S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 13 July 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 


Hit & Run CCXXXVI

 
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FM2030 didn't make it. All deaths have some ironic edge, but none more bitter than the passing of one whose career consisted of hyping the notion that — soon, soon, just hang in there — nobody would need to die. F.M. Esfandiary, aka FM2030 (the year he'd turn 100), author of such technophilic visionary books as Optimism One and Are you a Transhuman? died Saturday at age 69. He was a patron ideological saint of that peculiar gang of cut-'em-off-and-freeze-'em die-hards who call themselves Extropians — believers in a world of boundless wealth, endless life, and unlimited free refills.

Esfandiary and his professional ilk are called "futurists." This is not necessarily just a more polite term for bunco artist. Former hippie promoter of solar powered apple-corers and now corporate inspirational speaker Stewart Brand makes a distinction between futurists (genuinely scientific speculators about tomorrow, his friends) and futurismists (pushers of a specific agenda for the world of tomorrow, not necessarily his friends.) Esfandiary was of the latter type — wanting a world of transcendent medico-technical achievements and an end to old-fashioned social mores, like marriage and the family, that keep us down. He predicted that, in the year 2525 or sooner, you'll be picking your son, and picking your daughter too, from the bottom of a long black tube. Most of all, he wanted to live forever. Alas, it isn't 2030 yet, and we don't have the means to cure or replace a cancerous pancreas. Although a self-described "chronic optimist," Esfandiary couldn't resist cursing the pancreas that shot him down as "a stupid, dumb, wretched organ." Unlike fellow futurism promoter Timothy Leary, FM put his head where his mouth was and froze himself for a future day when he can, it is devoutly hoped, be safely thawed out and cremated.

 
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Timothy Noah, author of Slate's Blabbermouth column, has committed at least two counts of journalistic misconduct and he deserves to be punished. First, Noah declares in his July 7 column that the assertion, "five [signers of the Declaration of Independence] were captured" is not correct. According to Dumas Malone's book The Story of the Declaration of Independence (Oxford University Press, 1954), and all other sources the Sucksters consulted, Georgia's George Walton, South Carolina's Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward Jr., and Arthur Middleton, and New Jersey's Richard Stockton were all captured during the course of the American Revolution. Splatterbox's willful and malicious attack on the Declaration's signers came in a discussion of a dumb patriotic spam which has apparently been circulating for years and which provided the basis for several professional columns. You can read Jabberwocky's comments on this "urban legend," again and again, in the pages of Slate (a publication for which the Sucksters have always had the highest regard). Now, however the controversy has taken a truly ominous turn; one of those professional columnists, conservative Boston Globe writer Jeff Jacoby, has been suspended without pay for four months as punishment for repeating the spam's ideas without attribution in a July 3 column. (For the record, Suck's own July 3 column was written without reference to the spam in question, or even awareness of the spam's existence; in fact, we're a little pissed that Tittlemouse hasn't given our fully documented tribute to great New Jerseyans and other founding fathers one of his little gold stars). We don't believe Noah should be suspended for his own journalistic misconduct. But we're also inclined to believe that Jacoby really is the victim of a vast, left-wing conspiracy at the Globe. Maybe it's just phantom pain over the Patricia Smith and Mike Barnicle affairs, but has the paper really become this rigid? Does Jacoby — writing for the instant morgue of a July 3 Monday edition when he undoubtedly would have prefered to be at a cookout — really deserve to take a career bullet just for filling some column inches with received factoids? Take a look at Noah's discussion — portions of which deal with such niceties as whether a certain house was "destroyed" or merely "fired upon" — to get an idea of the pointyheaded level of the discussion. Which brings us to Chucklehead's second journalistic offense: He gives nitpicking a bad name. The whole purpose of journalism about journalism is that it's supposed to give us an easy way to generate columns without having to do any actual work. Noah's factoid-chasing is churlish, labor intensive and pointless to a degree that even the Sucksters can't abide. (Compare the facts at issue here with a claim made by one of Jacoby's defenders, drooling rightist David Horowitz, who is currently parroting The Patriot's phony story that George Washington offered to free all slaves who served in the Continental army; this is a misrepresentation of considerably greater significance than failing to note that Thomas Nelson was able to repair his house.) We'd go on, but disputing these petty points is the quicksand of journalism. One fact we know for certain: Tim Noah is the hobgoblin of little minds.

 

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If your town is anything like ours, you can enjoy countless hours right at the nearest bus stop, courtesy of those TV Guide- sized magazines of home listings. Whether you're deciphering the cryptic yet cute slang, savoring the expensive, dodgy and unsafe looking dwellings far out in the hinterlands, or just trying to guess the prices and decipher the baffling codes, there's nothing like a little armchair house hunting to pass the hours. Here are some of our favorite recent listings (all 100% genuine).

Suicide manor!? Don't call it that! Original owner staked, buried at crossroads! This is a steal, let's deal deal deal! 7H5T

Ruff Tuff Cream Puff! Creampuff house in rough, tough neighborhood! Fight for your life like a man! Fl#3245

BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR! Green door, what's that secret you're keeping? Green door! Green front door not shown. RT897

Boooo! You'll cheer up when you see the price of this murder house. Hot and cold running ghosts. VA approved RLD#989

No Mello Roos! Who understands realtor slang? 4 us to know, 4 you to find out! 3 BR ranch house in a neighborhood. SLY53

Sinks! Kitchen sinks, bathroom sinks! Original enamel, drains great!! Won't last at this price!!!! RF#4556

Pride of ownership! Four walls and a roof! CD5LL4

Eh, what's up, Doc? Bugs all gone! Recently sprayed, 3 month guarantee. Electrical sockets. ST7R7

