Archive for December, 2011

Best of 2011 – Books
December 31, 2011

A year-end roundup of books is too big a challenge for any one man, and I don’t come even close to meeting it. Because of the necessary time investment, I’m very judicious with my reading material, only picking up a book if it’s got either a) overwhelming establishment praise or b) a premise I can’t ignore. Sometimes I get lucky, and find a book that’s both. Anyway, here’s what was published this year that I found worthwhile:

Arguably – A massive 800-page compendium of essays by the inimitable Christopher Hitchens. Cherry-picked from his decades of work at The Nation, Vanity Fair and others, Arguably houses within its bounds everything from a rewritten Ten Commandments to a takedown of Stieg Larsson to a groundbreaking theory on “Why Women Aren’t Funny,” nearly all of which scream with wit and sing with force. You’ll laugh at some and shake your head in disgust at others, and that’s what made Hitch Hitch.

The Art of Fielding – Earlier writeup here. Impossibly personal, strikingly well-written, this novel about the tribulations and triumphs of those connected to a college baseball team will make your heart soar and crash, thankfully not in equal measure. You won’t find Westish college on any map, but after reading The Art of Fielding, I’ve been there just the same.

The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore – Earlier writeup here. This angry “memoir” of a precocious chimpanzee who acquired language is not easily forgotten. From his early days at a Chicago zoo to his educational years at a lab to his adventures on the subways of New York City, Bruno tells his story with elegant scorn for humans and erudite derision of our world, all the while raging against himself for being so utterly seduced by it. Bitterly funny and pointedly perceptive, Bruno Littlemore holds up a mirror and asks us if we’re really as great as we think we are. And its answer is: go fuck yourselves.

Kings of Colorado – A thirteen year-old boy stabs his father to protect his mother, and is rewarded with a long stay at a juvy ranch in the mountains of Colorado. There’s your requisite greedy warden, sadistic patrolmen, helpful nurse, inmates both friend and foe – Kings of Colorado is not what you’d call a genre-buster. What you can call it, though, is well-paced, suspenseful, chilling and heartfelt. It’s a damn good prison yarn combined with a well-drawn coming of age story. Doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but still well worth taking for a spin.

The Leftovers – Not Tom Perrotta’s best, which is to say it’s still better than most anyone else’s best, The Leftovers puts an intriguing spin on its author’s usual dissections of the struggles and depredations of suburban lemmings (that’s being far less kind to his characters than Perrotta’s hallmark tenderness, but I kinda fell in love with the phrasing as it came to me). It takes place in the aftermath of The Rapture, where one day millions of people (seemingly selected at random) abruptly vanish into thin air, never to be heard from again. Perrotta gives us a mostly stellar cast of characters, including religious fanatics angry that they weren’t “chosen,” emotionally damaged and adrift people who’ve lost a family member (or two or three or four), and a silent cult of chain-smokers called the Guilty Remnant. The Leftovers comes off as a novel Rod Serling could’ve written, if he were funnier and less preachy, and that compliment overwhelms the novel’s occasionally flagging pacing and irrelevant interludes.

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Best of 2011 – Television
December 30, 2011

Best-of lists are self-aggrandizing, obligatory, and largely disinteresting to any self-respecting reader. So here we go. (Film will have to wait, because awards season, like orgasm, places a premium on holding on till the last possible instant to deliver; unlike orgasm, this delay pleases no one.)

Also, no numerical rankings – requires less thought that way. Actually, the real reason is that the vagaries of day-to-day temperament and perception make them largely useless (anyone who tells you they’ve got a static criteria to quantify the difference between the seventh and eighth best Things of the Year is either a liar or dumb, and more than likely a dumb liar.)

Breaking Bad – Both incredibly obvious and incredibly deserving, this fourth season saw Walter White pitted against his strongest foe yet, and drove home that eternal truism with searing efficacy: if you don’t watch yourself while fighting your enemy, you just may become him.

