Saturday, February 28, 2009

Mulholland What?

Editor's note: This is another old one, but I like it, so I'm reposting it.


I recently watched a rather interesting movie. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit, even though it was directed by—ugh!—David Lynch. The movie was Mulholland Drive, starring Naomi Watts and another woman whose name I cannot currently remember. The movie is weird, even for Lynch, but it was still pretty good. I’ll give you the basic rundown.

Above: David Lynch

The first thing you should know is that Mulholland Drive is split along the middle into two marginally connected, yet at the same time totally separate, movies: Movie A, and Movie B. Got that? Okay.

Movie A is about Betty (Naomi Watts, whose name, unfortunately, can be rearranged to spell, "a woman's tit"—this will become oddly appropriate as the movie goes on), a young and impossibly naïve blonde aspiring actress who comes to LA hoping to be a movie star. Her aunt, an old Hollywood player, is letting her use her (the aunt’s) apartment while she (the aunt) is out of town. Okay.

Betty gets to the apartment, looks around. The apartment is spacious and tastefully appointed and very nice, and there is a naked brunette (the other woman) hiding in the shower. The naked brunette has been struck by a car (she thinks) and has amnesia (she thinks). Betty asks for her name, and the brunette, seeing a poster for an old Rita Hayworth picture on the wall, answers, “Rita.” All Rita has to her name is a purse full of hundred-dollar bills and an odd, blue key. She doesn’t know where the money or the key came from. Got it? Good. All right. Betty lets Rita stay at the apartment with her. Rita eventually shares with Betty that she can’t remember who she is. Betty decides to help Rita remember, and asks her if anything rings a bell. Rita is pretty sure she was in an accident. Like a hit-and-run, maybe.

“Where?” Betty asks.

“I think it was Mulholland Drive,” Rita replies.

“Mulholland Drive?”

“Mulholland Drive.”

"Rita, let’s go there tomorrow and see if you remember anything.”

“To Mulholland Drive?”

“Yes. Mulholland Drive.”

Having thus hammered the title into our skulls like an icy spike, Lynch continues with the “plot.”

Having said that, I just want to reiterate that I really do like this movie.

Above: Naomi Watts and What's-her-name

Oh, by the way, within Movie A are several submovies, which are again only marginally connected to Movies A or B. The submovies are as follows: Movie A(1), about a Hollywood director (Justin Thireaux, whose name can be rearranged to spell, "just rest in a ruthix," which means absolutely nothing) who is being pressured by the mob to cast a particular actress in a particular part; Movie A(2), about an inept hitman, and Movie A(3), which actually occurs earlier in Movie A (within the first ten minutes) than either A(1) or A(2) but which I place last because it appears to have absolutely no connection at all to this movie, or, indeed, any movie ever made. Or, for that matter, any piece of drama, music, performance or visual art, or indeed anything made by human hands at any time in the history of mankind. Movie A(3) is about a guy who walks down an alley and is suddenly frightened into a fatal heart attack when a troll jumps around a corner and surprises him. Apparently this sort of thing happens a lot in the Valley, and Lynch just threw it in for a touch of realism.

Okay, back to Movie A. Betty and Rita go to Mulholland Drive. They find out that there was an accident there. (“Yes, Rita. There was an accident on Mulholland Drive!” “Mulholland Drive?” “Mulholland Drive.”) Then they go to Denny’s. Rita suddenly remembers a name. I can’t remember the name she remembers. Let’s say it was “Shirley.”

(Actually, it was “Diane.” I watched the movie again yesterday and am just too lazy to go back and replace the subsequent “Shirleys” with “Dianes.” Therefore, I will be calling this character Diane sometimes, and Shirley at other times, depending solely upon my whim. Try to bear with me, and keep in mind, this is exactly how Lynch directs a movie anyway. And probably, exactly how he eats a pie, puts on his socks, golfs, and has sex with his wife. After seeing a couple of Lynch films, I can’t believe the guy lives anything like a normal life.)

Above: This sort of thing would seem pedestrian in a Lynch film.

Anyway, they track down Shirley’s address. Or Diane’s. When no one answers their ring, they crawl in through a window. They find Shirley. Diane has been shot through the head and is curled on the bed, looking sort of sunken and decayed. Rita screams.

They leave.

They go back home. Rita takes a shower and feels much better. She’s about to go to the couch to sleep, but Betty insists that there is plenty of room in the king-size bed, and sleeping on the couch is just silly.

Everyone in the audience sees exactly where this is going.

Rita gets into bed with Betty, dropping her towel in the process and treating the audience to a dandy full-frontal shot. The two talk for about thirty seconds, then have hot topless lesbian sex. Fade out.

At this point, the audience rewinds the tape a time or two, or fifteen as it turned out, to review the last scene again. In order to make sure that no clues were missed.

On with the movie.

