Thursday, July 31, 2008

Playing in the Dark

(With apologies to Toni Morrison, but it had to be.)

Moose insisted we were not going to post today. "Nope, Rox," she said, "noop, nuh-uh, not gonna do it." She was so determined not to post that she decided today would be the day she re-organized drawers and closets and polished her jewelry in advance of the fall semester. When I pointed out that she hadn't even ordered her books for fall and suggested that the sudden interest in sweaters and earrings might be an avoidance tactic, she shot me one of those frightening "Mommie Dearest" looks that made me think I might be next in line for cleaning and polishing if I didn't get out of her way. I snuck downstairs for a nap while she was looking for an old toothbrush to help get the tarnish off those hard-to-reach spots on a brooch she inherited from her beloved grandmother Jane.

To tell you the truth, I can understand Moose's blog-avoidance today. I mean, if we were to post, we'd have to weigh in on the utter nonsense that has now completely overtaken the presidential race and all the commentary about it. McCain is a racist! Obama is playing the race card! The word "presumptuous" is part of a complex racial/racist code that you need a dogwhistle to understand!

Dogwhistle??? Digby -- o great and powerful and blazingly intelligent politics 'n media blogger whom we revere more than just about anybody in the 'sphere -- have you lost your mind? I mean, look, I get the whole concept of the dogwhistle, being a dog and everything, though I've never actually heard one and probably couldn't hear one now, being nearly deaf and all, and of course you're right that Republicans have developed a pretty sophisticated system for appealing to racist sentiments among some voters without being obvious or explicit enough to offend everybody else, but does that mean that every time anybody uses the word "presumptuous" to describe Barack Obama they are telegraphing the idea that he is "uppity," as in, "an uppity N-word?" Really? Digby?

The guy is 46 years old. He spent 143 days in the United States Senate before launching his presidential campaign. He gave speeches behind an ersatz presidential seal and celebrated his presumptive (if I may) nomination by taking an international tour in which he met with heads of state. Of the crowds who turned out to see him in Europe, he said, "I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions." I dunno, Digby. Call me crazy, call me racist, or call me an old dog with really bad hearing, but that all sounds pretty darned presumptuous to me. I even checked the OED, and it says that "presumptuous" means "unduly confident or bold; arrogant, forward, impertinent, overweening." I suppose you could add the word "uppity" to that list of synonyms, but does that mean that "presumptuous" is always racist when used in reference to an African American? Or only when the speaker is white, in which case, well, I'm just really confused?

Help on old dog out here, Digby. I'm trying to wrap my paws around this whole whistle conundrum you've set up. Roxie's World was critical of Senator Obama through much of the primary season and has grown more deeply disappointed with him since that season ended on June 7 with the formal suspension of Hillary Clinton's campaign. Much of our criticism has been directed at what we have judged to be considerable evidence of presumptuousness on Senator Obama's part. He rubs us the wrong way because his confidence often comes across to us as arrogance. His efforts to appear and act "presidential" suggest to us that he thinks his election is a foregone conclusion. Voters are mere spectators to a show whose ending has already been written. Does that mean we've been blowing the dogwhistle without knowing it? Can a dog blow a dogwhistle, Digby?

Boy, I'm really starting to understand why Moose didn't want to post today. I can see why she just wanted to toss up a few links and tell you to
  • Go read Historiann. She's got a great piece up on a hilarious/pathetic open letter The Nation has published begging Obama to "stand firm on the [allegedly progressive] principles he so compellingly articulated in the primary campaign." Quick, quick! More Kool-Aid, more Kool-Aid! My brain is starting to work again, and it hurts!
  • Go read Lanny Davis's Wall Street Journal opinion on why Obama should select Hillary for veep. It may be tinkling into the wind at this point, but we still think that's the winningest ticket Dems could put together this year. It would be foolhardy for the party to ignore evidence in recent polls that Obama has still not closed the sale with a lot of voters and sheer lunacy to suppose that the closer is likely to be the anti-choice Tim Kaine, the homophobic Sam Nunn, or the beyond-bland Evan Bayh. Not even the Hoosier in our household can get behind that sleep-inducing possibility.
Here's the thing, kids. It's a long way to November. Voters will justifiably tune out in disgust if this thing turns into a playground brawl over who's playing the race card. Such a brawl demeans both the candidates and the process in which they are participating. Our language and all the semiotic systems that shape U.S. culture are so thoroughly racialized -- one might even say racist-ized -- that it is almost impossible for any speaker to make a criticism of a person of another race that doesn't seem racially charged. Which is not to defend McCain's stunningly stupid "celebrity" ad linking Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton or the obnoxious new rap by Ludacris that calls Hillary Clinton a bitch and urges African-American voters to paint the White House black. Those are examples of entirely avoidable idiocies that you don't need a dogwhistle or a decoder ring to figure out.

We get that the progressive blogosphere is on high alert, ready to blow up the Swiftboats of racist innuendo that are sure to be headed in Senator Obama's direction. Nonetheless, we confess to being depressed indeed by the prospect of the long daze of summer being followed by a discontented autumn of charges, counter charges, and long-winded commentaries upon the charges as the nation loses itself in a pointless game of pin the tail on the racist. Such a game will do nothing to ameliorate the deep and real problems of structural racism, and it will likely be of little help in motivating voters to get to the polls in November.

