President Torturer

From the Washington Post, July 15, 2005:

But the Pentagon working group’s 2003 report, prepared under the supervision of general counsel William J. Haynes II, said that “in order to respect the President’s inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign . . . [the prohibition against torture] must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his Commander-in-Chief authority.”

Do Americans read any of their own news? What do they think about this stuff? The man they elected to the highest office in the land is an admitted torturer. No, he didn’t personally kick or beat these prisoners, or take their clothes away, at Abu Gharib or Guantanamo, or put women’s underwear on their heads, or make “use of military working dogs” — whatever the hell that means. He is simply in charge of it. He has authorized it. He has approved it. His representatives have begged the Supreme Court to let him do it. Let me, let me, let me use a cattle prod on someone’s genitals. Please.

There is nothing complicated here. There is nothing convoluted or difficult to understand about the situation. Mr. Bush belongs to a political party that claims that they are the ones standing up for “values”, for principles, for accountability and integrity. And they torture people. And they don’t deny it. That is the ultimate expression of the real moral values in this political environment, of the men who claim to be more godly than John Kerry: we want to torture people.

The only thing more depressing than this, is the fact that in the next election, I doubt very much that the Democrats will run someone who will make a point of saying “I won’t allow any torture”. No, no, no– that would make the candidate appear to be a wuss. Then the Republican candidate will say, “I represent the party that will torture people. I will beat up and kill people on your behalf.  I am willing to be your killer and torturer. Vote for me.”

Of course not. He will say that he is opposed to gay marriage and that he supports education and motherhood and apple pie.

And he’ll probably win.

But wait– doesn’t that mean that he is our man. He is doing our will. WE torture people?


Our Moral Decline

Would you be surprised to find that, in the view of this website, public morality is in decline? What? Again? It is? Oh my goodness! Whatever will we do?! is a fairly representative Christian commentary on our day and age, our times, our era, our epoch, our cultural milieu. (It even, of course, like almost every other “Christian” website in the world, has a pitch for your money on the main page, for a CD or worship of songs, though I should acknowledge that it’s a relatively low-key pitch for the genre).

Or, like me, would you be more inclined to think about just how shocked you would really be if you ever happened to stumble into a website somewhere, by a Christian journalist or pundit, that expressed the thought that public morality was improving?

Seriously. I thought about that a lot. Why would it seem totally weird to read a comment like, “it is clear that our society is less sinful now than it was 50 years ago”? But you know that you are never going to hear that from a Christian journalist or pundit. Not in your life.

If virtually every single Christian commentator thinks the world is getting worse, not better, they must be right– right? They can’t all be wrong.

But if society is in decline, when, according to these punsters, was it ever in incline? It must be declining from somewhere. It must have improved, from the barbaric ages, at some point. Say, the 1950’s. The America of Ozzie and Harriet and the Beaver.

Do they have a picture in their minds of rural villages dotted with white churches, milk-maids tending the cows and baking apple pies, young boys fishing at the creek, fathers mowing the hay?

That’s nostalgia. That’s sentimentality masquerading as social conviction. Even a cursory survey of the real historical record reveals that the 1950’s was actually an age of profound immorality. Racism was not only tolerated, it was accepted. Sexism was embedded in the infrastructure of the workplace. Materialism and conformity were promoted as “healthy” social values. Sexual abuse was ignored, if even reported. And it was the official policy of the U.S. government that, if necessary, 100s of millions of people would be killed to stop the Soviets.

You would think that Christians would be among the first celebrate the achievements of the civil rights era, or the accomplishments of U.N. peace-keepers, or the land-mine treaty, or democracy in the Soviet Union, the disarmament movement, equality for women, peace. Nyet. Doesn’t matter. Has no importance. The important thing is that 13-year-old girls use the f-word in movies. That’s it! It’s the end of times!

This is all a bit like the “values” argument conservatives love to wave around. We poor liberals believe in diversity, tolerance, progress, human rights, community, the environment, and equality. It’s such a shame we don’t have any values. Hey bubba– lets get a six-pack and some buckshot and drive your Hummer down the back roads of Idaho so we can shoot some helpless furry creatures and talk about values. Right, Bobby-Bob– like the sanctity of the right to own guns, and the sanctity of the right to pay our employees a low minimum wage? And the sanctity of the right to send people to jail for 99 years for stealing a cell phone? Damn right we have values…

I frankly believe that even if 90% of the population stopped fornicating and drinking beer and thinking kind thoughts about minorities and the poor and suddenly decided to go to church on Sunday instead… even if all of that happened, the Christian commentators would continue to tell you that the world is in moral decline…. because that’s what they do. That’s their bread and butter. That’s their mental frame-work, their cache, their frame of reference. They could not do without it, and they would not feel powerful and mighty without that cudgel with which to whack you in the face: listen to me, or you will burn in hell.

