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–*Katy Perry’s mint green dress reminds viewers that if it was good taste they were worried about, why were they watching the Grammys in the first place?

–*A smile can change your day, but John Mayer can change it back.

–*You just can’t say “Chris Brown’s greatest hits” without smirking anymore, can you?

–*Most of the night’s awards go to some hot new group named “Hashtag.”

–*After finally finding true love and ending a life of romantic drama and turmoil, Taylor Swift releases her new song, “No Fries, I Don’t Need The Carbs.”

–*Let’s see. How the pop. Band fun. Likes it when we. Mess around with punctuation. How do you. Like getting your band name. Totally lost in a sea of. Confusing text. Assholes?

–Grammy producers lamented that it really helps the “wow” factor of the show if Whitney Houston dies hours before the ceremonies start.

–*Prince announces that the song “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Belgian-Australian artist Gotye has won the Grammy for best pop song of 1983.

–*After being snubbed for a Grammy in the category of best recitative for his album of spoken-word encyclicals, Pope Benedict resigns the papacy in protest the next day.

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A little video I made for my song “Ford 632.”

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The 9/11 Tribute In Light

This is a bit of an update to yesterday’s post. The cowards at “The Rumpus” didn’t post my comment. So you can officially file that site under the heading “Glib, small-dicked wussies masquerading as dissenters but secretly afraid of dissent.” Yes, a cumbersome file name, but I’m not much of a bureaucrat.

Again, I’m not one for sad anniversaries, but I have noticed that I do commemorate 9/11 in a very special way. Every year, I seem to become a Republican for a day. This isn’t by design; it simply seems to be the nature of the arguments I have. When far leftists tend to discuss Sept. 11, they usually have one of two problems: 1) Even if they kindly acknowledge it as a mass murder (thanks, pinkos!), they still have to carefully couch their language so that it meets the prescriptive of their doctrinaire worldview (America’s behavior on the world stage means this action was understandable). Or 2) They deny we were attacked altogether and insist 9/11 was an inside job.

I tried to pulverize that first argument yesterday, though I left out a couple of side notes: If the writer for the Rump Ass considered his “compassionate celestial” view more carefully, he would have realized that a celestial view isn’t a compassionate one at all. It’s simply indifferent. I would challenge the writer to interview a family member of one of the 9/11 victims, to ask specifics of how their loved one died, and then dare ask the question: “Did you know, when your husband ran back into the building to save those last three people on the stairwell, who America was giving money to in El Salvador in 1983?” As it happens, I did interview family members after 9/11. It caused me great anguish because I felt their pain in many ways was none of my business. I should have known, however, that I was helping keep their memories alive. This clod at The Rump Ass, however, brags about his unfamiliarity with those who died, and therefore his Wittgenstein-like refusal to speak of things he knows not. It’s for a very simple reason. If he ever had to interview a family member or write a profile of somebody at Cantor Fitzgerald who died instantly and had never even heard the name Osama Bin Laden, he would go back and look at the horrible article he wrote for the Rump Ass and he would destroy it. He would print it out and dip it in kerosene and burn every word and bury the ashes in quicklime. And he would have wished to god he had not spoken with such glibness and vanity about compassion being selective. He would have realized he traded empathy for doctrine. This guy says, 150,000 people died around the planet on 9/11, so why are 2700 Americans special? Should I similarly disregard anybody who died in Rwanda in 1994 because each of those days saw thousands of deaths elsewhere? Does it not bear remarking that most people don’t die horrifically everyday for political reasons when they are struck down by machetes or trapped in buildings that have turned into ovens? The Rwandans just wanted to kill each other, so why should I care or hope my government should do anything about it? If the author chooses not to show compassion for political reasons on 9/11, then he would have to spread that dispassionate view equally to Rwandans. Can he? Would he?

But let’s look at No. 2, the 9/11 Truthers. I was once working with a filmmaker from Germany on a Long Island movie, and we hit it off. Then on the subway ride home he tried to convince me that no men in caves could have brought down the Twin Towers, and that it was obviously a controlled demolition. I was thoroughly disgusted. It was a bit like finding out you’ve hit it off with a racist or an anti-Semite or a cannibal. One of the first things any engineer, philosopher, writer, linguist, philologist or doctor would know in his respective field is the rule of simplicity. It’s called Occam’s Razor and it means you don’t overcomplicate simple insight to fit a theory. Engineers don’t try to improve on the Pythagoras theorem by changing the numbers in gravity. Writers don’t come up with a hundred jargon words to say “The dog walked down the street.” Doctors don’t triple check a broken arm by opening a person’s heart. And a real thinker doesn’t remove the plane from a plane crash. This is logic so simple that my infant son would know it. And yet every time I’m on this here CB radio called the Internet I must confront people who say that the Twin Towers were brought down in an inside job, theoretically because g-men had days and days and days to plan and ably overcame bureaucracies and witnesses not noticing the tons of explosives being placed around the complex. The smoking gun: George Bush wanted war in Iraq. Therefore he destroyed the towers. There. It’s proved.

The fact that so many Americans believe this is truly chilling. These people are also, we presume, driving cars and raising children and handling knives. If you point out the fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc, they have the easiest retort in the world–they simply add you to the plot. Dehumanize you and your argument. George Bush has programmed you. It doesn’t occur to them that if you simply agreed with them to avoid confrontation, you would be much more of an automaton, much more a tool of somebody else’s will.

Why do people complicate simple insights? Helplessness. When the world seems bigger than you are, when you personalize complex events and the world makes you feel small, vulnerable, feckless and inferior, a conspiracy theory is one of those things that gives you false sense of power. You are suddenly part of a group of people who know a secret. Having joined a group, having become a joiner in the worst sense of the word, you ironically enjoy a feeling of false emancipation. You think you are a free thinker, even though you haven’t done the work free thinking requires: due diligence, proving steps, finding chains of causality, finding the simplest explanations. Having your ideas put up to scrutiny.

It is doubly repulsive because the Truthers, I think, are the people who made the world safe for another detestable “-er,” the Birther movement. I see these two buds inextricably intertwined like roses on a trellis. It was the Truthers who created a toxic polemical environment where even proof of Barack Obama’s citizenship with a birth certificate was no longer proof. Witnesses were no longer witnesses. Hospitals are no longer hospitals. Hawaii is no longer a state.  The real insight is that Barack Obama is black, and so how could he be president, ask the Birthers, of “our” country. The same logic is at play with Truthers. “George Bush wanted a war, so how could 9/11 have really been plotted by the people like Islamist extremists who made categorical confessions of their own guilt?”

The rest is window dressing. Truthers pull out lots of meaningless specific heat capacity calculations to prove their theory that paper fires don’t melt steel. You try to tell them that steel doesn’t have to melt in order to stop doing its job, and for that you’ll get called a Manchurian candidate. Or they point out that falling debris can’t fall down on top of more debris with the speed of gravity because the building itself is “the path of least resistance.” In other words, the Twin Towers should have fallen over on their sides if they were destroyed by planes. Never mind that a house of cards wouldn’t fall over “on its side” if you knocked it down. Never mind that if you watch videos, the impact points of destruction start from the top and move down, where the falling floors cumulatively add new destructive weight, whereas controlled demolitions start from the bottom (using gravity as a weapon, perhaps the best weapon). Raise your hand if you saw the Twin Towers crumble from the bottom.

But again, by getting into these arguments, you remove the planes (some people actually try to do that too, by making 9/11 the world’s greatest advertisement for PhotoShop ever). To remove the planes makes you a non-thinker. A partisan who places himself at the center of a paranoid web of strange facts and non-facts. I’d feel better frankly, if many of these people just admitted they were lying. Then they would merely be scumbags. Instead, they poison the sort of thinking required of enlightened individuals to synthesize, dialectically, a better world. They’re making us all stupider.

I thought to further my contribution to a better world, I might offer some of the better Web sites debunking the Truthers. Here is one from a site called “Implosion World.” They say they are independent. So to Truthers, that means they’re probably part of the plot.

And then there’s this wonderful YouTube video that gives common sense descriptions of what happened when the planes hit the towers. If you are a non-Truther, I bid you a nice time enjoying your brain.

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After young Florida mom Casey Anthony was acquitted for the murder of her child, Americans are asking: What have we learned?

–*Whenever you’re going to borrow a shovel, always delegate that task if there might be a dead infant in your life.

–*A young mom has important choices to make in life, starting with whether she should use chloroform or ether.

–*The idea of closure is a hoax propagated by the media, the Bible and Nancy Grace, when we ought to know that real closure is never possible in a world of irreversibility at the quantum mechanical level.

–*A lynch mob, we ought to remember, doesn’t deserve any justice. If real reasonable doubt belayed the execution of a person, we ought to see a bit of sunshine in that because it means emotions didn’t drive our justice system.

–*Emotions drive our justice system.

