Sunday, December 31, 2006

Finally! The Big Sort-Out Is Done

For the last 5 days I've sorted through everything I own. That can get a little heavy and I ended up with a pretty bad cold. The most recent quarter of my life has been charmed, truly magic, but I've had to delve back into the entire body of work, and at times that gets profoundly depressing. Not that I haven't led a charmed existence, but the other day, for example, I discovered a few letters my drummer wrote me from prison. That era really sucked. We were a good band when he was keeping time - not so good when he was doing time.

The experience of sorting goes like this: You pick up one thing that's totally meaningless like a transmission bill from 1985. You drop that in the garbage and then pick up the next paper and it absolutely clobbers you. Maybe it's a note from your Mom or Dad. Maybe it's a couple of pictures of you and your girlfriend circa 1979. At this point you stare out in space for a second before moving on.

Our lives really end up being a bunch of containers, and that includes caskets and urns. But I'm focusing more on those plastic containers you buy from the store. God, I have a lot of those.

I have one with just pictures and that's the most powerful, including many shots from the long-lost Arabia years. There's two huge containers full of script rewrites. There are boxes of jokes, and one container of cartoon stuff. There's a box of song lyrics. I even found the book where I list all the song titles - something like 124 by now, and that's not even complete. There are 2 containers full of family stuff and other memento-type documents. All the cards, letters, etc...That's probably where you'd look at after the pictures to tell what really went on.

I wrote a lengthy letter to the family nearly every Christmas, and I found enough of those to fill a big box. These letters are as long as 60 pages, and they should be pretty interesting as I describe the best events of each year. I may have to reread some of those, and see.

There's also one box of tools and supplies. One container is packed with stuff from my newspaper writing days. There's one of small tapes and papers for my cable access show. One for music cassettes, and one for videos. These will join the others already in storage. I've got tons of music cassettes and only around a quarter are commercial - the rest are me and various musicians.

There's quite a pile of business letters from all the shows and places where I've applied. I could teach a course: Comparative Rejection Letters of the 20th Century. Then there's a nice stack of media articles about me, including some of the times my jokes appeared in print. I really didn't keep up on those which is too bad. I should have cut out each and every time a joke was in the Oregonian, etc... I do have the Time Magazine one and the USA Today.

What an improbable career path. December 26th, 2006 marked ten years with the radio gig and that has been complete magic. That's really what I do. I've never met the bosses and I don't even have to come up with the premises. The stuff arrives 5 days a week and I just add some punch lines and send it back. Then they go to radio stations all over the globe. I don't know if we're still on in Namibia and Srl Lanka, but how cool is it knowing I'm having some kind of international impact? Especially since it's on the side of laughter, instead of misery? Okay, in theory at least. Let's just say the difference between me and President Bush is that when I drop a bomb, no one gets hurt.

Finally, unless my fried brain has forgotten something, there's a brand new container full of things to blog about in the year ahead. Don't worry. It's not all ticket stubs.

All told these containers show the life of a failed artist - at least till around 14 years ago. Then the comedy writing thing took off. I'm used to being somewhat of a success now, but I did get bogged down doing this, thinking about all the years when things did not work out. I really committed to music and risked it all, so when it didn't happen, I was in a pretty bad place. My main band that I moved to Portland with took a good ten years to get over. In fact, there are moments like this week, when I'm still haunted by it.

Lately, I've felt great, and I wish everybody the best in 2007. Through carefully applied waves of self-delusion, I've arrived at a pretty good place. That could be why I chose this time to do this.

The weirdest part is when you start looking at right now as it will look in the past - as it will look in the containers. I need to return to the present and stay there for a while. For 5 days I wandered back into the wreckage. I strolled through the debris field of my life. I was able to sort through it all, and that's great, but every now and then, I had to stop and talk with a few ghosts.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Fun With the City Council

Here's the city council pics from 2006. I could put them in an artistic order and explain what they mean but let's just keep them as is. Of course, the tram was a big topic this year so go crazy.

Saddam Gets a Necktie for Christmas

{This post represents a time when I was truly off my game. I'm so tired of Iraq and the repulsive stuff coming out of there, that I just had to go escaptist with it. Not one of my finer moments.}

One of the more ruthless bastards ever to slither out from under a desert rock, will not be joining us in 2007. I hope he didn't waste too much time working on his New Year's Resolutions. Yes, Saddam has left the building, although he did hang around for a while. He should have gotten some counseling because he obviously had quite a hang-up.

Okay, okay! Enough of the gallows humor. How did you react to your fellow humans putting a rope around a man's throat and dropping him to his death?

It reminded me of the weird response I had to child-killer Wesley Dodd's execution up in Washington. There is something very unsettling about the state taking a human life. I am philosophically opposed to capital punishment - it just feels wrong to kill someone no matter who it is. Plus, by hanging? It seems so barbaric and primitive like from the early days of the Wild West.

On the other hand, by the next day I realized that I did not miss Wesley. In fact, I really felt good that Wesley was gone. And it's even more so with the psychopath Saddam. Heck, I'm still celebrating that his sons are dead. I'm not saying Iraq was worth it - no way. But I do feel good knowing that Saddam is no longer breathing.

A secondary argument against capital punishment is usually made on the basis of human error - the classic problem of killing an innocent man. Do we really want the state having this power? I've been to the DMV and that was horrifying enough. Do we really want to concede this ability to a bureaucracy? Wouldn't we all want to live with the knowledge that you can get screwed over big-time by the government, but the worst case scenario is life in prison. At least the incompetent bastards can't execute you by mistake.

We don't have to sweat this argument with Saddam and we didn't have to worry about it with Wesley Dodd, either. Wesley openly discussed his willingness to kill children - how he kept crime scene pictures of them for later, because the photos aroused him sexually. If ever there was a person who needed to die it was Wesley Dodd. Sure, the night they hanged him up in Walla Walla was an ugly feeling, but I have to admit, the world is a better place without him, just as it feels better today knowing Saddam is gone.

Let's face it: The incompetence argument is a cop out. It's skirting the issue of whether or not the state has the right to kill an individual. However, there's a way to get closer to the heart of the matter.

Try comparing this to mercy killings. The debate has raged about doctor-assisted suicide and there's a similarity, but I'm jumping right to the reality of killing out of mercy. The easy position is to say we never take a life. Never. That's it, no exceptions. Unfortunately, in the real world, it sometimes becomes obvious that someone needs to die. We skirt around with the idea by saying we're just withholding treatment, but I bet mercy killings take place all the time. I bet so much medication is given that the body can't function and death occurs. We say we were only treating the pain, but the truth is the medical people were using medications to hasten a death. That's taking a life. You know it and I know it, and if we were in those wards at night when someone was in a pointless, prolonged agony, we would probably see this as the right thing to do. So killing someone can be humane. Weird, huh? You might not like it but it happens all the time.

Once you get there - to a place where you sort of understand mercy killings - you realize that there are times when a state takes a life. That's just reality. It's a very dangerous concept and I go back and forth on this, but I'll say that in the real world there are times when an execution is going to happen. It's just too obvious that it should. Wesley Dodd said he'd spend the rest of his life trying to escape so he could brutally kill more kids. Saddam? Well, Saddam was a poster child for capital punishment. Don't be fooled by the gentle-looking old man. This guy really was a monster. That doesn't mean we get a good feeling about watching him hang. There is obviously something hideous about snuffing a person out. But it is the next day and I sure don't miss having Saddam on the planet.

Of course, we don't want this to get out of hand - we don't want mass executions either. I mean that's one of the reasons we executed Saddam and there's the rub: Some guys are so brutal that we have to be brutal just to handle them. But how do you do that without crossing over to the dark side yourself? For example, are war crimes justified in response to war crimes? Hell, no. Having Saddam around is less scary than losing ourselves trying to kill him. That's what we might have done here.

Oh well, at least Saddam is gone. The planet is better off and we should be pleased about that. In a sense this was a mercy killing. We were showing mercy on ourselves.

So in conclusion, I'm going to stay in the anti-capital punishment camp. I realize some people need to go and if the other camp kills them, I won't have a problem with it. But hanging? Let's at least move on to something with a little less drama. We're a feel-good, high-tech society. If they have to go, make it peacefully with drugs. Hit them with a laser beam. The weirdest part of the Wesley Dodd execution was that they hanged him. Let's move on from that. We don't want to awaken the brutality that lies somewhere in us all.

