Friday, June 26, 2009

Rampage of Reprints Refuses to Relent

Yes ladies and gentlemen once again I have spent my week in such other endeavors, primarily painting this week, and preparing to go on a performing tour for the next three day and thus have prepared no current comedy.
The funniest thing I saw was that the whole week we were awash in photos of protesters in Iran but on Thursday when a nationwide coalition of peace and social justice groups around the country (for example, Code Pink, Indict Bush, and Nevada Desert Experience) organized up a nationwide day of protest against torture and attempted to filed motions against Bush enabler/federal court judge Jay Bybee, there was hardly even mention on anyone’s evening news. Let’s face it, the justice we have to buy is the only stuff they’re selling, whether it’s our flavor or not.
Here’s the similar scene 14 years ago.

Novgen June '95:
Summer Series Part One: Who Controls, Who Controls, Who Controls?
Media, Media, Media!

Perhaps Pat McDonald said it most eloquently on that tape loop in the middle of the song, "It's Just Another Movie" on he and his wife's 1986 debut album, Greetings From Timbuk3. Perhaps that's the reason I've chosen to steal these nine words for this title of part one of my annual summer series about how IT works. If you've read this column over the years you know that every summer I try to invest some of the additional energy our sun and the very planet we live on give me to try and solve some of the imponderable questions of existence.
We know from having had to take science courses that there are various laws concerning function in the physical plain: thermodynamic, chemical, biological, and mass/energy transitions. And we know, when we think about it, that human life is fundamentally governed by these same principles. This month I will focus on the thermodynamics of media and how that creates life in the summer of America's 1995. You've got to start somewhere.
Summer's here and the time is right for dancing in the streets? That's thermodynamics in action: the additional heat in the atmosphere heating things up. If you hadn't noticed this, perhaps you have noticed all the fathers and sons out in their yards trying in vain to subdue the green world's response to a little additional heat. Thermodynamics acts on biology in all species. In the realm of human interactivity, the extra heat typically increases the number of murders, riots, romances and BBQs. You've got to burn off that energy somehow.
The thermodynamics of media are equally simple. In media a story is either hot or cold. Hot stories receive more airplay on the assumption that more people will be interested in them, to a point of lack of interest in other issues. Hot stories will suck the interest right out of other news bits, thus rendering them cold stories. Hot stories most often involve blood, sex and celebrities. Cold stories deal with things like graft, complicated minutia, and depressing statistics. Hot stories take the lead position in half hour news bursts and often get rolling before the opening credits. Cold stories get bumped in favor of an extra thirty second shot of the cheerleaders on the sidelines at a football game.
What was the most important news this last month? Republicans would have you believe that their new fiscal program which promises a "balanced" budget AND cut taxes is the biggest news; but I've never much been in favor of slathering attention on hoaxes. Personally, I vote for a tie between the reopening of Whitewater investigations coupled with Ron Brown turning out to be a millionaire slumlord on the one hand and the proposed trade war with Japan on the other. But if you've been surfing in the media (a typical summer-type activity) you know that none of these items have reached that certain sensory saturation point where news seems to sizzle.
This last month the media got its hottest story by basically burning off of the energy in the wake of that hot flash in Oklahoma and mostly it shone the light on itself. As always, media's version of the hottest of the hot is when the news is about itself. And so May news was a scorcher, flaming with more incendiary rhetoric than that formally thought of as hottest of the hot California-cool news bit involving some trial which combined all the big three: blood, sex and celebrities.
Radio Talkshows: The voice of freedom or a cauldron of rebellion? Honestly, a little of both and a whole lot of advertising, but suddenly everybody's hot under the collar about the tensions between left and right in America and who has rights to the airwaves. Well, nobody. You have to buy them. But man the heat! Liberals and conservatives all had fiery words to spew forth concerning just who's to blame for the fact that Timothy McVeigh could find a parking space in downtown Oklahoma City. Well, the form of the function of life, of course, clearly shows that we are all to blame.
A system functions based on the actions of all its parts. Societies operate on friction. Here in America we have 250,000,000 parts in the system we call society and with that many potential responses to contemporary strife it is no wonder something this cruel could happen. America has always been a nation of the disgruntled. You know, colonists didn't stage a revolution as a vote of confidence in the status quo; the West wasn't won by a bunch of satisfied Easterners. People get mad and they act and their action changes the dynamic, often stupidly. We were founded on that principle: action in reaction to dissatisfaction, the will to correct the problem even if that correction is a problem in itself.
Yes, hate radio had its part. But so did the people, like me, who prefer to listen to tapes because they really don't like all that jabbering between songs and so, falsely seal themselves off from the current of society and yet still must live there. Yes, our government is partially to blame for being the kind of government that has so often functioned so ugly that people like Rush Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy could make an extravagant living railing invective against it and people like McVeigh would feel justified in waging fertilizer against it.
We're all somewhat to blame for this breakdown in the system for we are the system. Yes, those certain members of law enforcement who do get off acting like "Jack-booted thugs" had theirs. And so did the politicians who sought to ride into office on the coattails of the ever popular "law and order" issue, constantly promising to increase the quantity of our policing forces without paying much attention to the quality. And so were the numerous good cops who allow their more vicious brethren to spoil their good name. And so were the hardened criminals who heighten the arms race against law enforcement and help instill the siege mentality. And so were the little law breakers, the “you” and the me, who speed or drink or pitch trash on the sidewalk and just generally add to the frustration of an already frustrated system. Yes the religious right and the religious wrong were involved. And so were the effete liberals who'd rather talk about someone else moderating their injustices than anything else. And so were the lame and the lazy and the halt and the sick: the prey as well as the predator.
But mostly the fault and/or glory belong with the people who keep all those other kooks in touch with each other: media. Media is after all how American society communicates with itself. Even me. Most of the things I write about are things that frustrate me and if I write about them rightly they end up frustrating you too. Why do I do this? Friction. Friction's heat. Heat is life.
The story has it McVeigh was upset about the deaths of a 100 or so Branch Davidians and their children in Waco, and so, to show his resentment he's willing to murder 200 or so federal employees and their children in Oklahoma. That should teach 'em, huh? Well, it did. It reminded us of the law of thermodynamics: the hotter a situation the more unstable its components and the greater potential damage caused by the release of all that energy. Which, luckily, in most cases, brings to mind a second law in thermodynamics; when something gets too hot you can stave off disaster by cooling it down. The biggest problem with the biggest news event of May is that the incendiary situation in Oklahoma has been such big news, that instead of letting the flames die down media whether, for or against, continues adding fuel to the fire. With all those already hotheads and the summer sun coming down, this season could be a real scorcher, so watch out, keep cool.
And that's what makes the thermodynamics of this news so weird. Most any American I've ever talked to who was functioning anywhere within the system really preferred to be considered "cool."

-mikel weisser writes from the left coast of AZ, but is currently preparing to travel-

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Another Week of Summertime Slacking = Reprint (2007)

"Greetings from So-Hi, AZ."
I have typed that numerous times this week as i scramble to assemble a poetry career in time to release two new books, the long awaited, Over This Mountain and the equally interesting "Best of" Collection it spawned, Through Other Channels. I am fairly diligent about sending out queries and and edit-edit-editing and such and so, for this week will let that serve as my writing.

This piece was originally published by Dissident Voice and is still available there, at:

Current Comedy, 10/29/07: Make Immigration Legal
-2500 words-

During the recent raging inferno of the Southern California fires, desperate poor families of color once again had to seek solace from an overwhelming natural disaster by huddling into the home of a professional football team and once again were humiliated by our national government. This time, instead of New Orleans’ Lower 9th Black families fleeing Katrina, they were the So-Cal fire refugees, San Diego area farm workers, and the government agency was the INS, La Migra. Just after midnight on Oct. 24th the Border Patrol and local police began rousting families who had barely escaped with their lives to check to see if they remembered to bring their green cards. Anyone Hispanic looking who did not have IDs was ejected from the stadium as agents harassed and detained legal and illegal immigrants alike, as well as other under-documented suspected Hispanics.
This same week New York state governor, Eliot Spitzer, continued to roast in the firestorm of controversy over his decision to join Arizona, Vermont and Washington in the process of licensing foreign nationals driving vehicles in his state, provided they had valid passports from their home countries. Right wing xenophobes, including CNN’s Lou Dobbs, frothed at the mouth vilifying Spitzer as an illegal alien enabler. (It’s worth noting that Dobbs’ repetitiously repetitious use of “arrogant” as an epithet while belittling Sptizer could not help but remind one of the old playground retort about rubber and glue.)
Also that same week GOP wannabe candidate bottom feeder Tom Tancredo tried to gobble up a little attention by narcing out IL senator Dick Durbin’s press conference on the DREAM act, a proposal to allow immigrants US citizenship for risking their lives in the military. Ever the loyal patriot, Tancredo called in to tip off the INS that illegals would probably be there. Like so many Republican voters have done, the INS simply ignored Tancredo. But between naps second tier GOP sleeper, Fred Thompson, has recently tried to generate some nativist traction by proposing that cities and states be stripped of their federal funding if they allow illegal immigrants in their midst, suggesting that the fugitive slave act is still alive and well in Tennessee. Even GOP stalwarts acknowledge that kind of law would be a tall order.
And so, in a time when the mainstream media would have you believe that the allowable debate on the immigration issue is A) punish ‘em a lot or B) punish ‘em a lot more, let me offer a suggestion that even Bill Richardson isn’t secure enough in his paperwork to suggest. Let’s make immigration legal. Bring on your tired huddled masses and let’s let them breathe free. America living up to its ideals? Sure it’s a harebrained notion, but hey, this is supposedly a comedy column.
Let me open with a story: long ago and far away I grew up in rural south Texas not far from the Rio Grande border. Illegal immigrants were an extremely visible fact of daily life. The border patrol had guards right on the river and then there is a second perimeter of checkpoints about 50 miles in. The town I grew up in was the last town south of the interior border. As an Anglo in South Texas, that is, in general, 80% Latino, I grew up a minority and spent much time in the company of people who spoke a different language than me. You get used to it and I didn't think to wonder where the people around me fit along the spectrum from full blooded US citizens for generations since that land was taken from their great-great-great-great-grandparents in the Mexico-American War 1848, down through second and first generation US citizens, to documented aliens, to illegals who had been there for decades, to those who'd slipped across the river that morning.
It was all business as usual UNTIL, one day in my early 20s when I was looking for work and took a job at a commercial plant nursery. The work was tedious, and the pay was minimum wage, but I knew, or thought I knew the owner, a former professional football player who now hustled himself up a living in a variety of ways, including this nursery. Like I said the work was tedious and, as usual with the manual labor jobs I did plenty of in South Texas, I spent most of my time surrounded by people who didn't speak English to me except when absolutely necessary. Finally Friday arrived and we gathered 'round for our paychecks. The owner stepped up on a table, and his foremen gathered closely around him. The owner then waved a fist full of envelopes at us and called out that he would distribute the checks to all workers who could show him their social security cards.
A panic of confusion filled the room as the workers gathered frantically to figure out what he was saying. I too was scared, for even though I remembered the number, I hadn't seen my actual paper social security card in years, but he called out to me and handed me an envelope without pause. Then he went back to explaining in broken Spanish that there was some sort of law that said he only had to pay people who could prove they were US citizens. The foremen were still working at controlling the crowds when I walked out and never went back.
I had worked the same hours as the other people and had my pay, but it wasn't because I had a piece of paper in my pocket with a series of numbers on it. And it wasn't because I was a better worker than those other men who had sweated and strained. I surely was not. It was because of which side of a river I had been born on and, like the others, that man could have gotten away with cheating me if I had been born just 30 miles more South. I was so incredibly ashamed of being a White, Anglo, American, of even being associated in any way with that guy that I winced for years anytime I even had to pass by that nursery.
Nowadays I teach junior high in Western Arizona where the line between one country and another isn't even a river, just an invisible stripe somewhere in a desert. The school where I now work is 65% Hispanic, including some whose trip across that line is still fairly fresh. In my classes I am currently teaching about the 1920s and we are learning that one of the leading social movements of the time was called the "nativist movement," essentially a political reform movement based a rallying cry something like "America for us ‘mericans!" a oft recurring slogan in US history; one which every citizen of color clearly understands to translate out to: White People Only. While that is simplified version of the politics of the more mainstream members of this movement it aptly captures the sentiments of their more strident branches like the then recently revived KKK who reviled not only Blacks, but also Catholics, Jews and immigrants of all stripe. It was essentially the same laundry list Hitler would use a decade later to set up his cleansing of Europe. It is worth noting that the KKK is again managing to revive itself on the immigrant issue with new news stories about KKK justifying their hatemongering in Arizona and Alabama because of the threat of “those durned foreigners.”
Back in America in the 1920s the nativist movement gained adherents of all classes, though, obviously, not necessarily all colors. Politically the movement successfully established strict immigration quotas in general and virtually eliminated émigrés from African and Asian countries. This political movement was in reaction to an as of today still unequaled period of immigration between 1900 and 1920 when up to 20,000,000 immigrants, mostly from non-English speaking countries, teemed up on our tempest tossed shore. Their numbers swelled the population from 70 to 100,000,000. This is important to remember the size of that immigrant wave because, even though the present wave of immigrants is also twenty million, that figure is a ratio equal to more than triple the current wave of immigration we are now seeing. It is small wonder then that the nativists were scared. They were on their way to being outnumbered.
It is also worth noting though, that this was not the first such nativist movement to resort to claims of patriotism to their underlying racism. In fact, former massively unpopular president Martin Van Buren made one of his several unsuccessful runs for the presidency in the 1850s with the "Know Nothing" party which championed expulsion of all foreign born residents in America. The 1860s era of this movement was portrayed in the Martin Scorsese film Gangs of New York. At that time the offending immigrant minority were the Irish, whom like immigrants today, were expected to trade military service for citizenship and occasionally shipped right off of one boat (the freighters from Europe) onto the other (the troop transports heading South).
There should be no doubt that immigrants have always and always will have a powerful impact on the country. Just ask the Awaraks what they thought of the Spanish who moved here with that Italian, Columbus. Or the Powhatan of the arrival of the colonists at Jamestown, or the residents along the Rio Grande of the coming of Zachary Taylor or for that matter you could just as well ask the Alaskan mammoths what they thought about the coming of the cavemen.
I personally feel that the changes to the country are inevitable, but, given that political power in this country is a zero-sum game, I don't see the transition as ever having been, nor likely to be a smooth one. I am convinced that the forecasts are true that, by the middle of this century, providing there is still an America, the dominant ethnic group will be the Hispanic, largely the children of immigrants, just the latter 20th century population explosion was the result of the children and grandchildren of the immigration wave of the early 20th century. Through my mother's second marriage; I myself am one of those step-grandchildren of “durned foreigners” who didn’t know a word of English when they washed up on Ellis Island.
Way back when, the dire predictions made about that group of immigrants a century earlier did have some truth to them: They didn't speak the language and so were slow to assimilate and surrender their cultures. There were pockets of intense poverty and the resultant suffering and increased crime. There was also a moral shift in the country from the agrarian fundamentalist society of the American 1800s to the "decadent" cosmopolitan urban society we see today. I expect that all those things, or this century's variation on them, are in the offing with the current wave of immigrants.
But in looking back at that movement I also see a rich infusion of ideas and energy, of styles and fashions and foods and the myriad of cultures that make America the interesting place it is and I look forward to finding out what exciting ideas and energies this generation of émigrés will bring. And I hope that like their forefathers they will help promote and perpetuate the comparatively tolerant country people like me depend on to exist. In the nativist all-white all “normal” world of the 1880s per se, an essentially radical personality such as myself would have been either neutralized or eliminated.
Knowing all this, I think that the problem of immigrants coming to the US from Mexico in illegal ways could best be solved by loosening restrictions, not tightening them. If you really want to end illegal immigration, make immigration legal. Surely any rational person can accept that an immigrant would much rather enter the country through a functional welcoming low-cost official border crossing than by spending his life savings to risk life, limb and jail-time trying to sneak in through the middle of one of the least hospitable deserts on the planet. Surely every one accepts that an immigrant would much rather fill out commonsense paperwork in a language they could read to take a job at a reasonable wage than to have to seriptiously take sub-existence wages in a shadow economy, where one error or one objection could lead not just to firing, but deportation.
I further assert that we might as well make immigration legal since there is no legitimate political will in the US to seriously attempt to end illegal immigration. Intentions of the immigrants aside, just like the "drug problem," it's the demand that guarantees the supply. And I am not just talking about nannies, gardeners and maids. Too many "legitimate" American businesses "illegitimately" thrive on the cheap labor they enjoy from keeping immigrants under the table. And it is not just the backyard back-of-the-pickup landscaping companies I'm referring to. We have seen somewhat public scandals involving corporate giants like McDonalds, Swift and Tyson; and those are just the ones that have surfaced. As long as corporations embrace the practice of employing and exploiting immigrant workers, we will never see an end.
I believe that Bush is aware of the importance of the underground economy. His uncharacteristic ineffectiveness on immigration in either direction simply shows me it wasn't something he wanted to have changed. Certainly his constituents, who are quite clearly not the American people, aren't in favor of reform.
And so our ideals claiming to be to contrary and our national “leadership” (I told you this was a comedy column) opposing action on it, xenophobes can rant all they want, but we are not likely to see further restrictions on immigration, so why not just make immigration legal. Yes, immigration changes things and not in all ways for the better; but no, I don't believe that that is a reason to stop it, or to waste political energy and tax payer money to further fail at stopping it. And please can we take action soon so those creeps on our southern border who call themselves “Minutemen” will stop crowing about their so-called patriotism and have to acknowledge that what they actually are, are bigots with guns.
Instead allowing this stalemate to keep going, couldn’t we just legislate it and improve the lives of the people who suffer due to the oppression designed to keep one group of people poor and scared and another wealthy and callous. Free those who feed us from having to fear the midnight knock at the door and all the Tancredos of the world looking to grub a few votes. Not just amnesty from prosecution, but a reprieve from the persecution immigrants face each day simply to feed their families and inevitably, ours.

--mikel weisser teaches social studies and poetry on the West Coast of Arizona.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Reprints for Dinner Again (from 1993)

Hi all,

I just finished a 7 day performing tour which took me from one end of Arizona to the other, literally Kingman to Bisbee, and two trips to Phoenix, with two shows in Sedona and another in Jerome. Eternal appreciation to my trio of poet/hosts Aaron Johnson, Michael Gregory and Christopher Fox Graham, poetry not only lives, it rocks because of people like these.

I actually got to meet Cindy Sheehan [Rob, she says “Hi.”]

Then tonight I concluded the journey by speaking to a newly forming local writer’s group as their guest speaker. Twenty years ago I was in a group, like that, meeting some guy who said he was a writer and here I was being the guy. It has been a week of magic for this writer. This week was so magic I even walked into a guy’s restaurant on my way home and talked him into paying me to sing and play for his lunch rush. Rush never happened, but I did sing and was paid.

However, this week is getting late and as of yet, i know a lot about my recent magical travel experiences but little else as to news. Luckily I have part two of the earlier reprint (as I had intended when I originally booked the trip). It had had to be originally published in two parts and this seems a fine opportunity.

Fresh comedy next week, in the meantime, here’s some old yucks to chew on till then:


This month there isn't much sense in talking about the big media event as if you didn't know about it, as if it were possible in this very Midwestern location to not have heard about it, often ad nauseam. It was the flood, stupid. And I don't mean the one in Japan where over one hundred people died horribly when gas tanks on land where destroyed by the tidal wave that thoroughly demolished several coastal villages. I'm sure you've heard mention of this tragic sudden lost of human life in between watching the countless human interest stories about folks who built in the bottoms because that's where the rich farmland is and are now getting an object lesson in just how those nutrients got there; OR the exposés about how the states' kept the flood reservoirs filled so people would spend money to go fishing and boating, then, when the flood did come, the water couldn't use the reservoir because it was reserved for commercial interests so it had to go camping at those same people's houses.
No, I won't bore you with more of that. The only thing I will say about the Great Mississippi Flood of '93 is that it does remind us that Mother Nature is more powerful than Republicans. Mr. Clinton will get a jobs bill after all. With every local reporter in the Midwest bucking for their one big break at the networks and every representative eager to fly over back home to look good for the people, Bill won't need a Pare Lorentz to hype up a WPA like FDR did. Suddenly rebuilding America is the fashionable thing to do.
Actually, I wanted to spend this column talking about something else; but, before I get to get to my main subject, as a card carrying member of "the overly-dramatic micro-critical pundits union" Charles Good referred to last month in his column, (obviously I'm not a Republican), I am required to trash our president at least once a month. Trash of the Month: "don't ask don't tell" is what Clinton should have done with that campaign promise in the first place or else he should have at least stood his guns, taken the noble loss and then pointed to the bad old Congress like everybody else does. Though gay rights are fashionable with the hip crowd Bill likes to be seen hanging around with; gay rights, human rights, earth rights, heck anybody else's rights other than those who have the dollars to get them re-elected are of no interest to those who claim to represent Mainstream America. The only people Mr. Clinton served this month are his enemies. Which does not include me, yet.
Oh yes, and as your paper's media watchdog, I also have a contractual requirement to comment on current media trends, such as the hot race for the Summer box office. We go to watch movies in the same darkness at the same time, hoping for a light in the dark … and en masse we receive the tomes of next year's moral fashions. Among my fav’s so far: mental illness and illiteracy aren't painful at all provided you can be cute about it, ala` Bennie and Joon; and neither is being a total burn-out if you can make them yuck it up down on the farm like Pauly Shore in Son-in-Law. My favorite fairy tale this summer so far has been Dave, where we Americans are encouraged to believe whenever the rotten politicians think they've got it all in the bag, some innocent guy will save the day.
As I said, fairy tale.
Then there's movie violence is acceptable family fare provided it is in a movie about movie violence or in a film involving Stallone, as in Last Action Hero or Cliffhanger. In Sleepless in Seattle (a film which when watched will cure its own title problem), you are guaranteed romantic bliss if you are a sensitive widower or a kooky reporter, provided you are also rich, available for cross-country travel at the drop of a hat, good looking and quick with the one liners … and willing to dump somebody for a chance on a fling. As for the other 99.9% of the population, there are always the movies.
The biggest film this year, the one that will dominate adult fashion for the next seven months and direct the minds of our children for the next fifty years (just as Jaws will always have an effect on our thinking), is, of course, Jurassic Park. Steven Spielberg, that melder of the minds of the masses for our quarter century, brought out everyone's favorite dino models, including one of the oldest fossils in the entertainment business, the Deus-Ex-Machina- asaurus, when at the end T. Rex conveniently shows up just in time to eat all the bad guys. But besides originating the graphics for much of the children's clothing worn this season and insuring dino fashion another evolutionary era, JP also provides the bridge into this next, the main, section of this column: Jeff Goldblum's character's bit about Chaos theory. Chaos theory is the study of the impact of small events on complex systems, as anyone who has seen my office can attest: Chaos is order.
Great processes begin from apparently insignificant incidents; the more complex a process, the more chaotic progress appears. A drop of rain falls on Minneapolis and Des Moines loses all its drinking water for months. In a river, a drop joins a drop and when too many join it's called a flood. In physics, a stray electron bombards a random uranium nucleus and 100,000 people are vaporized in Japan. In politics take that same A Bomb and build your way through forty years of cold war mentality and you wind up with Yakoff Smirnoff headlining in Branson and our “peacenik president” bombing Baghdad; meanwhile Russia starves and America wallows in denial of its gun addiction.
American society is a complex system, the way we join the flow of our times, function in the market, is primarily a process of fashion. Fashion is pepper--which once cost eight times its weight in gold. Fashion is the gold in the first place. Fashion is radio, television, newspapers, magazines and circulars, it is what you see at the mall and it is how governments are run.
150 yrs. ago if an American family knew of hundred people at all (which was unlikely) you could bet that the majority were people they actually knew, their family, neighbors, the local polls and police or long dead biblical characters. Today we move away from our families, don't trust our neighbors and so our communities become our media. We watch the people who set our fashions in movies, magazines and on TV, places where they're always selling something. A hundred and fifty years ago being self reliant was fashionable. It meant growing your own food, finding your own water, producing your own heat and keeping the killers away from your door. It meant curing most of your diseases, making your shoes and clothes and house and furnishings, and weapons and tools and if you had any time left for entertainment you could play your own violin, providing you could keep it in good repair. Now it means remembering your PIN when you go to the cash machine. Take, for example, fashion in women. It used to be fashionable for women to be pear shaped. Pear shaped women have more functional pelvises, less breast cancer and stronger backs and legs, look really good when painted by Rubens and in general spend less on their vanity. But as consumerism rose, a woman's primary function shifted from being a producer to being a consumer and men's ideal woman dwindled from being a strong wife, mother, partner to being someone to buy as your own pet Barbie.
Fah-fah-fah-fah-fashion. Fashion eats red fish extinct, clubs doo-doo birds to death and turned miles of buffalo into moth-eaten coats. Fashion brought you bell bottoms, twice dammit. Fashion created skinheads and cocaine. Then there's the downside: fashion claims to justify the existence of Paris, New York and L.A. One day Madonna dresses like a slut, the next it’s your daughter. Some comic makes fun of a drunk by messing up his clothes, and then kids look cool by showing their boxer shorts and wearing their ballcaps sideways. Rhett Butler gets away with saying he does not give a damn and fifty years later Andrew Dice Clay is on SNL. In Germany, fashion once meant death for sixty million.
Ever one to be a fashion plate, like many Americans, I cooled out on the Fourth of July by joining several thousands of my fellow Springfieldians at our state capitol to lay on my back in the middle of the street, listen to a top 40 radio show, eat junk and experience the sensation of hundreds of pounds of explosives going off. I took my son and a niece so they could be the next generation to grow up appreciating our country's sacred war ritual of gawking at the blinding flashes and the deafening thunder of gunpowder when controlled by the latest technology and a hundred or so men in uniforms with guns, all the while surrounded by a multitude of my countrymen all also swept up in the nationalistic fervor. With the radio on. And regularly scheduled commercials. It was a National Holiday, it was a celebration. It was the fashionable thing to do.