At three in the morning, Rita wakes up after speaking Spanish in her sleep and asks Betty to come with her to a place she just remembered. The audience would rather they had hot topless lesbian sex again, but unfortunately Betty agrees to go out. They go to a place called “Club Silencio,” where a guy who looks like Satan stands on stage and talks about how everything the audience hears in this particular club is taped, and the “singers” and “musicians” are just pantomiming song or the playing of musical instruments. Why anyone should find this conceit “original” or “artistic” is never adequately explained, but that is to be expected in a Shirley Lynch film, since Diane Lynch’s films are themselves never adequately explained. Then a woman sings a truly beautiful Spanish-language version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying.” Or seems to, since halfway through the last chorus she passes out and is dragged off by stagehands while the song continues uninterrupted over the loudspeakers.

Oh, yes. Rita and Betty are still here. Let’s get back to them.

Rita and Betty find a small, solid-blue cube on an empty seat in the club. It has what appears to be a keyhole in it, so it cannot be merely a Rubick’s Cube for retarded children.

They take the box home and try to open it with Rita’s blue key. It opens. Rita is about to ask Betty something, when she notices that Betty has, inexplicably, disappeared. Rita looks into the open cube and is apparently sucked into it. She disappears as well. End of Movie A.

(I’d just like to pause here to say that I admire Mr. Lynch for introducing into his movie a box that chows on lesbians. This reversal of traditional roles has a nice poetic weight to it, and I think it added a lot to the film. Not as much as the hot topless lesbian sex, but a lot.)

Beginning of Movie B: Betty wakes up, only she’s alone, she’s not in her aunt’s apartment anymore, and she’s not Betty. She is, in fact, Shirley, although markedly less decomposed than when we saw her last. As Diane, the blonde woman is no longer sweet and naïve. In fact, she’s sort of skanky and spaced-out. She seems to be on heroin or something of that nature.

Anyway, she’s drinking tea at her kitchen sink when she turns around and sees Rita. Only it’s no longer Rita. It’s now Camilla. “You came back,” says Shirley, and smiles.

They have hot topless lesbian sex.

However, it goes markedly less well than it did back when they were Betty and Rita. Camilla, in fact, calls a halt in the middle of the act, informing Duane that they cannot keep doing this. Shirley objects strenuously, blaming Camilla’s sudden lack of hot lesbianism on “him,” as in: “It’s him, isn’t it?” Camilla expresses regret that Diane is mad, then leaves.

Above: A hot lesbian

Soon, we find out that the mysterious “him” is the director from Movie A(1). Camilla, it seems, is a movie star in his latest picture, and they seem to be infatuated with each other. Camilla ends up leaving Shelly for the director, which makes Dionne so crazed with anger that she masturbates while sobbing and then hires a hit man to kill Camilla. This is, we recognize, the classic Kubler-Ross progression of grief at the end of a relationship: masturbation while sobbing, hiring a hit man, acceptance.

Above: All part of the grieving process

Shirley meets the hit man (the guy from Movie A(2), of course) at a coffee shop and gives her Camilla’s photograph and a purse full of hundred-dollar bills (remember those?). The hit man hands Diane a blue key (remember that?). “What does this open?” Shirley asks. The hit man responds only with quasi-evil chuckling.

The attack is carried out. Diane is overcome with remorse. Then two tiny old people crawl through the crack under her front door and begin walking down the hall toward her, arms outstretched, grinning cheerful, vacant, really freaky insane old people grins. Shirley screams in terror and retreats toward her bedroom, the tiny old people in hot, if slightly arthritic, pursuit. The tiny old people, it should be pointed out, at this point grow into regular full-sized old people. They’re still really freaky, though.

Above: Fear them

Diane backpedals into her bedroom, trips, falls onto the bed, and claws for her nightstand. From the drawer she extracts a revolver, and, instead of using it on the once-tiny-but-now-regular-sized old people, as any rational person would do when confronted by size-shifting geriatric intruders, Shirley blows her own head off.

Then there is a nice little musical montage in which we see Diane’s smiling face (or Betty’s) in various scenes from earlier in the film. End of movie.

So, I liked it.

But I don’t get it.

I thought maybe that Movie B was actually what happened before Movie A, that the hit on Camilla was botched, and that the now-amnesiac Camilla was subconsciously attracted to Betty because Betty reminded her of Diane, to whom she (Camilla) had been thoughtless and cruel, but had actually cared for. Now, as Rita, Camilla is cured of her movie-star-sleeps-her-way-to-the-top ambition, and tries to love purely, only to be eaten by a Rubick’s Cube for retards. This, of course, is already so archetypical it borders on cliché.

Another guy here says that Movie A is all just a dream that Shirley is having; that the hit on Camilla was successful and that Diane is just so consumed with guilt that she constructs a fantasy life in which they can meet again. Only in this fantasy life, Shirley is pure, undefiled, and talented, instead of a skanky ho. But ultimately, the dream cannot be sustained, so the box eats her and forces her back to reality, just in time to be killed by shape-shifting old people.