If you have to do it, do it better with science. It would be worth it alone, just to get past the hanging jokes.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Portland Freelancer Sports Moment of the Year

It's time to do one of those end of the year review things, and there's always plenty to choose from in the world of sports. I thought the way Tiger came back after the death of his father was very powerful. I thought the Steelers win in the Super Bowl was very heavy given what the franchise had already accomplished. It's one of those words that doesn't sound right, but they are a storied franchise. Then there was the older vets on St. Louis finally tasting victory, althought the Series was marred by the pitchers on Detriot who made one error after another. The Miami Heat won after Dallas looked like they were going to run them out of the gym. That was one of the bigger mysteries - how they figured out how to defeat the Mavericks' speed. I'm sure there were plenty of other sports stories I can't think of right now.
Balls were thrown, balls were kicked, and if you were standing around in the outfield waiting for play to resume, balls were scratched.

The biggest sporting moment of 2006 has to be when Zidane blew the World Cup by head-butting the Italian dude. The remark that set it off couldn't have been that bad - it was supposed to be about his sister, or mother, or grandmother or terrorism. Perhaps all 4. Wait, I know what set the Frenchman off. The other player said that fish can be served with red wine, and it's okay. Maybe the remark was that intolerable, but was it bad enough to blow your country's chances at soccer's ultimate prize? I think the French would say, "Non." Besides this was a legendary soccer player in his final match - do you really want to go out like that?

For all these things, Zidane wins the Portland Freelancer Sports Moment of the Year. For many years the name Zidane will sort of be linked with "moron" and that's too bad for him. Not to mention his grandmother, his mother, and his sister.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

James Brown - My Ticket Stubs

James Brown's body lay in state at the Apollo Theater in Harlem today. I consider having seen him perform 3 different times to be one of the great breaks of my life. Here are my ticket stubs. (Incidentally, that second show with Etta James also had Martha Reeves on the bill.) James Brown belongs in the pantheon of musical giants. The shocking part isn't that he's gone. It's trying to imagine a world where you could simply buy a ticket and go see James Brown perform live. That seems like such an amazing opportunity that I already have trouble believing that it really happened. But it did.

More Great Stuff From The Big Sort-Out

I'm in Day 3 of sorting through all my belongings, so I'm running into some memorable stuff. I suppose I could present this in a better order, but why not just press on, and suspend with making sense?

It certainly doesn't seem right to follow a post about me as a banquet captain with one about my father as a Captain in World War 2, but that's what we have. The short account below sure sounds like him - he had a whole bunch of pet phrases that he would repeat from time to time and one of them was, "Let's get organized."

His job in Arabia was in Government Relations between the company and the royal rulers of Saudi Arabia, so he was used to elaborate problems. He told me that he preferred this wide-open, hard-to-imagine stuff to the certainty of numbers or science. He thrived on solving these things, and I'm sure he was a terrific organizer of men in World War 2. Ironically, I'm presenting these things in an unorganized way, but let's just ignore that.

As usual with members of the Greatest Generation, Harry rarely discussed the war very much with me. Once he told me he had seen General Patton drive up, and he wasn't impressed with the flashiness. He said the soldiers liked someone else that he saw there: General Omar Bradley. I wish I could tell you more, but unlike today when our leaders race to the microphones to brag about every little thing - that generation preferred to remain quiet and let their deeds speak for themselves. They also felt the true heros of World War 2 died in battle and are buried to this day in huge cemeteries in France and elsewhere. So here goes:

31 March 1945

is awarded to

Headquarters, 3113th Signal Service Battalion


For meritorious service in support of military operations, 1 March 1944 to 31 August 1944. As Battalion Adjutant, Captain MC DONALD organized the administration and personnel agencies responsible for over a thousand men in disorganized and extremely difficult circumstances. During the movement of the invading armies through Southern Base Section, his efforts aided materially in unifying the signal troops engaged in the operations into a well-coordinated battalion whose superior efficiency and spirit have since won for it official recognition.
Colonel, Sig G.,
Signal Office, U.K. Base.

* P.S. I think what the Colonel is trying to say is if it weren't for my Dad we'd all be speaking German right now.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Banquet Captain Years: How's This for a Photograph?

I've got a week off from trying to entertain this great nation of ours, so I thought I'd prepare for 2007. Frankly, my ridiculous collection of tapes, notebooks, and boxes of old jokes, etc... was starting to bury me. I envisioned one of those stories where they find someone down in the basement under an avalanche of his own refuse. My humble cable access show produces one mini-tape a week but there must be more than a hundred of them floating around here. Then there's the endless drafts of movie scripts - or more accurately movie-less scripts. It was way past time to sort through everything and consolidate.

Besides, why not straigten up my papers to mark the end of an era? As faithful readers of this blog already know - just play along - I recently quit my extreme backup job and relinquished my seniority at the banquet department of a downtown hotel. It actually was a perfect ending. See, back when it was my only job, I took it really seriously, and got involved with contract negotiations. Hell, I became an expert on banquet theory, which to me means motivating a crew to want to go off. That may sound like a simple concept but you would be surprised how many hotel executives I've dealt with along the way, who did not get it.

Of course, diving into all your papers can put you through some major changes. I'd find myself reading a letter from my Dad or Mom and getting choked up. I also stumbled on some disciplinary problems I had in my wild youth at the hotel, including the 30-day suspension I received for threatening the chef. When I signed my name on that one, I drew a star before and after the signature as sort of a statement as to how I felt about it.

I'm proud to say the chef and I went on to be great friends, but this was when he first got to town. Things came to a head one Valentine's night when we had the Righteous Brothers in the ballroom. I got to hang out with them in their dressing room and that was quite cool, but when the function started, things melted down. The dinner-concert concept in a huge ballroom overwhelmed the kitchen. Couples were literally arguing over whose idea it was to come to it, and along the way, the new chef yelled at me one time too many. After all, we had the place running like a top before he got there, and he was in the process of blowing the Righteous Brothers gig right out his ass. It was known as the Valentine's Day Massacre from then on.

So I vented back in dramatic fashion and was given a month off. I'm not proud of my temper, but it only appears every few years. My wife has never seen it - I mean the real "it" where your blood boils and anything is possible. The hotel gave me a lot of leeway, in retrospect, to grow up and learn how to act. I appreciate that. They could have fired me several different times, and they kept me around. In exchange, I took it very seriously, and I did a good job. My goal was not to blow any functions. I've seen lesser banquet captains not be ready on time, and then crash the party into the rocks. I made a handful of major mistakes but I never slammed a party into the mountaintop, and for that I am proud.

The reason the job ended perfectly was that I had around a decade where I just worked maybe 3 or 4 times a year. Recently, it was up to 6 times a year to keep seniority. This was old home week kind of stuff, a healing period for all involved. Actually, that's not quite true. There was the Dalai Lama fiasco, where I was nearly fired for using my access as a waiter to write a Portland Tribune column about the spiritual leader. But basically things have been good. By the way, I stumbled on that little write-up today as well. The Dalai Lama was such a happy, joyous guy and it was great chatting with him, but his followers here in town sure got pissed off at my column. Whoops.

It points out something great: As banquet captain and waiter, I got to meet a lot of celebrities over the last 29 years. A day rarely passes when I don't see someone I served, on TV. Today I saw Howard Baker talking about Gerald Ford. I got to meet Howard when he was here, and also checked out Ford when he appeared at the hotel after his presidency.

Here's my favorite picture from the banquet captain years. I'll write the story part later. By the way, I use plastic containers to sort my stuff: Scripts, Jokes, Tapes....This time around there was a new container labeled "Blog Topics " The banquet stories are going to be fun. 2007 should be a good year for blogging.

Another Tram System: A Headline from the Past and Future

When our Portland city leaders set their hearts on something, it's just a matter of time. Visions can be beat down at first but they reappear like zombies in a horror movie. For example, I was under the impression that the Burnside couplet idea was dead, but I see it's back, and it's alive. So I offer you this Oregonian headline from June 22nd, 2002 for what may await us in 2007 or 8 or 9. It describes the Portland Office of Transportation's vision for a second tram system. The first would connect Marquam Hill to North Macadam - check - and this second one would go from OHSU to Barbur.

It's in the right civic spirit. True political projects in Portland are never done. Streetcars eventually give birth to other streetcars, and therefore, trams must spawn new trams. It is the way of the city. "If it's a good idea, why not do it again?", transforms into, "It must be a good idea, because we're doing it again."

Visions that have been rebuffed are filed away and revisited later. If enough time has passed they will be announced as brand new: "Say, what about a second tram that would connect Marquam Hill with Southwest Barbur Boulevard?"

