Thursday, March 29, 2012

Health Care: The Impossible Dream

By Dan Hagen


See, the American people have to realize that universal healthcare is just a dream. 

It's too expensive. 

It's too impractical. 

It's impossible. 

No other country in the world has been able to establish it, except for Canada, Uruguay, Brunei, Hong Kong, India, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom. Australia, New Zealand and pretty much the entire civilized modern world. 


The Scapegoat in the Crosshairs

By Dan Hagen
The first thing a fascist has to have is a scapegoat to present as the source of all evil, so that he can distract you from the evil that he is quietly hatching himself.
Today's specialty flavors are “uppity woman,” “them gays, “union member” and “brown guy with funny name,” (like, say, “Trayvon Martin”).
It’s apparently open season on the latter. But of course they’d enjoy shooting the others, too.
Just out of curiosity, is there ANY problem that Republicans think can't be solved by murder?
From Nixon’s shame-faced, furtive political burglary to Bush’s eager, lip-smacking use of kidnapping and torture, the right wingers’ response when they’re caught red-handed in acts of evil is always, “Oh, both sides do it, so it doesn’t matter.”
That’s quite a strange position for self-advertised moral absolutists to take, made doubly strange by the fact that both sides obviously DO NOT DO IT.
The right wing side alone does those things, and they might want to ask themselves why they’re the ones huddled in that smelly corner with all those murderous lunatics.
They might, and they should, but they won’t.

Welcome to the Age of Endarkenment

By Dan Hagen
I think what is really under assault in the U.S. these days is the philosophical and scientific superstructure of the Enlightenment.
The only part of that American right wingers don’t want to scrap is advanced weapons technology, which they plan to use to smite their millions of enemies.
Republicans may sneer at science in general, but they always remain eager to deploy its latest advances in service of those activities they truly value: Killing, torture, invasion, police intimidation and the mass surveillance of American citizens.
First, the Tea Party wanted to go back to before Obama. Then back to before FDR. Then back to Dickensian England with its prisons and workhouses. Now, back before the Enlightenment, for pity’s sake. They’re on the Stone Age Express.
Their enemies are democracy and civilization itself, although they haven’t quite worked up the nerve to admit that yet. Just give them time.
And unfortunately, we have.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Friends


Painting by Leonid Afremov

We make one long journey with our companions, and we're not going on another one with anyone else.

The Last Refuge


By Dan Hagen
Patriotism is, often, a societal recidivism to primitive tribal bloodlust, no more admirable than the howls of support for one’s team at a football game.
If we were to effectively demand that our nations’ governments work in the interest of justice, equality, honesty, humanity, the rule of law and democracy, patriotism would be justified but unnecessary. And if we won’t demand those things from our nations’ governments, what we get won’t justify patriotism.
When you hear the word “patriotism,” better look around for the con job the term is covering for.
For example, Opinionated Progressive wondered why is it that when mothers and fathers are asked to sacrifice their children for a war, it’s a patriotic effort for our common good, but when a millionaire is asked to contribute a dollar in extra taxes to pay for the costs of those wars, it’s called unpatriotic “class warfare?”
Why do we occupy nations halfway around the world for decades? We're there because the military-industrial complex needs us to be there to provide an excuse to suck more trillions out of the U.S. taxpayers.
In the bad joke that is 21st century America, that's what passes for "our patriotic duty."
"Patriotic warrior heroism" isn't going to get us out of any of the permanent wars we're mired in, and which are paying trillions to the profiteers of the military-industrial complex. Only intelligence, honesty and a sense of decency can get us out.
Americans spend as much on war-making as all the rest of the world combined, and the rest of the world knows what Americans are — bellicose, trigger-happy, erratic, immature, hypocritical and oh, so easily gulled.
As the Iraq invasion and occupation demonstrated, Americans will pay any price, bear any burden, to protect themselves from nonexistent weapons.
In a press conference in August 2006, when questioned, President George W. Bush finally admitted that, contrary to his administration's previous lies, Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and had “nothing” to do with 9/11. End of story.
The United States invaded and occupied a nation that never attacked or threatened this country at a taxpayer cost of trillions, slaughtering hundreds of thousands of its innocent people and getting thousands of U.S. troops killed, using only Bush's and Cheney's lies as justification.
I do understand that the truth hurts. But it's necessary that it hurt, so that maybe it will wake Americans up from their ignorant and extremely dangerous fake-patriotic torpor.
Here's a little rule of thumb: When you're bombing and invading another country “for their own good,” and torturing their citizens and getting a million of them killed “for their own good,” it isn't for their own good.
And it isn’t for yours, either, Mr. Patriotic American Citizen.
If you want to know what’s really going on, don’t follow the flag, my friend.
Follow the money.