There. I used “reality” and “shape-shifting old people” in the same sentence.

Both sound plausible to me. What do you think?

That’s pretty much my take on Mulholland Drive. Let me reiterate, though, that although this movie can be charitably described as “fucked up,” I actually really enjoyed it. And that’s no small praise coming from me when I’m talking about a David Lynch film. Mulholland Drive gets in your brain and sticks there, and although it seems to defy critical analysis and any widely accepted idea of “plot,” there can be no denying that it has one thing that makes it superior to most commercial films today:

Hot topless lesbian sex.

Monday, November 24, 2008


I speak to you today as a humbled man. A man who had experienced a crippling addiction and thought he'd beaten it. A man who took an unwarranted pride in his triumph over compulsion – a pride that, as pride so often does, came before a fall. I have had a relapse, and now I find myself questioning everything I thought I knew about my character. Yes, it's true – I spent the entire weekend watching old episodes of Star Trek.

Above: Who I thought I was

Above: Who I actually am

One caveat before I continue: Despite my shame over my crippling Star Trek addiction, I believe William Shatner to be the pinnacle of human evolution, and I make no apologies for that. When humanity, after untold millennia of striving, finally attains perfection, humanity will look something like this:

Above: Awesomeness

So all you Shatner haters out there can just step off. The Shat is the shit, and I will injure anyone who says otherwise. The dude is hysterically funny and deeply poignant in his current starring role on Boston Legal, and he has a great sense of humor about his own image. And of course, he gave one towering performance in which he perfectly summed up the hopeless, existential angst that is the lot of all mankind:

So hands off Shatner, bitches.

Still, I find my sudden relapse into Trekkiedom very troubling. It all started with my discovery of Fancast, a Web site that allows you to watch full television episodes on your computer. I was browsing their selection and seriously considering getting reacquainted with the excellent 80s private-eye series Spenser: For Hire when my eyes wandered on down the list and … what? All 79 episodes? In any order I want to watch them?!? Damn you, alphabet, for placing Spenser and Star Trek on the same list! Suddenly I found myself longing for the whimsy of "The Trouble With Tribbles". The heart-wrenching selflessness of Kirk's sacrifice in "City on the Edge of Forever". The thinly veiled homoeroticism of his struggle with the Gorn in "Arena".

Above: "I love you!" "It'll never work!"

I don't know what was more disturbing to me: The fact that I could remember, by looking at an episode title, the plot of said episode; or that I still knew what a Gorn was. Either way, I was fucked.

Above: This guy only appeared
in two episodes, and
I still
know who he is! I suck!

The proper thing to do at this juncture would have been to turn off my laptop, close it, take it down to the beach, and throw it into the sea to avoid temptation. Instead, I scrolled down to the pilot episode, "Where No Man Has Gone Before" … and hit play. Ten hours later, I remembered to eat something.

Above: "He's a douche, Jim."

I spent Sunday in pretty much the same way, and I'll probably do the same tonight. My friends are considering an intervention, but I think, with enough willpower and humility, I can beat this on my own. I've done it before, and as God is my witness, I'll do it again.

Of course, the new movie comes out next year.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Bonds, James Bonds

Well, the new Bond film, Quantum of Solace, hit theaters over the weekend. While not as good as the excellent Casino Royale, it's still a perfectly serviceable Bond flick – and an excuse, as are all Bond flicks, to rate the various actors who have portrayed 007. Here's my list, starting with the best:

1. Bond, James Bond
Sean Connery and Daniel Craig (tie)

I know a lot of traditionalists would dearly love to crucify me for raising anybody up to the level of St. Sean, but I have my reasons. I’ll get to those below. First, let’s talk about something that isn’t controversial: Why Connery is such a kick-ass Bond.

Connery (Bond in Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, Never Say Never Again [unofficial])

Connery automatically has points added for being the first guy to play Bond (excluding Barry Nelson in a 1954 TV version of Casino Royale). He also starred in the movies made before the franchise started getting stupid (Dr. No through Thunderball).

Above: Awesomeness

But the real reason Connery stands head and shoulders above Bonds Two through Five is the combination of suave sophistication and cold-bloodedness he brought to the character. Connery’s Bond was an original, and – with one notable exception – the subsequent Bond actors haven’t really been playing Bond; they’ve been playing Sean Connery playing Bond.

Greatest liability: Scottish accent made him comically mispronounce the word Pussy.

Greatest asset: But he still got a lot of it.

Craig (Bond in Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace)

The notable exception mentioned above, of course, is Daniel Craig. His is the first Bond, as far as I can see, who owes nothing to Connery’s performance. If anything, Craig’s Bond owes more to Ian Fleming’s literary spy. Fleming liked to describe Bond as “a blunt instrument” wielded by a dispassionate government agency. His Bond was an unrepentant killer – and of the various Bonds, only Craig has embodied that aspect of the character.