The Chicago Code – I have an immodest pride in my tendency to pick “winners” when it comes to shows making their debut – rarely do I find myself invested in one-and-dones. This was one of those times, and it kinda really sucks. Shawn Ryan’s follow-up to The Shield never did reach the heights of its ancestor, but it was a fine specimen of an endangered species: the cop show that’s actually good. On that front, we’re now one step closer to extinction.

Friday Night LightsNot much left to say, except that a very compelling argument can be made for FNL being the best network drama ever produced, and the final season stuck the landing. As always, it was a pleasure. Clear eyes, full hearts, never lost.

Game of Thrones – I’m somewhat baffled by the mainstream’s embrace of this unabashed high fantasy, which up until now had been confined exclusively to The Lord of the Rings. Probably some amalgam of the cachet of the HBO brand and the sex, midgets, and sex with midgets. Whatever the reason, well done, Unwittingly Overlapping Alliance of Bros and Hipsters.

Homeland – I’d call this the best new show of the year (which it is), but that distinction may readily (and not unfairly) be read as damning with faint praise. It is not. This cat-and-mouse game between a mentally unstable CIA agent and a rescued POW possibly turned terrorist is taut, suspenseful and addicting. And man, Claire Danes looks good.

The United States of Tara – Shame, Showtime, for renewing the repetitive and inconsequential Nurse Jackie, the irrelevant Big C and the execrable Weeds while giving the axe to a character-centric show that reinvented itself with each new season, with its bittersweet third and last forcing its viewers to contend with the sobering truth that, hey, maybe someone having disassociative identity disorder… isn’t that funny? Maybe it’s actually… kind of horrifying? Don’t let the premature cancellation dissuade you from checking out Tara if you haven’t already – the finale provides due pathos, if not total catharsis; it does not feel abandoned.

On this December 25th
December 25, 2011

we celebrate the birth of a man who spent his life challenging authority and preaching tolerance, and whose touching and inspirational words have long outlived his premature demise.

I speak, of course, of the great Rod Serling. Which is appropriate, because only in a Twilight Zone could we celebrate en masse the birth of a mythical figure who casually told nonbelievers that the ultimate causatum of their existence was to burn in a great lake of fire for all eternity.

Nice guy, huh?

Simpsons did it (pretty much)
December 20, 2011

Pen recovered from woman’s stomach 25 years later still writes.

Meh. Been there:

Line for the Weekend
December 17, 2011

“The totalitarian, to me, is the enemy – the one that’s absolute, the one that wants control over the inside of your head, not just your actions and your taxes. And the origins of that are theocratic, obviously. The beginning of that is the idea that there is a supreme leader, or infallible pope, or a chief rabbi, or whatever, who can ventriloquise the divine and tell us what to do.”

– Christopher Hitchens

There are few truly prescient things I’ve ever said
December 16, 2011

and I wish there were one fewer: Christopher Hitchens, 1949 – 2011.

He loved alcohol and writing, hated religion and incompetence, and was always ready with a cutting remark. He was a glorious asshole who said beautiful things.

Needless to say, I was a fan. Here’s two of my favorites.

On the death of Jerry Falwell:

“If you gave Falwell an enema he could’ve been buried in a matchbox.”

As a reply to “Well, that’s just your opinion:”

“That’s a very clever thing to say. Would you prefer I answered in your opinion? What a fatuous remark.”

Later, Hitch.

Whatever doesn’t kill you…
December 15, 2011

doesn’t necessarily make you stronger, as Christopher Hitchens writes after experiencing an especially brutal reaction to his radiation therapy:

I can remember thinking, of testing moments involving love and hate, that I had, so to speak, come out of them ahead, with some strength accrued from the experience that I couldn’t have acquired any other way. And then once or twice, walking away from a car wreck or a close encounter with mayhem while doing foreign reporting, I experienced a rather fatuous feeling of having been toughened by the encounter. But really, that’s to say no more than “There but for the grace of god go I,” which in turn is to say no more than “The grace of god has happily embraced me and skipped that unfortunate other man.”

Classic Hitch. Let’s enjoy it while we still can.

And everything old is Newt again
December 13, 2011

The only reason I don’t feel like a total dope for missing this is that everyone else missed it too. And I still kind of feel like a dope.

Of course Newt Gingrich is going to be the Republican nominee for president in 2012.

The safe money, including mine, was on Romney, and if anyone were going to pose a formidable challenge to him it’d be Rick Perry, who had the money, hair and Tea Party street cred to make things at least somewhat worrisome for Stormin’ Mormom Mitt. But then Perry utterly imploded in some of the most painful (and classic; “What’s the third thing again?” has become a go-to line of mine.) debate performances we’ve ever seen, and, aside from a brief and obviously doomed spike in the polls by an unable Cain, things seemed pretty much wrapped up for Mittens.

We were all dopes. We all missed it, and it was just so damned obvious.

What is the overwhelmingly dominant emotion of the (R)etard base right now? What’s been their rallying cry in the aftermath of the ascension of Obama three years ago? What caused the hordes of half-wits to jump in their Jeeps adorned with confederate flag bumper stickers and gather together across the country in what were surely the absolute lamest “parties” ever thrown?

Anger. They are pissed the fuck off. At liberals, at Muslims, at gays, at the media, at their own frustrating inability to do anything to stop the irrepressible change taking root in the world around them. But more than anything, or anyone else, they are pissed at Barack. Hussein. Nigger. Muslim. Obama. Their anger burns with the white-hot furor of a thousand turgid suns.

Enter, or rather, slither the Newt.

Anyone who’s watched a few of the 3209472398457 debates in the last few months knows that all these candidates fit the easy stereotypes. Romney’s the robot. Perry’s the cowboy. Herman Cain’s the jester. Ron Paul’s the crazy old man. And Newt Gingrich is the angry guy, the one who yells at the moderators and refocuses every question about himself or his rivals on how Hussein Obama is destroying America.

And the audience eats it up. No matter that Newt’s mercurial megalomania has often led him astray of the conservative path (he has, at one point or another, believed in climate change, supported mandatory health insurance and argued for amnesty for illegal immigrants). No matter that he already flamed out in a giant crater of disgrace fifteen years ago, fined and deposed by his own party. Never you mind all that. They don’t love him for his substance (the word is seemingly unknown to these people), they love him for his theatrical, bombastic rage.

They love that he filibusterers through questions with attacks on the “liberal media.” They love the near-overtly racist way he dismisses Obama as “unqualified” (he comes *this* close to flat-out calling the President “boy”), and how he castigates the incumbent as mired in a “Kenyan, anti-colonial worldview.” They eat it up when he tells them he’ll challenge Obama to eight three-hour Lincoln/Douglas-style debates. Finally! they crow. Someone who’ll really take it to that smug little shit.

Which he wouldn’t, of course. If these debates ever happen it’ll be the best thing Obama could have hoped for – the more Newt speaks, the more he turns off anyone who’s not already drunk off the strongest batch of the konservative Kool-Aid. But those are exactly the people we’re talking about right now, and they just eat this shit up. See, Newt Gingrich is a dumb person’s idea of what a smart person sounds like – he’s glib, condescending, constantly reminds us of his academic credentials, casts everything he’s doing in grandiose terms like “fundamental” and “transformative” and “unprecedented,” has tons of half-baked “big ideas” (this reads like a nerdy teenager’s “Things I Have Thought About While Never Having Sex” list) and peppers his rhetoric with esoteric, smart people-y historical references. In Newt they see everything they’ve always seen in those oh-so-hated “librul knowitalls” (academics, scientists), except this one’s on their side. Now they can have one of their very own!

Let them have him. Obama will beat him like a drum down at Occupy Wall Street, and then this crass, arrogant, petty tub of old white lard can go back to reviewing shit on Amazon and tweeting embarrassing tweets and just leave us all the fuck alone like he was supposed to do the first time around.