The idea is presently buried like those machines in War of the Worlds, awaiting the day when a bolt of inspiration hits one of our commissioners. The asphalt will sizzle and crack. A great crater will open, and the notion of a second tram will rise up from it's temporary grave. Then, like a zombie that can never die, it will begin to walk the earth.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

James Brown: "I'm Going Away Tonight"

All day yesterday I heard a big chord. It wasn't one of those scratchy rhythm guitar chords with the built in funk. Sure, there were plenty of those as the tributes began, but this was just a straight ahead major chord. It was saying that a great man had passed away. Of course, those funk chords and beats were awesome, and through them James Brown gave us his spirit - dramatic, powerful, good, bad, clean and messy. Yes, it's true. At times James Brown's life was really messed up - this wasn't the first time he said he was going away. Okay, fine, but that part's over. It's really just a footnote now.

Sadly, the time has come to look back at James Brown. It's time to forget the footnotes and "Get on the Good Foot" - time to contemplate what an amazing force the guy truly was. Who put more life into music? Nobody. Who played it funkier and with a more electrifying stage show? Nobody. In a purely academic sense, very few musicians have invented a new musical genre, but James Brown did. Before they called it Funk Music they just called it James Brown. I never liked the Godfather of Soul trademark. There were others who helped create soul music, but there was only one Father of Funk. In my opinion he created that whole bag. And thankfully, the music will still be around - here on earth as long as we are. If anything in history ever had staying power, this music has staying power.

Remember how he used to conduct his band between actual songs? Incredible, intricate arrangements that would stop and start, dazzling the crowd with their precision? Then he would scream or yell out "Hit it" and the next monster groove would commence. Well, the band's still there ready to pounce but James Brown is gone. He said, "I'm going away tonight" and he left. The band was silent, but a big chord rose up and went around the globe. It's the sound the world makes when a great man dies.

Monday, December 25, 2006

A Portland Freelancer Memory: The Christmas Spike of 2006

Okay, when it comes to blog traffic, I'm not exactly Jack Bogdanski. In fact, the first few times I ever had a spike were courtesy of a link from his site. There was also a link from Fark, and then a recent bit of mine that was linked by the Denver Post, if you can believe that. Naturally, it's fun when my visit counter starts going off, but that wasn't the reason I started blogging in the first place. I just wanted a forum where I could keep on being a columnist, especially after the Portland Tribune let me go. I like writing columns - they're perfect for my attention span. I also wanted the freedom to say exactly what I was thinking, and get better doing it. Massive numbers would be okay, but it's not the driving force here.

This past week's post called "Presidential Profiling" - in which I examined our leader's psyche - really went places. It came out in the morning, and nothing much happened, but that meant I had a chance to tighten it up. As it turned out this was very fortunate.

It used to be so aggravating when I'd think of a better way to write something in a Tribune column, after it was too late - the paper had already gone to press. Sometimes I would make a flat-out factual error and there was no way to correct it. I would come out of the door in the morning and see the paper on yards all up and down my street - very frustrating. I can't remember how many they used to print then but it was probably over 100 thousand. That's a lot of little mistakes lying around like dog turds on people's front lawns.

Here's a funny note: One time the Tribune even misspelled my name and it was in my own column. I should have known right then that I wouldn't be sticking around for long. Of course, nothing compared to a factual error in one of my televised jokes that led to the late night leader in talk shows apologizing the next day. No offense, but the Trib could never deliver one of my errors with that kind of reach. That little TV joke meant I had screwed up in over 70 countries.

In the blog world you get to fine-tune things for as long as you want - even after a post is out there - which is what I did with "Presidential Profiling". Around 4, Jack Bog picked up on it, and the next day Blue Oregon featured it as well. Since then around 4 or 5 other sites have linked to it and it's been quite fun. A big thank you to Jack Bogdanski for the initial support and Kari Chisholm of Blue Oregon for following through soon after. Also thanks to the many sites including Bush Watch, BuzzFlash, BartCop and others who linked to it from there. It was a really cool feeling, especially coming during the holiday crunch. This became my Christmas Spike of 2006. It's the type of response that really encourages you, so thanks to everyone involved.

Bulletin From Bethlehem

My sister-in-law emailed me that my little band of world travelers made it to Bethlehem and saw the bronze star in the Grotto of the Nativity with the famous words in Latin: "HIC DE VIRGINE MARIA JESUS CHRISTUS NATUS EST". Security was extremely tight, so they skipped the Midnight Mass and headed back to Jerusalem, which I completely understand. The Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was going to attend that service which should have pegged the security levels so far into red you can't even see them anymore. It's tiring when you're in a crowd wondering if something will explode.

I made this trip as a youngster in January of 1967. Of course, since then our violent religious clashes have given way to peace and understanding....NOT! In fact, some of the things we saw back then were destroyed in the 6 Day War later that year. I was also spit on by an Arab man riding a donkey. There's a lot of anger in the Middle East, in case you haven't been keeping up.

I try and refrain from discussing organized religion. I have family who are devout Catholics so why go there? I even attend Midnight Mass with them out of a sense of duty and the compromise that is marriage. So any comments I make now may be caused by acute sleep deprivation and the lingering effects of incense poisoning.

I get it about faith. I understand. I only raise concern about certain religions when they talk about the end of the world. I believe such talk - in the wrong hands - could lead to action. I love humanity enough that I firmly believe we should go on, and I hate this defeatist talk, especially when those who are saying such things, could make it happen. Personally, I think we should be moving out into space. We should already be living on the moon, and we should have had some astronauts on Mars by now. It's a true shame. We landed on the moon in 1969. That's almost 40 years ago. What gives?

I also believe in the Santa Claus doctrine: Be good for goodness sake. Not because you are being threatened with eternal damnation. That's not sincere - it's coercion. Be good because it's a nice thing to be. Now I will admit I'm against Santa Claus for the list. Frankly, it sounds too much like the NSA.

Enough. Be lighthearted. Laugh. Go forth and celebrate. I believe faith is one of those things that is going to happen. Personally, I enjoy the mystery of it all and the quest to figure it out. I appreciate the quiet serenity of believing that you know, but it often takes forms that are neither quiet nor serene. Part of thinking you know - but not really knowing - is the need to challenge anyone who doesn't see it your way. That can escalate quickly.

If you really knew, it wouldn't be a problem. You'd just laugh off any challenges to your version of what is going on. That doesn't happen. Taken lightly it is a disappointed stare from the mother-in-law. Taken to extremes it is a full scale jihad. I do resent the fact that religious people won't let others be. They think they are doing you a favor by pressuring you, and they are often asked to recruit more people, but you should be allowed to decide on your own.

Let's look at faith versus knowing. Take the equation, "One and one equals two." If some guy doesn't believe that you don't get all hostile to him. You don't debate him for hours, much less storm his village and slaughter his cattle. It's something you really know so you just chuckle when the guy makes his case, and say, "Whatever, dude." Religion isn't like that. Challenging someone's faith brings out the pit bull because the person trying to believe doesn't want to go there either.

So what is really going on? I'm not sure, but I have an analogy for the mystery of the universe. We all want to know what the deal is, don't we? Okay, many of you are sure you already know, and that's fine, but play along. Here's the analogy:

There is a game show called "Deal or No Deal". I haven't watched it, but I sense there is one amount in a briefcase and you must gamble to get more from another. If that is not how it works, I apologize to the devout followers of game shows out there. I respect your right to believe in the game show of your choice. Don't I sound gun-shy? Wow, all this tolerance and diplomacy have clearly gotten the best of me.

The point: I think accepting an ancient belief is like settling quickly in life. It is like taking the first briefcase. The one you were exposed to as a child. My theory is that you should hold out for more. Assume that the universe is a vast puzzle and try an attain the ultimate briefcase. The one with the real truth in it. Who knows? Maybe it will turn out to be the first one you received in life. It's possible. It could be Christianity. Of course, there are different types of that. (See Northern Ireland.)

I know most of you reading this don't believe Islam is the way, but billions do. I bet most of you think it's definitely not Scientology. Wouldn't that be just awful? A big "I told you so" from Tom Cruise? The Sacred Shrine of the Sofa Jumping Incident? Perish the thought, but you can't definitively prove he isn't right just as you can't prove your way is correct. Tom Cruise has faith in his way and you have faith in yours.