--mikel weisser writes from the Left Coast of Arizona

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Current Comedy, 6/2/09: Marseilles 1212

Those who contend Americans have a short memory might be well served to look back a mere forty score years ago, to Marseilles in the year of our lord 1212. It was a time of chaos and enforced ignorance, and thus a time of great opportunity. It was a time of tragedy and great personal loss for the masses while the elite expounded on their ability to interpret the unseen. It was an era ruled by a vengeful god, who, in his first and foremost command, proclaimed there were to be no other gods but he alone, with vengeance and violence for those that would cross his worshippers. In short, it was a time a lot like America today.
Infidels, non-believers, berserkers, in short, followers of Islam had gained control of the Holy Land and our armies were proving helpless against them. Though most of us had only heard of the fabled Holy Land, we were continuously exhorted that it was worth dying for. The people there had the wrong beliefs. It’s like they weren’t even people at all.
Across the land a cry rang out and the simple people, the children, the innocent and guileless rose up to take the matter into their own hands. Surely their purity of spirit and true faith in the Lord, our very Christian god, would overcome the heathen whereas our weaponry had not. The sheer power of our unwavering belief in the rightness of our Christian god would surely be enough to overcome any lesser beings’ superstitious hocus-pocus over their tawdry talismans.
So we massed, in our anger and our righteousness, first to Genoa, then eventually around to Marseilles, where in 1212, two kindly merchants at tremendous personal sacrifice agreed to help us in our final leap of our noble crusade, and so, like lemmings we boarded their ships ….
Never to be seen again. Sold as slaves the thirty thousand European peasants and youth who took part in the fabled “Children’s Crusade” disappeared from history into a fate generally imagined to be “worse than death.” And those two “kindly” merchants of Marseilles, the Halliburtons and Raytheons of their day, were in cahoots with the bogeymen Muslims all along and sold the questing Christians for a clear eyed profit. In some versions of their legend, the merchants are later captured and hanged for a plot to kidnap a king, but that would be in a world where the wicked get punished and the kind are redeemed.
A place decidedly not the Obama America of 2009, where banks are rewarded for impoverishing the rest of us and religious war in the Holy Land is still framed to demonize the Muslim. Though Muslim religious extremists are blamed for inciting violence in the name of their vision of god, America steadfastly and incrementally has retrofitted our military to march onward as Christian soldiers. Because, after all, our Christian religious intolerance is so much more sanctimonious and thus justified than any other religion’s zealotry.
Now with the stage duly set by last week’s news item of Muslim guys plotting to launch RPGs at a synagogue, this week a Muslim convert guy is accused of shooting up recruiting station in Little Rock. And in the same time and news cycle, ironies of ironies, in the latest of what is appearing to be an inexhaustible series of right-wing gun users intent on lighting up America like it was their personal amusement park, an abortion doctor has been shot and killed in his own church in Kansas, by yet another right-winger following orders from his minister du jour, in this case Bill O’Reilly.
As the day to day gun violence of American life begins to approach Bruckheimer-esque levels, I think it is safe to say, or rather unsafe to say, that the shooting war for the post-Obama America has now openly begun. And, as the summer thrill season heats up, it seems our box office isn’t the only aspect of the public arena enthralled by angels and demons.
Of course the advantage the rest of Europe had in 1212 over America today is that the Christian fanatics and opportunists who comprised the thirty thousand or so that took part in the crusade walked out of their society, not among it. The Holy Land was a lot farther away from their day to day life than the religious war that is on the edge breaking out right here at home, in racially and religiously mixed America.
Also, modern day America is a whole lot bigger than Europe of the early 1200s and even though Christianity is in decline here, and thus feeling embattled, there are still millions more American Christian zealots ready to kill for their love of man, with most of them living near most of you.
Good luck, America, welcome to Marseilles 1212. Simply follow the kindly merchants who will lead you on your way. Perhaps your faith will set you free—
--mikel weisser writes from the left coast of Arizona.