Monday, March 26, 2012

Appetite

Painting by Pablo Saborio
Our appetites exist in order to prompt us to consume things, but one of life's saddest ironies are those people whose appetites turn the tables and consume them.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Secret Identity of Don Draper

Steve Lieber renders "Mad Men" as a newspaper comic strip.
By Dan Hagen
Like my friends Sally Renaud and Paul Beals, I have watched “Mad Men” since the premiere episode, and from those first moments on, it was clear this classy period soap was about American identity, or the lack thereof.
In her “The Talented Miss Highsmith, The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith,” biographer Joan Schenkar noted that, despite Highsmith’s preference for citing famous literary influences, the crime writer’s novels really reflected the work she had done at Marvel Comics (then called Timely) during the 1940s.
“The comic strip formula of threat/pursuit/fantasy life/alter ego/secret identity was the formula she used in all her work,” Jeanette Winterson noted in the New York Times. “The four-color, six-panel comic strip shaped Patricia Highsmith the crime writer like nothing else — however much she cared to cite Dostoyevsky and Henry James.”
Secret identities, alter egos, mirrored antagonists, melodrama — those themes loom large not only in Highsmith’s work, but in a lot of American popular culture, including “Mad Men.”
Even the name "Don Draper" is a sly nod to the alliterative appellations typical of comic book secret identities — Peter Parker, Billy Batson, Bruce Banner, Clark Kent, Matt Murdoch.
The most fantastic element of the saga — the fact that Don stole the identity of a wealthier, more accomplished dead man during the Korean War and has lived it ever since — is there because it’s central to the series’ theme: that the American advertising industry is dynamic, but fake and inauthentic, because much of American society is just the same.
Almost everybody on the show, and everything they do, is inauthentic, phony, tumbling through the air because they don't know who they really are.
Pete Campbell: “A man like you I'd follow into combat blindfolded, and I wouldn’t be the first. Am I right, buddy?”
Don Draper: “Let's take it a little slower. I don't want to wake up pregnant.”
All the characters in the show, who are in the business of faking reality for the American public, have problems with their identities. Don, the man who completely wiped out his true identity, is merely the most extreme case.
Dashing, deceptive, dauntless Don Draper is so fearful of having his past as the self-hating son of a prostitute revealed that he essentially abandons his hero-worshipping baby brother to suicide to protect that secret identity. The years go on, and we get hints of how that haunts him — his use of a lover’s brother as a substitute, for example, in some pathetic attempt at atonement.
Having that secret identity though, in a way, makes the brusque, cold Don a better man. Without a hint of condescension or judgment, Don can surprise us by befriending people who are in trouble because of their own secrets — pregnant Peggy, homosexual Salvatore. He’s been there, as they say.
Poster by Matt Needle of Needle Design and Illustration
Speaking of judgmental cruelty, how about Peggy’s mother, a selfish biddy who cares far more about a dead holy father than a living daughter? I love the way the show nailed her hateful hypocrisy. She rejects the expensive Admiral TV Peggy bought her, using it as a sharp weapon to hurt her daughter, but then switches it on the moment Peggy’s out of the room.
Sal’s situation reminds me of several I have known in real life, and of how cruel it was for closeted men to marry women to disguise themselves, sometimes even FROM themselves. Kitty’s wonderful, subtle look as she watches her husband do an Ann-Margret dance shows us the scales falling from her eyes, and now she’ll wonder if she’s a person to the man she loves, or only a mask he wears.
What keeps Don Draper up nights, and too well lubricated, is his own rejected past. His humanity grows as he shows his concern for the underdogs — that young, rich fool Sterling Cooper fleeced, his own daughter, Sal, Peggy, even the Germans in World War I.
Again and again, the series returns to its overriding theme of IDENTITY, how elusive it is, how changeable it is and how changeable IT IS NOT.
Pete's self-destructive identity wrecks his new chance at promotion with the inexorability of Greek tragedy. On the other hand, Don, casually playing secret agent for the stews, gives Sal an object lesson in how easy it is to fake your identity.
But Don has paid a terrible price for that ability — he can't really believe in ANY of his identities. He has so “limited his exposure” that he cannot find himself.
It’s a credit to the creator’s sense of drama that as soon as the audience starts admiring Don for some wonderful rescuer impulse he displays, the show shoves the audience off the Sterling Cooper tower into free fall by having Don do something really rotten.
The way Don wooed the reluctant Dr. Miller, won her over, used her, drew her in, got her to surrender her defenses, forced her to compromise her professional ethics and then dumped her in an instant was understandable, given his character. But particularly brutal.
January Jones as Betty Draper
Originally, my favorite character was Don’s primary victim, his cold Hitchcock-blonde wife, Betty, who is forever trapped by her mom's insistence that only beauty matters. I loved it when, defending her children’s dog, she coolly shot down the neighbor's pigeons.