But, hey, I guess it'll be a whole lot more fun than trying to figure out the differences between the candidate who thinks we should stay in Iraq for a hundred years and the candidate whose plan to "end" the war in Iraq turns out to be a plan to accelerate the war in Afghanistan. Yo, dudes -- Spin me 'round in a circle, and hand me that tail. I got a game to play!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Wedding Planners


Bi-coastal battle for same-sex wedding biz heats up as MA legislature repeals 1913 law that had prevented non-resident queers from marrying in MA!

Gov. Deval Patrick has indicated he will sign the repeal and vows to challenge California for the coveted title of Homo Nuptial Capital of the USA! "Hell, yes," Patrick said when asked if he supported the repeal. "We want queers all over these United States to know that Massachusetts realizes gay money is GREEN, and we want those homo dollars to come pouring into our great commonwealth. There is no reason on earth for San Francisco and Napa Valley to suck up all that gay disposable income when we have perfectly elegant B&Bs and progressive churches all over the state -- from the rolling hills of the Connecticut River valley in the west (also known, I am told, as Lesbian Land) to the sandy tip of Cape Cod in the east, where the tea dances never stop. Come one, come all -- Massachusetts is open for the marriage business!"

The Massachusetts Office of Economic Development also announced today that as soon as Gov. Patrick signs the bill, the state will change its motto from the decidedly un-queer, "Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem" (Translation: "By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty") to the much more festive-sounding, "You're here? You're queer? Get MARRIED!"

No word yet on how California plans to respond to this unexpected challenge to its recently staked claim to the national gay marriage biz, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was reportedly considering a nuclear attack on the Bay State. "Damn those chardonnay-swilling East Coast liberals," he thundered. "Those pansy dollars are MINE!"

(Story picked up by way of Pam's House Blend, but the full scoop is in Bay Windows.)

Note to Readers: Every word of this story is true, with the possible exception of the quotes attributed to Gov. Deval Patrick and Gov. Arnold Shwarzenegger, and, oh, yeah, the stuff about changing the MA state motto. That bit about California nuking Massachusetts, though? We're standing by that one. If it ain't true yet, it soon will be. Hell hath no fury like an Ah-nold scorned.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Up to No Good(ling)

(Photo Credit: Mark Wilson, via NPR; Monica Goodling testifying before Congress in May 2007 about her role in the firing of nine U.S. attorneys.)

The guys in Clicks and Eyeballs were puzzled earlier today by a number of hits to Roxie's World from Google searches on Monica Goodling and Leslie Hagen, who figured in an April post we did called "In Justice," which focused on the termination of Hagen, a contract attorney in the Department of Justice under Alberto Gonzales, who was let go because Goodling, a senior aide to Gonzales, believed Hagen was a lesbian. Finally, the nerds over in research did a little sniffing and clicking around and realized that Goodling and Hagen were back in the news because DOJ's inspector general released a report today on Goodling's illegal politicization of hiring practices at Justice during her brief reign of error in 2006-07.

Goodling was White House liaison to the Justice Department and seemed not to grasp the crucial distinction between political appointments and non-political career positions, which are supposed to be walled off from partisan political pressures. Ms. Goodling, a 1999 graduate of Pat Robertson's renowned Regent University law school, used in-person interviews and Internet searches to try to determine the political beliefs and associations of people applying for career positions. She routinely (and illegally) asked candidates for non-political positions the same questions (about, for example, their political philosophies and why they wanted to serve President Shrub) that were asked of political appointees. Goodling resigned from Justice in April 2007 and acknowledged in testimony before Congress that she had probably acted illegally in vetting candidates for career appointments.

New York Times' report on the IG's report is here. dday blogs the report and Goodling's ignominious legacy here. If you go read the full report, which again is here, the section on the firing of Leslie Hagen, though she is not named, is on pp. 133-38.

What's the takeaway on this sordid little episode from the fat, tawdry annals of corruption in the Shrub years? Well, for starters Roxie's World stands by the idea, pitched here in April, that Jodie Foster should make a movie out of the melodrama of the Christian law-breaker versus the Sapphic do-gooder, assigning herself the role of Leslie Hagen and getting Gwyneth Paltrow to co-star as the evil, bottle-blond Goodling. Can't you just see it, people? Work with us! Secondly, we think Goodling is a powerful reminder of the dangers of government being taken over by ideologues who are so blinded by devotion to a cause or an individual that they see themselves as exempt from obedience to the law. Now, why should that be on our minds? Gosh, jeez, I don't know, kids. Couldn't tell ya. Long summer evenings spent sipping wine down by the fish pond have perhaps warped our judgment, made us forget that a new light has broken upon the world and we shall no more live in darkness. The rising waters shall recede, and the sick shall be healed -- but who will be making hiring decisions at Justice, and how will they be made? Will "our" side be any less cynical in its manipulation of rules and procedures than "their"side has been in the last eight years? Will hard-working dykes be able to do their jobs without worrying they will kicked to the curb should their private lives become political liabilities?