Me? I think what resides in that ultimate briefcase is different from anything anyone on this planet has even contemplated yet. My idea of heaven would be to find that out. Maybe there will just be one word to explain the universe: Because. I ask myself why all the time. Why all these billions of galaxies? Light takes 100 thousand years to cross our galaxy and there are billions more out there. Yet, people see the light from these distant galaxies and say that the light had to arrive from them in 6000 years. Fine. Run with it. Choose that briefcase if you want. If it makes you happy, take it. Call me greedy, but I want to continue searching.

P.S. If you find any of this offensive, I apologize. If you are truly confident in your faith you will forgive me, and love me all the more. I think it is a historical fact that a child was born in the Middle East who went on to have a huge impact on the world. The message of peace and love is absolutely beautiful and brilliant. I wish more of his followers followed it. If we are all God's children, then we should show the same love and protection for a child born in the Middle East this morning. Even if its parents don't share your religion. And - once again - if you take offense at any of this, I apologize. It's just the incense talking.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

How's this for a 2006 Holiday Car Trip? Cairo to Jerusalem

There's quite a story unfolding in my family right now, and it's putting me through some changes. First, some background: My brother David began going out with my sister-in-law Barbara at the University of Colorado at Denver. Her father had worked for an oil pipeline company in Lebanon, before moving to Arabia where he went on to be CEO of Aramco, then the biggest oil company in the world. My father was also a big-time executive in Government Relations in Arabia - the country where I was born - so the fathers were friends. In other words, our families have old ties with each other and the Middle East. We were Americans living overseas.

The days of college in Boulder, Colorado led to Barbara's family's home state of Minnesota. The big question - as with any college romance - was what next? What next turned out to be heartbreak hotel, a temporary or maybe permanent split as Barb went for more schooling in Cairo, Egypt. My brother was extremely bummed out, and everything was up in the air. It was just like most young people in their early twenties trying to figure out what to do.

At this point, I was towards the end of my hitchhiking years. Most of the over 25,000 miles around America had been traveled, but I still had some game left. I decided to hitchhike from Portland to Minnesota and pull a surprise visit. The night before it looked like I'd arrive - when I was in North Dakota - I thought I'd call David to tell him I was on the way. He said I had to get there by a certain time. It was either 2 or 3 in the afternoon - something like that, or he'd be gone. He would not tell me why but it was obviously a major deal.

I had to get to St.Paul, and towards crunch time, I was stuck in Minneapolis in a freeway construction site. This is when the first real break happened. My brother was working at a place called Frosty's - as I remember the name - that was right by the church with the big blue dome. I explained to my next ride where I was going and the guy had a personal connection to the restaurant. I think he used to work in it. He drove me right there - right to the place, where my brother was finishing his shift. I think I made it from Portland with 40 minutes to spare.

He finally told me what he had done. He had joined the military in his heartbroken state and they were coming for him that afternoon. He would swear in that day and spend overnight at some other location. I immediately began talking him out of it, and when the military recruiter called my brother's apartment I took the phone, and told the man in no uncertain terms that they were not getting my brother that day. The other real important break was that one of his friends from one of his many prep schools, showed up out of the blue. We began a 2 or 3 day party sequence that I won't go into out of respect. There are children involved here.

In conclusion, my brother ended up bagging the military and following Barb to Cairo - with help from my big sister. That was where the adventure really began. David started interning at a news organization, and began working as a video journalist. When the Achille Lauro ship hijacking happened he got a quick interview with Mubarak that went all over the world. In America, it was on the Today Show and NBC Nightly News. That was his big break.

What happened in the next years was like a screenplay. In fact, it is a screenplay called "Covering It" that we wrote together. Dave and Barb got married and had 4 kids born in Cairo, London, South Africa, and the Philippines. After his last stint as Reuters television chief in China, David retired from the insane, dangerous, burn-out world of international news coverage.

This Christmas my family is getting a refresher course in what it was like to worry all those years ago. My brother and his family all met up in Cairo once again in December of this year, and - get this - drove from Cairo to Jerusalem in a car. They're still over there right now.

We have email so it's not as isolated and weird as the old days when David would be detained somewhere. And I do mean detained. Actually, some of his old video is so riveting, that it still shows up to this day on news specials about South Africa, etc...One tidbit: He sat in a garden at Bishop Tutu's house with Nelson Mandela, the day after Mandela's release from prison. On the other hand, he missed one of his kids graduations because he was being detained by the Chinese police.

I got permission to tell my part of the story before David left. When they are safely back, I'll ask to blog the picture of his family back by the Pyramids. The original was taken twenty years ago by a then unknown photographer, who is now an old Middle East hand. Then it was only of their first daughter, Shannon - now there are 6 in the family and the 4 kids are mostly adults.

My brother has a way of coming up with these classic adventures, and the holiday trip this year is no exception. I mean, come on. It's 2006 and you're driving the family from Cairo to Jerusalem? That is an inherently lively proposition. Obviously, Jerusalem is on high alert during the Holidays. Who am I kidding? The Middle East is always on high alert somewhere. One of the emails mentioned the atmosphere was pretty tense. Yeah, no kidding.

Me, I'm handling the whole thing much better now that I know they made the Cairo-Jerusalem drive okay. I forgot what it was like to worry about these maniacs. Of course, I also forgot how cool it was thinking about this legendary family out there doing their thing.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Portland Freelancer Christmas Party: World Politics in 2006

It's time to get the gang back together one more time to celebrate the end of 2006.

Metaphor Goes on Washington Rampage

If you think Washington, D.C. is a real zoo, then what would that make the National Zoo in Washington? You'd have to assume at the very least it'd be a little wacky. A little wacky? Try the intergalactic vortex through which all cosmic wackiness enters our realm. You'd have to figure with a zoo like Congress nearby it'd be all the National Zoo could do just to compete. What would that take? Chimpanzees running wild through the crowds? Herds of zebras escaping down Pennsylvania Avenue? An occasional elephant going berserk and trampling a concession stand? How about pandas refusing to look cute?

The answer to all of the above is "No." In fact the whole premise of "Washington is a real zoo so what would its zoo look like?" was beginning to look a little forced. You know: Tired. You're basically taking an expression that implies wackiness and out of control behavior like what the politicians have done with our National Debt. Then you're comparing it to a zoo in reality, speculating that since it was in Washington, more out of control behavior would necessarily follow.

Sure, very funny, comedy boy. A regular laugh riot. You begin wondering if maybe it's over for you. Maybe your time on the national stage is done. Suddenly, it's dark and you're running through the rain weeping: Just give me a sign! Anything! One small sign to give me the strength to go on!

And that's when the leopard escapes at the National Zoo.

Okay, it didn't get far, before lying down to rest, but still. The idea of an uncaged leopard roaming our Nation's Capitol is all the validation I'll ever need. Washington....what a zoo. Here's a little of the Post article about it:

"What's New at the National Zoo?
Asia Trail Exhibit Closed After Clouded Leopard Stretches Its Legs a Little Too Far
A toothy 24-pound cat known as a clouded leopard seized an opportunity yesterday and escaped from its enclosure at the National Zoo. The zoo went on emergency alert, but as it turned out, no harm was done. The leopard, named Mook, was found lying inside the zoo grounds not far from its enclosure and was safely returned to custody. However, the clouded leopard exhibit, which is along the Asia Trail, has been temporarily closed while officials review security. Mook fled her enclosure after she or her mate clawed or chewed a hole in the fence, zoo spokesman John Gibbons said. He said the hole was about the diameter of a soccer ball. "We're looking at heavier-gauge wire for the mesh so they wouldn't be able to create a hole again," Gibbons said. "It seems that the mesh was too thin.""

It's like I can breathe again. Oh, and "toothy" might be a little bit of Washington spin. Scientists believe this particular beast descended from the saber-toothed tiger. How about a little more?

"A "Code Green" alarm was sounded, the gates to the zoo -- which open at 6 a.m. -- were shut, and joggers and other early-morning visitors were rounded up and escorted off zoo property, [the official] said. The zoo remained closed for a half-hour. Animal keepers and veterinarians, armed with nets and tranquilizer guns, surrounded Mook and anesthetized her with a dart gun, Gibbons said. She was taken into a building that is part of the enclosure she shares with Tai, the zoo's 15-pound male spotted leopard, but is not open to the public. Both cats are 5 years old. "We do drills throughout the year for this very type of situation," Gibbons said."

Oh, I bet you do. I bet you do.

Friday, December 22, 2006

1 P.M. Western Time: Space Shuttle Looking for a Place to Land

If you've ever seen the space shuttle fly over Portland on its way to Edwards Air Force base, you know why this morning started out sounding so exciting. But alas, watching the orbit on the NASA channel as they decide where to try and land, it appears the shuttle will approach the United States from the south. Darn it. We probably would have cloud cover but if we didn't, and the descent went over Portland, you can see the spacecraft with the naked eye.