I almost wanna vote for the guy
December 3, 2011

Yeah, yeah, I know he’s a moronic redneck, but damn if Rick Perry ain’t one charming motherfucker.

If Mitt Romney had one tenth of this guy’s personality he’d already be our next president. Thank god he doesn’t.

The Very Special 300th Post (or: My First Big Scoop!)
December 1, 2011

Almost three years after founding this venerable oasis of truth, earlier today the political gatekeepers finally deigned it proper to accord me the distinct honor (throws up) of asking a question of my new Tea Partyin’, true believin’, dyed-in-the-wool I’m-so-conservative-I’ll-fuck-my-sister-and-ask-for-a-reach-around-afterward congressman Robert L. “Bob” Turner.

I had very short notice: my assistant (read: brother) entered (read: barged into) my office (read: bedroom) and told me he’d arranged for me to ask a question of Mr. Turner about “beach erosion” (god bless the inventive little shit) on a conference call. Of course, I was only too happy to oblige. As I waited on hold, I quickly ran through the possibilities of what I could do with this opportunity. I could:

A) just tell him to go fuck himself or somesuch

B) ask a nasty question (ie. “Why are you conservatives so skullfuckingly stupid?”)

C) ask a legit question he’d never actually get from the lamestream media and put him on the spot unexpectedly

Option A would be fun, but rather crass and juvenile, even for me. Ditto option B. So I went with option C, asking Bingo Bob (and I made sure to call him Bob, rather than Congressman or Mr. Turner as all the other lemmings on the call were.) Here’s how it went down, some parts more paraphrased than others: (if the audio gets put up online I’ll be sure to link to it)

Screener: Our next question is about beach erosion.

Me: Hi, Bob.

Bob: Hello there.

Me: I know I’m supposed to ask about beach erosion, but listening to these other questions, I had another idea for what to talk about, so hopefully you don’t mind. In the past, the way it worked in Congress was that one side would want to do something that cost money, and one side wouldn’t, and they’d have it out, debate the merits, and then vote. But once the matter passed, if it passed, it was settled – everyone sat down and figured out how to pay for it. Your Republican party doesn’t do that anymore. Whenever they lose the vote battle, as they did with health care, and they know they don’t have the votes to repeal it, they just say “We’re gonna have a de facto repeal by blocking you from being able to pay for it.” You guys did the same thing with the debt ceiling a few months ago – you threatened to send the country into default because you didn’t want to pay the bills. So my question is, when are you guys going to start governing normally again, where once you’ve already committed to buying something it actually gets paid for?

Bob: Well, it is being paid, by our grandchildren… we’re borrowing forty cents on every dollar… Obamacare… we need to stop spending… liberal… Obama… forty cents on every dollar… thank you.

Me: …you didn’t answer my question, you useless sack of shit.

Alas, my parting shot didn’t go through, as once my question was out I was cut off from speaking further. Thus Bob got to hem and haw and duck and dodge while regurgitating every stupid fucking right wing economic talking point, none of which have any basis in reality or relevance to my question. Naturally, his answer contained neither, either. And so I can’t really put up here his exact words, or even a close facsimile of his words, because after about ten seconds (about the time I realized he had no intention of actually addressing the question) I just tuned out.

Bob, the point of the question is that it doesn’t matter if you think the United States spends too much money once that money is necessary to pay for shit that’s already on the books. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was given a fair vote – it passed. The measures are already being put into place. You can’t just not pay for them.

Same goes for raising the debt ceiling. You may not have wanted to spend so much money that the country had a budget shortfall, but that’s how shit ended up going down through the voting. The government needed to borrow more money in order to meet its already agreed-upon obligations. Just because you think that sucks doesn’t mean you get to ignore the bill when it comes due.

Put simply, Bob Turner is the guy who thinks it’s okay to walk out on the check because he’s mad that everyone at the table ordered such expensive dishes.

So, after all that, there’s your headline: “Dumb Republican is Dumb”

I should’ve just told him to go fuck himself.