Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Portland Freelancer Goes Back Underground

I think I made some decisions during the White House Correspondents Dinner on C-Span. I have become extremely disappointed in many people recently, including myself. I have to get back to work. This blog world is fun but I believe that it's beginning to do me harm. The Portland Freelancer is going on hiatus. I don't want to have to defend what I'm seeing on the blogs right now. I could comment, but I think I'll pass instead.

The break-in of my house this week was a reminder of the fleeting nature of opportunity. There is a limited amount of time to get it together, so I've got to return to the path.

In many ways I was very content and successful underground, lobbing jokes into the machine. It's not a bad gig, writing anonymously. I actually tried to do some good. I mean the damn things go on all around the world, so there was a chance of having some impact. Besides, it feels nice to think you are making people laugh on a global scale, or trying to anyway. Besides, if one of my jokes bombs, nobody gets hurt.

That last paragraph seems a little overblown but the TV stuff is on in over 70 countries, and the radio is on in a bunch more. I've had jokes on CNN and that is something like 220 countries. Then things get repeated on big-time websites like Reuters. So as pompous as I admit that last paragraph was, I can back it up. Nobody else in this city sends their ideas farther out there - that I know of anyway. And don't forget the 11 people watching my cable access show.

So I should have been content. When I got the column in the Tribune it was my first foray out of my productive little bunker. This blog was another.

Right now, I don't know about doing this. Are my fellow bloggers the people I think they are, or just a brilliant disguise? For example, the way some of my favorite sites handled the school shooting was just deranged. They were way too eager about it. I mean trying to make everything bad into a conspiracy is as ridiculous as trying to make everything bad into the work of the devil. I am disappointed with some aspects of blogging right now, and I'm going to withdraw.

The cable show could be next. Since they stole my video camera this week, that has become quite a hassle. For example, this Sunday's show is the rerun of a gig my former trio played in Hillsboro last year. It already seems like ancient history. Actually, the cable show will go on, because I've committed, but that's about it.

Speaking of music, I once wrote a song called, "Out From the Underground": The first lines were: "When I get out from the underground, I'm going to take a look around. This invisibility is doing weird things to me." Well, I've had my look around, and now I want to go back. I've got a project I've got to do, and I want to put everything into it.

I've been avoiding a technical manual I have to read, and it's driving me nuts. Too bad the thieves didn't take that. I've got some life homework and I've been putting it off, and it's sort of understandable. Learning has become harder as I get older. I actually can still write pretty fast at times, but I only have a limited amount of energy in a day and I can't waste it. I've got to work on my new project. Blogging was fun, but I've got something I've got to do. Of course, the Portland Freelancer reserves the right to return at any time. Quitting things like this can take several attempts, but for now, I am so gone.

Discipline? Drive? Let Me Get Back to You

This is one of those mornings where I have a lot of things to say, so I'll just touch on some of them:

1. Make sure you check L.E. Baskow's nature photograph in the Friday Trib. The young man is a monster photographer. By the way, he took my picture for my column back in the day, but we can't judge him on one bad photograph. (I just looked for the picture online, and couldn't find it. Come on, folks. You've got GOLD here. Am I going to have to call another meeting of the Trib editors? I just found it. Search for "Closer to Home" to see a small version that won't enlarge.)

2. Dusty Baker - who is going to be a great baseball announcer - called it "the World Series in April." The first game between the Yankees and the Red Sox was amazing with the Red Sox scoring 5 runs in the bottom of the 8th to beat the hated Yankees at Fenway Park to win by one. Could it be that Mariano Rivera is losing it at 37? One of the most annoying spectacles over the last decade or so was watching Joe Torre bring in Mariano to close, with that look like he was doing something brilliant. Well, Rivera was fast and accurate but his pitches did not dance and they were not nasty. Result: He blew a three run lead and for the second time in a row he blew a save. Plus a Japanese rookie - not that one, another one - came in and got through the top of the 9th. A-Rod who has been a little too happy with himself after his ridiculous start - including 2 homers in this game - was left cursing after lining out weakly. Great stuff.

3. Finally, my joke last Friday died a horrible death with the band and the host discussing how things had been going so well till this one happened. I apologized to the host's assistant on the phone and tried to blame the whole thing on Friday the 13th, which was kind of funny, but probably not what they were looking for. Last night though, the host was floundering and began discussing the situation again with the band leader. He said basically not to worry, that this next joke would turn the entire monologue around. He went with another one of mine and the audience loved it, the band played, children were named after the joke, and a parade was later held in the joke's honor. I needed that. Not really, but it was nice.

4. Something about the joke has led to a realization that I will get to later in another post. There are laughs that ridicule, there are laughs that say "That was clever", but the most solid laughs are when the audience realizes something is the truth. The joke is funny but it's also right. That's what we had here. I don't want to oversell this but I believe I now know why we are in Iraq, and the driving dynamic behind the entire Bush administration. In short, the Portland Freelancer has now figured out the entire history of America over the last 6 years, and it comes down to one simple theory. Stay tuned.

5. The discipline thing. I have a project right now that means everything to me. I have been working hard on it, but not as hard as I should be. I have a fear of learning new stuff, especially out of manuals the size of books. I also have that inverse caring thing where if it really matters, I avoid it in favor of fun, senseless stuff like blogging. Uh oh. I might have revealed too much. I meant to say, "I am avoiding this important project to continue my vitally important role as the Portland Freelancer." There, that's more like it.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Why I Could Never Go Out With Jessica Alba

See, I like women with a quiet confidence. By wearing a star-shaped earring, Jessica is clearly masking some issues with her self-esteem. In fact, this picture is an obvious cry for help. Please, try and work on your self-image, Jessica. You'll only be attractive to others when you start liking yourself.

Keeping Things Balanced

I love the way a good marriage can add balance to your life. This was sent to me by email from I don't know where.

Iraq: Worse Than We Know

When you hear the name "John Murtha" your brain immediately and obediently brings up the associations planted there by a desperate right wing spin machine. It didn't take them long to denigrate his 37 years of military service, and reduce him to a terrorist-appeasing defeatist, did it?

Of course, the real impact of John Murtha's stand against our policy in Iraq, was to help turn Election 2006 to the Democrats and restore some accountability to what had been a rubber-stamping GOP majority in Congress. You could argue that the fate of our system of government - the checks and balances we at least seem to be returning to - could not have withstood another few years of King George. That would make John Murtha a bona fide American hero, except that he already was one. That's why when you think of him, you get a negative image. It was put there by the spin masters in charge.

That's also why the anguish in his voice about Iraq seems so compelling. He doesn't see his stand in a heroic way. In fact, he says he waited way too long, and he was just catching up to what the American People had already figured out. Isn't that refreshing? A politician actually playing down his accomplishments?

Yes, you could argue that he used his new fame to try and land a leadership position, but he is not overtly trying to paint himself as a hero here. He may be that rarest of things in Washington: Someone who actually cares about the troops more than about his political future.

That's in mark contrast to the Republican leaders. The Bush administration could be the most disingenuous group of low-lifes ever to slither upon this earth. I keep going back to President Bush's statement that if he doesn't get his way on spending, it will hurt the troops and force them to stay longer. He said that right before he ordered the troops to stay longer anyway.

Everything is politics and spin with these people. There is still a chance that the entire Iraq War was driven by how it would make President Bush look. At least on the Karl Rove side of the West Wing. We know why the Neo-Cons wanted in. These people like Rove always start with the spin and work backwards to the policy. It's very possible that to him Iraq wasn't about Iraq, and that winning in Iraq is more about being able to talk like you want to win, than actually winning. Rove probably figured a wartime president talking decisively would be the best possible image to win in 2004 and everything flowed backwards from that goal. I keep remembering an excerpt from one of Woodward's books where Rove tells George to be decisive because that plays better. Everything is fake with these clowns.

The surge is not really about the surge. It's about the appearance of a new plan, after the appearance of studying why the old plan wasn't working. If the President really felt that we had to win in iraq, he would have gone with the draft. This is all the proof you need that it's all marketing spin and politics. If President Bush really wanted to win, he would have poured troops into the country.

I am not saying that would have succeeded, but to respond to the failure in Iraq with the surge is not convincing. Most people knew the surge wouldn't work, and it hasn't, but the sad thing is that the surge's real mission was just to give these Bush cretins something to talk about. It's all about appearances and spin - moving forward just means framing the issue for another few months till its clear once again that the whole entire thing was a disaster. President Bush is now buying time with American blood.

Last night, I heard an interview with John Murtha and the anguish was obvious. He kept saying, "You have to think about the individual soldiers and the families." The burden on this small number of soldiers and national guard has simply not been fair. It's been extremely unjust and they will live with the consequences for the rest of their lives. If they live. This has also been the deadliest 4 months for the troops.

