Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Best Damn "Micro-Comedian" Ever!

What's a poor book-buyer to do? The Rogue Quinnette is out and about schlocking her ghost-written memoir: Going Rogue: An American Life (2009). Save your hard-earned (saved?) money and buy Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life (2009) instead. The Mollster, as she was known in this blog, gave us the immortal nickname for Governor Rick Perry (R-TX): "Goodhair." If you have any change left over, buy George Carlin's last book. George Carlin, dead, will make more sense than The Rogue Quinnette (Sarah Palin) will make until she draws her last breath. The Rogue Quinnette is lucky that The Mollster never got a shot at her. Carlin never shot directly at The Rogue Quinnette, but George did say: "In America, anyone can become president. That’s the problem." If this is a (fair & balanced) appreciation for genuine snark, so be it.

[x HuffPost]
George Carlin: The Last Words Of America's Greatest Comedian
By Tony Hendra

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For half a century, somewhere in America, night in, night out, George Carlin stood on a stage, raging, berating, sniping, griping, purring questions, snarling answers, kicking holes in the polyester pants of hypocrisy, puking down the nice clean tux of conventional wisdom, convulsing audiences and never failing to do

"...this real moron thing I do: it's called THINKING!"

Thinking counts. The riled-up, curmudgeonly commentator he played to such hilarious effect onstage was shot through with an intelligence that, like no other, got under the skin of the American Dream. All his life he yanked the band-aids off that battered carcass, and poked with savage indignation at what he found underneath. And the longer he did it, the better he got.

"It's called The American Dream because to believe it, you have to be ASLEEP!"

Unlike many of his peers he died uncorrupted, uncompromised and not particularly wealthy. He was urban not suburban, his voice bristling with the energy of the Harlem streets from which he sprang, cutting through middle-class crap like a fine old bone-handled straight-razor. Because he did this live, often in lowbrow locales like blue-collar clubs and Vegas, the idea that George Carlin was a major artist may raise the hackles of the artist-ocracy. That would be their loss. In his maturity Carlin became a unique creative force, equal parts actor, philosopher, satirist, poet — a genuine man of the people, not a multi-millionaire charlatan hiding in a studio, an artist who sharpened his art with and for live human beings, not the anonymous zero of a camera lens.

For almost four decades he criss-crossed Flyover America as many as 200 times a year, largely uninterested in playing to the choir of coastal media except for brilliant biannual HBO specials, building a devoted following of millions a few thousand at a time. George demonstrated a simple, often overlooked principle: laughter like politics is always local. It happens between real people in real places and if you weren't there you didn't really get it. Laughter overheard on a piece of furniture is just a blurred facsimile in comparison.

In short, calling George Carlin a "comedian" describes his work as inadequately as "painter" describes Francis Bacon or "guitarist" BB King. No one understood better that comedy at its best is a dark and beautiful art.

OK! OK! The hecklers are getting restless. Ritchie Pryor was funnier! Robin Williams is wilder! Steve Martin's way weirder, Lily Tomlin's a genius. What about Chris Rock, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Sam Kinison, Bill Hicks, Dave Chappelle? (Do I hear a Dane Cook? No? Good).

I don't intend The Greatest claim to be at the expense of our other comic geniuses. The ability to induce laughter is as varied as it is mysterious. Saying George is our greatest comedian is a way to shorthand the range and depth of his comedy — though he was also a past-master of what he called "micro" or observational comedy — and to set him apart to this extent: now that his work is complete, he's the one to beat.

A ninth-grade dropout, his mature pieces were essays, broadsides, jazz-like solos, based on omnivorous reading and a steely logic — e.g. "The Planet is fine, The People are fucked" (1992), "Why we don't need Ten Commandments" (2001) — but without a whiff of pretension. He had a genius for distilling a lot of information and complex issues into a few succinct and hilarious sentences. "Abortion and the Sanctity of Life" (1996) is the most incisive essay I know, on why right-to-lifers have not the slightest respect for life. Far more memorable and persuasive than any number of weighty studies or impassioned speeches. Consider just how much is going on in these lines:

"Conservatives want LIVE babies so they can raise them to be DEAD soldiers."

"If life is so sacred, how come when it's us it's an abortion but when it's a chicken it's an omelet?"

It was the big things George wanted to deal with — he had zero interest in celebrity and topical humor — especially the big things people didn't want comedians to deal with, like abortion, religion, God, rape, mass murder, patriotism, suicide, random disasters and of course, that sport of fat white business cocksuckers in cute little knickerbockers, golf.

"Ever watched golf on television? It's like watching flies fuck."

He expressed satanic glee at the very things most people desperately avoid thinking about. He told me once that discovering entropy was one of his greatest moments. Wonderful that the entire planet and every species on it, including us, would gradually cease to function, decay and die. And not just what we call life — the animal and the vegetable — but the mineral: stars, galaxies, dark matter, time-space, finity itself: all subject to same iron laws of decay and death. The very nature of the Universe met his fundamental comedic standard. It's fucked. So it's funny.

It's this breadth of vision that I believe will make him remembered and quoted as a major American artist. He's certainly in the pantheon that includes H.L. Mencken and Mark Twain (whose eponymous award for humor he won a few days before his death), along with the likes of Terry Southern and Nathaniel [sic] West. His savagery and coruscating language even bear comparison to Swift. But he was something else these men of letters were not: a born clown, fall-on-the-floor-funny, a master craftsman of the stage.

Around 15 years ago George asked me to help him write his story. Not the story of his life so much as the story of his art, how despite real and self-inflicted setbacks he arrived at the place he did. Working on it was a wild, hilarious, and fascinating ride during which a cordial acquaintance became a close friendship. For several reasons the book was never finished in his lifetime; in recent months with the blessing of his daughter Kelly and his executor (and longtime manager) Jerry Hamza, I edited and brought it to completion. It was published on Tuesday by Simon and Shuster. If it had come out on its original schedule in the 90s it would've been his first bona fide book — his first published words. Now it's his fourth book and his last published words. Which is where it gets its name. I hope you find Last Words as funny, moving and intriguing to read as it was for me to help create.

Joe bless you George. Ω

[Tony Hendra is an English satirist and writer who has worked mostly in the United States. Educated at St. Albans School (where he was a classmate of Stephen Hawking) and Cambridge University, he was a member of the Cambridge University "Footlights" revue in 1962, alongside John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Tim Brooke-Taylor. After moving to the States in 1964, he was an original editor of The National Lampoon and editor-in-chief of Spy. Hendra also played Ian Faith in "This is Spinal Tap."]

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How About A Stiff Middle Finger Instead Of A Stiff Right Arm For The Pledge Of Allegiance?

One of the more pernicious forms of our civil religion is the cult of Old Glory. A mindless prayer to a piece of cloth, proclaiming that the Lond O'The Free and the Home O'The Brave is a nation under God, is a manifestation of our civil religion — plain and simple. The hero o'the day is a 10-year-old in the West Fork School District in Washington County, Arkansas, named Will Phillips. Phillips refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in his 5th-grade classroom. His reason? The denial of marriage rights to gay people (Phillips' family has gay friends.) made a mockery of the "liberty and justice for all" passage in the Pledge and Will Phillips refused to recite a lie. The brave boy in rural Arkansas (near Fayetteville) was sent to the principal's office. Since the incident, he has been taunted by classmates (offspring of Dumbos and Tea Baggers, no doubt) for being a homosexual. If this is (fair & balanced) disgust with civil religiosity, so be it.

[x Salon]
The Pledge Of Allegiance Is Un-American
By Michael Lind

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On Monday, October 5, at an elementary school in Washington County, AR, Will Phillips, a precocious 10-year-old who had been promoted from third to fifth grade, refused to join his class in standing and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. His parents have gay friends, and Will claimed that the denial of gay marriage means that the U.S. lacks "liberty and justice for all." After refusing to recite the pledge for several days, the boy was sent to the principal's office when he told his teacher, "With all due respect, ma'am, you can go jump off a bridge," a sentiment shared by many 10-year-olds who are not political activists.

Flaps over the Pledge of Allegiance occur with dreary regularity. In 2000 Michael Newdow, an atheist and the parent of a child in California's public schools, filed a lawsuit claiming that the pledge was unconstitutional because of its inclusion of the phrase "under God." He won in federal circuit court, but in 2004 the Supreme Court chickened out and, to avoid addressing the issue, tossed out the case on the argument that as a noncustodial parent he did not have standing to sue. Newdow is a party in a subsequent case that is working its way through the courts. Back in 1940, the Supreme Court ruled that Jehovah's Witnesses could be forced to recite the pledge, and then, in 1943, in the midst of a war against totalitarian states, the court reversed its earlier opinion.

Individuals like Phillips and Newdow who publicly challenge the Pledge of Allegiance can expect to provoke not only harassment by their neighbors but also cyclones of bloviation emanating from elected leaders who, unwilling to fix healthcare or pay for infrastructure, always have time to defend the pledge or the flag. In response to the Newdow case, 150 members of Congress gathered on the steps of the Capitol to recite the pledge, stressing "under God." To show its understanding of the phrase "liberty and justice for all," the Republican-controlled House in 2004 passed a law stripping the federal courts of jurisdiction in cases involving the pledge; the bill died in the Senate, proving that the system of checks and balances sometimes succeeds in its intended function of thwarting mob rule.