Why is it so illogical to constantly, consistently, always proclaim that public morality is declining? If it doesn’t already seem absurd to you, here’s why. Suppose that your salary were declining every year, year after year, without fail? How much salary, exactly, would you now have?

If you started at, say, $30,000 in 1970, and your salary declined continuously since then, you would have almost none of it left. But that’s silly. Nobody’s salary declines like that.

In the same way, public morality cannot be in constant decline. But have you ever heard any of these pundits that morality ever improved in any particular year? No, and you never will: where’s the money in that?


The Geisha

Critic Robert Christgau, reporting a comment from a woman friend on Olivia Newton-John: “A geisha,” she scoffed. “She makes her voice smaller than it really is just to please men.”

Sometimes pop culture amazes me. Why would anyone make a film of “Dukes of Hazzard”? Or a shot-by-shot remake of “Psycho”? And why, in the name of infinity, would any sane person prefer to listen to Anne Murray’s version of “I Fall to Pieces” over Patsy Cline’s, when Patsy Cline’s version is readily available? Have people lost their minds? What exactly does anybody get out of “For the Good Times”, when rendered by Murray’s flat, implacably bland voice. For God’s sake, people, haven’t you ever heard of Emmy Lou Harris or Lucinda Williams?

Anne Murray, by the way, was a full-time physical education teacher before “Snowbird” rocketed her to fame, as they say. In a CBC special back in the early 70’s, I remember a segment in which she led her band in some calisthenics. She was wearing a short tennis-style skirt. At one point, with the camera behind her, she glanced over her shoulder and flipped up the back of her skirt and gave the viewer a mischievous little wiggle of her ass.

She has not done the musical equivalent in 30 years. Anne Murray, that sweet, vivacious, authentic, Nova Scotia girl, has become a musical product, tasteful and poised, and bland..

The Geriatric Cover Song

Great and Not so Great Covers

There’s something interesting in Nouvelle Vague’s version of the Clash’s “Guns of Brixton”, and it isn’t the novelty effect. There’s an insouciant poignancy in the song, that isn’t there in the Clash’s version, a shimmering, simmering insinuating sneer. The Clash was an arrogant thug. Nouvelle Vague is a precocious child, asking the beaten and bruised: “how yah gonna come”? Come on now. Are you as tough as you think you are? It’s superb.

The same goes for Cat Powers remake of the Stones’ “Satisfaction”. She has absorbed the song, chewed it over, fanged it a couple of times, and emerged with an utterly twisted, vicious, revision. It’s brilliant.

I say that because the idea of doing over a great song isn’t necessarily a bad one. But it is when Paul Anka does “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Rod Stewart does “It Had to be You” and now Carly Simon releases an album of torch ballads– I want to get out the torch.

There’s probably a lesser-known antecedent but I seem to recall that this awful trend started around 1979, when Linda Ronstadt’s career took a dive and she tried to reposition herself as a chanteuse with an album of pop “standards” by various allegedly great songwriters. Ronstadt, previously known for her country ballads and power-pop tunes, (“Different Drum”, “Long, Long Time”) was praised for her brave excursion into the mainstream, even though her performances of these songs were not particularly distinguished. To go with her new-found sense of sophistication, she lost weight and posed for some cheese-cake photos for Annie Liebowitz for Rolling Stone Magazine.

The critics are expected to fall over themselves to be the first to proclaim that they have such good taste that they could enjoy something that did not feature an screaming electric guitar or a hook.

And actually, I do believe that some of these, at least, are “great” songs, in the same way that some girls are “great” girls. They look so beautiful and refined and tasteful and sweet, you just want to buy them a diamond. Just don’t expect oral sex in return.

What you do not want to see in a great song is Rod Stewart’s lips behind it.

As for those reviewers– what are they going to do? It occurred to me that they are extremely unlikely to do otherwise than lavish praise on these wholesome tributes to the old fart school of music composition. Firstly, they would be absolutely stricken if anyone were to accuse them of having tunnel vision– don’t you know that “Summertime” is one of the greatest songs ever written? Secondly, I don’t think most of these critics, with the exception of the Times’ Stephen Holden, have a clue about what they are reviewing. The uniform adulation of mediocre vocalists like Norah Jones and Diana Krall tells you that a certain amount of posturing is going on. These women look great and they have astute management and they can mostly hold pitch. That’s about it.