We are grinding these soldiers down to the breaking point and beyond. The estimated number Murtha mentioned that will come home with profound mental problems from these extended combat tours is currently 65,000. That's the number of soldiers who will return with post-traumatic stress. Murtha said these soldiers should probably only rotate into this mess for 9 months. Maybe even as little as 4. That's the level where the stress starts breaking them down and they start making bad decisions.

Instead, the Commander in Chief has just extended tours of duty to 15 months, rather than get more help. Why doesn't he want fresh troops? Even Murtha says we should go with a draft if this war is what we want to do. There's the proof. This thing has always been about how it will spin, and Karl Rove and company realize that calling for a draft would hurt their polling numbers.

Winning in Iraq was never about winning in Iraq. It's always been about playing Iraq to win elections. And the soldiers you destroy doing it? Not a problem. Just make a few more speeches about how much you support the troops.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Born to Slack Show Co-Host Has a New Son

This has been a painful week in a lot of ways, so anyone who comes up with good news is immediately a hero. That is why James Shibley is now a hero. He and his even more heroic wife really delivered this past Monday with a new baby boy named Robert. As loyal viewers already know,(just play along), James had the idea and was the inspiration for the "Born to Slack" cable access show - now shooting its 155th episode.

It should be interesting to see how this Hall of Fame slacker responds. One of his early concerns, expressed on the air by the way, was that the birth could come during James' watching of the Masters Golf Tournament. No worries. The baby might take after Dad just a little as he arrived a couple of weeks late.

There will be many sentimental scenes ahead as the proud father teaches the son how to use the remote control. Yes, the sofa will have a tiny new indentation from another set of ass cheeks. I even suggested placing the baby in the rather substantial sofa imprint of James' ass in lieu of a playpen.

Speaking of the Masters, after Zach Johnson won he went over and kissed his baby son. It was immediately obvious that winning the Masters was one level of importance, but having the kid was what really mattered. Sitting at home watching, I said to myself, "What James is doing here is more important than winning the Masters." And it is. Mother and Baby are resting comfortably and you know James is.

The classic part for me was that I had just experienced a break-in when he called. As bad as Monday sucked for the rest of the nation, I somehow managed to have it suck that much worse. I went out at around 2 to have coffee with Phil Stanford, and when I left the house, my wife was just planning to go out. When I got back at 3:30, the front door was open and the place had been trashed. The first level of alarm was when I realized the thief could still be inside. So I searched around in combat warrior mode. How do they say it? I swept the house for the perp.

The really horrible part was when I called my wife's cellphone, and got the call forwarding thing twice. If she goes out driving or to the store, she doesn't like to talk on the cellphone for more than a few seconds. Suddenly, I got a cold chill: Door open, house trashed, wife gone, phone not working, car gone....could this be a home invasion, kidnapping scenario? I called 911 and when they asked if it was an emergency, I described what I had so far, and they sure took it seriously. I was starting to breath more quickly, and I was just getting that ominous, dreaded deep-fear thing, when my wife drove up in her car. Whew!!!!!

She had gone out and normally takes the phone. This time she had forgotten. Though the cellphone was now with the thief - as I had figured - at least she was not. She was safe. After that I was so relieved that the rest of the experience was almost euphoric. The police officer was great. Officer Brock Sorensen took the report and he seemed like a credit to the force. The finger print woman mainly dealt with my wife as the phone rang and it was James calling about the new kid.

I didn't bring up what had just happened as it was his big day. The classic part was hoping that he wouldn't want to do the "Born to Slack" show this week because of the new baby. He said that he was up for the show and could make it over Friday. He even said that it would be "routine." I didn't say anything, but it was a classic comedy moment. Routine? Sure, except that my video camera had just been stolen.

Other plans have been made, and my wife and I are living through the post-crime paranoia. I wanted to attend the Steve Novick announcement yesterday so I threw on the suit and was rushing around writing my jokes so I could go. When it came time to shave I realized that the bastards had even taken my electric razor. I'm not kidding. So I arrived at Steve Novick's announcement with a suit but a sort of stubble look.

Oh well, I bought a new razor last night, we replaced the wife's phone, and made an arrangement for the camera. I also lost a Fender Telecaster in the deal, but that's just like a musician tax. Every ten years or so someone steals a guitar. I'm still just grateful nobody got hurt. I even told Phil, I probably would have been taking my nap when the guy came in so there's a chance his call for coffee could have saved some real ugliness.

Monday was a horrible day for America, and I can't complain too much. I came out of it with my wife safe, and with my friend James having some tremendous news.

In fact, that's the positive. With all the horror in the world Monday, there was also a new little baby full of hope. As my comedian friend Troy Wagner said when he called from Florida, "I'm buying stock in Doritos. There's a new slacker in the world."

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Portland Freelancer Is Busy

I'm not into it today.

The Portland Freelancer has an appointment this morning. I hate it when that happens.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Islands, Islands Everywhere

Jack Bog is running a Survivor contest for the city council to see who gets voted off the island. Randy Leonard is firing back on Blue Oregon with a Survivor contest to see if Jack should be voted off Randy's island. Meanwhile the Portland Freelancer sees a third island, a place where a badly sunburned new arrival wants to set up a different system of governing whereby he would have much more power at the expense of the others. Meet Mayor Potter and his new charter idea.

Web Broadcasters: The Wild West Just Got a Lot Less Wild

How in hell can you charge a retroactive fee? That goes on my list of top ten scariest concepts ever. Can you imagine a tax being passed where everyone has to dig up their old forms from 2005 and pay a new fee based on what happened back then?

I admit I do not have a complete grasp of the details here, but I feel a huge chill come over the Internet this morning, and it's only beginning. I am already nostalgic for the way things used to be. This web broadcaster ruling will change things going forward, and by making the royalties retroactive for 2006, it has changed things in the past as well. It's almost as if the government has determined that the Internet has been a beacon of freedom for too long and that must cease. Here's one paragraph from the article: said that in 2005 they paid 5% of their revenues to songwriters and the 12% required by SoundExchange. "On $400,000 in revenues, we paid Sound Exchange about $48,000," wrote Mr Hanson. "Under the judges' decision, we owe $600,000 for 2006 - which is about 150% of our total revenues. That would absolutely bankrupt us and will force us to shut down." He said the wider implications of the decision were "possibly fatal for internet radio".BBC NEWS | Technology | 'Fatal' blow to web broadcasters

Monday, April 16, 2007

Tough Day in America: Let Marvin Gaye Help You Out

The arrangement alone is enough to make this stunning. Then you consider the person and the talent, and that makes it brilliant and historic. Finally you get to the spirit behind it. On an emotional level, this is....well, it might help you on a day like today.
YouTube - Marvin Gaye sings American National Anthem

Virginia Tech Shooting

Obviously, I wouldn't have named the post below "Optimism Monday" had I seen the story from Virginia Tech. My thoughts go back to the sniper in that university clock tower in Texas. What a grim story today. Those are numbers you'd get from a car bomb in Iraq. Now, I've got to put it aside and write comedy. These are the days I pay for having this job.

Optimism Monday: Who Is This Guy and Is He Bearing the News that Could Save Our Species?

Okay, first some business: I saw the profile of Don Imus from 10 years ago on "60 Minutes." Mike Wallace interviews him and calls him for using the n-word off camera. For the first time in this ordeal, I was surprised. I didn't realize Imus was like that - I was fooled by the on-air persona. Imus sounds like much more of a racist than I realized. I now know why he wears a cowboy hat: To keep his head from slipping completely up his ass.

Second, I happened to be listening to Art Bell last night, and he had the mother of all guests. Skepticism is required, but this guest was talking about a man named Boyd Bushman, pictured above.
I will spare you the details except to say that if this guy is for real, the secrets of anti-gravity and zero-point energy have been known for decades. I'll just say it as if it were true to save time: There are other types of forces besides the 5 we know about. One of them is called an expansion force that is driving the galaxies apart. The trick is to lock into this expansion force at which point gravity no longer applies. When that occurs it takes very little energy to go very, very fast. The many UFO reports break down into two groups: Ours and theirs.

If this is true, and I realize that's a galaxy-sized "if", then we are living in the dark ages of humanity. We are clearly in the dark about what our government knows. I tend to believe it, and one of the reasons is that it had better be true or we are doomed. I never was a big fan of Armageddon. We might have our faults but I think bagging the human species would be a mistake. Remember, we came up with rock and roll as well as football. We deserve to live. Hmm, wait. Roswell was in the late 40s, and rock and roll started the next decade. Let me rephrase that: As far as I know, we came up with rock and roll.