–*The guy in “12 Angry Men” was probably way more guilty than Casey Anthony, and yet we cheered when he was let off the hook. Maybe you should go back and watch 12 Angry Men again.

–*Perhaps if you put as much energy into the cases of innocent blacks as you do seemingly guilty whites, the world would be a better place.

–*Most people believe that Casey Anthony still has to answer to her maker someday. Make no mistake, that is a comforting thought only to the deluded person believing it.

–*We got Osama bin Laden, woo hoo!

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I just wanted to wish everybody a Happy Fourth of July. My newborn son arrived home from the ICU a week and a half ago, and I haven’t had much time to post, especially given the thoughtful, meticulous and manifestly obsessive/compulsive way I draft these epistles to you, my dear readers.

But just because I haven’t written much down on the subject of my son’s arrival doesn’t mean I have nothing to say. So I’ll just describe it in one word: It’s the aleph. It feels like life has started again. It’s magical, tiring, infuriating and frightening being a dad. Every day I worry that I’ll do something stupid and accidentally kill him, and then get my strength back when I see that he is indeed alive and breathing and happy. I’m also in love in many ways I never thought I could be. Now I know why people feel compelled to look at pictures of their children–even if the children are standing right next to them. Now I know what it’s like to feel like you love someone so much it hurts. Even when he is vomiting and peeing all over you.

There’s a beautiful line at the end of “Bright Lights, Big City” (a book that has been called overrated so often that everybody has seriously underrated it) in which the protagonist, having suffered a life of bohemian dissolution, realizes he’s going to have to learn to live all over again. I think of being a dad the same way. There are lessons and ideas and things passed on to me by my parents that I took for granted, that have become so ingrained you forgot they were important. Now I have to deconstruct myself and rebuild and share what I know, making sure not to skip the important parts. I’ll have to teach my boy how to live in a moral universe and somehow re-attack the paradoxes and dilemmas and ironies that made the journey frustrating, distressing and sometimes heart-breaking. I’ll have to tell him how to love completely, and then at the same time, someday, be able to let him go.

The journey begins.

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As a young mommy on the go, one of the hardest decisions you’ll have to make is choosing a baby stroller. Some are as tricked out as motorcycles; others are traditional like baby prams–good if you live in Victorian England, but not so good if you ride the subway.

If you are subway rider, you’ll love the Citi Mini baby jogger. With the Citi Mini you can take your baby to hell and back and not even muss the three hairs on his head. Put aside the fact that these compact, lightweight, functional cruisers collapse in a nano-second. They also come in wicked fierce colors! If you’re a New Yorker like me, though, you’ll want to paint it black!

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Many young mommies might hear from their OB/GYNs that they have a “low-lying placenta.” This can be a great worry in the third trimester, because it means that the placenta is blocking the cervix, increasing the chances of a C-section. But never fear, young mommies! There is still time for the placenta to move up into the right position, closer to the upper uterus where there is better blood circulation and nutrients–and thus less risk of pre-term delivery.

However, if after 28 weeks the placenta is still low-lying, it’s time to reduce or stop exercise and leave off the sex. I know that daddies will be unhappy, but baby will thank you!

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You’ve got to give Newt Gingrich credit. He manages to carry the torch of leading intellectual light of the Republican party, even as he says nonsensical things to boobs. It’s admirable because despite the fallibility of the man on paper, his celebrity is unshakable reality, the same way Kim Kardashian’s is. Just as she is now “a singer,” a fact true enough to resist critique since she indeed sings, Gingrich is now the Republican party’s thinker, because he indeed appears to be breathing and thus his thinking must be taken for granted.

His latest caveat to the faithful is that America within his grandchildren’s time will become socialist and secular but also Islamist. Work that out. He said it to a bunch of evangelicals. Not as a theologian, he reminded them, but as a historian, one who had nothing historical to point out except that everything the Christians believed was true. We might ask, if indeed the evangelicals are right, what need is there for history? What must a historian say to evangelicals? Why even wave those credentials? All we can find in history are strange peculiarities like the fact that our “Christian founding fathers” had several closet atheists among them, including chief framer Thomas Jefferson, who is mainly a Christian by default, since he held no beliefs recognizable to modern Christian ears. Gingrich is shocked that the courts of our country have grown “steadily more secular.” Yes, we should finds it indeed blood-chilling that secular courts should be the progeny of a manifestly secular document, the U.S. Constitution.