Unseemly questions, I know, but you can't blame an old dog for remembering that human beings, regardless of party, are pretty much alike. You may mean well, but you have a nasty habit of assuming that having opposable thumbs means you actually know what you are doing. Think about that before you commit your hearts or your votes to anything or anyone. I'm just sayin'.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Can't We Just Call Them "Greecians"?

(Image Credit: Random search of internets on "Sappho")

From Reuters, in yesterday's New York Times:
Greece: Suit to Prohibit Use of 'Lesbian' Dismissed

A Greek court has dismissed a request by residents of the island of Lesbos to prohibit the use of the word lesbian to describe gay women, a ruling released Tuesday said. Three residents of Lesbos, the birthplace of the ancient Greek poet Sappho, whose love poems inspired the term lesbian, filed suit last month, contending that their identity was insulted by the use of the word in reference to gay women. The court said that the word did not define the identity of Lesbos residents, and so could be used legitimately by gay groups in Greece and abroad.
Whoo-eeeee! That's a relief. For a minute, I thought the moms were going to have to cancel the fantasy trip to Greece they are planning to celebrate someone's fiftieth birthday next year. They wouldn't go, of course, if the court had agreed it was okay and, um, even remotely feasible to enjoin the world from referring to same-sex loving chicks as "lesbians." It might have been fun to watch Greece try to enforce such a ban, but, still, we're glad the court realized there's more good will and tourist dollars to be gained by acknowledging the mind-bending reality that a word may have more than one meaning!

Truth be told, we are not huge fans of the word "lesbian" here in Roxie's World, on account of its origins (as a term for female same-sexers) in late 19th-century legal and medical discourses of criminality and perversion. The moms tend to prefer "gay," "dyke," or "queer" as ways of describing themselves and their sister Sapphists (another excellent term!), depending on their mood and on what linguists might term the context of the utterance. (That sounds filthy, too, doesn't it?) Nonetheless, they'll admit that sometimes only the term "lesbian" will do, because, for example, it might be awkward to go into court to defend the rights of a "dyke" mom in a custody battle. Moose also suspects that a proposal for a "Sapphic Studies Program" probably wouldn't have gone over as well with the academic powers-that-be as the proposal for a program in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies did several years ago when she and a bunch of colleagues were working to establish a new program at Queer the Turtle U. (Charming as it sounds, of course, "Sapphic Studies" would have been ruled out for being insufficiently inclusive of the range of sexual identities and practices contained within the broad, kinky universe of sex- and gender-nonconformity.)

Anyway, I guess we can muster up some sympathy for the un-queer residents of Lesbos who feel awkward introducing themselves as "lesbians" in certain situations. We would suggest it might be easier for them to claim the term "Lesbosians" for themselves than to try to re-claim the word "lesbian" from more than a century of usage as a marker of sexual identity, though we have to admit that "Lesbosian" has a certain "creature from another planet" ring to it. But speaking of other planets, perhaps the citizens of Lesbos could steal a page from South Park (and demonstrate that they live in this century rather than the early 19th century) and decide to call themselves "Marklars." That way, they would constantly remind themselves and the world of the immortal linguistic lesson taught by the great (probable) Sapphist Emily Dickinson:
A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.

I say it just
Begins to live
That day.
Marklar out, Marklars. Have a glorious marklar. ;-)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Roxie's Watching: Mamma Mia!

(Photo Credit: Peter Mountain, Universal Pictures, via NYT)

Goose's Extremely Short Review of Mamma Mia!: I could watch Meryl Streep playing poop on toast and be utterly mesmerized. And happy.

Moose's Snarky Addendum to Goose's Extremely Short Review of Mamma Mia!: Agreed. But I would vote for Barack Obama if he promised to support a constitutional amendment banning Pierce Brosnan from ever singing in public again.

Goose's Pithy Rejoinder to Moose's Snarky Addendum to Goose's Extremely Short Review of Mamma Mia!: Agreed. And I don't suppose the fact that Brosnan is not a US citizen will be any impediment to the Great and Powerful Lesser being able to enforce such an amendment once it unanimously passes both houses of Congress and is ratified by all fifty-seven states. He Who Sees All will surely see to that.

Per usual, we digress, even when the subject is an estrogen-fueled summer diversion as puffy as a cloud of cotton candy featuring actresses we just flat-out adore -- not only Streep but the bad-ass Christine Baranski, whom we've loved since her days as Cybill Shepherd's drunken sidekick on TV's Cybill. A. O. Scott's review in the Times does a marvelous job of capturing the perverse delights and the deep flaws of Mamma Mia! Scott is kind to everyone in the film, with the possible exception of director Phyllida Lloyd, and happily succumbs to "its relentless, ridiculous charm" and its loopy disco-powered sensibility. (For those of you too cool to tune in to such vulgar tripe, Mamma Mia! is the musical that was always waiting to be plucked out of the oeuvre of ABBA, the phenomenally successful Swedish pop group who made the 1970s worth living, at least according to the chief Dancing Queen of Roxie's World. The show was brought to the stage in 1999 by producer Judy Craymer.)

