Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Thanks, Mark and Dave

Some people send thank-you notes. Others blog about it and hope the other party sees it. Thanks, Mark and Dave for lunch. You guys are great, and it was a lot of laughs. I especially appreciate Dave for getting to the dorky social move before I could. Normally, that's not easy. Here's what happened:

As I was approaching the restaurant I saw them inside through the window and Dave waved his arm at me. This knocked a drink over on a waitress's tray, getting her shirt wet. In the places I used to hang out, she would have won first prize.

Dave, thanks for taking the pressure off me since I'm usually the one who does something like that. Anyway, it's cool hearing actual radio voices in person and good luck with your show. Radio that isn't full of hate --- what a concept!

Abe Lincoln Speaks Out About President Bush

The Nation has a great column by Eric Foner in its March 12th Issue, about the Conservatives' practice of using fake quotes from Abe Lincoln to prop up their disastrous foreign policy. Here's a little excerpt from Foner's column that shows how Honest Abe really felt:

Lincoln's record as a member of Congress during the Mexican War utterly refutes the conservative effort to appropriate his legacy. Lincoln was elected to the House of Representatives in 1846, shortly after President James Polk invaded Mexico when that country refused his demand to sell California to the United States. Polk falsely claimed that he was responding to a Mexican invasion.
Shortly before Lincoln's term in Congress began, he attended a speech in Lexington, Kentucky, by his political idol Senator Henry Clay. "This is no war of defense," Clay declared in a blistering attack on Polk, "but one of unnecessary and offensive aggression." A month later, Lincoln introduced a set of resolutions challenging Polk's contention that Mexico had shed American blood on American soil and voted for a statement, approved by the House, that declared the war "unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President."

Clay and Lincoln objected as strenuously as any member of Congress today to a war launched by a President on fabricated grounds. When Lincoln's law partner, William Herndon, defended the President's right to invade another country if he considered it threatening, Lincoln sent a devastating reply. Herndon, he claimed, would allow a President "to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect.... If, to-day, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him?" The Constitution, he went on, gave the "war-making power" to Congress precisely to prevent Presidents from starting wars while "pretending...that the good of the people was the object."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

13.) The Hitchhiking Years: The Stop in Eugene, Part 1

So I left my future hometown of Portland and hitched south towards California. It was the Spring of 1972 and rock and roll was still young, but it had already changed the world. Over in Arabia we had waited breathlessly for any news. I would read the Rome Daily American, or the International Herald Tribune during the late 60s and any mention of the Beatles was like getting a message directly from heaven.

In those days Aramco families had a long vacation every 2 years to travel back to the States, and a short vacation in the other years usually spent in Europe. Yes, folks, it was quite an upbringing and I can still see images of my family trekking around some incredible locale. I'll tell you something that might sort of stun you: I remember being a small child walking across the tarmac towards a prop plane with three tail fins. One of those old Constellation airplanes that automatically mean you are watching an old movie.

When a kid brought back a record from the States it was a major event. Word spread throughout town. It was so exciting. I can literally remember where I was when I first heard Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone." God, what times.

I actually built my first electric guitar. I had this screwed up acoustic purchased in the local Arab village of Khobar so the plan was to buy the electronics which I did on a short vacation in Greece. The guitar was a complete disaster but it led to an actual electric from a catalog and by the time I was in 7th grade I was performing before crowds. I had better leave the details of this to another post, but there was one rock band a few years ahead, and they were probably the first rock band in the whole country. The lead singer whom I'll just call Mandis since he's not fond of his nickname, was a legend in my eyes. As a child I would stand outside this little building, just to hear these guys practice.

Part of the band I would eventually be in started with me and my friend Walker as guitarist and drummer. Then Walker joined 3 other guys and I was brought in later on bass. I don't care how many jokes I have on TV - I will always be a bass player at heart. It's my core identity. Anyway, my band would rise up and challenge the older group's reign. These were the best years - I should bag the hitchhiking stories and explore them, instead. Just imagine the scenario. We were kids living in Arabia so we had the adventure of that - the skin and scuba-diving, and the exploring of the Arab culture, and other thing...we were in the best rock and roll band in the country. You tell me that situation doesn't rule.

This is not to imply we were famous or anything - not even in those three oil towns. However, we meant a great deal to the partying American kids, and we were - dare I say it - beloved. You have to remember that being in a rock group was still a politically heroic thing to do. I challenge anyone to come up with a better scenario in history than this: Scruffy punks who could barely play 3 chords were looked upon as heroes, and I was part of it. One night on a band break a beautiful young fox took me out on the beach to make out, and when I told her I had to go back and play the next set, she resisted. It slowly dawned on me that she wanted me to stay a little longer just so people would see us walk back in together. I mean a few years earlier, I was too shy to talk to a girl, and now I was desirable? It was completely ridiculous and I knew it, but why fight it? How shy had I been? If it weren't for rock and roll, I'd still be a virgin.

Heartbreak befell Mandis, the lead singer in the other group as his family left the Kingdom, and he ended up in college in Eugene. There had been one magic Christmas vacation when the two rock bands combined, so I had played some fun gigs with him. Hitchhiking south from Portland, there was only one thing to do: Stop in Eugene, see Mandis, and play some rock and roll.

Building 7: Our National Cherry Tree

I thought of an angle this morning on Building 7 and it goes back to the George Washington story of cutting down the cherry tree. George's father was furious. He saw the tree on the ground and wondered who had brought it down. Many looked at Building 7 and wondered who brought that down as well.

The official story is the building collapsed because it was badly damaged by the falling towers, and then later the fire. There is no dispute that the building was hit by debris although clear photographic evidence of the exact damage - for some reason - has not been produced. But let's say the bottom of the building on the side that got hit was gouged out. You know what? That's a lot like how you'd bring down a tree, isn't it? You go to a point a few feet off the ground and you start chopping away. Assuming the George Washington story is true, that's how he chopped down the cherry tree. The pressure builds where the missing wood is and the tree comes over.

Buildings have collapsed before. I've seen the pictures. They fall over towards where the failure point is, often remaining somewhat intact even after hitting the ground. Steel buildings have been on fire before, too, for as long as 24-hours. Before September 11th, no steel-framed building had ever collapsed because of fire. Building 7 did not look like it fell over from the damage to the base. It did not look like other collapsed buildings that really did fall over like a tree coming down. Building 7 looked very much like a controlled demolition.

One of the remarkable things about 9/11 was the speed in which certain information hit the news. Within days, we had a list of the hijackers. Then Atta's driver's license appeared on the streets of New York. Cynics have suggested there was an orchestrated manipulation of the press that week. If you are running a false flag operation, it is not enough to show the people something - you must also tell the people what they saw.

Yesterday the Internet was alive with this BBC archive news footage showing a news reporter announcing the collapse of Building 7 while it's clearly still standing in the background. Aaron Brown is also shown discussing the imminent collapse of the Building. EMTs are coming forward saying they were told it was about to go and to clear the area. The buildings owner is on tape talking about the decision to pull the building. Then the building comes down - quickly, neatly and directly into its own footprint.

This is our national cherry tree. George Washington could have said his tree had been damaged on one side and fell over, and it was. That's how George chopped it down. But if that cherry tree was in a pile of sawdust directly in its own footprint, George's Dad would have said, "There's no way a hatchet brought this down."

In the George Washington story, he says, "I cannot tell a lie" and confesses to his deed. I believe the official story of Building 7 is a lie, and the proof is right there for any reasonable person to observe. This is our national cherry tree, but instead of George Washington who could not tell a lie, we have George Bush and the Neo-Cons in his administration - and they can't stop lying.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Hollywood Sort of Weekend

It's been a while since I revisited the movie front of my little media empire. Okay, "empire" is way too strong but there was a time when I was getting paid from TV, radio, newspapers, and the movie biz - although the movie biz only counts if you include screenplay option money. By the way, I certainly do, and so does my local grocery store.

Still, there have been no actual movies made, which is partly why I may do one myself just to get a score up on the board. I've got an idea that would mean a lot to me, but we'll see.

The highlight of my movie-writing attempts was being invited down to my producer friend's house in LA. We went to the Producer's Guild Awards and I shook hands and chatted with some movie big-deals: Anjelica Huston, Adrien Brodie, Diane Lane, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Wagner, George Lucas and Tom Hanks. I also saw a ton more of them, and heard Dustin Hoffman give a speech where he imitated a Hollywood producer, as he did in "Wag the Dog." So that was great. Afterwards we went outside and the weather was so mild it was like being indoors all over again. On the way out I met Bob Shapiro, of the OJ trial so that was the nightmare side of the dream.

Here's how it works if you're submitting scripts to Hollywood. First, I started out determined not to go through any changes about it and that's wise. In 6 plus years, there have been maybe 4 depressing days where I really thought things were about to happen but they didn't. The other days I stuck to my original approach: Don't get your hopes up, and don't let Hollywood make a fool out of you.

Finally my stock collapsed and I was finished. I mean there was no place left to go. I couldn't even get my own answering machine to take a message. Then at a party, a certain huge director told my producer's son that one of my titles was the best he'd ever heard. That was show biz talk of course, but suddenly I was back in play. I no longer looked like a hopeless loser - someone inside the palace had said something very nice.