It’s chilling that a historian might not challenge a few people who might need a history lesson. Instead, he has done what historians ought not be in the business of doing: predicting the future. FYI: It’s Muslims everywhere. In our halls, streams and sink traps.

I once met a German filmmaker who was visiting our country during the thick of the Iraq War. He was shocked and disgusted by what he found. The generations of Germans who followed the Nazis had been, in the long process of de-Nazification, warned repeatedly about the misuses of propaganda, taught how to resist it when it was used by malefactors and mountebanks. And what had my German friend found when he got here: It appeared to him that the United States had not yet purged its own attraction to brazenly chauvinist, nationalist appeals by narrow minded politicians seeking short-term gain. Our country had seemingly vanquished his, but in the end we actually lost on the ideals. Sorry krauts, guess we owe you for that one.

Gingrich might still have a chance at becoming the presidential candidate in 2012, one whose past infidelities and marriage butchering (the kind of antics that make still-married Bill Clinton look positively saintly) will be a turn off to the one group he’s trying most desperately to court: the Bible thumpers.

The man is a tragic political figure in many ways. Even skeptics admit he’s always loved big ideas–he was a friend of the Internet early and seemed less a reactionary than a cold-blooded futurist, one whose clarity in a post-New Deal world might be necessary or even helpful (maybe even disinfected, we hoped, of racism). But in his other lung, he has always loved him the filthy smelly swill of partisan politics and been willing to roll in it like a pig in shit, loved it enough to compromise all his ideals for small political gains, been willing to lead a plurality of shitheads to minority political death. You might accuse Clinton of the same impulsive emotionalism, except that Clinton continued to pursue his big ideas and still manage to win elections (and remain married to his wife–as of 2011, anyway).

Gingrich, unlike Clinton, has always showed the unerring stupidity to win battles and lose wars. Now he would solve the problem of our political divisiveness by imposing a rigid Christianity throughout the land, something that independents, Obama skeptics that they are, will not tolerate.

The desperation and hind-titty playing is obvious almost daily as Gingrich tries to position himself as anointed 2012 white hope following Sarah Palin’s post-Tucson meltdown. Within a two-week period, Gingrich chastised Barack Obama both for going to Libya and for not going to Libya fast enough. He blasted an anti-authoritarian revolution in Egypt as being somehow corrupted by its occurrence in an Islamic country. He told Obama to act more like Reagan and less like Jimmy Carter. For those of you who trust “historian” Gingrich on this,  a bit of digging into a fifth grade history book will remind you that Jimmy Carter made peace between Egypt and Israel and Ronald Reagan led an air strike on Libya that failed to remove its president. There is a good reason to criticize Barack Obama’s approach to a troubled Libya. If Gingrich had gone for the analytical tack rather than the soundbytes, he might have ended up looking less like an idiot every time events changed within the day. Instead, he looks like he’s willing to say anything. He looks small.

I liken him to the conservative mirror image of Charles Foster Kane. The great man who might be lurking in there is too much a slave to his compulsions, even it seems to his libido. He cannot seem to get beyond the concept of “us” and “them,” and yet doesn’t seem to realize that his “us” is getting smaller and his “them” is increasingly including the rest of us.

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Notes On Japan

One hesitates to harp on platitudes at such an awful moment for the people of northern Japan, when so many thousands of people have been killed in the deadly earthquake/tsunami, when we all watch in horror as trucks, fishing smacks and even houses float away and the people in the area are  threatened by nuclear reactor meltdown and radiation sickness. However, the human being is a narrative-seeking creature and we seek to reframe and reframe events even before they’ve finished eventing. So I will comment a bit on the comments, even as my heart thinks of Japan and its pain.

There are many issues here to wring hands over, one of the most high profile of which is the future of nuclear power. The disaster will likely set back the acceptance of this kind of energy creation all over the world, even though that would mean a continued reliance on fossil fuels that are not only contributing to global warming but also have their own safety issues and numerous catastrophes. Oil rig explosions and coal mine collapses don’t threaten thousands of people with thyroid cancer all at once, but cumulatively you could say that their effect is more insidious and more deadly. Last weekend, Slate offered a smart assessment of what might happen if we turn our backs on nuclear power. Unfortunately, the author wasn’t prudent enough to wait a few days to see whether some reactors in Japan might actually prang before assessing the situation. By the next day, his comments were already covered in cobwebs as the Fukushima Daiichi plant started leaking radiation. One reactor saw three backup cooling systems fail and its rods become dangerously exposed. By Wednesday, the U.S. government was telling Americans to stay 50 miles away from the plant.