If you’re really convinced that Diana Krall is a great singer, please name me a song or two performed by Emmy Lou Harris, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, or Lucinda Williams that would reflect kindly on Ms. Krall’s talents in comparison.

Unlike the Nouvelle Vague’s version of “Guns of Brixton”, or Die Toten Hosen’s version of “Hang on Sloopy”, or Cat Powers’ searing “Satisfaction”, none of these artists actually bring a whole lot of originality or creativity to their remakes. If anything, as Holden observes, most of these updates are dumbed down, the orchestrations more like movie sound tracks than settings, the phrasing pedestrian and utterly predictable. Worse than that– the posturing. All the irreverence and inventiveness and wit and fun of rock’n’roll is gone. I am now an artist, as in, the artist will appear at 10:00, in an evening gown or tuxedo, and he or she will be serious. She is going to sell the song. He is going to hold notes longer than he does when singing “Maggie Mae”. The audience will grovel at 10:06:15, then return to their martinis.

What they have forgotten is that there is a reason that the Beatles were like a breath of fresh air in 1963, and why Bob Dylan mattered.

You want covers? I’ll give you GREAT covers:

Satisfaction (Cat Power)
I Fought the Law (The Clash)
My Back Pages (Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, etc.)
Positively Fourth Street (Lucinda Williams)
Hang on Sloopy (the Toten Hosen)
Downtown (The Killer Barbies)
Tower of Song (Nick Cave)
He Hit Me (and it felt like a kiss) (Hole)
Oh Lonesome Me (Neil Young)
Wayfarin’ Stranger (Emmy-Lou Harris, with an exquisite lead acoustic guitar from Albert Lee)
Jolene (White Stripes)
You Aint Goin’ Nowhere (the Byrds)

Arresting George W. Bush

I know what you’re thinking: you can’t arrest the President of the United States!

Here’s my idea. I want to set up a camp on Manitoulin Island (that’s up there north of Tobermory, if you didn’t know where it was) with a bunch of cages and holding cells and guard dogs. Then I’ll get a couple of friends and go down to the White House and arrest George Bush and Tom Delay and John Ashcroft and Condoleeza Rice, and take them there and lock them all up.

If the Secret Service tries to stop us, we’ll inform them that George Bush is a threat to peace and good order and commerce and must be locked up.

If they ask what proof we have, we’ll tell them that we don’t need any proof. Do they really expect us to wait around for Bush to commit a nefarious act before locking him up? Not in today’s post-0303 world. I mean, March, 2003, the date of the invasion of Iraq.

If he wants to call his lawyer, we’ll inform him that, sorry, he doesn’t get access to a lawyer until we’re good and ready to let him have access to a lawyer.

If he says, what about my rights, we’ll laugh our heads off. Your what? Hoo haw! It’s all right for those pansy liberals like Ted Kennedy and John McCain to talk about rights– but we’re in a war. This is a war on our nation and our values. It is a war on common sense and good taste and my personal happiness. If I sit around and wait for pansy legislatures to provide me with the correct legal frame-work and documentation in order to proceed with arresting the most dangerous man in world…

And after they admit that we are fully vetted legally, and we get them up to Manitoulin Island and into the compound…. we bring out the water-boarding equipment and cattle prods and electrodes.

Honestly– I just want to hear what they have to say.

Aggressive Girls: Margaret

No, her name wasn’t really “Margaret”.

She was cute. Some girls are beautiful, some girls are amazing, some girls are great. Margaret was pretty and vivacious and nice. She was “cute”.

If a guy refers to a girl as “great”, he’s going to buy her a diamond ring, because, she is a great girl. I have news for you women who have been called “great” by your boyfriend or fiancé: it’s a condescending term.

That’s what you do when someone has been great– buy them a worthless bauble. The more you spend on this worthless bauble, the more likely you will have good sex. That’s because by purchasing this bauble and committing to marriage, you have ensured that the great girl will never have to resort to prostitution to keep food on the table. She is happy. She will reward you. DeBeers is happy. They have succeeded in manipulating otherwise sensible young men into handing over copious amounts of cash for a cheap, worthless mineral.

So Margaret was not a great girl.

She was not amazing either. Amazing girls are rare: I have met about two or three really, truly, amazing girls in my life. An amazing girl has four qualities. She is smart, she is physically beautiful, she is confident, and she has a kind disposition. They are also usually pretty good at gracefully keeping you at distance if they are not interested in a relationship without making you feel like you’re a jerk.

Margaret was pretty, and amusing, and fun. She had a good figure, nice breasts, nice waist. She could be amusing. If you were walking around and you ended up seeing her in the general direction you were walking, you’d keep heading that way and stop and chat.

All right. What I remember most about Margaret was the fact that she, more than anyone else I’d ever known, demonstrated to me that girls can be just as physically aggressive as boys are believed to be, and as women sometimes claim that boys are when they use the phrase “they’re all alike”.

Here’s what happened, about 25 years ago: Margaret came to my dorm room at college looking for her boyfriend, who was not there at the time. She kind of hung around for a few moments, bantering with me, probably flirting– I can’t remember for sure. Then she jumped me.

By “jumped”, I mean that she grabbed me and pulled me out of my chair and tried to tickle me, and wrestled me onto the floor and sat on me. I “fought” back, of course, and we rolled around and engaged in a behavior which, when you try to describe it, sounds absolutely preposterous, pointless, and silly, but is very enjoyable if both parties like each other.

The key thing I understood about this kind of behavior is that it is often a form of projection: a girl initiates it because she wants you to be aggressive towards her. She wants you to fight back. Don’t believe me? Try this next time it happens (as if!): don’t fight back. Most of the time, she will stop and give an expression of disappointment. You don’t want to play? Sheesh– what a dork. She will stop, and may even feel humiliated. And I really don’t care if that’s politically incorrect, I think it’s true.

I think most people believe that physical horseplay between young people of either or opposite genders is just that, horse play. There’s nothing sexual about it, right? Guys do it with each other all the time, so it can’t be. It could be sexual if a guy and a girl do it, but it doesn’t have to be.

Actually, is anybody really that dumb? Of course it’s sexual.

What about if two guys do it? I’m not sure about anything. I think it’s possible that horseplay between two or more guys might be partly sexual. Ever see the way professional football players, and marines, and Republicans, always seem to be patting each other’s hairy butts? I think they like it. I think they find women foreign. I think I’m glad I never joined the marines.

It’s disguised, in some ways, but sometimes you reach a weird moment of inadvertent transparency, as Margaret and I did. You suddenly feel that the other person knows exactly why you think this feels good. Maybe it comes with a sudden, unexpectedly deliberate shift of the hips, or legs moving slightly apart instead of, defensively, together, or the failure to quickly snap your jeans back up after a button pops, or a gesture of submission– outstretched arms, a certain kind of languidity.

With Margaret, it was a look. As she was sitting on me, holding my hands down and straddling my chest, with her hips quite close to my face, we both suddenly noticed that her jeans had un-snapped, and her zipper was most of the way down, exposing her blue underwear. Yeah, I remember the colour. She looked down and then she looked at me quickly– was I looking? Yes I was. She made no effort to do up her jeans, or the top buttons on her shirt that had mysterious come loose. She said something like “I could take you” clearly mean to challenge me to throw her over, which I did.

It would be easier to understand life in general if most human behavior were linear, logical, or reasonable. Some good comedy comes from setting up a character who attempts to behave that way, by verbalizing his intentions before carrying them out. “I will now engage in gratuitous intentional physical contact with you in order to gratify a strong but submerged sexual impulse”. No– just go for it.

The irony, of course, is that even though I was more than pleased to engage in some intense physical play with an attractive young woman, there was no way, at that moment, that I was going to make the first move on my friend’s girlfriend. I mean, he wasn’t a close friend…. but still. And I had my eye on someone else at the time.

What’s a first move? That’s what’s so wonderful about horse play. Until that moment, we could have wrestled and bumped and rubbed against each other in all kinds of sexually arousing ways and then broke it off without either of us having to actually acknowledge that anything sexual had happened. I think we were almost there– we were both breathing heavily and tired and a bit sweaty when she suddenly licked my face and the next thing I knew is we were into some very heavy groping.

Why a lick, not a kiss? I have no idea. I’ll bet she doesn’t either. I certainly didn’t expect it– for a split second, I thought she was going to kiss me, but she suddenly gave me a big, wet lick on my cheek and another on my mouth, and giggled, and then did it again.

Did I miss something in my adolescence, some part of the traditional initiation into sexual rites, between French kissing and petting? None of my brothers ever told me, “and then the girl licks you.” I’ve never seen it happen in a movie.