This led to another script, another option payment, but then....nothing. We were just easing back to "It's Over" once again. Sure, there was a minor flurry of activity a month ago. Incidentally, I always have to send the scripts again for each new nibble, because of clutter. My producer's office has so many papers in it that the ski patrol checks for avalanches.

The follow-through on the one positive lead came down to the son understandably not wanting to use his new position in Hollywood to take this big-time director my scripts. Everyone has a limited amount of that kind of capital and you must spend it wisely.

So Saturday, at what my producer calls "a major party", he talked to the director himself. The director agreed to read two of my scripts and they are being sent over by messenger today. The man who loved the one title is now going to read the scripts. And he is important.

So that was a fun mood-setter to watch the Oscars. Not that my work has a chance in hell of winning an award. Mine are comedies that would make Borat seem mainstream. When it comes to Hollywood, I'm sort of a subversive. My people down there are connected though. Really connected. The father, son, and wife were all there at the awards last night, and I saw the woman twice on camera. So who knows?

In fact that might be the real news here: Someone I saw on the Academy Awards telecast yesterday, is sending my scripts somewhere today. No matter what happens that is a huge accomplishment.

One thing I learned during the Hitchhiking Years - and I will be returning to writing about those here shortly - is the Single Car Theory. You might see hundreds of cars pass you by, but it's not like you have to convince even 5% to stop. All you really need to get down the road is one car, and if this director goes for these scripts - if this guy pulls over and stops to let me into the movie business - that is all it would take.

So in this Hollywood weekend, the latest phone call from LA was good news. I'm hitchhiking through and I just need one car to stop. It might as well be a limo.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Portland Freelancer Is Linked From "Crooks and Liars"

My humble blog made it to the big time today - linked on the Crooks and Liars site, complete with a Money Quote. Welcome all visitors. May your journey through cyberspace be glitch free. The struggle against the forces of darkness goes on, if you can call typing in my basement a struggle. "Stand up and fight!" sounds more dramatic than "Sit down and type!" but we're all doing what we can. (Unless it's too much hassle.) All hail cyberspace! The Internet is a marvelous thing, and I declare today "Crooks and Liars" Day! The Portland Freelancer has spoken.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Dick Cheney: Making the Peter Principle His Own

Every administration has its share of loose cannon, but most of them don't go off. It's only when they rise too high in the power structure that we get someone like Ollie North, and next thing you know we're all watching televised hearings in Congress.

It's been called the Peter Principle, where a person rises to his or her level of incompetence, and God knows our current Vice President has done that. However, the Peter Principle implies the promotions were from others - Cheney was put in charge of the search for a running mate for George W. and somehow managed to land the job himself.

Those were fun days, weren't they? Do you remember hearing that it was okay if the President was dumb because you could surround him with a bunch of smart people? It almost makes me smile just thinking back to the innocence. Of course, the problem was the dumb guy had to choose the "smart people" that would surround him, and if you had someone with Cheney's political skills nearby - surprise! - he weaseled the job for himself. Just like the dumb guy's tutor, Condi Rice, weaseled her job, eventually landing Secretary of State. When the Decider can be manipulated like this, the theory of the Dumb President Being Okay goes right down the toilet.

The other part of the Peter Principle addresses the incompetence, and Cheney and Rumsfeld certainly brought plenty of that. But when you lie a nation into a war for reasons that turn out to be incorrect, mere incompetence doesn't quite cover it. Shooting the lawyer in the face was incompetent, but this has to be bigger. Several hundred thousand people were killed here, and any reasonable court would find it a crime. That calls for a more infamous distinction. In the grand history of our species, the list of people whose misdeeds have led to this much carnage, is still not that long. (Of course, if you were one of the people killed, it was plenty long enough.)

So what's next? We're way past the point where we should be watching televised hearings from Congress on the impeachment of these cretins, followed by their subsequent imprisonment. Maybe the American People need one more trillion-dollar fiasco before we'll act, and that could be coming right up in Iran. In case we do come to our senses and remove Bush and the VP from office, it's not too soon to start talking about Richard Cheney's place in history. Here's one of his undeniable accomplishments:

The Vice President has taken the Peter Principle and made it his own. His current rant that any thought of leaving Iraq will benefit al Qaeda, is a classic example of his work. The Bush administration was the best thing that ever happened to al Qaeda. The network is now breathlessly hoping that Cheney will lead the United States into another disaster - this in Iran - and Cheney seems eager to accommodate them.

The only regret al Qaeda has is that President Bush cannot serve a third term. Everything they have dreamed of is within reach and it's just a matter of whether Dick Cheney has enough time to give it to them. He hasn't made things better for our world. He has made things a lot worse, and he could still lead us into a nuclear conflagration. If you think suicide bombers are thrilled to blow themselves up, imagine the excitement they'd feel if the Bush administration starts a world war.....a nuclear world war.

So what shall we call the hybrid Peter Principle that is Richard Cheney? I think the Dick Principle is a strong candidate. The only question is whether the word "principle" should appear in the title.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Fine Art of Getting the Credit

I recently criticized my fellow bloggers, calling their demands for more credit in the press, unseemly. After a lifetime of self-promotion, this sounded a little odd. How could I complain about them, when - as a professional comedy writer - I have spent hundreds of hours hyping my own accomplishments? Let me explain. If you're a small operation such as my blog, "The Portland Freelancer", there is no PR Department. There is no corporate divison trumpeting your cause. You have to do it yourself. It's part of the business we are in.

The key verb for a freelancer is "parlay", as in, "I parlayed this break, into the next break." So I am not opposed to people advancing themselves through publicity. In fact, this is probably as long as I've ever gone without mentioning that I've sold over 500 jokes to a certain late-night talk show host.

My problem with the bloggers was that they didn't promote themselves with enough flair. It just sounded like whining, and therefore it didn't advance their cause. I wrote a post criticizing them, but the truth is I didn't really mind what they had done - it was just an observation from someone further along in the game. I loved the reaction to the complaining, though. Hey, that was entertaining. Anytime a mainstream member of the press gets in a sanctimonious huff, it's fun for all of us.

True students of the art of self-promotion probably noticed that my post about this cited the Sam Adams/ Tram Rescue drill as an example. See, that idea originated on my blog, and was picked up with credit by Phil Stanford. Eventually Sam's people bought into it, after reading Phil's columns, and the exhibition was on.

Did I complain when the TV stations failed to mention that this ridiculous stunt all began as a joke on the Portland Freelancer? No, instead I worked it in later - sort of like what I'm doing right now. It is true though: While local bloggers were complaining about not getting noticed for an idea, I caused an actual city commissioner to go out of a tram car high above Portland and descend down a rope. That has to count for something.

Do you want another example? I picked up the Oregonian Monday and read the Air America story about Thom Hartmann's terrific new promotion. See? There's that word "promotion" again. The article included this paragragh: "Once again tired of the harsh New England winters, Hartmann and Louise began to think of moving to a more temperate clime. They had friends and family in Portland, and when KPOJ operations manager Mike Dirkx approached him about starting a local morning show in early 2005, Hartmann made the leap. He's been entirely at home ever since."

Now we are drifting into an area where I have no complaints whatsoever, but it's interesting nonetheless. Let me repeat: This isn't one of those credit-denied stories but just look at these old emails from late in 2004, especially the last few lines of the first one.

From: Bill McDonald
Sent: Tuesday, December 14, 2004 6:39 PM
To: Dirkx, Mike
Subject: Re: 2005

Dear Mike,
My name is Bill McDonald and I'm a professional radio writer from Portland. My humor is on over 140 stations and I've sold over 400 jokes to Jay Leno. I've also written 150 columns for the Portland Tribune.

I'm writing to pitch a local radio show for the Air America network, based on a cable access show I do with a young comedian named James Shibley. The show is progressive and funny. We're on Sundays at 10pm(Channel 22), and Thursdays at 11pm(Channel 23) and Fridays at 11pm (Channel 11.)

It's called Born to Slack and it's not FCC compliant, but the roots are there for a great Air America show.

I know the network is syndicated out of New York but it would help to have some local talent. Who knows? Maybe you could syndicate them a show from out here on the Blue Coast.

Hey, there's a good name: "The Blue Coast Show."
Thanks for your time and keep up the good work.
Bill McDonald

He replied:

From: "Dirkx, Mike"
Date: Wed, 15 Dec 2004 18:16:41 -0600


Thanks for the note and thanks for joining Mark and Dave in the afternoon on KEX from time to time.

The contact people at Air America Radio are:

Jon Sinton/President
John Manzo/Programming

Check for the exact ways to reach them. I don't know if AAR is looking for additional programming. They recently added Mike Malloy to their evening weekday line-up and moved Marty Kaplan's "So What Else Is News?" to the weekend. They have a handful of other weekend shows. It was announced that Al Franken just signed a new 2 year contract and Randi Rhodes just signed a new 3 year deal. Those announcements make we wonder who might not be resigned.

Again, thanks for the note and thanks for listening to AM 620 KPOJ!

Mike Dirkx
Operations Manager
4949 SW Macadam Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97239

A few short weeks later Mike was inviting Thom to do an Air America show syndicated out of Portland. It certainly reads like what became the Thom Hartmann show was my idea. It doesn't sound like the notion of a Portland Air America show was in play when I wrote. Not that it counts for anything either way. It's just a cool notion.