Above: One cold bastard

Raymond Chandler’s seminal private eye Philip Marlowe once described a particular gangster as someone who would “beat my teeth in and then kick me in the stomach for mumbling.” That’s Craig’s Bond in a nutshell – a blue-collar thug, only slightly camouflaged by a veneer of sophistication, whose antisocial impulses have been legitimized by his work. Forget shooting the villain, straightening his tie and delivering a droll one-liner – this Bond is a desperate savage, beating people to death with his bare hands and then drinking a tumbler of Scotch to quell his trembling. And yet Craig gives Bond more than that; in his hands, 007 has a legitimate emotional core. Previous Bonds, including (sorry, folks) Sean Connery, have basically been cartoons of suave virility. Craig’s Bond is a terribly wounded man, a disappointed romantic who operates from a core of corrupted idealism and deep-seated self-loathing. In that, his 007 is a true original.

And it doesn’t hurt that he kicks major ass.

Greatest liability: Tiny hooded eyes.

Greatest asset: Those eyes radiate an utter lack of concern about whether you, he or anyone else lives or dies.

2. Bond, Same Bond
George Lazenby (Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)

I know what you’re thinking, punk. You’re thinking, “Why would this fucktard put a one-shot like Lazenby right below Sean Connery and Daniel Craig?” Two things. First, I resent being called a fucktard, and I demand you take it back right away. Second, George Lazenby may have been a one-shot, but he made his one shot count, in what is perhaps the finest Bond picture of them all. While Lazenby’s principal contribution to the series was to try to be as much like Sean Connery as possible, he did something else, too: he gave Bond a heart.

Above: Sensitivity

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was really the last faithful adaptation of a Fleming novel until Casino Royale. Both the book and movie give Bond an emotional depth that had not been seen previously – nor would it be seen again until, you guessed it, Casino Royale. Lazenby had the considerable acting challenge of making an unrepentant cocksman fall believably in love – not in lust, but in actual love – and you know what, folks? He pulled it off. Of course, it probably helped that the script required him to fall in love with Diana Rigg. For those aren’t familiar with her work in this film or television’s The Avengers, Diana Rigg is the finest Bond Girl ever. This is not an opinion. It is cold, solid fact, and I will brook no dissent.

Above: Diana Rigg.
Seriously, Diana fucking

At any rate, Lazenby not only has to fall in love with Rigg (not hard), he has to save her from the villain (harder), propose (even harder for a playa), marry her (really hard), and get widowed (FUCK!) – all in the course of one movie. That’s a hell of an emotional arc, and Lazenby, despite his Connery-clone performance, pulls it off with great aplomb.

Greatest liability: He’s not Sean Connery.

Greatest asset: He gets to nail Emma Peel.

3. Bond, Tame Bond
Pierce Brosnan (Bond in Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough, and Die Another Day)

In the world of Bond-dom, there are magnetic, earthy Bonds like Connery, brutal Bonds like Craig, vulnerable Bonds like Lazenby, and … um … protein-based Bonds like Brosnan.

Don’t get me wrong. Brosnan did a fine job and made some … well, okay, two decent 007 flicks; Goldeneye, his Bond premiere, was an entertaining action romp, and The World is Not Enough actually approaches classic Bond status, Denise Richards notwithstanding. It’s just that Brosnan – so engaging in his other work – is, as Bond, just sort of … there. I mean, he has a lot going for him: He’s smooth. He’s suave. He actually looks like what you get when you call Central Casting and say, “Send me down a guy who looks like James Bond.”

Above: I'm adequate!

But Brosnan, who is absolutely brilliant in post-Bond fare like The Matador and Seraphim Falls, falls victim to the 007 trap: playing the part as so smooth that Bond ceases to resemble an actual human. He did a sustained Cary Grant impression in Goldeneye, and by the time Die Another Day rolled around, he was doing a startlingly good impression of I Honestly Don’t Give A Fuck As Long As The Check Clears.

On a side note, the Brosnan Bond pictures gave us Dame Judi Dench as M. Some purists may prefer the original M, Bernard Lee. They are, without exception, asshats. Judi Dench rocks, and I will physically assault anyone who claims otherwise.

Greatest liability: The fucking invisible car.

Greatest asset: Judi Dench kicks major ass.

4. Bond, Game Bond
Timothy Dalton (Bond in The Living Daylights and License to Kill)

Timothy Dalton has the advantage of being, as indicated by the heading, very game to try a different direction with Bond. He was trying to get Bond back to basics after the debacle that was the Roger Moore Period (or, as it is known among Bondophiles, the Time of Darkness), and for the first two-thirds of The Living Daylights, he was succeeding admirably. In fact, if not for the utter godawful stupidity of License to Kill … Wait. You know what? That movie is so bad that it actually needs a new word to describe its badness. So I’m going to make one up. Craptaculatude. Okay, where was I? Ah, yes: In fact, if not for the utter godawful craptaculatude of License to Kill, I’d probably rank Dalton above Brosnan. As it was, License to Kill nearly killed the whole franchise; since 1962, there has been a new Bond film every one to three years ... except after License to Kill, a movie so bad it took an astonishing six years for the public to recover to the point that it could accept Goldeneye. And that's a shame, because the movie also killed a pretty damn good Bond.