Take heart, my fellow earthlings. This is Optimism Monday. There is a significant chance that problems such as peak oil and global warming can be solved. We might already have the ultimate new energy system - one that will not only allow us to go on living here on earth, but move out to a new home in a galaxy near you. Okay, there are no other galaxies near you, unless this technology works, in which case, the possibilities have only just begun. It takes 100 thousand years for light to cross our galaxy. We need to go faster than the speed of light outside the normal rules of inertia. This guy says it's in the bag and the ideas aren't even that complicated. Happy Monday.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

President Bush and the Department of New Lows

It's been another stellar week for President Bush's Department of New Lows. I hesitate to say this but one recent Bush quote could have hit the absolute bottom on the scale of human decency. Yes, I've been hurt before. No sooner have I said, "There it is. President Bush can't possibly do any worse", than the Boy King has opened up his mouth again and unleashed another new low. If FEMA worked as well as this Department, New Orleans would be the shining city on a hill that George's Daddy used to talk about.

This latest new low hurt more, because it followed a nice, almost hilarious stretch. Things have gotten so desperate for this administration, that recent spin has come off as great comedy. I loved it when Dick Cheney said it was great news that the British had set a timetable to leave Iraq. This followed months of saying how defeatist and wrong that sort of thing would be, but once it was presented to the VP as a done deal, he did what he always does: He opened his mouth and let the B.S. ooze out. Apparently, this was good news because it meant Basra was ready to go it alone. Not yet, actually, but the Brits could see a point next year when they could take off and go home. This was wonderful.

I'm not a military expert but you would think if Basra was secure, the Brits could help us in other parts of the country, especially since we're searching high and low for more bodies to send in. After all, the famous tide of victory is about to turn, so why not give us a hand? We're in this together, right?

What the British are doing is exactly what Cheney has called a strategy of cut and run. And yet, when faced with the exact situation he had been deriding, Cheney now loves it. Worse yet, his robot-like supporters nodded faithfully and bought it.

Oh well, at least we're only torturing logic this time. The Portland Freelancer has since given Cheney the coveted Iraqi Minister of Information Award, also given to John McCain for saying the market in Baghdad was safe. No word yet if the Vice President has been invited to host Saturday Night Live.

But wait, there's more: When huge crowds recently gathered in Iraq to protest America's presence there and to reaffirm a desire to see us harmed, Americans sort of knew what to expect from Bush Speak. The White House issued another statement about how this was more good news, because hating us meant they were starting to feel free. I actually anticipated something along these lines, but it's like sensing a punchline on a joke - it's still fun when it arrives.

Oh, I get it. Of course! The fact that they hate us, just means they're starting to love our way of life. Too bad they didn't want to kill us even more - that would make freedom and democracy a sure thing.

So we were sailing along on a wave of good fortune and everywhere things were rosy. When the cafeteria blew up in the Green Zone, I half expected Cheney to say it was just a bad batch of tuna casserole, and the fact that they're eating tuna casserole in Iraq was good news. Forget about winning their hearts and minds. We were winning their stomachs.

Of course, this group can't keep it up forever without doing something truly hideous. The other day, President Bush said a delay in passing another bill with more money for the war, "will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines, and others could see their loved ones headed back to the war sooner than they need to." Never mind that funding is available well into July, and President Bush is hyping the spending crunch. Never mind that this is a manpower shortage - not a money shortage. Never mind that there are no front lines - just a mess. Never mind that they never needed to go, and that the whole war was unnecessary.

To try and exert pressure on Congress by toying with the emotions of families with soldiers in Iraq is criminally cold. Of course, the Bush administration immediately followed these remarks by extending the tours 3 more months for everybody.

I just imagined a mother of a soldier listening to the President. How her heart must soar when someone mentions bringing her son home. Instead, President Bush was just using that tantalizing prospect as a cheap political stunt to try and get a bill passed that will only extend the conflict. There is no connection at all - it was the most cynical spin yet. It was just plain sick, and I can't imagine President Bush going much lower. Of course, I've been wrong before. With this administration, the Department of New Lows never rests.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Oregonian Pontificates About Don Imus

The Oregonian has jumped on the Imus-bashing band wagon, and it's the safe thing to do. Yes, this is the appropriate move by the corporate media, and the Oregonian's analysis of the depths to which radio has sunk under the shock jocks, is all standard stuff.

I just wonder if the Oregonian editors can hold that all-knowing mirror up and look at themselves? Maybe they should ask themselves about the depths newspapers have sunk to as well. Who has let America down more? Imus and his ilk on the radio, or the 4th Estate?

Before they answer, they should remember that when this country was heading into a war in Iraq, the newspapers went along on a government-directed marketing campaign. Imus didn't take that ride. If Imus led American culture "to a lot of places that would have been better left unexplored", he also explored the case for war when the newspapers refused to look. Wasn't this something that should have been examined more vigorously by our sanctimonious, government servants working in mainstream media?

Don Imus and his producer Bernard McGuirk were the most visible challengers to the War in Iraq before it started, while the newspapers were engaged in copying and pasting the GOP talking points. The exceptions in newspapers were few. For example, I wrote a couple of columns in the Portland Tribune questioning the wisdom of the plan just prior to the invasion, and I was told that led to my dismissal.

Back then there wasn't anyone besides Imus as high up in the mainstream media, who was willing to question the Iraq War. Up till last week, he was the most visible person on television who regularly referred to Dick Cheney as a war criminal. Not to mention the only one. Meanwhile, our newspapers continue to play it safe, through the most dangerously inept administration in American History. How will they be judged on that?

Yes, the newspapers did some stories on Walter Reed, but Imus wasn't letting the story go. He challenged the senators who came on his show the way the 4th Estate used to, before it was purchased by corporate giants and muzzled. So go ahead and unload on his cruel humor. It's always easy to kick someone when they're down, and the racist stuff is indefensible.

Just don't forget to shine that mirror on yourselves. When American culture needed the media to examine the Bush administration, you people were absent, and you still are. Imus was on the case. Imus was angry and outraged while the newspaper editors have been way too complacent and polite. It's like they're stuck in another century.

The editorial about Imus finishes sarcastically that it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Well, maybe the editors of our newspapers should stop being so nice - nice to the powers that be. I'd prefer a little less nice when it comes to issues in this town, as well as with the nightmares facing our nation.

When the historians write about these years, there may be mention of the negative effect of shock jocks on American culture, but the more damning assessment will be the effect of not having a 4th Estate that did its job. If newspapers were more interested in being an independent voice for the People, maybe so many of us wouldn't have turned to Don Imus to try and get a sense of the real news. The Internet gets blamed, but newspapers are also sliding because they haven't been performing their role in a healthy democracy - which is why our democracy is in some trouble right now. The ironic thing is that the newspapers are acting this way, even though they're paying for not doing their jobs. So go ahead and belittle Imus. If the circulation numbers are true, newspaper people are being chased out of their jobs just as surely as Don Imus was - it's just in slow motion.

Radio might have too much shock, but newspapers don't have enough. They're too content to go along. Sure, Imus was straddling some tricky demographics, but he rarely just went along. He didn't duck the issues or create fake ones to have something to report. He was grouchy and cantankerous, but anybody who can report on these times, and not be in a similar mood, is in denial, paid off, or crazy.

Oh, and one other thing: Imus might have had diminished clout according to the Oregonian, but he was able to raise the death benefits for a soldier killed in the war - a war that newspapers helped market - from $12,000 to $100,000 for the spouse and $400,000 for the children. He had enough clout left to do that.

Yes, Imus wasn't nice. Just ask Dick Cheney. Imus was a little too real, but newspapers such as the Oregonian are a little too phony. It's easy to lament the role of shock jocks in our society, and get all morally outraged about what's happened to radio, but the bigger tragedy is what's happened to newspapers. These Oregonian editors should hold that same mirror up and look at themselves.
In the end, the shock was his

Friday, April 13, 2007

Don Imus Would Have Appreciated This Angle: How Does His Firing Affect Me?

The Don Imus firing might work out for me after all. Why? Because it is 5 a.m. as I write this - my old reliable time to start the morning. First, some background:

A few years ago, I used to get up really early, and find 16 wacky news stories from around the world and write 3 jokes each about them. I would only wake up when I wanted to - I haven't used an alarm clock in years, except for 3 or 4 unusual circumstances like a flight. These one-liners - coupled with 7 about what was on TV that night - would mean 55 jokes for the radio. Then I'd send 7 to Leno and call it a day.

Incidentally, I always have wondered if I should have spent more time on the Leno jokes, but as the Fine Young Cannibals song put it so well, "Baby, baby, don't look back. It won't do you no good." Besides, Leno has purchased more than 500 of them, so I did something right.