I once sent a joke to Leno and when I called in to see if it had been mine that aired, they politely said no. For the first and only time, I sort of wondered about it out loud since the wording had been so close. The person on the phone said, "I think we got 12 versions of that joke." So ideas aren't exactly solo bolts of lightning direct from God.

I filed the fact that there was going to be a new show on Air America, but I didn't mention it. I could have followed up on the credit part, and when you consider how Thom is now much bigger than before, this would be a significant point of pride. I mean it's possible that the Dems would not have won back Congress if it hadn't been for Air America. If I made any contribution or set anything in motion, that would be fantastic.

So using this as an imaginary complaint, how do you handle it when you want credit for something that you feel you're not getting? Once again: This is not the case here - I use my emails merely as an example.

I think the best approach is not to whine. Let it go at the time and wait for the right chance to work it in later. Like now for example. Stand back and marvel: In this one post, I've managed to mention the Leno jokes, the Sam Adams/Tram Rescue stunt, my Portland Freelancer blog, my old columns for the Tribune, and my Born to Slack Cable Access Show, complete with channels and times. (Actually the Thursday airing is now on Tuesdays, but you get the point.) And my co-host James Shibley.

Plus, I mentioned my decade of work writing for over 140 radio stations and suggested that I am still looking for a radio DJ job. By the way, notice how Mike effortlessly plugs the Mark and Dave show on KEX? That's how it's done. I have nothing but admiration for this man.

I originally sent this to Kari at Blue Oregon, where it didn't make the grade. (Kari, would it kill you to write back and say thanks but no thanks?) The reason I sent it there was simple: The idea for the Blue Coast show was no doubt inspired by Blue Oregon, and it deserves a nod of credit for that.

Now, some might say I'm really just using this entire exercise to promote myself - to draw attention to my accomplishments in case it leads to something else. Hello? Of course, I am. But when you are trying to hype yourself, it's better to be mildly amusing - rather than the whining I've been hearing from some bloggers lately. What's that sports saying? Act like you've been there before. Otherwise you'll just get yourself and other bloggers shut out from the process.

It's a good sign when blogs get mentioned in the press, but there's no point in calling the print people on every little thing that goes wrong. Play it cool, and parlay whatever comes your way, into something else. That's the Fine Art of Getting the Credit. The Portland Freelancer has spoken.

Why Obama Matters

Dick Cheney's been running his mouth more than usual lately. In fact he seems to have his war swerve on and you know what that means: I'm afraid he's about to do something tragically stupid.

I hate to say it, but Cheney is energized like he was before Iraq. Nothing excites him like sending people into battle - as long as his plump behind is hiding at an undisclosed location. Don't get me wrong. He'll jump into the fight as long as he's shooting little birdies on some ranch, but that's about it. The rest is wind.

The reason he gets away with his inane ramblings is because the mainstream press has no balls - zero on this matter. If they did we might not be in Iraq. My fear now is that Cheney is going to try and tough talk us into another disaster. He's been doing that for days now, and I've been begging my TV screen for someone to step forward and call Cheney on his BS. Please! Anybody! Today it happened.

I have seen the future of political heroes and his name is Barack Obama. (The Springsteen reference was for Jack.)

Here's what Barark said to a rain-soaked crowd at a campaign rally. The topic was Great Britain's withdrawal from Iraq - which Obama believes is a realization that the military plan won't work:

"Now if Tony Blair can understand that, than why can't George Bush and Dick Cheney understand that? In fact, Dick Cheney said this is all part of the plan (and) it was a good thing that Tony Blair was withdrawing, even as the administration is preparing to put 20,000 more of our young men and women in. Now, keep in mind, this is the same guy that said we'd be greeted as liberators, the same guy that said that we're in the last throes. I'm sure he forecast sun today. [It was raining.] When Dick Cheney says it's a good thing, you know that you've probably got some big problems."

You can dismiss Obama's chances of winning it all, but if he can bring the Iraq War one day closer to being over - to paraphrase McGovern - then it will all be worth it. Meanwhile, if someone just has the nerve to call Dick Cheney out on his ridiculous tough-guy, chicken-hawk crap, well, then we will all benefit, and that person is an American hero. Barack Obama did that today and he even had a funny line about the weather. This could get good. Dick Cheney's people had no response. You know the Vice President. He's used to firing at quail and quail don't fire back.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hacks and Flacks Gig a Success

I believe the children are our future, which is one reason we're in such big trouble right now. No, seriously, the Portland Schools Foundation does a good thing here with this annual Roast. My review on the line-up:
1. Betsy Johnson - Solid Gold. Get her her own reality show now.
2. The Wolf DJs: Amy and the other Wolf DJ. You can't beat the professional radio delivery. Is it just me or does Amy have a super sexy voice?
3. Ted Wheeler: So genuinely dorky that he crossed into charm. I loved it when he said, "I'm not funny and as it turns out, neither is my staff." Or something like that.
4. Mark and Dave: Mark is a pro announcer and radio DJ, and I like him. He has a human decency factor that is very comforting. Dave Anderson? The best standup comedian from Portland, Oregon.
No contest. Okay, my buddy Dwight Slade's in the mix, too. I talked to Dave last night and he seems so much more relaxed and happy than when I first met him. I have seen him open for Dennis Miller at the Schnitz, and just crush. He's a national monster talent.
5. Greg Walden: He got screwed so hard by the audio-visual guy that it was actually quite endearing.
6. Jack Ohman. I've appeared on a radio show with him, and we used to exchange emails about getting together for coffee. I wish I had followed through more. He was...I know it hasn't been smooth sailing the last few years. He made one reference to his personal life from the podium, so I'm not....I was saddened by his life force tonight, and I hope he becomes more joyful somewhere down the road. He is an Oregon treasure and one hell of a cartoonist.
7. The MC was Gordon Smith's chief of staff and I thought he brought the energy but he also brought some lame. It's hard to criticize anyone though as this was for the kids, and they are our future.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Adam Morrison: His First Truly Legendary Night in the NBA

This was the night Adam Morrison fans were waiting for. On the road in Minnesota, Adam went scoreless in the first half, then went into the zone and scored 26 points in the second half to lead the Bobcats to victory. 4 or 5 of his baskets would have impressed any NBA player in history. The Charlotte players on the sidelines were going crazy as one after another tough shot dropped. This will make all the sports shows(At least it would have before Dwayne Wade got hurt), but I'll add my personal twist. I called my comedian friend Troy in Florida - one of the many who didn't see the greatness here - and told him about it. The beauty of it all? Troy is a Minnesota guy.
Next I'll call my former band-mate Charlie who plays the National Anthem at various games around Spokane, including for Gonzaga. He was the one who got me to take more than a passing interest in the Zags last year. It's cool when the musician you've known since college is involved in the game.

This is the performance that will convince a lot of doubters around the league. There are many great players, but only a few have this kind of drama - only a few are stars. This was Adam Morrison's first legendary night in the NBA.

Dick Cheney: More Good News From Iraq - The British Are Leaving

Dick Cheney's distortions of the truth are legendary but today was special. He looked at the British plan to leave southern Iraq and pronounced it good news. Even by his loathsome standards this was quite an accomplishment. I'm sure his true sheep followers will swallow it, but ask yourself the giant question that the reporter on the plane talking with Cheney didn't ask: "Sir, if the Coalition of the Willing is fighting this war together and one part of Iraq is secure, why don't the British just move to another part till the war is done?"

It would be like John Wayne saying, "I've just knocked out my guy in this barroom brawl so I'll just mosey out the door while my buddies go on fighting." No, John Wayne would drop his guy and move on to the next. Cheney must have seen these movies. He sure looks like he's been around a lot of popcorn.

Wake up, Bush supporters. If you've deluded yourself thus far into thinking the VP is an honorable man, here was your chance. You got to see your beloved tough guy lying right to your face. This wasn't some tricky argument about Mobile Labs, or Metal Tubes. This was something even Bush supporters should be able to grasp.

Cheney looked at Great Britain setting up a timetable to withdraw - the exact same thing Cheney has campaigned against - and pronounced it good news. But wait, it's because the job is done in Basra, which, by the way, I doubt. If the job is done why not leave tomorrow? And either way, the war isn't over so why not come to Baghdad?

It's not that Baghdad is too crowded with our forces, is it? Maybe if the British joined us there, they'd bump into our guys. That's just how big the force is. Okay, that's ridiculous, but let's just pretend it was true. Then how about going to Fallujah or some of the other hotspots where security has not been established? Simple: The British want out of Iraq. They are done.

We've all had dozens of chances to see Dick Cheney spin the truth into a lie. It's what he does. I guess it's a little ridiculous of me to expect Bush supporters to snap out of their trance now, and see through this, but I'm going to keep trying. We've got to unite as a People and remove these leaders from office. I'm not calling for prison time. No. Let Bush and Cheney serve their sentences at Walter Reed's mice-infested Building 18. They deserve that.

Oh, why bother - it's hopeless. These right wingers are either so dumb or in the tank that they'll never get this. They'll never grasp the truth. Ahh, shoot. One more time. Let's see....How about if we make this a multiple choice question, so everyone has a fair chance? Okay, here goes:

You're in a war and your staunchest ally announces they are pulling out before the war is won. Is this A.) Good News, B.) Okay News, or C.) Bad News? If you chose "A", it's official. Dick Cheney owns your soul, and you need to watch a John Wayne movie really soon.

Gay Marriage: A Legal No-Brainer

I have repeatedly made fun of Sam Adams over the tram and other aspects of his political leadership. He has undeniable local star-power, but I think there's something a little foolish and egomaniacal about the guy. I don't think he understands how silly it looks for him to go out the side of the tram car on a rope, or any number of other attention-getting stunts, like working various jobs for a day.

But this current battle he's in is different. I hate the idea of members of our society being treated differently for sexual orientation. When Tim Haradaway said he hated gay people, my reaction was, "So what? And your point is...? Hating them is your business but if you want to act on it, or ban them from the NBA, or your neighborhood, then it's our business."

So here's my take on gay marriage:

In the sense that marriage is a state institution, gay marriage is a legal no-brainer. You can have your own beliefs in your church but don't foist them on society. You like to think you are society, and that the law emanates from what you believe God wants, but you're not and it doesn't. Society is all of us.

Here's the Portland Freelancer take on where we are now. Let's say Citizen X is an attractive human being and a wonderful person. Let's say many people want to marry Citizen X. If some can because they are one gender, but others can't because they are another gender, that is a clear violation of the Constitution.

The reason everyone gets so worked up about this issue, is that they have to, to compensate for the lack of a true challenge to the facts. In a strict legal sense, it is clear as the blue sky.

Furthermore, the day will come when gay marriage is legal and this current time will be seen as hopelessly primitive and the last dark ages of inequality. Don't worry about it, though. Every age has its connection to "What feels right" and that's always a little different from "What is right." That's why they call it progress.

I will now go back to making fun of Sam Adams, the Politician. The Portland Freelancer has spoken.

12.) The Hitchhiking Years: Portland, Oregon Enters the Picture

There's something heavy about hitchhiking through a small city that turns out to be your future home. I was 18, the year was 1972, and Portland, Oregon was definitely a sleepy little place. It was a beautiful sunny day and I ended up under some freeways walking along by the railroad lines on the eastern side of the Willamette River. I had decided to take a break and get something to eat, and I approached this old-fashioned diner close by the tracks. In fact, just before I entered, a freight train went by really slowly, and at the end was a caboose with a man standing out on the back. I jokingly put out my thumb as if to hitchhike. The guy just laughed, but it was a new twist on a familiar theme.

After all, people had been jumping freight trains for decades in America. It is one of the classic images of the culture: The hobo riding the rails, and carrying his stuff in a cloth tied to the end of a stick. Of course, when he hopped in a box car, there'd be a few others and they'd break out a harmonica and sing traveling music, maybe even write a song like Woodie Guthrie. But how many had tried to get a hitchhiking ride from a passing freight train? And if it had worked, I definitely could have caught up with the train. It was going that slow.

I do remember Portland to be a pretty little town - very clean and fresh - and I know I was very impressed with the Pacific Northwest, but I never for a second thought I'd end up living here. I just didn't think about stuff like that back then. Planning the future? Maybe through that afternoon.

A few years later, I was in a band in Southern California and we moved to Oregon because the guy who played harmonica - also called the blues harp - had a brother up in Portland. I certainly had something to go on, when the suggestion to move north was made, so I can thank the Hitchhiking Years for that. But in those days, all decisions were based on whims, and if the harmonica player had a brother here that was good enough for me. The main focus was on playing music.

See, I was not one of those kids who wondered what they wanted to be growing up. I suppose I went through the usual dreams of being a professional athlete, or an astronaut, but music just had an immediate and overwhelming attraction. It still does. I mean, what's better than music? I'm a comedy writer now, and if Jerry Seinfeld walked in, I would be pleased to see him, and very respectful. But if Eric Clapton walked in? Wow. That would be incredible.

I once read about a rather famous Portland musician who decided to go into rock and roll after winning a David Bowie look-alike contest. That always irritated me. I mean, I knew music was the path from before I could talk. My Dad used to play records loudly as I drifted off to sleep in Arabia, and I can still remember how great that was.

They used to lay canvass down on the floor of the school gym in Dhahran and have school programs. When I was around 5 or so, I went to one. The school band had taken a break and set their instruments on their folding chairs and left. I remember seeing those instruments and knowing right away how I would spend my life. Seriously, have you ever seen anything more beautiful than a gold trumpet? I don't even know where to begin with this. For me, it is such an overwhelming no-contest, that I find it downright mystifying that anyone would want to try anything else. And when someone says they don't like music at all, that's just profoundly sad and perverted to me, like admitting you like to screw sheep or something.

I would go on to be in the Dhahran school band, playing drums and trumpet, and we would practice during lunch hour. Then a moment came along, on our break, when one of the Goellnor brothers - I think it was Ed - approached me with this little, portable reel-to-reel tape recorder and said, "Listen to this." He played "Louie, Louie" and during it he said, "Listen to the beat." I liked it. It was clear that the school band version of "My Grandfather's Clock" and "Pomp and Circumstance" would never be the same.

After all these years, it is still an honor to live in the town where that song was recorded. An honor? To a boy from Arabia, it makes Portland a mystical place of impossible greatness. Sitting out in the desert in a small oil town, we had a complete world. We were isolated and that was our universe and we were happy. But hearing music from the States and, later, England? Well, that was like something from heaven. The idea that someone like Chuck Berry was driving a Cadillac down an American street, made the place seem mythical and legendary. And that has never really gone away.

So the freight train went by on that day in Portland and I went into the diner to have lunch. In the screenplay I have this marvelous talk with the waitress about how the song "Louie, Louie" had impacted me in Arabia. I told her it was such a rush to be in the city where that song had actually been recorded. The conversation probably never happened. We did talk but I can't remember what it was about, and I don't think I knew "Louie, Louie" was recorded here at that point. Life doesn't always follow the script.

I do remember searching for that diner later, when I moved to town, but in a low-key way. It even became a little bit of a mystery, so I wrote it off. I once camped in some brush on these cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean near Laguna, California, and I was in college a year or two later, driving by the same area, so I looked for the spot where I had camped. I found these workers laying out a sub-division there. That kind of change is why I wrote off my old-fashioned diner in Portland. However, decades later, I got out of a car one time, and there it was. It had become a bar in the industrial Eastside. I looked at it, saw the tracks nearby, and said, "I really think this is the place."

By 1975, I would be living in Portland, where I still live to this day. In a perfect world, I would have felt a magical connection hitchhiking through all those years ago, but the truth is I just stopped for lunch and continued on south. Hey, if that guy on the freight train had signaled me over, I wouldn't even have had lunch here, and the entire rest of the story could have been different.

Looking back, it certainly would have been more dramatic if I had shouted, "I must live here in the place where 'Louie, Louie' was recorded!" But it didn't happen that way. I was in a band in southern California and we decided to move. The harmonica player had a brother here so that was it. And, by the way, my friend would move again maybe 6 or 7 years later. I followed on with that move to Spokane, as well, but bagged it a couple of years later when the FBI arrested the drummer. That's obviously another story.

So I returned to Portland, but this grand decision of where to spend my life really just originated with my harp player's brother. And you know what? I think that's perfect. The band never made it, but I love Portland, so I consider these events to be some of the best breaks I ever got.

Monday, February 19, 2007

11.) The Hitchhiking Years: Stranded in the Streets

Seattle is one of my favorite cities - I really think it's amazing - so it's awkward for me to have to say this, but I really got in one of my worst jams there back in 1972 when I was hitchhiking around America. I had come across from Spokane that day, and I was trying to make it to another one of my tribe - another friend from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

This guy was in my class and all the siblings in my family thought he was a comic genius. Incidentally, people often expect me to be funny in person because I'm a professional comedy writer, but everywhere I've been for any length of time, I've met people who are a lot funnier. I've mentioned to them, "Look, you should try standup comedy. I know about this stuff. You are a natural." I even told that to a woman cashier at the grocery store after we had talked several times, and she said her mother always tells her the same thing. I said, "Your mother is right."

Of course, back in 1972, I didn't know I'd go into the biz, but I did know this guy Tom was hilarious. He would sit in the stands at basketball games and shout out weird sayings in a robot-like drone: "The ref is a cyclops" or "Go to college." Maybe you had to be there, but I'm laughing writing this right now. So my plan was to drop by his prep school, which as I remember was the one where Paul Allen of Microsoft went...Lakeside, maybe? I don't know and it's not important.

It took me all day to hitch across the state of Washington, so I was sort of trapped between camping out in an easy place and making it to my friend's school. That's how I remember it anyway, and the end result was that I was walking in a pretty densely packed neighborhood in Seattle and it was dark. I had miles to go and I was running out of energy and time.

See, you can't just be walking around late at night with a pack on, or you become a problem. It's obvious you're not heading home - who are you and what the hell are you up to? So there was that aspect.

It was hard to figure because I've camped out in the middle of cities and under freeway bridges where I literally tied myself in place. I could always find a place to camp, but not that night. I was screwed.

This actually ended up in a song. I once wrote this tune called, "Streets of America" and the first verse was, "If you've ever been out walking in the streets of America, did you notice an atmosphere, a particular hum? It's the sum of everything that you see, the taverns and the factories, it's children on the sidewalk playing, hey, baby it's the sound of the whole economy, yeah, that great big economy." It had a world beat groove to it, and it would have been great, if the band had worked out.

Anyway, I wrote a second version called "Stranded in the Streets" with lines like, "Though you've got no place to go, and you're out there walking in the snow." Now, it wasn't snowing in Seattle but I did have that horrid feeling of having nowhere to go. Plus, I had the backpack and I was getting really tired. I'm not saying I felt homeless but there wasn't even a phone booth around, if I wanted to break my transportation rule and call a cab. I was stuck, man, and it was time to get creative.

I was walking by these big old wooden Victorian homes and they were like 15 feet apart. I mean, they were packed in pretty good. They were so tight that there wasn't even grass growing between these two - just a concrete little strip with a fence in between the yards. You know how some window wells stick out a foot or so? Well, I took a deep breath and just sort of snuck into this yard, and ducked down below a window on the concrete slab. I was so close that I could hear people in the house talking - not what they were saying - but just general sounds. It was that crazy. Yes, it would have been unfair to them if they had found me, and I could have been shot, but I was desperate for a place to crash. Sometimes you get stranded in the streets and you have to do something.

You know, I get a bad attitude about the homeless, just like you probably do. I'd prefer it if they weren't there. I get sort of mad at them for existing - it's shallow of me, but I can't help it. However, I sometimes think that we're all just one major earthquake or other calamity, from being out there ourselves, and if we are, I bet most of us are going to see the plight of the homeless in a new light. It sucks to be stranded in the streets. It is such a downer and it is so tiring.

I made it through the night there undisturbed, and got away before anyone woke up. Now, early morning? That is the time when wearing a backpack is okay. You're up and you're moving and everyone knows you have all day to get somewhere else.

So I hitched through Seattle to this prep school, and I remember one comedic moment from that. A car pulled over on this city road that sloped down, and I had to jog quite a ways to get to it. I showed up at the door, all huffing and puffing from carrying the pack, and they said, "Where are you going?" I said the name of the school and they said, "It's right there. You're already here." I looked and there it was. So that was funny.

I suppose I could make a semi-profound point about the juxtaposition between the homeless, and the rich kids at this prep school, but the problems of the night before were long gone. As far as I was concerned, I was free and these poor bastards were in prison. The best I can do for you is to say that being stranded in the streets really sucks, but prep school really sucks, too. It was time to drop in and have a few laughs with my old friend Tom.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Happy Birthday, Bro

I'm sharing this with the blogosphere because the *#$!%$&^# Post Office is closed tomorrow and the card I made for my brother's 50th birthday, cannot be delivered. Apparently, it is President's Day - a chance to dwell on how far the nation's highest office has fallen. The first picture is at the Rome Zoo where a keeper took a liking to us and let us hold a lion cub.

David, Happy Birthday. It seems like just yesterday I was teaching you to catch a baseball, but enough about last summer. Seriously, the whole international video journalism career? It was very impressive. (Click on picture above of David in Kurdistan.)

We used to worry a lot about you in all those troubled parts of the world, and it is comforting to know that you have moved on to freezing your ass off in Minnesota. I suppose now we have to start worrying all over again. Frankly, you're at the age where you could start wandering off.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

President Bush: Rewriting History the Hard Way

There was a time when the word "Nixonian" meant all that was bad in politics. Richard Nixon was Darth Vader before Darth Vader was Darth Vader. But amazingly President Bush and his wretched buddy, Dick the Dick Cheney, have managed to do the impossible. They've managed to turn Richard Nixon into the good old days. Okay, maybe not, but at least the Nixon administration is over.

I was going through some of my papers and I found the program from the Inaugural Parade of January 20th, 1969. I was 14, and we sat right across from the reviewing stand which was right in front of the White House. I was struck by what an odd guy our new President seemed to be. He had a weird grin and an uneasy manner. Later, we'd learn about the paranoia.

These were dramatic times. We were stuck in Vietnam and the parade was affected by protesters, but America was also around 6 months from landing on the moon. One of the coolest things about that day, was that there were astronauts in the parade. I remembered seeing lots of them, but the featured ones were the crew of Apollo 7.

Nothing these days comes close to the excitement of the Space Program, although the politics of 1969 poisoned a lot of the joy. Vietnam hung over everything, and it made it an awful time.

Of course, back then when a President turned out to be a lying sack, we would rise up and drive him out of office. See what I mean? It really was the good old days.

10.) The Hitchhiking Years: A Desert Tribe from a Kingdom Far, Far Away

The best example of America that I ever saw was in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. I never got to see the pioneers of the Wild West, but I did know a group of men, who - when they were in their 20s - went into one of the most incredible deserts on the planet, and found a fortune. It was oil, a strike so big that it would influence the entire world, and shape geopolitics from then on. I knew these people and they were adventurers of the first order.

In those early days, Arabia was living in another century, so being there was equivalent to time traveling. The year I was born in the oil town called Dhahran back in 1954, there were still tribal clashes in the deep desert, featuring camel charges. It was quite a place to set up shop.

These American pioneers from states like North Dakota, Texas, and California, would eventually establish little camps, and bring their wives. Everything had to be brought from somewhere else. They literally constructed three towns from scratch - complete with their own little airliner. Oh, the logistics problems! I saw Yankee ingenuity at it's finest. There was a constant stream of challenges, like nothing I've seen here, and watching these adults solve them was truly stunning. The place they created would go on to be a bizarre mix of modern American life including cheeseburgers and Little League, and the ancient culture that was already there. From this strange blend, a new tribe began to emerge: American kids born in Saudi Arabia. That was me - these were my people.

I have seen many examples of citizens taking care of each other in the States. Volunteers went to New Orleans. Citizens give to the Red Cross. However, when you are Americans living in another country, basically out in the desert, there is a closeness that springs up that was a beautiful thing to behold. If a person from those towns was in trouble or just in another country traveling, and they needed hospitality or help, the doors were thrown open like nothing I have ever seen here. We had to look out for each other, and we did.

I would see 10 or 12 kids at my parents' farm in Massachusetts. We had kids from those oil towns visiting my parents in the States when my siblings and I weren't even there. We were all in it together, and everyone looked out for everyone else. I would run into someone's Mom or Dad in Lebanon and they would make sure I was okay, just as if they were my own Mom and Dad. It was a tremendous experience - and I bet it was like that in the first settlements here in this country as well.

This meant that there was a long list of people in America that I could stay with on my hitchhiking trip. It wasn't an imposition, it really wasn't. It was tribal. Besides, everyone was so homesick that we would be delighted to get to talk with someone about the desert kingdom that we missed.

So, when I made it to Spokane, Washington, I called a girl from my older sister's class. I probably hadn't talked with her longer than a few minutes at a time in all the years we were growing up together in Dhahran, but we were from the same community. Most of us had known each other since kindergarten, so by the time we went away to school, we were close. I always thought that was cool.

She was probably 20, and I remember talking with her in Spokane and going out to a restaurant with her. Nothing romantic or sexual happened - it wasn't like that at all. We were just from the same tribe so I stayed with her at her place, and thanked her for her hospitality in the morning and left.

I saw her back in Arabia and we were once more in our different social circles. I thanked her again but she acted like it was no big deal. It was just the way we lived back then. Still, that particular show of kindness always meant a lot to me, which is why I put it on my map. Recently, I was looking at the website these American kids from Arabia still have - the tribe gathers for reunions, and it's a huge ongoing situation. I was sad to see her name on the list of people who've died. I'm so glad I had that one great conversation with her in Spokane.

To review, I had come through the wilds of Montana, and experienced a low-point with the 3 threatening scoundrels on the way down 89. I had patched my attitude back together with a trip into Yellowstone, but I was still not thriving. For one thing, I was starting to miss my family. I had gone away to boarding school when I was 15, and the homesickness had been intense. This time, I think being on the road made it seem longer than it had been. Summer vacation was slowly approaching but I was already beginning to feel the need to go home. Sure, by the time I was 18, I thought I was a man of the world, but looking back, I was little more than a kid out there. I mean I was pretending to be strong but it was partly an act.

I don't want to sound wimpy here - I really loved seeing northern Idaho, for example - but I was a little bit lonely. So to roll into a town like Spokane, where I would later live for a couple of years by the way, and suddenly be in the company of a nice woman from the tribe, was just great. I remember talking with her at the restaurant, and we both missed our parents, and friends, and our hometown. So, that was a warm break from the harshness of the road.

And yes, this was the place where I hitchhiked out around 7 miles and got stuck, so I had to hitch back to downtown Spokane and start again. But my mood was calm and I was happy because I had seen one of the tribe. It was time to hitch across the state of Washington to Seattle.

Friday, February 16, 2007

9.) The Hitchhiking Years: Four Hooves and a Cloud of Dust

When I ventured out of the motel that morning in Gardiner, Montana, I needed to be convinced again about the plan. How wise was it heading out on America's highways with just a backpack, even in the relative innocence of 1972? After all, a great adventure can be a huge drag depending on your attitude. Fortunately, I was soon in one of the more spectacular spots on earth: Yellowstone National Park.

The ride was a VW Beetle and the driver was a young trustworthy type who had a cast on one of his feet. He knew a lot about the park and pointed out a fresh kill in the snow where a bear had stirred after a long winter's nap. This guy was instantly likable and had nothing outwardly wrong with him, except for the broken ankle which he got in some outdoor activity I can't remember.

I made a mistake at this point because you can never tell for sure about people. I mean, Ted Bundy came across really nice, too. For all I knew, the guy could have been a psycho killer who broke his ankle jumping the prison walls. My point is I never assumed, and I never let my guard down completely. This would be the only time, in a sense, and I blame it on Yellowstone.

What a place. I'm not writing a travelogue but Yellowstone was ridiculously beautiful. I don't think the park was officially open yet that season, and there were very few cars around. I was amazed by the scenery in the place. It was incredible as I'm sure many Americans know. In fact, I instantly became a lifelong fan on that April day, and I still read any news stories I see about it, such as the reports of the big fires in 1988. It's the type of place you care about right away for life. Yellowstone rules.

So we were driving around, and amidst the general mind-boggling wilderness there was this one valley that was a strong nominee for the most beautiful place on earth. Right in the middle of it was a hill. I said something at this point that I quickly regretted, and it could have led to an awkward moment. I was merely trying to express how incredible the place was so I said, "Too bad your ankle is broken, or I'd suggest climbing that hill over there." It was around the size of Mt. Tabor here in Portland - maybe a little smaller. The guy immediately said, "Go ahead. I'll wait in the car."

I trusted the guy but the idea of leaving my pack with a stranger was a first. I mean it didn't make any sense at all. Yes, I had the AmEx card in my boot and maybe a driver's license, but my passport and money were in the pack, not to mention my sleeping bag and clothes. The pack was my survival kit - I could make it for a few days in any weather with it, but I'd be just another person without it. Some of this was basic security. For one thing, I'd need my passport to get home to Arabia, so I was risking a lot by agreeing. And besides, I hadn't really wanted to climb the hill. It was just an expression.

But I said okay, and the deciding factor was the park itself. I coudn't imagine getting robbed here, so the scenery even swayed my judgement. I set out to climb the hill, rather than revealing that I didn't completely trust the guy. It was not my smartest moment, but you take chances in life.

For all I knew, this was his racket. He'd just pick up hitchhikers, wait till they suggested climbing a hill, then he'd point to his fake cast, and suggest they go anyway, before robbing them blind.

I started walking and it felt weird seeing the VW get smaller. Eventually, I just got into it, and passed this huge set of antlers on the ground. It was Yellowstone, and I was in awe.

The hill sloped up but at one point there was a little indentation in a place you couldn't see as you walked up. I came over this rise and there, staring right at me, was a buffalo. And it looked pissed off. I was maybe 15 yards away, and it started towards me, so I turned and ran. It wasn't your organized, together kind of running, either. I was jumping over rocks and bushes, and it's lucky I didn't just trip and impale myself on some antlers lying around.

I ran about 30 yards down the hill before I even thought about looking back. When I did, the buffalo was standing where I had been. It still looked a little torqued off, but I did take a moment to appreciate the animal's greatness.

I never made it to the top of the hill, but I walked back to the road and the driver was still there with my pack. In fact, he said, he had been watching me and saw the buffalo before I did. He said he hopped out of the car and started yelling in my direction, waving a crutch in the air, but I was too far away.

The story was undeniably exciting, and a Mom-friendly incident, so it was depicted on the crude map I drew for her, as you can see below. I had arrived near Yellowstone with my faith in the trip at a low point, but everything was better now. I had gotten away with trusting a complete stranger, and not only was he good to his word, but he had tried to save me when he saw I was walking right towards a buffalo. That was a positive experience.

Finally, there was Yellowstone. This place had its own point: That the world we live in is spectacular, and the idea of putting on a pack and going to check it out, made all kinds of sense. The hitchhiking trip seemed like a good idea once again, and I was ready to carry on.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

President Bush: Natural Born Killers Don't Need to Explain

Here's the question I would have asked the President at the Valentine's Day press conference: Sir, what are you doing? Why are you even bothering to build a case against Iran? You don't need that. You're President Bush - the guy who gave us the Preemptive Strike, right? It's even called the Bush Doctrine after you.

It clearly states that you can attack anyone anytime. It doesn't have to be a defensive response like thousands of years of civilization have determined it should be. You're the Decider and if you want to kill, you can do it. This is your legacy. The Bush Doctrine will go into the history books as your gift to America.

Sure, it was cute having the press conference on Valentine's Day so your little gang of puppy-love supporters could feel all misty about you. And I suppose we should be flattered that you'd try and explain why we'd attack. But you don't have to do that. You're bigger than that, remember? You're above the law.

Besides, when you and your wretched little buddy Dick Cheney cooked up an explanation for Iraq, it all fell apart on you. So why even bother this time? Do you realize how ridiculous you sound accusing another country of meddling in Iraq? We're meddling in Iraq. The situation we started in Iraq has killed something like 600 thousand of their people. That's meddling, isn't it?

You mention that you're just trying to protect the troops, but they're only in danger because you put them in danger. You were the one who got the troops killed by sending them to an unnecessary war after lying about the connection to 9/11.

So what are you doing with this silly lame attempt to justify a preemptive strike on another country? It's time you could better spend riding your bicycle. Here's how that press conference should have gone:

"Good afternoon. I am George Bush, the Decider, and I have decided to attack another country. The Bush Doctrine - me - gives me, I, the right to kill whenever I or me wants. It's called a preemptive strike, also known as the Law of the Jungle. This time the attack will be against Iran, and I'm not going to stand up here and explain why. I don't need a reason why. We had to spend a lot of time pretending there was a reason for Iraq, and that was time I could have better served the American People. So I won't be taking any questions about the upcoming attack on Iran. Thank you, and God Bless America."

Mr. President, you're clearly a sociopath - someone who is not burdened by the incredible harm you unleash. In that sense, you're a Natural Born Killer, and Natural Born Killers don't need to explain.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

8.) The Hitchhiking Years: The 3 Tough Guys From Montana

When I got to Western Montana, it was still cold. There was snow in the mountains and some on the ground pretty close to where I was hitchhiking. I had been traveling down from I-90 just before Bozeman on a little road called 89, that led to Yellowstone in the Northwest corner of Wyoming. It was definitely freezing and what really hurt me was the wind. I mean, I was leaning to the point where if the wind stopped suddenly, I would have fallen over. The situation was a concern and it was quickly becoming a little scary. Of course, I could have gotten into the sleeping bag, and quit, but I couldn't just stand out there forever in conditions like that.

The road was elevated maybe 15 feet off the floor of the wilderness, and when this one car pulled over, it damn near went right off the side. It was before noon and these 3 guys were already drunk. I could tell before they even lurched to a stop, and under normal circumstances, I would have turned down the ride flat. Oh sure, I would have talked to them, but no matter if I was going to Argentina and they were going to within 10 miles of it, I would have politely said, "Thanks, but I think I'll just wait for a through ride."

Looking in the car, I could see these 3 guys were unsavory characters - in fact they looked downright viscious. So under normal conditions, this was a guaranteed automatic pass. This was a, "Thanks for stopping, and say hello to your parole officer for me."

Unfortunately these were not normal conditions. I was shivering in the cold, and I'd been leaning into the wind just to stand up. I couldn't take it much longer, or I would have had icicles forming off my scrotum sack. It was cold. I mean it was really, really cold. So I got in.

I always hated getting into the back seat of a two-door car. You were instantly trapped, but that's what they had, and so there I was. We started up and the guy in the front seat - who was carrying one of those big glass jugs of cheap Californian wine - looked back at me, and gave me this really mean look. He said, "You know we don't like longhairs around here." Looking back on it, this was one of my prouder moments because I bet if I had shown even the slightest fear right then, things would have gotten ugly really fast. They were getting up the nerve to kick my ass.

I'm not sure why - maybe it was just being in from the cold - but I was completely un-phased by the comment. I leaned a little toward him, like I was leaning into the wind outside. Then I said, "Is that a fact? Hey, could I have some of your wine?" Now, suddenly this guy was on the defensive because he had a decision to make. It was like calling his hand in poker. He looked quickly at the others, and I could see he was a little confused. He got sort of nervous and handed the wine to me, and I wiped off the bottle rim with my shirt sleeve, and took a big swig. If I was going to die, I wanted to be drunk for it.

I could see the other two looking at the ringleader like he had screwed up, but now they didn't know where to take it. I could see them thinking, "Wow, we tried to scare him but he wouldn't scare." At this point I went into my presentation - if you will. Remember, I had been out there talking with dozens of people, and I was razor sharp. I only became a professional comedy writer late in life when my brain was damn near shot anyway, but back then, when I was 18, my mind was really together. Throw in some genuine survival instincts and I could really sling it. The entire situation turned around in seconds. We went from 3 guys about to beat up a 4th guy, to 4 drinking buddies going down the highway of life together. These challenges happen in taverns somewhere every night, but I was trapped so I had one shot to come up with the right response.

Now, if you stick with this, I will get to an incident where it really did lead to some serious, dramatic action, but I've always felt this was a major close call. If you saw these guys you'd know I was right. Sometimes a show of fear at the wrong time can get you hurt, but for some reason on that particular day, at that moment, I was absolutely fearless. As far as I was concerned, they were trapped in the car with me, and I turned that situation completely around. I'll always be proud of the way it turned out.

That night was too cold to camp outside, so I got a motel room in Gardiner, Montana. This was the first night where I sort of felt lonely on the road. It was strange. When I was camping, I didn't feel lonely at all, but somehow the 4 walls in that room made me see myself differently. Doing this - hitchhiking around America - only made sense if you had the right frame of mind. I guess in that motel, I slipped into the wrong mood, and for a short time there, I saw my plan as pointless and pathetic. What kind of person would do this? Maybe it was those clowns in the car. They might have gotten to me a little. Whatever it was, I felt depressed, like I was doing something terribly wrong.

If only I could have seen the obvious back then: The Internet had been invented by the defense industry 3 years earlier, and in another 30 years or so, lots of us would have blogs. This hitchhiking trip would give me an excellent topic to blog about. Of course! It's so clear now, as I look back, but remember, I was young then, and didn't know a lot.

My First Quick Take On 2008

I'm watching Hillary speak on the Senate floor with the sound down. I listened to 30 seconds of it and couldn't take anymore. She would be a disaster for the Democratic Party, which is why they could go for her.

On the other side there's Rudy and McCain. No one has been more disappointing than McCain - an actual war hero kissing President Bush's ass to keep his own chances alive. I believe this sickening display has ended his hopes of being President. The White House is using him like a 10-dollar crack whore, and I could weep.

I have been in a room with Guiliani and he has gravitas to spare. He is presidential, and most voters are more forgiving of the personal stuff than our fundamentalist religious leaders would have you think. These pious blowhards only wish they were running America. They're not. President Bush was the least moral man ever to be President but he played the Christians like the biggest suckers in history. The Bible warned them about people like George but he reeled them in anyway. The Religious Right could be the biggest losers of the last 6 years, not counting the GOP itself.

So what will happen? I'm going with the Elvis factor on this. John Kerry was an example of someone who had Zero Elvis Factor, while Bill Clinton had a ton of it. These politicians think they can win over the public by picking just the right position with the right nuanced explanation for why they arrived at it.

Listen close, you pundits out there: There is no stronger force in politics than the Elvis factor - that is how Clinton defeated the first Bush, an incumbent President. The Elvis factor is when the People decide they like someone. It is why Tom Hanks is often mentioned as a dream candidate.

The only one with the Elvis factor is Barack Obama. Edwards and Mitt have a little but not enough, and you can't have the Elvis factor unless you have a lot of it. You've got to be in the main room and Edwards and Mitt are in the lounge. Obama's name will wind up on the marquee outside - he is a star. That is why leaders from near and far are already trying to destroy him. The American People will ponder what 4 to 8 years of listening to Hillary talk would sound like, when even 30 seconds is excruciating. She used to be better than this but ambition has made her unbearable and the People will be turned off. She has been Senatorized.

Obama has an air of greatness about him. If the American People get enough exposure to him, they will vote for him. It's that simple. Guiliani has a chance because he is presidential, but star power wins in America. As much as I hate to say it, even George Jr. had quite a lot of it - Bill Clinton admitted that, and he should know.

This time around Obama is way out in front of the other candidates in Star Power. He's my early pick as the next President of the United States. He's got the Elvis factor, and for the rest of the candidates, it's going to be Heartbreak Hotel. The Portland Freelancer has spoken.

7.) The Hitchhiking Years: Two Wyomings, a Tan Lincoln Continental, and the Ghost of Sitting Bull

I am so glad I visited Wyoming before I knew Dick Cheney was from there. When I saw it back in 1972, it was a real knockout. Sadly, by giving us this one horrible, wretched man, Wyoming will forever be known as a portal from the bowels of hell. But why dwell on that? He came from another Wyoming - I saw the righteous one.

It felt good to be out West. The thing I liked about growing up in Arabia was that it was primarily the land - the desert - and humanity was just living in the nooks, hanging on around the edges. You couldn't just wander off without water, or you'd die. It was harsh - you had to do some basic things right just to survive. I think that's the ideal way to live, when you can still feel the power of the land.

One of my big disappointments coming to America was how settled it was. The East Coast seemed packed with civilization, and if you've ever flown over the Mid-West, the entire thing has been divided up into squares you can see from the air.

So I loved getting out West, where it looked like it was still being settled, and in a way, it was. Driving up through Wyoming was great for the cowboy history. I mean how cool was it for a kid from Arabia to be in Cheyenne? Later, I looked out and saw some antelope or deer grazing way off in the distance and I realized I was seeing wildlife. This was the Wild West.

Now, I believe this was also the stretch where I got the ride with the truck driver. Despite what you might have heard, rides in semi-trucks were extremely rare. I think I got 4 of them, the whole time I was out there. It's an insurance thing, and I was told that the companies actually had cars out spying on their drivers, and if there was an unauthorized person in the cab, the driver was fired at the next stop. Who knows if that was true, but this was a real treat to get a ride in a truck - or so I thought.

I soon realized why the trucker needed someone to talk to. He had met this woman in Eastern Oregon and god-damn-it, he was in love. This was like 6 weeks before, but he told me every possible thing he knew about her, and then started in again, over and over for hundreds of miles. I always felt obliged to talk with the drivers about what was on their minds. I mean, it was only fair, and you'd hear everything: How they hated their lives and didn't trust their business partners, and found themselves trapped in bad relationships. The whole bit. This was different, because the trucker was so god damn happy, and god-damn-it, he just wanted to tell the world (or at least me) all about it. I barely made a comment. He described her to me for so long that I fell in love with her. Actually, I had gone past that stage, and I was getting tired of her. In fact, I was thinking about getting out.

I'm kidding but this guy wouldn't shut up about the new love. When we got to the end of the line, I went into a really dramatic voice. I said that I had never met this woman, but based on what he had told me, I felt like I knew her. That part was true. Then I solemnly recommended that the minute he got back with her, he should ask her to marry him. That part was staged. It was what he wanted to hear and he looked out at the road with that deep look. God, I was glad to get out of that truck.

Another problem with the script about the hitchhiking years was the lack of coherent flow. You could be immersed in this trucker's romance, and next thing you know you're in Montana walking around the battlefield where Sitting Bull's forces killed General Custer. There was a steady wind, and you could almost feel the spirits drifting around you.

The most poignant thing I ever heard about the Native Americans, came from comedian Chris Rock who noticed how you never see groups of Indians in America. You see one or a couple, but you don't see bunches. At least he didn't. We don't think about it much, but we are living on a burial ground. There was a holocaust here, and it was profound to imagine a time when thousands of Indians were camped along the banks of the Little Big Horn. Even the name "Indians" is wrong. A People named because explorers thought they had reached India? Could that be right? Where's the respect?

You know, there are a couple of subjects that make me glad I was born overseas. One of them is slavery and the other is what happened to the Native Americans. My people were involved, but don't blame me. When it comes to those subjects, I'm from Arabia.

It sounds hard to imagine now, but at the time I went across Montana there was no speed limit. You were just supposed to drive at a safe and reasonable speed. I rarely remembered the faces of my rides, but in this case, I remember the driver, and the car. He was a rich cowboy involved in titanium, and the car was a light brown Lincoln Continental with the backward suicide doors. It was an amazing automobile and we tore across the state at over 90 miles-an-hour.

I had come up through Wyoming and gone from Billings over to western Montana, and now I was going back down to Wyoming - at least the northwest corner. There, I would check out one of the most beautiful places on earth: Yellowstone. In the next post, there will be two close calls: One at the hands of man, and one from a wild beast. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Dick Cheney: Song and Dance As Predicted

The Drudge Report had the bright red letters of a developing news story this weekend: Dick Cheney was going to testify. Oh the drama! As predicted last week in a post below there was no chance. All that was left was to leak it to the press from sources "close to the defense team" that they were agonizing about this. Oh, the agony! Then they had decided to call him as reported by the faithful Republican servants like Drudge, where it was picked up by the mainstream press. Oh, what drama!

I remained hopeful I was wrong - I'd love to see Cheney waddle into court and take the oath to tell the truth. That would be the best comedy of the year.

Instead, it was all a charade. An attempt to show the trial was real when it was anything but...Hearing the pundits talk about getting Libby convicted so he turned on his bosses was ludicrous. This thing was heading for an acquittal or a pardon from before it started. The mainstream pundits should stick to something they're good at like Anna Nicole.

As the defense prepares to rest, I'd just like to revisit one aspect of this thing that we know is true: These phony-macho chicken hawks - faced with a man who was questioning the veracity of why the Bush administration was getting us into Iraq - went crazy. And like the real men we know them to be, they puffed up their chests and went after the man's wife. Happy Valentine's Day, guys. Stop dazzling us with the family values.

Monday, February 12, 2007

6.) The Hitchhiking Years: A Look at the Ugliness and a Nice Break

I went through Denver 4 times during the hitchhiking years. I-70 and I-80 flow into the city from the east and 1-25 runs north and south. That's the freeway system: Odd numbers mean north and south, even means east and west.

I can patch together almost every time I went through, some clearer than others. Later in the fall of 1972 there would be 3 members of my rock band from Arabia enrolled at the University of Denver, and that was quite a party when I came through town. Several years after that, my brother would be enrolled at the University of Colorado at Boulder, but that wasn't going to help me in April of 1972.

Actually, heading into Denver on that first trip is a faded memory. Maybe it was the smoke-out on the hippie bus. Who knows? Obviously, I don't recall every last ride or even every place I camped during the first big solo trip. I was out there over a month, so what can I expect? I might have 10 different rides in a day.

