A "Game of Thrones" Primer

Despite my best efforts, HBO's Game of Thrones appears to be returning for a second season (beginning April 1).  In an earlier post, I tried to advance the argument that the fantasy genre as a whole is really only beneficial to regression therapists and the multi-sided di industry.  That post met with great resistance from fans of all things Throne, who argued that I had misjudged the show and the genre. I learned much from this dialogue, but I still had no real interest in watching, because again, I do not have a fetish for little people, dragons, jousting, pidgin Shakespeare, or the clanking of mead tankards.

But a few months later, a bout with the flu trapped me in the house during a Game of Thrones marathon.  At first I watched out of a bemused condescension, confident that I would see all my worst stereotypes confirmed.  But as the hours went on, I found myself increasingly involved in the story and its characters.  And by the end of the day, I had to count myself a fan as well.

Feeling bad about my earlier dismissal, I decided I would celebrate the new season by writing a primer for those who might still have some skepticism about the fantasy genre.  Game of Thrones is chock full of plot and characters, to be sure, but I think the dramatis personæ offered below should give the Thrones newbie a good sense of where things stand as we enter season two.

See you Sunday nights!

The King before his death
King Thaälis of Galthea
Game of Thrones is, most broadly, a chronicle of the power struggle for control of Galthea after the death of King Thaälis.  A wise and benevolent ruler, Thaälis brought peace and prosperity to the kingdom by marrying Princess Danrei of Falthingstoke some 70 years earlier.  At the beginning of the series, Falthingstoke, Galthea's historical enemy, is once again signaling its plans for war. 

The King is a widower, the Queen having died giving birth to Ylmorda, Princess of Sparrows, some twenty years earlier. The Queen does make one appearance in the first season, however, when two guards witness her ghost weeping on the castle ramparts, facing her ancestral homeland. The Wizard Menlocus (below) interprets this as a portent of impending conflicts with Falthingstoke. All indications are that he is right.

The poetic Mulvern
Lord Mulvern, the Prince of Badgers
Thaälis' first son and thus the rightful heir to the throne of Galthea.  But Mulvern would rather be a poet and lover than a warrior and king, so his claim to the throne is tenuous at best.  As Game of Thrones opens, we see that many in the kingdom question both his wisdom and bravery. In one powerful scene, Mulvern enters a village tavern--disguised as a commoner--so that he might eavesdrop on his subjects' opinion of the new king.  When a braggart boasts he could best the "pathetic prince of poets" in a duel, the steel begins to fly!  After easily defeating his foe, Mulvern reveals his true identity--and then recites a poem to the stunned mob!

Mulvern often wishes he could simply deliver the throne to his younger and more ambitious brother, Forquest, but is prevented in this "cowardly" abdication by his even more ambitious wife, Lady Mulvern.  Their union is an uneasy one, arranged by their elders so as to continue the peace between Galthea and Falthingstoke.  Mulvern's true love is Clymytharia, a lowly peasant girl recently brought to his court-- but duty and station prevent him from acting on this desire (at least so far!)

Brittathena the imposter
Lady Mulvern, the Princess of Badgers 
(but really the common whore, Brittathena)
Believed by all to be Estoria, the last of the Falthingstoke daughters to marry into the House of Galthea, Lady Mulvern is in fact an impostor.  She is actually Brittathena, a village whore from Falthingstoke who--in league with Dipples (the dwarf, see below)--pushed the real Estoria overboard on the sea voyage to Galthea.  As no one else on ship had ever seen the real Princess, Brittathena was able to assume her wardrobe and position in time for the betrothal to Lord Mulvern.  Only she and Dipples know of this deceit, making Brittathena and the dwarf uneasy allies in this "game of thrones."  Brittathena would simply have Dipples murdered, but the clever dwarf insists that an incriminating letter remains with an "associate" back in Falthingstoke--to be opened only upon news of Dipples the dwarf's death.   

Dipples in drunken revelry
Dipples the Dwarf
Former court jester to the King of Falthingstoke, Dipples earned his freedom upon the king's death and quickly became a degenerate drunk in a nearby village.  Catching sight of Brittathena, however, he could not help but note her stunning resemblance to Estoria, the youngest princess of Falthingstoke.  And thus their evil plan was hatched. Dipples often uses his access to the Castle Galthea to spy for Falthingstoke, sending notes back across the channel by carrier pigeon.  


Forquest in battle
Forquest, the Prince of Mongooses
Second son of Thaälis, brother of Mulvern. More brash and headstrong than his brother, Forquest is eager to engage the massing armies of Falthingstoke on their own soil--a pre-emptive attack of sorts.  But Mulvern does not favor this strategy and still believes diplomacy is possible, a great point of contention between the two brothers.  As Forquest commands the largest and most elite of Galthea's brigades, the prospect of a coup is ever present, a possibility suggested but never openly advocated by Brutulis, Forquest's best friend and second-in-command.

Kawlon, friend to Forquest
Forquest has also been entrusted with Kawlon, the family's ancestral falcon (said to be over 300 years old). A trusted scout for the Galthean army, Kawlon also supposedly possesses the power to predict deaths in the house of Galthea (by circling the castle counter-clockwise three times).  In one episode from the first season, Forquest's brigade stood by breathlessly as the mystic falcon circled the castle two and a half times--only to swoop down at the last second to capture a tasty mouse caught unawares upon the ramparts.

Clymytharia
A beautiful peasant girl from the remote regions of Galthea, Clymytharia was brought to Castle Galthea when a soldier noticed she had the uncanny ability to communicate with animals (although, oddly, she seems incapable of conversing with Kawlon, adding credence that this ancestral falcon is in fact a spirit or even a demon of some sort).

Clymytharia, bewitcher of rodents.
Kept in the court of Galthea as a potential military resource, Clymytharia can often be seen lying in the grass weaving necklaces from flowers and stems. She is also beloved for her ability to charm rabbits, chipmunks, and other small woodland creatures with her melodious singing.  Outwardly happy, Clymytharia is in fact desperately homesick for her village.  She would run away and return home save for a prophetic declaration by Ophenia, the Oracle of Halstrud Lor. "She who charms animals low shall ascend thrones higher than high."  Though she doesn't know it, she has captured Lord Mulvern's heart. 

Brave Brutulis, bested by a young maiden

Brutulis the Just
Second-in-command of Galthea's elite brigade and friend of Forquest, Brutulis is a burly barrel of a man who has earned the undying respect of his men for his bravery and loyalty.  He believes Forquest would be the better King, and yet serves Mulvern with honesty and valor.  He is also lovesick for a young village maiden who appears indifferent to his advances, often becoming comically tongue-tied in her presence.