I was grudgingly forced to admit, however, that Betty is one batshit crazy piece of work.
Finally, Betty even made Don’s worst nightmare come true — his terror that if she learned the secret of his identity, he would lose everything he had.
Oh Betty, you bitch.
I found my allegiance shifting from Strange Betty to Plucky Peggy. Peggy is fearless and forthright. She knows why she does the things she does, even if they turn out to have been experimental mistakes, while Betty doesn't seem to know why she does anything she does. Peggy has the most authentic identity of anyone on the show.
And Betty's hostile indifference to her daughter is also hard to forgive. After all, we know from Sally's reading of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” to Grandpa Gene that she's one smart little cookie, but, because she isn't pretty-perfect enough to suit Betty’s standard, Betty finds nothing to like about her.
I think the book was a cheeky reference to the 1960s social upheavals that these characters started experiencing on Roger Sterling’s daughter's wedding day. Interesting that Don seemed to be the only one unsettled by Roger's blackface performance. And can those Campbells Charleston!
Note how Betty always (only?) seems to come alive when some man indicates desire for her, even when she’s in an advanced state of pregnancy. Is that all she has — seeking response to her primary value, which is her own beauty?
Note Grandpa Gene’s revelation that Betty was fat as a little girl, and badgered by her mother for it. Sally represents not so much Betty’s daughter as her own rejected childhood self, before “perfection” set in. “I just want everything to be perfect.”
Megan, the new wife for whom Don dumped the doctor, is not Betty. In fact, other than in looks, she’s Betty's opposite — warm where Betty is cold, a nurturing caregiver where Betty is a perpetual Daddy’s Princess child. Don will probably wreck this with his self-hatred, too, but this time he’ll be hurting a complete innocent, and sabotaging his own best chance at happiness with an ax — a fact even Don Draper, with his easily discarded conscience, may have a hard time evading.
I liked the role-reversal symbolism there for a moment. Betty, the child-woman, alone in her child-bed, abandoned now. Don, once abandoned and alone, facing in the opposite direction in bed, with a young woman he loves, who loves him.
“I just want everything to be perfect,” says Betty Draper — as if that’s a small thing to ask, instead of an impossible thing.
Jon Hamm as Don Draper
But the show has had its perfect moments — one whole perfect episode, in fact, perhaps the best ever aired on American television (“Shut the Door, Have a Seat”).
Halloween night, 1963, was also perfect. That traditional laughing swirl of disguise and darkness was the moment when the mask was finally pulled from Don Draper’s face, and he was forced to confront the price he made his brother pay for his own disguise, for his secret identity.
A neighbor, handing out treats to the costumed kids, jokingly asks Don who he's supposed to be, and the camera focuses on Don's face. Then the end credits supply a surprisingly clear answer: the song “Where is Love?” from the musical “Oliver!”
Hidden inside Don is an abandoned orphan, lonely and afraid, who doesn’t really understand the world or his place in it.
Incidental intelligence, May 28, 2012: Last night’s episode’s of Mad Men, The Other Woman, was one of the top three, I’d say — a thematic rumination on prostitution in all its forms, from the generalized (the way their entire industry prostitutes creative talent) to the uncomfortably specific, and on the sometimes-surprising ways all this reveals character. 
I love the way Weiner so shamelessly works a theme. Peggy’s departure was also prostitution-related, because Don unfeelingly TREATED her as if she were a prostitute, literally throwing money contemptuously into her face.
In its fifth season, this show is as good as it ever was, and that’s awfully damn good.
June 24, 2013: At the end of season six, Don Draper uses one of his famous advertising pitches as the occasion to finally tell the truth about himself to the world. The man of illusion in the profession of illusion finally gets real, whole. He's starting to crawl out of the deep pit toward the light of truth. “Don has tried everything to be different, to feel different, but the one thing he has never tried is to be himself — to be Dick Whitman,” Willa Paskin wrote. “His colleagues fire him, because to them, his Hershey speech seems like bad behavior from an uncontrolled, asshole alcoholic, but we know better, that Don, for the first time, is really trying something new. Megan is done with him, and the season ends with him taking his own children to see where he grew up, to see who he is, an honesty he’s never shared before. Remember Sally saying after the home invasion that she realized she didn’t know anything about her father? With the one look she gives him in the final scene, you can see how powerful his finally sharing really is.”
The over-aching theme of the series is emerging. It will be the journey of Don Draper, a successful man of lies in a world of lies, toward truth.
Don, who thinks of himself as a writer, once lamented that he'd never written anything longer than 250 words. Will he now write a book exposing Madison Avenue? His agency has given him both the time and the motivation.


