||Sometimes I have to put on earmuffs when I read the wires, because the blood shoots out my ears and gets alllll over the walls. It happened tonight when I read another defense of Johnny Walker, the Hairy Taliban from Marin County - this time its a column by Glenn Sacks in the SF Chronicle. I know Im treading the steps of giants here, the real warbloggers who have been taking apart this coagulated drivel with laser beams and daisy cutters for the last few weeks. But I have to step in. This is one of those rare columns thats actually wrong from the very first sentence. He begins:
Those willing to sacrifice for their beliefs deserve respect -- even if what they believe in is foolish.
So, if a man believes he can fly, jumps off a a building and kills a man when he crashes through a windshield of some poor schmuck stuck at a red light, I guess Im supposed to respect him for his convictions. Sorry. If what someone believes is foolish, his willingness to sacrifice for this fatuity is pitiful at best and contemptible at worst. This is the same logic that supports Palestinian men with eight children who blow themselves hoping they God will give them a Go-Directly-to-Heaven card because they atomized three score Jews. Im not going to applaud that, and I certainly wont give grudging admiration to a gaunt nutcase who thinks the world is a holier place now that someone aimed an RPG to a giant stone Buddha.
As a teenager, American Taliban fighter John Phillip Walker gave up a comfortable life in Marin County and traveled halfway around the world to put his life on the line for his religious convictions. How many of us are that courageous?
Thousands. Theyre called missionaries. But in the common variety, theyre ordinary people who believe its their calling to help people worship a particular incorporeal deity instead of rocks. You can say theyre misguided, or practicing cultural imperialism, but they generally dont try to take over countries and flense heretics and infidels, as Mr. Walkers friends were wont to do. As Ive said before: replace Taliban with Aryan Nation, and much of the support would melt away. Its OK to be a babbling fanatic for a religion as long as its not Christianity, because Christianity = the West. To a certain breed of Deep Thinker, the West is the font of all evil in the world; all other evils have arisen solely in reaction to the existence of the West. If John Walker had strapped TNT to his chest and blown up St. Peters, these people would dutifully note that the Pope refused to ordain women, and well, intolerance breeds intolerance, and the Crusades did anger a lot of people, so lets call it a draw - and clap ol John on the back for standing up for something.
"Walker, who last week lay in an Afghan hospital with grenade and bullet wounds, is accused of treason by talk show hosts."
Ive been a talk show host. Did it for years. I know talk show hosts. The talk-radio spectrum is rather broad, from ranters to thoughful folk - although of course the term does not include deadly-dull droners like Juan Williams on NPR. The phrase talk show hosts means about as much as newspaper writer, but it makes the smart set cluck with satisfaction, and rolllll their eyes with practiced contempt. Imagine! Those naughty awful talk show hosts discussing treason while Walkers wounded in the hospital! Talk about kicking a man when hes down.
It is true that Walker, as he lay in the hospital, made some stupid statements about America and Sept. 11. However, we can assume that for several months he has known only what his Taliban commanders told him.
Yes, that America is the seat of Satan, and its good that a lot of people died when Al Qaeda blew up two gigantic buildings in New York. No doubt Johnny Walker cheered this as much as he supported the bombing of the USS Cole, as he did in a conversation to his Jell-o spined father. One can also assume that for several years, many German soldiers knew only what their Nazi leaders told them about the Jews. So? Do we give a pass to the guys who beat the little girls with rifle butts when the trains disgorged their cargo at the gates of Belsen?
Young people sometimes don't realize or appreciate how hard their parents worked to provide them with a comfortable life.
Lots of people dont value their parents sacrifices. Most dont. But most dont end up as lice-ridden God-bothering mercs pinging rounds at Americans on the other side of the globe. Many content themselves with voting Green and arguing with Dad at Thanksgiving about why Dad should pay more taxes and take the bus to work, and whoa, man, I cant believe youre still buying milk from hormone-fed cows.
Some see our consumer society as empty and devoid of meaning. They seek meaning in a cause.
The hoariest of 60s cliches, warmed over so many times its blackened, cracked, crusty and bereft of all nutrition. Consumer society means a society in which - brace yourself - there are lots of things to buy, and lots of people who want to buy things. And this is just so horrible. We shouldnt want DVD players - no, we should all pack into overheated theaters and watch scratchy prints of the movie the theater owners want us to see, at a time of the theater owners choosing. We shouldnt want computers, or extra sweaters, or peppermint-chamomile hand lotion, or cellphones, or leather briefcases, or that nice lamp that would go perfect with the chair in the living room, or a food processor that saves a few minutes of chopping onions by hand, or an Elmo doll for the baby, or a camcorder that lets us record the days of our lives for our descendants, or ANYTHING besides flat bread, a Koran, a change of socks and underwear, a gun to kill Jews and Monsanto executives, and maybe some new batteries so we can listen to Mullah Omars cassette-tape lectures on the need to beat women for wearing toenail polish. Its the same line of thought that justifies the Weathermen because the youth of the 50s were forced to grow up in the gulag of Levittown, instead of the paradise of some Five Points firetrap tenement with seventy families to a building.
When judging him, think back to when you were 19 or 20 years old. Like me, you probably cringe at the memories of your own foolishness.
Yes. Like stringing along that one girl I really didnt want to date any more. I still feel bad about not breaking it off after the second date. I cringe when I think of the classes I skipped to play Mata Hari in the Valli basement. I wince when I think of the time I went with a friend to some guys house, and it turned out he was a drug dealer with Hefty 20-gallon garbage sacks of weed in the closet. But I never managed to make it to, say, El Salvador to shoot US advisors in the head.
Walker, if allowed to return to the United States and live freely, someday, no doubt, will cringe at his. Let's make sure he has the chance.
Yes. Let him go. And let out the abortion clinic bombers, the bank robbers, and all the men who beat their girlfriends to death for lipping off, because they too need the chance to sit by the pool in Vegas in 2021 and cringe over their youthful mistakes while sucking down a screwdriver.
Heres part of the problem: Glenn J. Sacks is the only regularly published male columnist in the US who writes about gender issues from a perspective unapologetically sympathetic to men.
Oh, God no, another Iron Fargin John. Look: no man who has any grasp on the actual truth of being a man uses a word like gender or goes around thrusting out his chest because hes unapologetically sympathetic to men. Even the guys I know who chafe and fume about the idiocies visited on men in the media (and Im one of them, believe me; being in the middle of a major metro daily, I read and hear tons of tripe about men, their manifest deficiencies, their failures) do not proclaim themselves unapologetically sympathetic to men, because its like being unapologetically sympathetic to humans, or utterly supportive of water. Its a pointless overgeneralization.
This, then, is the end result of the mens movement - sympathy for the devil, just because hes got a pair.
The column is here, if you dont believe me.
We return to your happy shiny Bleat tomorrow.
12.24 ADDENDUM: Mr. Sacks has answered some questions about his column HERE. I've had some emails with the fellow, and while we disagree on this issue, he's a civil fellow, and that puts him head & shoulders above many in the fulminating biz. You might enjoy some of the non-Walker pieces on his site; I did.
Ahhhh, criminey joseph. Finally got the pneumonia on the run, and I get a cold. Maybe not. Wife has one, and Ive felt all day as though there are soaking wet 50-lb flour sacks tied to my ankles; that could be a result of the lingering lungcrud, since Ive been warned it will take MONTHS to regain my stamina. The doctor said that even in three weeks from now, Id feel tired in the middle of a workout. Im amused by the presumption. I dont have to work out. I have a 16 month old child.
Went to the Mall of America today with Gnat, shopped for two hours, and that was a series of cardio-aerobic exercises. A hundred deep knee bends to fetch an item from the floor, dead-lifting thirty pounds a dozen times an hour to get her in and out of the stroller, and of course the cumulative energy expended to push a fully-laden stroller with gifts three times around that godless Mammon-hole. And I did the same thing yesterday, and the day before, at different malls. Shes pretty good when we go shopping, but it complicates matters for me - all the elevators in shopping malls, for example, move at the speed of a slug climbing up a piece of sandpaper, and by the time one arrives youve a dozen people with baby carriages the size of Ford Explorers.
There is no parental solidarity in these situations.
So I forgo the elevators, take her out of the stroller, collapse the stroller, and get on the escalator. Repeat process in reverse at the top. Lots of fun. Compared to this, grocery shopping is a lark.
And of course after the Mall of America, we went grocery shopping.
Shopped for a nephew at the Lego store, and was dismayed again at the literal nature of Lego today. Here are the pieces to build THIS. You can then put THIS into THIS PREDETERMINED SCENARIO. Why, in my day we didnt have no storylines with Lego. We had rectangles of varying size, and that was it. I excelled at building jet airliners, which I crashed, and models of the Titanic, which I sank. (Well-used Lego is very porous but very buoyant; youd have to hold your Titanic underwater, which made you feel a little guilty.) I have no idea if I got the right thing for my nephew - the instructions were vague, so I threw in a motor kit that made any Lego vehicles move of their own accord. A boy cannot have enough of those. Boys need motors.
I also went to The Bath & Body Works, which is the Body Shop without the halo. I cant stand the Body Shop, actually - I try to lead an ethical life, but the stores holy ethos is so pervasive and self-congradulatory that it makes you feel like a bad person if you DONT shop there. So I just removed it from my list of stores to patronize, and I feel better. The Bath & Body Works, however, has a long way to go in the packaging department. The stores have red and white awnings, which give it that ultra 70s Great American Lotion Shoppe & Soapery atmosphere; the bottles say GRANDMA, not WIFE or GIRLFRIEND. Its intentionally downmarket, but I think thats changing. They have a new line of Aromatherapy items - Sleep, Relax, Awake. (I wish they were all grouped under a big sign that said NONSENSE.) The scents are highly idiosyncratic, and theyre packaged just right: spare labels, deep colored bottles. I tried every one of them until I ran out of skin, and by then my nose was utterly confused; I staggered out of the place smelling like Id just come from a brothel whose speciality was rubbing customers with Metholatum and rolling them in orange peels.
I put a daub of relax on a finger tip and let Gnat sniff it; she leaned forward, took a whiff, and said No. Highly cute. I guess you had to be there, and I guess you had to be me.
Watched the end of Waiting for Guffman, as well as the outtakes. Final thoughts: A) Parker Posey is, if I can be a guy here, just delicious; B) some of the best stuff was left out, and it was all Christopher Guests work - his performances have this delightful sense of cumulative amusement, in that you smile, smile more, smile broadly, and then bark out a laugh when the bit snaps to a close. Hes very good. C) The movies gentle tone was a result of removing several nasty scenes that changed the tone considerably - you see how Catherine OHaras character had another aspect entirely, dark and bitter, and it made for some uncomfortable humor at odds with the spoofy tone of the final product. God bless DVDs. But at the end I was left with a movie that seemed to be coasting on the expectation that we, the audience, would supply the attitude that made the movie funnier than it actually was. Ill sell it to the second-hand DVD store, along with the Simpsons first season DVD. WHAT WAS I THINKING when I bought that? They will be in syndication long after Im in the home, and the first season stinks. The Simpsons, at this point, are less a TV show than a utility, like heat and water; the TiVo gathers two a day, and whenever I want Simpsons I just press the button.
The big treat over the weekend was the DVD of Citizen Kane. Great documentary, loads of extras, but the real prize was Roger Eberts scene-by-scene dissection of the movie. I thought I knew a good deal about the film - well, I knew bupkis. Listening to Ebert, you understand why this is the greatest movie ever made, and why it was so astonishing for its time. (He also strikes a nice balance between unalloyed Welles-worship and those who think its all Toland.) f nothing else, Kids Today need to watch Kane to get the joke of a certain Simpsons ep, where chorus girls sing a song for Mr. Burns thats lifted right out of Welles movie. Its cold, unlovable, unaware at times that its more about Welles than Hearst, and the payoff isnt a payoff at all. But I repeat: Best. Movie. Ever.
Heard a radio interview today with the founder of an organization that opposes violent toys. In one respect, Im on their side - if Mattel is marketing the Lil Blinder Sharp Stick Collection or the Junior Phantom of the Opera Acid Disfigurement Set, parents should be alerted. But this woman had that confident dismissive voice of the unassuagable do-gooder who regards all critics as knuckle-dragging beef-breathed dolts who spend their spare hours bear-baiting and cockfighting, and thats always annoying. Still, I was on her side, right up until she described what her group does with bad toys. They take special pride in melting the bad toys into an instructive sculpture.
I hate to make the point, but sculpture is not the learning tool some people think it is. Sculpture does not change lives. If it did, you could put Rodins Thinker in the classroom and watch test results soar. Or fiber intake increase. Dont get me wrong; I love sculpture, or at least what was considered sculpture before the art form was hijacked by the conceptualists, the experimentalists, the situationalists, and other Ists who couldnt whittle a small stick out of a bigger one. Sculpture to me is the miracle of Bernini, of Michelangelo - the guys who could liberate pure perfect figures from the dark dense rock. Ill never forget attending a Whitney Biennial and standing in front of two pieces of Modern Sculpture: one was a gigantic heap of chocolate engraved with teethmarks, and the other was a laminated pool of vomit. Both were protests against bulemia and the cultures notion of body image. A laudable subject, yes, but a pool of shiny buffed gut-hurl is not art.
And who are you to say? goes the complain. To which I can only quote Captain Kirk in The Conscience of the King - who do I have to be?
(If that doesnt work, I bring up my art history minor.)
Anyway. One of the toys to which the director objected was "Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots," - the commercials of which were a staple of my childhood. The cry of "You knocked my block off" was as common in the playground as the plaintive lament "You sunk my battleship!" Yet none of us grew up to be mass murderers. John Walker no doubt played with neither the Robots or Battleship, and spent his childhood moaning "You negatively impacted my self-image!" and "You scuttled my Rainbow Warrior!"
Another DANGEROUS toy was a Dragonball Z action figure. Here I agree - not because the show is violent, but because it is stupid . As far as I can tell - and Ive stumbled across the show many a time, and sat through a few episodes in rapt horror - the show consists entirely of guys levitating in the air grunting as though theyre trying to pass a Rubiks Cube through their small intestine. Then they fire big noisy bolts of energy at each other while screaming. Cut to the characters on the ground, who are usually saying huh? and grunting, with drops of sweat flying off their heads. Thats it. There are good pieces of Japanese animation, but the bulk of it is sheer krep, vastly overrated - and the anime style consists of the most unflattering facial characterizations imaginable - pointy chins, tiny square-tipped Doonesbury noses, gigantic round eyes with retinas the size of manhole covers. Why in the name of Shintoism does Japanese animation always have round-eyed characters? Imagine if every Western animated character from Bugs Bunny to Roger Rabbit had Oriental orbs; wouldnt make sense.
I watched one interesting cartoon about some shadowy noir 40s style city, and it seemed to have promise - but 10 minutes into it, everyne got into big robot suits. Ohhhkay. And dont give me Cowboy BeBob, either; I watched some of that, and it bored me stiff too. No, I wont give it another chance. Life is too short to endure pointy noses. NEXT.
And no, Im not in a bad mood. Rule of thumb for the bleats: the higher the level of invective, the more cheerful I am. Its been a great day - finished two columns, read many books with Gnat, made a passable Thai Peanut Chicken supper, started playing Diablo 2 and was not bored. Since most games bore me this day, I take this as a good sign. Theres great satisfaction in cleaving the skinless undead with an axe - you realize that this is whats missing from your life. I think Ill get back to it now; moaning zombies await the taste of my steel. The night is young, and there are blocks to knock off. You sunk your broadsword in my clavicle! Yes, I did. Yes.
All I wanted was a car wash. The Gallileo had been dusty for days - so dusty Id written the alphabet in the left rear panel so Gnat would have something to look at when I put her in her stroller. I also needed an oil change. Ah hah! Lets use the coupon from the dealership, which promised an oil change and a wash. So I made an appointment in the far-flung suburb, and arrived exactly at 1:30. The fellow took my ticket and told me it would be an hour and a half to do it all - rotate the wheels, check the fluids, change the oil, wash it, sandblast the ashtray, etc. I pointed to the child in the back seat, said I didnt have an hour and a half, and could they just change the oil and wash it? Sure: half an hour. This I figured was a generous estimate, since the oil-change shops generally do it in ten minutes. But as long as I was here, what the hey. So. We spent a half an hour in the dealership, which is nigh unto an eternity when you have a small child. We walked around and looked at the new cars, including the completely retooled CRV (Now restyled to make you feel bad about the one you own) and I got that old familiar feeling . . . maybe I should get this new one, its quite nice . . . .bigger, with more HP . . . then I asked what I could get for my 01, which has 7500 miles, and I learned it had depreciated 17,000 in 10 months. I was tempted to ask why I should buy another when theyre obviously such USELESS PIECES OF CRAP, but this is the way of the automotive world, alas. I put my dreams on hold and sat on the floor in the waiting room, reading books to Gnat. I had brough her new favorite - an Elmo book that plays a tune and also says Elmo Love You, but out of sympathy to the rest of the people in purgatory I put that one away, fast.
The job was done in half an hour. Cost: $21. Wait a minute, I said, I thought I had a coupon. They looked at me as though my nose was glowing blue. I looked at the coupon; it magnanimously offered an oil change for $21.Stupid me. The saleslady had been so proud when she gave me the coupon I'd thought the first change was free - I mean, why else would anyone drive to the other side of town for a stupid oil change? Do they have Special Magic Honda oil? Grr. Went out to the car. It still had the alphabet in the paint. Its not washed. I said. I came here because I could get a free wash. The clerk nearly disembowled himself out of shame, and said hed put the car in the wash this very moment. Back to the waiting room. The clerk appeared a minute later and said that the car wash was inoperative, because they were cleaning it.
Thats why I came here, I said, sounding very small and petulant. And tired: chasing a child for 40 minutes around a garage takes it out of a man. I felt as if I'd just paid $17,021 for an oil change. Which in a way I had.
Off to the carwash by my house.
En route I listened to a radio interview with Glenn Sacks, the writer whose pro-John Walker piece was discussed in this space on Monday. He sounded reasonable enough, but his points were just more warm spittle from the same bottomless dribble-cup: we should at least respect Walker 's decision to act on his convictions. The point is so stupid on its face you wonder how the fellow can make it a dozen times over. And he displayed a curious bit of proprietary ownership over his defense - after I wrote the screed on Monday, I got a genial letter from the gent, and he made only one point: Id said his piece was another defense of Walker, and he wanted to know who else had done that; as far as he knew he was the only one defending Our Brave Johnny. I sent him the URL of another SF Chron columnist whod said we ought to understand Mr. Walker. When the host of the show said Sacks was another defender Sacks leaped in again: who else was defending him? The host referred to the same column.
Oh, right, I've seen that, said Sacks.
I smiled, grimly.
Mr. Sacks then gave the game away entirely when he described his own youthful indiscretion: he attempted to get into Zimbabwe to join Mugabes fight against colonialism. He correctly identified this as, in retrospect, a bad idea, but hey! He understands how these wacky kids can be misguided by idealism. (Not by the ideals themselves, it would seem, but by the self-inflating notion that one is acting idealistically, which apparently insulates one from any criticism.)
He also insisted that he would cease to support Walker if it became clear he fought against innocent people - as long as he was a Taliban grunt, Sacks seemed to suggest, he was a Soldier, not a terrorist. Great bolshy bollocks, I say. The Taliban excelled at killing the innocent. Walker has no moral hidey-hole in which to cower, and its just amazing how much lungpower this writer spends defending him. Why, its almost as if hes relishing the publicity. As long as they spell the name right, as a man falsely accused of child abuse no doubt once said.
Then I took down the antenna and headed into the car wash. I got the Gold Wash, which takes about half a day to complete; it's the Shoah of car washes. I always get a little claustrophobic in car washes, and when theyre as interminable as a Gold Wash, well, its not fun. I always imagine the thing will stop and trap me there forever. Then the volcano goes off. Twenty centuries later, they find us entombed in rock-hard ash, and careers are made in colleges debating the spiritual purpose of Carnuba wax.
So halfway through it stopped, and trapped us. The Cycles Remaining indicator went from 3 to 0 to F, which I interpreted as FAILURE or perhaps an expletive. The machine stopped. Then the bay door rattled open. Then the washing wands came down again, blasted the windshield with water - then the indicator went from 3 to 0 to F again, and it stopped. I drove out. I parked. I got Gnat out of her seat for the 15th time that afternoon. I went inside. I complained, kindly, and got a ticket for a free wash. Went back to the Gallileo. The alphabet was still visible in the dust.
All I wanted was a car wash. Id call the day a failure, but Gnat tonight walked up to my laptop, pointed to the logo, and said: ap-puh. Ap-puh!
Daddys girl indeed.
From a Reuters story on Winona Ryder, busted for shoplifting 5 grand worth of clothing and having prescription drugs for which no prescription had been given (Zantac, no doubt):
Born in Winona, Minnesota, to intellectual hippie parents, Ryder's godfather was Timothy Leary. She spent her early years living on a commune without electricity in the company of Leary and Beat poet Allen Ginsburg, also a family friend.
Her mother ran a makeshift movie theater in a nearby barn and would allow Ryder to skip school to watch movies.
She made her film debut in the David Seltzer high school coming of age flick ``Lucas'' in 1986 and played the teenage bride of Jerry Lee Lewis in ``Great Balls of Fire'' in 1989.
A short time later she ran into trouble . . .
Good Lord, Id say the entire bio is the definition of trouble; its a wonder they didnt find her in Tora Bora with furry legs and feral eyes, clutching a copy of Steal This Plane by Atta Hoffman.
Unrelated note: I interviewed Abbie Hoffman once. He was the most singularly rude and contemptuous man Id ever interviewed, but perhaps being at the tail end of your nebulous career and doing a publicity tour for a book called Steal This Urine Test will do that to a fellow.
Saw the bin Laden tape, and amused myself formulating the predictable reactions: Mr. Attas father and several MetaFilterarians will call it a fake, Al-Jazeera will make excuses, and the rest of us will find ourselves wanting to jump through the TV screen into that dank room and say, calmly, I have five dollars for each of you. (To ruin the moment: that was what Bronson wannabe Bernie Goetz said when he plugged the hoodlums who held him up on a subway.) Thats pretty much how it played out. Attas Dad denounced it as a fake and hung up the phone on the poor reporter who drew the short straw that day. On the news I heard an Al-Jazeera spokeperson sniff that the tape might have made an impact earlier on when many Arabs doubted that bin Laden had masterminded the affair. To which one can only ask: why, then, is he lionized? Why are children named after him, and Bert-accented posters waved in his honor? Because he doesnt blow up embassies and ships and office buildings? O Tiger of Islam, we salute your blowhardiness! We ullulate in your general direction for your magnificent inaction! Verily, you are all talk and no walk - let us unspool our intestines and wave them around to celebrate your mighty example!
The tape was chilling, though - to hear The Guy on the Right drone on about how this was just like that time in the Koran, that time a dozen hundred years ago, when something like this sort of happened and then Allah interfered and they won, hurrah - well, some have compared it to a tape of Hitler in the bunker in 45, but Hitler never sat around predicting that Wotan would turn aside the allies. These guys sound like theyre discussing events in a favorite comic book or Star Wars movie. This isnt theology. Its Dungeons and Dragons.
Its telling that the tape was made the day Mazar-e-Sharif fell to the NA. Defeat has begun, and they retreat to tales of past glories; its like two aged athletes whove just gotten ominous prostate-test results describing the Big Game back in college.
To hell with the lot of them.
A day studded with odd bizarre things. Got an angry e-mail from someone who accused me of bias and hatred - and that was my Backfence column, which generally is about as controversial as a thermometer. Got an obscene message on my phone, which was really skunky; the fellow was obviously polishing the porpoise as he detailed a few scenes from his imagination, and if it was a prank Ill never know, because I hung up. The Strib logs each and every call coming in, so if he does it again well have to do something. Then I got into an argument over something in the paper and ended up feeling as though I was a tender-skinned PC dork, and at least one third of that I am not. (The middle part.) During all this I checked some mail, read a snotty little scru-yu-yu-suk letter from a reader, and naturally assumed he was on to something: I do suck! Its all lame! Its been careening downhill for months! So I stared at the screen in glum misery for an hour, unable to write anything, until deadline appeared and the machinery kicked in as always.
Then I went home and got a call from my publishers, and ladies and gentlemen: good news to end this week: it looks like Interior Desecrators: The Book is a go. And itll bear the imprint of the Institute of Official Cheer. Next stop: Page A Day Calendars! Let the licensing begin.
And for all this, of course, I thank the folks who have helped me collect these books, and the people whove visited the site and sent kind e-mails, and everyone else whos passed along a thumbs-up. Id bow in your direction, but Im tired. Id fall over. And there still is much work to do.
Like writing the damn book, for starters.