"Oh, Mickey, como estas? Como estas, me gustas mas" indeed

The recent recording of the National Anthem in Spanish has sparked a political debate – due in large part to the courageous efforts of the White House to spread awareness of both the recording and of a political debate about it – of a complexity not seen since the flag-burning debates of the early-90’s. A number of frequent questions and concerns have arisen, which I thought I might address.

Q: Is it really important that the anthem be sung in English?
A: Absolutely! While it’s true that the US has no official language it is widely accepted throughout the world that English is the “best” language because of its straight-forward rules, consistent grammar and spelling, and the fact that it is the newest language in the world, thus has not gotten clunky and, well, old.

Also, you can’t just change the language of a song! Remember the English version of Nena’s 1983 song 99 Luft Ballons? Wasn’t very good, was it? Should we change the words of Don Ho’s classic song to all English so it goes “'Merry Christmas' is Hawaii’s way of saying Merry Christmas to you”? It’d sound moronic! And let's not even get in to the abomination that was Toni Basil's Spanish version of Oh Mickey.

Perhaps most importantly though, there is the slippery-slope of translating songs; what’s next? Translating books? “Dubbing” movies? Translating religious texts? I shudder to think.

Q: Is our National Anthem really not about the American Revolution?
A: I think we can all agree that the Revolution was a fairly inconsequential skirmish, especially when put in the shadow of the cataclysmic apocalypse that was the War of 1812. Ask any schoolchild about it and he’ll rattle off the names of all those important people involved and talk about the thing, or things, that caused it. The Revolution may have forged the nation, the Civil War may have seen it cleaved and then blissfully reunited, but the War of 1812 showed us the most important lesson of all – that the thing that caused it should be avoided.

Q: Hey, what are ‘ramparts’ anyway?
A: It’s what you get in a gyro along with the feta cheese and tzatziki. Aaaaaaaahahahahaha! Get it? Get it? Hahahahahahahaha!

Q: Isn’t it a bit demeaning that our anthem is to the tune of a British drinking song?
A: Ram Parts?! Come on! Ram Parts! Hahahahahahaha…aha…ah, what do you know from funny.

Q: Isn’t this concern over a Spanish-language version representative of our paranoia at the Mexican influx and a shift in the proletariat power-base?
A: Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s that it is offensive for nebulous moral reasons, but also there is the issue of efficiency – we’re all going to have to learn the anthem in Mandarin in a few years, so a Spanish version is just a waste of energy.

Q: Hey, remember that joke about the near-sighted Mexican who goes to the ball game and thinks Americans are so kind because they all sing, “Jose, can you see?”? Why isn’t that enough for the Hispanic community?
A: Excellent question. It’s indicative of Mexican-Americans incredible greed and insensitivity toward a nation that has showed them nothing but compassion and nurturing.

Q: Did I see on the news that Bush is against the Spanish version but Laura Bush disagrees with him?
A: Of course not. You must have eaten too close to bed time and dreamt it. A terrible, terrible dream.

Q: I’ve always been trouble that our anthem is about war – the only anthem which is.
A: Oh, give me a break. For starters, that’s not a question. But whatever. Look, what should our anthem be about? Puppies? The ideals of Democracy? Ours being the first nation to be forged by philosophers instead of tyrants? Yawn. Sounds snobby. War’s a crowd-pleaser. Got oomph. Plus, if you want to be a pussy about it, what about the fact that it’s not about war? Technically, the song if about after a battle is over. Your argument is a fallacy! It’d be like saying that Away in A Manger is a song about labor-contractions and epidural. Is that what you’re saying? Because I find that appalling.

Q: Isn’t this whole “issue” another attempt to fabricate a simplistic controversy, one lacking in any nuance or options besides the “for” and “against” camps? Isn’t this just the latest in Karl Rove’s tricks to distract the populace from real, complex issues and from scrutiny of this disgraceful, failed administration?
A: Aaaand… we’re out of time.