The Night the Sign Fell


By Dan Hagen
At 3 a.m. the night of Halloween, 2008, I was awakened by angry, drunken shouts from the front of the house. 
I saw four college guys out there, and one of them was yanking our Obama/Biden yard sign out of the middle of the front lawn. The sign was an expensive, laminated photo job custom-made by Paul at his Big Picture business.
I ran downstairs and threw open the door just as they were reeling away. I chased after them, demanding our sign back. 

They shouted insults and retreated around the corner, with me following as fast as I could — which, as it turns out, is none too fast on a paved road in my stocking feet.
Finally they turned and confronted me. 
I demanded the sign they had torn out of the ground.  Between curses and insults, one of them snarled, “We don’t have your sign, man.”
What I had thought was the rolled-up sign turned out to be a baseball bat one of them was carrying. 
Oddly enough, that didn’t bother me because I was so pissed off. Over the previous eight years, I’d had a great deal more than enough of these fascist scum.
I was so mad that it took me a moment to realize that the drunkest and nastiest of the bunch was wearing a long blonde wig and a short silver dress.
I had been vandalized by Veronica Lake.
I decided to reason with them. 
“Fuck you, you little pieces of shit,” I explained.
They wandered off down the road, shouting “Faggot!” and “Old man!” back at me, as I stuck a hand behind me to flip them off and limped home to look for the sign.
A police patrol car came rolling up, cherries and spotlight blazing, then another one. Paul had called 911, and he joined me outside. 
With a police officer, we found the sign lying in the yard where one of them had ripped it off the holder. The police headed off after the four college guys, after asking me if I could describe any of them.
“He’s wearing a dress,” I said.
We went back in the house, and, ever house-proud, Paul was appalled to notice that I was leaving a trail of bloody footprints on the tile. I had cut my toe outside. 
Larry got me a big Band-Aid, and our Dalmatian Baby wandered around, repeatedly making the mute point that with everybody awake, it certainly must be time for her breakfast.
Paul was able to repair the sign, so the incident cost only one red-stained Dr. Scholl’s white sock.
Bloodied but unbowed, that was me.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Support it! Whatever the Hell 'It' Is

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By Dan Hagen
Laurence Britt’s 14 Elements of a Fascist State: No. 1. Powerful, continuing expressions of nationalism.
Only 49 percent of Americans are aware that their own country dropped the nuclear bomb. They are certain, however, that their nation is “the greatest country on Earth,” although they know little about it and next to nothing about any other nation.
“We are a land full of patriots, and our patriotism is nothing more than a red, white and blue flag,” Ru Freeman observed. “We don't know any history, we couldn’t care about how we got Here from There or where we might be headed, but we are proud of It. Whatever It is.”
In 2003, the Strategic Task Force on Education Abroad investigated Americans' knowledge of world affairs. The task force concluded: "America's ignorance of the outside world is so great as to constitute a threat to national security."
Flag pins. Freedom fries. Flapdoodle.  The right keeps the country stirred up about symbols that are meaningless in real-world terms — flags, gay marriage, public religious displays, “support the troops” magnets, etc. All are matters of semantics, useful for keeping the American public distracted from the erosions of its liberty and the picking of its pockets.
“I have a sneaky suspicion that the people who put ‘Support The Troops’ bumper stickers on their cars are the same people who can't find Iraq and Afghanistan on a map,” Keith Balmer wrote.
Fascism employs a twisted, impoverished vocabulary to disguise its aims, using words like “freedom” to mean their opposite.
In America, those who exercise their constitutional freedom to criticize the government are told that they “hate freedom.” Flag-waving fatuousness is always the first refuge of a scoundrel.