Ironically, the Pledge of Allegiance, which today is most fiercely defended by white conservative Southerners whose Confederate ancestors tried to destroy the United States in the 1860s, was written by a Yankee socialist from New York in the 1890s. Francis Bellamy was a progressive Baptist minister and a Christian socialist who composed the pledge for the 400-year Columbus anniversary in 1892 and published it in a youth magazine. His cousin Edward Bellamy, a socialist from Massachusetts (Glenn Beck, are you taking notes?), was the author of the 1888 bestselling utopian novel Looking Backward: 2007-1887, which described a collectivist America in 2007 in which everyone is drafted in an "industrial army" and dines in public kitchens. (Instead of an industrial army, the United States in 2007 had a reserve army of the unemployed and working poor, and instead of public kitchens we had Starbucks.)

The Bellamys, like many at the time, were inspired by the integral nationalist and statist ideals that were percolating in Europe. From the 1890s until the 1940s, American schoolchildren often accompanied recitation of the pledge with the "Bellamy salute," a stiff-armed salute of the ancient Roman kind that was indistinguishable from the later fascist and Nazi salutes. Heil Amerika! It was Franklin Roosevelt who suggested replacing the salute with a hand over the heart.

In the course of the 20th century, support for the pledge migrated from the collectivist left to the reactionary right. The original Bellamy pledge read: "I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all." In 1923 WASP nativists prevailed in having "my flag" replaced by "the flag of the United States of America," to make sure that young Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, among others, knew they weren't pledging allegiance to the old country. In 1954, Congress inserted the words "under God," following an influential sermon by a Protestant pastor who argued that the model for the United States in the Cold War should be ancient Sparta.

Could anything be more foreign to America's enlightened 18th-century liberal and republican traditions than this toxic compound of collectivism, nativism, Spartan militarism and theocracy?

The very idea of a pledge of allegiance, in any form, is completely at odds with what is often called "the American Creed," inspired by the 17th-century philosopher John Locke's theory of natural rights and government by popular consent. The concept of "allegiance" is feudal. In medieval Europe, the liegeman, or subject, pledged allegiance to his liege lord. But in Lockean America, there is no government outside of society to which the members of the society could pledge allegiance, even if they wanted to. As the scholar Mark Hulliung explains Lockean liberal theory in The Social Contract in America: From the Revolution to the Present Age (2007):

There is a social contract by which the people bind themselves to one another, but no subsequent political contract [between people and government]. The rulers hold power temporarily, as mere "trustees" of the people... What the people give they can take away whenever they please, because they are bound by no contract between governors and governed.

In a republic, the people should not pledge allegiance to the government; the government should pledge allegiance to the people.

If we Americans as individuals do not owe personal allegiance to federal, state and local governments, in the way that medieval subjects owed personal allegiance to feudal lords and kings, then what is the basis of our obligation to obey the laws? The answer is that as members of the sovereign people we owe each other an obligation to obey the rules that we, directly or through elected representatives, have mutually agreed on. The members of a condo association agree with each other to obey the rules they ratify. Part of their mutual obligation involves carrying out the legitimate instructions of the manager whom they have hired. But while the members of the association may agree to obey directions from their common employee, no condo association pledges allegiance to the condo manager. The principal does not swear to serve the agent.

From this it follows that the appropriate expression of patriotism in a democratic republic is not a hierarchical, or "vertical," pledge of allegiance but a fraternal/sororal, or "horizontal," pledge of mutual support. As it happens, we have an example of such a pledge: the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson's famous preamble restates the Lockean theory of popular sovereignty:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Having begun the Declaration with the statement that government is merely a tool created to serve the people, the signers could have hardly concluded with a feudal oath of fealty to the political artifact they themselves had constructed. That would make about as much sense as pledging obedience to your refrigerator or your cellphone. Instead, they made a pledge to one another: "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

While a pledge of allegiance by the subject to the government is incompatible with American republican principles, a voluntary pledge of mutual support among the people who collectively create and own the government might be useful, if only as a succinct catechism of the American Creed. If we drop the strained and unnecessary language about "their Creator" and "divine Providence," designed to offend neither Christians nor 18th-century Deists, and replace the topical phrase "this Declaration" with a reference to the enduring principles of republican liberty, we might get something like this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. And for the support of these principles, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Call this purely voluntary pledge the Citizens' Pledge of Mutual Support for the Principles of the Declaration of Independence, or simply, the Citizens' Pledge. It would be addressed by Americans directly to one another, rather than to the flag or any other symbol of the state. Oh, and if you give a stiff-armed salute, you'll be sent to the principal's office. Ω

[Michael Lind is the Whitehead Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of The American Way of Strategy: U.S. Foreign Policy and the American Way of Life. Lind holds a B.A. from the University of Texas-Austin, an M.A. from Yale University, and a J.D. from University of Texas-Austin.]

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