From the monthly archives: "August 2013"

Acoustic Music Works in Pittsburgh, PAWhen I was younger I read Dave Barry’s weekly Miami Herald column every week. I remember it resting somewhere in the entertainment section — I think the Sunday section? Maybe Saturday? I don’t know, but I read first, and then comics and the stupid advice columns, then the front page, then the back page of the paper. (Never Sports or Business.)

Regardless of where and when it was, somewhere in those pages of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Tribune Review for many years was Barry’s humor column. In it, for 600-odd words, he waxed poetic on the words “booger” or “weasel” and mused about the horrors of toilet snakes, exploding pop tarts, and other things completely up the ally of anyone either 11 or with a particular ease of access to the 11-ness in their souls.

And at some point, once my second generation libertarian brain-washing kicked in and I became one as well (that’s the short version. There were lots of conservative Christian fellow-homeschoolers, then a lot of liberal college professors who helped in the “oh God, not them!” way, as well as a score of different pundits, authors, and thinkers who pointed me in the right direction). And at some point I realized, holy shit, this Barry guy was a libertarian, too! Besides my dad, John Stossel, and my friend Bob who voted for John Kerry the God damned traitor (Bob, not Kerry) in 2004 anyway, who the hell was a libertarian anywhere?

Later still — either online, or more likely in Reason magazine’s compilation Choice — I found the 1994 interview Barry did with Reason. And it was, and remains, fucking amazing.

Within it, Barry talks about minor, but infuriating government money-sucks like the strategic helium reserve. He again mentions the IRS. He describes his generation being “the problem”, thanks to Medicare and Social Security. He has a delightful comment on the absurdity of so-called job creators, and the press who dutifully record that exactly 47 million jobs were created in December. Barry says, “Of all the wonderful things government says, that’s always been just about my favorite. As opposed to if you get to keep the money. Because what you’ll do is go out and bury it in your yard, anything to prevent that money from creating jobs.” And by saying that he — a humorist — demonstrated a better understanding of economics than half the “economists” alive and making money from their dismal grasp of the dismal science.

Most daring and subversive when combined with that economic good sense, he says this:

After a while, the way this country deals with drugs is just not funny. What a waste of everyone’ s time and effort. What a waste of a lot of people’s lives. The way we deal with drugs and sex. I saw one of these real-life cop drama shows, and they mounted a camera in this undercover agent’s pick-up truck, right under the gear shift, and they sent him out to pick up prostitutes.

So the whole show consisted of this guy, who’s quite a good actor, driving to this one street, and young prostitutes come up to him and solicit him. He says OK. They get in. They’re trying real hard to be nice. He’s going to pay $23, that’s all he’s got and they said that’s OK. Meanwhile, behind him the other cops, these fat men with walkie-talkies, are laughing and chuckling because here they are about to enforce the law and protect society. They take her to some street and then of course they come up and arrest her. This poor woman–I don’t know whether she’s feeding her drug habit or feeding her kids or whatever. And the cops are so proud of themselves, these big strapping guys.

It just made me sick to see this. To treat these people who are trying to make a living, one way or another, this way, and to be proud of it. It’s on television and we’re all supposed to watch this and feel good about it. It’s just disgusting.

 

The anti-drug war stuff is a libertarian favorite for good reason. But the prostitution part is what gets me me here. Barry watched this show — COPS, or whatever — and he didn’t root for the the “good guy.” He didn’t cheer them on as they tackled some poor, shirtless buffoon or invited the audience to gawk at some pathetic, screaming loony. He didn’t laugh and cringe at some dumb crackwhore, the way most people would in private and in media. Barry’s sympathies were in the right place, and so was his condemnation.

The woman was trying to make money — maybe not in a good way, maybe not for good reasons, we don’t know. And we don’t need to know. We just need to know the real question: Why the hell is someone getting paid to hurt this woman? To jail her and definitely to shame her? Why are the people paid for by tax dollars, imbued with the use of legal, lethal force, and given great respect in society spending that time and respect and money on fucking over this woman who is trying to make a little money and nothing else?