Oh, yes. Lets.

Well, as I’m writing, the seniors at the high school have just finished their last day. The tradition is that when the bell rings the seniors throw their papers in the air. Of course, they can’t hear the bell, so they just sort of do it. Also, they don’t have their papers, so they go around the school rooting through recycle bins looking for paper. Then they chant “Let’s get wasted.” It’s inspiring.

For some reason they’re playing 80’s arena rock while they do it. Hm. Why? Is it because they, too, would like to “Jump”? Fair enough. Jumping’s fun. As is being shaken all night long.

I tried, just for variety, to bribe the seniors to instead of “let’s get wasted”, chant “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” but apparently they wouldn’t go for it. Too bad. That would have made them stand out. The “let’s get wasted” chant is just so boring, you know? Because, of course, obviously you are. Is it that crucial that the underclassmen understand your intentions for this evening’s celebratory festivities? Or is it the thrill of announcing it in the school? I suppose that’s it. What about chanting something like, “Let’s burn this mother-fucker down”? That’d be interesting and new. No rhythm, though.

I’ve been surprised how many of these seniors I’m pretty attached to. There was this thing earlier in the day in which the staff was required to form a gauntlet through which the departing seniors pass and we clap or high-five or spray them with beer or whatever. It was smarmy and cheesy and forced and ridiculous…but cracked my jaded exterior some because there were actually some many people I was really sorry to see go. It wound up being at points rather touching. It was, of course, tempting after the whole year of being forced to bottle in personal views to yell at them as they went by, “Evolution is real! Bush is a moron!” and so on. It would likely have the same cathartic appeal as “let’s get wasted” does to an 18-year-old. Kind of a “do you know how long I’ve been waiting to tell you that?” feel. Hardly interchangeable, though. The staff chanting “let’s get wasted” would just be depressing. Funny, but depressing.

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll write more on this time of year – it always gets me reflective.


You can't spell "Satire" without "tire"

As in, "I'm really starting to tire of this shit."

Sweet fucking Jesus, people. How many times, in how many fonts, shall I state that the "kids Today" bit is satire. SATIRE! It's humor. Please stop sending me your diatribes about my unfair castigation and generalizations of today's crop of adolescents. SATIRE! It uses irony and humor to expose a, in this case, hypocritical attitude of adults toward teens who have, in fact, not changed in general appearance or behavior since we came out of the trees. IF THEN. The only substantive difference between kids today and kids, oh, say, in the Middle Ages is height and intake of high-fructose corn syrup. Yet people are constantly condemning the present crop while using virtually synonymous terms with more positive connotations to describe their own youths.


(Brief pause while Byron mops his brow and puts his head between his knees for a moment)

The part that hurts, the part that breaks my little heart, is the idea that anyone who has read this site at all or, God forbid, knows me would actually think I would give this crusty "back in my day" rant in sincerity. Seriously? People are reading it and thinking I genuinely find meaning in Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me (Right Round)"? Seriously?

It's like this time I was out for beers with my best friend since third grade and, just to mix things up, said "lakheim" a Jewish toast which I am misspelling, and he looked at me for a moment and asked if I was Jewish. What? Yes, I didn't tell you about my bar mitzvah and have been sneaking off to synagogue all these years and am, in fact, a Rabbi.

That, by the way, was sarcasm, a sort of simplified, crude version of satire. You see, I am not Jewish, but by saying that I am to an exaggerated extent, I illustrate the silliness of his asking if I was. When he plainly should have known that I was not, you see. Oy vei.

You know, back in my day we got satire and we read addendums which explained it.


Quick Aside-

I feel I must offer an addendum to the "Kids Today" entry. I'm not really trashing on teenagers. I was being ironic. It always strikes me as funny the way people talk about the youth as a bunch of degenerates, then describe their own formative years using terms that are virtually synonymous, but with different connotations.

Oh well. You know what they say - if you have to explain it, it ain't funny.


