Monday, November 24, 2008

Lake of Fire

Tony Kaye's horror documentary left me kind of twisted in fear and righteous anger over the characters at the ends — at one end, in particular — of the American "abortion debate." That's a misnomer; the issue's been thrown way outside the boundaries of debate or discussion or even childish name-calling, though there's plenty of that, too. Lake of Fire is about detachment, how the abortion issue is now tangential to the abortion debate. The real focus is the characters, and it would only be oversimplifying a little to classify them as (mostly male) intellectual liberal ninnies and (mostly male) motherfucking psychopaths with high-powered rifles, both stroking their egos within their little sub-cultures.

Hidden in the mess is a woman with a thing, a tumor alien chimera growing inside of her. One of the early scenes is a late-term abortion where after the procedure — I didn't realize this — the doctor needs to assemble the pieces of fetus to be sure that it's removed entirely. It's a grotesque image, thankfully shot in black-and-white, that re-affirms both sides of the argument: simultaneously human and a sick joke parody of a human, hands and feet like a doll — detached from the body — a kind of pygmy Chernobyl prairie-dog looking creature with a bulging eyeball running down its squished head. I flipped, "Eeeew! Eeeew! Get it out of me!" before even realizing that it's evil metaphorically manifest.

But that's not important.

The drama, dogma and demagoguery outside the clinics hogs all of the attention, which I suppose is the point. On a sane day, it's merely anti-abortion protest leader Randall Terry facing a disorganized crowd of profligate college kids in their own anti-abortion protest protest, both sides bitching about how it's impossible to have a frank discussion with the other side. The vociferous Christian right wrangles more face time from Kaye, and also more batshit crazy face time. One Florida pro-life preacher, John Burt, bought up all the property around a Planned Parenthood clinic, set up billboards condemning the women in the clinic when both he and God couldn't be bothered, and spewed his brimstone vitriol — the Lake of Fire gets a major shout-out — at anyone within earshot, or on the opposite end of a camera lens.

The pro-choice side, pro-abortion or pro-woman, depending on your stance, is on the defensive. I can't see why having an abortion is more shameful than devoting your life to spying on the women who come in and go out of the clinic, but self-righteousness is a powerful shield against due shame. It's voyeuristic and pervy, a NARAL activist points out, over footage of an eighty-year old man peeping out from an impromptu "counseling" house across the street from a clinic. There's something about taking a position, or doing so on film, that screws with your countenance: all the pro-lifers have a vague child-molester look to them, the pro-choice women go out of their way to be dykey, the pro-choice men are all eccentrics with uncontrollable hair. It's difficult to believe they're all examples of the same species.

It escalates, especially in the wake of America's conservative turn post-9/11. The far-left accuses — and before you ask, they're reading way too much into it, Sarah Palin's retarded baby notwithstanding — the Pentecostals of subverting the Constitution to re-create America as an eternal Christian theocracy. It would have been glossed over before the Taliban came into our consciousness, but their far-right counterparts, those with the aforementioned high-powered rifles, make Falwell's knee-jerk contention that gays, feminists, liberals, abortionists, and the ACLU caused 9/11 sound petty. Blood libel and SRA — again, bullshit — are common themes.

Lake of Fire follows the contrasting, rational, genuine but largely irrelevant ethical discussion, too. It's all the more jarring to see Noam Chomsky or particularly the godless Village Voice columnist and pro-lifer Nat Hentoff talking heads in, ostensibly, their lecture halls, in front of a chalkboard or bookshelf, making a case without grainy video of an aborted fetus or a picture of a woman dead with a coat hanger in her uterus. Society still has these wordy things called words that can be used to some effect; the argument that while protecting the unborn may be nice, there are millions of already-born children starving, or without clean water, or medicine, or schools outweighs all the graphic bodily descriptions, in part because I could think about it without having to look away. (A mostly nude performance artist and her not-as-nude partner make the same point, but it's somehow less effective when she's stripteasing, for a purpose, with a wire hanger in her underwear.)

I wish I'd thought of that when I confronted that anti-abortion woman outside of church.

