Adam Zero's ramblings and rants on popular music, culture, politics, folklore, religion and related skullduggery.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Meaning of Lance

In our post-mythic age, our sports stars have become more than mere athletes. They have become symbols of what is best, or worst, in our culture. Our demigods and devils. Michael Jordan and OJ Simpson. Tiger Woods and Mike Tyson.

The demigods represent achievement, victory, winning—that remains somehow selfless. Or self-transcendent. They do it for us. They allow us, the spectator, to become part of their triumph. There is an innocence, almost childlike, in their victory—it renews the culture’s faith in itself and where it is headed.

The devils do it for themselves. Something drives them not only to beat but to humiliate the foe. Destroy the rival. Break the limits. There is a sense of bitter experience, almost defeat, in their victory—it weakens the culture’s faith in itself and makes it wonder where it is headed. They call it winning ugly.

Of course we are not talking about reality but myth. OJ may have started out as a demigod and only to descend to devil (at least in some peoples’ eyes) after the murders of Ron and Nicole. Mike Tyson, well, is Mike Tyson.

But what about Lance? Why this ambivalence towards his amazing feat, not only over cancer, but also seven consecutive Tour de France titles? Thomas Friedman sees Lance as a hero—using him as a strategic planner/delayed gratification model that short-sighted make-the-next-quarters-numbers culture of corporate America could learn something from. Others—cyclists and skeptics—see a hollowness in Lance’s achievement. He only dominated the Tour de France, not the Tours of Italy and Spain. At times he seemed more machine than man, with his unabashed embrace of hi-tech wizardry and aerobic science. And there were the persistent doping rumors—although he never once failed a drug test.

I don’t think it has helped Lance either that his unique physiognomy—abilities to take in more oxygen with his lungs and process lactose in his blood—has become the fodder of cable documentaries. It lessens the romance and thrill (and the gut-level human competitiveness) to know that Lance has these natural gifts.

Of course most great athletes have great natural gifts, but with Lance it’s become a chicken-or-egg thing. Would he have been a champion without the extraordinary level of his natural gifts? Do the natural gifts make the playing field almost uneven?

One might counter, if the guy’s so dominant physically why didn’t he sweep the Tours of Italy and Spain?

So the arguments go. They are the stuff of sports.

For me, Lance is a hero, demigod not a devil. I wasn’t wild about his dumping his wife for his rockstar girlfriend, but the will-to-win and transcendence is written on his face when he rides. And I don’t care how well he processes lactose, you can tell the guy’s in pain, but he seems motivated by something beyond himself. Cancer survivors, America, his kids--who knows?

Maybe that’s why he’s a hero for America today. We need to learn to cope with pain, play with pain, not be afraid of it. We can’t let terrorists or enemies of freedom and liberty deny us those very things by creating a state made safe by an unpatriotic Patriot Act? We need to look at the hill in front of us, feel the burn in our thighs and keep climbing. And not care about the yellow jersey, but just making it to the top of that next hill.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

A Modest Flag-Burning Proposal

Ate lunch the other day with old pal RJ. Discussed the flag-burning issue and came up with a couple of "out of the box" or "third way" political ideas to deal with this pressing issue.

And it might just make the state of Tennessee some much-need moolah (since we don't have a state income tax we gotta milk the pennies from somewhere and I'm sure the rest of the state-taxing states wouldn't turn their noses up at the windfall revenue).

I know we've got terrorists exploding subway trains and busses, but we've got to settle this flag thing once and for all if we're gonna put up any real resistance to the onslaught of fundamentalist Islam.

We've got to know what we stand for. We've got to have a sacred symbol--like the Muslims have the Koran. Something you can't desecrate without getting in some deep punitive feces. (Preferably stoning, it's the most cathartic and probably acts as some kind of deterrent, where are the sociological studies when you need them?)

So this is the idea, hatched by RJ and yours truly.

First, don't just let any Walmart goon sell flags. Only have licensed dealers selling the American flag. An American flag completely made in America, that is. The hell with NAFTA or CAFTA on this one. We don't need any American flags sewn by Guatamalans.

Second, make the purchaser of the flag pay a license fee when they buy a flag. We have the wheel tax and the driver's license fees. We've even got marriage licenses you have to shuck the bucks for. Why not add a flag license. We could even make hopeful buyers take and pass a test (paying for the privilege, mind you) in order to own a flag. Ask them questions about Betsey Ross, color symbolism, flag history, the War of 1812, the proper methods of care and disposal of a flag.