Proposal for Increasing Federal Wetland Acreage in 2007

Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton announced recently that the Bush White House has increased the total acreage of U.S. wetlands by approximately 191,800 acres. This has been accomplished in large part by redefining the criteria of being a “wetland” to include, among other things, water hazards in golf courses.

In the fifty years that the U.S. government has been tracking, and attempting to preserve, wetlands, not once has anyone been able to hold steady, much less increase, the acreage of wetlands. Until now. President George W. Bush has accomplished this incredible goal in spite of nay-saying environmentalists (who, it is worth noting, have not increased the net acreage of protected wetlands at all. Losers.) while at the same time having a job that I can only describe as being ‘hard work.’ Kudos. Kudos!

The trick, it turns out, is not to waste time trying to “save” dirty, old, asymmetrical wetlands that have a bunch of – forgive the indelicacy – excrement in them, much as the love-sick will attempt to “save” a shiftless sponge. In a testimony to positive thinking, the Bush administration simply found new, better wetlands, some of which help the economy by providing tax breaks to the wealthy so they drop everything and rush out to buy products and services and create jobs for the poor.

Thus inspired, I submit the following for inclusion as federally protected wetlands:

1. The beach (high-tide).
I can’t believe we’ve missed this one for so long. When the tide is in the amount of shallow water increases around forty feet laterally, and for what can only be described as “a really long way”. If there is any doubt that this fails to meet the criteria for wetland, I submit a quick visual appraisal – I believe you’ll notice, oh what are those? Birds? Sitting? Yes, birds! Tons of them!
Approximate acreage gained: 15 million acres (estimate based on sense of bigness of the beach combined with equivalent sense of 15 million being a very big number).

2. Indoor swimming pools (privately owned, only).
Now we’re talking environment, economy and property values. Trifecta! The birds stop and rest in a private pool, protected from the elements and predators. The pools are heated, clean and there may even be a Jacuzzi to take the autumnal migration chill off. The envy of the wetland-hopping crowd. Extra tax breaks will be afforded to indoor pool rooms who keep a large-screen plasma television tuned to Animal Planet at least 50.1% of the time. And, oh, what the hell, we’ll make pool tables tax deductible for having the word “pool” in them, thus increasing Wetland awareness.
Approximate acreage gained: 78,000 acres.

3. My backyard.
My dog is something of a digger. Ordinarily I fill these holes in with mulch and profanity but, inspired by the administration, I would be willing, with proper government funding, to fill them with water. I would also allow a natural environment to develop by stopping all mowing and pruning. This promise would extend to any property turned over to me – eminent domain? – like my neighbors lot. I think this would make a terrific wetland, and am quite sure it would provide a very real economic boost to at least one person.
Approximate acreage gained: Amount to be determined, depending on administration commitment, and dog’s persistence in digging.

4. Mars.
Follow me here. Global warming is definitely happening. But, as study after study has shown (well…one. Part of one.), it definitely isn’t our fault. This means there must be some other factor. An external factor. Logically, if our planet is warming, and it isn’t our fault, all the planets must be warming. Mars has those ice caps, which are then, logically, going to melt any day now. Wetlands ahoy! Admittedly, Mars is not on the regular migratory route for many birds, but is not extinction the price of failure to adapt?
Approximate acreage gained: 1 gajillion.

5. The God-damned clogged sink in the bathroom.
Because that shallow body of water ain’t going anywhere soon.
Approximate acreage gained: 1 (rounded to the nearest acre).


Kids Today...

When I was a teenager I was cut-loose, care-free, full of joie de vivre. Irreverent and jocular? Perhaps. I saw life as a joyous romp, in spite of silly, mundane rules laid down by adults. Not like kids today. Kids now have no sense of value or responsibility. They take nothing seriously and think everything is one big joke. Someone needs to explain to them that life is just a blunt-edged club that beats you and beats you and beats you until…well, it just beats you.