Above: Wasted potential

Dalton’s Bond was a refreshing return to the earthy cold-bloodedness of Connery, a blast of cool air after the shit-furnace of stupid contrivance that characterized the Moore years. He was a serious, all-business Bond who didn’t have time for fucking around with witty banter. Had he not been sabotaged by the festival of dipshitiosity that was License to Kill, he probably would have had two or three more Bond pics in him. As it stands, Timothy Dalton’s Bond is basically a wistful exercise in “what might have been.”

Greatest liability: License to Kill is like watching a 96-minute assisted suicide.

Greatest asset: Kick-ass A-Ha theme for The Living Daylights.

5. Bond, Lame Bond
Roger Moore (Bond in Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, and A View to a Kill)

To those who believe Roger Moore was the best Bond (and they are out there), let me say: Fuck you. No, seriously. Fuck you.

With a staggering seven films to his Bond résumé, Moore, unfortunately, holds the record for most 007 outings – unless Connery’s unofficial and unfortunate Never Say Never Again is counted, in which case they’re tied. Never Say Never Again was an off-brand Bond, basically a remake of Thunderball by a different studio, and it sucked pretty hard. Still, I’m going to count it just so Moore won’t have the edge on St. Sean.

Yes, Moore has seven Bond films to his credit. Of those seven, one (For Your Eyes Only) is actually a superior spy film, but fully three (Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me, A View to a Kill) feature theme songs that are far better than the movies themselves. The remaining three just suck all around.

Above: Fuck you, man. Just fuck you.

Moore’s Bond suffered from lousy, jokey scripts that favored bad puns and stupid slapstick over action. In previous years, other films had tried to imitate the Bond pictures. Now Bond consciously aped other films. Moore’s films featured chases between Bond and a lowbrow Southern sheriff, an obvious nod to the CB-and-trucker craze epitomized by movies like Smokey and the Bandit. After the success of Star Wars, Ian Fleming’s novel about nuclear missiles, Moonraker, was retooled into an idiot space opera. The franchise missed no opportunity to degrade itself. Case in point: The Man with the Golden Gun (widely considered to be the worst Bond film ever), in which an admittedly incredible stunt – a car jump featuring a midair corkscrew twist – is accompanied by a slide-whistle sound effect! A fucking slide-whistle!

And unlike Dalton, a serious Bond trapped in a sub-par movie, Moore aided and abetted the degradation. His read of the character was that Bond was more a lover than a fighter. His Bond was a guy who would much rather sit around sipping Cognac and making boner jokes than, I don’t know, actually go out and save the damn world. You always got the impression that Moore’s 007 felt that spying was an unwelcome interruption from his actual job, which was apparently being a douchebag of the first water.

Greatest liability: He was not smothered at birth.

Greatest asset: Now too old to ever, ever make another Bond film.

So there you have it. I realize that anyone who ranks the various Bonds is bound to generate controversy among 007 aficionados, and I welcome dissenting opinions. Except about Roger Moore. What a douche.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


This is wonderful.

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Whole World is Watching

“Those bastards! Those goddamn bastards! I wanna kill every fucking last one of ‘em!”

David Dellinger was having a Vietnam flashback, which was odd considering David Dellinger was a peace activist who never served in Vietnam. The real Dellinger, that is. In the seemingly cursed community theater production of The Chicago Conspiracy Trial to which I had unfortunately attached myself, however, Dellinger was being portrayed by an ultra-right-wing Vietnam vet known only as “the Sergeant Major.” Although he had gamely put his politics aside to portray a man he had openly loathed during the 1969 trial of the Chicago Seven, the Sergeant Major’s ire had been aroused by the sight of a North Vietnamese Liberation Front flag draped across the defense table. His timing was bad; our first performance was in half an hour.

Now the Sergeant Major was pacing the theater’s parking lot in high dudgeon. “Goddamn it! Do you know what those motherfuckers did to us? Goddamn it! Why don’t you burn that thing? Goddamn it! Those fucking hippies were just communist sympathizers!” he growled. After a pause, he added, “Goddamn it!”

Occasionally, the Sergeant Major got in the way of our hippy protestor and they had to do a shuffle-step dance around each other. Kate, the director, had wanted ten or fifteen hippies to picket the theater before performances. We got one, a fourteen-year-old kid who was at least game. Dressed in a tie-died vest and a wig that made him look more like the lead singer of a Whitesnake tribute band than a war protestor, he marched up and down the sidewalk chanting, “The whole world is watching! Free the Chicago Seven! The whole world is watching!”

The Sergeant Major, meanwhile, was still swearing copiously about the Vietnamese flag. “The flag was in the script, Sergeant Major,” I protested. “You’ve known about this since the beginning of rehearsals.”

