Saturday, December 18, 2010

Love, True and Truly Faked

Been thinking about Love lately. Have to. It’s my job. And, as they say, somebody’s got to do it.

Brother Li Wei and I are working on a chapter about “Modern Love in China” for a soon-to-be-published encyclopedia dealing with love cross-culturally. But, of course, China isn’t the only place where people struggle with the entanglements of love.

A couple years ago Bill Jankowiak put together a book on love in different cultures called “Intimacies: Love and Sex across Cultures,” in which he and his co-authors wrote about what they see as the three faces of romantic love: lust, romantic passion and attachment. As Bill sees it, love in any given culture, is construed as revolving around one or two of these facets.

No culture seems to have handled all three facets with up-front conscious regard. One or two of these facets will always be shoved off center stage. But it will never quite disappear, and typically winds up lurking in the wings like a mischievous ghost ready to unsettle things for all who try to pretend it isn’t there. If, for example, attachment, the enduring sense of connection to those you most care for, should go missing, there might be ways to fake it that offer some measure of satisfaction.

A few days ago Darla sent me a link to a piece on the website Jezebel concerning Japanese Maid Cafes. (Jezebel, by the way, is a fun and interesting website with an engagingly uppity attitude.)

The Japanese Maid Cafes are designed to appeal to men (primarily geeky men, it seems), who are willing to pay young females to act girlishly cute and solicitous toward them. So no sooner had I read about these cafes, than I was hit with the question of, “How satisfying can it be for a man to absorb the perky attentions of women who would not be extending these attentions but for the yen the men have coughed up as remuneration?”

This, in turn, brings us to the Great Postmodern Question of “How authentic is the concept of authenticity?” OK, now my head is starting to hurt.

When the Cute and Perky CafĂ© Maid pretends to enjoy the company of her client, does this make her similar to a gold-digging flirt who marries an aging millionaire in order to get her hands on his bank account? Or is she more like a stage performer who touches the audience with her moving portrayal of Othello’s deeply devoted Desdemona and who pockets some of the box office take in so doing?

Desdemona - Othello's True Love

(If only he could see that!)

If the deathbed millionaire knows the attention he receives hinges mainly on his money (and she knows he knows), does this make the gold-digger’s performances the ethical equivalent of the stage actress’s?

I think the answer for a large number of Japanese is Yes. The original Japanese female-attentions-for-hire woman is the geisha. The centuries-old geisha tradition rests on the notion that men love the attentiveness of extraordinarily charming women, and this is what the geisha was supposed to be: an artist who had mastered not only the techniques of charm, but those of one or more specialized art forms as well.

The feminist take on all this might be, “Where are the establishments where women pay men to be charming and attentive?” The answer: Tokyo. There aren’t many of them, compared to the number of establishments dedicated to pleasing men, but in Japan there actually are places where women with money to spend (and quite a bit of money – none of these joints are cheap), can have handsome and attentive young men chat with them, light their cigarettes, and take care of them in every way, for a fee.

What’s being paid for in these establishments looks like the third facet of Jankowiak’s trio of love: attachment. It’s not lust, nor is it infatuation that the performers are acting out; it’s the gestures we associate with attachment--that deep emotional connection whose absence is the very definition of loneliness.

In fact, Japan also offers host and hostess clubs in which the relationship is more like romantic passion than attachment. According to “The Great Happiness Space,” a documentary on one such club in Osaka, there is more than a little pain associated with these performances. Why is it that we don’t have such clubs in Chicago or Orlando?

Infatuation for Sale in Osaka

Japan is the most intensely aesthetic place I have ever known. It may be that this, combined with the fragmented lives to which urban modernity consigns so many of us, helps explain the existence of feigned and paid for romance and attachment in the heart of Japan’s great cities.

I’m not, after all, willing to reject authenticity as a good post-modernist would, partly because I haven’t even managed to deal with modernity yet, never mind post-modernity. So I still think Forster was right when he said, “Only connect.”

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cool Roots

Whenever my students ask me, "Professor Moore, how did you get to be so cool?" I know how to answer. Actually none of my students has asked me that yet, but I'm pretty sure it's what a lot of them are thinking.

Anyway, my answer would be that being cool comes from spending hour after hour in the library reading books. At least that was true in my case.

It all started in 1993 when I noticed my five-year-old daughter and her friends using the slang term "cool" to describe things they especially liked. Since this is the same hip term of approval I started using around 1965, it struck me that slang might not consist of fly-by-night terms that come and go with dizzying speed, as everyone seems to assume.

So, I decided to track down the history of "cool" even if it meant spending long, grueling hours in the library reading racy Beatnik novels, old Snoopy comics, and vintage high school yearbooks.

Joe Cool

And here's what I found: Swell used to be cool.

Believe it or not, corny old swell was the happenin' slang term of the Roaring Twenties. Having lingered lazily in the English language for over a century, it suddenly burst on the scene around 1920 with attitude written all over it. It defined the rebellious youth culture of that era, a culture fueled by women's rights and anti-Victorian passions that had young people dancing exuberantly and (to the horror of the older generation) engaging in petting parties.

And swell had staying power. Like cool, it hung on for decades as the number one slang term of approval. Its bad boy image hung on with it. In an "I Love Lucy" episode of 1952, Lucy hires a diction coach who tells her and Ethel that there are two words they should always avoid in their speech, "One of them is swell," he says, "and the other one is lousy." To which Lucy replies, "OK, what are they?"

But in the mid 1960s swell was transmogrified from the rebellious to the cornball. This was because the sixties, like the twenties, witnessed the rise of a rambunctious youth culture that broke with parental traditions bringing with it a new, all-purpose slang term: cool.

Modern cool was born in African-American culture and originally referred to a knowing, standoffish pose used as a defense against racism. Where swell in the 1920s was all anti-Victorian hedonism, cool embodied an attitude of knowing self-control or hipness. In fact, this attitude still endures as the core meaning of cool, and it's what keeps this term fresh and alive. Saying "cool" pays homage, on some barely conscious level, to that knowing and self-controlled pose first patented in African-American jazz circles.

Given the acceptance of the new value system by mainstream youth, the motto of the baby-boomer generation might well be, "We're cool, Mom and Dad are swell."

It's easy to trace the cool rebellion that replaced swell as the bad boy of slang right in your own home. If you have an old high school yearbook lying around, take a look at your friends' signed dedications. Chances are that if you graduated before 1964, some of those signatures will use the word swell, as in "Best wishes to a swell guy!"

If your yearbook signatures date from 1967 or later, these swell references will be largely replaced with cool ones: "We sure had some cool times in Mr. Flatt's home room!"

So swell and cool each arose by being tied to the key values of a new youth culture, and lasted for decades because each identified its users with those values. Though I haven't done the hours of grueling research required to prove it, I suspect that "bully" was also the value-rich slang term of its day.

Remember Theodore Roosevelt's reference to the presidency as "a bully pulpit?" "Bully" then had the same cocky, informal quality that swell and cool later picked up, and Teddy Roosevelt apparently used this word in order to sound like a man of the people.

                              TR and his Bully Pulpit

To create the same effect in the 1940s, Franklin Roosevelt would have called the presidency "a swell pulpit."  Bill Clinton, no doubt, would have slipped his saxophone aside just long enough to say, "The presidency?  It's a cool pulpit."

      Clinton's Cool Pulpit

And, just as in 1965, the prototypical image of cool today is the African-American male in shades with an expression that gives nothing away.

       Thelonious Monk

(This item originally appeared in the Rollins College Sandspur. Original research is in American Speech, Volume 79 - Spring 2004 .)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Let Us Not Be Frightened out of Our Natural Ecstasy

O victory forget your underwear we're free 

– Allen Ginsberg

I watched the new film Howl last night with Darla and Brother Jonathan, and we declared it great. It has a lot of cartoon figures engaged in sex (heterosexual sex, as Jonathan noted, which doesn’t seem quite Ginsbergian), but who among those who would watch this film would be put off by explicit sex on screen?

The movie provides images to match the spoken words of Ginsberg’s poem “Howl,” and shifts quickly from these to scenes of the 1957 obscenity trial directed against the poem, and then to convincing portrayals of the young Ginsberg by James Franco.

Taking the poem in like this, enlivened it for me and added to my impression that it gets better every time I read or otherwise encounter it. Part of its appeal for me is that the world it evokes is somewhat familiar. It brings to life so much of the counterculture world in which I grew up (or at least, in which I would have grown up, had I chosen to do so).

Ginsberg writes of angelheaded hipsters, and for me this phrase calls to mind my college buddy, Guy, from whom I learned so much. Like Ginsberg’s visionary indian angels, he passed through the university with radiant eyes hallucinating Blake-light tragedy.

Now I feel as though I’m in the total animal soup of time, stealing one Ginsbergian phrase after another as they come to me in all their universal glory as though from the crack of doom on the hydrogen jukebox in nowhere Zen New Jersey. Theft, theft.

I’ve always admired Ginsberg for his gentle, insistent honesty – honesty that must not have felt gentle to the defenders of the narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism. Darla and I had a chance to hear him recite at Rollins in the 1990s, and the one song-poem I remember best from that night denounced tobacco: “Don’t smoke the official dope.”

Ginsberg’s work at an ad agency in the 1950s led him to question why he should dedicate his talents to convincing housewives to spend their money on one scented product or another. It made him enough of a leftist that Kerouac labeled him Carlo Marx in On the Road.

His ad agency work is touched on in Howl, the movie, and “Howl,” the poem, where he writes of those “who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regiments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of advertising & the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors, or were run down by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality,…”

Shades of Madmen.

I never saw Kerouac in person, though he lived in Central Florida in the 1960s. I did meet Carolyn Cassady, wife of the famous Neal Cassady (aka Dean Moriarty) the latter lovingly referred to in “Howl” as “N.C., secret hero of these poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver.”

Carolyn wrote a counterpoint memoir to Kerouac’s novel, calling it Off the Road: Twenty Years with Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg. She was in Orlando during the dedication of the Kerouac house at which time I had a chance to chat with her for a few minutes. By then she was probably around 80 years old, and had completely re-remembered Cassady and Kerouac in terms of their more homey side. She insisted to me that Neal and Jack were “working men,” with jobs and families. She seemed to want to see them as regular working class guys who did a bit of drinking now and then. I don’t deny this as far as it goes, but Carolyn seemed to me to be distorting who they were as much as On the Road distorted their image in the other, non-domestic direction. Still, she was a sweet and pleasant lady, and I appreciated the chance to talk to her.

On that same occasion I had a conversation with another Beat figure, the musician David Amran; not exactly a conversation, since David is a real talker and once he gets going, he just goes. On this and one other occasion where I spoke with him, he told story after story of his life in the days of the Beats. A sweet guy and a fantastic musician, but be careful not to approach him if you’re late for an appointment.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti did a memorable reading at Rollins back in the 1990s. Ferlinghetti, as the publisher of “Howl” was the one who faced punitive consequences in the obscenity trial. Hats off to him for his courage on that count.

These remembered snippets of sightings and conversations with some of the figures from Ginsberg’s world give me a nice feeling, as though I’ve caught a brief glimpse of American history as it went swooshing by.

The trial itself (and I hope this won’t be considered a spoiler) concluded with the judgment that “Howl” was not obscene, given its literary merit. For readers and audiences today (or most of us, at least), the obscenity is not in the crude, candid language of "Howl," but in the crooked, self-deluding logic of those who thrashed about trying to suppress it. Times change.

Great movie, great poem.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fanatically Anti-Fanatic

On the cluttered deity table in my office stands a statue of Guan Yin, given to me by my Qingdao University students just before final exam time in the spring of 1994. No doubt they hoped that since Guan Yin is the Goddess of Mercy, she might help soften the usual harshness of my grading standards at that crucial time. In fact I appreciated the gift because Guan Yin is my favorite deity: a benevolent and forgiving goddess who actually used to be a god in Buddhist India before she underwent some kind of celestial sex change operation on her way to China.

I wonder if I were to burn a little incense to Madame Guan Yin she might find a way to relax and enlighten Bill Maher, who spends entirely too much time beating up on religion. According to him, religion is not only responsible for most wars, it also causes the enslavement of women and does lots of other awful things.

But religion doesn’t cause these things. It would be more accurate to say that religion may be brought in like a flunky/character witness to justify one group’s treatment of another, but it is typically brought in after the fact of the mistreatment.

White southerners were already committed to slavery – for economic reasons -- before they began rooting through the Old Testament to find some way to declare that God said it was OK for them to dehumanize and enslave African families. The men of the Arabian Peninsula were subjugating women long before the angel Gabriel gave birth to Islam by dictating it to Mohammed.

Religion didn't cause slavery and the subjugation of women; it just helped the enslavers and male chauvinists to justify their self-serving behavior. Against these examples there are plenty of cases in which religion modified nastiness rather than enabling it.

Religious beliefs grow out of the cultures in which they appear and tend to mirror those cultures. The Judeo-Christian-Muslim family of religions grew out of societies in which patriarchal clans and families were the norm, and loyalty to the clan was virtue number one. Because of this male-dominated cultural setting, all three of these religions imagined God to be a wise and powerful father figure to whom one must be absolutely loyal. Even Satan is a male figure in these religions.


Dante's Satan

Satan is actually more variable and interesting than God, given his youthful rebelliousness. Let’s face it: Satan is cool. He flouts authority, takes chances, and knows how to have a good time. But, like God, he’s unmistakably a “he.”

He’s only mentioned a few times throughout the Bible, as, for example, when he instigates Job’s troubles. In Dante’s Inferno, he’s depicted as a huge, three-headed animal who sits in a freezing pit. Yes, freezing.

There seems to have been a long-standing division between Middle Eastern and European notions of Hell, with the Europeans seeing it as a place of bitter cold while the Middle Easterners were sure that it was hot and fiery. Given current cartoon depictions, I’d say the Middle Eastern vision finally won out. On my old Gary Larson screen saver, for example, Hell looked like a fiery cave and the devils in charge were horned and tailed. They were also definitely male.

All these shared notions of Gabriel, God and Satan point to the common origins of Christianity and Islam. These two religions also share a belief in Jesus. For Muslims, however, Jesus is not the Son of God, but rather a prophet of God. Moses, Abraham and other Old Testament figures are also counted among the Muslim prophets. Devout Muslims are inclined to say “Peace be upon him,” every time they utter the name of a prophet. I recall an Arab American Imam who lectured on our campus about Islam and Christianity and who repeated the phrase “Peace be upon him,” every time he mentioned Jesus.

(Picture not available)

Mr. Maher is wasting his time by focusing his hostility on religion. Not only are Christianity and Islam similar to each other, religious people and non-religious people are similar to each other in that we’re all trying to figure the world out in light of what we believe. The problem is not in religion per se, but in fanaticism.

Fanaticism starts with the idea that one’s own beliefs are the right ones and the world needs to benefit from them whether the world realizes it or not. Little good can come of this mentality, but it is not always rooted in religion. The anti-religious fervor of Stalinist Russia easily matches the brutality of al Qaeda and the Taliban.

So, Bill, my advice: Take a chill pill on religion. I’m not saying you need to go so far as to burn incense to Guan Yin (though she did come through for my Qingdao students). I’m just saying our real enemy is not religion, it’s fanaticism.

Guan Yin with Dragon

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is Our Adults Being Educated?

I had a terrific time last week attending the American Anthropological Association meetings in New Orleans -- site of my debauched youth, and still one of my favorite cities. This is particularly true now that I managed to purchase, in a funky French Quarter shop, an intriguingly sinister cane. For a handle it has a glassy blue knob decorated with silver bats. And “bats” is what Darla implied I was when I bought it, but I still think it’s kind of cool.

Anyway, the anthropology convention was rewarding. There are an awful lot of brainy people in anthropology and what I particularly like is that so many of them have been to interesting places and are able to talk about them with first-hand knowledge. One session I attended focused on Afghanistan, and there I learned that even though I’ve read a bit about that conflict, my ignorance of the real situation is so profound that if I were in Barack Obama’s place I wouldn’t want to make a move on Afghanistan policy without first consulting with such experts as Thomas Barfield, Andrea Chiovenda and Noah Coburn. Mr. President, proceed with caution.

In another panel, Georgetown University Professor Rochelle Davis made the point that American officers and enlisted personnel in places like Iraq and Afghanistan tend to regard American style democracy and American society generally as so clearly superior to anything the local people might be doing that resistance to “Americanization” seems either foolish or evil, if not both.

Actually, it’s not just the “boots-on-the-ground” guys who are misled in this way. The actions of Viceroy J. Paul Bremer, when he gutted the Iraqi economy and attempted to set up a “free” (i.e., “corporate-friendly”) economy in Iraq, show that this “Our way is best and they better get with it,” mentality was shared all the way up the chain of command. As I have argued before, the arrogance of this mindset is responsible for much of the bloodshed and suffering that Iraqis and Americans have experienced since the early days of “shock and awe.” For a definition of “shock and awe,” see “terror.”

I’m kind of bragging on my fellow anthropologists here, but naturally there are plenty of disciplines in the academic world where people motivated by a yearning to understand things have managed to accumulate a treasure trove of knowledge. It seems to me that the best way to make sense out of what's happenin' in the world is by consulting these experts.

During the years of Y2K fever, for example, there were all kinds of irresponsible reports about how disastrous the turn of the millennium would be. To me the simplest way to gauge the level of the coming “disaster” was to check in with my friends in the computer science department here at Rollins. Their report: “Don’t worry, Y2K has been adequately handled ahead of time so that problems will be minimal.” Consequently I wasted no time or nervous energy fretting about it.

I have heard different factions of the Tea Party denouncing the Federal Reserve as though it were an agency of Satan, so I asked some of my pals in economics what the story was here. “Well,” they explained, “the anti-Fed fanatics are just a subcategory of those people who resent government in general.” Got it.

It seems to me that America is splitting into two separate worlds, Education World where people respect what curiosity-driven knowledgeable experts have to say and Fox World where people depend on cheesy self-promoters in the profit-driven media, people like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.

Here’s a simple True-False test to figure out which World you belong to:

T F Barack Obama is a socialist.

T F Smaller government means more democracy.

T F For the good of the country, Congress should dedicate itself to undermining President Obama.

T F Our taxes are higher than ever these days, especially for the rich.

T F So-called "global warming" is a hoax perpetrated by evil scientists who are plotting to...I don't know, do something evil.

T F We should all apologize to BP for the mean things everyone said about them last summer.

T F Sarah Palin would make a fine president.

T F Reigniting the nuclear arms race with Russia is a smart way to make us safer.

T F Barack Obama is a Muslim.

T F FEMA camps are being prepared where innocent Americans will be incarcerated.

T F We would all be so much better off if President Obama had just allowed the economy to collapse last year.

T F Fox News is fair and balanced.

Well, I’ll let you figure out how to score this quiz.

Really, isn’t this split into Education World and Fox World the very thing that underlies the irreconcilable partisan divide now undermining our government’s ability to act? Well, IMHO it is. I’m old enough to remember the days when reasonable Republicans like Richard Lugar, could make deals with reasonable Democrats like Barack Obama, and our country was able to accomplish great things thereby. Are those days gone forever? And if they are, how much responsibility does Fox News hold for this condition? IMHO, lots.

Here follow some pictures from Morocco, a place I've learned about from my anthropologist friend, Professor Rachel Newcomb, and from Noureddine, my friend from Fes.

Professor Newcomb and Noureddine with Camel

A Moroccan Village

A Couple of Friendly Moroccan Chaps


 Village Kids Playing Soccer

Leatherworkers of Fes

Household Courtyard

Moroccan Pool Players

Berber Tent, Set Up for Hospitality (The politically correct word for Berber is "Amazigh.")

Farewell, Friendly Fes

Anthropology, Education and Morocco: three things I believe in.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Smaller Government! Less Democracy!

The Tea Partiers and other conservatives keep telling us that our government should be "smaller." By this, I gather they mean weaker and less able to tend to its core business: looking after the interests of the people who elect its leaders.

The utopia the "small government" advocates talk about resembles Mayberry but, like the Mayberry of TV-land, it does not and cannot exist. As soon as governmental power, that is, the power of our democratically elected representatives, is hobbled, corporate power moves in to take its place.

If BP angered us with its callous contempt for safety standards and dishonest response to the oil-spill disaster last spring, imagine how it would have behaved had government been "smaller," that is less able to enforce safety standards or demand restitution for the damage its mad grab for profits caused.

Actually, you may not have to imagine it if the small government conservatives have their way; you may actually find yourself living it. Instead of a public-dependent, one-person/one-vote democracy, our lives will be dominated by a profit-oriented, one-dollar/one-vote corporatacracy. Good luck getting a sympathetic, public-spirited response from the likes of BP, Halliburton or Citigroup once we live in ConglomoCorp-World.

New York Times columnist, Frank Rich, with his usual insight, has highlighted in his column today some of the trends that have pushed us more and more under the domination of the super-rich in recent decades, i.e., since the current conservative revival began.

Here are a couple of the highlights from his piece:

"The wealthy Americans we should worry about instead are the ones who implicitly won the election — those who take far more from America than they give back. They...are all but certain to cash in on the Nov. 2 results. There’s no one in Washington in either party with the fortitude to try to stop them from grabbing anything that’s not nailed down."

"The Americans I’m talking about are not just those shadowy anonymous corporate campaign contributors who flooded this campaign. No less triumphant were those individuals at the apex of the economic pyramid — the superrich who have gotten spectacularly richer over the last four decades while their fellow citizens either treaded water or lost ground. The top 1 percent of American earners took in 23.5 percent of the nation’s pretax income in 2007 — up from less than 9 percent in 1976."

"The bigger issue is whether the country can afford the systemic damage being done by the ever-growing income inequality between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else, whether poor, middle class or even rich. That burden is inflicted not just on the debt but on the very idea of America — our Horatio Alger faith in social mobility over plutocracy, our belief that our brand of can-do capitalism brings about innovation and growth, and our fundamental sense of fairness. Incredibly, the top 1 percent of Americans now have tax rates a third lower than the same top percentile had in 1970."

Well said.

Rich cites a source that says the process of super-rich domination began when Carter was president, which surprised me, since I always saw the beginning of the trend with Reagan's rise. Of course one of the primary culprits in this trend is the expense of presidential and congressional campaigns; this expense means elected leaders must defer to the super-rich in order to get into office. It may well be that Carter's era saw its beginning even before Reagan took office.

In any case, it would be nice if those who keep demanding "small government," would acknowledge that the government we have is already too small and too beholden to corporate wealth to adequately serve and protect us. And let's thank Mr. Rich for pointing out that shrinking our democratic institutions is not the road to utopia.

Frank Rich of the New York Times

A Reliable Source

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I'm Still "All In" on This Idiot Savant Country

So that’s what an ass-whuppin’ feels like; 1994 was so long ago that I had pretty much forgotten.

Honestly, I have to confess that I manage to enjoy every election, even those like this year’s when our frenemies, the Republicans, sweep the table. I remember in 1992 when I took Little Four-year-old Grace Marie to the polling place with me, Mom Darla, in an effort to keep our daughter’s feet on the ground, made it a point to explain to her that “not every grown-up gets as excited about election day as your Dad does.”

“OK, Mom,” she replied.

Tuesday morning, after I cast my (pathetically ineffective) vote, I started my walk to school and by coincidence the first tune to pour out of my iPod was Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.”

I ask you, how cool is that?

Anyway, here’s what I think: America is fantastic – Abraham Lincoln! Rally to Restore Sanity!! Election Day!!!

On the other hand, America is a mess – Sean Hannity? Governor Rick Scott?? Flowbee???

My Island Buddy, Steve, recently sent me some comments highlighting the more frightening features of the “America is a mess” side of the story, some of which I will present here as my own ideas. Since he is my buddy, I'm figuring he won't sue me for stealing some of them.

The basic political story of 2010 is this: In the infamous Citizens United decision, conservative Supreme Court justices voted to allow corporate moneyed interests to continue screwing us with increasing vigor and this has doomed Americans to serfdom. The day is just around the corner when we will have to beg BP to please allow us to spend our free time cleaning their oil off our beaches at which point the BP executives, if they are in a generous frame of mind, will nod to their Senators and other Congressional minions who will write a law allowing us to do so.

OK, maybe we aren’t there yet. But I do think that at the very least Schoolhouse Rock needs to update its cute little “How a Bill Becomes a Law” video. I was introduced to this wonderful educational cartoon by My Favorite Student, who, when she was a little girl, got together with her pal Meryl and did performances of some Schoolhouse Rock scenarios for Darla and me.

In the original version, an adorable little rolled up and ribbon-bound bill sits on the steps of Congress waiting while House and Senate committees debate it. Then Presto! it becomes a law after the wise ones of Congress vote for it and the president signs it.

The little bill was sent to Congress in the first place because concerned citizens wanted a law which would prevent school buses from being crushed by trains at railroad crossings. What could be simpler or more benign?

1. Citizens see a need and consult their Congressional representative who
2. writes a bill on behalf of America’s school children, and finally,
3. after a lot of jingle singing, it becomes a law.

But I would like to propose a new, more realistic version of “How a Bill Becomes a Law.” This updated version would open on a scene in which a group of thuggish characters sit around a bottle-littered table in a smoke-filled room barely illuminated by a single dangling light bulb. On the wall hangs a poster of Satan who looks surprisingly similar to Dick Cheney and who smiles with self satisfaction as his tobacco-stained fingers gently stroke a little model of an oil derrick which reclines in his lap. Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” plays in the background.

So the thugs put together a bill that makes it unconstitutional to ask any member of Congress where their campaign funding comes from and which contains a supplementary clause prohibiting any citizen from complaining about oil on beaches, residents, clothing, children and all accouterments thereunto appertaining.

The bill produced in this foul little room is then made public (to the tune of the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”). As the bill shoves its way through throngs of protesting citizens, it swaggers up the capitol steps where members of Congress genuflect before it and quickly rubber stamp it. Then President Palin signs into law.

Of course it isn’t set in stone that things will turn out this way. After all, America has survived crises in the past and I still have faith that we will survive this one too.

You may well ask, “But, Comrade CultureWorld, what can we do to keep Satan from taking over America?”

Naturally, I’m happy to advise. First, as a general rule, you should favor Democrats over Republicans in your voting because Democrats never use dishonest or unfair ads in their campaigns.

Oh all right, so Florida Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson used a grossly dishonest and unfair ad against his Republican opponent this year, but that’s only one.

OK, OK, so Democrat Jack Conway used a ridiculously stupid and unfair ad that tried to make Rand Paul look like a slave of Aqua Buddha. Very well, I admit it. Democrats can be creepy too. But the main advantage of the Democrats is that they are somewhat less in thrall than Republicans are to the corporate money that has been steadily smothering our democracy since 1980. In other words, in order to fund their campaigns, the Democrats frequently go whoring with Satan; the Republicans, however, are happily married to the Prince of Darkness.

The second thing I recommend is that you not watch FOX News…unless you simply want to keep tabs on what the Forces of the Dark Side are up to. If you actually believe that Fox is “fair and balanced,” it may be too late for you.

I would like to recommend as an alternative to Fox, the Morning Joe program on MSNBC, hosted by Joe Scarborough. I know, Joe Scarborough is a conservative Republican, but he’s still cool. (Yes, I said cool – now bear with me here.)

You know those types who go around saying nutty things like “Obama is a Muslim,” as if they were idiots? (And I use the phrase “as if” liberally here.) Well, Joe treats them they way they deserve to be treated, i.e., as though they inhabited their own little Sims World where anything they want to make up can be true.

Being a conservative Republican, Joe is a bit askew on some issues, but what distinguishes him from those right-wingers who seem to have Ph.D.s in ignorance (e.g., Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck), is that he respects people whose views he disagrees with as long as their views aren’t just plain wacko. And his program has people like Eugene Robinson and Katrina vanden Heuvel on it -- smart people who actually know stuff and who are not slaves to the corporatacracy.

So, I say, turn off Fox and turn on Morning Joe.

Anyway, back to my original point: Even given the new influence secret money now has on our elections, and the newfound power of crazies like Michelle Bachmann, I still have faith in our country. We may be in for nasty weather, but after all, we more or less survived the Bush presidency, so I believe we will survive the current rise of the right. In the name of Aqua Buddha, I do hope so.

Aqua Patriots

From Vintage American & ARose Books