The Thought Police Strike Again

Once again the thought police have sprung into action.   The Canadian Broadcasts Standards Council has banned the original version of Dire Straits “Money for Nothing”.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council is a “self-governing regulatory body for Canada’s private broadcasters”.  What does that mean?  That means it can’t arrest you.  It is reminiscent of the Hays code, Hollywood’s attempt to clean itself up before Congress did it legislatively.  It is the CRTC, thank god, that has the real power, but I assume that the CBSC has some sway.

And how do you get the CBSC to ban a song you don’t like?  Hey, it’s a free-for-all!  Just contact them and announce that humble little you, just one out of 30 million citizens, has decided that you must step in and decide which songs should be played on the radio no matter how many people like it.

I am curious now: what if I filed a complaint.  What if I alleged that the censorship of “Money for Nothing” is deeply offensive to my delicate little sensibilities about truth and integrity and honesty and historical accuracy?  I am veritably traumatized by the idea that my precious memories of dramatic depictions of real personalities and social values are being erased by repressed puritanical little zealots with a political agenda.  Does my objection count?

Yes, I am enraged.  I feel threatened by a world that is sliding towards banality and antiseptic homogeneity.  Hey, can I file a complaint about vocalists using Autotune?  If ever there was a legitimate complaint to be made to a “broadcast standards” council that would be it.

Not only do they want to correct your current misshapen and erroneous ideas and feelings; they want to go back in time and correct your past iniquities.  Do you remember “Money for Nothing”?  It was a snippet of a certain attitude at a certain time and place.

Let’s get one thing absolutely clear and straight right off the bat:  “Money for Nothing” is not a dramatization of Mark Knopfler’s thoughts and feelings about MTV or gay people or microwave ovens.  It is a clever, insightful, reasonably accurate depiction of the attitudes of a working class schlub working at an appliance store watching MTV and thinking, geez, I could do that.   Are we clear?  Do you understand the difference between and artist and the subject?  Do you understand what drama is?  Do you get that when a writer tells you that a character committed a murder that the artist himself is not committing murder?

Here are the “offensive” lyrics:

See the little faggot with the earring and the makeup?
Yeah buddy, that’s his own hair
That little faggot got his own jet airplane
That little faggot, he’s a millionaire

I knew people who thought like that.  I don’t need any one to tell me to not remember him or his attitudes.   I don’t need anyone to try to erase the record of that person from public discourse.

Is the next step to go through Shakespeare and Dante and Dostoevsky and remove all the violence and murders and even the insults from their works?  Why not?  We no longer think people should be murdered.  It distresses people to see murder depicted in a play or movie.  Let’s remove it.  Let’s remove the rape scene from “Streetcar Named Desire”.  We don’t approve of rape any more.

And how does “Walk on the Wild Side” (Lou Reed) and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” get away with it?   How about this, from the innocuous Elton John and Bernie Taupin (“All the Girls Love Alice”):

And who could you call your friends down in Soho?
One or two middle-aged dykes in a Go-Go
And what do you expect from a sixteen year old yo-yo
And hey, hey, hey (hey, hey, hey) oh don’t you know?

And please, please, please:  “All the Girls Love Alice” is not “by” Elton John.  The salient component here is the lyrics which are by Bernie Taupin.  Would the internet please grow up and get this straight?  Most of the songs it says are “by” an artist are actually merely recorded by that artist.  They do not deserve the holiest credit of all, the act of creation, which most of them don’t deserve even in respect of their vocals.

You think, well, we can’t gut one of America’s greatest works of drama, can we?  “Streetcar Named Desire” is a classic.  It is untouchable.  But how does that make a difference when public morals are at stake?  And what is the difference between the character saying “faggot” in “Money for Nothing” and the character raping Blanche in “A Streetcar Named Desire”?  They are both dramas of believable human behavior.  They both tell us, this is something someone would do (and has done, in real life), in the setting and circumstance depicted.  What is the problem?

There is no real problem.  What there is is a bunch of pious, self-righteous individuals trying to assert their own virtue by punishing a perceived miscreant.  Burn the witch.

If I was a gay man of any prominence I would have issued a statement– like the self-righteous guardians of public morality do– and insisted that Dire Straits keep the fucking lyrics exactly the way they are, just as “Huckleberry Finn” should retain the word “nigger” used in reference Jim, the escaped slave, just as Stanley should continue to rape Blanche in stage productions of “Streetcar Named Desire”, just as Ophelia should continue to commit suicide in any staging of “Hamlet” (spoiler alert).