Bless this meth! Catch this ex-speed lab before it runs away from the market! 3 bedrooms, 2 bath, self dry-cleaning closet. Fumes, fumes, fumes! HF56T

The snake was pale gold, glazed and shrunken. We were afraid to touch it. The sheets were hot dead prisons! Won't last! Near a school, of sorts. FG878

Cheesy cottage! Swiss cottage near cheese factory, cottage cheese ceilings! Yum! (Burp!) Windows, sills, some screens. 78GAG9#

She's a brick house! Bricks, mortar, bricks like nu! C 2 B-Lieve! EZ access to Municipal Tallow Reclamation Yards. Non-Protestants, Asians, Pacific Islanders federally allowed to apply. INRI787

CHRISTMAS IN JULY! Xmas-y foreclosure property; 4 BR, two bath, yard in Rancho del Cadavaros sub-division; stockings still hung by chimney with care! Free Xmas tree, lights, lawn Santa! Ho ho ho! RT687

 

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Harry Potter, publishing phenomenon, is also provoking the predictibly split display of opinions. Citing Reverend Michele Dolz, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran the headline "Harry Potter is great, says Catholic group." (In Studi Cattolici magazine, the father applauds Potter's message that good can prevail over evil.) But a different opinion is expressed by the folks at ExposingSatanism.org — a site "not meant for those of you involved in the occult, or for those who think they are Christian and are blind to Witchcraft." The site's webmaster warns that "The whole purpose of these books are to desensitize readers and introduce them to the occult... Are we now so far gone that the church can't tell what Witchcraft is?"

If that's true, this battle between good and evil seems pretty uneven. The latest installment in the Potter series shattered records for online fiction sales, and the character already boasts over 100 fans sites in two Harry Potter web rings, along with assorted fan fiction. And, as has been well-publicized, Satan-mongers in Burbank have already launched a casting call to bring their message to another medium. This may be bad news to the dedicated few who take the phrase Witch-Hunt literally, but what's saddest is the inevitability of this overblown controversy. Last fall in the New York Times, Judy Blume noted that "I knew this was coming. The only surprise is that it took so long..." Blume's own books have been the subject of school library bans, though "In my books," she writes "it's reality that's seen as corrupting. With Harry Potter, the perceived danger is fantasy." She concludes by imagining a world where even "Goodnight Moon" is banned — for encouraging children to communicate with furniture.

 

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Nobody is more surprised than we are at the news that CBS's exercise in friendly fascism is underperforming. Except, of course, CBS, which up until now seemed to be banking its Neilsen success story on a re-interpretation of the Mencken business plan: Nobody ever went broke underestimating the cupidity of the American public. Survivor seemed to bear out the theory that people will do anything for money (though we know of a few food service jobs that for us proved that thesis long ago). But Big Brother and its International Declaration of Human Rights-flouting ground rules implied that to generate real money on the other side of the equation — where it counts — programmers were entering a frantic race to the bottom, of which Big Brother was only a soon-to-be-lapped pace car. It's too soon to tell whether Big Brother'a ratings free-fall will stall such fare as The Runner, in which TV viewers compete to find the location of a mock fugitive, and Master Game, which is reportedly based on recreating "the unpleasant experience of cramming for college finals." Though the Brother bottom-out would seem to signal caution at the very least, we admit we hope these shows get the greenlight. But we're looking forward to their production not because we miss finals, or even because we think TV should look even more like a Shirley Jackson short story. No, we hope these shows get on the air because as enjoyable as it is to see real people suffer at the hands of network programmers, it's even more fun to watch the suffering of the programmers.

 

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The nearly-audible groan emanated from the NBC television network during the always-overhyped Wimbledon tennis tournament fortnight, as Andre Agassi lost last Saturday's men's semifinal to Australian Patrick Rafter. In terms of matinee-idol status, it was like Heath Ledger edging out Leif Garrett, but NBC expected trustily xenophobic tennis fans to tune out in droves to a men's finals featuring Rafter playing Pete Sampras, who despite limping and muttering like an extra in North Dallas Forty was still incredibly boring. Agassi/Sampras promised drama Rafter/Sampras couldn't: conflicting styles, personalities and a rivalry that goes back 20 years.

It's odd then, that a match that dwarfed any potential or actual men's match in terms of psychological stature was instead hyped as sports and sociological trivia, and the resulting gut-wrenching affair termed a disappointment. Venus Williams's straight-set victory over sister Serena in the Wimbledon women's semi-finals was the most affecting sports contest in recent memory. Serena looked much better on paper: She had a grand slam championship to her credit, she had played the six months her older sister had taken off for injury, and she simply crushed her early-round opponents. But under the older sister's troubled but steadier glare, Serena's game completely left her, and her final error gave Venus the match. Anyone ever beaten soundly by an older sibling could relate, from those with nearly equal ability like the Williams sister to a thousand losers of inexplicable and ugly half-court basketball games in family driveways.

Most family drama in sports is generational: The elder Ken Griffey giving batting advice to his more talented son, Joe Frazier aiding his overwhelmed son Marvis against more talented heavyweight fighters. But the sibling relationship is different; it is always competetive, always emotional, and always present. Add the fact that the Williams sisters were raised with the same end goals in mind and are reportedly isolated from the majority of their tour mates due to personality conflicts and you have a situation akin to watching two of the original Kennedy children square off for the same political office. Professional sport's tendency to force adults into a prolonged adolescence must be that much more difficult when that cycle of indulgence and discipline has to encompass a sibling rivalry. Watching Serena Williams move from joy to grief and eventually — in the sisters' double victories Monday — to joy again did more for sport's claim as a window to life experience than a hundred showdowns between longstanding professional rivals.

 
courtesy of theSucksters