By quarter of nine in the morning, I was basically done for the day. That would leave time for other projects. I banged out over a half dozen scripts, and played a lot of guitar. I'd go for long walks and do an occasional banquet to keep my seniority in case the whole thing blew apart. Life was pure and simple, the way I like it.

When you wake up at 5 a.m. or even earlier, your mind is like the surface of a pond on a still morning - there is nary a ripple. The ideas come easily like rainbow trout jumping up out of the water.

Then I did something that changed things: I asked for a raise from the radio people. They replied that they would prefer making my life much easier, instead. They would send the stories and I would just add the jokes. I have to admit, it's much less hassle. I still do the 7 TV jokes at night. Then I sleep in, and do the Leno jokes first.

Actually, lately I've been doing the blog first, even before the batch for Leno. Why worry about a joke that could be on in over 70 countries around the world, when you can respond to a comment on your blog instead? That makes sense, right?

Here's the big change. I no longer woke up as early. Then sometime around 11 the stories arrive. I no longer have to search the world for wacky news - these things come in edited form ready to go. I just add 2 jokes each and send them back. An easy, sweet gig got even sweeter - as long as you can write this many jokes a day.

Plus, there's a significant audience. The latest number of radio stations I heard was over 140 and some of them are in some pretty exotic places. Last time I asked, and it's been several years, we were on in Namibia, Iceland, Sri Lanka, as well as a place they keep mentioning called Canada.

It is a comforting fact knowing that DJs around the world are reading my jokes. I want to be on the lighthearted side of the ledger. When one of my jokes bombs nobody gets hurt. And hey, it's cool that my material is on more stations than many of the big names, including you-know-who even before he got fired yesterday.

In fact, I have heard at least one of my jokes repeated on "Imus in the Morning." I suppose guests hear them on Leno and figure, "Who from those viewers is going to be up this early?"

This radio gig has lasted over 10 years so far, and it's the crown jewel in a lifetime of avoiding schedules. I study the way jobs and life styles force me into appointments, the way some people study the stock market. I don't need to be rich, but I want to be free. Most of my contracts specify that I never have to go anywhere or meet with anybody. Most of the trouble in this world starts with a meeting.

That's why I was concerned when my schedule slowly shifted. Ironically, my schedule actually suffered because I was a big Don Imus fan. Remember when he was taken off the 6 to 9 or 10 slot on KOTK here in town? That meant I had to tape him off MSNBC, and that meant staying up past the Leno monologue and switching the tapes. I've got most of my Leno jokes on tape, re-recording over a spot on the tape till I get one, then moving on.

Now that Imus is gone, I don't have to do this switch. That means I can just tape the Leno monologue and crash earlier at night. I have one less fixed point of time in my day, and believe me I've spent my whole life avoiding fixed points of time.

Yes, I'll miss the I-Man (for now anyway.) I see him in radio terms along with Wolfman Jack as the best of a tradition of bigger-than-life entertainers, from the old school of radio - a tradition that evolved even further back out of Jack Benny, Bob Hope and George Burns. Imus was an entertaining DJ doing talk, compared to the next wave of talk radio people, featuring all the right-wing, boring, serious types. These talk radio people now are mostly like politicians to me: Candidates who aren't running for anything - just running their mouths.

Rush Limbaugh and his spawn like Lars Larson are not entertainers at all, in my opinion. They are basically shills for the Man. They are like robot drone voices - propaganda merchants for the Machine. Lars Larson couldn't compete with Wolfman Jack's dead air, but you know what? Imus could. Imus used to party with the Wolfman.

You take out Garrison Keillor and none of the old vaudeville tradition is left. You take out Imus, and the record-spinning DJs who wanted to be entertainers first, gives way to the corporate motor-mouths for the most part. No laughs. No charm. No joy. Just words like little propaganda pills designed to dull your brain.

Imus always thought of things from one point of view: How they would affect him. That's what I'm doing here. His getting fired is a schedule change for me, much as the way the 11 a.m. thing with the jokes changed my life. Sometimes they get here at 11:15, sometimes 11:35. I'm not complaining. It's still a dream gig, but there is a "jump through the hoop" aspect that is just not me.

Today feels completely different. This is a change for the better. I just lost the second fixed point of my day: Having to change the tape after the Leno monologue. Imus is gone so last night I crashed early and woke up at 5 a.m. ready to go. No Imus. No tape switch. No appointment at quarter to midnight.

I'll miss the cranky old bastard. He was an American original like Jerry Garcia and Mark Twain. But it is still only 5:35 a.m. The pond is flat and the ideas are jumping out. Things are looking up.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Week of Setbacks, but the Portland Freelancer Goes On

Do you ever have a little stretch where the wheels seem to come off? That's what these last few days have seemed like to me. First, my wife did something weird to her new Apple computer. Actually, let me rephrase that in general terms: If you are at your new Apple computer and you get a long auto update thing combined with trying to listen to a song from Apple, and the download starts taking over a half hour, and something else goes wrong, do not, I repeat do not hit Force Quit. Otherwise when you turn on your computer you will get just a gray screen with an Apple and a spinning little wheel. It will be so frozen it will not even get to the blue screen.

Now for the good news: My wife talked with Apple 3 times and reinstalled her operating system from scratch, and her computer is now back. Whew.... There is something involving holding down the power button on the back while pressing the C key, then letting go of the power button while keeping the C key down, that breaks through a freeze like this. Of course! It's so obvious now.

Second, I found out my friend Lisa is no longer touring with the Decemberists. My sister had gone to see them in Alabama and since I had seen Lisa that morning in a coffee shop here in Portland, I began to wonder what was up. It turns out there was a different direction taken and she's not with them anymore. That really bummed me out as these gigs do not fall from the sky like rain.

Third, my site meter froze so it looked like I had zero hits for most of yesterday despite being linked from Jack's site. I look at things like that as a sign to get out.

Fourth, I got hurt on the Imus deal. Not as badly as the Rutgers women's basketball team, but my routine included staying up past Leno, switching VCR tapes and taping Imus on MSNBC. Then I'd play through the tape during other parts of the day, often switching to it during the timeouts of other shows. Let me finish this post with this subject:

Racism sucks. Imus's comments were racist and indefensible, even if I wanted to defend him on this, which I don't. But there was a lot of good stuff on that show, and I will have to listen on WFAN on the computer which is a pain because you can't fast forward through the commercials. Imus did a lot of good politically with his grouchy act and we're living in a time of Today Show fluff where basically the media is a lapdog of the corporations that own it. Sorry, but I loved the way Imus challenged the powers that be.

One person who must be thrilled Imus isn't on MSNBC anymore is Dick Cheney. Nobody went further than Imus in calling out the VP for his horrendous mismanagement of our foreign policy. Perhaps the most scathing Imus comment about Cheney's courage was after Saddam had been hanged. Imus noted Saddam's strength in facing what has to be the ultimate scary scenario. He also speculated that Rumsfeld would probably face it with similar tough guy courage. Cheney though? Imus said Cheney would fold up like the trembling little punk that he is. Cheney would act like a crying little kid. I think Imus was right, and I think it was a valuable insight, but let's face it: This is not a discussion you would get on the Today Show.

Tell me where else you can repeatedly hear the Vice President of the United States called a war criminal? Mike Malloy's show on Air America? Well, Imus got farther inside the beast than Mike Malloy ever will, and Imus did it with a lot of laughs, plus he was on TV. How much power did Imus have? After hammering Cheney for years on Iraq, Cheney still showed up one time to do the Imus show. That's the type of clout we need our media types to have.

So it's been a rocky week, but screw it. I was made for these times. I eat setbacks for breakfast. Every change is an opportunity and moping is for losers. In the words of our beloved President, "Bring it on."

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Yao Ming on Broadway

I went out to dinner tonight with the wife and ended up shaking hands with Yao Ming. We ate at Sauce Box on Broadway and Yao was standing outside the Benson. My wife just said, "Look, there's a basketball player," and I guess that was a fair assumption. If not it was some other guy 7 and a half feet tall, wearing a blue warm-up suit and signing autographs.

Think of how famous this athlete is worldwide. Of course, if you're a big hit in China, that automatically gives you some unbelievable numbers. For example, the Chinese version of American Idol gets a TV audience of 400 million. Compared to that, Simon Cowell might as well be on cable access.

I have met some tall people before. Once Manute Bol walked by me, and I also waited on Bill Walton back in the day. But the biggest person I ever saw was in the Hilton lobby restaurant. A normal man was sitting next to him, and the normal man looked like a child. This was Andre the Giant. He was 7'4" and 500 pounds. That is a nightmare for any buffet line.

Most other tall people have been just lengthy. Andre the Giant was massive - his skull was as big as a baby elephant's. Of course Andre was a wrestler - he was too lumbering to make it in the NBA. His turnaround jump shot would have taken longer than 24 seconds, so what was the point?

I wondered what I should say to Yao Ming as I shook hands with him. I suppose the lamest thing would have been, "How's the weather up there?" in Chinese. I did realize the language barrier and I also wanted to say something welcoming as an American to a guest here in this country. It all got jumbled up and I just said, "I appreciate you." Oh well, I'm sure the Chinese have a word for "dorky."

Monday, April 09, 2007

Comedians and Musicians: Jerry Seinfeld Is Closing In

It's a little unusual that I write comedy for a living, since my heart lies in the music business. I always use the following two people to describe it: If Jerry Seinfeld walked into a room I was in, I would be more than happy to see him. I would consider meeting him to be a true honor and I would be quite impressed.

But if Eric Clapton walked in? That would be a mind-blower. I just can't get as excited about Lenny Bruce as I can about Ray Charles. It's just a different level of being impressed. I was always much more amazed by the Beatles than the Marx Brothers. That's just me, and I completely get those people who see comedy as the ultimate.

In fact, I have begun changing a little. I now think meeting Jerry Seinfeld would be at least half as amazing as meeting Eric Clapton, and that's way up. This is what I was pondering tonight as I watched an HBO show that presented Jerry with an award. By the way, you can't understand how great Seinfeld is till you see him do a show. Forget the sit-com or a 6-minute spot on Letterman. If you see him do his act, you will know why many say he's the best standup of our generation. In fact, there were a lot of parallels to seeing a great musician - something I didn't understand watching him on TV.

The other comedians onstage at this award ceremony were Gary Shandling, Chris Rock, and Robert Klein. Incidentally, I have met Robert Klein before and he's the perfect way to describe this difference. You know what really knocked me out about Robert Klein's act? His musical ability. He can really sing in a way I envied and admired. Of course, he's a legendary comedian, but that part I knew.

So what's changed? As I get older and begin thinking more about death, I have begun seeing the value of comedians with new eyes. It's a noble struggle between the unavoidable seriousness of life, and that ability to laugh. It's easy to giggle about something when you're in 6th grade, but to see the humor in things even after life has delivered some crushing blows? That is a brilliant gift. In short, what comedians do, impresses me more with each passing year.

For example, when they gave Jerry Seinfeld the award, he said, "Your whole career as a comedian is about making fun of pretentious, high-minded, self-congratulatory, B.S. events like this one. The whole feeling in this room of reverence and honoring, is the exact opposite of everything I have wanted my life to be about."

Isn't that a beautiful acceptance speech? Now, don't get me wrong. I'd still rather meet Eric Clapton, but Jerry Seinfeld is closing in.

Why Imus Matters

Losing Don Imus would be a disaster for American broadcasting. Below is part of an interview with Senator Chuck Schumer that I first heard on my daily taping of the Imus in the Morning Show. It impressed me so much that I asked my wife to come down and hear it, too. (Incidentally, I copied this section of transcript from the Progressive Review.)

Before I reprint it, I should say in these days of media consolidation you rarely get a chance to hear anyone stand up to the people in power. I have heard Don Imus call Dick Cheney a war criminal at least 100 times, and that is something you don't hear from many media types - especially not Republicans. Yes, the shock stuff is harmful, and I'm not minimizing it. But the value of Don Imus is unique - there is no one else who could call Dick Cheney a war criminal and have Cheney still show up to do his show. That's power we need on our side in the big picture.

Here's part of the Schumer interview and believe me the transcript can't possibly show the genuine anger with which Imus dressed down this politician. We can't afford to lose a voice like this:

Imus: We've known for years, certainly since 1981, that the care and the way that these veterans have been treated to a large degree, not because it's the people's fault - most of them, the doctors and nurses
particularly at the Veterans Administration - but for a variety of
reasons, in many cases, their treatment and care has been woefully
inadequate. The bureaucratic red tape has been a nightmare for a lot of
these people, and that's been going on for years, and my question is why haven't any of you ever done anything about it?

Schumer: Well, we've tried. I've been fighting since I got to the Senate
for full funding for the veterans, and we didn't do any oversight.
That's the real problem here . . . I'll tell you one other thing that
will happen. We'll get full funding for the VA this year, for the first
time. We did actually, to show you a little bit that this isn't just
catching up to the crisis, we did a budget in early January . . .

Imus: Let me interrupt you for a second, but this is nonsense, Senator
Schumer. I want to be respectful, but you can't possibly be serious and
suggest - I mean I'm not a fool. You can't suggest to me that because
the Democrats are now in power that something is going to be done about Walter Reed and about the mess in the Veterans Administration and all of this, and that if the Democrats hadn't taken control of Congress that nothing would have been done. That's preposterous; of course it would

Schumer: Well, something would have been done if the story would have
gotten out . . .

Imus: Here's another question. Have you ever been over to Walter Reed?

Schumer: Ahh, not in a while, no.

Imus: How long has it been since you've been over there?

Schumer: Oh, before Iraq.

Imus: So, before Iraq since you've been over to see the soldiers. So, we
have elected you - first in the Congress and now in the Senate - and
you've got a bill now to do something we'll get to in a minute; but you
haven't even been to Walter Reed Hospital.

Schumer: No, no, no. But I have visited regularly the veterans'
hospitals throughout my state. That's where I have focused on . . .

I say Imus should stay. His apology and pledge to do better couldn't be enough to erase the hurtful nature of his words, but at his best, Don Imus is a valuable force for everybody.

Apology Week

It's not just Don Imus who is in apology mode this week. I feel like I lost my temper somewhat over the past few days, and went for a counter-productive stroll on the dark side. It's a matter of pacing myself and not letting the frustrations of these years dictate my mood. But that approach certainly didn't work over the weekend, and I became steamed.

I used to have to address banquet crews of sometimes 30 or so people in my captain days and this was one of my pet subjects: It's not enough if we pull this function off, if we have to lose it with each other to do it. If the end result involves hard feelings and an ugly vibe in the crew, then we have failed, even if the party was a success.

I have a commenter who is named Butch who got to me. I've defended him in the past when he got to other people, but I set a standard for myself that I wouldn't descend into what I would call the pre-fight rhetoric of the tavern days: Things that you say that are not intended to do anything but piss off the other person. I also admit this thing with Butch has been building for months and I do sound crankier than I should with him but that was just banter. However, there was an exact point when it turned to anger for me.

I have identified the type of comment that sets me off, and hopefully, I will not let my reaction happen again. So what was my vulnerability?

What gets me is when someone asks you something and then proceeds as if you had answered. Maybe it's better if I give you a fictitious example:

"Did you even bother to read the Constitution? I didn't think so."

I have put up with a lot of goading from Butch. He'll ask me a question that's off the immediate subject, and then if I ignore it, he'll repeat it and say I'm ducking the question and what's my response? Then he'll say, "I'm still waiting..." That sort of thing - though irritating - is not the problem.

However, it turns out that if someone asks me something and then assumes what my response would be, it makes me mad, especially if they are wrong. That's a problem area, and I admit it, but it ends today.

I think if you're going to ask someone something and not give them a chance to reply, it is disrespectful, but I can handle that. However, if you presume to be able to look into someone's head and know the answer, that is very annoying. And when your clairvoyance does not extend to being correct, well, I find that intensely obnoxious.

Check that: I used to find that obnoxious. I'm reprogramming my operating system and adding that patch. But the real problem is I shouldn't have allowed it to get to me.

Many times after a serious banquet, I would see people apologizing to each other. Some wouldn't speak for months. Others would just shift into a continual ongoing annoyance with each other that just means there is a little more ugliness in the world.

I don't want to be in that group - we should be able to vent on these blogs without escalating into anger. I apologize to Butch. You're a challenge to me, and this past weekend, I came up short. I apologize for getting mad.

I will end with a funny story that shows the positive side of my interactions with Butch. On Friday I created a new folder for the radio network and put that day's work into it. We're talking about 30 to 50 jokes - the numbers vary. Just before I sent this batch, I didn't recognize this new folder so I dragged it to the Trash and emptied the Trash, losing the work.

Now, I know there is a program to retrieve things even after they are emptied from the Trash but I did not have time to learn that. I called my radio clients and said the material would be late that day, and then I started typing the jokes again from scratch.

Thanks to my many rapid, anger-driven exchanges with Butch, I am now a high-speed typist. The problem was fixed in half an hour.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Uh Oh! The Bush Administration Detains the Easter Bunny

It's been a special morning at the Crawford Ranch. The Secret Service put a set of rabbit ears on President Bush's bicycle so he could pretend he was the Easter Bunny. Then he went to a church service so he could pretend he was a Christian.

But next came the hard work of searching for the Easter Eggs and President Bush just wasn't into it. He pouted and threw a fit, "Why should I have to find these eggs? This is no fun." Dick Cheney offered to shoot the Easter Bunny with his shotgun.

"No", the Boy King cried, "we would still have to find them." President Bush was lazy, which is why he already had over 400 days sitting at the ranch behind him. "Hunting for eggs would be too much like work. I'll think up something," the C Student said with a smirk.

Hmm, what to do? Wait, the Decider had a plan. Anything to keep him there in repose on his can. "Arrest the Easter Bunny", he cried - the order was given. "We will torture it and force it to tell us where the eggs are hidden!"

Alberto Gonzales agreed that the idea was valid and good, so the Bunny's long ears were crammed into a hood: "We will find these eggs this rabbit has concealed!" Unfortunately for the cause of freedom and democracy, the Easter Bunny died before its secrets were revealed.

Suddenly the President began to rethink. For up from the wind there arose a big stink. Bush tried pedaling his bike faster and faster, but everywhere he turned there was a new disaster.

He tried to pedal onward, but it wasn't working - he just didn't have the legs. Nothing could get him away from these rotten eggs.

The stench filled his nostrils and spread through the land. Torturing the Easter Bunny was his idea, what would the People think when they heard his plan?

The People felt badly but President Bush went on bragging as if things were fine and our spirits shouldn't be lagging: "I am a great leader. Let's have a celebration! Happy Easter to all from the Bush Administration!"

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Breaking News: Dwight Slade to be Regular Guest on Lars

Starting this Tuesday at noon Lars Larson will share an hour a week with the legendary standup comedian Dwight Slade. Slade, pictured here on his heroic trip to entertain our troops in Afghanistan should add a rare breath of unpredictability to a show mired in the conservative cookie-cutter morass that is right wing talk radio. The biggest secret about Lars Larson is that he actually does have a sense of humor as he used to show interfacing with Dwight on KXL's old "Dave and Dwight" show. Dwight has a way of getting Lars to loosen up and put down the talking points for a minute and that can only be good for Portland radio.

Personally, I think radio executives in this town are worried that a big wrecking ball is about to come sailing through their offices, as the right wing point of view goes over a cliff like a bunch of mad buffalo with no direction but down. The pendulum is swinging and when it comes crashing through the walls of the corporate boardrooms, there had better be some programming for the rest of us. This stint on Lars' show is a clear case of trying to cover that as the right wing pro-war base continues to dwindle. But why stop there?

In other words: Dwight should have his own show and maybe later Lars could be a guest. And don't bag it after 8 months this time. Dwight's last show there could have been HUGE by now. Nationwide-Huge. You had gold and you blew it. Oh well, at least the visionaries at KXL have seen fit to have Dwight on again. It's a start, fellows.

So I think I'm actually going to check this out. Wait, Oh My God! I just promoted the Lars Larson show. The Portland Freelancer is feeling dizzy. Must lie down.

So What's the Number of Iraqi War Dead?

I thought it would be useful to step outside the U.S. media and get some perspective on how many civilians have been killed in Iraq by the invasion and occupation. Here's a little of the first paragraph from a piece in the Guardian linked below:

"This week the BBC reported that the government's own scientists advised ministers that the Johns Hopkins study on Iraq civilian mortality was accurate and reliable, following a freedom of information request by the reporter Owen Bennett-Jones. This paper was published in the Lancet last October. It estimated that 650,000 Iraqi civilians had died since the American and British led invasion in March 2003."

Pretty rough, huh? It's heartbreaking thinking of our country causing a death toll of these proportions. I should point out that these numbers will continue to grow as the thousands of tons of depleted uranium that we've spread there, continue to kill. You don't even want to know the half life of that stuff but it's over a billion years.

Now in case you try and say this is a "Hate America" column, I am just as upset by the United States soldiers who have died since the Gulf War because of depleted uranium and who will die from it in the future. It is standard for Republicans to seize on siding with the troops as a defense against studies and reports like this, when the reality is that the health and safety of the troops have been put in terrible danger from our depleted uranium, too.

It's also irritating hearing the right wing talk about the rights of the unborn when their twisted war has already sentenced untold thousands of unborn Iraqi kids to death. What about their rights?

We made so much about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and yet we have been the ones killing people with nuclear radiation through tons of depleted uranium. Actually, outrageous hypocrisy is par for the course with the Bush White House, and I am proud that I can still feel even the slightest twinge of surprise. It shows this group hasn't robbed me of my last bit of idealism - at least not yet. However, I have adopted a rule to expect the opposite of whatever they are saying and so far it's worked out great.

It is also interesting to hear Bush supporters downplay the civilian death numbers here. The John Hopkins study that found the death toll of 650,000 Iraqis has been revisited in England and their thoughts are that the numbers are low. If the Bush supporters want to try and downplay what we have done in Iraq, they should challenge the article linked below. It's not enough to pull a convenient number like 50,000 civilian deaths out of their asses. As far as I know, John Hopkins is a respected institution, and the Guardian is a respected part of the British media. This is not the Sun or any of the other tabloids.

So read this link if you dare. It is not for the faint of heart. If the strategy of Bush supporters is to downplay the horror of what happened in Iraq, that's going to work about as well as McCain's recent remarks about Baghdad security. He has since retracted them. The time for unchallenged spin draws to a close. If Bush supporters want to challenge this number, then I wonder why they'd stop there?

If you want to spin in true Bush fashion you have to commit to the lies. Just deny we ever invaded Iraq in the first place.

A monstrous war crime | Iraq | Guardian Unlimited

Friday, April 06, 2007

Dick Cheney Spins the Pentagon Report

It's not everyday that the Portland Freelancer lands in Time magazine, but I suppose for a joke writer, that's way up there. It happened last year and I only noticed because the same joke was reprinted in the Oregonian's editorial page with a little reference to Time under it and a nice ink drawing of Saddam. It just referred to a report that Saddam didn't have anything to do with 9/11, released by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the punch line was, "Thank God we found that out before we did anything crazy."

I thought about that joke again today after reading about the Pentagon's new report saying that Saddam was not working with al Qaida and thus the basis for the Iraq War as revenge for 9/11 is just spin that spun out.

This report was noteworthy because it shows how far the Bush administration's influence on the Pentagon has waned. Do you think Donald Rumsfeld would have put this out? We now have the Pentagon discrediting the civilian leaders, which is interesting. It's a sign that they don't want to take the blame for the failure in Iraq, and don't kid yourself, Republican spin masters wouldn't be talking about how much better things are there, if it were true.

The McCain visit to the marketplace in Baghdad represents the almost comical level of spin coming out of the Republicans and this White House. McCain's attempt the other day - for sheer comic value - rivals the shots of the Minister of Information reassuring everyone that the invasion was being handled even as American tanks rolled in behind him. Years from now when this is all just a hideous memory, that scene with McCain will get similar treatment in the documentaries: "Look at me in my flak jacket with my 100 soldiers and 3 helicopter escort! I'm safe in Baghdad!"

So if the pro-war group is starting to look just plain ridiculous, how is our old lawyer-shooting buddy, Dick Cheney doing? The Pentagon report was a direct slap at his power, wasn't it? Where do you go when your own military treats you like this? Wasn't this a sign that you're loosing control?

Cheney was like a little piglet with no nipple left to suck, so he turned to the warm, ample bosom of Rush Limbaugh for the milk of jilted chicken hawks. There he proceeded to say that al Qaida was "present" in Iraq before we invaded. So that's the new threshold to justify this tragedy? Hell, they were present here. He didn't even try to say Saddam had harbored them. They were just present. You know, like in Minnesota.

Dick Cheney's counter spin on Limbaugh will be good enough for that last 29% - the ones that just don't get it, and will never get it. The ones that don't want to get it. We're onto the new spin now which is that the tide of victory is just ahead if those darn Democrats don't pull out the troops and run first.

Okay, Dick, but there was a time when you controlled the spin of the entire federal government. You and your little buddy Donald Rumsfeld would never have let the Pentagon report something like this. Now Donald is gone, and you're left running to Rush Limbaugh. Please, be a compassionate conservative for once. Rush's nipples have to be pretty sore by now.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

President Bush: Already Failing In The Future

When it comes to the future, W. already gets an F.

Pompous Bush supporters love to pick a mythical time somewhere out there ahead of us when the big wheels of history will turn and President Bush will be seen as great. Call it future spin. Now that the present looks so ugly, their fallback position is to look forward. As with everything coming from this bunch, it is transparent and stupid.

The thing that looks the brightest about America's future is that President Bush will be gone. He'll no longer have the ability to screw things up....or will he?

There is a very good chance that the full brunt of what President Bush has done with his time in office won't hit us till long after he's back in Crawford. That's when we'll really begin to pay for the damage.

If Time Magazine is correct, that will include rebuilding the military. Fighting an unnecessary war has taken an enormous toll on the army, especially with the caliber of planning that went into it. Just as we are still paying everyday for the contributions of Donald Rumsfeld, we will be feeling George's impact for decades to come.

The economics people are beginning to see what this era really was: A looting of the future to make the top 1% of wealthy Americans much richer. We hear endless stories about how great things are going, but not even the Bush crowd should try and tell us that he's made the economic future of America more solid. All he did was postpone and intensify the day of reckoning for our insane economic policy of borrowing from China and elsewhere to finance a get-rich scam.

We're already paying in some ways for President Bush's economic mistakes, but the brunt of it lies out there ahead. Being a superpower is an economic distinction. It's not how many nukes you have. The Soviet Union had a lot of nukes, too, but it imploded because of a collapsing economy. Many people believe the lazy, quick-fix mismanagement of President Bush could lead to our collapse from superpower status. The elite might be trying to get rich now because they know the whole thing's heading for the rocks. And wait till it's payback time from the rest of the world.

Indeed, at some point in the future President Bush could be seen - not as great - but as the man who brought down this country. The Soviet Union collapsed after their military adventure in Afghanistan. Maybe Iraq will be the beginning of our downfall.

Remember when these right wing blowhards would say we will win in Iraq because we must? Did anyone read Kissinger's latest remarks that we can't win in Iraq? And this is one of President Bush's advisors? Meanwhile we have Colin Powell warning that the army is "about broken"? The exact same people who talked down to the rest of us about how terrific they were at foreign policy and how much they support the troops, have turned out to be the worst thing that has happened to our military since Vietnam. And by the way, veterans from that conflict are still out there right now, wandering the streets homeless, incapacitated by the trauma of that war.

Not even these Republicans who talk so glowingly of how great President Bush will look someday, will disagree with one thing about our future: We'll be living with thousands and thousands of veterans from Iraq who need medical care for perhaps another 70 years. So even though Bush will be long gone, he will still be costing this country billions a year in heartbreak and medical costs till around the year 2077. Thanks, George.

To these self-righteous Republicans basking in the glow of their own patriotism, I understand your position. You think Bush will one day be seen as a great leader because that's the only place you have left. Besides, it's so easy to do. There's no work involved and that's in keeping with the "spin first" strategy of the laziest President in history.

Here, I'll show you. Watch me do some future spin for you: "I know Sanjaya is being ridiculed now, but some day in the future he will be considered as great as Marvin Gaye." Gee, that was easy.

The future is the only place where George Bush can possibly look good so you seize on it. Of course, when we get there we'll know that he's already screwed that up, too.
America's Broken-Down Army | TIME

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Tragedy of John McCain

During my years as a banquet waiter, I met or was in the presence of many politicians including every President starting with Gerald Ford. Granted some were out of office or were just campaigning to get in at the time. It got so common to meet these big shots from many different fields that I used to imagine a wish list of people I wanted to meet next. For example, in sports, after Mohammed Ali came through town, and I got my picture taken with him, there was a time when I hoped to meet Joe Montana. It was just a little mental game to try and keep the job interesting. Montana never made it here, although I did meet Jerry Rice.

For years, the politician I most wanted to meet was John McCain. What a tremendous example of courage. Who can look at that film of him right after he was captured in North Vietnam and not be amazed at how much personal strength he showed? That is some remarkable footage. He just seemed to intersect with history on an elevated level. Then there's the footage from when he was right in the middle of that horrendous fire on the aircraft carrier from that era. This guy just seemed to have been picked for a starring role.

Indeed, John McCain was everything George W. Bush was not, so when McCain won the New Hampshire primary in 2000, the wretched attack dogs of Karl Rove and company went after this genuine American hero in South Carolina in a way that made even seasoned political operatives gag. One of the great "what-if's" is the missed opportunity we faced by not having McCain carry his momentum in New Hampshire to the Republican nomination.

When the desperate Bush supporters who comment on this site criticize my political leanings, it's usually to say that I am blinded by anti-Bush hatred, and that I always take the Democrats' side. This is a standard tactic of people who have little substance to defend their teenage puppy love for Bush so they try and define the argument as a Republican-Democrat divide.

First, let me say that I did meet Al Gore several times and worse yet, I heard him speak. It's cute how fashionable he's become again, and I attribute most of it to the unbelievably horrible job President Bush continues to do. Okay, plus the movie. But Al Gore used to drive me comatose with his speeches. I could hear individual brain cells in my head popping and committing suicide. He would say a few jokes and that would be fine, but when he shifted into that plodding serious tone, it was so boring you just wanted to scream.

Based on how I felt back then, if John McCain had run against Al Gore, I would have voted for John McCain. It's hard to imagine after 6 years of disastrous Republican rule, but I always put the individual ahead of party affiliation. For example, if George W. Bush were a Democrat, I would still see him as a shallow, vicious clown.

It's also hard to imagine voting for John McCain after how he's acted since then. This is a guy I have heard many times on the Imus radio show and he can be a very funny, together person. John McCain used to be cool. What happened to him?

It started when he forgave George Bush so easily for South Carolina. There was something wrong about that. Somewhere I believe John McCain made a compromise of huge proportions. I hate to say it, but he might have put his presidential ambitions ahead of the good of America. That really hurts me to suggest, and I hope I am wrong.

I loved when John McCain fought for the torture bill. That was the last time I saw the real guy. But then when he realized President Bush was just going to sign it, and announce he wouldn't follow it - you know, the standard Bush approach - I thought McCain would go ballistic. Instead, he rolled over, and it hurts me to say that. Maybe he just felt powerless to challenge our pretend king.

Now, he's so locked into supporting President Bush's version of Iraq that he seems to be carrying out a back-room deal: Support the White House, and we'll help you become President later. It's so sad. That scene in the marketplace in Iraq was so phony and weird that it almost looked like McCain was deliberately confessing. His remarks at the press conference were delivered in such a down tone, that it sounded like someone who is miserable with himself. It sounded like someone who had sold out his soul for political ambition, and was beginning to realize it wasn't going to work.

I still would be honored to meet John McCain. That's never going to change. But I'll always see him in a similar way as I see Colin Powell - as a casualty of the Bush Years. In times this sleazy, a genuine American hero can turn into a tragic figure, but I'm still surprised they let it happen. Frankly, I think McCain's surprised he let it happen.

It's such a missed opportunity. We should be in the second term of President John McCain right now, and George W. Bush should be back in Texas wondering what he can possibly do to salvage his pathetic, wasted life.

Instead, we have an American tragedy on our hands, and it's only going to get sadder to watch.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

25.) The Hitchhiking Years: The Last Legs

It was now on to the finish line of my first big solo hitchhiking trip around America. I was weary. In fact, the neighbor down the street from my parents' place in Massachusetts, would later tell my Mom that I looked horribly worn down when I arrived to get the key. That is very possible. I had been out there on the road for 5 weeks, eating poorly, and camping out many of the nights. It was exhausting, and it would take a month to recover. Of course, by the Fall of 1972 when I went off to college, I would once again hitchhike across America in a 13-day trip designed to arrive on a date certain.

There, my new roommate who had arrived with his parents, his own Volvo, some massive stereo equipment, and lots of other possessions - all to make that first big break from home easier - would be sort of startled and disturbed when I showed up with just a backpack. This would be later after Summer vacation, and there was still some highway to go down before my first solo cross-country hitchhiking trip was in the books.

I was surprised when I found myself in West Virginia. I was on Interstate 70 going East and I was unaware of that little sliver of land that extends north. Then somewhere perhaps near Pittsburgh, there was a hitchhiking graduate school moment. It's funny the stuff you remember.

I always believed in holding a sign unless it was obvious where you were going. I saw many cases where my fellow hitchhikers were hurting themselves by not giving that little bit of information that would help a driver decide to stop. Sometimes a driver would actually say, "I wasn't going to stop but I saw your sign and I figured, heck, I'm going right there, and I used to hitchhike as a serviceman back in World War 2. So I said why not?"

It wasn't good enough to make a sign before you hit the road - you had to have the ability to make one while you were out there. Your list of equipment had to include ways to keep from freezing to death, such as a space blanket, but you also had to have a big magic marker that worked, and a couple of pieces of cardboard slid inside the frame of your pack.

The reason I make so much of this is that right at this point in the trip I found myself in an elaborate freeway toll-gate-entrance-number with like 10 lanes of traffic heading toward it and then splitting East and West afterwards. I'm not positive where this was or what it really looked like, but I do remember sitting down on the side of the road and taking 20 minutes to draw a very specific destination with road numbers.

Okay, this wasn't a recognized art form or anything but you'd be surprised how few hitchhikers did these things correctly. The worst was some hippie holding a little screwed-up sign that a driver couldn't read as the car approached. Either that or the first few letters were really big and the last 7 were all small and crunched together. I don't know about anyone else but to me these things were serious business, and I could draw a quick big-letter sign with the best of them.

So it was getting towards the end. In fact, I just looked up the date. This was the only specific date that I can recover from this trip. It was May 15th, 1972 when I arrived at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where my sister was going to school. I know because the radios in the cars were all discussing the shooting of Governor George Wallace of Alabama - an assassination attempt that left him paralyzed. I had headed out on my 18th birthday on April 10th so it was basically 5 weeks on the road.

The final trip to Bernardston, Massachusetts should have been a snap, although I believe this was the time it took forever and I wound up getting stuck at nightfall in Greenfield around 10 miles from home. The drive from Hartford up in a car is like 90 minutes so I had spent all day mucking about New England just to go that far. It was as if the trip wouldn't end without a struggle. I would learn later that it's always tough to get that last ride home.

In fact, I pressed my luck being so close and tried hitchhiking at night, even though the chances of getting a ride were way down. Of course, by then, my senses were finely tuned from a million encounters on the road, so when a car of teenagers drove by, I took note. When they cruised by a few minutes later, I sensed a problem. By the time they came back really slowly looking for me again, I was in some woods nearby, peaking at them from behind a tree. I wasn't going to go thousands and thousands of miles around America only to have my ass kicked ten miles from home. I camped out and finished up in the morning.

Walking in the door of the farm was the moment I reentered society. Sure, I had made quite a few stops at homes along the way, but when the journey started I had checked out of normal society on some level. It's the feeling you get from the looks on people as they size you up on their way to the office to be lawyers, doctors, etc...You'll feel like an outsider doing something like this - trust me.

If you're walking through with a backpack on, you'll get quite a few serious looks of scorn. At first you'll want to say, "But I'm one of you." Soon, however, you step outside and you'll want to say, "No, you were right. I'm not one of you." It's not as drastic as being homeless, but it's a break in the emotional connection to normal living.

So it was a little jarring: Not only was I back in polite society, but I was back in the jet set. It was time to fly home to Arabia. As I made my way through several cities of Europe, partying, and generally living it up, I would get a momentary start wondering where my backpack was. Then I remembered: That journey had ended - it was time to go home to be a kid again in Arabia.

I was out of the woods, and off the streets, back in a nice hotel again. Life was amazing in those days, and the kids from my town in Arabia knew it. Meanwhile, at the farm in Massachusetts, my backpack awaited. I was 18 and there would be thousands of hitchhiking miles ahead.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Curtis Salgado Update

When a city commissioner such as Randy Leonard writes in and asks for information, I get on the case. One of the highlights of the Paul deLay sendoff was Curtis Salgado's appearance. It was actually a little eerie seeing him there as if nothing happened. Not that I wrote him off or anything but he doesn't look, sound, or talk like someone who just dodged death. I guess his comments reflected an added appreciation for being alive, but he was the same guy as before. He hasn't lost his edge, that's for sure.

Musically, one highlight was when he sang a harmony with Lloyd Jones on "Early in the Morning." The Blues makes much less use of vocal harmonies than other styles of music, so it sounded cool to hear them nail this. Apparently, it was an early Paul deLay record that Curtis took home and studied as a definitive example of great harmonica playing. Incidentally, where you hear harmonies in the Blues is usually in the horn section, and that added a lot of great sound last night. Plus all these old Blues players just look cool.

I also took a schedule for the Museum After Hours concerts - which I admit I never went to before - and it says Curtis will be back performing there on April 18th at 5:30 p.m.(Members 8 bucks, Non-Members 10.) He's still got it all as far as I could tell, and if you don't believe me, go check it out yourself.

One thing that Paul deLay's passing reminds us of, is the truly amazing place music has in our lives. It really was quite a tribute to a man that so many people would come out on a Sunday night to mark his passing. And it wasn't an obligation as much as a great time - despite the sadness of the occasion.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Paul deLay Goes Out In Style

I've been around long enough to recognize a legendary scene when I witness it, and to see the Portland Blues community take over the Art Museum tonight to honor Paul deLay, was classic. The emotional impact was set immediately when the woman standing behind me turned out to be Paul's sister-in-law complete with 2 children who were clearly paying total attention, thinking about their Uncle Paul. It really brought it home on that family level, before the extended family of the Portland Blues community took over.

My favorite story was when Curtis Salgado talked about being schooled on the harp by a 19-year-old Paul deLay, leading to a lifelong respect. Curtis said he's stood next to Santana, Prince and B.B. King and didn't feel intimidated, but Paul still made him feel nervous to the end. I like that sort of thing - the early psyche-out that never goes away. Curtis really looked up to him.

I also enjoyed Linda Hornbuckle saying that Paul's band put her on the map when "Paul went away for a while." Now, that is such a classic musician interaction especially with this genre.

Speaking of styles of music, there's often a service or memorial concert with known acts chiming in, and it's usually interesting to hear how familiar lyrics fit in with the subject at hand. It's always cool when the lyrics take on extra meaning, and there's an occasional groaner when something comes out wrong in the new context. That's what was so great about the Blues music tonight. It really works in this sort of setting. Your buddy dies and you play the Blues. This music was designed for occasions like tonight and the Portland Blues community should be proud - they really did it up right.

One Line Jumps Out From Matthew Dowd Defection

You knew the anti-Bush people would jump on this, and I am in that group. The idea that Matthew Dowd, one of Bush's inner campaign circle, has bailed out on the President is news, but it hasn't affected me as much as others. We are so far into tragedy here that an admission of guilt and remorse by one of the people responsible, just makes me slightly more annoyed. It's like hearing drunk drivers say how terribly sorry they are about causing a lethal wreck. It might help a little, but it doesn't help much.

However, I was taken by one sentence in the New York Times article, because it sounded like something I've been saying about Bush supporters for literally years now. See, I don't believe any rational person could look at who President Bush is, or what he has done, and buy it. Dumb doesn't come in that flavor. So my conclusion early on was that Bush fans were in the throes of something irrational. The more I looked at the symptoms the more it became clear: This was teenage puppy love.

I'm not saying they were teenagers - they're mostly adults, and they definitely should have known better, which is why Matthew Dowd is so wracked with guilt now. However, the rest of the syndrome fits as tight as a high school sweater.

Do you remember in the early campaigns when President Bush would talk about his personal charm as a factor in diplomacy? See, as a rich punk with a well-connected father, young George was able to slip through trouble unscathed, and being an arrogant lad with a dull, faulty brain, he interpreted this to be a result of his winning personality.

It seemed crazy, but you know what? He was right to an extent. At least he was able to charm the pants off of many of his supporters. They saw him as a godly man out there clearing brush in his cute blue jeans and they were moved. You have to concede that there is a permanent percentage of the American Public who still gaze into his soft, lying eyes and feel stirrings of affection.

The reason I compared it to high school was that it was reminiscent of an experience most of us witnessed there. Did you ever see a sweet, young teenage girl fall for the wrong guy? I mean everyone in school knows the creep is a shallow, reckless, irresponsible, dumb, lazy, manipulative weasel. Her friends know it. Her family definitely knows it. Hell, even HIS friends and family know it. But the teenage girl goes right on pining away for the affections of this arrogant loser, telling everyone who'll listen how cute and wonderful he is. Meanwhile, the entire high school student body knows it is a disaster unfolding before their eyes.

That is what happend here and they call it puppy love. Those are the Bush supporters. Matthew Dowd is just snapping out of it now. He's the young girl who phones her friends, (in this case the New York Times) and says, "I've been such a fool."

Of course, like the drunk driver who kills someone, this expression of regret doesn't help much now. Those 3,000 plus soldiers are still dead, and their families are still devastated. Those tens of thousands of seriously wounded soldiers are still dealing with their wounds. And those hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are still killed or wounded as well. Not to mention that the entire world is a much worse place because of this chain of fiascos, and could even be heading for true global catastrophe. Oh well. At least there is one more person who has grown up, and seen the truth.

Yes, the Portland Freelancer was convinced that the analogy of the teenage girl in high school, was accurate in describing these pathetic, misguided people, but it's always interesting when one of the teenage girls involved chimes in with some proof. Did you read what Matthew Dowd said to describe his irrational support of the worst President in American History? "It’s almost like you fall in love."