Listen, I know it sounds corny to tell young people to keep a journal, but I sure wish I had kept one. Even a basic outline would be nice.

Oh well, my memory is surprisingly good, especially for the events I do remember. Sadly, a lot of the more routine stuff has faded away making it harder to place the important events in context. Of course, when you're young, you can't imagine the day when you won't recall the names of your classmates, but that's how it is.

I do remember a nasty incident on the way into Denver one night, that has to be recorded. I was at this huge mall-plaza arrangement near the freeway and there were lots of bikers there. If I said several hundred you might not believe me, but I recall it as that many, and the atmosphere was tense.

I walked into a restroom and inside was a young black man extremely upset. He had tears running down his face and he was frightened for his life, having been threatened by the bikers. It was racial. He was hiding in one of the stalls, till he saw I wasn't with the group outside, and he came forward and said, "Don't go out there. They'll kill you."

You know, back then, whenever I encountered a racially driven incident in America, it would always make me think of Life Magazine. That's where I saw the pictures growing up - the riots, the anguished faces, Selma. In fact, that was where it existed in my mind. I was stunned to come upon an actual racial incident in real life in this beautiful country, but we all know that's a part of the story. A major part of the story. The man said they had threatened him. The way he looked - the fear - was horrible. It was much easier to take in Life Magazine than in real life - that's for sure. He thought they might hurt me just for being there. These bikers were drunk and crazy and wound up. The inspirational moment with the bikers in Illinois was so different from this, that I didn't even put them in the same universe. Eventually, I told the frightened man that I was going back out and he said he would take his chances hiding in the mall.

I thanked the guy for the warning and wished him the best of luck. It was dangerous out in the parking lot, but by now I had a Ph.D. in vanishing. I could fade into the scenery no matter where I was, and I believe this is the time I escaped into a large drainage pipe and camped there.

There's two parts to camping out. First, you got away from humanity, and prepared to sleep. That part was great. It was people treating other people poorly that you had to worry about - as I had just avoided in the parking lot.

Of course, there was a second part to it. This happened near grassy fields in the occasional drainage pipe, and one notable time in these hills overlooking the ocean near Laguna Beach. You'd get all settled in and you would start hearing a mouse, or one of our other friends from the animal kingdom. That could be fairly discouraging, but if the rustling wasn't too loud, and whatever was making it didn't seem too large, you'd drift off. The important thing was to get away from people at night. The animals were never as dangerous as the humans - except for the dog in Buffalo in the first post and that had been trained by humans.

One part I do remember quite clearly was the anxiety of hitching through Denver, Colorado after I had just been warned by the freaks on the bus about how bad the situation was. Of course, I was loving the environmental aspects of Colorado, but I was anxious. In the vernacular of the day, I was uptight.

At first, I had been surprised that Eastern Colorado was so different from the image. I sort of remember some time in a little tavern talking with some cowboy types and we might as well have been in Texas. Eastern Colorado was very flat and rural - not what I had anticipated. But then you saw those mountains up ahead, like a huge wave rolling across the plains at you and you knew you were in Colorado. That was dazzling, though I admit, back then, I was easily dazzled. What am I saying? The Rockies will always be amazing, but in those days it was even better. I was looking at the world with fresh eyes, and it was awesome.

There was something else going on. See, back then, I felt I was blessed. Maybe not in a religious way, but if there was some force of goodness in the universe, I knew I was tapped into it. I would hear these stories of horrible events on the road - getting robbed and beaten up. I don't know if it was immaturity or just being stupid, but I always assumed I would luck out. That's what I miss the most from those times: The unbridled optimism. How could I not feel that way?

I had been born an American in Arabia, so my entire upbringing was one huge adventure. Indiana Jones never had it so good. Yes, there was one uncle who tried to impress on me that I was a spoiled rich punk, but I didn't feel that way. It wasn't my fault I was living like that. For example, the kids in my town had to go away to prep school. Our school in Dhahran didn't go past the 9th grade.

Still, I did detect some teasing for the upscale nature of my existence. In fact, part of this trip was to separate myself from the jet set, and do something anybody could do. Of course, I had the AmEx card in my boot if things got too tough, but there was something genuine and pure to my approach - at least that's what I told myself.

Okay, I suppose I was sort of a rich punk, but it was the real me, and that's worth something. There was nothing phony about it - that much I know. Plus, it did take a certain amount of skill and nerve to pull it off.

So I lived like I was in a movie. The reason that so much of what was happening had a flair to it, was that I sought it out. I felt it was my duty to carry on with what had been given to me at birth. I had been born into a big adventure, and it was my job to make it continue.

What happened in Denver was a great example of the protective cloud of good vibes that seemed to surround me back then. I had to finish up with I-80 and make the turn north on I-25. I wanted to see the Wild West and that meant one giant sweep through the entire thing. I was heading up through Wyoming to Montana, but first I had to make it through Denver, Colorado.

That's when this serious looking guy pulled over and gave me a ride - not too far but at least I was out of downtown to the northern outskirts. We chatted amicably, then towards the end he pulled over to let me out, and said, "What have you heard about hitchhiking in Denver?" I said, "I heard it's really tough. The police will arrest anyone they see hitchhiking in the city." He reached into his jacket and pulled out his wallet. He flipped it open and there was a badge. He was a Denver police officer. Of course, by then I was thinking, "Uh oh", but he just said, "Don't believe everything you hear."

That was more of what I was looking for. All these hitchhikers getting stopped by the Denver police, and I actually get a hitchhiking ride with the Denver police? That's what I mean when I say I was blessed.

Next, I veered off I-25 and stopped in Boulder that afternoon. What a cool little town it was back then. I hung around for hours, and at night, I just walked into a dorm at the University, and crashed right in a hall in the basement. You have to understand it was 1972, and things were looser. Actually, there was an indented part of this hallway with an ironing board built into it and I slept under that. During the night I woke up and one of the students was really drunk, ironing a shirt right over me. But he was friendly enough so after he left, I went back to sleep.

In 1972, I thought there was a protective cloud of good luck around a lot of us young people. I truly believed that problems like racism would fade away once my generation took over. The black man in the restroom was quite a shock. I guess I realized what was going on in an abstract way, but that was right there in front of me. I had seen it in Life Magazine, but that world seemed like someplace else. I didn't really understand that it was the world I was living in, too.

These were the best years because I was innocent at heart, and I really miss the feeling. If I saw a troubling incident, it would bother me, but I kept my basic joy. One year later, that would all change, but back then, I was living the adventure movie, and I truly felt like I was both lucky and blessed.

Great News for Country Joe McDonald: Anti-War Song Could Be Back In Play

If you’ve ever watched the movie Woodstock, you’ve seen the devastating anti-war song from my “brother by another mother”, Country Joe McDonald. I don’t know about his mother, but mine always stressed that we should focus on the positive, and guess what? One good thing for him is that his song could be coming around again. The rhyme scheme works once more. All you have to do is add a drumbeat for the extra syllable and it goes a little something like this: “Well, it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for? Good golly, I don’t give a damn, next stop is (boom) Iran.”

His song, mysteriously entitled “Feeling Like I’m Fixin' to Die Rag”, was actually one of the more powerful anti-war anthems because it used a light-hearted approach to focus on the horrible situation: “Be the first one on your block, to have your boy come home in a box.”

Well, over 3,000 American soldiers have returned from Iraq in coffins, but the anti-war movement that helped end Vietnam is not getting the job done here. Neither is the Democratic Congress. Okay, at the relative times, we are ahead. The American People have seen through Iraq faster, and it is now much more unpopular, quicker than Vietnam.

The problem is these current leaders are not done. Iran is in the crosshairs, and the drums of war are beating even louder than a few weeks ago. Aircraft carrier groups are in or heading to the Persian Gulf and it looks like the chicken hawks in the Bush administration have one final fiasco left in them. This time around the fake intelligence may be upgraded to fake evidence – there are already reports that the “Iranian” IEDs were actually manufactured in Great Britain. Who knows? They wouldn’t lie to us, would they?

Country Joe does have one other advantage with the Iran situation. With Russia grumbling, and the rest of the world feeling forced to do something about the mad, warlord policy of the Bush administration, other lines in Joe's tune could have increased impact. If this does lead to a nuclear conflagration, the line, “Ain’t no time to wonder why, whoopee, we’re all going to die”, could have much more meaning this time around.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Terrorism Hits Pan Am - How My Friend Died

For years, I've been thinking about writing a book about my friend who got killed in a terrorist attack, but lately I'm leaning towards a documentary. That's a picture of me on bass and Walker on drums back in the day, and the Pan Am jet that was attacked.

The project could be taking shape. My brother is a former international video journalist and now works on video projects in Minnesota. He would be great on something like this. We could go interview Walker's old friends, and family. it would be powerful and the right thing to do. I hired a grant writer, but if it doesn't work, at least I'll get it out with this blog.

My brother's wife sent this link which was important because it has some details I never heard before. That's one of the things you see a lot with military families, etc...If something like this happens you want to know every detail. It's weird. Even if the details are horrific. I know they made the initial identification from Walker's shoes and I always thought that was pretty grim. My guess is the details help make it seem real. You can't imagine it being true so the details sort of pull you back into reality, where I suppose you eventually need to be. Oh well.

Pan Am Flight 110 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia