Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Biggest Danger

The worst danger facing us is not terrorism. It is a growing inability to speak truthfully about events.

Veteran reporter Helen Thomas, in a moment that will be part of her legacy, looked around the White House press room at her colleagues this week and said, "Where IS everybody?" She had just been fed a line of evil Orwellian mind-grease about the United States torturing people - something the President this month admitted he knew about and approved. What the administration has done to finesse this is to stick to a legalistic definition of "torture" and deny that waterboarding is torture.

It is a transparent machination, yet the professional truth-tellers, those paid and entrusted to ask hard questions and milk the truth out of spokespeople for the federal government, played their game politely and did not challenge the doublespeak and the lies.

The current government has perhaps robbed us of something even more sacred than a few civil liberties. And with one of the major candidates for President shamelessly making up stories about being under enemy fire and then dismissing the outcry by saying she "misspoke" (lied? hallucinated? what does that mean?), I don't know if elections are going to cure it.

Ten days ago, the New York Times exposed a domestic propaganda campaign carried out by the Pentagon with the complicity of major news networks, sending out retired generals as military analysts, briefed and paid by the government to promote favorable coverage of government war policy. Not the first time, by the way, this government has tried to plant operatives in the news media to shape news coverage. They planted this guy in the press corps - remember him? Or those columnists who were on the payroll? Remember the fake news conference?

And with all the problems we face, I open up the news this morning to read more stuff about Rev. Jeremiah Wright, about how much the Democrats really believe in Jesus, and the compelling national issue of whether Miley Cyrus should apologize for being photographed by Anne Leibovitz.

Where IS everybody? Helen Thomas looks to her fellow reporters. I look to my fellow Americans. Where ARE we?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

You Want To Go On Stage? Crazy.

Dedicated to my dead acting career. There are aspects I do not miss.

Friday, April 18, 2008

How Much For The Lambton Worm?

EUGENE, Ore. -- A 12-foot snake attacked a female employee of a pet store, prompting assistance from police, firefighters and emergency personnel Thursday.

Sergeant Ryan Nelson had never tangled with a snake larger than a garter snake before Thursday.

All that changed, however, when he responded to a 911 call at 3:41 p.m. to find a woman in a Eugene pet store completely wrapped by a 12-foot Burmese python that was slowly constricting around her, police said.

Puts me in mind of the legend of the Lambton Worm, which I first heard about in this song from a pretty bad movie. The song is fun. If you like raucous beerhall songs about giant man-eating worms, that is. Here at the Burning House, we're fine with that. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Who's In Your Surprise 5?

It seemed like a good offer even before I understand what it really was. T-Mobile changed my life.

The offer said, friendly white letters in a wry font inside a lavender capsule like always: "GET UNLIMITED CALLS TO ANY 5 PEOPLE!"

Immediately signed up for it and realized as my phone started ringing that the plan meant just that: I could make unlimited calls to any 5 people - that is, any 5 people randomly selected by T-Mobile.

Meanwhile, I had been randomly assigned to other callers. It was a long night.

That's how I met Simon Grayzone, a research fellow at the Garang Institute of Vegetarian Husbandry. He was filling out a Peace Corps application and could not bring himself to sign it and send it in, but he kept it with him at all times. He was also working on a doctoral thesis on something called hypothetical determinism, which he was never able to define.

A few phone calls later and Griselda Hassenroth had entered the picture. Griselda preferred to speak in sentences without verbs. She found most verbs very forward in the least, if not downright rude. As a result her speech always sounded something like haiku. In her mouth, "call me" became, "You. Me. The phone. Good." That means call her.

Philip Pressurebog was incredulous that among HIS "Surprise 5" he had drawn his own mother. T-Mobile insisted this was just a staggering coincidence, that she was in fact a random choice. Philip was firmly convinced that T-Mobile was lying to him and his mother had arranged the whole thing. T-Mobile gave him 250 free minutes. Philip is an X-Box mystic. You cannot beat him at any game.

Amerigo Talbott was slowly working his way up the corporate ladder at a Swiss-owned merchant banking firm, and was known for padding around his office in his socks. Socks with bunnies. He was a ruthless negotiator.

Cleomatra Alvarez had lost her job as a bank teller because she kept handing money back to her customers. "It's the weekend," she would say. "You need to have more fun." One man took her advice and met a woman he proposed to, never telling her that she was his first romantic kiss at age 39. He proposed to her in Battery Park near a homeless Navy veteran who immediately offered to pronounce them man and wife, as he considered Manhattan to be his ship. Cleo now worked as a mail carrier and had bad dreams about a menacing dog on her route.

The fifth was Tenzin Gesundheit, an exiled Tibetan lama who made butter candles and dreamed of a well-armed pacifist brigade that could defend itself with deadly force. He and Simon frequently talk into the night.

They talk into the night because we all live together now. We rented a house and cook omelettes and rotate chores and have a wonderful relationship.

I'm thinking of getting rid of my phone.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Not The Country I Thought It Was

Just in case you missed it, I'm going to point it out because this is very important. Do not shift in your seat and protest that "you don't like politics," please, because this is more important.

On April 9, ABC News reported this: "In dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House, the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency." These "principals" included Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Secretary of State, the National Security Advisor, and the Secretary of Defense. They discussed techniques in detail, almost to the point of choreographing aspects of interrogations, and these discussions included techniques such as waterboarding. (Illegal torture, that is.)

Okay, so we have the President's closest advisors conspiring to commit war crimes. I put it that frankly because, despite what our government has chosen to believe, you can't just decide a law isn't a law anymore when it conflicts with what you want to do.

Yet it gets worse. Two days later, the President does not protest his revulsion at these talks. He does not deny any knowledge of what went on behind his back. He dispenses with the ritual denial altogether and owns it completely: "I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved."

Holy Roman Empire, batman!! This is the President of the United States admitting full knowledge and approval of his cabinet conspiring to violate domestic and international laws governing torture!

My country. My government.

How is this not a political atomic bomb? I simply do not understand. This President has openly admitted to, and even spoken proudly of, actions that are impeachable under our Constitution. In his conception and prosecution of a war under false and shifting pretenses, spying on Americans in violation of our laws and Constitution, and now a knowledgable part of a conspiracy to commit war crimes, one has to ask what limits a President cannot violate. By historical comparison, President Nixon ordered a botched burglary, and Bill Clinton lied under oath about getting a blow job on government time.

Already it is established that the United States is incapable of defending its integrity from a ruler who goes bad. Even more nauseous, we the people do not even stand and shout in outrage. I check out this morning's news, and I see pictures of Barack Obama on a tractor.

There will be no consequence. George W. Bush will open his library and be treated as an honored guest the rest of his life. He will retire in comfort and never be held to legal account for what he has done. He will not even suffer much in the way of opprobrium.

This is, to put it very simply, not at all the country I thought it was. And I can do nothing about it except use whatever forum I have to bear witness and say, "Yuck." That's all I have left.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Torch Song For Tibet

Q. Any thoughts about the Olympics and Tibet?

The Olympics don't interest me very much. What am I supposed to believe about the Olympics after years of scandals involving judges and athletes alike, and recurring evidence that you can be a violently anti-democratic government and still participate in or host the olympic games as long you've got money? We even have countries participating who tell their athletes not to participate in sporting events with Israeli athletes.

There is nothing about the Olympics that inspire me, so I usually don't watch and I certainly won't be watching this year.

Or, to put it more simply, yuck.

Tibet - no surprises here. China has slowly and surely been working on the complete eradication of the Tibetan culture in its homeland. They are going to succeed, too. I don't like saying that, but do you believe anything different is going to happen? Do you foresee an alliance of nations intervening here and forcing the Chinese to negotiate some right of return for the Tibetan diaspora, and for Tibet to exist as a sovereign state of some kind? No matter how many Congressional honors we bestow upon His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tibet will die with him. Our governments are not going to do anything about it.

Put that in your Olympic torch and smoke it.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

If I Had An Agent, He'd Make Me Grow My Hair

This entry is for plugging my friends and inviting you out for a pleasant evening or two.

Doing improv with these nice folks has been great fun. I would rather be doing this than getting new headshots and auditioning for soap operas or AFLAC commercials or whatever. God, I'd probably have to grow my hair back.

Nah, this is fun. I've been doing some long-form improvisational theatre with a group of nice, smart people. Back to them in just a moment.

Would you like to join me for some entertaining theatre this weekend, gentle reader? Come on out. Sarah is going to be performing at a wedding and my plans to go back east have been cancelled - damn these expensive airline tickets.

So come on out, say hello to me, and enjoy some of my talented friends!

On Friday night (Thursday and Saturday nights as well), this superband of monologue artists, officially known as The Quarterly Report, will be telling new stories. If you can make it out to see them at The Fake Gallery Friday night, look for a bald blogger and say hi!

And on Saturday night, my friend Andrew is joining me at Bang to enjoy an improv competition: The Jews vs. The Christians. We are also going to work fermented alcoholic beverages into the evening, so you should join us.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

My Spanish Policy

When my great-grandparents sailed from Napoli to Ellis Island, they did their best to leave their Italian language behind them. When I wanted to learn Italian, I had to go to university classes because their children - my grandfather and great aunt and uncles - did not speak it. This has always felt like a terrible loss, unnecessary and tragic.

"Hello. Somebody speak Spanish?"

At the center, we serve a bilingual community. Our receptionist and three of our directors are also bilingual. Yet I often answer the phone myself, and my Spanish is lousy. In my mouth, the Spanish language falls with a sound like dried peppers being poured onto a wood floor. Fifteen years ago, I attempted to learn Swedish, and while I caught on to reading and writing very quickly, my pronunciation drove my native-speaking Swedish girlfriend into fits. So aside from a smattering of Italian, I stick to English. For some enquiries, I pass these callers on to someone who speaks Spanish.

Other times, I don't. Most of the routine callers know who they wish to speak with, or have a simple transactional question. What is our address? What time are we open? Are we open on Good Friday?

The transactional english required for retrieving this information is not too much to ask, so I stick them out. "What is your question?" I speak slowly and encourage them to ask me. Sometimes, they will actually put an english-speaking relative on the phone just so they can ask me, "Can you put someone who speaks Spanish on the phone?"

"She's on another call. Please let me help you."

Once or twice, the question has been more than I can handle, and the answer then is to invite them to hold for one moment and then get them a bilingual employee for assistance. The majority, however, are simple enquiries. And more often than not, the folks actually have sufficient english to ask their question. I can make out enough Spanish to meet them halfway when necessary.