Kids today also listen to loud music that is poorly written, lacking in melody, linguistic merit and praises sexual behavior as well as the attendance of unsupervised social events. How as this generation sunk so low? When I was a lad rock n roll was wild, funny – it tapped into the voracious energy we all had! It had poetry, depth. It captured the words we couldn’t find; it put voice to the feelings inside me, found a way to say how Heather MacDonald did, metaphorically, “spin me right round, baby, right round, like a record baby, right round, round round.”

And I should also note that initially I thought the lyrics were, “You spin me right round, like a ragged baby.” And I disapproved of spinning and shaking babies, because I had values and morals, unlike kids today.

And fashion. Why, when I was a youngster our fashions were bold! We created a look that was distinctly us – hip, new. Oh sure, the fogies might not have gotten it, but that’s because they were uncool. This is utterly unlike the situation now, where I, having established my understanding of cool, don’t like teen fashions at all! Tight, revealing clothes? Boys wearing pants in an impractical manner in order to accentuate the genital region? When did this happen? How did fashion – usually so sensible and representative of responsible, God-fearing forthrightness – go so wrong?

It’s strange really – sad, even tragic. Kids today are so immoral, irresponsible, disrespectful and fashionably backward, instead of being like we were at their age, which was wild, zany, care-free, irreverent and dressed in bold, uniquely us style.


For example, do I exist, or am I just telling you that I do?

Some years ago while I was still working as a comedian I was watching another comic and kind of studying the audience, and I had a little epiphany. Lower case “e.” This wasn’t a finding Jesus, realizing I was gay, kicking heroin type epiphany. I’m not even sure it counts, in fact, because I don’t still subscribe to the idea.

What I began thinking about was the idea of creating our reality through perception, and how the only definitions we have are the ones we create, and choose to believe. If we choose to believe something, it is true. It was sort of Arjuna & Krishna thing.

The warrior Arjuna is in the midst of a terrible civil war. His advisor/concigliere/buddy is the god Krishna (thus showing that leader have always said that “God is on my side” just some have meant it more literally than others). Arjuna is feeling uneasy about slaughtering his cousins and neighbors, but Krishna reassures him that all of this is just a veil of illusion, and has no bearing on what’s really, really real. It was all very Matrix.

So my feeling, that night, was that since all experience is unique, and it is impossible to communicate with others without some level of façade, or illusion, then honesty, was in effect, impossible. Thus, if everything is a lie, then nothing is a lie. The only truth is that which we create for ourselves. So if you make up things about yourself, who cares? What you have made up as an idea of yourself is as close to the unvarnished truth as anything you’re likely to way when trying to be honest, while have the luster of at least reflecting who you would liketo be.

Now, I no longer believe this, but I am still fascinated with the concept, particularly in relation to celebrity and pop culture – both entertainment and political. Especially in the way that a moment of unvarnished honesty can become so jarring and confusing. We don’t want that – we want the polished, publicist-approved text. Tom Cruise? When he lectured the Good Morning America guy? Picked on Brooke Shields? Jumped around on Oprah? He stops the perfect control machine, acts like a human being in public and people think he’s gone crazy. Yet these sorts of things go on all the time, it’s just that usually it’s fixed through editing, reshoots, rewriting the answers to the interview questions. And we like it that way, because we want the illusion.

There’s a current interview with Tom Cruise in which he’s asked about his recent behavior, and the interview has so clearly been worked through and sanitized – preplanned answers, set talking points in order to explain away everything. Make it vanish. Yet it restores the illusion we so much want. When Oprah rips a guest a new one, or gets them to say something stupid, we want that illusion to be the reality, rather than the idea that those interviews are manipulated through editing so that she always comes out the people’s hero.

And celebrity culture, I suppose, is supposed to be this way, but the trickle down is kind of frightening. Celebrity illusion is now becoming the normative M.O. MySpace profiles, fictional degrees from prestigious universities, etc.

I don’t know…no point. Just interesting.