And Leonard Cohen should never have excised “give me crack and anal sex” from his searing original version of “The Future”.    (Here, in a supreme act of gutlessness, Cohen jumps the shark and changes it to “careless sex”; am I harsh?  Yes, I admit it.  When you were influenced by an artist to embrace the authentic, the true, the audacious, and then he starts embracing compromise– yes, I’m harsh.  The odd thing is that as I am getting older, unlike Cohen, I feel less and less inclined to cater to the more delicate sensibilities around me.  Maybe it’s just a phase.  And here, expanding his audience for the sanitized version, he appears on– god help us– Letterman (!), changing  “crack” to “speed” and interjecting the awful “careless sex”.)  He didn’t have to castrate anything here:  he’s on the Ralph Benmurgui show.  And if you’re curious, here’s the original lyrics attached to inane video effects.  Finally, thank you, thank you, thank you Erlend Ropstad & the Salmon Smokers for this!

Finally, let me note the hypocrisy.  Here are the lines no one seems to object to:

It’s lonely here
There’s no one left to torture….

There’ll be fires there’ll be phantoms on the road
And the white man dancing…

Destroy another fetus now

Lie beside me baby, that’s an order

“Nigger” is what white people called black people at that time in history.    If I was teaching a college class on racism, I would discuss how the word “nigger” was used in America for years as a label of contempt and expression of white superiority.  “Faggot” is what straight working class white men called gay men at the time Mark Knopfler wrote that song.  “Dyke” is what they called women who were either gay or had turned down their advances.

We have reached a new pinnacle of stupid when a writer has to explain to the audience that this song or story is about someone who really existed and really thought that way.  Listen.  Consider it.  Be glad that we have made some progress (never enough, but some).  Tell your children that that’s the way working class white men used to talk about gay people.  Tell your children we now know better.

Tell your children is wrong to try to rewrite history into something false in order to avoid offending the delicate sensibilities of the weakest among us.

Senator Tim Scott

During the summer 2011 debate over raising the U.S. debt ceiling, Scott supported the inclusion of a balanced-budget Constitutional amendment in the debt ceiling bill, and opposed legislation that did not include the amendment. Before voting against the final bill to raise the debt ceiling, Scott and other first-term conservatives prayed for guidance in a congressional chapel. Afterward, he said he had received divine inspiration for his vote, and joined the rest of the South Carolina congressional delegation in voting No.   Wiki

The New York Times columnists seem to think highly of Mr. Scott, if not as president, then as VP.

I don’t think much of anyone who has the unmitigated arrogance to declare that he has the ear of God and the authority to relate unto us mere peons what the will of the almighty is.  In this case, the stupid idea of compelling the national U.S. government to balance its books every year.  There are very sound economic reasons why this is a preposterously unfeasible way to manage the national budget.  Even more preposterous is the idea that the Republicans would not immediately break their own rule in order to increase the military budget without having to actually raise taxes in order to do it.

This is a man who has laid the theoretical foundation for making all abortions illegal, terminating Social Security and Medicare, and abandoning the United Nations.  God told me to.  And if I tell you that that is what God thinks, I am right you are wrong.  There can be no debate with God.  There can be no compromise.

Tim Scott appears to be a decent man– by Republican standards.  He is civil.  No personal scandals that I know of.  And here’s an oddity, like Lindsay Graham, he is unmarried.   Born in 1965, which makes him about 60, and unmarried.   What does that mean?  Does it mean what I think it means in regard to Lindsay Graham?  I feel free to speculate because there is nothing wrong with being gay, but he is opposed to homosexual marriage, which would raise a host of fabulous intricacies in the perception of his social values.

His Justice Reform Bill, which got 55 votes in the Senate (not enough to bypass the filibuster) is not all bad.  It’s not enough, but it’s a step in the right direction.  He wants to rescind the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something more anodyne to Republicans, a nod to the fact that the act has actually become pretty popular.  How to reduce the phenomenal growth of health care costs?  Tort reform.  It’s the “Mental Health” red herring for health care: something that will have virtually no impact on the problem it is supposed to solve but makes it sound like the Republicans are doing something about it.

He rather pathetically dodges reporters’ questions on the abortion issue but says he is against it but would sign a national 20-week ban if he was president.  That is really a very odd position.   He knows he desperately needs the votes of the most hypocritical demographic in the nation– evangelical “christians”– so he can’t be in favor of abortion rights, which makes a national ban at 20 weeks problematic.  So he says he defers to state governments on the issues, which is the very epitome of passing the buck, equivocating, and, frankly, lying.