Other recurring characters:

The Wizard Menlocus and his young apprentice, Zolan
Elderly wizard of Galthea, Menlocus has powers that are still great though occasionally a bit unfocused. For example, his attempts to create a "love potion" for Brutulis (in his courtship of a village maid) instead produced a terrible itching power, further alienating the young lass from Brutulis' affections.  Zolan is Menlocus' trusted assistant and apprentice, destined to become the Wizard of Galthea upon Menlocus' death.  What Menlocus does not know,  however, is that the boy Zolan is in fact a girl, disguised so that she might learn the spells and potions forbidden to her sex.

 Ophenia, the Oracle of Halstrud Lor.
As yet seen in only one episode, this crone living amid a forest of perpetually dead trees is likely to figure more prominently in season two.
  
Dysentery-small player on a big stage
Amoebic Dysentery
Has yet to make an appearance in the series, but should figure prominently in upcoming episodes. 

 Ylmorda, the Princess of Sparrows
The youngest child of of Thaalis and Danrei, Ylmorda has yet to figure centrally in the plot of Game of Thrones.  There was some suspicion that she might elope with Locrutious, a smooth-talking spice merchant who visited the castle for a couple of episodes--but this plot seems to have been dropped. 



Drakknoir
Drakknoir attacks the village of Jersicus
The most fearsome of the dragons living in the caves of Colognous, Drakknoir is renowned for his ability to self-ignite clouds of his own pungent musk, thereby creating a type of medieval "napalm."  Lord Mulvern has great hopes that Clymytharia might convince Drakknoir to fight for Galthea, but as of yet she is still too frightened to approach the great beast. So far the kingdom has only enlisted a smaller dragon, Axxes of Bodicusprai, to help in their efforts.

Terrance the Barkeep
Owner of the inn and tavern in the small village near Castle Galthea, Terrance is most often seen behind the bar stoically drying freshly washed tankards.  He has a wife, Bertholla, who we have yet to see, but often hear bellowing commands to her husband from off-screen (much to the merriment of the men gathered in the tavern).

 Gertrune
A matronly servant in Castle Galthea, she well may know more secrets of the Kingdom than even its most exalted leaders. 

Shemp the Greasy...dead.
The Brothers Fine
Included primary for comic relief, the Brothers Fine are three bumbling blacksmiths who work in the small village near Castle Galthea. They are particularly adept at shooting red hot ingots into each other's trousers and dropping molten horseshoes on each other's heads.  There was a tragic turn in the season finale, however, when a hammer thrown in jest by Möe struck Shemp the Greasy right between the eyes, killing him dead on the spot.





 

Notes Found Inside 'Diabolical Possession and Exorcism' (1974)

Rev. John J. Nicola
Tan Books

Fairly hard-to-find guide to the Catholic doctrines on demonic possession and exorcism, written by none other than the "technical consultant" to the blockbuster devil hit, The Exorcist (1973).  Here is a review from Amazon that I find somewhat difficult to believe:

This book is fascinating! It is referenced in the book "The Rite." What makes it so interesting is the fact that the publisher of "Diabolical Possession and Exorcism" destroyed all the books when he found out there was something in it contrary to Catholicism. All the boxes of books and pallets were burned, not recycled, as they may have fallen into the wrong hands if not burned. Fortunately there are a few of these books still circulating. Possibly 12 in the whole world, as only the employees of TAN Books ever received a copy, as was customary when a book was newly printed. The rest.....burned! 

Given that I just found this copy in a Chicago thrift store some 40 years after the mass "burning," I imagine more than 12 are floating around (in fact, there are 6 used copies for sale on Amazon--pricey, but not "12 in the world" pricey).

At any rate, what makes my copy particularly special is the inclusion of some handwritten notes from the previous owner.  I have reproduced the notes in full below (with the person's name whited-out for privacy).  While many jaded secularists might believe books on Satanism, possession, and all things "occult" were usually bought and read for thrills and chills, I've actually come across quite a few now that have notes like these inside, suggesting the reader bought the book in order to do research on some baffling phenomenon in their life.  The notes below are organized around the general topic of the "poltergeist."  Was this person experiencing unexplained disturbances in his or her home?  Was someone in the family beginning to exhibit bizarre behavior?  We will never know.  One thing is for sure...that stationary is adorable.



Assorted Nurses 3 (Various)

Nurses...you want'em, I got'em.


The Odds Against Nurse Pat by Ray Dorien (1958) Ace G-686
Surgical Nurse by Ruth Ives (1962) Berkley Medallion
Annapolis Nurse by Virginia B. McDonnell, R.N. (1965) MacFadden 50-257
Hospital Zone by Mary Stolz (1964) Berkeley Y767
Studio Nurse by Virginia Roberts (1961) Airmont
Celebrity Nurse by Florence Stuart (1969) Belmont B50-854


Live Free and/or Die!


Sir Fletcher Redoun

Yesterday I shared my momentous decision to become a libertarian, influenced by the inspiring example of young people across the nation brave enough to live every aspect of their lives by the law of the invisible hand, even if that hand is cloaked in an Ermine glove that occasionally sticks its thumb up their asses.  At the close of that announcement, I said I had some good ideas for the libertarian reform of health care.  You will find these below.

Keep in mind, these ideas are based on the education I received from many libertarians that anyone unable to purchase private health insurance or pay cash money (upfront, piker) has no “right” to health care.  Now that I’ve renounced my internalization of charity, empathy, and the Golden Rule (Ayn Rand, let’s recall, was actually a pretty strident atheist), I think I’m ready to dish out some tough non-love to my fellow citizens who are too stupid or too poor to insure themselves at whatever price point the market will set—now and forever.  Remember, treating the sick is like every other aspect of a service economy—it is a commodity that can clearly be priced by the dynamics of the free market alone, much like a widget or a flat-screen TV.

First of all, once we pass the “libertarian full-responsibility healthcare for profit and profit only act,” we’re going to have a lot of dying and disappointed people still showing up at the ER.  Traditionally this is where the uninsured have sought their health care, usually at the very last second—or, of course, it is where ambulances bring those severely injured in an accident of some kind (despite the fact that these people foolishly forgot about their lack of insurance before deciding to have an accident).

To deal with this continuing onslaught, I propose that every hospital build what I would like to call a “death zone.”  Ideally, this would be a 25’ by 25’ slab of concrete, conveniently positioned near the ambulance bay, where uninsured people having heart attacks or those injured in industrial accidents could go to die in peace.  In most cases, the EMTs can simply back the ambulance up to the “death zone” and dump the bodies directly onto the slab (a few patient/bodies, realizing they are getting “DZ’ed,” as I hope the kids will start calling it, might cling to the inside of the ambulance—a simple stretcher-electrification program should take care of that).