The first time was the most thrilling because it was at night and I had no idea what it was. All of a sudden this huge glowing trail began to cross the sky and at the very front was a silver speck. It didn't look like a meteor - nothing was burning up - but the shuttle disturbs the atmosphere in a way that makes a glowing trail. I must confess, I wondered if our friends in Russia could be sending us a little something, and it wasn't till the 11 o'clock news that I learned what had really happened.

By the way, I was watching from the second floor window of a house on SE 23rd and across the street there were people outside of a corner restaurant. I almost yelled out but I thought, "What do you say?" so I remained in stunned silence. The trail in the sky glowed for a few seconds before fading out. I seem to remember reading that a mere 15 minutes later the shuttle was rolling on the ground in Southern California.

The next time they announced they were diverting the shuttle from Florida to Edwards Air Force Base, I was ready. I checked the orbit and it was heading right over Portland. I went outside at the right time and started looking up. It was a bright blue sky, and sure enough, there it was: A clearly visible craft hurtling along. There was no trail. This time I couldn't contain myself. Looking around I saw a man walking down the street and I shouted at him, "Look up. It's the Space Shuttle!" He just stared at me like I was nuts and left. It's not easy being a Junior Astronaut.

Now I hear them talking with the shuttle crew, and it appears the first Edwards opportunity has crosswind problems. It sounds like they're still trying to land it in either the Cape or White Sands, New Mexico. It's the last chance for Florida today so who knows. I love this stuff. Do you realize along with the computerized information, the astronauts are writing down weather parameters by hand like someone getting directions.

Of course, I just hope it makes it down okay, either today or tomorrow. The weather's not helping. I guess holiday travel is even tough on NASA. But if it lands at Edwards from the south, it's a missed opportunity for us. I want to see it glide over Portland again - maybe on the next flight. Why are you looking at me funny? You don't think you can see the space shuttle over Portland?

Update: The astronauts must want to come back today. When Mission Control gave them an okay to try and land in Florida, the astronaut said, "You're a good man, Hawk." Pretty informal, like the grand old days of the Right Stuff.

Update: Home.

Portland Freelancer Xmas or Whatever

I improved the graphics on this, so here's take two.

Portland Freelancer Xmas - Google Video

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Guitar Song: Merry Christmas/Whatever from the Portland Freelancer

Okay, we're at that point when talk of war and corruption just seems overly harsh. So here's my version of "Oh Holy Night". I recorded it using 3 different tracks, on a custom electric guitar made by the fine folks at 12th Fret on Belmont in beautiful Portland, Oregon. It starts with an actual guitar trick - the bell sound at the beginning was made by hitting the strings with the volume down and then bringing it up.

As you'll read, there were some in my family who had difficulty locating the melody line. Whoops! It is a little buried and there's a long intro, so after the bent notes part, the melody comes in. It is a great song composition, the way it builds, etc...

Oh, what the hell. The emotion is accurate, and this is one of my better recordings. But then again you can't dance to it, so really, what's the point?

The point is to express a Merry Christmas or anything else you're celebrating and Best Wishes in 2007.
Merry Christmas from the Portland Freelancer - Google Video

So You Want to Be a Standup Comedian?

And this is just how Dwight travels during the Holidays. When he goes to Afghanistan it looks more like this:

Here's to my friend Dwight Slade, although he'd cringe if I called him that. Ever since I used to phone into the old Dave and Dwight show, the schtick has been that I'm the psycho shut-in loner and he's the big-time international comedian. Our conversations always feature a few sentences about how he regrets taking the call, and hopes it wraps up before things get too awkward. Along the way, we've become buddies of sorts, and I enjoy writing the occasional joke for him.

Incidentally, Dwight had one of the better takes in the anxious moments before the Presidential Elections of 2004. I was freaking out over the notion that the Bush years would continue, and though Dwight shared my concerns politically, he sprinkled the comedy dust on it. He pronounced the 2004 Elections a Win-Win Situation. That still makes me laugh.

This has been quite a year for Dwight. He did a tour for the troops in Afghanistan and one month over in Scotland. Last week he emailed me about an upcoming appearance on Bob and Tom, a national radio show. I've written some stuff for this particular effort before, and they were having him back which is always a good sign. When I called Dwight he was in Los Angeles. We did the usual two minutes about how little interest he had in talking with me, and how he only took the call because he thought it was somebody else.

The one thing I did ask him was to please email me a reminder if he didn't hear from me a couple of days before the show. The bit was called, "I wonder why..." or "I wonder what..." I just knew it was a few days too soon to write the topical stuff, and a week was the outer limits of my long-term memory. Why couldn't he call or write at the last minute so these things wouldn't hang over my head?

Take the Lars Larson show, if you can. The most recent time on that, Dwight called around a half hour before airtime. I got right on it, called him back, and then got to watch him tell Lars a couple of my jokes which was fun. Incidentally, Comcast broadcasts the radio show, including right through the breaks, so after Dwight delivered my suggested line about the War on Christmas, I saw that Lars went on talking about it after they went off the air. That was a win in my world.

Unfortunately, I almost spaced out this last radio performance. I was just about to go out to dinner with my wife when I remembered it. This was Tuesday night and he went on Wednesday morning. Whoops! "Ahh, honey, I have to go write some comedy now." She was very understanding. The last thing I need to do is let down someone who visited our troops in Afghanistan this year. That would almost make me a terrorist appeaser, wouldn't it?

This is a busy time. I don't know about you, but in my area the natives are in the middle of some primitive and demanding celebration. Actually, forget the War on Christmas - this is all part of Christmas's War on Me.

Anyway I called and this time Dwight was in Indianapolis where the show is located. I guess he was beginning to think I had forgotten because he said he was working on a bit called, "I wonder why friends let you down and betray you?"

Thank goodness I remembered. Who needs an extra helping of guilt during this nightmare? Especially involving an authentic American comedy hero? Of course, Dwight's way too cool to remind me - even though I knew I might space this out with all the holiday hubbub. There's your Christmas Carol for you right there - Holiday Hubbub: "My nerves are all shattered, they're worn to the nub, I suppose it must be, that old Holiday Hubbub."

Along the way, I also got a sense of what a winter standup gig for a national comedian is like. My nightmarish jaunts to the post office, etc...didn't seem that bad, after hearing about Dwight's 11-hour trip to Indianapolis. And then the fun was really scheduled to start with a gig in Lexington, Kentucky. Finally on the 24th, he flies home to Portland, assuming the weather in Denver, etc...gets a lot better. So you want to be a standup comedian? Take my advice: Be a writer instead, but for God's sake, get an appointment calendar.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Presidential Profiling

I awoke this morning to the sounds of President Bush giving a press conference. I played my usual game: How long till he says something a little off? Three questions later he came up with the phrase "increasing more troops", but overall he was coherent. Apparently, nothing focuses this man like failure. He seemed energized by the gigantic mess he's made, and eager to make the mess worse.

There's clearly something psychological at work here. He's spent his life trying to talk himself out of bad situations of his own making, so maybe this has put him in a comfort zone. He finally has the conflict in Iraq on his own terms, which means it is all screwed up. He seemed defiant and almost happy as he sparred with the reporters about this fiasco. The war isn't wearing him down - he seemed invigorated and joyfully alive.

One of the reporters' questions was directly about this. It referenced the other day when President Bush sought to assure us that he was sleeping well as the mayhem in Iraq unfolds. It struck many as quite revealing - one of those slips that let you know who he really is. What does it say about a man when he's in the middle of the Iraq War - a conflict he caused - and yet he sleeps well at night?

One obvious answer is that he has sociopathic tendencies - an inability to feel the normal range of human emotions. Apparently someone in the White House noticed the problem with that sleep comment the other day, so the President was ready for the question this morning. The reporter discussed how devastated President Johnson was during our failure in Vietnam. You could see it wearing him down, and it helped him decide not to run again. The reporter asked how this President could appear so relaxed knowing people were dying because of him. President Bush went into an answer that seemed rehearsed to me. His voice didn't crack with emotion, like his father's would have. He said that it was the toughest part of his Presidency but that he had questioned himself about Iraq and realized he was right, so that was that.

At this point, I came up with another theory abut the Iraq War - one that I haven't heard expressed exactly like this anywhere else. Certainly others have mentioned that this President could be a sadist. He has the anecdotal behavior from his childhood - the cruelty to animals. His profound lack of curiosity in the world could stem from a realization that there's something missing in his own soul and he knows it. This lack of crucial feeling makes him mad - he realizes he's different, and though he rehearses answers about human emotions, every now and then the truth slips out.