And that humanity brings us to the other Dave Barry secret of humanity. We see that Barry knows freedom. He knows the stupidity and waste of government bureaucracy. He even knows the cruelty of which police officers are capable. But with his essay on crazy Elvis fans, Barry also demonstrates that even without the “coercion or not” question, he is smart enough to rise above the obvious knocking down of people who seem to be “asking for it” when they dare to not confirm to cool. Like Jon Ronson with his sympathetic, but not endorsing wild ride through the world of weirdos, Them: Adventures with Extremists, Barry didn’t want to sit back and crack wise and broad about the crazy Elvis fans. He doesn’t want to shoot polyester-clad fish swimming in a lard barrel. Those fish never hurt anyone.

So he wrote “Hearts that are True.” (To be found in Dave Barry is Not Making This Up).

The way he tells it in the italics before the essay, he really was all set to write some obvious jokes about fat Southern housewives who can’t untwist their Granny panties over Elvis long enough to realize he’s dead and buried. (And before that he was bloated, drug-addled, and seeping talent from every sequined pore.) But Barry looked closer and he saw the people who cared so much that it hurt, about this dead musician. Intrigued and puzzled, he set out to find the why.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTRzrdkvCr4

And — spoiler alert — he doesn’t really discover anything, except maybe a little reminder that there are a lot of good Elvis tunes. But God is it a killer journey — to Graceland, and to Elvis’s boyhood home, and to lots of friendly, kind folks, to find that unanswer. Barry is subtle and sad and sweet in his writing and it’s just the loveliest thing, this essay. I’ve read it three or four times, but I try to save it up so it doesn’t lose its punch.

That’s what it is. It’s like a really great song you can’t waste. And you can’t say that about a whole lot of simple, on the page writing, especially not the personal-essay-ish stuff.*

Barry is a humorist. I will always fancy his investigations into UFOs and lawnmower races. Hell, his description of Florida could be why I have never been there or wanted to go. But the Barry of “Hearts That are True” is one I want to spend a little more time with, one I wish we had a few more essays by. I’m envious of that piece. If I had made it, I could be satisfied for at least a little while as a writer.

Do you see what I mean? Why I tie that Reason interview — especially the excerpt above — together with the crazy Elvis fans essay?  Why no matter what else Barry wrote, before or since, even if it didn’t strike the same note in my guts, he will always get me on this one? That I will always feel like he understands something that most people never will?

There’s plenty of room for mocking. Even mocking of people who haven’t performed the sort of life-ruining an IRS agent or a cop has done. Mock reality show stars, or members of Nickelback and I am not necessarily going to be outraged on their behalf. It’s fun to scoff and play High Fidelity-snob or culture warrior about things you think are childish, or stupid, or lacking talent. And it’s easy. It’s so fucking easy.

Yet Barry, the humorist who knows economics better than economists, didn’t take the asked-for punch line. He looked at sad, moaning, obsessive people in the South and said hey, why the hell do they care so much about sad, dead Elvis?

And the end result breaks my damn heart every time.

Dave Barry knows how we should treat each other. He knows whose backs we should have: the drug users, the hookers, and the guys crankily doing their taxes each April — and the people who just fell in love with a Tennessean and never would let death get in the way of a relationship like that.

And, since he’s not soft or meek, Barry also knows who deserve to be ashamed: the politicians, the taxman, and the police with nothing better to do.

Can’t they just listen to a fucking Elvis song or something?

 

 

 *(Mike Riggs’ Awl essay about suicide is up there, the bastard.)

On Thursday, Chelsea Manning (formerly known as Bradley) confirmed what has long been suspected by folks following her story, she is not a gay man, she is a transgender woman. If only her confident-sounding official announcement could have been made in happier circumstances. On Wednesday, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for various charges — including violation of the Espionage Act —  related to her leak of hundreds of thousands of documents related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and numerous private diplomatic communications.

