June 30, 2004

We Get the Sitcoms We Deserve

I've been a little out of the loop lately, so I wouldn't be surprised if this is old news to everybody else. But I just learned (via Virginia Postrel) of this case, where a "writers' assistant" on the writing staff of the sitcom "Friends" has sued Warner Brothers, alleging sexual harassment because of the sexual jokes and lurid comments that the "Friends" writers would utter while "brain-storming" for story lines. Sounds like a fun time, um, I mean, a hostile work environment.

Yes, as everybody says, there are chilling implications for free speech and the free exchange of ideas if dirty jokes qua dirty jokes really are actionable. On the other hand, here in the Bay Area, they've been trying to stamp out dirty jokes for a long, long time, and with a bit of success. Actionable or not, you're crazy if you tell a dirty joke to someone at work. You're crazy if you laugh at a dirty joke that someone else tells at work. I think everyone in our fun-loving community instinctively realizes that what you're supposed to do when someone tells a dirty joke is to pretend you don't understand why it's supposed to be funny. Eventually, the theory runs, everybody's feigned inability to understand dirty jokes will turn into a genuine inability and the troubling legal and free speech issues will simply fall away; actionability will be superfluous because the situation will never come up. I think that's the idea. A kinder gentler clampdown.

The real tragedy here, though, it seems to me, is that none of those good jokes seem to have ended up making it on to the show, which would, theoretically at least, have made it watch-able. Ah, what might have been...

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:29 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

June 24, 2004

Forget Foucault

If you're interested in this type of thing, here's a vigorous denunciation of Michel Foucault, the evil he hath wrought, and on the wimmyn and myn who love hym. On the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of his death. When I was in college, he seemed to be everyone's hero. No idea if that's still the case, but if it is, the author of this article would like to put a stop to it right now. A lot of it seems about right to me, though I doubt it's true that all the inadequacy of our treatment of people with mental disorders and in mental institutions is his fault. He appears to have been one and to have belonged in one himself, however.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:31 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

June 19, 2004

Max, Wayne, Peace, and Hope

I was poking around at the local used book store, and I found a book called Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals turn to Lenin, Mao, and Che, by Max Elbaum. I'd never heard of this particular book, though I'm vaguely aware of Elbaum, who is a former SDS guy who went on to become a founder of one of the new communist youth movement groups in the 70s.

Readers of this blog from way back when I used to write a lot more about politics will know that I am just a little obsessed with the New Left, and 60s radicals and the terrorists among them. Whenever I see a new book on the subject, I usually buy it. I want to know as much as I can.

I'm not totally certain why the subject has such a pull on me, except that the more I learn about these 60s and 70s fringe-ees, the more I feel I understand about the semi-crazy world I grew up in. Because the decaying vestiges of the New Left formed something like a hidden, and, once you notice it, unexpectedly illuminating, background to everyday life in northern California in the 1970s when I was a kid. Or so I fancy.

Anyway, this particular book has an inscription scrawled on the first page. It appears to be from the author, Max Elbaum, and is addressed to a guy named Wayne:


The story of another chapter in our movement's history. Here's to making sense of it and bringing our energy and ideas and values into the future.

Peace and Hope,


Sadly, Wayne appears to have sold the book to the used bookstore, and moreover the book appears to have been unread. Maybe Wayne felt he already knew everything he needed to know about the Movement. Or he just needed five bucks.

I'll be wondering about Wayne and his energy and ideas and values all the while while I'm reading the book. Patria o muerte. Venceremos.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 11:50 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

June 16, 2004

Total Quality Sephiroth

Madonna reveals why she has chosen to be a prominent celebri-spokes-mystic for the ersatz, strip-mall American Kabbala favored by many of today's most glittering socialites: "it's incredibly punk-rock."

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:51 PM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

June 15, 2004

Day on the Green

Hey, guess what? The MTX is playing Friday June 18th in Sacramento for free. Cesar Chavez Plaza, 9th & J Street. 6:15 - 7 pm. Free, all ages. OK.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 12:58 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack


Star and Al's wedding page.

Although Star had anticipated this moment all weekend long and had dreamed of it all her life; the surprise and joy on her face was real!

Posted by Dr. Frank at 12:53 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

June 09, 2004

"Without Mao's guidance, this insight would not have been possible..."

Gary Farber examines some of the sci-fi movie reviews by the Maoist folks I mentioned earlier. (The title of this post is my favorite of his deadpan comments.)

The chuckle to effort ratio you get from reading random chunks from this site is extraordinarily high. Mostly, I suppose, the humor stems from the self-caricatured, sententious, leaden Communist-style rhetoric as it is applied to ordinary, familiar pop culture items. That alone is a novelty, and it's funny. But the context is also important. These people are trying to list and review every single piece of art, music, each film, and every book in order to prepare the way for the systematic banning, censoring and bowdlerizing of them when they "seize state power." Is it possible that they actually think they ever will be able to list, review, and heartily disapprove individually of every cultural item ever produced? Is it possible that they think they will ever actually seize power? It can't be. But it kind of seems to be. Without the over-arching delusion in the background, it would be ordinary lunacy. With it, it's priceless, sublime lunacy. Or so it seems to me.

It's kind of fun to try to imagine your own place in meticulously-planned schemes like this:

The actual production of such art should grant the freedom to err to the "frontline" cultural workers, which means those who do the first drafts of movies and songs to be recycled. In the "dictatorship of the proletariat," artistic workers even of the most political sort can freeze up when overly hounded. Poor "frontline" workers should be removed from their jobs and the resources given to others who would do a better job. They should not be imprisoned, because the history of art production indicates that the state can crush artistic work. It can be both a problem of talent and politics. The solution is to grant the "frontline" workers the freedom to err while giving others oversight authority and responsibility for not issuing egregious errors such as would damage inter-ethnic relations. Oversight workers should be altruistic party members willing to go to prison/re-education camp for failure. These oversight workers should also have oversight assistants who are also free from any threat of imprisonment. Hopefully with the combined efforts of good "frontline" workers and oversight assistants, no horribly misogynist, racist or chauvinist work will see the light of day under socialist auspices and no oversight party members will end up in prison or re-education camp. "Frontline" cultural workers should be judged for their speed and artistry while oversight authorities should be judged by preventing embarrassing errors.

It seems like Frontline Cultural Workers like me have the best of the deal; the Oversight Workers (editors, producers, mixers and other comrades like that) run the biggest risk. My producer has been known to try to quash, hide, or de-emphasize objectionable material in my stuff occasionally; but imagine how much more effective he'd be with a prison sentence hanging over his head. (I know I'm being naive here, but I imagine it as a continual, jovial game of hide the tape: "that's funny, I can't find the 'God Bless America' tape. I've looked everywhere...") However, since one criterion for judging your value as a Cultural Worker is speed; and since I suspect I embody pretty much all (and I mean 97% - 100%) of the error they wish to stamp out anyway; I imagine that slow, error-prone Art Workers like me wouldn't have much of a hope of survival in the worker's paradise. Hey, wait a minute, that's kind of like how it is on this side of the looking glass...

Of course none of this would be quite so funny if there were really any chance that any of it was going to happen. But it's not. Sorry comrades: I don't know why it is this way, but rock and roll is here to stay...

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:00 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

June 08, 2004

All Your Base, etc.

''I don't understand the base system at all,'' Jesse said, lying on the floor and staring at the ceiling. ''If making out is first base, what's second base?''

''We need to establish an international base system,'' Brian said. ''Because right now, frankly, no one knows what's up with the bases. And that's a problem.''

Jesse nodded in agreement. ''First base is obviously kissing,'' Brian said.

''Obviously,'' Jesse said.

''But here's the twist,'' Brian said. ''Historically, second base was breasts. But I don't think second base is breasts anymore. I think that's just a given part of first base. I mean, how can you make out without copping a feel?''

''True,'' Jesse said. ''And if third base is oral, what's second base?''

''How does this work for girls?'' asked Ashley, the 17-year-old junior. ''I mean, are the bases what's been done to you, or what you've done?''

''If it's what base you've gone to with a girl, you go by whoever had more done,'' Jesse told her.

''But we're girls,'' Ashley said. ''So we've got on bases with guys?''

''Right, but it doesn't matter,'' Jesse said. ''It's not what base you've had done to you, it's what bases you get to.''

Kate shook her head. ''I'm totally lost.''

''See how complicated this is?'' Brian said. ''Now if someone asks you, 'So, how far did you get with her?' you have to say, 'Well, how do your bases go?' ''

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:03 PM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

June 06, 2004

Press Play

I flipped through and watched a bit of all the rote, canned Reagan retrospectives that were flooding the TV yesterday. TV news was well-prepared for this; everybody had been sitting on the copy for the last ten years, waiting for the opportunity to break it out. Talking heads had been rehearsing their recitations of the copy in front of mirrors for years. And it showed. My own feelings and thoughts about Reagan, his presidency, and my own formative years which coincided with it, are complex and contradictory, not sufficiently explored or analyzed by any means. Maybe one day I'll delve into it and produce my own copy. I'm not much of "tribute man" myself. Yet for Reagan Remembered content, I much prefer Michele's genuine, personal, unpretentious, unrehearsed encomium to anything else I've seen so far.

UPDATE: Matt Welch has another good one, which more or less squares with my own experience.:

And so it was that when the old fella said "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" I laughed at his blustery naivete, as I did whenever he uttered the phrase "Evil Empire." Needless to say, I was wrong about that, and he was right, and I'm still ashamed about it.... For Californians between the ages 35 and 50, he just towered over our lives; Nixon was a piker in comparison, despite the spectacular flameout. Judging his life inevitably means re-examining our own. Since I don't have the time or inclination to do that just now, I'll leave it to the Culture Warriors.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:14 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Mao-y Wow-y

Somehow I stumbled on these pages of "Maoist" music and movie reviews from the Maoist Internationalist Movement. Just reading at random was good for half an hour or so of decent amusement.

The primary consideration in these reviews is whether the work in question needs to be banned immediately as soon as the party seizes power; or whether, on the other hand, it is sufficiently harmless that its banning can safely proceed at a more leisurely pace. The first pass will, theoretically, leave a small chunk of pop culture more or less intact.

But make no mistake; ultimately, very little will be spared, and they've got the censorship and book-burning machine all fired up and ready to go:

When we disapprove of something we mean to ban it upon seizure of state power... The party has yet to approve a specific percentage of films and music that it believes should be banned. This will be a task of a future party congress. Judging from reviews done so far, I would guesstimate it appears that MIM would ban 95% of existing performing arts culture.

But they have their prioirities, as I mentioned. "In the first round of censoring music," they write, "either by outright banning or revision, we will have to focus on the outwardly sick and misogynist music..." Thus, the Cars will be spared the first round of censorship. The Police, too. "Promotion of the romance culture" is bad, but not that bad. It can wait.

The Rolling Stones' Hot Rocks doesn't fare so well, though: "some of the songs on this album are near the top of the list 'To Be Censored Under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.'"

This would include most of the girl songs (er, make that, wimmin songs) I suppose. But other Stones songs do get the MIM seal of approval, such as Sympathy for the Devil. You know, because it "is talking about wars and assassinations." Of course. Furthermore:

another song with a positive spin to it is "Gimme Shelter" which is about war, rape and murder. It's hard to make out the first word of what Jagger is saying: "War, children, it's just a shot away It's just a shot away." While Jagger constantly puts down adult wimmin, his attitude toward children is more correct, at least with regard to war and drug-dealing...

One random thing I love about these reviews: the continual use of the word "Persynal," which sounds like a great name for a psycho-tropic or anti-anxiety medication, but is actually, of course, an attempt at a gender-neutral spelling for "personal." Syn of a butch!

Another random thing I like: even the reviews of the music at the top of the "to be burned" list have "buy it from Amazon" links. Take that, Imperialist Swine!

The movie reviews are every bit as awesome. Check out A Bug's Life (which they fault for not realizing its full potential as an allegory contra U$ Imperialism); and The Lord of the Rings (in which a quotation from Chairman Mao identifies the true heroes of the story: Boromir and Saruman!)

The final scene of Spiderman, in which Peter Parker ultimately chooses superheroism over love, presents, for the Maos, "the most important political message in the movie":

This is the asexuality that MIM praises as a superior romantic practice.

Oh, and I almost forgot: even though much of the Jagger/Richard songbook will be summarily erased from our cultural memory by whatever means necessary, there is at least one rock song that the Maos like more or less unreservedly, or at least with enough enthusiam to reserve a permanent place for it in the saving 5%, out of bounds for censorship. "Fortunately for us communists, we agree with its message." That would be "Stairway to Heaven," babies and gentlemen. Asexual slowdance! Ah, it makes you wonder...

There's lots more where that came from, believe me. Read 'em while you still can.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 02:48 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

June 05, 2004

Pump Up the Silence

Coupla funny letters to the Guardian, via Norm Geras.

The first is a bitter complaint about "the silence in your pages over the current dissent in Britain" from one John Pilger. The mind reels.

Here's the second:

When I first bought the Guardian, the only requirement was a CND badge and good intentions. Then I had to start eating muesli and wearing sandals. Now my newsagent wants proof that I don't watch Friends.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:58 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Imagine there's No Heaven, No Sun, No Bible, and No Cake

Here's a pretty good anecdote to put in your "silly school stories" file, if you've got one. A teacher is reprimanded for explaining the scriptural allusion in a line from The Merchant of Venice, and is instructed by the principal on the proper response in situations when a student asks a question whose answer might entail mentioning religion: "just tell him you don't know."

This time around, the complaints seem to have come from hysterical Christian parents rather than from hysterical atheist-secular activists but, really, doesn't it all come down to the same thing? Thank God (sorry) I'm not a teacher. Or a student. Or a parent. Or a poet. Or a religious/anti-religious fanatic. It would just drive me crazy. Best to stay out of the whole thing.

(You can color me impressed that they're even bothering to attempt reading Shakespeare in schools these days. But maybe it's an old anecdote.)

In other news, a primary school in Derby, UK, has attempted to ban "threats to the well-being of children" such as home-made cakes and sunny weather. The latter rarely comes up in England, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem. In a sun-related emergency, though, teachers are instructed to use only spray-on suncreen so as to avoid physical contact, rubbing, etc. Not that I wouldn't enjoy a future where God is dead, the sun don't shine, all food arrives shrink-wrapped direct from the factory, and all human contact is from a distance, in spray-form... come to think of it, it's a Utopia we've pretty much almost achieved, though the whole sun thing remains a real problem here in California. Spray ya later...

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:38 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Police on Their Backs

I suppose I'm as amused as anyone about the story of the 35-year-old member of a Clash cover band who was investigated and questioned by a Special Branch officer because he texted lyrics from the song "Tommy Gun" to the wrong person. (He intended to text them to the singer, but made a mistake.) It's funny.

The text was: "How about this for Tommy Gun? OK - so let's agree about the price and make it one jet airliner for 10 prisoners."

OK, so whatever they were up to, 'twasn't terrorism. But what were they up to? Maybe just trying to figure out how the lyrics go, which isn't all that easy with Clash songs.

Nevertheless, and right or wrong, I choose to believe they were trying to get into their roles as fake band members, pretending that they were actually writing the song. It's so much better that way...