“I thought it was just going to be a little paper flag!” he said. “Goddamn it!” He continued pacing, pausing occasionally at the front steps to give the handrail a violent shake while screaming incoherently.

“Bobby Seal’s not coming,” said a voice behind me. I turned and saw Kate, perhaps at an even higher level of dudgeon than the Sergeant Major.

“What?” I said.

“He’s got a funeral in Miami. He can’t make it.”

“Jesus, how many people connected to him are gonna die?”

“The real question is, why is he just now calling about it?” Kate said.

“What are we going to do?”

“I’ll read the part.”

“You’re kidding,” I said.

“What other choice do we have?” Kate took a deep breath and went back inside.

I foresaw problems. The historical Bobby Seal had been a thirtyish Black Panther at the time of the trial. Kate was a fifty-year-old, redheaded white woman. I groaned inwardly at the thought of delivering my lines as defense attorney William Kunstler that night. “Your Honor, he is a free, independent black man!” In my mind, the audience laughed and laughed. In the parking lot, the Sergeant Major yelled “Goddamn it!” at a seventy-year-old woman walking a Chihuahua. Her eyes widened and she shuffled past the theater as rapidly as she was able. The Sergeant Major stepped into the sidewalk and glared at her retreating form, thrusting his arms skyward and shrieking, “Goddamn Cong!”


I didn’t even want to be here. I had long had forebodings about this play, starting when we had to reduce the Chicago Seven to the Chicago Four after three hippies just quit showing up at rehearsals. My paranoia deepened when Kate’s dog and Bobby Seal’s wife had both died on the same day that our Tom Hayden’s grandfather had been hospitalized for a four-and-a-half hour Viagra erection. At the time, I had decided to ignore these portents, since the events could not possibly have been linked, and although Kate’s dog and Bobby Seal’s wife remained dead, Tom Hayden’s grandpa’s erection had eventually subsided.

But I could no longer kid myself. Our David Dellinger was currently back in Saigon and our Bobby Seal was now being portrayed by a white woman. I tried to take cheer from the fact that Shelley, a woman with whom I had been cautiously flirting over the past several weeks, had called earlier to say she wanted to meet me after the play to give me my “birthday present.” The prospect of a final payoff to our cautious mating dance should have brightened my outlook considerably; she was coming over to my place, a beach house with a view of the Atlantic sure to seal any romantic deal. Instead, the thought of post-performance nookie merely brought me back around to our doomed play. Like Tom Hayden’s grandpa’s penis, I knew the entire production was destined to collapse.


The first act was a disaster, of course. The witnesses didn’t come out on cue, the lights didn’t come up on time, and the judge, inexplicably, delivered several lines that were not, technically, his. Technically, they were the hippies’ lines. While a simple mistake like saying a hippy’s “Yes” or “No” might have gone unnoticed, it was hard to countenance the judge suddenly yelling, “May the record show that the prosecutor is a Nazi!” And I didn’t think the Chicago Four were coming across as sympathetic to the predominantly Republican audience. That problem was compounded when the U.S. Marshals forgot they were supposed to assault the hippies, so, after an awkward pause, the hippies began assaulting the U.S. Marshals. The act ended with all participants covered in shame and one of the marshals covered in contusions and at least two mild puncture wounds.

During intermission I stood outside the building, by a side door where actors tended to congregate to escape the cramped backstage. “This is absolute bullshit,” I growled.

“I know,” one of the prosecuting attorneys said.

The other prosecutor tried to be cheerful. It was a heartbreaking attempt, like watching a mother try to tell her son that there’s a doggy heaven. “Well, we’ve only got one more act to go,” she said. “Things could be worse.”

It was at this point that the side door by which I stood opened suddenly and forcefully into my face. I flew backward, caromed off the wall and slid to the ground, half-dazed. I looked up and saw the judge staring down at me with an expression of guilty horror.

“My God, are you all right?” he asked.

“Grraoooruuggh…” I replied.


“I said I’m fine.” I staggered to my feet, fighting off a wave of nausea. “How much time do we have?”

“Two minutes.”

The kindest thing that can be said about the second act is that the theater did not actually burn down during it. Two twenty-something hipster douches in the audience, who whispered and text-messaged throughout the act, exacerbated our problems onstage. As the lights finally went down, I knew a little piece of me had died that night.

I changed out of costume in a hurry, eager to slip out of the theater before the audience could spot me and the recriminations could begin. On my way out, I saw the one of the hipster text-message douches talking to our assistant prosecutor.

“I usually have to look hard to find a way to make fun of your plays,” the hipster douche said. “But this time it’s really easy!”

“I am really furious right now, and I’m looking for someone to punch,” I growled at him as I walked past. “Don’t give me an excuse to make it you.”

The hipster douche’s eyes widened and he staggered back a step. After the fashion of his people, he was about five-six and weighed maybe a buck-ten, so perhaps my threat was mean-spirited. Well, perhaps I didn’t give a fuck.