Mamma Mia! requires nothing or everything of its audience, depending on your position on a) the musical as a theatrical genre, b) disco as a musical form and cultural force, c) movies adapted from stage musicals based on pop cultural phenomena of the 1970s, and d) major Hollywood actresses faced with a dearth of decent roles for women over the age of, um, 23.
  • If you are among the happy people willing to enter into the illusion that figures on stage or screen would and should spontaneously burst into song and that all the minor personages cluttering the background of any scene will suddenly morph into a perfectly synchronized troupe of hoofers and belters;
  • if you believe that a coherent plot may be an obstacle to narrative pleasure and not a source of it;
  • if you believe that the end of the disco era was a cultural tragedy comparable to the assassination of JFK or the dropping of the atomic bomb;
  • if you enjoy the spectacle of women well over 50 being goofy, sexy, unabashedly proud of their middle-aged bodies and unconditionally supportive of one another, while singing;
  • if you have always secretly believed that "The Winner Takes It All" is better than anything Mozart ever wrote,
then you will enjoy Mamma Mia!. If not, go see The Dark Knight and come back here and tell us all about it. The truth is, we're not giving the film a top-of-the-chart 5-Paw Rating. It's a 4 at best, even with Streep having a ball and Baranski raising the roof of the theater with her killer performance of "Does Your Mother Know?" The movement from stage to screen is always tricky, and it isn't without its problems here. The illusions of the musical are harder to accept on screen and less comically effective than they are on stage. With the exception of Baranski, none of the leads is truly a great singer or dancer, and Brosnan is genuinely, cringe-inducingly bad. Moose left the theater muttering that he made Christopher Plummer's wan vocals in The Sound of Music sound like Pavarotti.

Nonetheless, if you love musicals, disco, Streep, and the azure waters of the Aegean, you could do worse than to spend a couple of hours giggling and humming your way through Mamma Mia!. Streep's 5-minute "The Winner Takes It All" is worth the price of the ticket, because in this brief interlude the film earns the emotion it's working a little too hard to get in other moments. Here, you feel the pain of Streep's Donna over her 20-year separation from Brosnan's Sam. And here, Streep cuts loose and lets you see that there's a real belter underneath the porcelain goddess with the MFA from Yale. Here's a snippet from the final minute. Work it, girlfriend:

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Coming Soon to TeeVee: Butch PhD!

(Photo Credit: Rachel Maddow Official Web Site)

We would have pounced on this story yesterday when the New York Times reported that Butch Goddess Rachel Maddow is next on the list for a show of her own on MSNBC, but my typist was busy being a big drama queen about having a sinus infection of her very own. (Perhaps she was jealous of mine?) She lay on the couch most of the day, except when she was lying in bed, and devoted a considerable amount of mental energy to trying to decide whether her chest felt like it was being crushed in a vise or sat upon by, um, the late Chris Farley. How crummy did she feel? So crummy that instead of going to see the opening day of the much anticipated (in our house) Mamma Mia, the moms stayed home last night and watched last year's grim family flick, The Savages, with Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman. (Verdict? Awesome perfs, nice tribute to the salvific power of dogs [in the end], but not exactly what the doctor ordered for cheering up a sick chick.) Moose is feeling better today, thanks to the healing powers of antibiotics, Theraflu, Motrin, and an excellent bowl of Tom Kha Chicken soup Goose had brought in from a nearby Thai place that actually delivers. (Go on, suburban MD readers. Click on that link, and show a good neighborhood joint some love. The steamed dumplings are yummy, too.)

Anyway: back to Rachel. Y'all know Dr. Maddow (she has a PhD in poli sci from Oxford) is tops on the list of Famous Butches We'd Most Like to Date or Be here in Roxie's World. We've been dreaming of her having her own show for quite some time and would be delighted if MSNBC gave Maddow a timeslot in an effort to redeem itself from the idiocies of the caveman lefties who otherwise dominate its evening programming (yes, Chris Matthews, we mean you, as well as Mr. Unhinged by His Delusions of Being the Second Coming of Ed Murrow, Keith Olbermann). We're so excited by the idea that we can't even get upset about the fact that the Times story didn't run a full-on face shot of Her Butchness, instead using this admittedly odd back-of-the-head pic at the top of the story:

(Photo Credit: Bess Greenberg, New York Times)

Melissa McEwan cranks up some good feminist indignation over the Times' strange photo selections over at Shakesville, but we're going to continue with our happy dancing and our fervent praying that Rachel will actually replace Tweety when his contract is up for renewal next year. Oh, what a day of rejoicing that would be!

In the meantime, Rache, we took a vote and have decided to let you have Butch PhD (coined right here in Roxie's World) as the title for your show on two conditions:
  • you must promise not to sacrifice one iota of your butch fabulousness in order to succeed in television. That means: no skirts, ever; no more makeup than is absolutely necessary to keep from looking like a corpse under those harsh lights; no tight, polite smiles when the Neanderthals start dissing some chick as a way of getting laughs or ratings.
  • you must permit us to declare ourselves the Official Dog Blog of Butch PhD: The Rachel Maddow Show. That means: unconditional love, even when you screw up, though we will have to call you out on that; the devotion of the sizable Tough Girls Caucus here in Roxie's World, not to mention the Smart Kids, the Political Junkies, and the Boys Who Dress Just Like You; access to a sophisticated if quirky audience who for some reason appreciates news and cultural commentary from a canine/queer point of view. We don't know if you're a dog lesbian or a cat lesbian, but you gotta love that demographic, no matter what!
We know you're probably being deluged with advice and adoration from sycophants, hangers-on, and wannabes right now, but we hope one of your loyal butch followers up there in the lesbo-land of western Massachusetts will find a way to get this humble blog post to you. Roxie's World is ready to help in any way we can to advance your career and the cause of butch visibility. Call us, Rache. We are eager to please. You. Really.

(With thanks to Dog-Eared Book, who knows just what it takes to cheer up a sick chick.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pudd'nhead Pieties

The CEO of Roxie’s World has been out of the office this week for some health and beauty time – bath, haircut, and nail trimming at the groomer’s, a check-up at the vet’s to see how the latest course of antibiotics and pain meds is handling the latest eye and sinus infection. Never fear, though, kids. When the big dog’s away, the beta dogs step up to the head of the pack. Let’s look in on Moose and Office of Persona Management Director Mark Twain, who are having a working lunch at Ishmael’s, the bar around the corner from RW Enterprises’ global headquarters. Moose is tucking into a grilled chicken Caesar salad (dressing on the side) and a glass of non-sparkling water when Twain walks in, places his usual lunch order (a whiskey neat, fried mozzarella sticks, and a large order of hot wings with extra bleu cheese dressing), and slams the latest issue of The New Yorker down on the bar next to Moose.

Mark: Did you see this?

Moose: Of course. Nice to see you, too, Mark. By the way, if you keep eating like that, you’re going to end up like Tim Russert.

Mark: That self-important Irish gas-bag? Not bloody likely. Moose, I’ve been dead for ninety-eight years. Healthy eating is not high on my list of priorities, especially [with a sardonic glance at her salad] if it means suffering through bowls of rabbit food day after day. What did you think about this cover illustration?

Moose: Sorry, I forget about the whole dead thing sometimes. I thought The New Yorker cover was hilarious – edgy as hell and really gutsy in its willingness to traffic in images dredged up from the depths of America’s racial paranoia. That’s great satire, which we desperately need in this campaign as a way of publicly acknowledging how fraught and strange this moment is, as we stand on the brink, perhaps, of sending a black man to the White House. It beats hell out of a bunch of Kumbaya crap about how race doesn’t matter.

Mark: By Jove, Moose, for once you are right! That is exactly what I thought about the cartoon, but have you seen all the folderol about it in the press and the blogosphere?

[Twain begins pulling a bunch of press clippings out of his pockets and spreading them out on the bar.]

Moose: Oh, sure.

[Moose pushes aside her salad bowl and opens up her laptop. She has 17 tabs open in her browser, one on Roxie’s World, one on StatCounter, one on Facebook, and 14 to various blog and media reactions to the New Yorker cover. While Mark smoothes out his copy of Philip Kennicott’s ponderous Wa Po analysis of the politics and pedagogy of satire in relation to the cartoon of the Obamas in the Oval Office, she discreetly snatches one of his mozzarella sticks.]

Mark: Don’t think I didn’t see that. There is a madness about all this, don’t you agree? All these knee-jerk denunciations of a cartoon clearly aimed at shining a critical light on the scurrilous rumors that have swirled around Barack and Michelle Obama and at bringing to the surface white America’s lingering anxiety about the prospect of a black president. Isn’t it important to acknowledge that uncertainty as a force within the electorate, even as we rightly celebrate Obama’s presumptive nomination as the social and political milestone that it obviously is?

Moose: Oh, absolutely, Mark, but you know well the risks of trying to take a satirical approach to anything having to do with race, particularly for U.S. audiences. I mean, I get queasy every time I teach Pudd’nhead Wilson and have to explain the book’s complex tacking back and forth between biological and sociological accounts of racial and sexual difference, the thick layers of irony involved in its plot of “black” and “white” babies switched in infancy in a slave-holding community. Students are quick to dismiss the book as the racist product of a racist time, while I’m left unpacking the subtleties of satire and pointing out that you put quotation marks around the N-word in a troubling passage that seems to establish a determinative link between race and behavior. I gotta tell you, it’s not an easy sell.

Mark: “The N-word” – pshaw! If you capitulate to the demand to communicate in euphemisms, it’s no wonder you can’t explain irony to your students. What this country needs is a strong dose of truth-telling, and satire is an effective way to tell uncomfortable truths about the gaps between ideals and realities, hopes and fears. And here [gesturing toward an angrily annotated copy of Bill Carter’s NY Times article on the lack of humor directed at Obama so far] I see that comedians are claiming they haven’t found an aspect of Obama’s person or personality that seems ripe for comic exploitation. John McCain is old, they say, and we’re off to the comic races! Al Gore was pedantic, until he turned out to be right about everything, at which point he was re-anointed as prescient. But Obama, it seems, is precious – flawless and untouchable, beyond reproach, beyond the vulgar reach of humor. What rubbish! Uneasy ought to lie the head that wears a halo is what I say to that. No man is immune to the probing touch of humor, the withering deflations of the ironist’s deft sword –

Moose: Nor woman either, I hasten to add. Comics had no qualms about mocking Hillary Clinton’s blond ambition, her wonkishness, her marital woes.

Mark: Right you are, beloved feminazi. But I tell you, Moose, I see a danger to the republic in this reticence on the part of comics to subject Obama to even the mildest ridicule. The slavish press corps, reduced to being mindless purveyors of infotainment, has ceased to perform its job as the watchdog of democracy. It is left to the clowns, the comics, the jokesters, the wits to pull back the curtain and reveal the sniveling mortal who aspires to run the machinery of power. They alone can save the people from falling on their knees before a man who, in the end, really is just a skinny guy with big ears and a funny name.

Moose: Which, to his credit, Obama has repeatedly pointed out. It is one of his few genuinely funny lines, and it’s a great opening for comics, if only they would walk through it!

Mark: Why won’t they, Moose? How do you explain the reluctance?

Moose: It’s complicated, Mark. I think a lot of comedians have gotten caught up in the coolness of loving Obama. They can’t step back and mock him or it because they’ve invested whatever remnants of idealism they have in believing in this guy. Most political humor nowadays is about being snarky and cynical about politics and politicians, about proving that you’re onto the game and not being taken in by it. I think they’re afraid that if they start treating Obama the way they treat other political figures, he’ll disappear before their eyes. They’ll be left with nothing, and they’ll have forfeited their claims to snarky superiority in the bargain. Mostly, though, I think they’re worried about becoming you.

Mark: Me? Whatever can you mean?

Moose: Here’s the thing, Mark. You’re, like, the Great American Novelist, right? Brilliant guy. Taught us how to write in our own idiom, how to dig our fingers into the culturally devalued soil of the American experience and produce a rich verbal art that provoked laughter and a kind of awe. A hundred or so years later, Huck Finn is left off syllabi in high school English classes because its racial politics are too difficult to explain to young, modern readers. A single, searing racial epithet leaps off the pages and makes the book impossible to teach for fear of giving offense or sending mixed signals about appropriate and inappropriate language.

Mark: Oh, for goodness sake, Moose. No one is suggesting that comics should be using what you so delicately refer to as “the N-word” in relation to Obama, but would the etiquette police come pounding on the door if someone were to point out that his ears really are big and that his relentlessly high-minded yammering about hope and change, change and hope occasionally makes one long for a candidate willing to call on citizens to belch and fart, fart and belch? Actually, McCain could be just that candidate. What a brilliant line of attack for an old geezer who seems to have an intimate understanding of gastrointestinal distress!

Moose: Indeed. I will remind you that Roxie’s World has in fact pointed out that Obama’s ears are big, and there are some signs that comics are beginning to find their nerve. Jon Stewart did a hilarious bit last night on The Daily Show about The New Yorker kerfuffle in which he graciously offered the Obama campaign a comically and politically appropriate response to the cartoon (no, the senator wasn’t offended by the cartoon, because it’s Muslim extremists who get offended by such cartoons, and he is not a Muslim extremist) and chastised the media for producing their own two-dimensional caricatures of the Obamas. Here, take a look at this:

Mark: That is good. That Stewart fella is awfully funny, you know.

Moose: Oh, yeah. And our blog pal Jon Swift has a brilliant send-up of the whole affair in which he expresses his profound disappointment that The New Yorker had not in fact published the expose of Obama’s ties to Muslim and black nationalist extremism that he thought the cover illustration was meant to advertise. Or there’s this funny bit from 23/6 about how the illustration would have been a whole lot funnier if, like most New Yorker cartoons, it had featured animals rather than people (H/T to Eitan for pointing this out to us via FB). I know that analysis is fatal to humor, but maybe it’s a good thing that even the humorless Maureen Dowd is suggesting the Obama team should lighten up (ha-ha!), lest the candidate run the risk of seeming airless and inhuman. Maybe in the long run this tempest in a teapot will help us turn some kind of comic corner. Maybe people will realize it’s okay and even necessary to subject Obama to some friendly mockery as a way of acknowledging his palpable presence in our politics, our lives, our imaginations.

Mark: As always, Moose, your stubborn utopianism is a wonder to behold.

Moose: Now, come on, Mark, you know it’s true. To poke fun of someone – not malevolently, but not necessarily gently either – is a powerful way of signaling recognition in the social/political sense. To mock someone is to say I see you, I am taking you seriously enough to notice your quirks and foibles. I am taking your measure, and I will show you the respect of doing so out loud, in public, for all the world to see. That, as you well know, is equality. Comics are the truest democrats on earth.

Mark: Ah, my dear hormonally unbalanced friend. Wouldn’t you like a spot of whiskey to wash down that hot wing you just stole from my plate? And here, have some bleu cheese dressing, too. You know you hate that fat-free crap.