There are lots of enthusiasts saying that with prudent policy (and the foresight not to build nuclear reactors on fault lines) then nuclear power still offers us the best way out of this hot house orchid environment we’re creating. But you’d also have to argue that it requires the right kind of oversight and regulation and the full confidence of people in a strong government. So for that reason, I’m still skeptical. Sure, levees work against floods, but as the people of New Orleans would tell you, they’re only as good as the bureaucracies that keep them up to date. Tight-fistedness over the expense for a decent levee system and jurisdiction arguments over emergency response led to the New Orleans catastrophe. Meanwhile, we could hardly trust a free market to take care of safety. In 2010, corporate cost cutting, arrogance and a past contempt for safety regulations at BP offered the backdrop for the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Twenty-one concrete stabilizers are great. Six are cheaper. That ought to be a sobering thought to free-market fundamentalists. Yet nothing sobers people drunk on ideology. Not even a plate of crow.

Japan’s government has also become the news. Supposedly, the island is run by a techocrats, not politicians. Who knew? Of course, you should have known, America, because you have 47,000 troops there and have helped run the place, at least militarily, since 1945. Though we didn’t exactly colonize Japan, the American influence on political life there is hard to ignore. America’s legacy, the article says, is a defanged political class in Japan, which has been led instead by integrated business and bureaucracy. As those sectors wane, no powerful political leadership apparatus has been built in their stead. The New York Times article is fascinating for bringing this up, but it also raises troubling political science questions about what leadership means. What the article seems to tacitly ask for is a grandstanding politician in Japan to mug in front of the cameras to tell people they are going to be all right. But I wonder to what extent that kind of leadership is the invention of the media, especially a cult-of-personality media like the kind we have here in the West. If I were in northern Japan right now, I’d want knowledgeable local leaders telling me the truth, dispensing facts and potassium iodide tablets and not lying to me about the real nuclear threat. The article also posits that Japan might benefit from a strong opposition party making political hay out of the catastrophe to offer accountability. But the Japanese, because of their cultural bias against (and, oddly, their subjugation by) a two-party country, don’t really have or want two strong parties of their own.

It reminds me again of Katrina. There are people who are still angry that that horrible turn of events in the weather was politicized. (Would Democrats have blamed Noah for the flood?) But if you have ever worked for the government, you know that the tragedy in the gulf was indeed a government failure–a small government failure, that is. You might see a power vacuum in Japan. But was it worse than the one we saw in New Orleans, where citizens in the richest country on earth were left dying in a parking lot for the whole world to see on CNN?

I wanted to send money to Japan, of course, but my favored organization, Doctors Without Borders, was not earmarking for the catastrophe. I wondered why and Slate again offered me some idea: Japan is too rich. The money earmarked for the tsunami might not be used. But it would be restricted and not redeployed, which means it sits in Japan and does nothing. And then if Turkey was ravaged by an earthquake next week, well … tough titty for Turkey.

I might anyway, just because I feel helpless and hurt for this country, which I visited last year and loved. Helplessness is probably part of the reason we tell stories and overanalyze. Just one of the ways we cope.

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The big entertainment news this week was that “True Grit,” a film largely shunned at the Golden Globe awards, suddenly leapfrogged over the competition to become the second-most-nominated film at this year’s Oscars. Why, you wonder? I submit this answer: Because it was one of the best films of last year! A work that somehow managed to be visually superb, verbally dense (no contractions!) and formalistic, spare, violent, exciting, misanthropic and warmhearted all at the same time. Stuff that was lost on the star fuckers at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who call their show the “Golden” Globes, but barely offer a hedge against inflation. Especially star inflation.

No, the real surprise is no surprise at all–that the Golden Globes don’t count. But you’re likely to see a proliferation of more award shows anyway, because unlike the S&P 500 in the last decade, they’ve actually created some wealth. Especially for Ryan Seacrest.

Another scandal erupted this week when critics in Britain decried the the questionable historical accuracy of “The King’s Speech.” Evidently, according to the movie, England is ruled by a royal dynasty. But it turns out they have no political legitimacy whatsoever. Whoops! Call the gaffe squad!

If you have seen “The Social Network,” you likely admire it as much as I do. Indeed, it is very, very hard to make an exciting movie about typing, mouse clicking and legal arbitration hearings. But those qualities in and of themselves don’t make the movie better than “True Grit.” Try speaking without contractions all day today and still make yourself sound interesting. That’s even HARDER.

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