My mood slowly lifted as I drove home. The worst was over, and at least Shelley would be over tonight. As I pulled into the driveway, I gave her a call to let her know the play was over. Her voicemail picked up, so I left a message and went inside to await her arrival.

A few minutes later I got a text. “This is Shelley’s husband,” it read. “U need 2 back off.”

Shelley’s husband, I thought. Well, that’s information I could have used before now. I went to the refrigerator and got a beer and went out to my porch. I pulled the tab and toasted the empty Atlantic.

“The whole world is watching,” I said.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Politics of Personal Destruction

So the McCain camp is really gonna go there – they're going to accuse Barack Obama of "palling around with terrorists," as Sarah Palin put it at a rally over the weekend. Palin is, of course, referring to Obama's tenuous link to William Ayers, a founding member of the radical antiwar Weather Underground group, which bombed the Pentagon in the 1960s. Now, no one in his right mind would dispute that the Weather Underground was a terrorist organization, and Bill Ayers was definitely a member. However, it took the media less than 24 hours to debunk Palin's intimation that Obama and Ayers were intimately connected. In fact, the very article she cited to accuse Obama had concluded that the two "were not particularly intimate."

Above: William Ayers

The truth is that Obama and Ayers, now a college professor, were both socially active in Chicago in the 1980s and 1990s. During the 90s, they served together on a couple of the same charity boards. They had a nodding acquaintance with each other. Ayers held a 1995 fundraiser for Obama's campaign – of his own volition – and contributed $200 to Obama's presidential bid. That's it. Believe it or not, conservatives, Obama had nothing to do with the Weather Underground's bombing spree. He was all of 8 years old at the time.

The fact is that local politics is a small world, and if two people are politically and socially active, they are going to serve on a few of the same boards. That's it. Doesn't mean you're pals. Doesn't mean you support the philosophy of everyone else on the board. To suggest it does is asinine. Obama has publicly stated that Ayers' radical activities were despicable – far more than John McCain has done with one of his radical acquaintances (more on that in a minute).

McCain is playing a dangerous game here. Look, the phrase "Obama is palling around with terrorists" is inflammatory, and it is racially tinged. That is the stone-cold truth, and only an idiot would deny it. It is a phrase designed to subconsciously appeal to those who are still convinced Obama is a closet Muslim (false), who are secretly terrified that this uppity Negro might actually get elected. And appealing to people like that is dangerous. Why? Because it incites hatred. Not disagreement with policy or politics, but personal hatred. And if, God forbid, some redneck cracker takes a shot at Obama, successful or not, John McCain and Sarah Palin are going to be partially to blame.

At any rate, since Old Man Winter and Bible Spice decided to go with the "Obama's connections are suspect" line, they have legitimized attacks on their own personal histories. Here are a few to get you started. Note that I have only named primary sources for these. In a few instances, I did use secondary sources; however, all such sources were reputable news agencies. That means no chain e-mails, no liberal partisan blogs like ThinkProgress or DailyKos, no campaign web pages from either side. Only recognized news organizations such as the Associated Press. I know McCain says the media is in the tank for Obama. McCain is an idiot. He can have his own opinion of the media, but he is not entitled to his own facts. The public record, from which these stories are drawn, does not have a liberal or conservative bias. Contrary to what Fox News would tell you, there are very rarely two sides to a story. There is one side: objective fact. The following are objective facts about John McCain and Sarah Palin:

1: I'll see your "Mild acquaintance with a former terrorist" and raise you "Continuing friendship with a certified nutcase":

John McCain continues to enjoy close ties to Watergate felon G. Gordon Liddy. In fact, McCain has repeatedly appeared on Liddy's conservative talk radio show, the last time in November of 2007. On that show, McCain praised Liddy for his "continued success and adherence to the principles and philosophies that keep our nation great."

The "principals" Liddy holds so dear are the ones that told him it would be okay to break into the offices of the DNC to plant bugs and photograph documents. He also proposed the kidnapping of antiwar activists so they couldn't disrupt the 1972 Republican convention. Oh, yeah, and he planned the murder (thankfully never carried out) of an anti-Nixon newspaper columnist. Liddy spent more than four years in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal, but continues to insist that he did nothing wrong. In fact, he has said repeatedly that he was jailed as "a prisoner of war."

Above: A raving lunatic

Following the 1994 federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, Liddy publicly advocated the murder of federal law enforcement agents. "Now if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes to disarm you and they are bearing arms, resist them with arms," he told his listeners. "Go for a head shot; they're going to be wearing bulletproof vests. ... Kill the sons of bitches." After a public outcry, Liddy backed off: he said he should have recommended groin shots instead of head shots. He also bragged that he had targets named "Bill" and Hillary" for pistol practice.

