Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

The following nugget originally appeared on 10Listens.com  as part of the “10Listens 500:” 

It’s more story than song, though the music is key to the message. It’s waggish and meta, yet tender and moving. Rambling folksy warmth cloaking prickly acid satire. Baby Kafka swaddled and lullabied by Grandpa Twain. Loopy hippie liberalism hiply dismissive of Big Bureaucracy and The System, and wise enough not to be strident about it. And instead of romanticizing war, it chuckles in war’s face. Far as I’m concerned, “Alice’s Restaurant” is America’s National Anthem.

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Last month, my beloved wife & I enjoyed a good old American road trip between Brooklyn, New York and Louisville, Kentucky. My dear friend Todd Pate, the self-proclaimed hobo journalist behind El Jamberoo, asked me to write a little something about the trip for his website, so I did. Here’s the result, “Autumn In America,” which covers America’s most famous battlefield, a West Virginia lunatic asylum, why the government shutdown is like “Redneck Crazy,” and much more:

Smells like burning wood, my wife notes as we roll through Gettysburg in our little gray Honda Fit, a third of the way between Brooklyn and Louisville. Not sure if it’s the homey aroma of autumn hearth-blazes, or maybe a burgeoning forest fire.

Click here for the whole thing

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Only 70 days til Election Day, and political ads are really starting to swarm the airwaves, so always remember: Look at the facts.

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(Part 32 of an ongoing series)


I heard about a lot of bad shit that happened in Kuwait.

Sgt. Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg)

Yeah, bad shit happened. I’m not proud of that… Maybe Saddam is very crazy. But then you are crazy for bombing all of Iraq.

Captain Said (Said Taghmaoui)

1999 was loaded with movies both of their time and ahead of their time, but few of those movies embodied the present and future as well as Three Kings. Hollywood-wise, it was a breakthrough for George Clooney and writer/director David O. Russell. Hard as it is to imagine, there was in fact a time when Clooney wasn’t yet the mega-star we knew he’d eventually be. Three Kings didn’t exactly catapult him to the A-List the way Ocean’s Eleven did, but it did definitively prove he could be a cool-yet-authoritative leading man, building on the momentum he gathered in 1998’s Out Of Sight, and clouding the memories of missteps like 1997’s Batman and Robin.

Three Kings was also a milestone for writer/director David O. Russell, who made great films before (Spanking The Monkey, Flirting With Disaster) and since (I Heart Huckabees, The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook), yet nothing quite like this. It can’t be easy to make a thrilling action-adventure heist wrapped around laugh-out-loud war satire; Three Kings not only pulls off that feat, it might be the best action-adventure/war satire ever.

While Three Kings foreshadows the future success of Clooney and Russell, it’s even more prescient as a sociopolitical statement. It may not explicitly predict the post-9/11 world, but the implications are there, simmering in the subtext like a cluster-bomb baking under the desert sun. Even though we knew back then that there were plenty of Middle Easterners who hated America with violent passion, Three Kings puts a human face to that hatred, and reminds us how our government’s greed and apathy could come back to bite us in the ass.

Naturally, Three Kings was utterly ignored by the Academy when it was first released. If it came out today, however, you better believe it would be an Oscar juggernaut come winter.

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The False Mirror, Rene Magritte, 1928

I’ve been in kind of a rut lately, so I thought I’d shake things up a little. First, I bought a copy of “The Anarchist Cookbook” on Amazon. Then I called a bunch of my friends on my Verizon phone and ranted to their voicemails like “Let’s start a revolution against Big Brother and destroy the status quo!” and so on. Finally I went on 4chan and proposed that Anonymous should hack the White House and publish Obama’s browser history, or whatever it is Anonymous does. I was certain the government would quickly identify me as a potential threat to their surveillance-driven oligarchy, and my life would soon become much more adventurous and exciting.

Alas, I just received the following email from the NSA:

“Dear Mr. O’Brien,
We thank you for your interest in the United States Government, and are flattered by your desire to become an enemy of the state. Unfortunately, after careful examination, we have decided that you have neither the intelligence nor the influence to become a legitimate threat to us. Of course, we’ll still continue to monitor your every transaction and communication, and we wish you the best of luck in all your future endeavors. But we thought we should let you know that we really don’t take you very seriously as an adversary.
The Feds
PS – Your dog’s bowl needs fresh water.”

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(Part 24 Of An Ongoing Series)


While you’re snoozing in your widdle jammies, back in Washington we’re wide awake and worried! Why? Because everyone wants what we have, Hogarth! Everyone! You think this metal man is fun, but who built it? The Russians? The Chinese? Martians? Canadians? I don’t care! All I know is we didn’t build it, and that’s reason enough to assume the worst and blow it to kingdom come!

Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald)

The Iron Giant chews up the scrap metal from a whole heap of 20th Century Americana: Superman, King Kong, E.T., Disney heart, Looney Tunes cheek, Cold War Space Race paranoia. And instead of simply regurgitating or otherwise excreting what it has ingested, The Iron Giant seems to absorb it all on its way to becoming a tender yet unstoppably bitchin’ war machine of a movie.

The movie’s not just 1999 because of how freshly it wraps up the past century in Gold & Silver Age comic book wrapping paper, but also for how it points to the century ahead. Part of it represents the high water-mark of hand-drawn Hollywood features, right before CGI rose to domination. Yet it also integrates CGI, and rather seamlessly. Brad Bird’s pretty-much-flawless direction keeps finding novel ways to get the best of both worlds.

And then there’s the uncanny way it foreshadows the panicky war-hawking that came roaring back with a vengeance after 9/11, and which probably kept things fucked up a little longer than necessary. This is not to equate Al-Qaeda terrorists with the good-hearted, unintentionally dangerous Iron Giant himself; rather, it’s to point out that rash military aggression often makes enemies out of those who might normally be friends.

More on that stuff when we talk about Three Kings. For now I’ll just add that The Iron Giant rules and it annihilates me every time. Souls don’t die… You are who you choose to be: Superman.

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(Part 19 of An Ongoing Series)


Any one can get angry — that is easy… but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for every one, nor is it easy.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

…you can’t interfere with destiny, that’s why it’s destiny. And if you try to interfere, the same thing’s just going to happen anyway, and you’ll just suffer.

Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), Election

Tammy Metzler’s right: High School elections are basically a bunch of charades and empty promises made primarily for the sake of the winners’ college transcripts.

I say this as a former student government officer who was much less an officer than a glorified event planner.  I harbored no illusions of “making a difference;” I simply enjoyed the power and privilege of writing smart-ass Homecoming skits and organizing Battles Of The Bands.  (And OK, fine, listing those accomplishments on my college transcript.  Hate the game, not the player.)  I dropped all interest in “governing” during my first semester of film school, in the autumn of that magical year of 1999, when I decided my time might be better-spent drinking more booze, smoking more pot, and watching more movies.

Since then I’ve remained an outsider to the whole governance thing.  From here, Election‘s satire- as it applies to Real World Politics rather than High School Politics- seems to have some fine points.  It often feels like most high-level politicians are either popular-but-toothless like Paul Metzler (Chris Klein), or brutally ambitious narcissists like Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), while rabble-rousers like Tammy Metzler typically end up shoved off to the margins or shut out of the process altogether.

But Election‘s satire isn’t its biggest hook for me.  What fascinates me is the timeless moral/ ethical dilemma of mostly-decent teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick).  He’s wading through the fuzzy fog of Tracy’s affair with his friend-and-colleague, with plenty of reason to believe she may not be the totally blameless victim that society’s laws say she is.  All Jim wants to do is what he believes is right: teach Tracy a lesson in humility while also protecting his beloved school- maybe even the world at large- from the glittery steamroller of her ego.  Naturally, he’s got his work cut out for him.

So, how morally and/or ethically right was Jim in trying to rig the election?  Was he foolish in his attempt to thwart the unstoppable Tracy Flick?  Or was he brave?  Was he noble, or petty?  Was it worth the price?  Is he truly happier in the new life his actions lead him to, or just trying to convince himself he’s happier?  Is he better off, or more pathetic?  After multiple viewings, I have plenty of opinions on these questions, and about zero easy answers.

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One Nation Under Socialism , painted by Jon McNaughton

To quote Montgomery Burns: “I’m no art critic, but I know what I hate…and I don’t hate this.”  Now if you know me, you might assume I would totally hate Jon McNaughton’s One Nation Under Socialism.  That’s probably because you also assume that this painting is one-dimensional right-wing propaganda rooted in misplaced rage and utter ignorance of what “socialism” is.   But those assumptions would be wrong!  If, however, your artistic sensibilities were as keen as mine, you’d see that Jon McNaughton is, in fact, a subversive left-wing propagandist.  That’s right: Sean Hannity is actually shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars for commie agitprop, and Jon McNaughton’s laughing all the way to the non-corporate credit union!

To the untrained eye, One Nation Under Socialism appears to portray a sinister Barack Obama burning the U.S. Constitution because he hates it, and wants to replace it with whatever the Socialist Constitution is.  But if you look closer, the truth is right in front of your nose.  President Obama’s look isn’t sinister, it’s angry.  Anger that comes from sadness and frustration.  This is because it depicts Obama holding a Constitution that was set on fire by someone else.  Notice how there’s no matches, or lighter, or any kind of fire-making device in his hand.  Also, if Obama had set the fire himself, and wanted to look bad-ass and intimidating while doing it, wouldn’t he be smoking one of his cigarettes that was lit from the flaming Constitution? The absence of such things in One Nation is but one example of McNaughton’s trademark subtlety.

Besides, if Obama really wanted to burn the Constitution, why would he still be holding it?  He’d just leave it on the floor or something.  Why would he risk getting burns on his hand for some capitalist, democratic-republic, white-man’s rulebook?  It should be obvious by now that he’s actually picking up a burning Constitution that he plans to save- a Constitution he found on the floor of the White House as he was moving in.  The implication being that the George W. Bush administration were the ones who burned the Constitution, which is, of course, the theme of all good left-wing propaganda.

Perhaps the most telling detail of the painting, though, is the pointer finger on Obama’s left hand.  Why is he pointing at the burning Constitution?  Anyone with eyes can clearly see the thing’s on fire.  Does the Obama in this painting think we’re so stupid that we can’t see a blazing fire?  Certainly not.  See, if we were to enlarge the painting, we would see that Obama is not pointing at the fire, but at a single word in the Constitution.  It’s the word “Prejudice,” from Article 4, Section 3 (where it states, “nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State”).  Basically, McNaughton’s Obama is telling us that prejudice is in our great nation’s DNA, and has been from the very beginning, and that’s why all those Republican assholes think he’s igniting our legal foundations with pinko-fire.

Now THAT’S what I call artmanship!

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If Rick Santorum actually manages to win, the 2012 Republican Primary will remind me of “Son Of Jackass,” the epilogue to 2002’s Jackass: The Movie.

Like Ehren McGhehy, scrawny little Tim Pawlenty never had a fighting chance, and he gets blown out of it right away.

Dave England, like Michele Bachmann, is often willing to do the crazy shit even the other guys won’t do, like take a shit in a hardware store toilet, or advocate anti-gay policies while being married to an obvious closeted homosexual.  You’d think that kind of crazy would help in this kind of environment, but in fact it backfires quite early.

Ryan Dunn obviously wasn’t the sharpest tool in this shed.  He didn’t know enough to realize that no matter how many professionally-monitored stunts you survive, you can’t walk away from drunk-driving your Porsche at 130 MPH.  Similarly, Herman Cain didn’t grasp that no matter how much money you made selling pizza, you can’t really run for President of the United States- even in a struggling economy- if you sexually harass women at an alarming rate.

‘Party Boy’ Chris Pontius is fun-loving, seems like he has a good head on his shoulders, and is one of the more likable Jackasses.  Captain Beefheart fan Jon Hunstman seemed like one of the nicest, most sensible Republicans, which is why he had little hope of surviving the bloodthirsty tiger that Republican politics has become in 2012.

Bam Margera and Rick Perry seem like they’d be good bros to hang with if you’re into drinkin’ beers and shootin’ at stuff, but they’re also insanely reckless, even compared to this crowd, and they were bound to drive themselves into a fireball sooner than later.

At this point, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are still in it, though it doesn’t take a Nate Silver to guess that it’s just a matter of time before they’re smashed by the GOP truck.  Here, my extended metaphor is stretched to its thinnest, since Preston Lacy seems like a nice guy who could never be as much of an asshole as Gingrich, and really the biggest thing the two have in common is that they’re the chubbiest fellows in their respective groups.  Jason ‘Wee-Man’ Acuña also doesn’t seem to share much with Dr. Paul other than tiny stature, and outlasting most of his peers.

Mitt Romney, like Johnny Knoxville, is the handsomest, and seems like the natural choice to lead.  (Even if Romney has about 1/1000th of Knoxville’s charisma.)  But this GOP race is looking like it might surprise us, crushing Romney with a toolshed of indifference, leaving Steve-O/Rick Santorum– perhaps the batshittiest of them all- the last man standing.

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I have to say I admire the Mitt Romney campaign for being so honest about how dishonest they are.  They took some of Barack Obama’s words out of context- like, practically as far out of context as you could possibly take words.  Obama was quoting someone else, and the Romney folks made it look like he was expressing his own opinions.  Then to justify their out-of-contexting, an anonymous Romney op uttered this flabbergasting explanation:

First of all, ads are propaganda by definition. We are in the persuasion business, the propaganda business … Ads are agitprop … Ads are about hyperbole, they are about editing. It’s ludicrous for them to say that an ad is taking something out of context … All ads do that. They are manipulative pieces of persuasive art.

Dudes, do you realize what this means?  This changes everything!  There’s no such thing as “out of context” anymore!  How awesome is that?  I’m so sick of context ruining all the things I want to pass off as truth.  No more libel lawsuits for this guy!

Hey, did you guys know that Mitt Romney once said, and I motherfucking quote, “Unemployment rates do not matter to the average American?”  He said it on his twitter once.  Maybe he was quoting someone else, and maybe he wasn’t; point is, the dude tweeted that shit,  so that means he means it.  That’s right: Mitt Romney said you don’t care about all the unemployment, average American! 

DISCLAIMER: If, by some slim chance, it turns out that what I’ve just written is far less than 100% true, then I can’t be held accountable.  This is simply my manipulative piece of persuasive art, dammit.

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