This may sound silly, but RJ told me of a neighbor who had the unpatriotic temerity to dispose of old glory in the garbage can with other trash. Don't these people know that you're supposed to burn a flag that has been weathered or delapidate?!

You can burn the flag when it's worn out--but not as a political statement. I know it's confusing, but that's all the more reason that we need these "flag education" courses.

It'd sorta be like our version of the old communist "reeducation" classes. Who knows, maybe even the armed forces enlistment rates would stop their freefall.

Anyhow, once you been certified, paid your fees, passed your test, gotten your licsene--then you could be the proud and legal owners of an official made-in-America American flag.

There are billions in revenues waiting out there and whole new bureaucracies to establish.

This idea is a real winner and I think gets to the heart of contemporary American values. Nobody's out there burning paper money--the "dead presidents" rule. We've got to invest some of the dollar's iconic cache in the poor old flag.

Who knows where it can go from here? Think of the branding opportunities? The revenue streams. Every pair of short-shorts with a flag pattern paying a licensing fee. Every red-white-and-blue lunchbox or bumper sticker or GI Joe--ca ching! Every stars-and-stripes tattoo above some fat-assed biker-chick's buttcrack--ca ching!

This is pure gold, baby, it'll be as easy as the Treasury printing money!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Rockets Redglare

This is one stupid story about a stupid boy in a stupid state with a really stupid law.

If you haven't heard it's flag-burning time in the sweet sunny South. Drunken flag-burning, that is. Right here in the great state of Tennessee.

You know, flag-burning. "Desecrating a venerated object," according to the legalese. Apparently it's the latest crimewave to hit redneck America--right up there with exploding mobile-home methamphetamine labs.

It seems that the Maryville "boy"--18 years old, high school dropout, has been adrift, according to his father. Drinking too much, according to his father, and not particularly good at it. He's a good boy, a church-going boy. Don't know how to hold his liquor.

So the boy got himself so drunk he decided to burn a flag. Not because it meant anything to him, according to his father. Flag don't mean nothing, dammit, it's just a flag.

It's uncertain what level of competency he had at the time--how much his decision-making was impaired. It's also uncertain what his blood alcohol level was.

The boy was not thinking symbolically or even literally. He was simply burning the flag because he was drunk. End of story.

His father claims the boy could have as easily burned a "garbage can" as a flag (that's according to the AP report--God, what would we do without the AP?). Personally I like the idea of a burning garbage can. That's a potent symbol of 21st Century America. Better than a stupid flag. Why, that's almost art. Maybe even performance art.

But a flag? A cheap Walmart flag? Where's the symbol in that? Where's the crime? He just gonna go buy anuther . . .

But the boy burned a flag in the town of Maryville in the state of Tennesse and he's got to stand trial in August. He's already spent nine days in lockup (that's some drunk, some flag!). But if he's found guilty, he could get up to a year and a $2500 fine.

That's an expensive flag.

Will the ACLU swoop down--like an eagle, or vulture--to save the day or at least exploit it? Will the case go to the Supreme Court? If the Maryville boosters play their cards right, it might just happen. Then East Tennessee can corner the market on judicial tourism--from Maryville to Dayton. From cretinous drunken flag-burning to monkey-man evolution.

Too bad that our present hero doesn't have John Scopes' quiet dignity and that his story sounds like something more for the Onion than the New York Times.

If Maryville is smart, they'll clean the kid up. Invite John Ashcroft in to prosecute; Johnny Cochran to defend (I know he's dead, but if you offer a lawyer enough money or audience, he'll show--believe me, he'll show!). And then sit back and let the circus begin! I can see the satellite trucks massing on the town square now--antennae vibrating in anticipation.

Fine the kid a hundred bucks--like they did Snopes. You know, historical reference. And then set up the lemonade stands and just wait for the suckers to come.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Plame Game Round Two

Very interesting speculation about Judy Miller's refusal to testify to the Grand Jury looking into the Plame leak. There is an allegation that perhaps Miller herself was the source of the leak--or passed on to the White House the facts that Plame worked for the CIA and had been involved in sending her husband Joe Wilson to Niger to look for uranium cakes.

(I still maintain, how covert was Plame? Everybody seemed to know she was CIA. Personally I wonder if Joe Wilson ratcheted this whole thing way out of proportion to pursue his own agenda. Is there a book in the offing? It beats a government pension.)

This may have been the real upshot of the supposed "leak" and makes the most sense politically. Rove sought to discredit Wilson's anti-WMD screed in the New York Times (Miller's paper) using grapevine info (perhaps originating from Miller, pissed at the NYT's printing of the Wilson op-ed piece that contradicted the pro-WMD slant of her coverage) that Wilson's CIA wife had gotten him the gig in the first place and might have had her own ax to grind re. CIA blame for not finding WMD's and 9-11, etc.

Boy, that's complicated. But it seems a little more like real life than the Saint Judith hagiography going on in the mainstream press.

Is this another case (like CBS' memogate) where the independent-minded bloggers once again have trumped the mainstream press whose kneejerk reactions are a pose of idealism hiding as a self-preservation?

The Grand Jury's deliberations are supposed to be secret. I suppose we'll have to wait and see--unless someone privy to the Grand Jury leaks . . . .

Friday, July 08, 2005

Austin Texas Music City USA

I've been in Austin over the past couple days. I am recording with Tommy Spurlock at his home studio in Spicewood, TX--just a few ridges over from Willie Nelson's place. You can see Willie's windmill in the distance.

Tommy's place sits on top of a hill and the landscape is remotely like that of southern France (not that I've been there outside paintings, photos and the tour-de-France coverage)--except for a little more sandy.

I've had the good fortune of working with Garth Hudson of The Band, who is a wealth of information of various genres of music. We've discussed everything from harmonica virtuousos to 40s-50s r&b divas. Garth is one of those "national treasures" (even if he is canadian), with an encyclopedic knowledge of his discipline and a depth of understanding of the bigger issues of musical structure, theme, influence and performance. He should be an endowed professor somewhere sharing his knowledge and experience.

I've also gotten to work with Elana Fremerman who is on hiatus from the Bob Dylan Band and who formerly fronted Hot Club of Cowtown. Elana is a well-traveled and educated woman out of Kansas City who mixes a chanteuse's vocal charm with a talented violionist's uptown version of the Texas Swing.

Saturday, July 02, 2005


Ah, Larry O'Donnell gleefully informs us, "It's Rove!"

Karl Rove, that is. The White House political- advisor-cum-deputy-chief-of-staff.

It's Rove allegedly who leaked the fact that that Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife Valerie Plame was a CIA operative.

Apparently O'Donnell's known for months, but didn't want to tell us lest he get hauled before the Grand Jury.

Where did you find out about it months ago, Larry? Or should I say, from whom? Maybe you're not in the clear after all. Don't jump if there's a knock on your door.

My chief concern about this story is Plame herself? How "undercover" was this woman if political bozos like Rove seemed to know about it? What was the nature of her hush-hush assignment? Had she infiltrated the UN to see who was bilking the oil-for-food program?

I know the U.S. prides itself on being a nation of laws. But lately our laws (like the one against revealing the C.I.A. agent's "undercover" status) seem short-sighted and ill-advised--breeding a police state mentality rather than the open exchange of information in a free society. I thought the C.I.A. was primarily an intelligence-gathering, not a law enforcement, agency.

I mean, if Robert Novak can find out you're undercover, you might as well hang it up. If the C.I.A. can't do a better job of keeping their agents undercover then maybe they need to go back to spy school.

At any rate, congratulations, Larry. But I hope you don't get any subpoenas.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Mexican Stamp Needs Cancelling

Poor Mexico just doesn't get it. Vicente Fox stepped in it last month defending Mexican illegals working in the U.S. by claiming that they were willing to do the jobs in America that African Americans were no longer willing to do.

If that's not twisted enough logic and double reverse discrimination, now we get this stamp.

Or should I say, stamps. It's a collection that features a big-lipped darkskinned "caricatura" (that's Spanish for cartoon). The hapless "Memin Pinguin," as he is called, is a loveable street urchin whom the stamps picture hawking papers, riding a bicycle and even dressing up in a derby hat for a date with a pretty senorita.

He almost makes "little black Sambo" look like Denzel Washington.

Apparently Memin has been around for over 50 years, below the international radar, as we say, but Mexico decided he needed more exposure. He is to be some sort of "cultural ambassador" for our southern neighbor.

Bad move for the Mexican Post Office or Ministry of Culture or whoever was responsible for this.

One Mexican defender of the stamp points to "Speedy Gonzalez" as a harmless Mexican stereotype foisted upon the world by the gringos.

I don't know about you, but I never liked Speedy and his tequila-swilling rat-faced friends. I wasn't fond of Jerry of "Tom and Jerry" either. And I've always despised the Roadrunner.

I'm not sure what any of this symbolizes or what it stands for. But from what I see of Memin, I don't like him much at all.

What he probably needs is a good boost of self-esteem. Maybe he should run for President of Mexico.