McCain made a big deal over a $200 contribution William Ayers made to the Obama campaign. He doesn't make such a big deal out of the fact that Liddy has donated more than $5,000 to him over the years – including a $1,000 contribution in this election cycle alone. And unlike Obama, who never had anything more than a casual acquaintance with Ayers, McCain has had a long, warm relationship with Liddy – one that can be proven through the record.
"With friends like these…" – Chicago Tribune, May 4, 2008

2: Why does Sarah Palin hate America?

Over the years, Sarah Palin has actively courted the Alaska Independence Party, a radical secessionist group whose founder, Joe Vogler, told an interviewer in 1991: "The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government. ... And I won't be buried under their damn flag." While Palin herself does not seem to have been a member, her husband, Todd, was registered as a member of the AIP from 1995 through 2002, changing his party only when Palin decided to run for public office. Palin has continued to be friendly with the party, however. Witnesses say she attended the AIP's 1994 convention, and it is beyond dispute that she attended the 2000 convention, and actually addressed the convention (by video) in 2006 and 2008.

Above: Sarah Palin

At the 2007 North American Secessionist Convention, AIP Vice Chairman Dexter Clark described Palin as an "AIP member before she got the job as a mayor of a small town – that was a nonpartisan job. But you get along to go along. She eventually joined the Republican Party, where she had all kinds of problems with their ethics…" Apparently so, since she's currently accused of violating a bunch of them.

Palin was apparently still impressed with the AIP as recently as this year; she told the party in her 2008 address: "I'm delighted to welcome you to the 2008 Alaska Independence Party Convention. ... Keep up the good work!" To which I'm sure she added: "Doggone it!" So here we have a woman of obviously limited intelligence, currently embroiled in an ethics investigation – an investigation, by the way, which she has actively tried to cripple – whose secessionist husband has been referred to as a "shadow governor" (because he sits in on meetings and apparently makes decisions), and who as recently as this year told a violently secessionist group that they do "good work." Told them in her capacity as governor of the state! Great job on the VP pick, there, John.
"Palin's secession flirtation" – Los Angeles Times, Sept. 4, 2008


And now, here's some stuff that's not quite as scary, but still illustrative of the fundamental dishonesty of these two running as "reformers" or "political outsiders."

3: Let it ride:

McCain had close ties to both Las Vegas and Indian gambling interests, and reportedly would go on weekend "betting marathons" in Vegas as often as once a month.

Above: John McCain's first
Vegas weekend

As Indian gaming became politically unpopular, McCain distanced himself from Indian gaming interests, leading the charge against disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. However, a member of McCain's "inner circle" – his chief political strategist at the time – was paid $100,000 over four months to act as a "consultant" for one of the tribes caught up in the scandal. McCain has stopped taking money from Indian gaming interests – but he still accepts money from the lobbyists who represent them.
"For McCain and Team, a Host of Ties to Gambling" – New York Times, Sept. 27, 2008

4: Palin charges taxpayers for sleeping in her own bed, then dodges her taxes

As governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin charged the state a per diem to sleep at her own house rather than in the state capital of Juneau. The payments averaged $890 per month over and above her salary as governor. She also failed to report those per diems, or travel reimbursements, on her income tax. The McCain campaign insists this was not taxable income. The McCain campaign is lying. Under IRS rules, Palin lived close enough to Juneau to consider her travel merely commuting, thereby rendering any reimbursement taxable income.
"Palin's Tax Return Missing Travel Reimbursements" –, Oct. 4, 2008

5: John McCain costs taxpayers billions, then dodges his taxes:

Slate Magazine was talking about this one way back in 2000, when most of the mainstream media was famously "in the tank" for McCain.

McCain was famously one of the Keating Five, whose interference with regulatory boards on behalf of banker Charles Keating cost taxpayers $2.6 billion. In addition, investors at Keating's Lincoln Savings and Loan lost $190 million. The Lincoln S&L bailout was the largest of the Savings and Loan bailouts – and of course, the S&L bailout as a whole was the largest bailout in history. Until recently, anyway. Keating was convicted of fraud and served four years in prison.

The 1990 ethics investigation of the Keating Five revealed that McCain had received at least $112,000 in campaign contributions from Keating. He and his family also took at least nine trips at Keating's expense, including at least three to Keating's vacation retreat in the Bahamas. McCain did not report these trips – as House rules required – until compelled to do so by the Ethics Committee. He also failed to report the trips as gifts on his tax returns, according to an AP report. That's basically tax evasion, of course, but McCain solved the problem, years later, by making a sizable "contribution" to the U.S. Treasury.
"Is John McCain a Crook?" – Slate, Feb. 18, 2000

And I'm not even going to talk about Sarah Palin getting the witches driven out of her.


So there you have it. You can expect more character assassination from the McCain camp in weeks to come, since they've admitted that they want to get away from the economy -- a subject on which McCain's record is indefensible. They've also pretty much admitted that they're going to try to make the race about Obama's character. As you can see, they've got no room to talk there, either.