Mind Your Own Business (Meddling In Others' Affairs)

God, Madonna is shameless about publicity, isn't she? Somehow, I find it hard to sympathize too much with her when she calls a live, televised, webcast, stereo-simulcast, distributed-by-satellite, available-on-properly-equipped cellphones press conference to complain that the media doesn't respect her privacy. You know, it seems to me that the only time Madonna doesn't draw a crowd is the opening weekend of one of her films.

Now I don't want to get off on a rant here, but why is it that the only people who are quiet and mind their own business nowadays are the serial killers?

Nobody minds their own business anymore. Americans stick their nose where it doesn't belong more than Cyrano de Bergerac giving head.

We live in a nauseatingly confessional society. But it wasn't always that way. There was a time when you wouldn't dream of telling a guy you just met that you were an alcoholic. Unless, of course, you met the guy because you had driven your car into his swimming pool.

True, thanks to our tight-lipped Puritan ancestors with their scarlet letters and witch hunts, we've always been a nation obsessed with the doings of others. In the past, however, we justified our pejorative meddling with some lame, moralistic claptrap about "upholding community standards." Well, the fact is, folks, community standards have now deteriorated like the relationship between Brett Michaels and C.C. Deville on VH1's "Poison: Behind The Music." By the way, I hear Poison is touring again. It's always nice to go see a retro-tour of a hair band where the only drug they're now shooting up is Rogaine.

Hey, in our media-saturated culture, the border between news and entertainment is crossed more often than a line in one of George W. Bushs coloring books.

The thing about the entertainment media's particular brand of voyeurism is, we're so easily bored that, if somebody wants to keep our attention, they must continually super-size the freak value. I was watching "Springer" the other day and actually saw a couple get their marriage back on track by beating the shit out of each other. I think Jerry's final thought was entitled, "I'm OK, You're OK, Bitch."

Then there are the hapless casualties of voyeurism like Monica, Darva, and Kato, forced to watch defenselessly as every nook and cranny of their personal lives gets slurped into America's bottomless maw for other people's humiliation -- all under the false rubric that a free and open society has the right to know. At first fidgety, these quasi-luminaries ease into their new roles quickly, seduced by the yodeling highs of celebrity that smudge the line between the famous and the infamous, until there's no real point in their ever saying goodbye. They turn into Abe Vigoda - you always think they're dead, and yet, they're always RSVP'ing in the affirmative. It's sort of like Karmic extortion. We wouldn't leave them alone, so now it's their turn. And in the end, their fifteen minutes last longer than a cross-country airplane conversation with a Jehovah's Witness who sells life insurance.

What I can't fathom are the people who auction off their privacy on the open market. You can go online now and actually watch mutants and cybergeeks who record every nanosecond of their lives - every snore, every burp, every restraining order filed against them by William Shatner - and beam it out over the Internet. It all raises the interesting philosophical question: How can you broadcast your life when you don't have a life to begin with?

Do the media and the Internet feed this tendency, or merely reflect it? It's hard to say. We're living in a time when personal boundaries are more blurred than the camera lens in a Joan Collins photo shoot. You would think that this would help to generate more openness between people, but all it seems to have done is increase our mistrust. We feel perfectly comfortable spending hours online, sharing our innermost thoughts and yearnings with complete strangers, but we don't even meet the people living next door until there's a huge earthquake and everyone's out on their lawns at one in the morning. As a matter of fact, that's the scariest part of an earthquake - hearing your 58 year-old neighbors Myrna and Leo explain how they had just strapped her into the Vietnamese fuck basket, when all of a sudden, she started swinging back and forth, like King Kong's balls on a hot day. "Well, thanks for the visual, Myrna, I think I'm gonna go pick up a downed power line now, OK?"

One of the most disturbing trends in the demise of personal privacy is the proliferation of hidden cameras. They're everywhere now. [POINTING AT CAMERA] As a matter of fact, what's this? I just don't think that's right. When I'm by myself, just like everyone else in this room, I do things that I would never do if I knew I was being videotaped. I pick my nose. I scratch my nuts. I squeeze blemishes. I work at my stubborn dandruff patch. I kick off my shoes and bite my toenails. I use whatever's lying around to scrape my tongue. I pull nostril hairs out and measure them with a small silver ruler I carry on a chain around my neck and record their length in millimeters in an embossed spiral notebook. I pinch my nipples until my eyes tear up, and I straddle things and yell "giddy-up," while slapping myself on the ass with a Victorian carpet beater. The point is, I should be able to pass my time waiting in line at the Post Office any way I want to.

Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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Bush's 1st 83 Days (George W. Bush)

Now I don't want to get off on a rant here, but tonight I'd like to take a step back and evaluate the former oilman who just 83 days ago took on the awesome responsibility of running our huge, complicated nation. And, if we have time, I'd also like to talk about President Bush.

Now, the rap on George W. Bush is that he's lazy, takes naps in the middle of the day, and would rather be watching television than focusing on what average Americans want for their lives. Hey, that is exactly what average Americans want for their lives.

President Bush took office promising to change the tone of the White House. Where Clinton looked presidential and acted like a kid, Bush looks like a kid and so far -- acts presidential. And while he has turned off the wocka-wocka 70's porno guitar of the Clinton years, so far he has yet to replace it with much more than the fuzzy hissing of a patriotic late-night sign-off on a local television station.