Don't Miss the VST Job Fair!
Ideally, each “death zone” should be tilted on about a 20-degree slant.  This would allow blood and viscera to cascade down the slab toward a common blood gutter, while ensuring that the bodies themselves do not roll away and stack up like Lincoln logs.  Every 24 to 36 hours or so, a VST (Viscera Sluicing Technician) can come out with a hose to wash everything down.  To save even more money, meanwhile, the blood gutter should vent directly into the nearest available creek, river, or lake.  That will take getting rid of the EPA first, of course, but I’m sure other young libertarians passionate about environmental issues will be happy to take that task on, especially when we can argue how many new jobs will be created in the VST and BGM (Blood Gutter Maintenance) industries.

Now some might argue that an open incinerator, positioned just to the side of the hospital, would be a better and more efficient solution.  After all, it would provide a place for the uninsured to simply leap out of the ambulance and end their agony immediately—no muss, no fuss.  And the hospital could also use the incinerator to dispose of other noisome pieces of medical waste.  But this might be a bit cruel, I think.  Yes, the uninsured were stupid and have lost their right to continue participating in the high-stakes competition of a libertarian utopia, but it is probably a bit much to expect them to overcome their innate survival instincts.  DZ-ing them remains the best option.

But all hope need not necessarily be lost for our uninsured friends.  If there is a market for it, perhaps loan sharks and speculators can hang out near the entrance of the “death zone.”   Whenever an ambulance pulls up to the DZ, they can do a quick eyeball estimate on the patient to see if he might be saved and for how much.  As with bail bondsmen, these DZLO (Death Zone Loan Officers) could keep conveniently located offices close by the hospital.  That way, if a distraught loved one needs an evaluation/loan immediately, s/he can just run across the street.  If a DZLO determines a patient is worthy of possible “investment,” he can then agree to issue the loan at, say, 50 or 60% interest.  Of course, this industry will need to be profoundly de-regulated to be effective—at those rates, DZLO’s will need to be sure their clients know they can always be sent back to the DZ if need be (with a couple of broken kneecaps added to their previous woes).

Now, there will be some bleeding-heart liberal types who will no doubt try to make us feel sorrow for these people.  “But Timmy, age 29,” they will say, “was too young and stupid to think he would need any form of insurance until he was at least 30—his plan was going to start in a couple of months.”   But Timmy knows what Timmy did.

The death zone is a fairly straightforward concept, at least for those who will most likely die in 15 to 30 minutes without medical attention.  But what about the uninsured who discover they have cancer, MS, or some other long-term and potentially fatal disease?  Of course, many of these people will simply be told to go home and try to die with some dignity.  But given the foolish choices these individuals have made, I think it might also be possible to offer them a chance at redemption.

Here I would like to institute a program for Public Health Education and Re-training (PHEAR).  Those uninsured loafers suffering chronic and/or fatal medical conditions would be invited to participate in a lottery to receive full health coverage (any odds will do, 1000 to 1 or 1 in a million—the higher the odds, of course, the more savings to us, the insured).  Do they buy a lottery ticket?  No.  I propose instead that they make a commitment to occupy a pillory 8 to 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, for one entire year (It will be like having a job, which these deadbeats were obviously too lazy to do before--otherwise they would have had insurance!)  These pillories, or stocks as they are sometimes known, will be situated in various high-traffic locations—Walmart parking lots, Mall Food Courts, Interstate Highway ramps—so that passersby can see these “patients” clearly and often.

Gaze not upon me, sir, for my sloth put preventative care beyond me reach.
To what end?  Passersby can read facts about the patient’s medical condition, and also hear an account (if so desired) as to why the individual failed to secure proper insurance before getting sick.  It would be both cautionary and educational—a perfect “teachable moment” (as the current Socialist-in-Chief likes to say) for libertarian parents to share with their children, a reminder that the world has always been organized around “winners” and “losers” and must continue that way forever, no matter what.

Again, sympathy is liable to be an issue here, especially if you allow the diseased to have direct contact with an otherwise healthy and insured public.  That’s why I think these lottery participants should be carefully screened and disbursed according to their putative “reason” for not having insurance.  Oddly, some people still have sympathy for those who can talk a good game of that “I was born poor, had to drop out of school to help my sick Dad, couldn’t get a steady job” crap, so I think we need to highlight as many “unsympathetic” characters as possible (idiots who forgot to mail their premium on time, liberal elites who thought Obama was going to give them everything for free, dyslexic dumbasses who filled in a claim form wrong).  Not only will people remember to remain wealthy enough to afford insurance, they can feel better about themselves in the process.

But wait, Einstein, are you saying the government should really have NO role in health care whatsoever, under any circumstances.  Is the free-market always the perfect solution to everything?

To be a true libertarian (and that’s what counts, of course, uncompromising purity of vision and purpose), I think the answer here must always be yes, yes, yes.  For example, say a new pandemic hits the nation.  Let’s call it, for fun, the hemorrhagic toad-flu.  Everywhere on the news, all you hear about is the spread of hemorrhagic toad-flu, how the hemorrhagic toad-flu has killed half of Arkansas, and then all of Arkansas and half of Texas, and so on.  Now the temptation will be great to think that the Federal Government should step in to vaccinate against or treat the hemorrhagic toad-flu, even if that means distributing drugs and basic healthcare to the uninsured.   Or, perhaps, some will argue that the Government should step in to institute protocols and quarantines that might help to contain the hemorrhagic toad-flu pandemic. 



Croak....why, yes, you will.
But I say, who is the Federal Government to step in and decide “winners and losers” in the free marketplace of deadly animal-based epidemics?  If an enterprising young virus comes to this country with the intelligence and fortitude to transform us into thralls for its thriving expansion in the marketplace, who are we to hold back what is clearly a superior species from its dreams of success?  I know that if the hemorrhagic toad-flu kills everyone in the country except me, and that if I am the last person left alive, I will doff my cap to the virus and say, ‘well played hemorrhagic toad-flu, well-played.  I dub thee Bufo Ayn Randicus."  And then after that, I will try to crawl the rest of the way to my local DZ. 

E Pluribus Go F@#k Yourself


Tussling with conservatives as I sometimes do through social media and on the web, I have found lately that I am often running afoul of a new political demographic—the young libertarian.  Who are these people?  From what I can tell (in admittedly limited and electronic interactions), they profess to be wholly unconcerned with “social issues,” but radically “free market” in their economic policy—so much so, in fact, that they will actively work for GOP groups (FreedomWorks, AFP, Crossroads GPS, etc.), even if that means also signing up for mandatory breeding, transvaginal probes, and state-by-state rules on who gets to marry whom.  That’s just how passionate they are about “FREEDOM," of the economic variety at least.  There is, in their minds, absolutely no problem the free market cannot solve.  The Federal government, they believe (like Marx, strangely enough) is a vestigial annoyance that needs to GET OUT OF THE WAY of free market innovation—everywhere, all the time.  If you tell them that NASA has discovered a giant asteroid hurtling toward the continental United States, they will ask you two questions; 1). Why are my tax dollars still buying telescopes for NASA?  2) Why don’t we figure out which state will get hit and then let them hire a private contractor to deal with their asteroid repulsion and/or clean-up problem?

Wyoming contemplates new bond initiative.
Clearly, the right’s “leave me alone to do my thing, man” brand of libertarianism is proving very sexy to this group (even if that sense of being “left alone” is a complete illusion).  If Dean Moriarty were hitting the road today, dude, he’d totally be a libertarian.  Government, get off my back with your speed limits, drunk-driving statutes, and auto-safety inspections.  If I want to drive drunk at 150mph in a car with faulty brakes, that’s my risk to take buddy, so back off!

The easy thing here would be to simply call out the solipsism and privilege of youth, especially the educated middle-class kids who typically fall for this bullshit and seem to think they’ve already accomplished something in life by virtue of being born white and middle-class.  It’s very easy to extol the virtues of Randian Objectivism when you know, in your heart of hearts, you can always move back into Mom and Dad’s attic for a few months to get your shit together.  It’s also very easy to profess a libertarian line if you’ve never been sick, lost a job, suffered a natural disaster, or had to deal with various aspects of the legal system—watershed moments in a person’s life when you realize, perhaps for the first time ever, there are certain things that are simply beyond your direct control, no matter how anal, Type-A, autonomous, and kick-ass you might think you are in starting your own designer cupcake shop.  


Dick Armey of FreedomWorks: "Libertarian"
















Or you might point out that these various “libertarian-friendly” groups—FreedomWorks, AFP, Crossroads GPS—are really only using the youthful gullibility of these kids to enact the standard GOP agenda: protect wealth, create more wealth without significant risk to the wealthy, transfer that wealth to the kids and grandkids. Oh yeah, and lie to your idiot base that thinks you’re actually going to reintroduce prayer in school or put Jesus on the dollar bill (although in Dick "FreedomWorks" Armey's case (above), he just might do it).

But that would be unfair.  You have to hit at least 40 before figuring out that you really knew almost nothing about anything when you were 25.   And for the most part, that’s probably a good thing.  Without the blind, boundless optimism of young people, there’s a good chance very little would have changed since we first decided to emerge from caves and recognize we had a common interest in keeping some crops alive from year to year.  Of course, now that “civilizing” impulse seems to be going in the opposite direction.  If the new conservative-libertarianism had existed at the dawn of human history, it most likely would have gone like this:  “Grog crops die.  Grog go hungry.  Grog die by next frost.  Ha Ha Ha.  Grog loser.”  At any rate, I don’t want to dismiss our young libertarian friends for merely being young; in fact, my grief is less with them than it is with the political left.

My question would be this: how in God’s name did the left lose the self-described libertarian faction to the right?  How did the side that usually defends the rights of everyone to do, say, and think whatever they want lose the libertarians to a social movement that constantly threatens to intervene in just about every bodily and ideological function a person could face in life?

In large part, I think it’s because the left has done such a miserable job educating young people about the very concept of the “social,” of how society as a complex mechanism is comprised of interdependent structural components, each with complicated effects on the other.  Some of them have now invested so heavily in the “free market” illusion that they can envision no other structural determinants or motivation in life beyond the idea that money and products yearn to be free.  That, and the idea that a 1% hike in taxes to help stabilize and rebuild a crumbling national infrastructure is an outrage that will not stand (you would think they would at least be embarrassed that LAX and JFK are increasingly looking like Mogadishu International.  If people are still nice enough to come visit us, shouldn’t we at least have a “front room” that says something other than, “fuck it, we give up”?)

Here is how bad things have become.


NOT invented by Comcast
On-line the other night, one such libertarian asked me to name a single item in my home that wasn’t conceived and manufactured in the free market according to the profit-motive.

I don’t know, Brainiac, how about the Internet we’re using this very moment?

The medicine in my cabinet that came from Federal research grants?

Various components in my household technologies that came from NASA?

Quoth the free-market libertarian:  “Obama sucks. Get the government off our backs!"

Let me summarize another recent exchange, one that is even more illuminating in understanding the mindset of this new political breed.  The topic: access to prescription drugs in a private health care system.  I begin by noting that the nation now faces critical shortages in basic cancer medicines and vaccines because the drug companies do not find them profitable (enough) to make.  The below is paraphrased (but not by much, I assure you—the names have been changed to protect the embarrassingly stupid):


Libertarian:  “Bullshit, there are no shortages because the free market will always fulfill a need if it is truly needed."

Me:  “Here is a link from the NYT detailing how oncologists are now creating their own non-profit drug stockpiles to deal with the shortage."

Libertarian: It’s in the New York Times, so I’m not going to read it (for real, this was the actual response!)

Me:  Let me summarize it for you—oncologists are now starting non-profit groups to make cancer drugs because pharmaceutical companies don’t find them profitable enough to waste time on them.

Libertarian:  You have no evidence of this.

Me (somewhat exasperated): It’s detailed in the NYT article that you will not FUCKING READ because you already don’t want to believe what it might say.

Libertarian: “If there is demand, a company in the free market will supply it.

Me: Let me put this in easy-to-understand terms.  Say I’m a pharmaceutical company and I have only a limited amount of resources to deploy in manufacturing my products.  I can use part of my factory to make cancer drugs at 5 cents a dose, or I can make (and advertise!) boner pills that make me $1 a pop (so to speak).  How long until the entire factory is making nothing but boner pills?

Libertarian: That would never happen.

Me: But it already is happening.  Pharmaceutical companies already complain that they consider the manufacture of certain drugs and vaccines “a public service” because they could be making more money doing something else.

Libertarian:  That’s their right.

Me:  Yes, I guess it is.  But if making Whooping Cough vaccine isn’t profitable, are you saying we should just get by without Whooping Cough vaccine?  Maybe there should be some kind of national, non-profit manufacturer to make these important but ‘non-profitable’ drugs?"

Libertarian:  That’s socialism.  If there is a need, the free market will provide it.

Looking back at this incoherent exchange, I think the main point this person wanted to make is that the government should change patent laws and generic profit margins to incentivize Big Pharma to make more of these drugs.  Fair enough.  But if you suggest any solution other than allowing the drug companies to charge whatever they want for everything all of  the time, you are a socialist.  And if you point out we've been a semi-socialist country for almost a 100 years now, they'll tell you they're still working on that. Let the Medicare death spiral begin!


Paxil Ad (2000):  Imagine indeed!
And then it dawns on you—not only do these free-market young libertarians not understand how the collective pooling of insurance risk works, they actually think the free market is really “free.”  In their minds, apparently, the “free market” suddenly decided that everyone needed to be medicated for shyness, so much so in fact that shyness is now a much more crucial health problem than cancer, and resources should be allotted accordingly.  The “free market” decided that there was more money to be made diagnosing every kid as ADHD, and so now childhood “hyperactivity” has somehow gone up a billion percent in the last 20 years.  It was the “free market” that gave us Justin Beiber…and still they believe.

This is the basic mindset we are dealing with.  Federal government = always evil, always bad, always inefficient, 24/7—no exceptions.  Free market = always benevolent, the answer to every problem on earth, no matter what—no exceptions.

And then you really get down to brass tacks, the heart of their delusional sense of autonomy and just what a sad and ugly place the USA is becoming:

Libertarian: Why should I be forced to pay for someone else’s health care?

Me: But you already are.  Your insurance premiums subsidize ER care for the uninsured.  If these people also had insurance, costs would come down and so would your premiums.  It is in our “collective” interest to have these people insured.

Libertarian: My premiums pay for my health plan.

Me: But folded into that cost is the expense of providing health care to the uninsured.  If they show up at the ER with their arm torn off, we’re not going to send them away.  It is in YOUR interest to improve the overall access and quality of health-care—it will be cheaper for all of us in the long run.

Whoops...John Galt forgot to mail his insurance premium.  FML!.
Libertarian: If they don’t have health insurance, they should be prepared to accept the consequences.  That way our premiums will not be impacted.

And then you have a second revelation.  They really do believe a Randian society of absolute economic self-interest is not only possible, but also desirable.  When push comes to shove, if you ask them if the uninsured should be allowed to die rather than be subsidized publicly (through some Federal mechanism) or privately (as we do now through private health insurance), their free-market/personal responsibility kool-aid soaked brain will say, “Sorry poor and/or stupid person without insurance…you are going to die."

Have they just been backed into a rhetorical corner that the free-market can’t get them out of it, or do they really mean it?  Are we really going to have to find out? I should note also that if you bring up real-world examples of the private health industry rationing care or denying coverage, they will often dismiss these (and I am quoting) as “sad, tear-jerker lefty troll stories,” as if these events were such statistical anomalies that the very real pain and desperation suffered by these individuals is nothing more than a rounding error in the theoretically pure justice of the free that is the marketplace.

"Hey! Put me back where I was you free-loading, big government parasites!
What does it take to make a middle-class kid who so far has faced little to no adversity in his life realize that he actually does have something at stake in maintaining some semblance of a “collective” social good?  After all, if you’re living a particularly charmed life, you might hit 40 before you ever really have to tangle with a bank, an HMO, the court system, public education, or a criminal act.  I don’t know—maybe you have to roll your first car down an embankment and hope there are enough county EMTs on staff to cut your mangled torso out of the front seat.  Maybe it takes huddling in an ice cave after your awesome rock-climbing weekend at Glacier National Park goes horribly awry, and your life suddenly depends on just how many park rangers have NOT been furloughed that week.  Then again, maybe it takes someone painting a gang sign on your new Mercedes to realize, “oh crap, maintaining a perpetual underclass structurally disenfranchised from decent education, nutrition, safety, and health care might not actually be in MY best self-interest."

Then again, maybe I should take a lesson from my young libertarian friends.  After all, I’m middle-aged, white, and upper middle-class.  I have a good job with good health insurance. Why rock the boat helping people who don’t have all the great stuff I have?   And if the shit really starts to hit the fan in the U.S. as millions of poor people begin to riot, I’m pretty sure I have the resources and wherewithal to migrate to Canada, Sweden, France or some other horrific hellscape of socialist freedom-killing (if they’ll have me).

I must have low self-esteem or something.  Really, I should take more pride in all the things I think I’ve accomplished by being born white, male, and middle-class.  And I should definitely have more confidence in my abilities to survive, overcome, and repel any significant challenges to those privileges.   Dick Armey will have my back, right?

You know what?  I’m going to go for it.  I am now officially a libertarian.  And as a libertarian, I want to get into the spirit of things as quickly as possible.

For example, why is MY tax money being used to protect and defend tax-sucking red states like Alabama and Mississippi?  If Costa Rica wants to invade and annex those states, God bless ‘em, they’d be doing us a favor by taking them off our hands—it will only make the other 48 states stronger.  I demand immediate defunding of any and all military resources in those two states.

We ain't fixin' that. Let them take the county fire road.
Also, I demand the Interstate highway system be returned to local control.  Sure, some counties will keep the highway in good shape while other, poorer counties will have to let their section crumble into dust and tumbleweeds—and, yes, that might make it difficult to maintain a consistent speed when traveling long distances—but it’s the principle of the thing!  Why should I pay for 600 miles of blacktop in Nebraska that I personally—that being ME MYSELF AND I---have no plans of ever using?  Fuck you, Nebraska.

And you know what?  Is it too late to get our money back on the Tennessee Valley Authority?  The Feds had no business going in there and giving stupid hill people electricity.  Those dumbshit, dirt-poor hillbillies should have been forced to figure out how ‘lectrifying works all on their own.  I want the entire grid taken down, now, and I expect my hillbilly dirt-loafer reparations check deposited in my bank account by the end of the week.

And while we’re at it…do we really need a “United” States of America anymore? Doesn’t “United” sound a bit pussy-ass socialist?  Why not just have the States, 50 land-masses that no longer need or want to coordinate anything of any kind ever again?  Invest in things that might benefit everyone?  Well I ain’t everyone, I’m me, so screw your socialist “United” crap.

And now that I think about it, living in Illinois, why should I give a tinker’s goddamn what’s going on in Wisconsin or Iowa or Indiana or any other place that isn’t Illinois?  Even more to the point, living in Chicago, why should I give a shit what’s happening to those morons downstate in Carbondale or Peoria  (Peeee-oria. Even the name of their stupid little town makes me want to punch them in the face).  Screw those hayseeds!

Yep, Chicago first, Chicago always, from now on…..



We don't cotton to people who ain't me 'round here.
Then again, why should a mayor or city council have all that power over me and my ability to run my life exactly as I see fit?

Guess what Rahm Emmanuel, I’m going to start burning old tires in my back yard for extra money.  There’s tires that need a’burnin’, and folks that will pay me to do it, so if you don’t like the smoke, then fuck you, it’s my property and you ain’t comin’ anywhere near it.

I am going outside right now to oil my shotgun, string some barbwire on my fence, and circle my lawn with landmines.

“Reductio ad Absurdum?” you say.

“Why are you still flappin’ your lips on my tire-burnin’ money farm, jackass?” say I.
____________________________________________________________________

NEXT TIME: I have some ideas for libertarian health care reform!

American Bald Eagle 1: American Women 0

I tuned into the Limbaugh Institute for Conservative Studies today (fyi: that's what El Rushbo calls his show sometimes, poking fun at higher education so as to reassure his dimwitted dittoheads that anything above a tenth-grade education is the devil's work).  As a student and aficionado of psychotic episodes, I enjoy listening to Rush every so often to see just how much further the right has spelunked up its own delusional asshole.  Rush isn't crazy, of course, but his audience generally is. And with Art Bell off the air for many years now, Limbaugh-land has become the last refuge for the functionally insane, people who can apparently operate a motor vehicle and a cellphone while still believing that Obama plans to overturn the 2nd Amendment by buying up and then hoarding all the nation's bullets, probably in the basement of the Harvard library. 

I also tuned in because Limbaugh's syndicator has supposedly resorted to running blocks of dead air in the wake of Rush's humiliating admission that he has no clue how contraception works ( every act of intercourse requires taking the "pill." More sex = more pills, reasons Rush).  Sad, isn't it, that we are forced to debate issues of public policy with a little boy who apparently never had "the talk" with his parents?  When I was in elementary school, some junior high wisenheimer told a bunch of us that f@#king happened when a boy kissed a girl while peeing (an understandable distortion, perhaps).  If I had finally learned that wasn't true in high school, I would have been embarrassed.  If in college, I would have been mortified.  If in my thirties, I would have been suicidal.  So imagine what it's like for Rush--married four times--to admit, in front of millions of listeners, that he has absolutely no clue what goes on up there in them secreted ladyish parts each month.  It's like Steve Carell's cringe-worthy descriptions of breast groping in The 40-Year Old Virgin, except in some nightmare of political black comedy, Limbaugh's 6th-grade-level misunderstandings of basic science actually have an impact on public debate. 

"I hate you, America, so very, very much."
I wasn't disappointed in my psycho-trolling.  Within two minutes of tuning into Rush's program, a dittohead from North Carolina called to rant about the latest Obama outrage.  He began with the usual fever dream: Obama ran for the Senate and Presidency because that's just how much he hates America.  He hates America so much, in fact, that he has devoted his entire adult life to mastering its political institutions, apparently for the sole purpose of demonstrating his contempt for the Constitution as "white man's law."   Now, if righties truly believe this, you'd think they would at least have some begrudging admiration for Obama (aren't old Republicans watching the History Channel all day the first to argue that Hitler was "evil," but also "a genius?").  After all, this familiar line of Obama-hatred is a little like accusing a brilliant neurosurgeon of mastering the craft just so he can stab brains with a protractor, presumably to demonstrate how much contempt he has for the white man's medicine.  But they can't respect Obama for his diabolical genius because, of course, he is also an idiot (where are those grades?)

They really should be forced to pick sides; in fact, I would gladly fund a mailer to distribute in GOP voting districts asking the following:

Which statement most accurately reflects your beliefs?


A. Despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacle of having been born in Kenya, Barack Obama has nevertheless skillfully manipulated the civic, political, and media institutions of the greatest democracy on earth, blessed with the smartest and most Godly people in all of history, so that he might become the illegitimate President of the United States, and thus one of the most powerful people in the world, for the sole purpose of making sure everyone becomes dependent on government food stamps.


OR


B.  Obama is a stupid liberal who don't know shit 'bout nothin'.

If you do not understand the two positions described above, please have your liberal children or grandchildren explain it to you next time they come back from fornicating at college.


"Caw! My rights are sacrosanct"
But NC-dittohead had a more specific complaint than Obama's general hatred of all things American. He was particularly incensed that the Administration had recently issued a waiver allowing members of the Arapaho Nation to continue hunting the American bald eagle on their own land.  Why?  Because the Arapaho have a spiritual investment in eagle hunting, and they were suing the government to continue such hunts as an expression of their "religious liberty."  NC-dittohead was beside himself with anger.  How dare Obama and his liberal allies allow different groups and minorities to basically make up their own laws! The bald eagle is the symbol of America, and it should remain illegal for all Americans to hunt them.

                      "Mine, not so much."            
Now, you might think that the ultimate goal of GOP Federalism is to return legal control to the states, and then later to the county, the township, the neighborhood association, and then finally your own yard ("No universal health care as long as I'm mowing this lawn," proclaims King Dad).  But apparently not.  When "local control" and "religious freedom" involve hunting an eagle, suddenly the dittoheads are ready to name that bird James Meredith and send in the National Guard. 

And here's how I know Rush is losing it, that his "peeing while kissing" moment has rattled him to the core.  Rather than see the potential dangers of following this guy down a rat-hole of illogic, one that Limbaugh had himself helped dig over the past few weeks, Rush fully endorsed this moron's outrage.  How dare the federal government allow for exemptions based on religious freedom!  Federal law should be sacrosanct and followed by all Americans...no exceptions! 

Usually if Rush senses trouble, for himself, the caller, or the show, he finds a deft way to angle out of the unfolding logical absurdity. Not this time.  After telling us for weeks that Catholic institutions should have the right to refuse funding birth control in their health plans for reasons of religious freedom, Rushbo and his ditto-army lather up over the idea that a few thousands members of the Arapaho nation be allowed to engage in symbolic eagle hunts as a part of a religious ceremony.

Why?  That should be obvious.  The bald eagle is the majestic symbol of all things American.  Any religious belief that does not accept that self-evident symbolism is so absurd as to be unworthy of any Constitutional protection.  But if you think old white men are the best judges of what women should do with their bodies, your regular, normal, and thoroughly "correct" religious beliefs must be protected all the way up to the Supreme Court.

This is the world they, and thus we, must live in, at least until the collective GOP brain catches fire and explodes like one of those ditto-robots asked to compute two contradictory positions at once.

HBO in Dixie



Being a dumb white guy just gets harder and harder.  Look at Rush Limbaugh.  The idea that there are more and more smart, young, educated women walking around out there who have absolutely no interest in him, sexually or politically, has apparently driven him clinically insane.  Everyday he can be seen on his weird glitchy webcam bouncing around like a rubber ball stuffed with bile, so completely bonkers that his internal censor now has completely lost the ability to displace his sexism into anything even approximating humor.   I actually agree with most righties that Rushbo is primarily an “entertainer,” a Will Rogers of the knuckle-dragging right.  But go back and look at how tentative he is in calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute”—there is no joke-work there, just the empty outline of a concept for a joke.  He seems to realize it half-way through the “routine,” pulling back a bit as he delivers the “punch-line.” Of course, it doesn’t help that Rush apparently didn’t understand how birth control pills actually work (as pointed out by Rachel Maddow, et. al., Limbaugh seems to believe that the pill works like a condom—the more sex a woman has, the more pills she needs).  And then, only days later, he attacks another young woman for writing an award-winning book, incensed, it would seem, at her suggestion that Americans might not eat so many greasy salt/sugar bombs at their local thematized eating arenas/compulsory mirth zones.  But fear not, Rush, if you want to continue stuffing yourself with the new SweeTart encrusted “flamin’ hot” Teriyaki BBQ Stuffed Onion balls at your local TGI McBennington’s Chili Factory, go for it.  It remains, despite what you think, a free country. 

Which brings me to Eastbound and Down, now in its third and final season on HBO.  Here is a spectacle of downscale white masculinity that actually is funny, no doubt because the series—unlike Rush—has a better sense of its central protagonist’s uncertain place in history.  For those who haven’t seen the show, Eastbound is a collaboration between Danny McBride, David Gordon Green, and Jody Hill—southerners all—centering on washed-up relief pitcher Kenny Powers (McBride) as he attempts to make his way back to the major leagues.  In the new season, Powers is pitching Double-A ball in Myrtle Beach and adjusting to his unexpected and phobically unwanted role as a new father.  The writers have also decided to go out with a brutally honest revisiting of Bull Durham (1988), giving Kenny a young Russian protégée who has absolutely no time or respect for the “wisdom” of his pathetic has-been mentor.

On paper, Kenny Powers might seem every bit as loathsome as the character played by Rush Limbaugh.  Like Rushbo, Kenny is also a vulgar narcissist who frequently crosses the line into wholly inappropriate behavior  (his penchant to curse like a sailor in front of small children is a particularly endearing gag throughout the series).  His interactions with women would make a caveman look classy, and his views on race come uncomfortably close to those of John Rocker (the former bubba-ballplayer who once said of the cultural miracle that is New York City: “Imagine having to take the 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you're riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing.").  Powers is like that sometimes, only funnier.  Oh, and back to Rush, both he and Powers are not strangers to the world of hillbilly heroin.

If Limbaugh and Rocker fell down a well tomorrow, perhaps in an argument over which of the Obama daughters is most likely to sucker-punch Jesus during the second coming, most people would not be all that upset (despite the “immense” influence of Limbaugh, the majority of Americans hear from him only sporadically, like when he calls somewhat a “slut” for having the temerity to testify before Congress).   The miracle of Eastbound and Down, however, is that Green, Hill, and McBride have created in Kenny Powers a character that the audience still roots for, even as he carries his newborn son around in a backpack filled with lettuce, and then later, attempts to dodge his paternal duties by setting him adrift Moses-style on a raft.  That’s the prerogative and power of fiction, of course.  Limbaugh may be performing a character also, but as he chooses to allow that persona to stand as a real person in the real world with real influence, he remains venal at best and infinitely despicable at worst. 

How does Eastbound work this trick?  As sons of the south, Hill, Green, and McBride rather graciously allow the upscale HBO viewer to work through the nation’s ongoing realignments of race, class, and gender by offering up Kenny as a sacrificial lamb of sorts.  Given that educated white Yankees are notoriously reluctant to address their own issues about the contemporary “crisis” of white masculinity, Eastbound and Down allows its audience the opportunity to project these anxieties onto the sturdy symbolic shoulders of the Dixie good ‘ole boy dumb shit.  And at first glance, Kenny probably does seem as dumb as a box of moon pies dropped in the Tallahatchie, a persona rather diabolically crafted on the superficial terrain of taste—Kenny has a mullet, loves his jet ski, and tends to favor western wear that is a bit, shall we say, flashy.    

A lesser show would have simply left matters there, allowing an audience that won’t admit it’s watching television to revel in the hayseed antics of a social pariah who confirms all their worst stereotypes about those places in the country where one prays the car does not break down. But as we have gotten to know Kenny Powers over the past few years, he has become a surprisingly complex, troubled, and even vulnerable character, making Eastbound one of the most interesting sites in addressing the nation’s ongoing crisis with the regressed white male (truly the tragicomic premise of choice for contemporary television and film dealing with men in their thirties.  Jeff, Who Lives at Home opens even as I write this).   

http://mediasaurs.blogspot.com
For one thing, Kenny Powers is a true poet.  Whether it’s on the page or just a spontaneous improvisation on the part of McBride, Kenny’s day-to-day speech is riddled with inventive turns of phrase, oddly trenchant observations, and an almost musical talent for the melody of a good malapropism.  Having given his one-year old son a PlayStation 3 for his first birthday, partly to parade his wealth to April’s friends and partly to have something to do when he comes to visit “the stupid fuckin’ baby” (as his catcher [Jason Sudekis] calls the kid), Kenny justifies the wholly age-inappropriate gift through its ability to play Blu-Rays, which will make it easier “for the baby’s eyes to gaze upon the movies.”   Catching his paid escort turned girlfriend in flagrante delicto with his baseball team’s owner, Kenny bemoans, “Here I thought you were a whore with a heart of gold but it turns out you’re just a whore with a regular whore’s heart.”  And who could forget Kenny’s patented catch-phrase on the mound: “I’m Kenny Powers and you’re fuckin’ out!”  (Leaving the Atlanta Braves for a better contract, Powers tells the entire city that they are in fact ‘fuckin’ out!’). 

Country boys attempting to speak above their educational pay grade is an old comic trick, of course, perhaps epitomized by Jethro Bodine’s proud performance of his “sixth-grade education” on The Beverly Hillbillies.   Kenny’s vacillation between crude braggadocio and his oddly ornate turns of phrase are of a different order, however.  He may have been raised dumb as dirt, but Kenny’s flirtation with the high life in the big city has made him aware and perhaps even a bit self-conscious about projecting some smartness out there into the world.  Moreover, Kenny’s immense ego (at one point he compares his baseball comeback to Ryan O’Neal and Jesus, who he asserts returned from the cross as an awesomely powerful “zombie”) seems trapped less between the smart and the stupid than between two different realms of manhood, baseball’s jock-world of testosterone-infused combat and the real world of real adulthood in which conflicts cannot be solved by throwing a 100+ mph fastball at your rival’s left orbital socket (a highlight of season one). 

And, like other forms of troubled, divided, and otherwise symptomatic speech, Kenny’s distinctive patter always suggests more complex machinations at work in his psyche.  Arriving at his son’s birthday party, for example, Kenny tries to plant a kiss on April, even though she has made it clear she no longer wants to have any sexual or emotional involvement with him.  When April rebuffs him, Kenny immediately justifies the advance as an attempt to make her feel better about herself because she seems “all afterbirthy and post-partum and shit.”  And thus the genius of Kenny.  He has no interest in his son.  He certainly has no interest in paying child support.  But he is very interested in April, so when she rejects him, Kenny demonstrates that he has been paying just enough attention to contemporary debates about women’s health issues to mount a plausible defense of his churlish advances.  Somewhere in the back of his mind is that episode of The View he once saw while doing pre-game bong hits, dredged up here to disguise—however feebly—his attempts to seduce April with the trappings of a new, more sensitive masculinity. 

Eastbound has a similar approach to issues of race.  Again and again Kenny either apologizes in advance or immediately afterwards for saying something incredibly offensive, protesting that he doesn’t mean to get “racial” or anything, but…  This, of course, is a awkward tactic employed by straight white guys the nation over, a community of dudes that has for most of its life never really had to consider what it said when and where. 

And here, perhaps, is the core of Kenny’s appeal as a point of sympathetic  identification—at least he’s making an effort.   HBO’s audience of mostly upscale urban white viewers can use Kenny to work out their own relation to 21st century American masculinity, but they can also, more paternalistically perhaps, use Kenny as an emblem of hope and change, an example that the so-called “Red States” might be capable, someday, of rehabilitation.  Kenny isn’t there yet, certainly, but unlike true reactionaries such as Limbaugh, he seems at least dimly aware that the present (and more importantly the future) will be different than the past, and that he needs to rethink, not only his status as the most awesome relief pitcher in all of baseball, but also his privileges as the self-perceived most awesome race and gender in all of American history. 

Contrast this with another HBO product dedicated to the world of contemporary politics: Real Time with Bill Maher.  Many folks on the progressive-left, I imagine, have a somewhat tortured relationship with Maher.  I know I probably agree politically with about 95% of the positions he espouses on the show, and I am grateful to have a forum where such issues can be addressed outside the convention-bound timidity of the center-right journalism machine.  But after each episode I have to ask, “Do I come off that smug when I talk about these issues? Good lord, no wonder no one wants to be around me, especially anyone who might disagree with me about anything.” 

One of Maher’s ongoing difficulties is his absolute mystification that anyone would be so stupid as to not live in Los Angeles or New York.  On this week’s episode, for example, Maher screened a short video piece by Alexandra Pelosi (documentarian and daughter of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a point that normally I would let slide, but in this context seems crucial).  Perhaps aware that his audience is smart enough to understand that the “documentary” format is anything but objective, Maher read a sort of disclaimer before the segment (sent in by Pelosi) explaining that the people we were about to see in the piece had not been pre-selected to make a point.  Pelosi, we were told, did not seek these people out, they sought her.  And then the piece begins.

We see a “Welcome to Mississippi” sign by the interstate accompanied by the voice-over, “Welcome to Mississippi” (Pelosi is no Errol Morris, apparently).  There then follows a cross-section of snippet interviews with dirt-poor rural whites, old racist coots, paunchy gun-lovers, and voice-hearing evangelicals.  All are united in their hatred of Obama, and democrats generally.  One hates the government but is on food stamps.  Another doesn’t hate Obama because he’s black, but because he’s a “half-breed” and a Muslim.  And so on.  In short, it is Dixiephobic porn at its finest.

One might argue that if Pelosi’s goal was to find an assortment of toothless racists ranting about Obama, she might have saved some time and money by simply driving out to Barstow.  One also has to wonder about her claim that her portrait wasn’t a trick of editing—I know Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation, but do you mean to tell me there isn’t a single middle-class neighborhood anywhere to be found?  There are, in theory at least, a few doctors, lawyers, and educators in the state, no?  (Apparently Pelosi will film some city folk for her next segment—still, loading up on toothless untouchables for the first installment has implications of its own).

As with Kenny Powers, the fact that Maher would in essence “apologize” for the piece in advance (by vouching for its “authenticity”) is very telling.  Maher has at least learned over the years to feign some empathy for the structural production of uneducated ignorance “out there” in the heartland.  Perhaps most insufferably, Maher likes to brag that he still performs in places like Birmingham, Alabama because he “hasn’t given up on these people,” ignoring the fact that 1). the only people in Birmingham showing up to his gigs are most likely locals and transplants who already agree with him; and 2) he comes off sounding like the Rudyard Kipling of bi-coastal condescension, taking up the “liberal man’s burden” to make white southerners (or Midwesterners, or Texans, or mountain people, or whomever) understand just how shitty their lives and brains are.    

Sometimes this perspective makes the recognition of even simple irony impossible.  In Pelosi’s film, for example, the camera at one point lingers on one guy’s T-shirt slogan: “I Reserve the Right to Arm Bears.”  The T-shirt’s message is presented as a self-evident example of 2nd Amendment insanity, even though that very same T-Shirt has been available at Urban Outfitters and other hipster boutiques for years…probably because it’s funny.  Some uneducated Mississippians might be stupid, and they might love their guns—but I doubt anyone is sincerely in favor of distributing shotguns to bears, especially if the only reason to do so is to get Obama mad about it.  

As envisioned by a trio of college friends all born and raised in the south, Eastbound and Down might also be accused, at least on occasion, of indulging urban elite prejudice (the opening montage of Myrtle Beach from this season unfolds like a Manhattanite’s vision of hell, making the town look like nothing more than an endless strip of water slides, strip clubs, and themed restaurants).  But at least Hill, Green, and McBride have the experience of growing up surrounded by a few dozen Kenny Powers  (and maybe even some people who weren’t necessarily obnoxious rednecks).  The idea that Kenny might be redeemed, by the love a good woman, certainly, but also by some tiny yet significant amount of consciousness-raising, is itself somewhat paternalistic perhaps—but it at least recognizes that the often reactionary paranoia attending some pockets of contemporary white masculinity is more complicated than merely having bad hair, no teeth, and a love for gas-powered aquatic recreation.

At the end of this season’s second episode, for example, Kenny once again confronts his old nemesis Ashley Schaeffer, a trash-talking, dick-slapping auto dealer who revels in humiliating Kenny whenever possible.  Having lost his BMW dealership, Schaeffer now sells Kias, and in this particular episode, forces Kenny’s sidekick Stevie to perform as a Geisha Girl for a group of Kia executives visiting from “the island nation of Korea.”  The scene casts Schaeffer as some type of postmodern plantation boss, dressed in a string bowtie and extolling the erotic temptations of his mammy’s dumplings.  Kenny bursts in to the party to save Stevie from his Kia servitude, prompting Schaeffer to strike a deal.  He will release Stevie from his bondage to the dealership if he and Kenny will agree to provide the evening’s entertainment by attempting to outrun a few confederate cannonballs discharged in Schaeffer’s back yard.  
  
The sight of baseball great Powers and his Geisha-dragged pal desperately trying to evade this exploding nineteenth-century ordinance, all for the pleasure of Schaeffer’s new Korean bosses, has to be one of the most surreal moments on TV this year.  And while I’m not entirely sure what it all means in terms of the new global economies of race, class, and gender, it somehow makes me more hopeful than Maher’s crocodile tears for those pockets of the South that he needs in order to put his coastal enlightenment in better relief.  Eastbound speaks to the weirdness of the New South as it gradually re-constitutes itself--racially, demographically, economically, and so on. Maher seems stuck on a comfortable caricature of Dixie that, by virtue of age and poverty, can't be long for this world anyway.