During the 1,293 days between her arrest in May, 2010 and this statement, there were hints at Manning’s status, but no confirmation. Now Manning herself has stated her preference, which is all that matters. The often oft-amusing Erin Gloria Ryan wrote a good enough Jezebel post on respecting Manning’s transition and not being horrible about it. But Ryan didn’t really delve into the the reason Manning faces such a long time behind bars. Indeed, Jezebel itself (and this is a sign of a bigger problem for the blog, with rare exceptions) seems to be unable to translate caring about feminist issues such as being an ally to the trans community into bigger issues like embracing more radical politics than the dreaminess of the Commander in Chief.

Certainly Manning’s status is not unimportant, especially now that she is set to begin her sentence with the knowledge that the military will not be respecting her gender identity. (Not to mention her torturous treatment during some of her pre-trial detainment.)  Also, her less-than-hetero status has been used by critics ever since her name appeared in the press. Back in 2010, conservative commentator Ann Coulter decided that Manning leaked the information because she was a gay man “in a snit” and therefore couldn’t be trusted with sensitive intel. Other right-wingers like actor Adam Baldwin reacted to the confirmation of Manning as Male-to-Female by charmingly wondering “which came first: Manning’s insanity, or his treason?” Manning’s identity seems awfully convenient for folks who already thought “he” had done wrong by leaking.

But even now, to focus solely on Manning’s MtoF status is myopic. She is more than a trans woman who warrants support because there’s no real reason not to use someone’s preferred gender. She didn’t leak because she was suffering great stress partially due to — but not entirely because of — her difficulties adjusting to the military. She definitely did not leak because she was trans. She leaked because, in her own words, she changed her mind about the war on terror after seeing how up close. She committed an anarchic, arguably reckless act fueled by very clearly expressed principles of opposition to government secrecy, the occupation of Iraq, and the deaths of innocent civilians. She saw things during her stint as a military analyst in a warzone, and she thought people should know some of the things she knew. She wanted a more transparent society.

Yes, you might argue she could have leaked more judiciously. She certainly shouldn’t have trusted hacker and eventual-rat Adrian Lamo with her confession of criminal guilt. But to talk about Manning should be to talk about concepts arguably even more radical than complicated aspects of gender. Government leaders, police, the military, all have special privileges and immunities not granted to the average person. Individuals in the U.S. and more violently abroad bear the brunt of that privilege often. Iraq is a fucking mess, thanks in large part to the United States. Afghanistan, too. Drone strikes throughout the Middle East kill and psychologically torture civilians, and breed more resentment of the United States and more terrorists. Manning’s release of war-logs helped paint a much clearer picture of how these wars are fought, something U.S. society, with its constant refusal to depict the real, bloody cost of conflict, sorely needs. By pushing hard against the stifling, dusty room of government secrets, Manning changed the world and let some sunshine in. She may have even helped jump-start the Arab Spring. And her actions lead to Snowden (even if he looked at her partially as how not to leak). Snowden in turn sparked the current, snowballing debate about what powers the national security sector has, what powers it claims to have, and what Congress, and the President, and the public should do about it.

Knowing the questions her actions raise, it doesn’t make sense to ignore Manning’s status as a political figure. Jezebel has broached the subject of less-sympathetic prisoners who were also trans slightly more cautiously in the past. (Though there’s nothing wrong with expressing some empathy for anyone caught up in the United States’ fucked up, enormous prison system, guilty, violent, or not.) Support her or not (and I argue you should), Manning is a woman who committed a bold and lawless act. She is not just a reason to discuss the rotten treatment of trans individuals by society, the military, or the prison system. That conversation is important, but it’s not the one Manning sacrificed her freedom to start.

Let’s respect Manning by referring to her by chosen name and prefered pronoun. But let’s also respect the woman who is now stoically facing 35 years in prison by continuing to talk about what she did, and how we’re going to respond to the next whistleblower.

In the spring, as part of my never-ending saturation PR bombardment to get the MSM — and even NPR — to pay a little respect/attention to my Pulitzer Prize not-winning literary expose “Dogging Steinbeck,” I sent a pathetic plea to the producers of the always clever but mostly lefty-liberal radio hour, “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!”

I’ve since sent moderator Peter Sagal, who looks like he could be my younger balder brother, several equally pathetic emails trying to get me and my road-tripping pal and fellow author Ethan Casey on the show. Peter Sagal seems like a nice guy on my kitchen radio, but apparently he is incapable of responding to emails that come his way, no matter how pathetic.

Here’s the original email I sent to WWDTM to alert them that I was going to be appearing on C-SPAN with everyone’s hero, including mine, Brian Lamb.

 

 

Hello WWDTM producers —

Sainted CSPAN Founder Brian Lamb liked “Dogging Steinbeck” so much he booked me for his Sunday, March 3, 8 p.m. “Q&A” program.

My fellow libertarian Nick Gillespie of Reason mag loved it and called my 11,276-mile, coast-to-coast celebration of America “Whitmanesque,” which I think was a compliment.

Supreme Travel Master Paul Theroux liked it almost as much as my 95-year-old mom.

PJ O’Rourke has a paperback copy of it at his N.H. redoubt and he knows who I am.

The Weekly Standard glowingly reviewed it.

The New York Times editorial page and NPR’s “On the Media” endorsed my findings that Steinbeck had pretty much lied his butt off in “Travels With Charley,” which for 50 years was sold, marketed, reviewed and taught to be the nonfiction, true, accurate and honest account of what he did on his iconic road trip in 1960, who he met and what he really thought about America and its people.

It wasn’t nonfiction. Not even close.

To put it in academic terms, Steinbeck’s last major work was a big crock of fiction and lies — and Penguin Group admitted the fiction part last fall by having Jay Parini insert a disclaimer into the introduction to the latest edition of “Charley” that says the book is so fictionalized and dramatized that it should not be taken literally.

I’m a little sorry I came along and spoiled everyone’s fun. But Steinbeck’s beloved book — 1.5 million sales, nonfiction best-sellerdom in 1962 — is, as I bluntly say, “a literary fraud.” Don’t tell Oprah, but it’s in the same fact-fudging league as “Three Cups of Tea,” “A Million Little Pieces” and Mr. Capote’s increasingly besmirched “In Cold Blood.”

“Dogging Steinbeck” is an Amazon ebook and the listing there contains everything you need to see that I’m a real journalist who retraced Steinbeck’s original route around the USA, slept in my car 20 nights (10 Walmart lots, a pier, a beach, a riverbank, a used car lot ), lucked into a 50-year-old scoop and ticked off the Steinbeck Studies Industrial Complex — a synopsis, blurbs and sample chapters. I’m beginning to think I should be a movie.

Below is the adult press release I’ve written (this is a DYI book of quality drive-by journalism — from idea to reporting and writing and editing and photographing to email pitches and distributing paperback copies of my book to local bookstores in Pittsburgh, where my aging TV sportscaster brothers and I operated a powerful family multimedia dynasty.

Thank you for your time. I’m better on radio than TV, though I guess I wasn’t as bad as I thought with Brian Lamb because they still have the show set for March 3 at 8 on CSPAN’s “Q&A.”

The release:

Dogging Steinbeck

Discovering America and Exposing
The Truth About ‘Travels With Charley’

First Bill Steigerwald took John Steinbeck’s classic “Travels With Charley” and used it as a map for his own cross-country road trip in search of America. Then he proved Steinbeck’s iconic nonfiction book was a 50-year-old literary fraud. A true story about the triumph of truth.

“Steinbeck falsified his trip. I am delighted that you went deep into this.” — Paul Theroux, Author of “The Tao of Travel:”

“No book gave me more of a kick this year than Bill Steigerwald’s investigative travelogue…” — Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of Reason.com

Bill Steigerwald discovered two important truths when he retraced the route John Steinbeck took around the country in 1960 and turned into “Travels With Charley in Search of America.” He found out the great author’s “nonfiction” road book was a deceptive, dishonest and highly fictionalized account of his actual 10,000-mile road trip. And he found out that despite the Great Recession and national headlines dripping with gloom and doom, America was still a big, beautiful, empty, healthy, rich, safe, clean, prosperous and friendly country.

“Dogging Steinbeck” is the lively, entertaining, opinionated story of how Steigerwald stumbled onto a literary scoop, won praise from the New York Times editorial page and forced a major book publisher to finally confess the truth about “Travels With Charley” after 50 years.

But it’s also a celebration of the America he found and the dozens of ordinary Americans he met on his 11,276-mile high-speed drive from Maine to Monterey. Despite the Great Recession and national headlines dripping with gloom and doom, Steigerwald’s expedition into the American Heartland in the fall of 2010 reaffirmed his faith in the innate goodness of the American people and their ability to withstand the long train of abuse from Washington and Wall Street.

Part literary detective story, part travel book, part book review, part primer in drive-by journalism, part commentary on what a libertarian newspaperman thinks is right and wrong about America, “Dogging Steinbeck” is entirely nonfiction. True Nonfiction.

‘Dogging Steinbeck’ is available at select bookstores and at Amazon.com as an ebook.

Bill Steigerwald is a well-traveled Pittsburgh journalist and a veteran libertarian columnist. He worked as an editor and writer/reporter/columnist for the Los Angeles Times in the 1980s, the Post-Gazette in the 1990s and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in the 2000s. He retired from the daily newspaper business in March 2009. He and his wife Trudi live south of Pittsburgh in the woods.

In the hot August of 2010, before global cooling began turning our summers into fall, I spent several days in the fabulous Morgan Library & Museum in downtown New York reading the original handwritten transcript of “Travels With Charley.”

My comparison of the manuscript with the published book — something no Steinbeck scholar bothered to do in 50 years — proved illuminating. Here, in this free excerpt of “Dogging Steinbeck,” is how I describe my visit to Mr. Morgan’s treasure house of art and artifacts:

 

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‘Discovering’ ‘Charley’s’ First Draft

My pre-trip research ended with a bang three weeks later in New York City when I did something no one in the world had done in four years. I went to the Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan and read the first draft of “Travels With Charley in Search of America.”

The handwritten manuscript – along with a typed and edited copy – had been stored at the Morgan like a holy relic for almost half a century. Few scholars, graduate students and critics had bothered to study it. If they had, the “‘Travels With Charley’ Myth” might have been debunked decades ago. To be fair, the manuscript is not something anybody can just pop into the Morgan Library and paw over. John Pierpont Morgan’s gift to posterity holds one of the world’s greatest collections of art, books and music. Security is Pentagon-tight, inside and out. You’ve got to first establish that you are a legitimate researcher or writer and make an appointment. Once you make it past the security checkpoint, you’re escorted to the reading room. You have to wash your hands, use pencils only and handle research material like it’s sacred nitroglycerin. You can’t take photos or make photocopies because of copyright restrictions.

For three days in late summer I sat in the Morgan’s reading room like a monk. The “Charley” manuscript, kept there since Steinbeck donated it in 1962, is broken up into five or six handwritten chunks. Written entirely in his barely decipherable scribble, with hardly a word crossed out or changed, each page is filled from top-to-bottom and edge-to-edge. It’s mostly in pencil on carefully numbered yellow or white legal pads. Taking notes in longhand, I compared the first draft of what Steinbeck had given the working title “In Quest of America” with the copy of “Travels With Charley” stored on my smart-phone’s Kindle app. According to Declan Kiely, the Morgan’s curator of literary and historical manuscripts, fewer than six people had looked at the manuscript since 2000.  I was the first since 2006.

I learned important clues that helped me fill in some blank spots about Steinbeck’s actual trip. I also saw how much the manuscript had been edited. There were dozens of minor and major edits. The most important ones entirely removed his wife Elaine’s presence from the West Coast and stripped out 99 percent of his partisan political commentary. Given what I was learning, the most ironic edit deleted Steinbeck’s thoughts about what is really real and the writer’s struggle/duty to straighten out the “chaos” of reality and make it understandable and “reasonably real” for a reader. The most justifiable edit removed a paragraph of filth and racial hatred that would have given “Travels With Charley” an X-rating, outraged the public and crippled its sales.

The manuscript was the big smoking gun – the smoking artillery piece. Reading it was shocking and exhilarating. I couldn’t believe what I had found – or that it had been just sitting there in Manhattan for 50 years waiting to be discovered. It confirmed and reinforced my suspicions about the dubious veracity of much of “Travels With Charley.”

The first draft also explained the book’s persistent vagueness about time and place. It was not due solely to Steinbeck’s aversion to writing a travelogue or his lack of note taking. It was a result of wily editing by Viking’s editors, which hid the frequently luxurious and leisurely nature of Steinbeck’s road trip and made it seem like he spent most of his time alone.

After my last day of deciphering Steinbeck’s handwriting, I left the cool quiet of the Morgan Library and popped back onto the baked streets of Manhattan. It was 4:05. I set out for Penn Station to catch a train back to Secaucus, where my car was parked and ready to take me home. New York had so much pure city packed into a small space it was hard for someone from Pittsburgh to believe. I’d never want to live in NYC. It was 40 years too late for that adventure. But it was amazing to see the crazy energy and throbbing humanity of a real city at work and play. It was nothing like the open street markets and anarchic traffic of Lima or Guatemala City, the only teeming Third World madhouses I’d ever seen. But the sidewalks were thick with commerce and hurrying streams of people of every lifestyle and color.

Near the corner of Madison Avenue and East 33rd Street, two miles from the apartment Steinbeck died in, a prim matron with a plastic bag in one hand and a leash in the other waited for her toy poodle to take a dump at the base of a baby tree. On 34th Street a homeless man with a wild beard and dirty white shirt suddenly lunged out of the passing throng and rammed his bony shoulder hard into mine. It was no accident, it hurt, and it taught me a lesson to keep my eye out for trouble in the oncoming flow of humanity.

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Closing in on Madison Square Garden and its basement of train tracks, I began tail-gaiting a hotshot in a blue blazer with a cell phone to his ear as he weaved through the crowd. He was young but had gray hair and carried a man bag swelling with paperwork. I didn’t know it, but like me he was hustling to Penn Station’s Track 11 to catch the 4:32 to Secaucus. On the un-crowded train I deliberately sat across the aisle from the hotshot so I could eavesdrop on his end of the conversation, which he made no effort to suppress. “At two billion dollars,” he said, as if he were talking about the price of eggs, “we’re going to make 800 k. I’m OK with one basis point…. We’d still be above two billion. Do me a favor. Check my math and fire me an email.”

I had no idea what he was talking about, but it wasn’t how tough it was to make a living on Wall Street in the Great Recession. During my brief ride to Secaucus I scrawled what I had learned from reading the Steinbeck manuscript in my Professional Reporter’s Notebook: “Charley’s a fraud. Steinbeck himself provided the details of his trip – the real ones – and betrays ‘C’ for the fraud it is.” It was the first time I had used the f-word to describe his beloved travel book. It wouldn’t be the last.

  • Here is the most recent stuff I’ve written for VICE, which you should read if you have no already done so.
  • And here are two different HuffPost Live segments I have done in the last odd-week. I am never sure how they go, because it’s a fundamentally slightly weird format for a discussion. But they call me back when they need a spare libertarian, so that bodes well. One is on the zombie rise of neoconservative, and the other is on Rand Paul and the Fed.
  • And finally, finishing up the self-promotion, I uploaded my last five radio shows to Mixcloud, in case anyone is interested, or missed them because they were at 3 pm and people have jobs, for God’s sake. Listen, your life needs more “Old Time (More Or Less).” When I listen I marvel at my inconsistency in quality for mic breaks. When I have something to say on the song, be it “Poor Ellen Smith” or “Strange Fruit,” on the other hand, I am not half bad.
  • An impassioned defense of breakfast, and its essential greasy qualities. [H/T: John Glaser]
  • I have just discovered a new love — Fortean Times Magazine. I haven’t really checked out the website, but the print mag was delicious and well worth $11. I aim to contribute sometime soon. (I Google Image searched “fortean” and got the above, awesome Terry Colon cartoon. If Terry Colon every does a cartoon of me/you/anyone, they’ve made it in life. Spiritually, at least.
  • Terry Colon also explains the mechanics of UFO fuel in a way that makes at least as much sense as anything ever on Doctor Who — except maybe “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances.”
  • Speaking of things Fortean, sort of, please do check out Jesse Walker’s new United States of Paranoia. It is excellent and mentions most of the most interesting things about America such as witch trials, Indian captives, communists, drugs, The X Files, militias, and the fear that Satan is sending children secret backwards messages in their music.
  • Can we talk for a second about how all of the Satanist sex abuse panics happened in the 20th century — the LATE 20th century? I will say it again, forget the blacklist, Arthur Miller should have written an awkwardly unsubtle allegory that is still really kick-ass about that shit. Some of those investigators might as well have used spectral evidence for all of the real-world basis their allegations had. Vile.
  • Those horrible Koch brothers strike again.
  • Reminder that John Bolton deserves to be booed. 
  • Important Youtube finds during an insomnia internet journey: 1938 anti-STD film Sex Madness!; and what professes to be the only known recording of H.L. Mencken speaking.
  • I would love to see Jezebel do a lot more of this: this blog says would-be NYC Mayor Christine Quinn cannot be against street harassment/cat-calling if she also supports Stop and Frisk. THIS, Jezebel — apply your support of abortion rights to the bodily autonomy issues related to, say the drug war, or myriad other issues. Take your good feminist inclinations and correctness about smaller issues, and extend into life and death and imprisonment and freedom level of issues. Please.
  • VICE’s Harry Cheadle on the horrible conservative response to Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley) and her preferred pronoun. Calling her a traitor wasn’t enough, she’s also crazy now. Blech.
  • Today I read this disturbing, fascinating Verge story on the new science of face transplants.

Today’s video does a good job demonstrating the happiness which can be found in a moshpit, particularly the uber-earnest folk punk sort:

And here’s the album version, which is a better auditory experience:

 

After I wrote my book “Dogging Steinbeck,” and after I became an email pal of travel master Paul Theroux (after he cheered and plugged my findings of fiction in “Travels With Charley”), I read this 2009 piece Theroux wrote for the Smithsonian magazine about his one-way dash across the USA from LA to Cape Cod.

He touched only a few of the places I did along the Steinbeck Highway a year later — Route 66, Amarillo cattle country — but he drove alone and fast and describes a country I recognized from my travels.

Here are the final paragraphs summing up his car trip, which, while far better written than anything I could come up with, are frighteningly similar to what I concluded — that the USA was big, empty, beautiful, safe and friendly.

Theroux, from his article “Taking the Great American Roadtrip”:

In my life, I had sought out other parts of the world—Patagonia, Assam, the Yangtze; I had not realized that the dramatic desert I had imagined Patagonia to be was visible on my way from Sedona to Santa Fe, that the rolling hills of West Virginia were reminiscent of Assam and that my sight of the Mississippi recalled other great rivers. I’m glad I saw the rest of the world before I drove across America. I have traveled so often in other countries and am so accustomed to other landscapes, I sometimes felt on my trip that I was seeing America, coast to coast, with the eyes of a foreigner, feeling overwhelmed, humbled and grateful.

A trip abroad, any trip, ends like a movie—the curtain drops and then you’re home, shut off. But this was different from any trip I’d ever taken. In the 3,380 miles I’d driven, in all that wonder, there wasn’t a moment when I felt I didn’t belong; not a day when I didn’t rejoice in the knowledge that I was part of this beauty; not a moment of alienation or danger, no roadblocks, no sign of officialdom, never a second of feeling I was somewhere distant—but always the reassurance that I was home, where I belonged, in the most beautiful country I’d ever seen.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/The-Long-Way-Home-USA.html#ixzz2bU1thRB0
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

As my esteemed older brother noted below, moderately famous actor and political wannabe Kal Penn — who should have stuck with being boring on House — recently tweeted his support of the New York City Police Department’s now-unconstitutional stop and frisk policy that disproportionately affects minorities. (People responding to Penn’s tweet seemed incredulous, at least. One suggested that Penn forgot the #snark hashtag. Penn responded with a slur against “activist judges” so clearly that’s a thing for Democrats to be mad about now.)