Is that just because I have a brain? Several of the non-insane liberals make a point of not arguing with the dogma screamers. Hentoff's contention that the fertilized egg must have civil rights in order for the idea of civil rights to be meaningful can be, and summarily is, torn apart. Bio-ethicist and Princeton professor Peter Singer finds the real root of the issue and has the chutzpah (gall) to assume that abortion is murder and then ask why, exactly, is murder bad? But what do you with the real scary people in the Lake of Fire, besides gagging them or alternately letting them spew their loony till everyone else stops listening? The latter might take a while, and the former suddenly elicits a response about freedom of speech, usually from someone who'd piss on the Bill of Rights if they could.

I haven't even mentioned the real monster freaks in the film, without question people who need to be thrown into the Christian version of Guantanámo and left in that netherworld. There's a senescent priest — no idea what cult would have the guy at their face — who runs a halfway house for, if I remember correctly, 180 young girls and goes on a possessed, speaking in tongues rant on all the nasty ways President Clinton wants to fuck "Sparklee," the sixth-grader sitting not two feet away from him. John Burt, who claims to go no farther than inflammatory rhetoric, is certainly not apologetic about (inadvertently?) talking Mike Griffin into shooting a doctor who performs abortions. And he's disturbingly ambiguous about his relationship with Paul Hill and Andrew Cabot, who defend Griffin with fury and psycho quasi-logic ("All murderers need to be murdered!") and in their down time discuss who else needs to be murdered (homosexuals, adulterers, blasphemers, anyone who says "Goddamn it!" at a baseball game) in a half-scary serious tone and a half-scarier sarcastic tone. They are the pygmy Chernobyl priarie dog with personality, guys who I'd negotiate with for my own safety: "I'll renounce my right to an abortion (pretty easy for me to do) if you renounce your Second Amendment rights," and they'd flip out on a whole separate rant about the end days and one-world government and the DEA coming to eat their children.

There's little room left inside them for Singer's question and even less for its answer.

And, oh yeah, there's also a woman with a devestating choice to make somewhere in the mix. Here's Kaye's only point of real connection with somebody and the issue, also the film's only character who's too busy being pregnant and unable to care for the child to give a damn about taking a militant position either way. The whole of the past two and a half hours is suddenly irrelevant; all that's in the room is the woman, and the staff and Kaye's camera providing her the sympathy, and also clinical appreciation of her situation, that she can't provide herself. Nice to see there's folks out there still capable of caring about somebody else for a moment.

Monday, November 10, 2008

My cousins dropped by the East coast for some random relative's wedding and they stopped in today for their annual couple-hour visit on their way to the airport. It was the grandparents, parents, and their two proto-humans. The baby couldn't care less, because she's a freaking baby, but the toddler was adorably shy, or at least as adorable as those things get. She was scared to walk in the front door, scared to meet Grandma, spending most of the afternoon engrossed in the GPS navigator and also a shiny silver necklace. Maybe fifteen minutes in, I guess Grandma felt like the toddler was neglecting her, and she called her over, "C'mere, Zoe..."

Zoe didn't even look up: "No."

We are simpatico.

God, I envy her, and I hope she never changes, because that is fucking beautiful. I wish I could do that, be just my own free fucking soveriegn self without any of that passive-aggressive bullshit. Nothing personal, just slow down, Cowgirl. I'll come when I'm good and ready.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Big, Fancy Red Carpet Party

I got an e-mail today from the "Hudson Union Society," which sounds like a bank, but is in fact a social club. Here's the subject line: "Birthday Party with Steve Guttenberg - Please Come! Free To All." That's right — I was invited to Steve Guttenberg's birthday party. The poor man's Q-rating must be lower than dirt, because I don't even get invited to my friends' birthdays, and none of them co-starred in Amazon Women on the Moon.

I assume. At least, none of them have come out and told me.

I'm a sucker for curious desperation, Hudson Union practically begging me to show up — Please Come! Free to All. Drinks Will Be Served! Like they already know I have better stuff to do than meet Steve Guttenberg. Call me when Judd Hirsch or Emilio Estevez or that robot from Short Circuit stops by. The way he can't comprehend human emotions is hilarious!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Pre-Emptive Movie Review

I want to mention how much I'm looking forward to not seeing Saw V this weekend. I'll be missing out on the cinematic genius of the production designer on the made-for-Animal Planet movie Cybermutt ("Part Dog. Part Machine. All Best Friend.") and the second unit director of Saw IV, plus what I'm sure is a brilliant, pithy, philosophically insightful screenplay by the guys who probably got paid more to write Feast 3: The Happy Ending than I make in a year, but I have toenails that need clipping, carpet fibers that need counting, and three Takashi Miike DVD's in my Netflix queue.

Aside: has anybody, anywhere ever seen Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds — Oh! I get it! It's dirty! — or Feast 1: Original Flavor?

Second aside: If anyone does see this, feel free to spoil the ending for me. I will totally pay eleven bucks to watch Saw V if it turns out that Luke from Gilmore Girls is the killer.... Well, probably not, but I might check out ironically on DVD.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Please don't post on your okcupid profile a picture of you at the freaking Holocaust Memorial. Sure, you're smiling, not blinking, not a hair out of place, but is that really your best photo from Berlin? There's not one of you at the Pergamonmuseum or the Brandenberg Gate or with the polar bear?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mating Calls

I work near a bunch of construction sites in the city, so for the first time in my life, I got to watch some dirty guy in an orange vest and a hard hat whistling at a woman passing by. I didn't think anyone actually did that outside the movies and stereotypes. Catcalls are the perfect combination of ill-timed lust and laziness for failing to attract women, or anyone, really. Beagles and taxicabs, maybe, but a human being, with consciousness, already moving towards a destination? Please tell me no one has fallen for that since our neanderthal days.

But this dude whistled and the woman ignored him and his construction buddies were congratulating him and — okay, it's not about the woman; he's flaunting his masculinity to his co-workers. Fair enough.

The other day, same thing happened, but now I'm utterly baffled. This time it was a cab driver, maybe in his mid-fifties, no passengers, waiting for the light to change. Woman in her twenties walking the other direction, and the cab driver opened his window, stuck his head out, and called to her. "Hey girl, wanna ride?" or whatever generic substitute for charm and affection the pop stars are saying these days. The light turned green and he drove off.

I have no idea what the point of that was. "Dear Penthouse Forum: I never thought this would happen to me, but..." it didn't happen to him. Did he expect her to forget about wherever she was headed, turn around, and chase down his cab? I can only imagine his disappointment — another one got away. Damn that traffic light!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

This ad's been popping up all over the train I take into the city every day, and I'm kind of perplexed:

Because it's ostensibly about prescription drug abuse — the best kind of drug abuse — but really it seems more anti-Grandma than anything else. Grandma kind of needs those drugs to, you know, stay alive, so I'm not really clear on how the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey wants me to handle the situation. Honestly, I never even thought of stealing Grandma's prescription drugs until the anti-drug people mentioned it.

Monday, October 13, 2008


I was thinking about my side in the iPod revolution ever since yesterday, and waking up every day a square peg in the grown-up world. I wrote that the Star-Ledger article was "out to offend me, personally, into falling in line," which I suppose is what reactionaries do. They split the world in two, those like us and those who aren't, so what's incongruous to me isn't so much the name-calling from one of "them," but that I'm taking it personally. I can't be — I'm not, the article makes it clear — the only one who sees no conflict between headphones and professionalism, or who feels the corporate wardrobe is superficial and frivolous, or who'd rather send out a conversational résumé. So how is it that Convention alienates me (or us?), that I (or we?) accept its value judgments, as if my (or our?) own normality was real rebellion threatening to tear a stable society apart?

I had a job interview a few years back where the hiring bosses specifically handed me a "business formal" dress code, and I wore a tie and jacket and it turned out the company was run by a bunch of jerks — sartorial demands aside — who were barely worth combing my hair for, let alone looking nice over. I wish I had the guts to walk into that interview in my standard jeans and dark T-shirt: "The business is computer programming. I can program computers perfectly well dressed like this. If I wanted to dress unprofessionally, I would've worn mittens."

Attitude like that will get you nowhere — not that presenting myself well got me very far either — and the more I think about it, the more that seems like a tactic of the old morality, flipping every ordinary, arbitrary, moral value on its subjective head: It's not that you're a horrible fit for the culture, it's that you're a unique horrible fit. Maybe it's time for a change, acknowledging the conformist cultures of non-conformity. You don't hit people, or steal, or litter, or talk on your cell phone during the movie... so you're okay, and you're not alone.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Jobhunter section in today's Star-Ledger tackles the dicey issue of listening to music at work. This can't be good. An innocuous work habit holding employees' sanity intact in this insufferable sick existential joke called a job scares the status quo, like someone will come into work one day carrying a boombox on their shoulder and start breakdancing on the boardroom table right in the middle of a big presentation. I spend most of my work day with little white earbuds peeking out of my head — even when I'm not listening to anything — so this article, like the past ones headlined "Dress For Success" or "Interview To The Top," is out here to offend me, personally, into falling in line.

The Star-Ledger interviewed some power-drunk "managing partner" dude Mario Almonte, of the public relations firm Buzzkill & Partners, where "listening to music on the part of employees there is frowned upon." I'd actually find it really funny except that Reverend Moore probably makes more money than I do and enforces his will on people. The biggest stumbling blocks in Almonte's quest to destroy all things fun are the interns, "young people whose experience with the company is limited," and presumably whose souls haven't irreparably crushed and recycled in, say, a gaudy fountain or chandelier decorating the world's largest whatever in Dubai. "If you are really concentrating on your work, music will distract you," not that an intern's job couldn't be done by a retarded monkey.

"It doesn't occur to them that anything's wrong with it," Almonte says. Almonte, mind-reading, claims the other employees are distracted by the iPod buds — and jealous, too — but it's all just a cover for him, not begging the question but dodging it. There's not anything wrong with it, unless you're a micromanaging tool and there's some kid chair-dancing around the filing room, not even rebelling, but just plain oblivious. The article ends by pointing out that the children of the LP are a dying breed and Gen Y is coming into its own in the workplace; what once was lousy kids upsetting the social order will soon become the social order, and I believe one of our generation's projects should be moving every Elks lodge and canasta house into the bathroom of an underground rave.

Monday, September 22, 2008

We were at Fanny Wood Day yesterday and amid the usual small-town street fair vendors and tent — for window treatments, aluminum siding, popcorn, and the local Board of Education — two caught my eye. The first was a table offering, quote, Islam. Which surprised me, because even though Fanwood isn't some backwoods retarded gun-toting cousin-marrying big-ass fourteen-karat silver belt-buckle flyover hicktown, it still has more of an intolerant 1950's-style conformist vibe than anywhere in the information age should have. At least that's my take, judging from the letters to the editor in our local waste of a tree newspapers, but maybe I'm wrong...

...or maybe not. Fanny Wood Day also had an Old People For McCain tent; see my above analysis of the town. Not that I expect Old People, or small-town Republicans for that matter, to have the slightest grasp of de-regulation, the eleven-trillion dollar national debt, or the mortgage crisis — haven't they at least figured out that for the past eight years, they've been making less money and paying more for the big-box crap they buy? Short answer: no, because they've been building credit card debt instead of paying for stuff. Very Republican indeed.

I wanted to confront them, and I wanted to change their minds, which are two mutually incompatible things, especially when I'm overflowing with contempt for these Old People who got us into this financial mess, this Iraq mess, this oil mess, and who also drive slow as they walk. But I believe I've found the key: There's this sardonic grassroots organization Billionaires for Bush that's a "grassroots network of corporate lobbyists, decadent heiresses, Halliburton CEOs, and other winners under George W. Bush's economic policies," ironically supporting the Republicans who would return the favor, if they were actually rich and not upper-middle class college students. The problem is that they're too self-aware, that you don't even have to hear the joke because you already either agree or disagree with it. People are stupid, and appeals to self-interest don't go anywhere when they're only supported by facts and logic.

