"Totally coup, yo."


Interview with famed skeptic/trigger warning Michael Shermer




DR. MICHAEL SHERMER is known as an editor, a skeptic, a TED talker, a thinker. Others see him as “that intellectual lightweight who loves Ayn Rand and didn’t ‘understand’ global warming until unconscionably recently.”

An anonymous woman told another anonymous woman to tell PZ Myers that I raped her at some unspecified time in the past at some unspecified conference which was alleged reported to unspecified persons who allegedly covered up whatever it is I allegedly did.”

And that debate, dear Internet, rages on.

Michael Shermer

“Hey, baby, check out mah thumb.”

Last week, a new portrait of Shermer emerged. And it’s pretty rape-y. The portrait. You’ve seen it, the portrait, by now. Ugly stuff, that portrait.

So I decided to e-mail The Sherm and find out what’s going on! So here’s that, without many editin, cuz lazy…

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Murphy’s Law: $5,000 bail edition




“Bang on that window again, motherfucker, and see what the fuck happens!” the bald cop barks at me.

“But–but,” I turn to my new cellmates, incredulous. “you–he just let me in here to piss! My bail’s been paid!”

“Watch them process you all over again,” one guy jokes–says. “They don’t give a shit.”

Fear washes over me. I was locked in this room six hours ago–the first in a series of seemingly arbitrary cages the pigs herd you through at the Erie County Holding Center. I’d been bussed here with eleven other dudes from the courthouse across the street, handcuffed to a black kid who looked like he was about fourteen. But I can never tell how old black people are. Or how tall they are. I find professional basketball incredibly confusing.

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Ok, Lebron, I’ll Shut Up Now




NBA Finals Recap

So, first things first, I just can’t fucking win. I pick the Heat to win the title at the beginning of the year, then when they get to the finals, I go against them, and naturally, I end up looking like an idiot. Fuck me.

Okay, now that that ugly situation is over, let’s talk about the actual series. After an encouraging win by the upstart Thunder in Game 1, the Heat swept the next four, gradually looking more and more powerful as the series went on. Game 2 was a close one, where the Heat benefited heavily from a dubious no-call on Lebron James that might have sent the game into overtime. As the series went on, the games were still close, but the Heat were beginning to look more and more like the better team, and in game 5, they just straight-up obliterated the Thunder.

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Why The Heat Will Lose Big Again




2012 NBA Finals Preview

At the beginning of the NBA season, I predicted that the Miami Heat would win the NBA title. In fact, I even went as far as to say that it was inevitable, and that all we could do is search for whatever silver linings we could find in that otherwise depressing outcome.

So, now that the Heat are actually in the NBA finals, why do I expect them to lose?

Because, as it turns out, this team is way more flawed that I initially noticed. For one thing, they really aren’t all that deep. Sure, they have two superstars in Lebron James and Dwyane Wade, and another very good player in Chris Bosh, but what is there after that? A bunch of washed up dudes who are only good at hitting threes (Mike Miller, Shane Battier, James Jones), and a pack of below average centers with no offensive skills whatsoever (Joel Anthony, Ronny Turiaf, Dexter Pittman). For all their flash, the Heat just don’t have a lot of substance.

In contrast, the Oklahoma City Thunder are a far better constructed team. They have a Big Three of their own in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden, and they also have a lot of quality players beyond that. Power forward Serge Ibaka led the league in blocks, and many thought he deserved Defensive Player Of The Year honors more than the eventual winner, Knicks center Tyson Chandler. The combination of Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, who has always been known for his defensive prowess, gives the Thunder one of the toughest front courts to score on in the league. Considering that many of the Heat’s playoff victories came from Lebron’s ability to score at will, they could be in some serious trouble.

And really, Lebron is their only hope. Yes, Wade is a great player, too, and he won a title in 2006, but anyone who views the situation realistically can tell you that Lebron is the Heat’s best player, and he should be their leader. As good as Durant is, Lebron is probably still a little bit better at this point. If he is able to thoroughly outplay Durant, it could make up the Heat’s lack of depth and catapult them to victory.

That, however, does not seem very likely. Let’s not forget who we’re talking about here. For all of Lebron’s raw talent and athleticism, he has an odd tendency to struggle in clutch situations. When the pressure is on, he panics, often deferring to Wade, or even a role player like Mario Chalmers. Last year he choked against a Mavericks team that wasn’t even close to the talent level of the Thunder. Admittedly, he’s had several big fourth quarters in these playoffs, so he may be improving in this regard. Still, going against a team as strong as the Thunder, it’s not hard to picture him falling into old habits.

Which is why for all of Lebron’s skill, and as powerful as the Heat’s Big Three can be, they will most likely lose in the finals for a second straight year. Kevin Durant’s leadership and lights out shooting will carry the Thunder to their first title, and we’ll have another year to make fun of Lebron’s inability to take charge when it really matters. Won’t that be nice?

The pick: Thunder in 5

Tell Hugar he can’t jump on Twitter

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AOL Forced to Take Back CDs




In another wise and popular decision today, the Supreme Court ordered AOL/Time-Warner to take back all of the unsolicited promotional America Online CD-ROMs that they’ve flooded the postal service with over the past few years. How the giant media conglomerate will deal with the storage and recycling of an estimated three billion CDs and cases in the US alone “is their problem,” according to Chief Justice Ralph Nader.

AOL’s CDs are a familiar sight to all, falling out of mailboxes and lame publications everywhere one looks. In a vulgar display of total disregard for social responsibility, the company produces and distributes an estimated 30 million instant-garbage discs a month. To put this in perspective, a million CDs stacked, without their cases, is over three times taller than the Empire State Building.

In a prepared statement, President Zinn commended the Court’s “prudent decision,” admonishing the popular Internet service provider for “wasting valuable resources on an annoying marketing ploy.”

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Chuck D argued that AOL’s Board, CEO, and Marketing Directors should be forced to store the offending CDs “in they ass.” The motion, backed by Justice Rock, was rejected by the majority as “good-hearted, but impractical.” Justice Einstein’s Brain in a Jar explained, “it is physically impossible to get that much mass into that amount of ass, especially when the asses in question are so tight.” The Court also ruled that the defendants perform 100 hours each of community service, consisting of carrying mailpersons around on their backs while they made their daily rounds.  

AOL’s lawyers were not surprised by the Supreme Court’s ruling. A spokesman called the decision “predictable,” citing a string of recent decisions against large corporations, and a general “anti-business mood in the government.” When the Court ruled corporate campaign contributions to be illegal several years ago, most of the friends that businesses like AOL had in congress promptly retired, leaving behind a new, more hostile legal environment for big companies. 

Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, his own business empire recently dismantled for anti-competitive practices, said it was “only fair that AOL gets nailed too.” Gates spoke from his prison cell, where, as part of his sentence, he now works as a low-level programmer for Apple Computers. As for the Court’s handling of his own Anti-trust suit, Gates was philosophical. “Actually, I was wondering how long I could go on before someone finally took me down,” he said.

In a related story, Holly “Sunshine” Cantner, of Buffalo, was ordered to “deal with” a massive amount of plastic bags and coffee cans, which she had collected “for recycling” at a string of apartments. Cantner, who has never actually recycled a single object, would apparently stuff every available cupboard and drawer with such recyclable items, before moving out and leaving them to her housemates to dispose of. “What a bitch,” said former housemate Sarah Packenheimer. “She just couldn’t face up to the fact that she was too lazy to go down to the recycling place or anything. Meanwhile, the whole kitchen is bursting with fucking garbage, and there’s plastic bottles all over the place. Plus she fucked my boyfriend, slut.” In her defense, Cantner’s lawyers said that Packenheimer’s boyfriend had “totally been all over her for weeks” before she gave him a ride, and that Sarah “should lay off the Ben & Jerry’s if she doesn’t want her man to stray, ‘cause he’s a total dog.” The boyfriend had no comment.

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Electoral Sodomy…It’s Your Ass by the Angry Black Man




You’re all a bunch of pussies. All of you people who sit there watching C-SPAN at night thinking to yourselves, “I fucking hate George Bush! I want that rat bastard tied naked to a cactus in the Mojave Desert with his balls dipped in maple syrup upwind from an anthill!” I know there are lots of you just throwing shit at the television when he comes on the local news at 11 o’clock. You’re the same sniveling, self-loathing, pathetically impotent fuckheads who watched the State of the Union address and cried, “If Bush gets reelected, I’m moving to Canada!” Well, you pieces of shit, start packing and good riddance.

I make this sweeping indictment because I know you all are scared. For real, it’s a scary time out here. Fear and anger are wasted emotions. That’s the shit that’s gonna get Bush reelected. Misdirected anger is a waste because: 1) you only end up breaking shit you wish you hadn’t after you threw it up against the wall and 2) you know you’re not gonna do shit but complain about Dubya to your co-workers or friends who are just as disillusioned as your are or just don’t fucking care. Fear is only slightly better because at least you don’t annoy the shit out of everyone you know talking that shit, because you’re too afraid that opening your mouth won’t change anything. Thank you for keeping quiet, but fuck you all the same.

I say this to the collective lot of “you” out there because you’re more important and influential than you think. I can see a lot of you getting really excited about some of the things left-of-center candidates are saying. I can see, in my Romper Room-like wand, Jimmy and Sally talking about how deep in their hearts they’d love to elect someone who understands the urgency of need for progressive politics in the White House. But (and this is a big but) they moan and gnash their teeth wailing, “WE NEED SOMEONE WHO CAN BEAT GEORGE BUSH!!” I just so happen to have a loaded shotgun for both of them to end their miserable lives with, before they experience electoral sodomy.

You can’t and won’t win anything but a nicely lubricated park & ride up your poop shoot from John Kerry or Arsenio Hall a.k.a. Howard Dean with that political strategy. And let me tell you, having something stuck up your ass when you had something totally different in mind isn’t just deceitful; it’s down right immoral, man!

The point is that if you want Kucinich to win, who cares if he looks like a Martin Short and Howdy Doody love child?! The reason he won’t win is because you won’t vote for him, you pussy! If you want to paint the White House black, go vote for Al Sharpton! Forget about his no lye relaxed hair and the fact that he always seems to be yelling for no apparent reason. If you want Joe Lieberman to win, well, he won’t win, and you can burn in Hell with the likes of Satan’s henchmen. But if somebody votes, someone’s gonna win and someone’s gonna lose. And that’s where you come in.

I know what you’re thinking too, you whiny dipshit. You’re saying, “What about the Electoral College? They [state electors] don’t really have to acknowledge my vote and could, if they wanted to, elect whoever the hell they want. Look at what happened in 2000!” This is absolutely right. So try and get one of your one of your so-called electable candidates to say they want to get rid of the Electoral College, and see how fast they disappear from the spotlight. Now ask some peripheral candidate to do it, and their reaction will be a whole lot different. Why? Because they have nothing to lose but airtime. No fear. Why won’t it happen? Because we’re (including myself) lazy bitches. Unless we think about how tired we are of the ‘same old shit different day’ mentality many people live their lives in, we will continue to wallow in it.

It’s like in that movie Office Space, where the loser with the red stapler who doesn’t even really work there, after years of humiliation and mumbling under his breath, goes and burns the building down. And seeing, realistically, that no one is stockpiling weapons (of mass destruction or otherwise) for a guerilla-style coup, you may as well make a push for popular democracy.

So you watch one of the seven major candidates on pick-your-skewed-news channel and say to yourself, “That guy is really saying some shit I like,” or “This is such bullshit,” and come to a conclusion on who you are going to vote for. But don’t tell me your not going to vote because it’s all a scam, or that you’re gonna vote out of desperation to be rid of Bush, or it doesn’t matter who wins because they’re all the same; That shit is weak. Pressure works – just not always as fast as the American ADHD mind can handle. Black people don’t get hung, castrated, or burned alive nearly as much as they did a century ago, and now gay people can hold hands in most coastal cities in the U.S. without getting the shit kicked out of them or shot, and look how long that shit took!

How did that happen? A whole lot of resistance, and knowing that politicians are pussies too. They’re like the customer service reps you talk to when you try to dispute charges on your cell phone service. They give you a long song and dance about how they understand your problem, and they’d love to, but can’t help you because they’re too busy reading a magazine while they’re talking to you instead of actually trying to solve your problem (they call it company policy, politicians give shitty government practices legal justification).

And you hang up out of frustration. Then, seconds later, in defeat and defiance, you call back mad as all hell, determined to get consolation and compensation. This time, they’ve hit the button that feeds the recording “We’re sorry, your call is very important to us…” and you wait, and wait and damn near wait until you almost forgot why you called in the first place. Then, while you’re daydreaming, thinking about food, sex, or television, you hear, “Thank you for calling, this is So-and-So, may I help you?” You argue for what seems like two hours, and talk to seven different managers (people in adjacent cubicles trained to reinforce what you’ve already heard). Finally, after lying to them about how you’re a small business owner who lost this amount of money because of their inefficiencies, they give you what you want.

Politics is the same way. It’s about who’s got more will (which, unfortunately, often translates into money) and who’s in it for the long haul. I won’t lie, the story is more complex than the ‘one man, one vote’ smoke and rhetoric that’s been blown up our asses since I don’t know when, but you gotta do something. And if after November, you still don’t think your action, your voice, or your vote is somehow meaningful, do us all a favor, and fucking kill yourself.

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Georgia May Join Axis Of Stupid




In an incredibly moronic and depressingly regressive move last week, Georgia’s school superintendent, the idiot Kathy Cox, proposed the removal of the word “evolution” from the science curriculum for her entire stupid state. The move would place Georgia among the ranks as such other retarded states as Florida, Kansas, Illinois, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Tenesee and Kentucky—the “Axis of Stupid,” as it is known in the offices of The BEAST.

In fact, the Axis of Stupid has been shrinking, inexplicably, with normally dumb states like Alabama, Kansas, Ohio, and West Virginia bringing evolution back to their painfully inadequate educational systems, after sending the spoilsport theory packing not so long ago. Will Georgia help to lower the bar once again for the rest of our dumb nation? We hope not, of course, but suspect that our hopes will be dashed. Frankly, we were surprised to learn that other intellect-challenged, progress-inhibiting states like Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas were not already full-fledged members of the pinheaded cabal, each still containing references to evolution in their curricula.

The silly thing about the change, which will be voted on in May, is its truly pointless nature, in that the offensive word is simply replaced by its very definition, “biological changes over time.” Unless Cox is referring to puberty or menopause, what’s the diff? This ridiculous semantic masturbation can only be a product of denial, the denial of a concept so obviously true that it hurts the ears of those who deny it. In a similar cave-in to pathetic religious denial, Cox has also deleted statements about the age of the earth, and human reproduction, or as brainwashed dunderheads like her call it, “original sin.”

Evolution-deniers argue that Creationism, now under the guise of “The Theory of Intelligent Design,” is a ‘competing theory.’ OK, let me get this straight: if I say that the universe, including the earth and all of us, was pooped out by some giant dog, say, a schnauzer, would that be a ‘competing theory?’ No? Well, what if a whole bunch of dipshits agreed with me? Think about it: the dog poop theory carries as much scientific validity as creationism.

Cox knows this deep down, as all bible-thumping assheads do. It’s the basic denial of fundamentally obvious truths that drives all devoutly religious people insane eventually. It just isn’t healthy to cultivate the habitual denial required to believe in a literal interpretation of the bible.

Take the case of Tennessee, where the mentally defective Blount County Board of Education voted 6-1 to reject three biology textbooks last year because they didn’t include creationism. The only thing a biology textbook should say about creationism is that it is Board member Mike Treadway cited “overwhelming references to evolution” which make him “uncomfortable.” Fellow imbecile Jean Simerly said, “I do not believe that we evolved from anything other than human beings.” Devolved is more like it.

Conservative Christians embrace a pathological level of denial, and develop an ability to tune out unpleasant facts that contradict their beliefs. Of course, it’s tough to keep up, and they’d rather just make offensive truths go away, as Cox is attempting here. Imagine Bob Dole proposing legislation to remove the phrase “Erectile Dysfunction” from the language, because it rubs him the wrong way. Perhaps Bush will push the removal of “deserter.”

We are not helping people when we ‘protect’ them from reality. The reality here is that religious wing-nuts, no matter how many of them there are, are just wrong, wronger than a barbed-wire jockstrap. Evolution’s validity is as plain as the nose on your face, whatever climate it may be adapted to. I would love to hear a church-drone like Cox attempt to explain how she got her appendix, or why God gave her wisdom teeth. The ironic thing about these ‘Intelligent Design’ idiots is that they are themselves the best available evidence that we are evolved from ape-like creatures, incapable of higher reasoning. Perhaps contemptible asses like Kathy Cox are simply throwbacks to our tree-climbing ancestors, and are therefore not to blame for their inability to perceive the totally obvious (‘Monkey Trial,” indeed). Then again, maybe she’s just a fucking stupid idiot.

An interesting fact about the AP article, by Doug Gross, that most of the facts of this piece are taken from: it equates antievolutionism and republican party membership. Gross identifies Cox as a republican, and quotes “social conservative” Rep. Bobby Franklin, “a republican.” The only person in the article who is identified as a Christian is Jimmy Carter, who lays into Cox something fierce, clearly coming down in favor of logic. Everyone else’s opinion is indicated by party. Is this what it means now to be a republican? Obviously, it has nothing to do with fiscal conservation, since Bush is spending money like a drunken sailor. Apparently, the rejection of science and the endorsement of religious fundamentalism are what the elephant signifies these days. I guess it makes sense, with an ignorant born-again in the White House, who ignores science on a daily basis regarding environmental issues. Now I’m not a big fan of the conservative agenda in general, but I hope it bothers at least some of you on the right that your party has come to embody a horrific celebration of such ignorance. I hope so, but I doubt it.

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Oxing the White House Lawn





–by Stephanie Cole

The state of our Union is strong, but the state of our liberty has rickets. Vampiric businessmen, masquerading as the conservators of our values, suck the nation dry. The children of our children will pay for a war whose primary purpose is to funnel money to those who will pump it back overseas. The plutocracy running our country must be defeated.

The reason and rhetoric for kicking George W. Bush out of the White House are simple. Finding a candidate to secure the vote—to unite the angry and inspire the indifferent—is much more complicated. Who is the right person to rally the people? At this point, I’d vote for Shakes the Clown if it looked like he could carry Florida, but somehow, I think he’d have issues even in Minnesota.

The right candidate must appeal to our country on the visceral, tactical, and political levels. In other words, the people have to like him, respect him, and agree with him. This is a tall order for a diverse nation, especially when part of it actually ‘informs’ itself with more than Fox News.

Glancing at the mainstream media, it’s clear that voters like to know what sport the candidate played in prep school. Dean: wrestler.Duh. Sex appeal obviously matters; lately, Newsweek‘s been looking like a soft-core Playgirl, with shirtless pictures of Dean and Kerry dating from ’70s. Also of great import are the would-be First Ladies’ views on homemaking and fashion. Newsflash: Madame Kerry doesn’t clean, and she favors Chanel (no shirtless photos so far).

Frivolous biographical data aside, The People also like to have a vague sense of what plans the candidate has for the country.”Vague” is about as good as it gets.

“The internet doctor,” Howard Dean, first attracted people with unabashed anger spewed at the George Bush cabal. He kicked off his campaign by saying some things many people needed to hear. Channeling our rage, he probably saved millions of moderate lefties a hefty bar tab. Maybe that’s why he got all those on-line donations.

Trolling around Dr. Dean’s excellent web site, one sees a lot of broad ideas calculated to appeal to the modern, tech-savvy liberal: balance the budget, repeal the tax cuts, fund education, provide health care, and quit treating gays as if they hang around outside the county clerk’s office shredding marriage licenses. This worked until 2004.

Then, of course, there was the ululation. Personally, I don’t understand what the fuss is about. If anything, I’ve enjoyed replaying that primal scream over and over again. I’m pretty sure it’s been wiped from his repertoire, but people should stop pretending the president should be a wooden dummy, and instead have fun imagining the debates if Dean gets to go head-to-head with George:

GWB:It’s been a hard road for the American people, but we’re all a lot safer now that Saddam Hussein is gone.


JIM LEHRER:I couldn’t have put it better myself, sir.

Yep, the scream is gone. If you’re the sort of person who reminisces admiringly about Andrew Jackson roasting an ox on the White House lawn, the world is a sadder place.

Moving on to the candidate least likely to scream…Joe Lieberman. For many, the reason not to vote for him is entirely visceral: He sounds like the butler on “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” but isn’t half as funny, which is saying something. Those who can see past the “Jeeves” resemblance have good tactical/political reasons for not wanting him, and he’s not going to get the nomination. Only vaguely cool thing about him: well, duh, his wife’s first name, Hadassah. I do like his spin on coming in fifth, though: “it was really a three-way tie for third.” No losers here at sunny Camp Primary!

Now for the current front-runner (bear in mind I’m writing this before Super Tuesday), John Kerry. After my “Shakes the Clown” comment, I guess I’d have to vote for him, but the rest of the country has a thing about Massachusetts politicians. Perhaps that’s why he got off to such a slow start. But Kerry may have what it takes, tactically speaking. You have to admire someone with the street cred to appeal to both war veterans and draft dodgers.And even though it isn’t important to me, he really does look “presidential;” maybe it’s his uncanny resemblance to Jackson on the twenty (back in the good ol’ days, it was always the “presidential” guys who ripped up the lawn). Kerry’s message is sound and, although he’s fundamentally a sellout who voted us into this war, his stance on taxes hasn’t inspired too much public rancor.

Wesley Clark could be the guy to beat George Bush, especially with a U.N. flagpole, but it’s looking like he can’t pack in Democratic votes, despite a ringing endorsement from full-fledged leftie Michael Moore. In endorsing Clark, Moore stated that he thinks Clark is the man for the here and now. Considering we have our asses hanging out of the window in Iraq, Mr. Moore may be right. However, if we lived in a world where the best man always got the job, I wouldn’t be writing this article in the first place.

John Edwards was a personal injury attorney.’Nuff said, I hope.

As the lies, the un-American determination to slash our most treasured values, and the mounting debt that will make my grandchildren hate me continue to accumulate, it’s tempting to say that all we really want is someone who can beat GW. But Americans deserve better than another rich white guy whose most winning point is the ability to challenge an insular, sheltered, myopic poppa’s boy. We deserve a person grounded in our traditions, able to stand on their own two political feet.

What’s frightening these days, and for that matter, what’s always been frightening, is that these things aren’t generally what win elections. Born well after JFK was canonized via assassination, I often heard that sex appeal secured him the presidency. Mob ties and vigah probably didn’t hurt, but when people in my native Utica talked Kennedy (my WASP parents with gritted teeth, everyone else with tongues on their sleeve), it always came back to dazzling teeth, thick hair, and a well-cut suit.

Good lord, maybe it will be Edwards.Yikes.

Stephanie Cole is a local attorney. Some of her best friends are personal injury attorneys. Really.

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That’s infotainment!





Dem Debates Need a Makeove


by Matt Taibbi

Separated at birth: The set ofWeakest Link…and a Democratic presidential debate?
Last week, on the morning after the first of six debates between presidential candidates sponsored by the national Democratic Party, I called the press office of the Democratic National Committee.

“Hi,” I said. “My name is Matt Taibbi. I’m a columnist for The Beast. I have a question: What genius decided to hold the first debate at the same time as the opening game of the NFL season?”

Click. Dial tone. I’ve been getting that a lot lately.

While I was watching the debate last Thursday, I was reminded of a Richard Pryor routine about meeting Ronald Reagan while shooting Superman III: “I met the president. We in trouble.”

The debate, the first ever to be held at least partly in two languages (it was held by Governor Bill Richardson and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in New Mexico), was an embarrassing spectacle for the Democratic Party, revealing most all of the candidates to be the drooling, vapid morons we all expected them to be. But worse than that, it was bad television. It was, in fact, the perfect metaphor for the Democratic Party itself: too compromised and cowardly to be substantive, but too pretentious and self-conscious to be good theater.

I would have preferred the substance, but given that this is impossible in the current climate, I have an idea for spicing up the debate format. The debates ought to be modeled after the excellent Game Show Network vehicle Russian Roulette, aWeakest Link-type affair where the losers are actually sucked through the floor when they give incorrect answers.

As I watched last week, I imagined moderators Maria Elena Salinas and Ray Suarez giving their bilingual instructions to the candidates.

SUAREZ: Each candidate will be given one minute to respond, and at the end of a minute, a warning light will flash. Candidates will not be interrupted unless they go past one and a half minutes. Also, as an additional incentive, candidates who tell even one lie will be sucked through a hole in the floor into a pit of hungry alligators.

SALINAS: (smiling and gesturing) Si usted miente, le aspirara en un agujero de cocodrilos hambrientos!

SUAREZ: Do the candidates agree to the conditions?

The candidates all nod eagerly. Ten seconds later, half of them start checking their watches.

“Shit, I’ve got to meet some old buddies from my unit,” says Kerry, gathering papers and looking for an exit. “We were going to have a discussion about real heroism…”

The floor opens: thrashing, screams, tufts of hair floating upward.

Dean smiles and collects his notes. “As a doctor, I have to go write a prescription for change…” Whoosh: splashing, screaming.

Lieberman clears his throat. “I, uh, have to go home and jerk off to footage of the Bataan death march,” he says.

Nothing. He’s still standing there. The crowd begins to murmur. The senator grits his teeth and fidgets.

“Just kidding,” he says, smiling. “What I really have to do is go home and complete my plan for providing Real Leadership…”

A thunderclap of cracking wood: half the stage opens, sucking Braun and Gephardt in with him. A fountain of blood shoots to the ceiling.

If only life were that interesting. As it was, the debate did little but further the demeaning horseracing process that has come to represent the sum total of “campaigning.” The format, with its one-minute mini-speeches larded with Nerf-insults and computer-generated one-liners (Edwards, trying lamely to appeal to Hispanic viewers, even used the “Hasta la vista” line), was tailor-made to fit the sportswriter storyline more or less decided upon in advance by the press. We knew going in that this debate was going to be the one that saw the other candidates attack the perceived frontrunner, Howard Dean, and we knew going in that we were going to see a “kindler, gentler” Dean who would discard his old “combativeness” and assume a more mellow, confident posture.

Indeed, all of this came to pass, with a few minor surprises on the horseracing front (i.e., Kerry laying off Dean), allowing columnists like Walter Shapiro of USA Today to rattle off the kind of analyses that pass for political commentary these days:

“The usually combative [Dean] suddenly chose to blend into the background…

“One of the difficulties that Democrats face in trying to dethrone Dean is that the attacker risks antagonizing voters and driving them to support a candidate who remained above the fray…”

This kind of analysis reduces the whole campaign process to words like “attack,” “antagonize,” “above the fray,” “centrist,” “left,” “shift,” “moderate,” etc., all describing strategy and various movements on the image front, none describing substance.

The general consensus in the debate post-mortems was that Dean’s status as the frontrunner was unchanged. Analysts who came to this conclusion must have been watching a different debate than the one I saw. Oddly enough, I thought Dennis Kucinich was the winner. While the other candidates deflected questions and went into ad hominem attacks on Bush, Kucinich gave clear, unequivocal answers to each of the questions posed.

Asked what concessions the U.S. can make if it ends up seeking U.N. support in Iraq, Kucinich was the only one who didn’t simply blast Bush for not asking for U.N. help in the first place; he answered right away that the U.S. can’t expect foreign troops to serve exclusively under U.S. command, and said we have to “bring the troops home” and let the U.N. in. (To be fair, Dean also said that he wouldn’t have U.S. troops serving under U.N. command). On NAFTA and the WTO, Kucinich said flatly that he would cancel both his first day in office. Noting that the other candidates’ proposals for altering NAFTA to include labor standards would violate the WTO, he said that unless you cancel both agreements, “all of this is just talk.”

Kucinich was largely left out of the post-mortems because the media has decided in advance that because he looks like Bob Denver and has no money, he is an afterthought in this campaign. His only mention in the Shapiro piece was a pithy description of him as a “left-wing Ohio gadfly.”

While on a plane with the Dean campaign last week, I polled a number of the reporters on several questions. One was, “What do you think the word ‘left’ means?” And the other was, “What is the journalistic value of horseracing?”

Regarding the first question, one reporter, who had described Dean as being “far to the left of his rivals,” explained that when she wrote this she did not consider Kucinich, Sharpton or Braun, because “we don’t consider them real candidates.”

Regarding the second question, no fewer than four reporters said that without horseracing, someone like Kucinich might win. “Hell, if it came down to a battle of position papers, Kucinich might win,” said Jackson Baker of the Memphis Flyer, one of the true good guys in the press pool.

Mark Silva of the Orlando Sentinel had a similar take: “I think that horseracing is important because it tells a reader why I’m spending so much time with this or that candidate, with a Howard Dean instead of, say, a Dennis Kucinich.”

The next day, Silva ran an article containing a quote from former Washington governor Booth Gardner, comparing Howard Dean to Seabiscuit.

Horseracing is about one thing: the media telling us who isn’t too ugly or too radical to run for president. It’d be nice if they let us make those decisions.

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