Posted by Dr. Frank at 01:27 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 03, 2004

What He Said

Mickey Kaus:

Note to Kerry: I like Biden too. He'd be a better candidate than, say, you. And he has that moving story about his coal mining ancestors! But he's still a loose cannon, no? ... And I suspect that to this day he still doesn't know how much of his 1988 stump speech was lifted from Bobby Kennedy...

Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Rock Therapy - Johnny Burnette Trio

Sometimes, listening to certain pop songs can actually pull me out of low-level depression. I'm not talking a vague or subtle change of mood: I mean a slight, but quite real, mental change that I can almost feel physically. There's like a little internal click, and I'm doing slightly better than I was before. One song is not sufficient, but a combination of a few in a row can be quite powerful.

I can't analyze all the ins and outs of how or why this can happen. It has to do with past associations, of course, but I don't think that's the whole story. Some of the songs on my rock therapy list have far more numerous negative associations than positive, partly owing to the fact that they have been used as rock therapy so often at various low points in my fragile emotional life. Sometimes I wonder whether the sounds themselves, rather than context or content, are as big a factor as anything. I don't know. Maybe it's just that anything that can stir any sort of reaction-- happy, sad, bitter, silly, lovely, excruciating-- within one's cold, dead soul results in an improvement, just because there's something happening in there. As I mentioned before, when I was trying to figure out why "Celebrated Summer" always provokes a big emotional response despite the fact that I don't really understand it, I'm not that interested in analyzing the phenomenon. I just enjoy, and make use of, the mystery.

Sometimes whole albums can do it for me, just as they are. I've listened to the Village Green Preservation Society album to cheer me up and simultaneously make me miserable so many times since I was around 12 that it's like a mechanical ritual now. I put it on and hardly realize I'm doing it. Or I stop as I'm putting the record player arm down and think to myself: look what I'm holding in my hands-- I must be kind of depressed now. And it turns out: I am. I used to have a tape that I would take on tour that had the Soft Boys' Underwater Moonlight, Invisible Hits, and the first four songs of Can of Bees: I would listen to the tape on my walkman over and over. That tape, exclusively. It lulled me into a comfortable trance, which is a precious, precious thing in a tour van. I still love listening to those albums, but touring is a state in between reality and whatever its opposite is, so they always make me feel a bit "liminal" even in my living room.

Some albums I have decided only to listen to on those (pretty rare) occasions when I am feeling ebullient, unaccountably happy, content and well-adjusted, so that they won't get tainted by darkness and will always "work." (Captain Beefheart's Safe as Milk and Robyn Hitchock's Respect are at the top of that short list. I put on Safe as Milk just the other day when my brain was really enjoying itself: I guess it's like recharging a battery.) I know I'm a strange, messed up, weird little man. Maybe you are too, though.

Anyway, there are certain songs from different albums that can "work" in combination if you listen to them in a lump. Like you're flirting with yourself and making yourself a mix tape. I thought about it and here are 50 of them. 25 or so can fit on a CD (if you leave off You Doo Right, which is like 25 minutes long.) I'm not saying they're The Greatest Songs Ever Recorded (though many of them probably are); or that they necessarily represent the "best of" anything except effective rock therapy; they're not even necessarily my "favorite songs" though I guess many of them kind of are. On a different day, I might come up with a different list. But I just put them on an iTunes playlist on this relatively grim, hopeless morning, and I "clicked" at around Roll Away the Stone. Yes.

Your results may vary, of course. But it's cheaper than Paxil and has no sexual side effects. That I've noticed anyway.

Fifty songs:

1. Quark, Strangeness and Charm - Hawkwind

2. Queen of Eyes - Soft Boys

3. I've Never Gone to Bed with an Ugly Woman - Bobby Bare

4. King Kong - Kinks

5. Drop Out Boogie - Captain Beefheart

6. Rhythm of Cruelty - Magazine

7. Deteriorata - National Lampoon

8. The World of Pauline Lewis - TV Personalities

9. We are Normal - Bonzo Dog Band

10. Wig Wam Bam - The Sweet

11. Armenia City in the Sky - The Who

12. The Rockford Files Theme - Mike Post

13. Roll Away the Stone - Mott the Hoople

14. Uncle Harry - Noel Coward

15. The Bells of Rhymney - Byrds

16. Fight the Power - Isley Brothers

17. Whiskey in the Jar - Thin Lizzy

18. The Lone Ranger - George Jones

19. Electric Guitars - Prefab Sprout

20. You Doo Right - Can

21. Duchess - Stranglers

22. Songs of Love - Divine Comedy

23. Dirty Love - Frank Zappa

24. The Hindu Times - Oasis

25. Strawberry Letter 23 - Brothers Johnson

26. Working - Cocksparrer

27. Drinking Wine - Gene Simmmons

28. Highway Star - Deep Purple

29. The Bottomless Lake - John Prine

30. Truck Driving Son of a Gun - Dave Dudley

31. EZ Action - Rick Derringer

32. She Sells - Roxy Music

33. Bill Morgan and his Gal - New Lost City Ramblers

34. Start Again - Teenage Fan Club

35. Wouldn't You Miss Me? - Syd Barrett

36. Cities on Flame - Blue Oyster Cult

37. Good Times - Nobody's Children

38. Jungle Love - Steve Miller Band

39. Political Science - Randy Newman

40. Jam Up and Jelly Tight - Tommy Roe

41. I Wish - Stevie Wonder

42. Ecstasy - Raspberries

43. Night of Fear - The Move

44. Kiss Like a Nun - The Boys

45. You Set the Scene - Love

46. Some Broken Hearts Never Mend - Don Williams

47. Hot Stuff - Rolling Stones

48. Beer City - Pee Chees

49. Wall of Death - Richard and Linda Thompson

50. Oh Bondage, Up Yours - Xray Spex

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:54 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

June 02, 2004

Kitchen Fresh Chaos

Yesterday, when I was on BART headed into the city, there was an unusual announcement on the loudspeaker. The 19th St. and 12th St. stations in downtown Oakland had been "temporarily closed because of civil unrest." The train was to stop at those stations to pick up passengers who were stranded, but no one was to get out.

I spent the rest of the evening wondering what it had been about. Was I missing the revolution? Was my apartment building going to be standing when I returned? What color were our uniforms and hats going to be, once the new boss finally had replaced the old boss? What kind of mustache would he have? Would there still be porn? Bourbon? Candy?

Well, it turns out that the civil unrest began, as these things so often do, when a mob started looting a chicken vendor's van. Then they moved on to the Wendy's. Sorry I missed it. I guess they have one of these snack-driven riots every year, and I missed the last one as well. Viva la revolucion...

Posted by Dr. Frank at 02:42 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

June 01, 2004

Guardian Follies

Gary Farber catches a classic piece of dead-pan reality-warp from the Guardian's John Sutherland. Fritz Hollings's and Charlie Rangel's much-discussed mischievous, administration-baiting "draft the rich kids" bill (S89 and HR163), clearly intended as a marginally clever prank rather than a sincere proposal, is quoted at length and treated as an imminent civil catastrophe. I mean, as though it hadn't died in committee on the day of its tongue-in-cheek introduction a year and a half ago, and as though it had anything whatsoever to do with the administration or the real world. (Will there ever be a serious attempt to reinstitute the military draft? Who knows? It would be extremely risky politically, and I kind of doubt it in present circumstances. But in any case, this bill isn't one, as even John Sutherland could have figured out if he'd wanted to.)

By the way, Sutherland laments the lack of media attention on this ("the fourth estate has failed the American public and continues not to do its job"-- how's that for a news flash? No way...) I suppose he wasn't around to see Rangel yukking it up like a stand up comic all over the news talk show circuit back in early 2003. I was: he killed on O'Reilly. Note to fourth estate: more like this, please. Gary's got the hilarious details.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:17 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack