“Take a Picture, Trick!” The Lonely Island in China

To the Chinese, the karaoke, or “KTV”, bar is the number one way to spend an evening (or afternoon) with friends (or hookers). Some Chinese friends invited me to an upscale KTV place near Ritan Park yesterday afternoon. I took this shot while checking for English songs.

As you can see, the choice of English songs at any given Chinese KTV place can be…well…eclectic. Just on that page we have Rihanna, Pink, Susan Boyle, Enrique Iglesias and…the Lonely Island???

I didn’t feel quite up to doing “Jizz in my Pants,”  but fortunately they also had “I’m on a Boat.” I must say, I knocked it out of the park, even without the aid of Auto-tune. I really belted out the last line: “I FUUUUUCKED A MERRRRMAAAAAID.”

China at the Movies: Part 1

If there’s one thing the Chinese film industry has on its American counterpart, it is a ruthless – and surprisingly enviable – efficiency. For those who lament Hollywood’s pandering to the lowest common denominator with their non-stop orgy of remakes, sequels, prequels and half-assed 3-D conversions, it’s somewhat refreshing to live in a country where crappy movies are made for a fraction of the cost.

The Chinese Film Bureau runs a tight ship. It controls which movies are made and which movies are played in theaters. The Chinese movie industry operates on its own unique supply-and-demand model, and when making movies they rely on these three immutable facts:

  1. They are the only ones making Chinese movies.
  2. Chinese people want to watch Chinese movies.
  3. There are a buttload of Chinese people.

That, my friends, is a license to print money. They can turn a profit on nearly any film with second-rate kung fu and third-rate CGI not even fit for a high school audio visual club. The one drawback of this filmmaking strategy is that you rarely see a Chinese blockbuster – or, more specifically, a Chinese-made blockbuster. Chinese people are crazy for Harry Potter and worship at the altar of Michael Bay – an altar no doubt made robot testicles wrapped in C4 – and by far the biggest “event” movie to premiere during my five years in China was none other than Avatar. Chinese-made films just don’t generate that kind of buzz among the natives. My wife is a rabid defender of Chinese culture, and though she’s seen her fair share of Chinese films over the past few years, she couldn’t recall a single one off the top of her head: “Chinese movies? You’re not supposed to remember them after you watch them.”

That isn’t to say that there haven’t been a few event movies made by the Chinese during my time here. I can think of three clear examples, and the circumstances surrounding the release three movies were each so quintessentially Chinese that I, as a student of this proud culture, feel honored to have witnessed.

 

建国大业 The Founding of a Republic – Oct. 2009

 

On any normal year the Chinese celebrate their National Day with enough pomp and circumstance to make even the most hardcore Fourth of July celebration look as lame as Kirk Cameron’s Five-Dollar Footlong Birthday Bash, but this particular year was special: the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China! I’m still not sure why 60 was such a significant number –after all, Betty White is almost three decades older. Chinese scholars maintain that the founding of the PRC was more significant than the birth of Betty White – but since they were reared on PRC propaganda while I was reared on reruns of “The Golden Girls,” we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

The celebrations culminated in the release of “The Founding of a Republic”, the most hyped film to premiere inChinain my recollection. The ad blitz was unprecedented. Just about every big-name Chinese actor – Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi and John Woo, to name a few – would make a cameo appearance in the film. Apparently the China Film Bureau had spread the word: “if you’re not in this film, then you hateChina.”

The film was hyped as a dramatic, but historically accurate, retelling of the Chinese Civil War between the Soviet-backed Communists and the American-backed Nationalists, which meant two things right off the bat:Americawould be the bad guys and Papa Joe Stalin would be among the good guys. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to see this movie.

As a student of history, I was excited to see the narrative the filmmakers would use. The story was, after all, the conflict between two Chinese political parties. Had this movie been made the Mao era the story would have been an easy sell: the defeat of corrupt, bourgeois capitalists by the overwhelming and sacred power of Marxist ideology. However, that kind of bullshit just won’t fly in modernChina. The Communist Party does a remarkable job of maintaining the name of communism while so completely disregarding the basic tenets of communism that they were recently singled out for praise by none other than Newt Gingrich, who said that theUScould learn a thing or two from the CCP and their 0% capital gains tax. It’s safe to say any government supported by Newt Gingrich isn’t going to make a film celebrating the struggle of the worker.

I sat in the theater – one of only two foreigners among the packed house – with a palpable sense of excitement. I was about to see a Communist-made movie about the victory of communism that couldn’t mention anything overtly communist. Could they pull it off?

Their solution to the narrative problem was as creative as it was ballsy. The film picks up at the end of World War II. The Nationalist party, led by Chiang Kai-shek is trying to consolidate their power at the expense ofChina’s other parties, including Mao Zedong’s Communists. The Communists leadChina’s other parties in an epic struggle against Nationalist domination, driving Chiang Kai-shek into exile inTaiwan. At the end of the film, the Communists invite the other parties to sign the charter for the new People’s Republic ofChina. As Mao and his cohorts stand proudly on stage, the subtitles announce that 19 political parties were invited to the first congress of the PRC. The end.

Huh? Nineteen political parties…in China? So the Communist Party’s victory wasn’t a victory for communism at all…but a victory for multi-party democracy. One can only guess as to what happened next: those other 18 political parties found to CCP to be so awesome that they all willingly disbanded. And to this day, no Chinese person has even thought of starting another party.

That bizarre narrative aside, the writers didn’t take the opportunity to thoroughly demonize the Nationalists. I guess that was to be expected – the relationship betweenChinaandTaiwanhas thawed significantly in the past few years, and Chinese audiences have mostly lost their taste for films bashing the Nationalists. Still, I was hoping for a good old-fashioned Maoist propaganda film, and I was left with a movie that was disappointingly nuanced.

The atmosphere in the theater was surprisingly tame. Spirits in the crowd were piqued a bit during the climactic scene in which the Americans lowered their flag and abandoned their embassy, but I never felt like I was about to be lynched.

My most awkward moment as a spectator came during a rather unimportant scene. As Chairman Mao and his staff discussed strategy, a cook came out to meet them. The mere sight of this pudgy dufus sparked a delirious fit of laughter among the Chinese in the audience.

My wife sensed my confusion. “That man is Fan Wei,” she explained, “the number one comedian inChina. He is so funny! Everybody loves him!”

I could certainly see that. Listening to the crowd’s reaction triggered a depressing thought: there is no comedian on Earth who can get that kind laughter out of me simply by walking onscreen.

The dufus professes his undying love for Chairman Mao and says he will work diligently as the chairman’s personal cook. Mao humbly accepts and offers the cook a cigarette. The cook squeals with delight: “I cannot smoke the cigarette given to me by Chairman Mao. I must keep it. I will cherish it forever.”

The cook’s manic, sweaty bit of Mao-worship brought more howls of laughter from the audience.

Cut to the next scene. Nationalist warplanes savagely bomb the Communist camp. As the soldiers flee for their lives, the cook suddenly stops in his tracks. “I forgot Chairman Mao’s breakfast on the stove! I must go back for it!” No sooner does he run back to the kitchen than the building takes a direct hit from a Nationalist bomb. Cut to a graveyard. Chairman Mao offers a brief eulogy and honors the cook buy leaving a whole pack of cigarettes on his tombstone.

The idea of casting the funniest man inChinaand killing him of for Mao’s breakfast was more than I could bear. I must admit to letting out the most inappropriate laugh heard in a movie theater since Homer Simpson first viewed the classic Han Moleman short “Man Getting Hit by Football.”

“What was the fucking point of all that,” I howled. As I regained my composure, I glanced at rest of the audience. The Chinese people didn’t seem to mind; there were enough laughs to be had by all.

 

Memories of Chinese New Year

I’ve had a few reasons to celebrate recently: my fifth anniversary in China, my fifth Chinese New Year and, most importantly, the New York Giants’ fifth trip to the Super Bowl. Since this isn’t the first time Chinese New Year – Spring Fesitval, as the  Chinese like to call it – has coincided with a Giants’ Super Bowl run, I thought I’d reminisce on the magical day of Feb. 10, 2008 in Changchun.

 

            One problem with watching important American sporting events live in China – meaning, in the wee small hours of the morning – is the gaping void left in the rest of your day. Had I watched the Giants’ miraculous Super Bowl XLII upset of the Patriots back in the states, I would have celebrated deliriously for an hour or two, and then passed out from sheer exhaustion. As it was, the clocks inChina had just passed noon, and outside my window Chinese office workers shuffled about on their lunch breaks, totally unaware of Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, the 18-0 Patriots, and the magnificent David Tyree helmet catch which had just sent their world crashing down around them.

What should I do now? It was payday, which meant a fresh paper bag stuffed with discretionary cash waiting for me at school. There I caught up with my buddy Erik.

“Wanna grab a couple beers and buy a bunch of fireworks?” he asked.

“Hell yeah,” I replied, “This is a day worth celebrating.”

Spring Festival – the granddaddy of all Chinese holidays – was fast approaching, and the fireworks stands had spread to nearly every street corner in the city. I’ve always had a somewhat complicated relationship with this holiday. I love the days off, but I’m terrified of the chaos of traveling at the same time as roughly 900,000,000 Chinese people. I appreciate the startling casualness of elderly people playing majiang, but I’m frustrated by their initially violent refusal of any gift – I know they want the gift, I know they’ll take it eventually, do we really need all the pretense and keqi? I love the dumplings, but I still have a hard time biting into pig’s feet. But I have nothing but love for the fireworks.

For a few weeks each year the people of Changchuntake to the streets each evening – child in one hand, fireworks in the other – and light off a blitz of light and sound that consumes the city. The sheer number of people lighting fireworks, combined with the rather lax Chinese approach to public safety, gives the Spring Festival season a chaotic feel that is astonishing to behold – less “4th of July” and more “firebombing ofDresden.” The year before I had called home and held my phone out the window so family and friends could hear the carnage; I felt like a war correspondent covering the Battle of Britain. It truly is a joy to watch, but you have to keep your head on a swivel, ready to hit the deck if some misfired rocket should happen to explode a little too close for comfort.

Erik and I hit the fireworks stands just after sundown. We came with two large black trash bags, ready to devour the smorgasbord of fireworks laid out before us – skyrockets, bottle rockets, fountains, roman candles, belts of M-80’s. Within minutes we had caused a minor uproar on the street; Chinese witnesses were calling their friends to tell them that the waiguoren were buying up all the fireworks in sight. Nothing impresses the Chinese quite as much as a man willing to blow an obscene amount of money on fireworks.

I spotted a massive multi-shot box behind the fireworks stand: “The grand finale, we gotta have it.”

We hauled the spoils over to the nearest open space:Culture Square, in the center of the city. Spending any amount of time outdoors inChangchunin February is a life-or-death battle against bitter cold and the treacherous, icy sidewalks. Every foreigner who has lived inNortheast Chinahas at least once laughed of the absurdity of people celebrating a “spring” festival in late-January/early-February, with the temperatures often plunging past fifteen below. Still, the Chinese were calling it spring, and they had the fireworks to sell: when inChina, detonate as the Chinese detonate.

We started the show, launching glittering rockets toward the penthouses of the high-rise apartments, laying anaconda lengths of firecrackers to pop-pop-pop across the icy street. Chinese people came from blocks around, eager to partake in the mayhem. This wasn’t usual crowd of stalkers come to peer shamelessly into the exotic world of the foreigner. This was a kindred vibe – almost as if it were two regular dudes lighting off the fireworks. The crowd came simply to show the show.

As I lit off the grand finale I called out, “This is for the Giants!” The crowd clapped their approval. Of course, nobody in the crowd knew a goddamn thing about the Giants, or American football. They simply loved the fireworks.

Designing An Anti-Tebow

Editor’s Note: This article was written before the Broncos were eliminated from the playoffs,  but since our Crusade Bowl had already been set for Feb. 3, 2013, Tebow is still on track.

One of the great advantages of living thousands of miles away from America is that I find it easier to insulate myself from the more annoying and pervasive aspects of American culture. When my students ask me what music is popular in America nowadays, I can smile and honestly answer, “I have no idea.” I recently came across a news site with a photo of an attractive young girl named Selena Gomez. I have no idea why she’s famous – or if she’s over 18 – and I’m probably better off not knowing either.

The same thing goes for sports. I haven’t watched ESPN in twelve glorious months. I haven’t been exposed to Skip Bayless’s leathery goblin mug in years – though it still haunts my nightmares. Through the miracle of the internet, I can follow my teams and bypass the ESPN hype machine altogether.

I have, however, learned that a gentleman in Denver named Tim Tebow has garnered some measure of national attention. I first became aware of him during his college career. Though I’m a maniacal sports junkie, I can no more than casually follow college football, land of the BCS (a.k.a. the closest thing Americahas to the Chinese Communist Party) and Jerry Sandusky. Still, the kid was clearly a great college QB. I heard snippets of his personal life – his missionary father, his awe-inspiring virginity[1]– mostly from a Sports Illustrated article where his father, Pastor Bob Tebow, recounts the miraculous story of his birth. (Spoiler Alert: his parents don’t get the abortion.)

Now Tebow has joined with that most American of hype machines, the NFL.[2] Now, I’m a Giants fan, and I try to keep my football interests as Giants-related as possible. Since the Broncos never played the Giants this season I paid him little mind, but the sheer volume of Tebocity has been mind-boggling. Still, I valiantly stuck to my Giants news blogs, in a vain attempt to avoid being dragged headlong into the fray. Unfortunately, one day I happened to stumble upon a Tebow article by one of my favorite writers, Charles P. Pierce.

Money quote:

To call Tim Tebow a “Christian,” and to leave it at that — as though there were one definition of what a “Christian” is — is to say nothing and everything at once. Roman Catholics are Christians. So are Lutherans, Episcopalians, Melkites, Maronites, and members of the Greek and Russian Orthodox faiths. You can see how insidious this is when discussion turns to the missionary work that Tebow’s family has done in the Philippines. This is from the Five Priorities of the Bob Tebow ministries, regarding its work overseas:

It is the goal of the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association to preach the gospel to every person who has never had an opportunity to hear the good news of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Most of the world’s population has never once had the opportunity to hear the only true message of forgiveness of sins by faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.

It so happens that 95 percent of the population of the Philippines is Roman Catholic. Catholic doctrine just happens to be in conflict with what Bob Tebow and his son preach in regard to personal salvation. (To devout Catholics, for example, sins are not forgiven “by faith alone,” but through the sacrament of reconciliation as administered by a priest.) Bob Tebow’s goal is not to convert unbelievers. It is to supplant an existing form of Christianity.”

Sheeeit! Now I have a dog in this fight. I am by no means a practicing Catholic – I haven’t been in a church in about a decade – but a good number of my family members are, including three of my four grandparents (Grandmom is Presbyterian).  I don’t particularly care what religion you claim, as long as you keep it out of my face. But I absolutely cannot abide American Protestants who accuse American Catholics of impiety. Really, you wanna start the Catholic-Protestant beef again? Are we still in the 1800s? Fine, if you want to play the role of Bill the Butcher, then I insist we settle this on the street- Gangs of New York-style: you grab your top hat and knife and meet me at the town square at dawn. Prepare to receive the true Lord!

Maybe I’m too hard on Bob Tebow; maybe his only fault is being too vague.  After all, he’s not trying to evangelise all Catholics, only Filipinos. I used to live in the hardcore Christian dormitory when I taught at Jilin University of Economics, and two of the girls who taught there were Filipina. They certainly seemed, at first blush, like serious Christians, but I never got the chance to ask them whether or not they’d heard the gospel according to Bob Tebow. If they haven’, then their Christianity is clearly invalid.

Goddamnit, this Tebow business is polarizing! I can already feel my blood pressure rising. I’m being compelled to throw down a fat wad of pesos into the sleazy Tijuanacockfighting ring we call the Culture Wars.  Americans have long enjoyed staking their interest to proxy wars – fighting the “real” enemy through a surrogate. We tried this approach during the Cold War, and while it didn’t necessarily work out on the field of battle (Korean War – still technically ongoing, Vietnam – yeesh, arming the Afghan mujahadeen to fight the Soviets – turned out one of those guys was Osama bin Laden), it certainly produced great moments in the world of sports (Miracle on Ice, Rocky IV).

           The only problem is that Tebow, while polarizing, lacks a direct personal antithesis. He’sAmerica’s Christian Rocky, but who is his Ivan Drago? The liberal media? Secularists? In wrestling parlance, Tebow is a babyface with no heel.

This problem seems rather easily corrected – after all, good wrestling heels can be made as well as born.  When Vince McMahon needed a villain on the eve of Operation Desert Storm, he had Sergeant Slaughter team up with two “Eye-raqis,” providing a worthy foil for Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior to fight a proxy Gulf War. The Great Tebow War requires a similar nemesis- what we need is an anti-Tebow.

Normally, this kind of war is better left to individual sports, like boxing; Football, we are told, is the ultimate team sport. But Tebow appears to transcend the concept of the team – seriously, who outside of Colorado can name two other members of the Denver Broncos? So we need mould a talented, charismatic young quarterback to act as the mortal enemy of Tebow.

Now, it goes without saying that this anti-Tebow must be Muslim. Nothing less will do. After all, Tebow’s must fervent supporters are many of the same people who believe that sharia law has invaded our judicial system and that Obama studied in an Indonesian madrassa. Besides, we haven’t had a quality Muslim sports villain since Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali[3], setting the stage for perhaps the most awesomely absurd proxy culture sports war in American history, the first Ali-Frazier fight. Fighting for the hippie, pinko, blame-America-first crowd was Muhammad Ali – a man now so universally beloved by Americans that he was chosen to light the Olympic torch. Fighting for traditional, mainstream white America was Joe Frazier, the 100% black grandson of sharecroppers – a man who actually won that fight, and was summarily dumped by mainstream American, dying in relative obscurity. Poor Joe Frazier even had to deal with the indignity of being the subject of an article titled “Is Joe Frazier a Black Champion in White Skin?”…written by Bryant Gumbel. I’m whiter than Joe Frazier and Bryant Gumbel put together, and even I think that’s cold.

Therein lies the beauty of the proxy sports war: we can build our champions and villains out of the ether.America wanted a Great White Hope to beat Ali, so we built one out of a black man. Since the NFL doesn’t have a high-profile Muslim quarterback, we’ll have to develop one, with the generous help of Wahhabi Islam endorsement money.

Can we convince the radical clerics of Wahhabi Islam to offer a huge endorsement deal to an American football player? I don’t see why not. Wahhabi Islam seems to have a lot in common with Nike: both are well-funded, youth-oriented industries with fantastically effective ad campaigns. (Clerics convinced young boys to martyr themselves for fantasy virgins; Nike convinced me I could possibly dunk if I bought their shoes) Who knows: the Wahhabis might have successfully conquered America back in the 80’s if only they had beaten Nike to the punch and signed Michael Jordan. Fortunately for us they never discovered the two most fundamental principles of athlete endorsements:

  1. People will buy anything Michael Jordan sells them.
  2. Michael Jordan will do anything – literally, anything – for money.

So let’s say we can convince the Saudi clerics to pony up a lucrative Islam endorsement deal – let’s say $150 million and 15 wives, at least 5 Somali – we’re still left with the matter of finding the perfect Muslim quarterback. My prayers were answered the other day when I read a report that reigning Heisman award-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III was seeking an agent to declare for next year’s draft. That kid set all kinds of NCAA passing records, and he’s expected to go as high as Number 2 inthe draft, so he can clearly play. One might be concerned to learn he’s not a Muslim – he is, in fact, a God-fearing Christian son of two Army sergeants who is currently working on his Masters degree – but if America can turn Joe Frazier into a white man, I think we can turn this kid into a Muslim.

Besides, once he signs that Muslim endorsement deal, his all-American background becomes all the more insidious, based on what I call the “All-American Muslim Effect.” You might have encountered it last month in the controversy surrounding the TLC documentary series “All-American Muslim,” when the show was protested by “family” groups offended by the dastardly portrayal of Muslim Americans acting like actual Americans. Can you imagine the shit storm that will ensue when the Florida Family Association is introduced to a Muslim quarterback with two parents in the military? The game is afoot!

Since football is still technically a team game, we need to select the right squad for our anti-Tebow to lead. The choice seems obvious: the San Francisco 49ers. The team has a top-flight defense, but their quarterback situation is still a joke. The city itself is the perfect foil for the Tebowites – could they possibly hate any city more than San Francisco? Gays! Hippies! Tim Lincecum smoking dope out of his pot bong! We could turn Candlestick Park into Mecca West: cheerleaders in burkas, halal food in the concession stands, a dancing bearded ayatollah mascot. And the coup-de-grace: our anti-Tebow prostrating himself toward Mecca after each touchdown.

With the Tebow and anti-Tebow placed in opposite conferences, the stage will have been set for the Granddaddy of All Crusades, next year’s Super Bowl XLVII. Now, the week before the Super Bowl the mayors of each team’s city usually make some cute bet involving a local delicacy, like Kansas City barbecue or New England lobster. I say, for the Crusade Bowl, we raise the stakes. If the Tebow wins, than Michelle Bachman and Rick Santorum become co-regents of a new puritanical utopia where everyone wears Pilgrim hats, burns witches and calls each other “Goodman.” If the anti-Tebow wins, we submit ourselves to sharia law and kill anyone who doesn’t grow a beard. If the Tebow wins, we’ll admit that the Lord’s name is God, and if the anti-Tebow wins, we’ll admit that the Lord’s name is Allah. And in case of a tie…haha, I’m just messing with you. Thanks be to God – or, if the 49ers win, Praise be to Allah – that we as a country have evolved beyond the need for ties.


[1] Tim Tebow maintaining his virginity at the University of Florida is perhaps the most impressive feat of self-denial in the history of mankind. He was a football star…in Florida! Seriously, I’m pretty sure Southern states legally permit their football players to keep concubines.

[2] The most NFL moment of my lifetime happened last year before the Super Bowl, when the NFL showed a montage of football players and military personnel reading the Declaration of Independence – the entire Declaration…not just the relevant parts. You’d think that someone would have read it beforehand and said, “Whoa, hold on a second. Maybe we should just read the first few paragraphs, because the rest of it is a list of specific grievances against King George III, and he’s been dead for like 200 years.” Nah, that’s not how the NFL rolls.

[3] “His mama named him Clay, I’m-a call him Clay.”


My Favorite Grover

A great deal of ink has been spilled these past few years over the influence of Grover Norquist – the philosophical guru of the modern GOP, the intransigent tax-a-phobe who would most likely kill his own son for so much as proposing a 1.5% tax on the producers of snuff films in order to fund the world’s largest statue of Ronald Reagan. Love him or hate him, I think everyone can agree on one thing: Grover is one badass name. Since he isn’t the first famous Grover, I thought it might be fun to play a little game of “Rank the Grover.” Here is a list of famous Grovers – you can decide for yourself which Grover is the Goveriest:

–         Grover Norquist

I first became acquainted with this Grover from reading his now-famous quote: “I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Now, I may not agree with the idea of straight-up murdering the government, but I do appreciate a well-turned phrase. This guy sure knows how to describe a murder with panache! Any hack could speak of drowning the government in a lake or a swimming pool, but an analogy using such a large body of water implies that the government might be big enough to put up a struggle. Well, Grover Norquist does not drown things that can fight back! Apparently he has thought this drowning through, and he knows well enough that anything you can fit into a bathtub will be easy to drown. Why does Grover Norquist have so much expertise drowning things in bathtubs? That’s a personal matter between Grover and his local police department.

He is credited with creating the hugely influential lobby “Americans for Tax Reform,” but I’m not quite sure if he is the cause or merely a symptom of the phenomenon of Washingtonlobbyists turning the word “American” into an epithet. Perhaps he was the first asshole to name his lobby “Americans for _______,” but I doubt it. The first lobbyists undoubtedly came to this country on the Mayflower; perhaps their first organization was even named “Americans for Witch Burning.” All I know is that I’m sick of these lobbies and super-PACs using the word “American.”[1] Look, I get it: you’re American, and you’re for something. I’m American too, and I’m also for certain things. How about you find a candidate who’s for what you’re for, and vote for him; I’ll do the same, and we’ll call it “democracy.”

Grover is best known these days as the man behind the no-tax pledge. This is no metaphor: there is an actual piece of paper each Republican worth his salt must sign, pledging never raising taxes under any circumstances. Grover isn’t a Republican, per se – his loyalty is to the pledge, not the party. President George H.W. signed Grover’s pledge, and then famously stabbed poor Grover in the back by raising taxes. Well, Grover got his revenge, delighting in Bush’s reelection loss to Bill Clinton. Bush’s loss, Grover said, proved that “this is one promise a politician can’t break.” Ha! Take that, Bush! You violated the only oath you ever took that really mattered. That other oath you took – that you would faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and would to the best of your ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States – just got f’ed in the a!

Grover’s secret world of unbreakable oaths certainly sparks the imagination. What are the inner workings of his no-tax pledge society? What of their secret initiation ceremonies? We know that Yale’s “Skull and Bones” society uses the skull of Geronimo; whose skull does Grover Norquist use – Barry Goldwater’s? This looks like a job for author Dan Brown. I’m calling you out, Dan: you’ve already tackled the Knights Templar, Freemasons and the Illuminati, and now I want you to write a novel about the Grover Norquist Promise Keepers. Take us inside their bizarre ceremonies- the Reagan masks, the silver goblets filled with the blood of albino virgins, the Grover myth of creation, told through interpretive dance.[2] And let’s not forget the ceremonial orgy – we all know that’s what gives the no-taxers their power. Some might blanch at the idea of a bunch of old white dudes having sex with each other: Isn’t that gay sex? Don’t these guys make their political bones by turning voters against homosexuals? It’s a common mistake to make, but the simple fact is that there’s nothing “gay” in a bunch of guys having sex with each other…so long as they’re doing it in the name of tax reform.

–         Grover Cleveland

 You might know him as the 22nd and 24th president of the United States – so nice, we counted him twice. Nowadays he’s best known for his non-conescutiveness, and for being the inspiration of one of Abraham Simpson’s better old-timey jokes: “In my day we got spanked by presidents ‘til the cows came home. Grover Cleveland spanked me on two non-consecutive occasions.” There are, however, a few other things of note about the only Grover to be elected president.

GroverClevelandwas one of only three men inUShistory to win the popular vote in three different presidential elections – bonus points if you can name the other two. He won the Electoral College in 1884 and 1892. During the 1888 election he received what we now call “the Al Gore treatment” – winning the popular vote, but narrowly losing the Electoral College to Benjamin Harrison, while the one state in the balance (Indiana) seemed to be rife with all kinds of election-day shenanigans.

It is also interesting to note that Grover Cleveland was the only Democrat elected president during the fifty year period following the Civil War (1861-1913.) Remember that, Democrats, the next time you complain that your side rarely wins elections these days. Of course, each party’s ideology wasn’t quite as rigid back in those days. GroverCleveland was elected as a pro-business, anti-labor Democrat – he and Grover Norquist probably would have been good buddies.

Furthermore, the most prominent Republican of the time was Theodore Roosevelt, a man so progressive he broke away to form his own Progressive Party. It might not surprise you to find out Grover Norquist isn’t much of a T.R. fan. His stated goal is to bringAmericaback to what it was “up until Teddy Roosevelt, when the socialists took over – the income tax, the death tax, regulation, all that.” I guess we know which face Grover Norquist would dynamite offMt.Rushmorefirst. Grover just wants to take us back to a better time – which, according to him, is the late1800’s. That certainly was a freer time in America: 10-year-olds had the freedom to work in coal mines, meat companies had the freedom to sell you tainted meat; Coca-cola had the freedom to spike their drinks with cocaine, states were free from federal interference and activist judges (free to enact Jim Crow laws); women were free from oppressive burden of voting.

–         Grover Cleveland Alexander

Clearly he was the greatest of the 16 Major leaguers ever to be called Grover. Before I learned of Grover Norquist, this was probably my least favorite Grover. I still haven’t forgiven him for striking out Yankees 2B Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded in the 7th inning of Game 7 of the 1926 World Series, winning the title for the St. Louis Cardinals. But even a lunatic Yankee fan like me would find it hard to argue with his Hall of Fame resume:

–         373 wins(3rd all time)

–         90 shutouts (NL record)

–         Lifetime 2.56 ERA

And his record would look a hell of a lot better if he hadn’t been drafted into the army during the prime of his career to fight in WWI. While serving inFrance, a German shell exploded near his ear, costing him part of his hearing and triggering an onset of epilepsy. After the war he returned to the mound and managed to pitch through epileptic fits, shell shock and his own alcoholism. Truly, this Grover was a badass.

–         Grover the Muppet

Look, I love Muppets…but I must admit that Grover doesn’t do much for me. To me he’s the other blue one on Sesame Street; the one who isn’t Cookie Monster. Give me Cookie Monster any day of the week. If I made a list of my favorite Muppets, I doubt Grover would even crack top 20. Still, I’ll take a mediocre Muppet over an accomplished human any day of the week.

In conclusion, my personal Grover Ranking would go thusly:

  1.  Muppet
  2. Cleveland (Alexander)
  3. Cleveland (regular)
  4. Norquist

[1] Karl Rove’s super-PAC is called “American Crossroads.” The only way I will ever respect that group is if Rove goes on TV to announce he named his group after the Bone, Thugs and Harmony song “Tha Crossroads.”

[2] “In the beginning, there was the god Free Enterprise and the goddess Laissez-Faire Capitalism. They had a child and they named it America. But the evil witch called the Welfare Queen seethed in her ivory federal tower, and sent her evil flying monkeys “Death Tax” and “Civil Rights Act of1964” to kill the child…”

Kim Jong-il: Horrible Dictator, Awesome Namesmith

Upon hearing of the death of Kim Jong-il – the Guiding Sun Ray, the Ever-Victorious Iron-Willed Commander, the Count of Monte Fist-o[1] – I had some conflicting emotions. On the one hand, he was a despicable, egomaniacal dictator responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent Koreans. On the other hand…wait, there’s another hand? How can there possibly be another hand?

            I’d have to say that, of all the psychotic, marauding dictators of the world, Kim Jong-il was the one I could best identify with. If the Make-A-Wish Foundation could plumb the deepest, darkest depths of my id and ask it to live out its own fantasy for a day, I’m sure my id would jump at the chance to spend a day as Kim Jong-il. In his regime I can see some of my own most wretched fantasies and insecurities taken to their horrifying conclusion. That certainly doesn’t excuse his atrocities, but it does speak to the danger of a nation controlled by one man’s id run amok.

Each dictator rules his people through some mix of fear and adulation. Though they couldn’t long survive without a little of both, every despot seems to veer toward one particular side of the fear-love spectrum. On the fear side, you have the swarthy military strongman – a badass, made-for-Chuck-Norris super-villain, decked out in fatigues and aviators, sporting an AK-47 inone hand and his dick in the other. These are the James Dean dictators: the ones who couldn’t possibly care less what the world thinks of them; the ones who scream “come at me, bro” in their respective languages; the kind of guys who could get the girl even without threatening and torturing her parents, but who torture her parents anyway just for shits and giggles.

As for me, I just can’t identify personally with these jocks of the despot world. My man Kim, on the other hand, definitely tilted toward the other end of the spectrum: the Cult of Personality type – or C.O.P. for short.[2] Sure, Kim Jong-il never missed a chance to burn accused conspirators alive in his soccer stadium[3], but his government seemed to revel in leading the world in propaganda and hero worship. The man clearly had a desperate, neurotic need to be loved – like a despotic Woody Allen.[4]

So what will be the final legacy of Kim Jong-il? Will it be his acquisition of nuclear weapons? I sincerely doubt it: we in the West seem to be suffering from a bit of “Nuke Fatigue.” After all, we knew he was developing them for years, and we only kinda, sorta gave a shit. Pakistan has nuclear weapons, and we give even less of a shit about that – despite the fact that they suffer a military coup about every five years, a good portion of their territory is virtually ungovernable, Osama bin Laden hid out there undisturbed for a decade, and there’s a decent chance they start a full-on war with India by the time I finish typing this sentence.

Will he be remembered for the devastating famine of the 1990’s which killed an estimated 400,000 – 800,000 people? Doubtful. I don’t even remember that happening at all. I guess that, between O.J. and Monica Lewinsky, the media just didn’t have a lot of time to report on it. Also, the history of the 20th century has taught me that totalitarian government-driven famines are pretty easy to sweep under the rug. Hell, I hear they’re even rehabilitating Stalin in Russian history books. You thinkNorth Korea can’t pull that trick? Their government propaganda makes Russian government propaganda look like PBS.

Sadly, he won’t even be remembered best for his “mini-Elvis” style: jumpsuit and pompadour and what-have-you. That style already belonged to Oakland Raiders’ owner Al Davis. What he will be remembered for is his awesome and extensive list of titles:

Let’s break down down…and damn, are there a lot of them:

Center of the Party, Superior Person, Dear Leader, Respected Leader, Wise Leader, Brilliant Leader, Unique Leader, Dear Leader, who is a perfect incarnation of the appearance that a leader should have, Commander-in-Chief, Great Leader, Father of the People, Sun of the Communist Future, Shining Star of Paektu Mountain, Guiding Ray of Sun, Leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, Guarantee of the Fatherland’s Unification, Symbol of the Fatherland’s Unification, Fate of the Nation, Beloved Father, Leader of the Party, of the country, and of the Army, Leader, General, Great Leader of our Party and of our Nation, Great General, Beloved and Respected General, Great Leader, Beloved and Respected Leader, Invincible and Iron-Willed Commander, Sun of Socialism, Sun of the Nation, The Great Sun of Life, Great Sun of The Nation, Father of the Nation, World’s Leader of The 21st Century, Peerless Leader, Bright Sun of the 21st Century, Great Sun of the 21st Century, Leader of the 21st Century, Amazing politician, Great Man Who Descended From Heaven, Glorious General Who Descended From Heaven, Supreme Leader of the Nation, Bright Sun of Juche, Leader of the Party and the People, Great Marshal, Invincible and All-triumphant General, Beloved and Respected Father, Guiding Star of the 21st Century, Great Man, Who Is a Man of Deeds, Great Defender, Savior, Mastermind of the Revolution, Highest Incarnation of the Revolutionary Comradely Love, His Excellency

By official count, Kim Jong-il had more nicknames than all nine members of the Wu-Tang Clan combined. And, as the world’s foremost expert on North Koreaand the Wu-Tang, I can tell you that is no small feat! But what do all these names say about the man and his government?

Sure, obsessive nicknaming worked for the Ol’ Dirty Bastard, but it isn’t necessarily a healthy habit for the leader of a modern nation-state. It seems to me one of the fundamental flaws in the communist ideology is that the development of any communist state will inexorably lead to authoritarian rule by some douche who spends an inordinate amount of time manufacturing new titles for himself. Over-titling is a serious character flaw for any leader: a leader whose claim to authority is weak will stack title upon title in a desperate reach for legitimacy. We’ve all played that stacking game before – it’s called “Jenga”, and it doesn’t end well.

This over-titling affects nations as well as leaders. What, after all, is in a name? Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Would a republic by any other name smell any less like bullshit? Many of us have become wary of nations who pile needless adjectives in front of the word “Republic” in their title. It is much the same sensation which leads you to clutch your wallet a little tighter when walking into “Honest Larry’s Discount Stereo.” Some adjectives are better left implied.

Do you really need to call your republic a People’s republic? I doubt the rest of the world will see your republic as decidedly more people-y. And let’s not forgot the country formerly known asZaire: their decision to change their name to the Democratic Republic of Congo heralded a new era of democracy and republicanism – if, by “democracy” you mean “genocide”, and by “republicanism” you mean “mass rape.”

Call me crazy, but the “Republic”-preceding adjective I find least annoying is “Islamic” – as in The Islamic Republic of Iran.” Say what you want aboutIran, but they don’t bullshit you with their name. You know exactly what you’re getting yourself into: Islam, and lots of it!

As for my man Kim Jong-il, his nation managed the Double Whammy: The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). You mean to tell me that there’s a republican government out there that is some kind of people democracy? Sign me up!

Some titles are clearly the byproduct of running a communist state (ex: Center of the Party), while others seem inappropriately passed down from his father, Kim Il-sung (Mastermind of the Revolution[5]). It’s helpful to remember that he inherited this cult from his father. He went to school with other North Korean children, and indoctrinated with the idea that Kim Il-sung – his father – was essentially a deity. Going through school as short, pudgy boy, like Kim Jong-il, can be no picnic; I know from experience. Now imagine for a moment that the short, pudgy boy was placed in a school where his classmates were taught every day that he was the son of God. That’s every short, pudgy boy’s dream! Forget my old fantasy of becoming captain of the football team; I’m the son of God…and nobody gets laid more than the son of God! It is believed that a young Kim Jong-il first garnered favor with his father by directing a movie…about his father. Clearly, this kid new how to play the game: first you make the propaganda, then you get the power, then you get the women.

As for some of the others, they are clearly the work of an insecure little boy with time on his hands and access to a platoon of title-scribes. I get the fact that these communist chairman will call themselves “Dear Leader”, but to keep on riffing with “Respected Leader”, “Wise Leader”, “Brilliant Leader”, “Unique Leader[6]”? And then we come to the piece de resistance: Dear Leader, who is a perfect incarnation of the appearance that a leader should have.” Dude…overkill much? “Perfect incarnations” don’t have to wear platform shoes.

I must admit a certain jealous over all his military titles. I’ve always wanted to be a general…so long as I never had to start at any rank lower than general. I could never possibly do any of the things required in actually achieving the rank of general. On the other hand, being called a general without ever having done anything remotely military is my idea of heaven. And my man Kim did my fantasy one step better – he had the people call him “Invincible and All-triumphant General,” all the while sitting in one of his 17 mansions, drinking the world largest private collection of Hennessey. Take that, every rapper who ever lived!

The more extreme of his titles cross what Whalen Smithers once described as “that line between regular villainy and cartoonish super-villainy.” His gaggle of astrological titles – Shining Star of Paektu Mountain, Great Sun of Life – reassure the world that, 2000 years since the last of the pharaohs, a leader can still think of himself as a sun god. And that’s a comforting thought…isn’t it? We live in a world of increasing religious fanaticism, with more and more countries bypassing the old-school dictatorship style in favor of full-on theocracy. I see this as a major problem going forward for two reasons:

  1. Fighting an army indoctrinated by a cult of personality is much easier than fighting a group of religious fanatics. Not that the C.O.P.’s  would be less fanatical – since the Japanese soldiers of WWII seemed more than happy to blow themselves up for the emperor – but that the faith of a religious army has no earthly focus to attack and control. Take, for example, our nation-building efforts in Japanafter WWII. To ensure total Japanese capitulation and cooperation, all we had to do was convince one man, Emperor Hirohito. The Japanese cult of personality, which had compelled Japanese soldiers to fly planes into our ships, eventually turned to our benefit. The Japanese situation was uniquely suited to our army’s occupation: even if the people hated the idea of a foreign army in their country – what country actually would appreciate a foreign occupation – their unflinching loyalty to the emperor paved the way for our successful rebuilding effort. Contrast this with, say, any of the Muslim countries we have occupied, are currently occupying, or soon hope to occupy. Our stated military strategy has been to invade with overwhelming force, remove the unfavorable government, and then…make them like us? How do we do that? With bribes. But who can we bribe? For every one mullah we bring over to our side, ten more mullahs will make their bones by denouncing us. There is no one focal point for their fanaticism, which leaves you with only three choices when it comes to an occupation: 1. don’t even try it. 2. kill absolutely everyone. 3. find a way to bribe God.
  2. Compared to a cult of personality, a theocracy is flat-out boring. Let’s say for a minute that you have the choice to rule as a theocrat or rule as a C.O.P dictator. First, you can obviously throw the needs of the people right out the window: they’ll suffer in either type of government. Instead, try to focus on which type of government would be more fun. In a theocracy, you’re nothing but a priest or a mullah. Sure, the Ayatollah might have absolute power, and he and his family might have billions stashed in some Swiss bank accounts, but he still must appear to be a humble servant of God. And what fun is it for someone with that my power to appear to be a humble servant of anyone? Why not simply declare yourself the sun god instead?

So goodbye, Kim Jong-il – Your Excellency, Peerless Leader, Last King of Scotland, Iron Lion of Zion. And may your awesome titles live much longer than your actual political influence on that poor country you so repeatedly violated.

           


[1] Try to guess which of those titles are real and which were taken from Apollo Creed.

[2] Don’t confuse this C.O.P. with the C.O.P. program from Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol.

[3] …thereby creating the greatest home-field advantage in world soccer. Ever wonder howNorth Korea qualified for the last World Cup? Well, their home record was pretty damn good, playing in Rungrado Stadium – which holds up to 150,000 North Korean fans whose lives may-or-may-not depend on the game’s outcome, and people are burned alive in mass public executions.

[4] One more thing Kim Jong-il and Woody Allen had in common: a love of young Korean girls.  Burn, Woody Allen!

[5] Illogical titles such as this are the reason I wouldn’t have lasted two days as a North Korean. I don’t think I could’ve held back my incredulity: “How the hell was he the Mastermind of the Revolution? His father masterminded the revolution before he was even born! Was he masterminding the revolution as a sperm, plotting from within his father’s gonads?” I have the same feeling whenever I hear that nepotistic, no-talent ass clown Joe Buck pilfer his legendary father’s famous catchphrases on air. Yes, I’m equating Joe Buck with Kim Jong-il…and I’m surprised I didn’t do it sooner.

[6] Unique Leader certainly doesn’t translate well into English: sounds too much like “Special Leader.” Once the world finds out you’re a Special Leader, they’ll only let you participate in the Special UN.

2012 and the Apocalypse Fetish

As anyone who has taught here knows, the Chinese are more-or-less obsessed with the 2012 prophecy. The movie was hugely popular over here, (there was a movie, right? I never saw it.) and the Chinese interwebs are bursting with fake Mayan doomsday prophecies.

Throughout the world the Mayans are celebrated as a quasi-mystical super-race, who used their superior knowledge of astronomy to predict the end of the world in the year 2012. Then, much like the people of Atlantis, they vanished into the mists of theYucatan, abandoning their great cities to be reclaimed by the jungle.

So the Mayans were clearly geniuses who could see into the future. That begs the question: why didn’t their visionary leaders avoid their own grisly fate? One can certainly see a sense of fatalism coming into play. Imagine yourself in a Mayan throne room, sometime in the 10th century:

Mayan General: My Lord, our worst fears have been realized: the peasants have revolted. They’ve stormed the palace. What can we do to save the city?

 

Mayan King: Eh, screw it…the world’s gonna end in 1200 years anyway. Quickly, fetch the time machine! Let’s get us some caveman hookers!

We’re all fascinated by these “mysterious” lost societies, the ones that left such impressive monuments and then seemingly vanished into thin air. It’s an offshoot of “Dead Rockstar Syndrome” – we love the Mayans because they lived fast, died young and left beautiful ruins. To use the Cobain Analogy of Pre-Columbian societies: they arrived on the scene, laid down some quality work (Tikal= In Utero,Chichen Itza= Unplugged inNew York), then were hip enough to shoot themselves in the face with a shotgun before grunge went out of style (i.e. the conquistadors arrived).

I’ve been guilty of my fair share of dead rocker hero worship over the years, and as I’ve grown older I’ve found it to be one the more disturbing patterns of human thinking: the kind of gross perversion of reason which makes people cringe at the sight of a bloated old Stevie Wonder. Sure, you think to yourself, he was great back in the day, but every record he’s made since70’s has been complete shit. And now he’s tarnishing his legacy every time he waddles on stage at the Grammy’s. How dare he look so happy and content with his family, his millions of dollars, and his lifetime of unsurpassed musical accomplishments?

Many people reserve similar judgment for pre-Colombian societies: the Mayans had the skills to pay the bills (architecture, science, writing, zero), and those other loser Indian societies have never done anything of consequence, unless you consider “surviving” to be anything to write home about.

What does this say about our collective values? Just as Stevie Wonder doesn’t owe us a fucking thing, just as Kurt Cobain wasn’t exactly a genius for blowing his brains out, so it is that any society’s first priority should be its own survival. So how could a society as complex as the Maya, with their science and writing and zeros, end up stuffing the shotgun in their collective mouths and pulling the trigger.

The biggest surprise concerning the downfall of the Mayans is how completely unsurprising it looks in hindsight, once all the facts are considered. Archaeologists and scientists have already discovered why their civilization collapsed: their population exceeded their agricultural capacity. The ruling class of Mayan city-states, the ones entrusted with ensuring the public welfare, instead squandered their precious remaining resources in fierce religious and military rivalries with their brother cities. Each city stripped its forests to make plaster for temples and various other dick-measuring projects.  Eventually man-made famine led to civil war, anarchy and societal collapse. The Maya abandoned their great temples – despite centuries of fanatical devotion, in the end they simply walked away. I would have liked to have been in a Mayan temple as the last priest in the city walked out for the last time, just so I could ask him his thoughts on the 2012 prophecy. Somehow I think he was probably more concerned with finding his next meal.

 

           

One thing we seem to hold in common with the Maya is a certain Apocalypse fetish. Our fascination with the Apocalypse is nothing new: Western Europe spent the better part of a millennium, from the fall ofRomeuntil the Renaissance, obsessing over the end of the world. That period was so delightful and constructive that we now refer to it as The Dark Ages.

In America, the trend seemed to pick up steam leading up to the year 2000(round number!), particularly with the success of Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind” book series, essentially the Harry Potter of Armageddon. (former Growing Pains teen idol Kirk Cameron = Harry Potter, the  antichrist = Voldemort, God = Dumbledore…but wasn’t Dumbledore gay? ABORT ANALOGY! ABORT ANALOGY!)

I was hoping we would move past this morbid obsession once we passed that arbitrary year number in a calendar based on a since-refuted guess as to the year of Jesus’ birth, but boy howdy was I wrong. The past 11 years have been rife with apocalyptic talk. When I went home last year I was horrified to find that my beloved History Channel had been defiled, not only by reality shows about ice road truckers, but by a whole slew of documentary series concerning the End of Days.[1]

A fair number of people seem to think that we are living in the end times, and their reasons range anywhere from “absurd” to ludicrous. I’d like to cover a few of my personal favorites at present:

The War on Terror as a prelude to Armageddon: Look, I get it: a War on Terror sounds pretty apocalyptic. In 80 years we’ve gone from Franklin Roosevelt’s declaration that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” to literally fighting a war against fear itself, gallivanting across the globe like a better-armed Don Quixote, bombing the ever-loving shit out of Terror wherever we find it. And yet Terror somehow endures…almost as if it cannot be killed, almost as if it were never really a killable entity in the first place. But if Terror cannot be killed with bombs, then wouldn’t the idea of declaring war on some ephemeral emotion seem ridiculous and self-defeating, kind of like declaring war on “a case of the Mondays” and shifting the work week from Tuesday to Saturday? Maybe so. It certainly seems to me that the threat of a ragtag-yet-well-funded fundamentalist criminal organization doesn’t call out for Armageddon. If anything, it called out for a SEAL team to find their leader, cap him in the head, and dump his body in the ocean.

Obama as the antichrist: The number of people who openly admit this to pollsters is staggering. You know who should be most insulted by this little pet theory? Lucifer. It’s his job to unleash the antichrist, and the antichrist is supposed to do his best to tempt and seduce you over to the dark side. So if you think that Lucifer chose Barack Obama to tempt you, then you must think Lucifer is pretty fucking stupid. You think Satan doesn’t know that you don’t trust black people? We all know you don’t trust black people, buddy. I would think that Satan knows enough about good ol’ fashioned American prejudice to realize the Bible Belt isn’t going to be seduced by an antichrist named Barrack Hussein Obama. I mean, seriously guys: a black antichrist? We’re talking about the Prince of Darkness recruiting a human army for his war against heaven, not Mel Brooks remaking Blazing Saddles.

 

            Most disturbingly, this kind of thinking has invaded the body politic. Take the case of US Representative John Shimkus, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment and Economy.[2] During a hearing on climate change, he basically admitted that the earth is getting warmer, the icecaps are melting, and that humans seem to be the ones responsible. He then proceeded to brush those facts aside as completely irrelevant, quoting the Biblical story of Noah and the gospel of Matthew:

“And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds from one end of the heavens to the other.”

Long story short: climate change may be real, but it’s no biggie.

“The Earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth. This Earth will not be destroyed by a Flood,” Shimkus asserted. “I do believe that God’s word is infallible, unchanging, perfect.”

Is this worse than the textbook straight-up denial of climate change? It certainly seems, on face value, to be slightly more creative than sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and shouting “LALALALALA.” And it’s certainly in line with the traditional Judeo-Christian, “this whole town’s a pussy waiting to be fucked,” environmental paradox: namely that God created the Earth, but He doesn’t really give a shit about it. I for one love the idea that apocalyptic thought can so quickly pivot 180 degrees, from “you better mind your P’s and Q’s because Jesus is coming back” to “we can do whatever we want because Jesus is coming back to bail us out.”

But I’m about to raise an issue that would blow John Shimkus’ motherfucking mind: it might be possible for the climate to change and the oceans to rise without ever relating to the Apocalypse. Let’s say that God has no plans to destroy the world again by flood. OK, cool. That said, the oceans could still rise, the coastal areas of the world (which hold a disproportionately large segment of the world’s population) could be rendered useless, triggering a humanitarian disaster. The important thing to remember here, John Shimkus, is this is not the end of the world. Maybe billions would die. Maybe the United States – which had some pretty valuable seaside property, last I checked – would be thrown into anarchy and ruin. But humanity still limps along. The angels’ trumpets haven’t sounded yet. The end times haven’t come yet. John Shimkus is technically correct.

Some might argue, however, that John Shimkus, as a member of the United States Congress, has some kind of responsibility to prevent that not-quite-doomsday scenario from happening. Why bother working for the government if your answer to every problem is “God will/won’t let that happen?” You could just as easily find yourself an audience preaching on the street. Please leave the government jobs for people actually interested in real-world solutions.

Our nation is facing serious challenges on a variety of fronts – climate change, religious fundamentalism, the rise of China– and our knee-jerk response has been to pull the Apocalypse card. That, in the words of the late Bernie Mack, is like holding the ball and waiting for the clock to run out – a punk move. I’d like to believe we were once a nation of problem solvers. Try to imagine some of America’s greatest achievements, like the Space Race, being undertaken in this current environment. How would a modern-day Kennedy react to a rival country beating us into space? One can only image him standing before the cameras, ready to utter the immortal challenge:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of doing absolutely nothing…of waiting for Jesus Christ to return and smite our enemies.

The only thing left for us to do as a society is to set our own doomsday year – not 2012, of course, but some consensus, Mayan-style prediction of Armageddon. I’m just gonna start throwing numbers out there – 2276? 3862? Do you have any ideas? Perhaps, when future archaeologists are sifting through the ruins of our civilization, they might come across the date and get a kick out of it.

 


[1] A word to those at the History Channel: unless the End of Days you’re referring to have already Ended sometime in the past, then you are, in fact, speculating on the future…which is the exact opposite of History. Trust me guys, the future is literally as far from history as you can get. Do me a favor and stick to actual history…and stop with the reality shows!

[2] Why are those two lumped together?