You can't talk about George W. without addressing the strange Bilbo-Baginnian language that spurts out from between his lips like melted marshmallows coming out of a squirt gun.

As a matter of fact, when the words in Bush's throat see their colleagues heading up to his lips, they react with all the giddy panic of teenagers watching a horror movie: "Don't go out there, man! He'll butcher you!"

Bush may not be smart, but at least he's smart enough to know he's not smart. The wisest thing he did in the China spy plane standoff was let someone else handle it. By contrast, a hands-on, eager-to-look-tough, micro-manager like Al Gore would have reacted with all the composure of a drag queen getting his wig yanked off.

Bush had the foresight to surround himself with smart people the way a hole surrounds itself with a doughnut. W.'s team of handlers has him so well trained, they're thinking of entering him in the Westminster Kennel Club show as a short-attention-spaniel.

Bush ran on a pledge to improve education, and I believe he's going to pull it off. By the year 2012, the average high school senior should be able to name the capitals of all 45 states that haven't yet been flooded by the melted polar ice caps.

Now, arguably the only thing this president has in common with our last president is the completely unabashed, unapologetic affinity for drilling the shit out of everything on the planet.

It's not that I don't agree with the bottom line on many of Dubyas stands, because I often do. Do I care about the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge? Sure, I guess so. But the mere mention of drilling for oil in it doesn't cause me to foam at the mouth like a rabid fruit bat blowing Mr. Bubble. Give me a fucking break. Every other vehicle in this country is a Lincoln Navigator with an "Earth First" bumper sticker on it. You simply cannot blame George W. Bush for not being able to let you have it both ways. Besides, do you know how many caribou it takes to pull the average four-door sedan at a steady 65 miles per hour? Believe me, the 405 would be fucked.

Hey, let's face it. He got into college by the skin of his teeth and into the Air National Guard the same way. He won the presidential election by a margin narrower than John Ashcroft's mind. Really, Bush's greatest achievement in his life up to this point has been to lower our expectations of him so that practically anything he accomplishes in the Oval Office is bound to impress us. So much so that, if he can just finish out his term without stickin' a Roman candle up his ass on a dare from brother Jeb, he's probably gonna end up on Mount Rushmore.

Truth be told, I like the fact that President Bush is not slick, that he mangles the English language. I prefer a guy in there who knows what he wants to say but can't quite say it, instead of someone who is very eloquent about promises he has no intention of keeping. So far, Bush has kept his pledge to the American people. He's surrounded himself with the best minds in Washington, restored civility to the Oval Office, and made it clear that this is an administration that believes in big business and a strong military, while working like a motherfucker on that 1.6-trillion-dollar tax cut he guaranteed us last year. Now you may not like these promises he's keeping, but maybe, in the end, what this country needs, above all else, is someone who just keeps his word, even if that word is "Ca-rum-u-bob-ulate-tion-ism."

Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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Extreme Sports

This weekend, ESPN is holding its first Extreme Sports awards. "Extreme sports"? Hey, folks, let's call this what it is: weird shit invented by guys who are willing to die to get laid.

Now I don't want to get off on a rant here, but our obsession with extreme sports has people all over the country jumping off bridges, skyscrapers and mountain cliffs, and some of them aren't even invested in the stock market.

The concept of extreme sports is yet another component in the vast conspiracy contrived to make me feel like I'm aging faster than a tuna sandwich in the glove compartment of a black car parked in Phoenix, Arizona.

Extreme sports are usually played by middle-class white kids, because the equipment involved is expensive, the activities often require costly trips to exotic locations and, let's face it, unfortunately, if you're growing up in an inner-city housing project, the mere act of walking to school is no doubt extreme enough.

Gen-X sports have been so successful for advertisers, they're now afraid to market anything without them. I saw Charles Schwab on TV the other day, trying to yell something about moderate-growth mutual funds while wakeboarding off the North Shore of Oahu, with his knee joints poppin' like two M-80s goin' off in an underground parking garage.

Hey, you only have to watch a minute of extreme sports to distill what is really going on here: psychopaths enriching osteopaths.

Now, when it was first introduced, bungee jumping was seen as the peak of extreme, a wild, daring pasttime only the boldest madmen would undertake. It has today become so mainstream that all bungee jumping platforms are required by law to be fully wheelchair- accessible.

Then there's BASE jumping, a high fatality activity which involves leaping off buildings and bridges with a parachute. You know, when I was ten years old, I climbed up on the roof of our neighbors garage and jumped off while holding an open umbrella. Only it wasn't called BASE jumping back then, let's see, what was it called ... oh yeah, "Being a fucking Moron."

If you really want to screw with a BASE jumper's head, wait at the edge of the cliff, and just before he's about to go, ask for his girlfriends phone number.

You know, when I watch one of these Eco Challenge events, I always wonder what the local natives think when they see the civilized folk "roughing it" with all the state-of-the-art clothing and equipment money can buy. Meanwhile, the Sherpas are climbing Everest with nothing on their feet but Wonder Bread bags, and their gods forbid the use of twist ties. And how about when these hikers pull out their calorically calibrated protein bars, while the guide from the tribe, who is naked except for the animal horn on his penis just digs into a pile of elephant dung and pulls out an undigested peanut, and calls it macaroni. [SING] Yankee Doody went to town

Extreme sports are fascinating to someone like me, who screams like Maria Callas in late-stage labor if I merely drive over a pothole with an open coffee container between my legs. In my defense, I may not be as adventurous as I used to be, but given the right set of circumstances, I am as extreme as they come. Like the other day, I'm making my famous cinnamon baked apples. But just for the sheer adrenaline rush, I stick the cloves in with their spikey ends pointing out. Balls to the wall, dude!

I think I speak for many of my fellow Los Angelenos when I say that I find extreme sports rather redundant when I spend a good deal of my day just trying to stay alive in traffic, while pinned between 4 stegasaurus-sized S.U.V.s, each being driven by a psychotically aggressive, Palm-Pilot-wielding, 98-pound woman with the blood sugar level of Lot's wife.

I view professional extreme athletes with, at worst, mild puzzlement and, at best, genuine respect. But what pisses me off are the amateur extreme athletes, who don't just risk their own lives -- they make some park ranger, fireman, or cop risk his life to save them. Every time I see a soldier who enlisted so he could defend his country, end up having to put his neck on the line, rappelling off a helicopter to save some middle-aged hero-wannabe jagoff who skied 20 miles off the clearly marked trail just so he can have a better pickup line than, "Hey, baby, your place or my moms?", I can't help but hope that just this one time, the kid from the National Guard is going to change his mind and chopper away to get a well-deserved beer, but not before getting just close enough to shout, "Hey, Asshole, Charles Darwin says hi."

Of course, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

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The Need to be Cool (Being Cool)

You know why Jack Kerouac was cool? Because he had no idea he was.

Now, I don't want to get off on a rant here, but cool is a gift. It's having eight pounds of hip in a five-pound bucket. It's not bought, bred or bequeathed. Clinton lost it, Gore can't buy it and Bush thinks it's spelled with a "k."

America's drive to be cool is like an endless game of "Follow the Leader," with all of us in a dog-sled-train, struggling to keep up with the alpha male trendsetter, when all we can make out are the hazy, glistening outlines of his ice-flecked, rhythmically pumping butt cheeks. Sorry, I got a little carried away, there. I'm still recovering from Gay Week on Animal Planet.

The United States is the birthplace of cool. If the world was a high school, America would be making out in study hall with Sweden, picking on India, and smoking in the U.N. restroom with France and Colombia.

Coolness appeals to us because it represents being free from the constraints of society while still living within it, dropping in to give Richie and Chachi a dose of hard-earned street wisdom, and then headin' off to Arnold's to grab a shake and pound a free song out of the jukebox when the Cunningham scene gets a little too "square." By the way, almost triggering a petite mal seizure by doing the finger quotes thing - uncool.

Now, there are many types of cool. There's the classic, iconic, Bogart approach: cryptic and unflappable, squinting through the smoke from the cigarette dangling between your lips, never letting a trace of emotion show except for an occasional sardonic half-smile at the foolish world around you that you couldn't give a rat's ass about.

As a matter of fact, some celebrities reach a cool of such mythic proportions, it transcends their physical being. Frank Sinatra is so cool, he hasn't bothered to take a breath for years, and he could still kick the shit out of you.

Then there's the demographically researched, pop-media faux-cool, the type of insouciance that bears the corporate patina of mass-marketed nonconformity. This is shopping mall cool, easily attainable: You don't have to Harley to Sturges; or Master the Guitar; or Trek through Nepal-- just plunk down your Discover card and buy some threads at Urban Outfitters or a barbed-wire bicep-tattoo at the Henna Hut, and not only will you enter the kingdom of cool, you'll also get a valuable cash-back bonus that can be applied to cruise travel or a Reader's Digest subscription.

I think some manufacturers may be trying a little too hard to envelop everything with a hip aura. I was at a drug store and watched an old man spend 15 minutes trying to decide if he wanted his Ex-Lax in Extreme Orange or Totally Wacked Wintermint.

There are certain places and situations where it's virtually impossible to put up a cool front. For example, when your doctor gives you a prostate exam, or when the supermarket cashier calls for a price check on super-small-size condoms, or when the door man at the Vanity Fair Oscar party bitch-slaps you for bursting into tears when he tells you he can't find your name on the guest list, even though it should have been there it SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE!! J-Lo, I love you!

I guess the coolest I ever felt was when Carveys Church Lady was really taking off on Saturday Night Live, and yet the entire nation was doing my George Bush impersonation. Oh wait, that was Dana, too. Come to think of it, I've never felt cool.

One of my favorite pastimes is to look around and try to determine who the coolest person in the room is. For example the other day at Starbucks, as I observed the 20-something counter jockey with the pierced prefrontal cortex and the dust bunny on his chin, and the as-yet un-produced screenwriter sitting in the corner staring at a four-year-old script-in-progress that still has fewer words in it than his latte order, or the heavily perfumed walking designer rack talking into her cell phone like she was trying to be heard over a fucking chainsaw, I realized with some pride that I could honestly say I was the coolest person in the immediate proximity, until I looked out the window and caught the eye of the Guatemalan landscaper trimming the hedges outside, obviously wondering what kind of schmuck I was to pay three dollars and seventy five cents for a cup of coffee.

Let's bottom line this. For me, the only real cool people left are those who don't buy into the coolness mystique. People who dont take themselves too seriously and don't screw over other people and understand that life goes on, the earth abideth forever, and what is cool today may not be cool tomorrow. That's why it's best just to be yourself. You know, unless, of course, you're an asshole.

Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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Now, I don't want to get off on a rant here, but why are Americans so in love with credit? Simple: WE'RE AMERICANS. We want everything, we want it Bigger, louder, shinier, faster, and we want it NOW. Instant gratification is as American as drive-through microwave apple pie. Of course Tantric sex was invented in India. Here, we want to fuck just to get it over with, so we can go out and buy more stuff.

This country was founded on debt. Hey, right off the bat, we got ourselves into hock to pay for the Revolutionary War. And then, in 1803, we purchased the Louisiana Territory, and they only sent us the clear title for that three weeks ago.

Historians often contrast our love of credit with the frugality and practicality of our Puritan ancestors. But come on: How frugal is it to buy a separate belt buckle just for your hat?

You can't begin to understand credit until you understand its boozy counterpart, interest. Credit is like a friendly bartender, wrapping his arm around your shoulder and telling you it's okay, just put this round on your credit card and take care of it with your next paycheck. Interest is the surly bouncer who hustles you head-first out of the warm tavern and face-first into the urine-stained snow bank, all the while mercilessly punching you in the ribs as he methodically goes through your pockets, until he gets back every last penny that you owe him.

Even the most thrifty among us need credit at some point or another. When you mortgage a house. When you buy a car. When you're on e-Bay and you see a mint-condition ice-packed human kidney that's still throbbing and would go perfectly in your collection ... But who would have a collection like that Clarice?

The irony is that responsible people who pay as they go never build up a good credit rating. And without one, you're considered a bad lending risk. Just try applying for a car loan or a mortgage. Trust me, you'll be ignored like the busboy at Hooters.

There is a whole generation out there who, between ATM cards and credit cards, don't even know what cash looks like. You take out a wad of bills these days, and you might as well be pulling out beaver pelts to pay for that pizza. I have had cashiers take the twenty-dollar bill I've given them and write my drivers license number on it. Of course, we'll always need cash for strip clubs. Nobody wants to see a naked chick swipe a card.

Now, I myself know what it's like to have bad credit. When I was 19, credit card companies would send me letters telling me I had been pre-approved for rejection.

Giving a teenager a credit card to teach them about money is like getting them drunk and putting them behind the wheel of a car to teach them responsibility. The interest rates on these cards make Tony Soprano look like George Bailey.

Bottom line: this country is more dependent on plastic than the casting director for Pamela Anderson's "V.I.P." And true, while I appreciate the convenience credit cards provide, what I really like are the cards themselves. I like their size and weight and as a matter of fact, I have customized mine with razor-sharp tungsten edges and balanced them for throwing with deadly accuracy. I also took the liberty of having a graphic artist rework the little holograms for me. My MasterCard shows a squirrel water-skiing, and my Visa shows an old, fat couple fucking. My point is, credit can be fun if you just let it.

If I have one bone to pick with the credit card companies, it's that they make the place where you're supposed to put your signature on the back of the card too small. And nobody ever checks the signature on the card anyway. When they do, it's just for show; they're not really checking it. I know because, as an experiment, on my most recent card, instead of signing it, I wrote, "Just ring it up, shithead." So far, not a peep.

Now, one of the ways we judge which rung of the ladder you are perched on in this society is by what color credit card you carry. For American Express, the once-prestigious Green card can be replaced by the Gold card. Keep charging, and you are eligible for the Platinum card, which can now be trumped by the upper-echelon Black card. Soon you will be able to just have a bar code sewn onto your ass, so that there's absolutely no way you can leave home without it.

In closing, let me say that today, I am fortunate, because I have the money to pay off my credit cards at the end of each month -- but I choose not to. Why? Well, my logic is that if a killer asteroid obliterates the earth, causing tidal waves and cosmic fires that destroy every submicroscopic trace of life on this planet as we know it, and I still owe three grand on my Visa, I win. [FINGER]

Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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And an article in USA Today this week reported an increase in the number of pet owners taking their dogs to see psychiatrists. Hey, whatever happened to yelling at your dog to get off the couch? You know, if I could lick my own balls, I sure as hell couldn't need a shrink. Ah, who am I kidding? I can lick my own balls. That's why I go to a shrink. I can't stop. Because I'm a human being, with a bafflingly complex mind and a very stiff neck.

Now I don't want to get off on a rant here, but even the best psychiatrist is like a blindfolded auto mechanic poking around under your hood with a giant foam "We're #1" finger.

Though definitely a Western phenomenon, psychiatry hearkens back to traditional, tribal forms of healing, in which the right combination of words and potions would ease your tortured spirit. I can just picture an African Bushman, lying on a dirt floor, anxiously telling his medicine man this nightmare he keeps having about showing up at work fully clothed.

Even though it was invented in Europe, psychiatry could only become the multi-million-dollar business it is today here in the United States. We're the only people in the world who are stupid enough to actually want to know what's going on inside our minds. Americans couldn't be more self-absorbed if they were made of equal parts water and paper towel.

Another reason psychiatry has flourished in the US is that, in the 1970's, Woody Allen helped popularize the idea that going to a shrink is normal and healthy. And just look what its done for him and his family. He and his daughter-slash-wife have never been happier.

Now, ever since the days of Freud, psychiatry has been strictly limited to the realm of the middle- and- upper classes. sychoanalysis is expensive, which isn't too surprising when you consider it was invented by a major cokehead.

For me, the difference between psychiatry and psychology is just one of those little nagging things I can never remember. Like stalactite or stalagmite. Alligator or crocodile. Nipple clamp or nipple restraint.

But I do know that psychosis falls into two major categories, manic-depression, and schizophrenia. Being diagnosed as one or the other has two immediate benefits. First, it automatically defines a set of effective treatments and second, it tells you which side you'll play on in the annual Crazy Fucks Softball Tournament.

Nowadays, rather than dwelling on childhood traumas and repressed sexuality, modern psychiatry deals more with correcting chemical imbalances in the brain. Kind of like what some people did back in college, except then it wasn't called psychiatry, it was called "bong hits."

Therapists face the daunting task of taking chaotic, violent and unstable people and molding them into well-rounded, secure and productive members of a chaotic, violent and unstable society.

Now, I'm not saying we should return to the days of lobotomies and electroshock, but I do feel the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Today, everything is a disorder or a disease that deserves our understanding. Nobody is held personally responsible for their actions. And that's gotta go. I think a good first step would be to change "not guilty by reason of insanity" to "guilty by reason of insanity."

Basically I'm a pretty normal guy when it comes to my mental health. I guess if I have one little problem that makes me consider seeing a shrink, it's a white-hot hatred for all humanity that burns so intensely it literally sears my insides. Other than that, I'm feelin' pretty mellow these days.

All kidding aside, I know what my problem is. I'm what you call a self-loathing paranoid. I don't think I'm worth the time and effort it would take for someone to hunt me down.

I view my head in much the same way I view my TV set. When something isn't working right, I can either bang it with my hand, or call a professional to fix the damn thing. In fact, I even have my shrink wear a tool belt and a name tag, and rip a big one at the start of every session.

The key is to find a therapist that you click with, someone that you trust implicitly with the deep, dark secrets you wouldn't even tell your accountant.

Now, I've had some great therapists in my life, and I've also had some who left me questioning their credentials. No doubt the worst was Doctor Cletus, a Jungian in bib overalls who, while I poured out the most intimate details of my very existence, would thumb through back-issues of "Guns & Ammo" magazine, occasionally glancing over at me, giggling and muttering, "Man, that is some weird-ass shit."

And the best input I ever got from a shrink? Well, when I was younger, I was plagued by feelings of inadequacy. So I went to see a psychologist. And he told me the reason I felt inadequate was because I was inadequate. Now that guy was a fucking genius.

Of course, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

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Clintons' Goodbye (The Primaries)

Boy, the Clintons' left Washington about as quietly as Kid Rock leaves a Holiday Inn.

Now, I don't want to get off on a rant here but like an infestation of cockroaches, a drunken party guest or a super-virulent strain of antibiotic-resistant clap, the Clintons are proving almost impossible to get rid of. Hey, is there any way for an entire nation to file a restraining order?

Since we first met them, Bill and Hillary's political relationship has been defined by a series of scandals, providing their marriage a much-needed distraction from ever having to actually stop and figure out how to extricate themselves from their biggest predicament: each other. Let's face it. If the Clintons' marriage were any more about convenience, they'd have to install a Slurpee machine and a Slim-Jim rack.

We've all been watching in astonishment these last few weeks, as the Clintons merrily parade their greed and corruption past us like a garish Mardi Gras float powered by the drivetrain of Bill Clinton's gargantuan sense of entitlement. Hillary steers, while Bill sits on the top tossing pardons out to the crowd like a drunken Bacchus with a perpetual hard-on for a scepter.

And it turns out the Low Priest who shepherded many of the pardon petitioners to the quid-pro-quo altar is none other than Hillary's currently eight-and-a-half-months pregnant brother, Hugh Rodham. Hey, who could blame Jabba the Hick for acting as a supersized go-between? How would you like it if your sister was in the White House for eight years and you couldn't even cash in on it because of stupid laws and shit?

And the Hugh-Rodham-sponsored pardons were small, and quickly eaten, potatoes compared to the Marc Rich debacle. President Clinton has repeatedly insisted his pardon of Marc Rich was the right thing to do. Which should probably tip you off to just how wrong it undoubtedly was.

You almost have to admire the sheer audacity of granting pardons to two tax-scamming billionaire fugitives named Rich and Green. If the symbolism were any more obvious, Andrew Lloyd Weber would be writing music for it.

And speaking of vacuous songwriters, the Marc Rich pardon was facilitated by his former wife, Denise Rich. Now why would a former wife go to the wall for her ex-husband? Well, in this case, I can think of a couple of billion reasons. You know, she couldn't be any more in her former husbands hip pocket if she were a piece of lint. Think about it. Denise Rich is the perfect unwitting foil to do the bidding of low-rent Machiavellis like her ex and Bill Clinton. Every time I see that footage of her standing there on stage next to Clinton in her strapless, fur-trimmed, hey-baby-give-it-up-you're-in-your-mid-fifties Escada frock, smiling that lobotomized, open-mouth smile, all the while clapping her mitts together like she's a trained seal cleaning erasers, just so thrilled to be part of the action that all the naysayers once told her was way out of her league, well, all I can think is, "Wow, she's not even aware of what an incredible dupe she's being played for." You know, there's nothing sadder than a star-fucker who thinks she's a patriot. And I like her.

To be fair, it's not like other outgoing presidents and first ladies haven't been involved in sketchy pardons, taken gifts they weren't supposed to, or profited from their positions. It's just that no one has ever done it in such bulk, in so short a time, eliminating the mid-level operative and passing the scandal right on to you, the consumer. Let's face it: the Clintons are the Costco of Sleaze.

And all of the lying, cheating and stealing can't be good for either of the Clintons' karma. At this point Hillary's coming back as a dung beetle with an overdeveloped sense of smell, and Bill will come back as... uh... well, Bill. Face it, this guy's smarter than God.

But you must never count Bill Clinton out. He is completely alone right now, but this is when he's at his absolute best. When the whole world has turned their back on him, when the baying hounds are confusing the scent of his blood with someone else's who's about to take the fall for him... That is the precise moment he has you exactly where he wants you.

Perhaps Bill Clinton didn't so much betray his allies as seduce them into betraying themselves. From the women's rights groups who took Clinton's side against all the women he victimized to all the liberal compadres he discarded when it was politically expedient to do so, Clintons proffered deal has always been the same: I will help you achieve your goals if you simply abandon the ideals that made them worthwhile in the first place.

I guess what I'm saying, Bill, is, we're on to you, and it's over, understand? We've awakened from our long nightmare of codependence and addiction and we've found someone new. Maybe he's not as smart or as exciting as you, but he treats us nice and makes us feel pretty. We don't need you anymore, Bill, okay? So stop calling and stop driving past our house at night and stop looking at us like that. Now get off the porch and get out of here before we change our minds.

Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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The 2001 Grammies (The Music Industry)

Did you guys see the Grammys the other night? Christ, there are more subcategories than Larry Flynt's home video library. I think somebody actually won for "Best Silence." Now, I don't want to get off on a rant here, but the music industry is in more trouble than a late-shift radar operator in Baghdad.

Hey, lets put our cards on the obsolete turntable. The Music Industry has nothing to do with music. What you hear on the radio today is one-half marketing, one-half public relations and two-thirds timing. And if that math makes sense to you, you probably work in the Royalties Department at any one of the major labels.

Now, I watched the Grammy Awards on Wednesday, and all I kept thinking was, "Hey, where's a rolling blackout when you really need one?" I couldn't help but be struck by the fact that, while our founding fathers guaranteed us all the right to freedom of speech, they never said anything about singing, OK? A lot of this stuff is just shit, and unwrapping the CD is often more complex than the thought that went into the music.

I love music. It gives you something to listen to while you're watching videos. And make no mistake, the music industry has turned itself into a visual medium and, that being the case, I feel I'm within my rights to respectfully request that the members of Steely Dan never be allowed to appear on a prime-time telecast ever again. For Christ's sake, for a second there, I thought I was watching "The X-Files." Is it just me, or do the two guys in Steely Dan look like Ben & Jerry coming out of rehab? The only reason Steely Dans latest album is selling so well is that 50-year-olds don't know how to download it for free.

You know why Eminem showed up at the Grammy's? Because it sells. Eminem isn't about freedom of speech as much as he is about the freedom to make a buck. He isn't peddling his songs underground to get his point across; he needs controversy to keep him famous because of his unfortunate dearth of talent. He stops selling records, and no one gives a fuck about his freedom of speech anymore. You think Gino Vanelli stopped making records because he gave up the right to his freedom of speech?

You know what? I like Eminem. Not because he's funny, or because I like his music. I just like what he has to say about women and gays ... Wait, I don't mean that. That's just an ironic character I'm playing, casting light on our society's new wave of political correctness.

Before you focus too much of your time and energy on loathing Eminem for his music, let me spin this little scenario for you. Marilyn Manson spent Wednesday night watching the Grammys on a 13-inch black-and-white television set with a coat hanger for an antenna, at a Grange Hall in Bismark, North Dakota, after unveiling his apocalyptic vision for the future to fifty or so pasty-faced Goth losers who left during the encore so they could get home and watch "Temptation Island." And trust me, Manson was so depressed that he is no longer in the crosshairs of the hate-rock controversy, he could barely wriggle out of his fake vagina suit.

People like Eminem get all the attention, but the music industry is still very much alive, pulsating with vibrant, unique, and indeed weltanschauung-shaping musicians. Beck's "Midnite Vultures" offers a fiery, eclectic mingling of genres that we've not witnessed since "Exile On Mainstreet." Radiohead's "Kid A" has picked up Pink Floyd's torch to help illuminate the cringing fears of a lurching generation unable to shake their parents post-Kerouacian haze.

'N Sync's silvery, almost symphonic harmonies pick up where early Hanson left off, suggesting optimistic redemption with dulcet choruses that say you may not love me now, but I can try, try, try.

Pop music has a rich legacy of ripping people off. First, the white musicians stole from the blacks. Then, the producers stole from the performers. Then, the performers and the producers formed an alliance to steal from us by charging 19 dollars for a CD with only one halfway decent song on it. So I for one salute Napster, because it's high time the public finally had an opportunity to horn in on a piece of the action. Considering how badly you get fucked every time you go into a record store, I have to assume Richard Branson was trying to be ironic when he named the place Virgin.

Now, industry people will tell you that Napster is unfair, and denies musicians of their rightful, hard-earned cash. But musicians are going to waste their hard-earned cash anyway, OK? They're musicians. Napster will only be a serious problem for the industry when it starts cutting into a musicians anonymous backstage blowjob residuals.

Hey, the bottom line on Napster is, it means no more paying for overpriced CD's and putting money into the pockets of the bloated, corrupt media conglomerates. All you need is a computer with a high-speed modem, extra memory, a CD-ROM attachment, an extra phone line, Internet access, a CD burner, blank CD's, a how-to manual, and NO FUCKING LIFE.

You know what-- the music industry has always been about the coin. If they'd been invented at the time, Mozart would've sold t-shirts in the back of the hall. And Ticketmaestro would've skimmed their 20% off the top.

While the sounds of U2 might be music to our ears, all the music industry hears is the soothing chime of the cash register. But the one thing you have to say about the music business is, for the artists, if the product is great, it'll also be timeless. All you have to do is look at the Billboard charts to see that The Beatles are just as popular today as they were when Yoko broke them up. Not that I dwell on that. And Yoko, by the way, if you're out there listening tonight, why dont you level your karma and start dating one of the Baha Men, OK?

Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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The Age of Intolerance

Now, I don't want to get off on a rant here, but this country's so intolerant right now, they might as well change the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty to read, "Go the fuck back to Fuckatania."

Listen, I will accept anyone's lifestyle, appearance, belief or idiosyncrasy just as long as they don't ask me to pay for it or wanna sit next to me on a plane and talk about it.

What I do object to are fringe groups who go beyond the notion of tolerance and demand our approval. Sorry, but if you move in next door to me, and one day I look out my window and see your wife cutting the lawn with her teeth because she's a sheep, don't expect me to bring a covered dish over when you two reaffirm your vows, okay?

Intolerance leads people to do strange things: go to war, burn books, riot at soccer games, and eschew lactose, and there's never any logical reason. Most arguments made by intolerant people have all the consistency of space shuttle Thanksgiving gravy.

Why can't anyone just shut up and listen anymore? Whatever happened to the genteel art of sitting back and letting someone go on and on thinking he's right while you bask securely in the power of the knowledge that he or she is completely full of shit?

Now, as mentioned earlier, today's poster boy for intolerance is Eminem. I don't think there's really anything that damaging in Eminem's lyrics. He's no more dangerous than a bleached-blond Chihuahua chewin' on an old dishrag. Eminem doesn't upset me. You know why? Because he wants to upset me. Does his rap instill hate and inspire intolerance? All I can say is, not in me. As a matter of fact, it does the opposite. The more he talks about hating homosexuals, the more I urge gay inclusion in all aspects of society. The more crudely he rages against women, the more I crave their company and counsel. The more he casts blame on corporate responsibility for global warming resulting in the dangerous shrinking of the polar ice cap, the more I realize that you now know that I'm totally full of shit and have never even listened to his music.

You see, the danger inherent in fighting intolerance is that often those attempting to eradicate it end up practicing it, only in a mutated, once-removed form. Liberals in particular are guilty of this supposedly well-meaning recidivism. Honestly, it baffles me that the same people who blast away at President Bush's selection of a religious conservative for Attorney General won't give George W. any kudos for other cabinet choices which include blacks, Jews, Asians, Hispanics and women. Does a fundamentalist Christian not also represent a valued strand in our collective fabric? Who's really being intolerant of other peoples differences here? And by the way, who cares if Ashcroft's religion prohibits him from dancing? Who wants to see John Ashcroft dancing anyway? After all, I hear he was born with two right feet.

And as far as Senator Teddy Kennedy's quavering voice of righteous indignation constantly howling like a beagle at a Rick Wakeman concert at the prospect of a right wing conservative holding sway over the countrys law enforcement priorities... Give it a rest, Spam head. Let's not get into your view on womens rights and the sanctity of human life, okay, because where those issues are concerned, Teddy, you may not be, uh, shall we say, in control of your own vehicle. Capice, Tay-o?

And let's not let conservatives off the hook, either. Especially the religious right. Quick show of hands: if he came down and applied, how many here think Jesus would actually be accepted into Bob Jones University? C'mon, they'd beat the shit out of a long haired, peace-and-love hippy before he could turn the first cheek.

I think the truth is that you can never make everyone happy. The same people who scream about the freedom of choice for a woman to do what she wants with her body are forcing people who want their body to have a cigarette out into the streets to smoke. Some people who are against the death penalty are so adamant that they would electrocute those who are for it, and some of those who pray for the lives of the unborn also recite an extra "Our Father" when a clinic is bombed.

Look, tolerance does not mean you agree with everything that other people say, or that you subordinate your own best instincts to the tyranny of mass opinion. It simply means you pretend not to know that everyone on the planet but you is a total fucking moron.

The most unforgivable thing about intolerance is, by its inherent assumption that one group, belief or lifestyle is superior to another, it fails to take into account the ultimate truth which binds us all, black and white, gay and straight, Republican and Democrat, Arab and Israeli, Hindu and Muslim, Catholic and Protestant, Serb and Croat, Hutu and Tutsi: the fact that, at the end of the day, we are all equal pains-in-the-ass, in the eyes of the Lord.

Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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The Lure of Show Business

Hey, is there anybody nowadays who doesnt want to be on TV? Sometimes even on two different shows in completely unrelated fields where his option has just been picked up for two years in one unrelated field and hes shamelessly using the other field to suck applause marrow out of the helpless behavior-mod rats stuck in his studio audience only because they unluckily stumbled into a Partridge Family bus outside Manns Chinese Theater?

Now, I don't want to get off on a rant here, but while show business from the outside may seem like a nonstop whirlwind of gorgeous people, fabulous clothes, sparkling parties and spectacular homes, the reality is exactly that. Sorry, folks. I wish I had some balm to soothe you, but I don't. It's fucking awesome.

From Balinese shadow plays to bullfighters in Madrid to the porn studios of the San Fernando Valley to The Craig Kilborn Show, the only human desire more universal than the urge to put on a show is the urge to get paid for it.

Show business is rife with paradox. It's brutally competitive and yet attracts people with egos as fragile as Strom Thurmonds hip. There's no doubt about it, show business lures the people who didn't get enough love, attention, or approval early in life and have grown up to become bottomless, gaping vessels of terrifying, abject need... Please laugh.

What draws the average person into a career in Show Business? Simple--they want to get laid. Take any one of the Backstreet Boys or the kids from N Sync and put them behind a deli counter with a paper hat and day old meat stains on their apron, and the only spears they'd have their hands on would be Vlasic Kosher Dills.

Sometimes I'll be flipping through the channels on my dish and I'll happen upon this television show from Iraq called "The Chabab Abeeely Program." And this guy Chabab Abeeely looks really self-satisfied, singing, dancing, giving away the Chabab Abeeely home game to the Chabab Abeeely studio audience, and I always wonder: Does Chabab Abeeely really think he, Chabab Abeeely, is in show business? Do you, Chabab Abeeely?

Why did I want to get into show business? For the same reason Chabab Abeeely did. In hopes of being immortalized by the no-frills Raymond-Chandler-if-he-had-no-talent narrative of the E Channels smoke-enshrouded A.J. Benza. Hey, A.J. Violation of the Peter Principle. Ain't it a bitch?

In the early eighties, I worked comedy clubs across the country nearly every week of the year. Many times I drove fifteen hundred miles at a time in a rusted out AMC Pacer with tires balder than William Shatner fleeing his house during a 3 AM earthquake, and a blinking dashboard warning-light that said "Hey Asshole, Somethings On Fire And It's Not Your Career" All this just for the privilege of sharing a skanky one-bedroom apartment-slash-gulag with two other jerkoffs in skinny, crinkle ties, one of whom invariably had a cough so bad that a Welsh coal miner would tell him to get it checked out, and the other of whom was constantly bragging about getting laid by two different chicks every week for the past six years and screamed like Lawrence of Arabia galloping into Aqaba every time he tried to urinate.

And yet, being in show business has its drawbacks... The other day I was at one of my favorite eateries, and I got interrupted in mid-bite by someone asking me, "Are you" And I said, "Yes, I'm Dennis Miller. Can we do this later?" And he said, "Do what later? I wanted to know: Are you finished with that ketchup?" The point I'm making is, if you're in show business, the only thing worse than getting interrupted for an autograph during a meal is not getting interrupted for an autograph during a meal. And when you begin to have more uninterrupted meals than Rudolf Hess in Spandau, it's time to consider another line of work.

Trust me, you don't want to overstay your welcome in this town. Because you start to panic and everyone begins to see those rivulets of sweat running down your forehead, dripping off your chin, and it unnerves them, because they are then reminded of their own tenuous little toehold on the steep, shale cliffs of success, so they'll take any opportunity to loosen your pitons, causing you to plummet backwards onto the jagged rocks at the base of the Piedmont and impale yourself on a stalagmite where the others still in the game can then watch the carrion birds feast on your exposed, still-warm entrails. [SING] "Theres no business like showbusiness!"

And in show business, it can take decades to become an overnight success, and only moments to be considered a lifetime failure. Ask Vanilla Ice. If he'll come out from under your car at Meineke.

And don't think you can sleep your way to the top, because I guarantee you, somebodys going to try to fuck you while youre sleeping. And the casting couch? A total myth! There is no couch. Trust me, it's never anything more comfortable than a rented card table covered in head shots ... Or so I've heard.

Listen, I would recommend this business only if you absolutely must receive constant attention to be happy and fulfilled and you have already proven yourself unqualified for a more pleasant profession like being a medical test subject. Yes, the highs can be dazzling, but the views they provide are often straight to the bottom of the chasm ahead of you. I am sorry, young dreamer, but I cannot encourage you to join me in this difficult, wearying life, because I fear for your financial well-being, I am concerned about your mental health, I tremble at the pain you might cause yourself and your family, and most importantly, I sure as shit don't need any more competition.

Look, bottom line, no matter how glamorous it appears to be, show business will always be a grueling and frequently humiliating industry. And you know what? I don't care who you know, you never start out at the top, no matter what business you're in. First you're given oil wells, then you're given a baseball team, and then, and only then, are you given the White House.

Of course, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

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