(Image Credit: Via, with credit to The Dave Thomson Collection.)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Back in the Saddle

(Photo Credit: Mauceri/Abbot/INF in People; Christina Aguilera performing in Houston, 2/20/07)

Blog pal and rodeo gal Historiann may have gone on vacation, but we're back in the saddle here in Roxie's World, where the moms have unpacked, recovered from their jet-lag, and mapped out a strategy for surviving without the new iPhone G3 until September 2, the day their 2-year contract with Verizon expires. Yes, you should feel sorry for them. You say you're curious about their strategy, though? Oh, Goose will finish a book, of course, while Moose cleans out closets, diligently re-dedicates herself to her Tim Russert Memorial Lifestyle Adjustment Plan, and faithfully patrols the internets looking for strangely alluring images of Grammy-winning singers she's barely heard of. (Hey, who knew Aguilera had a song called "Candyman," with a killer retro-WWII-style video? Not us, but we hereby supply a link to said video, with affection for one of our sweetest and most favorite readers.)

We will also spend a bit of time between now and (our) iPhone Day monitoring developments in the presidential campaign so that Roxie's World can continue to offer the kind of hard-hitting political analysis our dogged readers have come to expect. For the moment, we continue to fly a Swiss flag here in these sacred precincts. We won't vote for McCain, but we haven't seen anything yet that has convinced us to vote for Obama. We are "neutral," then, on the question of whether loyal Clintonistas should follow Senator Clinton's lead and throw their support to Obama for the (alleged) good of the party or respectfully decline to do so as a way of registering dissatisfaction with the candidate and/or outrage over the manner by which he was selected. (That outrage is righteously summarized by pissed-off PUMA ringleader Riverdaughter here. Poor Donna Brazile. How does she bear the torrents of hatred cascading down on her broad shoulders from furious Clinton supporters? Why do we suspect the prospect of replacing Howard Dean at the DNC if Obama wins has something to do with her equanimity? Just a hunch, but remember you heard it here first.)

From the safe distance of northern Europe (where everyone to whom they spoke was surprised and disappointed by the outcome of the Democratic primary race), the moms watched in amusement as the abject Kool-Aid drinkers of the media and the "progressive" blogosphere reeled over the past couple of weeks at the spectacle of the Lesser proving to be -- oh, the shock! the pain! the wounded idealism of it all! -- a politician willing to adjust or flat-out abandon any position that proved to be inconvenient once the pesky matter of suckering Democratic primary voters had been taken care of. We're too late to the story to bother with going over the litany of positions that have been nuanced, calibrated, modified, and, um, righted by the whiz-kids who fostered the belief that Obama was a transformational leader with a clear vision and bedrock principles that wouldn't shift with every new political wind. Roxie's World never bought that hoo-ha, of course, but a lot of people did, so it is fun and fascinating to watch them trying to adjust to the now inescapable facts that Barack Obama is a) mortal, b) political, and c) as moderate and centrist as the evil, pragmatic bitch/shrew/whore he vanquished in the primary race.

How did the Obamaniacs not know this all along? Moose compares it to a brief period of her late childhood when she truly, passionately believed that teen idol Bobby Sherman was a great singer, greater than all the other superstars in that glorious heyday of rock and roll. Sometimes, she says sheepishly, the force of our desires blinds us to things we don't want to see -- or hear. Obama acknowledged something similar earlier this week when he candidly declared that those -- including many of his disillusioned "progressive" supporters -- who were accusing him of shifting to the center "apparently haven't been listening to me." NY Times columnist Gail Collins sits disappointed Obamaniacs down for a talk and compares their willful mishearing to a woman selectively listening to what a guy says when she is looking for a relationship and he is looking for a date.

Moose, Obama, and Collins are all right in their assessment of the human tendency to take information in through the filters of desire and the will to believe, but they all discount or overlook the extent to which the Obama campaign exploited this tendency in order to secure the Democratic nomination against an opponent whose experience was used against her -- as proof that she had been tainted by the corruptions of politics. It remains to be seen whether Obama's claims to purity -- which are key to the appeal of his brand -- can survive the public modulations of positions that ordinary politicians engage in as a matter of routine. (Dem strategist and analyst Bob Beckel has a good analysis of the challenge Obama faces here.) Having held himself up as other and better than that old-style kind of politician, Obama now has the audacity to pretend he hasn't changed at all and to blame his core supporters for being bad listeners. One wonders if, in the fullness of time, the iPhone candidate won't begin to sound like the guy in those old Verizon commercials, trying desperately to cling to customers fleeing from a devalued brand: Can you hear me now?

We're listening, Barack. Believe me, we are listening. Do us a favor and try saying something worth hearing, will you?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Random Travel Snaps

My typist is too busy drinking wine and savoring the last moments of the great Scandinavian Adventure to sit down and write about the Stockholm and Norway portion of the Moms' current trip, but here are a few photos I was able to pry out of her hard drive.