What I wish I thought of back then, and had the balls to go through with, is agreeing with the Old People's economic instincts. It's way obnoxious, and the more smarmy MTV-generation lingo you throw in, the better:

"Hey! Hey, there, great job! Thank you for voting Republican, cause the hedge fund I work at, we made so much cash off this economy. You should've seen my Christmas bonus, it was obscene. Probably worth more than your house. Speaking of which, if you need money, you wanna reverse mortgage that place, you call me. Here's my card, there's my cell, my e-mail, cause I'm looking for real estate to turn a profit on. I wanna buy a motorcycle..."

Friday, September 19, 2008

One of the perks of twenty-first century living is being pummeled by abstruse, confusing viral advertising that demands you ask it what it's hocking, and also weird promotions for stuff you can't actually buy. BASF: "We don't make the things you buy..." So, why are you selling it to me then? But advertising has never perplexed me so much as this sidebar gem that someone spent money to put on Facebook

Knot physics

I, for one, wasn't even aware that knot physics is for sale. How much do you think a unified field theory with a simple Lagrangian costs?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Who else was getting some apocalyptic nerd-love last night when the team at CERN powered up their new Large Hadron Collider toy? "You know, the world could end any moment now, just as soon as those two proton beams annihilate each other in a dark matter fusion reaction ripping apart all the atoms in the planet's gravitational field. It would be a shame to spend maybe our last few hours in the universe watching this repeat of Lost. Maybe we should, I dunno, fool around a little....?"

If the idea of empirically verifying the existence of the Higgs boson in the quantum chromodynamic vacuum doesn't get your loins tingling just a little, I don't even know you.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

"Losing All Hope Was Freedom"

I'm not a huge romantic, still I feel like Tyler Durden isn't the ideal philosophical voice to follow when you're looking for love, just leaving a mess of contradictions between me, girls, and the tenuous CupidMail connecting us. I'm currently zero for seven, disheartened and a priori pessimistic, and embracing Fight Club's absurd reductivist nihilism under the illusion that it's not just comforting but even empowering. Roger Ebert simply calls bullshit on Tyler's myopic, emasculated world-view — and I do see the false premise — but short of suffocating myself in Axe™ Deodorant Body Spray, it sure seems like it doesn't matter what the hell I write to or because they won't respond anyway. So, "Hey, cool profile. [Generic question referencing a detail in said profile.] Hope to hear from you soon!" Close my eyes and click send, and at least it's not like I'll be disappointed or anything.

You can see the problem here. I can't tell if I'm suffering from a self-fulfilling prophecy because I do, at least consciously, make my best, honest effort to be appealing and attractive, engaging and interested — and to be sure, that's certainly not my greatest strength — but at the same time, I don't imagine people who are really successful at dating treating it like the love lottery.

Then again, my computer generally behaves the way I want it to, and you'll hardly catch me complaining about how modern technology is inscrutable.

I predicted it would take ten to fifteen CupidMails before I'd figure out the right thing to say, so in that vein, I'm almost fifty to seventy percent of the way there. But it would be nice to know what other guys are Cyrano-ing, maybe cutting out a bunch of the false starts and (utterly adorable) self-doubts plaguing me. Some people might be missing out in the meantime.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Demographic Election

Anybody else notice how the Republican talking-head faux demographic generator has been growing more and more redneck every election? It started with the soccer moms, till that was too European and gay. Then NASCAR dads, a solid vroom-vroom Dukes of Hazzard replacement except gas went up to four dollars while loud-ass advertising machines were driving in circles five-hundred times a day. So, hockey moms! (Which is apparently only redneck on the surface, as it's right up there with Lou Dobbs's working-man equestrian team when it comes to parents' disposable income being thrown into undoing their childhood failings vicariously through their overscheduled kids.) I wonder what ESPN reject the Republicans will cram an ill-defined group around next. Rodeo? Chainsawing?

In 2012: Backyard-wrestling creepy uncles.