with it. What about a Mooglesnoot (the purple-footed ones, not the crested howlers)? Well, no, those aren’t real. They’re only in my imagination (and now yours).
Is an idea real? Is an emotion? Is a memory? We do use that phrase a lot in that context – your “real” opinion, your “real” feelings. They’re no more physical than the Mooglesnoot, and what existence they have is in the same place. So why is one real, and the other not?
Like I said, it’s a mushy idea.
Charles Forte, the great chronicler of weird, often talked about the vague and uncertain line between real and not-real, or accepted and not-accepted. There is nothing that is purely true, he would say, and nothing that is purely fiction – there is only truth-fiction. And maybe he was onto something there. Maybe “real” is something of a popularity contest, a decision we make - often by consensus - of what’s acceptable and what’s not, what’s credible and what’s implausible.
Let’s talk about some of those judgments, and how we make them. And let’s start with this: Are you sure that rock is real?
Read on . . .
"Distrust of authority should be the first civic duty." - Norman Douglas
I think about random stuff. Sometimes I wake up in the morning, and my mind wanders through a train of Eighties’ children shows, or the inventions of Nicola Tesla, or the evolution of fruit trees, or the different types of buskers. Sometimes, something particular sets it off – a commercial on the radio, or some casual reference in conversation. Other times it seems to just happen, with no conscious kickoff point.
The other day, for no particular reason, my brain took a right turn into social experiments. I rifled through memories of the different “What would you do” set-ups I’d seen - actors simulating racist encounters or domestic violence or a dozen other uncomfortable scenarios, just to see how (or if) onlookers will react. I thought about all the different studies I’d seen or read about, and what they revealed about us. And this line of thinking, inevitably, led me to the granddaddy of social experiments.
Read on . . .