I said, “the next thing I knew” we were groping. We always skip over that part, don’t we? When I read lines like that, I get a little disappointed– what do you mean “the next thing”– how did you get to the next thing? That’s what I want to know. That’s what I want a good writer to explain. What I did was stick my hand into her loosened jeans– that’s the next thing I knew. Had she slapped her knees together, I would have stopped right there; but she did the opposite.

If I had made the first move, and if she had rejected me, she would have emerged with a delicious story about my utterly contemptible behavior, along with the coy pleasure of showing her friends, he wanted me. If I had made the first move and she hadn’t rejected me, I would probably have had a new girlfriend, which I was not, at that particular moment, interested in. But she did it, without asking, seemingly without any consideration of the consequences.

Afterwards, she seemed embarrassed and hurriedly dressed and left, and we never, ever spoke about what happened. Shortly afterwards, she broke up with my room-mate. She did not make any attempt to re-connect with me, possibly because I had started a relationship with someone else.

As is the case with many people of my generation, there are few traces of Margaret on the internet. But I just read, on some obscure web-page somewhere, that Margaret got married. That means she was single until she was probably about 44 or so. I liked Margaret, so I feel a bit sad that she never found “that special someone” earlier in life. Then again, maybe she did– I have no way of knowing.

Life is unjust: Margaret was pretty but couldn’t find a potential husband until she was 44. Or life is unjust: pretty girls usually have no problem attracting men.

There is no big point here. My friend later told me that Margaret liked me. It seemed to please him in some odd way– maybe because a friend of a friend is my friend. I immediately felt guilty. I thought Margaret was being unduly provocative in telling him that she liked me after letting me see most of her naked.

I remember her fondly the way most of us remember people who liked us. I liked her because she was cute and had a good sense of humor and she seemed nice. And because she had liked me. There was never any serious question in my mind of us starting a relationship.

And yes, girls can be as aggressive as boys. But not many boys would complain about it.

What does it tell you about our society that I have no inclination to actually identify Margaret, because I am very sure that she would be horrified to find this description of her behavior on the internet, even though it happened 25 years ago.  We still tend to convey to young women that it is not “nice” to be sexually aggressive, even though we pay lip service to the idea of sexual equality.

At her first meeting with Ted Hughes, at a party, Sylvia Plath allegedly bit him on the cheek, drawing blood.

Have you noticed that more and more movies show the girl being as sexually aggressive as the guy? That’s actually a fairly old trend. One of the first movies that I can remember that shows this kind of behavior by a woman is “Say Anything” (1989), in which Diane Court (Ione Skye) tells her father that she “pounced” on John Cusack. But check out “Pretty Poison” for the scene in which Tuesday Weld finishes off the night watchman!

It’s not that rare lately. Watch “Sex in the City” or “Scrubs”, or the movie “Thirteen”.

Martha Madany

I recently did a search on this name, “Martha Madany”, and found one tiny little reference on the website of a college she had attended in the late 1970’s and 80’s. One thing: she got married in April 2004.

So I am putting in the name, Martha Madany here, on a web page, for people to come and find, if they ever feel inclined to do a search on Martha. There’s nothing here about Martha, except that I knew her in college and liked her and that you won’t find very much about her if you do a search on her name on the internet. And here it is: Martha Madany, Martha Madany, Martha Madany. This page is all about you. I liked you and occasionally I think about you and I hope you are having a great life.

I later discovered that Martha did not get married for the first time in April 2004.  It was her second marriage.  I don’t know any more details than that.


As you may or may not have noticed, I have stopped posting regularly here. I might take it up again. I might not. Please don’t confuse me with a blogger.

Not that I don’t enjoy blogs. I have read some of them. Some of them are interesting, and some are provocative, and some are even well-written. None of them are indispensable.

When I started the “rant of the week” back in 1997, nobody had ever heard of a blog. I don’t think my website actually fits the blog mold. I use an html editor and I only post sporadically.

I am not carrying on a long conversation with myself. In fact, it appears that I am carrying on this long conversation with nobody.

Now, we have all heard of blogs. Now there are a million blogs. Now there are too many blogs.

We don’t need them all. We can’t possibly absorb them all. We won’t care, shortly. In a few years, the term “blog” will be an insult. “Oh– you’re blogging!” Or, “where’d you read that? Somebody’s blog?”.

The great irony is that the pervasiveness of blogging is going to restore the impact of branded media. The only way to sort through too much information is to funnel it through something, and that something is likely to turn out to be the CBC or New York Times or CNN. Everything else will be white noise.

You will know when the days of blogging are numbered: Time Magazine will do a cover story on it and how important it’s going to be, soon.