We also know he gravitates to torture. When McCain wanted an anti-torture bill, President Bush fought it with everything he had - even threatening to veto it. After it was signed, President Bush made it clear that he would not follow it if he didn't want to - torture was clearly one practise he did not want to lose. Of course, he said all the right things - downright lies, actually - about how America does not torture, but there was a glimpse into his personality with that. This comment about sleeping well while others suffer and die because of his actions, was another.

So what's my theory? Okay, the reason the President seems so animated right now - the reason he is focused and alert - is that the Iraq War has given him something that his sadistic, sociopathic personality craved from the first time he was called mediocre, and teased for being who he is. The Iraq War is his adult version of torturing little animals. He has finally made it to the Super Bowl of Cruelty, and it's really working for him. The reason he's sleeping so well, and talking so energetically, is precisely because - in his twisted way - he is happy right now. Why? Because he's using the Iraq War to torture us all.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Robert M. Gates: One Word From the Truth

The new Secretary of Defense came so close to saying the truth on his first day in office. It was as if he was trying to communicate the real deal, but in an acceptable format for his new boss. The brain is so good at sending secret signals of what we really believe. Here's how he put it: “All of us want to find a way to bring America’s sons and daughters home again. But as the president has made clear, we simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East. Failure in Iraq would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come.” If he just replaced "would" with "will", you have a devastatingly accurate picture of reality:

“Failure in Iraq will be a calamity that will haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come.”

After all, that's what has really happened, and I'm sure Robert Gates knows it. He certainly didn't try the administration's tired old line that we are marching to victory on this. Nobody tries shoveling that anymore. Gates is quite aware that he didn't get the job because the plan was working so well with Donald Rumsfeld. Of course supporters of the administration will insist this isn't how the new Secretary of Defense feels at all. It's wrong to read into his words. He may even believe in this mission as much as the President is pretending to - that things will eventually turn out great.

Maybe so, but I was amused to see the Yahoo News headline about the comment. Apparently, I wasn't alone in hearing a slightly different message. Here's the headline from early this morning: "Gates: Failure in Iraq will haunt U.S."

And so it goes.

Gates: Failure in Iraq will haunt U.S. - Yahoo! News

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Scariest Numbers You'll Probably Never See

Fittingly, I can't link to the document I've been reading. It's the Treasury/OMB's "Financial Report of the United States Government". It came out this month and it's a real frightening piece of work.

Turn this document into a screenplay and it would be the biggest horror movie of all time. It's also in an application that precludes copying and pasting, so let me type just one little sentence for you:

"Fiscal year 2006 assets of $1,496.5 billion and total liabilities of $10,412.9 billion combine to derive the Government's current net liability of $8,916.4 billion."

The United States is currently on an unsustainable fiscal path. You don't have to be an accountant to see it. We might look back at these tax cuts for the rich that really just transferred wealth from future generations to the wealthiest current Americans, as the biggest blunder of the Bush years. We also may thank our lucky stars one day that we had the Iraq War to keep our minds off of how bad things were getting. America cannot honor its financial commitments. The best analogy I've heard is that we have spent like a drunken sailor, and the problem is that you can never predict when the liver will give out.

When young people ask me for career advice - and that's a little frightening right there - I always advise them to learn a skill they can perform to amuse the people around a campfire. Then if everyone laughs ask to share any food. I am only half kidding. America has been arrogant for too long, and it could be about to catch up with us.

The Democrats Prepare to Blow It on Iraq

Call it the Stockholm Syndrome on the Potomac. Harry Reid and company are still talking like hostages - not the party about to be in power in Congress, the party that could end our involvement in Iraq. They're also falling all over themselves to assure America that they will not pursue the administration and make them pay for defrauding us into this war. Why not? Is it honor among thieves?

Politicians love World War 2 analogies, so here goes: It's as if a formation of World War 2 bombers was flying along and the bomber called the Iraq Belle has been hit. The plane is smoking and the crew is bailing out. It is obvious to every one that the Iraq Belle and its mission are going down. Meanwhile, the Democrats in a nearby plane are trying to figure out how to jump from their plane to the smoking one, so they can ride the doomed bomber to the ground.

This latest plan to send more troops could be the quintessential dumb decision of the Bush Years, and that is saying a great deal. It shows that despite all the evidence in the world that something is not working, President Bush is still willing and able to make it worse. It's the Iraq Stalling Group - delay the inevitable failure, and give the Public less time to look back and demand some punishment. War crime trials usually take place only after the war, so why end the war?

The idea that 20 or 30 thousand more troops will matter is ludicrous. This country is as big as California. This is a symbolic bandage on a corpse. Meanwhile, Harry Reid has announced that a surge in troops is fine with him, just so long as it's temporary. Too bad the young Americans who are being slaughtered in this thing, don't lose limbs temporarily, or die temporarily.

Have you been paying any attention to the anecdotal evidence that's pouring out of Iraq? By the way, the Iraq Study Group had a damning paragraph about how badly underreported the violence has been. Of course, it was on a page towards the end so we know Junior didn't get there, but think about it: While we've been lectured all these years about how the media doesn't tell us the good news out of Iraq, the opposite is actually true. There is a whole bunch of bad news we never hear.

The reoccurring description soldiers give involves driving down a road during the day and having IEDs explode. Then during the night they withdraw. They do not have enough troops to secure the road, so the road is wired again. The next day, our soldiers have to drive back down the same road and face the new IEDs. That is the definition of madness, and 20 or 30,000 more troops won't change it. Think of the roads in California. How many soldiers would it take just to secure I-5? Meanwhile, we haven't even secured the road in from the Bagdhad airport, and it's been years.

War is often used as a metaphor for madness, but some fundamentals of war do make sense. The Japanese held Iwo Jima, we attacked and lost a lot of men, but then we held the island. That was accomplishing something.

Think of the streets of Iraq as a million Iwo Jimas. It's as if we invaded and lost men in the process each and every day, but every night we gave the islands back to the Japanese. It's absolute madness.

My hope is that Stockholm on the Potomac Syndrome will end in January. Harry Reid and company may have to feel the power coursing through their veins, to wake up from their slumber. They will have much more of a platform to describe how leaving Iraq is not bad for our defense. It's good for our defense. Nobody knows what would happen if the American presence there ended. Hell, there's a chance the place could settle down.

Maybe it's all one of those political ruses. Harry Reid's going to play good cop and let Nancy Pelosi play the bad cop on this, but Democrats have the power to end this war, and that is what they should do. Each and every Democratic politician should think about their careers if they don't get us out of this. Think about the phrase "temporary surge." It could just as easily describe the Democrats return to power.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Drama on the Mountain

If you are reading this Sunday afternoon check out the ongoing search on Mt. Hood. Both CNN and FOX have shots of the top of the mountain that are truly stunning. Still no good news to report, but an empty snow cave was found and hopefully at least one of the climbers is alive and on the move. Either that or holed up further down the south side of the mountain. The obvious question is why wouldn't they emerge if they can hear the helicopters? One mountain expert says a snow cave is quite soundproof. Daylight is running out. We need a miracle here. Update: One climber dead, two still missing.

Newt Gingrich: An Intellectual Idiot

Most of the trouble in the world is started by people who are not as smart as they think they are. That's why a man who is a moron can be completely worthwhile to society and an excellent example of good character - provided he knows he's a moron. The day crew supervisor at the hotel where I worked, got off a great line one day: "It takes a certain amount of brains to know that you're stupid."

Mixed in with the bright outcasts from the 9-5 world, there were some people I worked with during the hotel years, who were maximizing their mental potential, and I had total respect for them. I don't think brains has anything to do with how good a person you are. In fact, the smart ones have more ability to come up with the devious shit. So, I've known people - and still do - who've been career dishwashers, etc...and they're as worthwhile to be around as anyone else. In fact, I'd much rather work with them than an intellectually-phony weasel who thinks he's brilliant such as Newt Gingrich.

When Newt's time as Speaker of the House ended, he hit the lecture circuit so on more than one occasion, I have been in banquet rooms listening to him speak. He uttered one of the most pompous statements I have ever heard at one of these events, when he gushed to the crowd that he had left politics and gone back to the visionary business. Oh, shut up. Meanwhile, the only thing he looked like he had been envisioning was a stack of pancakes.