We know how Republicans handle deficits.  When we have all the reigns of government (as they were in the first two years of the Trump Administration) they cut taxes which balloons the deficit and refuse to cut program spending because they know how unpopular that would make them.  So the deficit is suddenly not a problem.  (Trump added more to the deficit than any previous president).

It is only when the Democrats have the White House that their crocodile tears appear.  I don’t expect Scott to be any exception.  If he won, by some ridiculous sequence of events, like every other republican president in the past fifty years, he will do nothing about it.



Rescue the Penguin

Saw a video today about animal rescues. A penguin being chased by orcas jumped into a zodiac boat, helped by the passengers. They patted him kindly and cheered. Heart-warming. An orca stranded on the rocks at low tide, were helped by other people who kept him wet until the tide returned and he could swim off. And eat the penguin.

The $1,200 Hockey Stick

“Total bill: $42,156.50, covering emergency surgery, scans, laboratory testing, and three hours in a recovery room. His insurer has said it will pay him about $8,184 (7,260.40 in Swiss francs), which is double the procedure’s price in Switzerland. This left him to cover the remaining roughly $34,000.” NPR

Presidential Candidate Tim Scott says America has the greatest healthcare system in the world. Yet this same procedure would cost about 1/7th the price in Switzerland, which is not exactly a backwater. Wait– no, it’s 1/10th (the insurance company voluntarily paid double). This is Switzerland- not Thailand or the Philippines (not that there’s anything deficient about health care in those countries).

If you took anything produced in some other country and gave an American company 10 times what it cost in that country and said see if you can produce one that’s better, well, heck, yeah, I think they probably could. They could certainly equal it. So if an American company could produce, say, a hockey stick for $1,200, I guess they could say it was the greatest hockey stick in the world and they might be right. If you want hockey sticks to cost $1,200.

Does that make the American company “the greatest”? I would argue that if it cost that much to make a hockey stick when everyone else knows how to make one for 1/10 the cost, they might be the worst.

And I’ll bet those sticks would break just as quickly as the $120 Canadian sticks. In terms of health care results, that is demonstrably true (life expectancy in the U.S. is lower than most other developed countries, including Canada).

The most depressing part of the story is the long list of itemized charges on this guy’s bill. It’s like this giant mechanical octopus with 100 arms wrapping itself around you and sucking as much blood out of you as it can. You’ll live, but those suction cup marks will be around for a long time.

The Indefinite Obscurely Described Effusively Vague President of the Television Political Drama

I’ve pretty well had it with TV dramas and their predictable, formulaic, antiseptic, generic piss-pot features.

I watched about ten minutes of the Netflix drama “The Diplomat”.   The first bad sign is also the most fatal: what political party does the President belong to?  The answer?  None.   Apparently, the biggest, most central, most essential dynamic of American politics is absent– like Barbie’s Ken’s penis– because the fucking makers of this show don’t want to offend the half of America that doesn’t like the other half’s political party.

Oh, the British prime-minister is identified as a Tory.  I presume that is so they can safely mock him.  But it makes it even more bizarre that Rayburn is not identified as a Democrat, which is obviously what the show’s creators intend Democrats to think.  Republicans will have to be content imagining that there could be an intelligent, ethical Republican president, and will be gratified to discover that Rayburn is not identified as otherwise in an obvious manner.  But everybody knows that an intelligent, rational, educated leader will be a Democrat or John McCain.

This has been a monumentally stupid component of American mass entertainment since the beginning of television time, right up to just before “The West Wing”, and immediately thereafter.  “The West Wing” brilliantly defied this convention and that’s why it is still regarded as one of the best Television dramas of all time (along with “The Wire”).

Go ahead and tell me if I missed anything.  Keri Russell, using her most anguished constipated oh-I-suffer-so face, plays Kate Wyler, a spunky but smart and competent American diplomat who doesn’t get the respect she deserves even though she is clearly way smarter and spunkier than President Rayburn and his fat, bald Secretary of State Miguel Sandoval, who disapproves when (sigh) Kate “goes rogue to get the job done”.

Kate is not only an overly familiar trope; she is a cliche.  Hers is probably the most familiar trope in entertainment right now: the supposedly tough, roguish, smart, feisty female who shows up all the privileged white men.  The female fans go, “oh — I’m like her. I’m smart and capable and feisty– and smoking hot!– and I don’t get the respect and admiration I deserve!”  This is the media’s form of masturbation.  There will almost certainly be a scene in which she is dragged kicking and screaming to some big event in a fabulous gown and high heels.  Because if she willingly dressed in a fabulous gown and high heels she would be revealed as a vain, superficial, poseur.