Joe forgot another important reason to loathe Penn — besides his inability to realize that brown people who aren’t famous actor friends of Obama may be getting the short end of the authority stick — his bullshit on the drug war. A man made famous for being the Cheech for a new generation also  acted the sniveling weasel apologist for Obama the drug war war hypocrite.

As Mike Riggs wrote at Reason.com last September:

Actor Kal Penn and President Barack Obama were both raked over the coals yesterday for their collaboration on a campaign video teasing Penn’s upcoming appearance at the Democratic National Convention. In that video, Penn reprised his role as Kumar from the Harold and Kumar movies, and takes a phone call from Obama while stoned, watching cartoons, and eating junkfood. The subtle implication is that marijuana users are easily swayed, lazy idiots.

Reason, the Marijuana Policy Project, LEAP, and several others criticized Penn and Obama for the video, as Obama has utterly failed to live up to his promise to deprioritze federal prosections of medical marijuana.

In an interview with Chris Moody of Yahoo! News, Penn said

“I think that the president’s been pretty consistent with that. He’s not in favor of legalization, we should be open about something like that. But what the president has done is take a really smart look at the Department of Justice and said, given the fact that the federal government has limited resources, we should be allocating them toward violent criminals and not towards non-violent criminals. We can see that not just in things like marijuana but in things like immigration reform where he’s going after and deporting violent criminals and making sure that if you’re a Dream Act eligible student that you know that you can apply for your deferred status. Wherever the federal government has an appropriate role, I think the president’s been very consistent in that. That’s something that I think folks should know.”

Penn should have stuck to the world of fiction, because his political views lie entirely in that realm as well.

This is Kal Penn.

kal-penn-2Notice the dark hair, eyes, and complexion. Born Kalpen Suresh Modi, he changed his name once he became an actor because he thought his birth name inhibited his ability to get call-backs on auditions.

Penn rose to movie notoriety through the “Harold and Kumar” series. In Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Kal’s character Kumar and his best friend Harold (John Cho) suffered a series of misadventures punctuated by racist cops and racist “extreme” punks, while interacting with stereotype-busting Asians and put-upon African-Americans who were thrown in jail for no reason (other than being black). In the sequel Harold and Kumar: Escape from Guantanamo Bay, Harold and Kumar are sent to Guantanamo Bay because Kumar is mistaken for a terrorist.

haroldandkumarterrorist

Why is this important? Because of irony (and not just the Alanis Morissette kind).

On Monday, a federal judge ruled the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy “violated the constitutional rights of minorities in the city” and could not continue in its current form.

Naturally New York city Mayor Michael Bloomberg was upset that his pet project was put on the skids.

More surprising was the support the law received from Mr. Penn.

Irony: the star of a franchise whose central theme revolves around the fallibility of stereotypes — and the problems that arise from it, decides to come out in favor of a law that stereotypes African-Americans (and Hispanics) as criminals that don’t deserve protection under the Fourth Amendment.

Kal, a fervent Democrat and who worked as associate director for the White House’s Office of Public Engagement until 2011 (read: he was a hype man for Obama,) fancies himself a future political star. Unfortunately it looks like he’s also a racist.

You’d think that an actor who rose to fame in a movie franchise that revolves around breaking stereotypes would be a little more sensitive to the plight of minorities.

Unfortunately Kal didn’t soak up any of the information gleaned from these movies. Hopefully he’ll learn something from the upcoming sequels to the Harold and Kumar series: Harold: Because Kumar got Renditioned and Harold and Kumar Don’t Get to Go to White Castle Because Kumar gets Killed by Racists Who Think He’s Muslim in the Post 9/11 Fervor.