See, I've heard enough professors in my life that I can gauge the phonies. What they're good at is absorbing a bunch of information - often from intellectual giants - and then putting it into a coherent presentation that admittedly does make you think. The trouble with Newt is that he feels by transferring this material from his notebook to his speech, he has somehow proven that he is as smart as the people he quotes.

By the way, during one of these speeches he'll say "Frankly" 20 or so times. It's his way of adding gravitas: "Look, you've heard what these people have said, and frankly, when I say it it makes me sound smarter." There are even smug pauses after he quotes some new idea, and in these pauses his GOP followers look at him with admiration and think, "That's why Newt's so smart - because he really gets this stuff."

The rap on Newt is that he is a bully - a man of low character in his personal life who was boning an intern on the side even as he went after Bill Clinton. That's not my main problem with him. I think he is one of those people who is not even close to being as smart as he thinks he is. For example, Newt jumped all over the "We are now in World War 3" theme because it played to his startling and foolish need to sound more important than he really is. The Republican Revolution? Didn't they just recapture Congress? The Contract with America? You mean about fiscal responsibility and stuff? Newt is a pleasure-driven softie - a pudgy egomaniac with no clue at how little he really has to offer intellectually.

I admit if you ask him a question he can rattle off his answer in an articulate way. In that sense he is a mental giant compared to our President. But what exactly are his own ideas? Not the ones where he quotes other people and gathers their visions into a college lecture for you, like he used to do at the University of Georgia. Well, this week he has offered us up one of his own ideas, and it proves my point and then some:

Newt Gingrich is currently running his mouth about curtailing Free Speech. It is a rare opportunity to hear from the mental midget inside the giant head. Let's skip how offensive his "vision" is - his notion that we have to give up part of our Free Speech rights because of World War 3 - The War on Terror. Let's just look at it politically. Newt is currently testing the national mood to see if we want him as our President. That assessment alone proves something is missing, but to make his foray into Election 2008 with a plan to curtail Free Speech? Only a real idiot would do that.

In closing, may I say that Newt did provide me with one moment of intense pride. It was during another political season, and Newt had finished speaking at a banquet I worked. He asked if he could have a group picture of him with just the waiters. Actually, he's so big he could have a group picture of just himself.

The reason he wanted us to pose with him was to show how connected he was to the humble servants. You know - it would show his tremendous bond with the workers of America. The waiters gathered and we took the picture. After he left we had an informal emergency meeting. We decided if the fat bastard used the picture in his campaign, we would sue.
Union Leader - Gingrich defends free speech curbs - Saturday, Dec. 16, 2006

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Saying Goodbye To Rumsfeld: Cheney Gets In One Last Lie

When Dick Cheney got that earnest phony-macho look and pronounced Donald Rumsfeld the best Secretary of Defense America has ever had, it was historic. This was the last lie the men would share together in power, and it had everything. There was a sneaky element of course: The first Secretary of Defense was in 1947. Before that it was the Department of War. So Cheney gave the impression that his accolades covered the entirety of American History, when in fact there have only been 21 Secretaries of Defense in the last 60 years.

Of these, one of them was Dick Cheney himself. We can assume that if he didn't screw up his time in the position, it was only because Papa Bush wouldn't let him run amok, the way that Junior has. By the way, Bush 1 only picked Cheney after John Tower was rejected.

Another of the Secretaries was some clown named Donald Rumsfeld, in his first stint. You could argue that his performance this time wasn't even up to the lofty standards he set the first time around. After all he didn't leave us with the biggest mistake in American History, and I'm not just going back to 1947, the way that Cheney did.

So there were only 19 in play here, but let's not dwell on technicalities. Getting rid of Rumsfeld is worth a little good will. I should be magnanimous about this - it's a beautiful fact that the crusty old bastard is finally gone. I can just picture him fighting for the remote with his grandkids. He'll be sitting around the tree this Christmas fantasizing about detaining Santa Claus, and making him talk. "Tell me what you brought me, or I'll waterboard you."

Let's get past the acrimony and just look at the 19. Why don't we start at the beginning and see how long it takes to pick a superior American leader. You know - one that Rumsfeld was supposedly better than. How about the 3rd Secretary of Defense, George C. Marshall?

Here's a little bit of his bio. I'll link below to the rest:

"Marshall had extensive combat experience in Europe during World War I, and between 1919 and 1924 he was aide-de-camp to General John J. Pershing. After three years in China (1924-27), he served for the next dozen years at posts in the United States, beginning with more than four years as assistant commandant of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, where many of the future Army leaders of World War II were on his faculty and staff. He became a brigadier general in 1936. In 1939 just as World War II began in Europe, President Roosevelt appointed Marshall Army chief of staff. In that position and as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff beginning in 1942, Marshall labored unceasingly to build up U.S. defenses and to prepare the Army for action. President Truman later described him as the "architect of victory" in World War II."

So summing up, you only get to the 3rd option out of 19 before you're sure that Rumsfeld was not the best Secretary of Defense we've ever had. Marshall only served for a year, but I'd wager he was better at his job than Rumsfeld ever dreamed of being.

It's all perfect in a sentimental way. When Cheney praised his old friend it was total bullshit - just another fraud perpetrated on the American People. It was a lie and totally bogus - unsupportable by the facts. It was also completely misleading, counting on the notion that the American Public would assume Cheney meant all of our history - not just since 1947. In short, this had everything. It was a perfect send-off by two of the biggest cretins who ever slithered onto the American Stage.
Histories of the Secretaries of Defense

My Own Way Forward

I'm at the point in life where you can no longer jump into a project on a whim. There has to be real planning, or at least a little mulling over. It should be because of the vast experience I've gleaned, but it's more to do with running out of time. I'm not that old, but there's just no time to waste anymore. False starts are still okay but, please, no more wrong turns.

When I think about my decision-making as a youth it just seems sweet and stupid now. I'd literally travel thousands of miles for the slightest reason. Even if the goal was solid the selection process usually lasted a couple of minutes. I didn't see that as rash. In fact, I had faith in doing it that way.

Here's an example. I had a roommate my first year in boarding school whose mother was a jazz singer in Berlin. He told me her stage name, and I said that maybe I'd travel through Berlin on one of my trips back and forth to Arabia and say hello to her for him. That was it - the extent of the decision-making process.

It led to one of the great adventures of my young life, and included the first time I ever had a drink. On the way back to the States for the next school year, my friend Walker and I went to Germany and searched the wild nightclubs of Berlin looking for my roommate's mother, just to say hello. We were 16. We saw many crazy things in the bars and clubs of Berlin - there were sailors dressed as women, and women dressed as male sailors. Many shocking sights were observed, but we couldn't find the jazz singer. After several nights we gave up.

The trip hadn't been a complete loss. We had taken a bus tour behind the Iron Curtain through the Berlin Wall to the other side. What a drab place the other half of the city was. One side produced Mercedes and the other produced cartoon cars. It was a great chance to see life under capitalism next to life under communism, like a big experiment. Guess what? Communism sucks. Same people, same city, two different systems. That part was fascinating.

As we were walking back to the hotel on the last night, we looked up a side street and saw one final nightclub. It was downstairs and there in a glass case full of pictures, was a photograph of the woman we were searching for - my roommate's Mom.

We called her, but she was working that night and we were leaving the next morning. Not a problem. We said goodbye to her and proceeded to have a blow-out celebration, at the rooftop bar, that featured us dancing with these wild adult women, and ended when Walker - who was mocking the goosestep at the time - collapsed into a group of potted plants. We were both thrown out. There was a rich industrialist there with his Swedish "girlfriend" and they invited us back to their suite. More drinks were consumed. Walker was talking to the guy about conditions in the Soviet Union. The guy kept saying, "Shocking" with a weird accent, and that went right into our lexicon from then onwards.

Meanwhile, the beautiful Swedish woman in the black velvet jumpsuit was sitting next to me on the sofa. Here I was 16, the first night I ever got drunk, and suddenly years of shyness and repression were gone. What began to happen next really was shocking.

Just then, Walker suddenly passed out and became ill. The guy was furious, throwing Walker out first. I wanted to stay. I was now in love with the Swedish babe from heaven. I was also tossed out so I headed back to the room a few minutes after Walker. There was a slight bend in the hallway and I was literally bouncing off the walls from side to side. Everything seemed so clear and funny. It was obvious that this alcohol molecule and I were destined to encounter each other, and for the next 14 years, before I quit at 30, I was an enthusiastic drinker.