Having just watched “State of Play” (the terrific BBC version; not the lame movie with Russell Crowe and Helen Mirren), my taste in political drama has been corrupted.  I’ve watched extensive patches of the contrived “The Americans” and the tediously suffocating “Homeland”.   But after watching “State of Play”, I allowed myself to expect reasonably credible story lines, and I expect characters to be a little less transparently self-serving and narcissistic.

There is no way that any politician or executive with the privilege that they wield would put up with a self-righteous little snit like Kate Wyler telling them they are wrong and they should listen to her and do what she tells them.  Nobody in a position of power will tolerate it.  It’s an affront to their self-respect and egos.  Even if she’s right, they won’t keep her around.  Actually, especially if she’s right.  And in “The Diplomat” aside from the usual defensively scripted token “error” (her only fault was she cared too much), Kate is going to be right all the time, and the men around her are going to be wrong over and over again, and yet they will thrash that dynamic at you over and over again because it is so fucking gratifying to the quasi-feminist audiences out there they will just eat it up.

Incidentally, in some later episodes of “The West Wing”, the writers had Toby and Leo arguing vigorously with President Bartlett and telling him he was doing something unethical or stupid.  These were the weakest episodes of the series and betrayed the fundamental intelligence of the first four years under Aaron Sorkin who understood that no President, no matter how competent,  would tolerate an underling lecturing him on ethics — at least, not for any longer than it would take to have them hand in their resignation.

The RIM Job

The makers of the film about the founding of RIM (Research In Motion) and inventors of the Blackberry heap contempt on the idea that the story should be even reasonably accurate.  “The Sound of Music” was not accurate, and it won eight Oscars, they say.

“The Sound of Music” was a piece of well-polished saccharine kitsch, and did you really mean to say that winning an Oscar proves anything but that your promotional machinery is working?

Maria Von Trapp, we know, did not actually love the Captain.

And Leonard Nimoy was not actually a Vulcan.

Seriously, what bothers me about the way Hollywood changes the facts is not that stories are edited but that the edits invariably cater to the cheesiest preferences and prejudices of mass audiences. If you want to make up a story, just make up a story. Yes, that requires talent and creativity and imagination. But if you are not just a generic pop factory and you want to claim your story is “based” on truth, you owe it to history to tell the truth with reasonable accuracy.  Oh, don’t pooh-pooh the idea that there is a social responsibility side to pop culture.  There is, and you are contemptible for ignoring it.

Audiences want to believe that their fantasies have a weird kind of “truthiness” as Stephen Colbert would describe it.  Like pornography.

It’s saccharine.

Someone Who Will Die for You and More

Lightfoot had expressed regret and repentance for one of his greatest songs, “For Lovin’ Me”.
“I’ve got a hundred more like you / So don’t be blue;
I’ll have a thousand ‘fore I’m through.”

Wow. Two minutes and 35 seconds of “So long, sucker”.

But I think he’s wrong about the regret. It’s a vivid portrait of a type of person, a time and place, an era, and real attitudes and values, even if we don’t admire those attitudes today. (We probably didn’t admire them then either.) It’s like a drama about an unlikeable hero, and there’s value in encountering it in song or drama or literature. It’s like “King Lear”: the actor shouldn’t feel bad later that he brought the fool to life: it’s drama. It’s certainly real. And it’s a far more authentic song than “Sundown” which I always felt was not much more than a catchy riff. When you think about it, “Sundown” isn’t dissimilar in one way: the message is still “get lost”. It might even be to the same woman.

Other songs in kinship:
“Baby the Rain Must Fall”
“Green Green”
“We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” (the rare female perspective)
“Heard it in a Love Song”

I find “Baby the Rain Must Fall” a classic in the category of making caddishness sound inspirational:

Baby, the rain must fall
Baby, the wind must blow,
Where-ever my heart leads me,
Baby I must go,
Baby I must go.

See? He’s not being a jerk. It’s the wind and the rain that compels him to dump the girl.

In contrast, Bob Dylan:

You say you’re looking for someone
Who will promise never to part
Someone to close his eyes for you
Someone to close his heart
Someone who will die for you and more
It aint me, babe.

And that’s why I still think Dylan is such a remarkable songwriter. And maybe the best. No disrespect for Lightfoot, who was brilliant, but Dylan takes the same situation to a higher, far more interesting level. And that line ending with “and more”!!

Anyway… just rambling about “love ’em and leave ’em” lyrics and Gord.