It was Fashion Week last week in Stockholm, and it would appear the Moms had some kind of major makeover. You'll have to agree it's a striking look -- and quite a change for a couple of style-challenged feminazis:

Yes, for those of you who were concerned, the Moms did manage to celebrate the Fourth of July in Norway. Their friend Janne kindly agreed to display an American flag/sock that she had had in storage during the Shrub years, and Moose fixed her famous beer-can chicken for a gathering of easily impressed Norwegians. The evening concluded with dueling choruses of the national anthems of the U.S. and Norway. The consensus was that Norway's singable, non-militaristic "Yes, We Love" is a much nicer song than the bomb-bursting, throat-busting American anthem. Here is Janne's pretty flag/sock:

Here is the lovely new Oslo Opera House, which the Moms saw during a relaxing boat tour of the Oslo fjord on Friday:

Mr. Bruce Springsteen has been following the Moms all over Scandinavia. He played Göteborg, Sweden on July 4 and 5 and will be in Oslo tomorrow and Tuesday. No, the Moms will not be going, but they did tune in to a great TV show about the Boss's passionate Norwegian fan base. Janne says the Norwegians appreciate Springsteen's authenticity and his loyalty to his humble roots in a small town on the Jersey shore. The Moms think perhaps the low-key Nordics really just love a guy who knows how to cut loose and tear a town apart through the gospel of rock 'n roll. Baby, we were born to . . . ice-fish.

Home on Tuesday, kids. Back to regular blogalicious programming soon. Sees snart! (That's Norwegian for "See you soon!")

Update: You really must check out this interview with two of Bruce's besotted Norwegian fans, who have been camped out in a cold rain for two days waiting for their meeting with the man from the other side of the Atlantic. Highlights: The guy's earnest performance of "The River," which sounds more Tom Waits than Bruce Springsteen, but we give him points for trying; the girl's tattoo of "Born to Run" on her ankle. According to our personal Norwegian translator, she explains that the text just fits with her life.

(Photo Credits: Moose, except for the Bruce poster, which we found here.)

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Blinded by the Light

(Photo Credit: Moose; a clever guy's solution to the problem of the mid-summer Arctic sun, rolling through Finland, 6/29/08)

Post Card from Scandinavia (#1)

Dear Roxie and Legions of Loyal Fans,

I'm sorry I've been such a poor correspondent on this trip. We were pretty busy with the conference in Oulu, and we've spent a fair amount of time in various stages and types of transit (a couple of six-hour train rides and a bus trip that lasted, um, 432 years in dog years, I think, but we had lots of fun and a good bit of wine along the way), which has limited access to the internets and time for blogging. We are in Stockholm now, though, and will explore this lovely city for a couple of days before another long train ride to Oslo on Thursday to rendezvous with our dear friend Janne and her family. We are eagerly, even wildly, anticipating our reunion with Janne. Aside from the delight of seeing her for the first time in four years, we look forward to the comforts of Janne's several homes (the house in town, the cabin on the North Sea, and the hut in the mountains!), as well as home-cooked food. I have promised to prepare a beer-can chicken for the Norwegians, who are amazed by the ingenious American knack for finding clever things to do with beer cans and chicken bottoms.

Here are a couple of pics from our long day's journey into not-night earlier this week, which took us -- hooray! -- inside the Arctic Circle, which, it turns out, does not have polar bears or icebergs or special lanes for dog sleds on the highways. Who knew? We learned in the course of our long, long day (we left Oulu at 9:30 a.m. and returned at nearly 4 the next morning) several other important facts, including, let's see, that actual reindeer are not nearly as cute as cartoon reindeer and they do not have red noses:

We learned that a girl can get by with a sleeveless top on certain days of the Arctic summer, but if she tries it she'd better have nuclear-powered mosquito repellent. Here we are with a couple of our travel buds, whom we might call Papa Bear and Baby Bear or the Urbane Champaignians, though we know several of those at this point. Anyway, don't forget the bug spray if you're headed to the Arctic, kids. They've got mosquitoes up there that make our Washington critters look as harmless as Obama at a FISA debate.

Oh, and just because I could, I got all goofy and fierce-looking straddling the boundary of the Arctic Circle at Santa's village. Note to children: Santa lives in Finland, not the North Pole. Please direct your pathetic pleas for more crap you don't need or deserve to the proper address. Here's me:

And here's Santa's address:

And here's a pretty lake in Oulanka National Park, where we took a 3-mile hike during our long, long day:

And here's a pretty church in Helsinki, the name and denomination of which I failed to note:

And here are a couple of pretty shots of the old town and harbor in Stockholm, just to prove to you that we are actually here:

It's 2 a.m. in Stockholm, kids. Time to go to bed! We're far enough south now that it actually gets dark for a few hours. You'd think that would help us get back to some kind of normal sleep schedule, but that doesn't seem to have happened. What the heck -- We can sleep when we're dead, right?

Peace and love to all and thanks to Roxie for letting me borrow her humble little corner of the blogosphere for self-indulgent trip pics and commentary again. Oh, and apologies to the Pretty Boys for the lack of mouth-watering descriptions of meals in this post, but, hey, we've been in Finland. If it costs less than 7 trillion dollars, I don't want to write about it, and you don't want to read about it.

Much love,

P.S. Apologies also for the lack of links in this post. I had a clever one on the Obama allusion, but Blogger isn't cooperating. I'll update later if I can.