When I got to the bend in the hallway, I could see Walker face-down outside the door to our room with the key in his hand. His arm was extended towards the door. This was extraordinarily funny to me at the time. I dragged him into the room and before we both passed out, Walker gave a long speech about various girlfriends of his, and life in general. This diatribe was absolutely hilarious. To me, in my drunken state, it was like listening to the funniest comedian ever.

We woke up with just enough time to make the plane. The only problem was we went to the wrong airport. This led to another night in Berlin where we finally met up with the jazz singer. She took us to a club where she said the musicians liked to go. All the waitresses were topless and there was an elaborate striptease stage show. The next day we flew on. I returned to boarding school and told my ex-roommate that I had seen his mother and everything was good with her. The plan had been accomplished, and it was all based on one comment.

Decisions don't happen like that for me anymore. I spend days ruminating about what to do - the next project. After a couple of weeks of chasing a bad lead, I now know what's next. My scripts have gone a long way before being rejected, and it's time to write another one. I have lived a fairly crazy life. It wasn't chance - I sought out most of it. Sadly, the days of the sudden scheme are over. These things appeared wild and random but they were actually cultivated under my watchful eye. It is now harvest time.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Some Potentially Thrilling News

Could this be? It sounds so good that it's hard to imagine it being true, but then again, medical breakthroughs do happen, and the scourge of one era is a mild nuisance for the next. Please be true, and please work for humans.
Diabetes breakthrough

Comedy 101: Humor in the Holidays

This is the traditional time that I float my humble version of "It's a Wonderful Life". I want to see this joke become a Holiday Classic to be repeated around fireplaces every Christmas. We all know that probably won't happen, but I was very encouraged when someone called yesterday, said he was about to tell it again, and wanted a refresher course on the wording. So here goes:

You've got to hand it to Santa Claus. How many guys can tell their wives, "I'm going out, I'm staying out all night, and I'm not coming home till I've emptied my sack"?

Actually, writing comedy during this season is a little too easy. It's often tough to sell a joke because everyone knows the old reliable subjects like the nightmare at the mall, the last-minute shopping, etc...I've noticed jokes about the Iraq Study Group have not played well with the studio audience in Los Angeles.

One topic that has real possibilities is the Reverend Ted Haggard's reprogramming to be straight. Ted was the guy who was actively preaching against the gay lifestyle while seeing a male prostitute for meth and sex. That sort of hypocrisy always goes a long way in stirring up a crowd, but the idea of a group of fellow pastors meeting to talk him out of being gay is downright hilarious. It reminded me of the group of preachers - including Jesse Jackson, active in his own personal life - who solemnly gathered to talk Bill Clinton out of being such a horny hound dog. Good luck with that!

I actually sold one joke about the Haggard counseling sessions earlier in the week, but it violated the guideline of not reinforcing stereotypes. In the joke I said I didn't think it was working because they asked him how the reprogramming was going and he said, "Fabulous!"

I try to avoid jokes that play to stereotypes, but sometimes commerce triumphs over my better judgement. I always avoid the hack riffs about gays being interior decorators or loving show tunes. However, this was still a slip over the line, although a very successful one - the crowd loved it. I rationalized by saying, "I didn't think the program was working" leaving some wiggle room. In other words, it may be working great, because straight people say "Fabulous" as well.

But I didn't feel completely good about it, so the next day, I set about to write a much nobler effort, that combined the topic with the Holidays. Why? Because it's the most wonderful time of the year, right? Okay, here goes:

"Reverend Haggard is being de-programmed from being gay but I don't think it's going too well. In fact today, the other pastors suffered a serious setback. They were talking with him about Christmas and he said he thought Santa Claus had a nice ass."

I doubt if that went on and I may never know. My power was knocked out around quarter to 11, and I missed the show. Oh well, we can make that one just for the readers of the Portland Freelancer. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Billy Graham and Wife to be Buried in Dairy Barn Tourist Attraction

Few things make me madder than watching old people being pushed around, and this story about the Reverend Billy Graham is just shameful. His son Franklin has put together a "library" that looks like a giant dairy farm, complete with a talking cow. Billy and his wife resisted but were pressured into agreeing to be buried there. It's located in Charlotte, North Carolina where it is intended to be a cash cow for the evangelical association now headed by the son Franklin. It makes Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye's project seem classy, and something should be done.

When I think about how mad my grandmother would have been to hear all this, it just makes me cringe. I'm related to Dwight L. Moody, on my mother's side. He was a leading minister of the last century. Here's little bit of the biographical stuff on Wikipedia:

"After the Civil War started, he was involved with the U.S. Christian Commission of the YMCA, and ministered at several battlefields.In Chicago, Moody worked to start a Sunday school for children in the poorer parts of the city. He soon had over 1,000 children and their parents attending each Sunday. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln visited one week....

It was in a trip to England that Moody became well known as an evangelist, to the point that some have claimed he was the greatest evangelist of the 19th century. His preaching had an impact as great as that of George Whitefield and John Wesley within Britain, Scotland and Ireland. On several occasions he filled stadiums of 2,000 to 4,000 capacity. In the Botanic Gardens Palace, a meeting had between 15,000 to 30,000 people. This turnout continued throughout 1874 and 1875, with crowds of thousands at all of his meetings. During his visit to Scotland he was helped and encouraged by Andrew A. Bonar. When he returned to the United States, crowds of 12,000 to 20,000 were just as common as in England. President Grant and some of his cabinet attended a meeting on January 19, 1876. His evangelistic meetings were held from Boston to New York, throughout New England and as far as San Francisco, and other West coast towns from Vancouver to San Diego."

Somewhere around here there's a picture of my grandmother as a baby in a horse-drawn carriage, riding with her grandfather, Dwight L. Moody. Unfortunately, while growing up, I never showed this great part of the family tree as much respect as it deserved. Dwight was a large, 300-pound man, and looking at him in the carriage picture, I pointed out that I knew why the horse wasn't moving.

The other comment that I really regret is the time we ended up with a portrait of his wife in our living room. It was in one of those big old gold frames, and I made the stupid comment that she looked like Morticia in the Addams Family. One of my uncles said I didn't show enough respect for the Moody story and, frankly, he's never liked me as much since. Comedy can be dangerous, folks.

Dwight Moody was such a big deal in evangelical circles, that a young Billy Graham came to Northfield, Mass.- the town where my mother was also born - to pay his respects. The story is that my grandmother gave the young preacher a bad time because she felt he was too flashy back then. I guess when he was young, he did go a little overboard.

Frankly, I'll never be all that impressed with evangelical preachers, especially these con men on TV. I'm sure many are sincere, but many are flim-flam artists. And I do not get a good vibe from this young Franklin Graham. He looks way too flashy as well. But that's all one level of annoying.

What they're doing with this beloved American couple as they face their final days, is a disgrace on a people level. It's the same disgust I felt reading about the lowlifes who pressured a dying George Harrison to sign a guitar. It's not right. Where are the religious supporters who've benefited from Billy Graham's decades of service? They've got to respond to this.

Speaking of service, I waited on him once at the Portland Hilton. I told him, "I'm a direct descendent of Dwight L. Moody, so you're in good hands." He seemed pleased, but preoccupied. Later, when he spoke to the crowd, he talked about the great damage done from Hurricane Andrew. I really got it about his speaking ability. When he described the destruction of the storm it was like you could see it, floating there in the air. Whether you're a believer or not, this is a great American, and he deserves better than to be buried in a dairy barn, just because his son wants to make some serious bank with a tacky roadside attraction.

Who Cares About the Senate? Tom Hartman's Boat In Danger

I woke up grouchy this morning, which means this blog's going to be the Portland Venter for a while.

Note to Tom Hartman, the local Air America guy: Somewhere between 10 minutes of 7 a.m., through the top of the hour, until 6 minutes after, when you went into an interview about Measure 37, you might have someone at the station give a detailed update on Senator Johnson of South Dakota. Yes, Air America mentioned "stories we are following" and the word "critical", but that's it.

To be fair, you did discuss a topic that could affect you personally, but I think the control of the United States Senate is bigger news than how you need to get an extra rope to tie your boat down, because it's going to be windy tonight.

Let's look at this from a competitive point of view with the Internet. After Air America failed to cover a story that could be as important as the elections themselves - because it could undo the Senate half - I was forced to get out of bed and head down to the office and find out what was happening on the Internet. This is the top of the hour when big stories are normally followed, so clue in, and if your boat blows away tonight, get another one. I'm going back to sleep. Sorry if I'm grouchy, but putting Dick Cheney back as the tie-breaking vote in the Senate is too grim to contemplate.
S.D. Sen. Johnson in critical condition - Yahoo! News