Unfollow The Leader (2017May19)


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Friday, May 19, 2017                                               8:01 PM

Oh how the proud are humbled—our president has prompted the world to baby-proof their embassies prior to Trump’s arrival—short sentences, plenty of calm—and that is not the usual prep for a visit from (whom we can hardly any longer call) the ‘leader of the free world’. Because America’s preeminence has never stemmed from its military or wealth—in fact, those things cause more trouble than they’re worth, often as not—but from our dedication, to a citizen, to the founding principles of this place.

The rest of the world is not all bad—but it’s not all good either—and for a long time, America was the best place to be. Other countries didn’t care about our tanks and planes, or our banks and factories—that stuff, quite frankly, fits into whatever culture it finds itself in—and eventually gets warped in the same way, making things worse instead of better.

No—people wanted to come here—to live as free people. And most of them were not being oppressed by their laws—they did not suffer for a lack of our Constitution—they suffered from their friends and neighbors—even their families—deciding what their lives would be, what work they would do, who they would marry, how they could live their lives. Most foreigners want to come to America for the same reason young people want to leave home—they want to live their own lives.

The Melting Pot took them all in (I should say took us all in—my grandparents were Irish and English). Making a living isn’t any easier here—in some ways, it can be more difficult—still, what you do with the rest of your life is entirely up to you. That’s freedom with meaning.

But an important part of that freedom is not giving other people grief over their choices—that’s just being a dick. Don’t start none—won’t be none. You can’t claim freedom for yourself and take it from someone else. It doesn’t work that way—that’s like stealing. Freedom doesn’t just enable us to respect each other—it demands that we respect each other—or it isn’t real freedom.

That is why freedom of religion is the bedrock of America—and free speech a close second. We cannot hold each other captive to dogma or censorship. An American can walk away from his family, his faith, and his hometown—not many do, but the choice is there—no one is classified by birth in America.

That is why racism is so divisive—some of us are raised with a hate that is born of old tradition—and some of us are raised to despise racism for the betrayal of America that it represents—and we will never agree to disagree, because hate is not something a person can just ignore—and it becomes a source of injustice and misery.

People talk about the history of the Old South, the Confederacy—I say Fuck that shit. We used to be a British Colony, too—but you don’t see a bunch of New York yahoos, proud of their Tory heritage, yearning to be back as part of Great Britain. How stupid are these people? And to link it with racism—as a cultural touchstone? Fuck me, but there’s more stupid in the world than I can deal with.

Pardon the digression—the idea of bigotry makes me ill. Where was I? Oh yes—the rest of the world looked up to America as a better place to live—a better place for their children.

But now we have a president who doesn’t respect America. He hasn’t studied—he’s been too busy making deals, cutting corners, wheeling and dealing—he doesn’t really even know what the presidency of America is, beyond it being the ‘prize’ at the end of the election.

We have a president who dismisses our sacred vow of religious freedom. We have a president who questions the value of free speech—and of transparency. People can stay in whatever hell-hole they’re already in, and get the same lies, corruption, and incompetence as are presently on offer in the Great United States—land of the free—for now, at least.

Trump the Traitor (2017Feb02)


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Thursday, February 02, 2017                                           10:35 AM

By and large, Americans self-identify with liberty, equality, inclusion, and a class-less society. But there are those so in love with their religion that they really don’t care for Separation of Church and State—America’s oldest and most important ideal. There are those who insist that one’s skin color does make a difference—and we just aren’t giving Separate but Equal a chance. There are those who say, “Of course, women are different—how can you say they are equal?”

There are those who think that Islam is fundamentally different from Christianity. (I’m an atheist and, trust me, they’re the same damn thing.) There are those who insist on owning a gun because it’s illegal to stand around in public with your dick in your hand. There are those who say we should mind our own business and let business owners piss all over our heads and call it ‘trickle down’. There are even people stupid enough to think that a 2,000-mile long wall on the Mexican/US border is a valid thought.

These people will tell you that these mistakes are ‘alternatives’. They will insist that Freedom of Speech gives them the right to be wrong in their own way. In former times, many stupid ideas were championed in the name of state’s rights—today, they are championed as the right of ignorant people to disagree with people who know better. It’s kinda the same thing. And in the Land of the Free, the voices of the galactically stupid do deserve a hearing—they even get to vote—it’s one of the pitfalls of the humanitarian approach: not condemning people for disagreeing—or even for their bottomless, willful ignorance.

Yet while these yahoos cannot be thrown in jail (our jails are busy founding a modern form of slavery, anyhow) they can be publicly contradicted by people who understand the intent of the Founding Fathers. BLOTUS, the champion of the galactically stupid, is not leading our nation—he’s leading the assault on America’s core values. He’s got his liar-in-chief, Kellyanne, and his Nazi-in-chief, Bannon.

But worst of all, Trump has on his side the most un-American political party we’ve ever known. They call themselves Republicans, but they are undeniably the Traitor party—their ‘rules’ change to fit the occasion, their facts ‘alternate’ to fit their PR, and their allegiance to the Constitution is like their allegiance to the Bible—they cherry-pick the parts that fit their unholy agenda, and dismiss the troubling parts as ‘typos’.

The fact that our liberal idealism is the only thing making their hypocritical, traitorous, money-grubbing, hate-spreading, and ego-stroking corruption possible—is entirely lost on them. They see Freedom of the Press and view it as an opportunity for Propaganda—they see Freedom of Speech and view it as on opportunity to Lie with impunity. They see rules meant to enforce fairness and twist them into a means to an end. And all the while they use their positions of responsibility to further their fortunes and power, never to serve the public good.

Trump hates Public Service—that’s why he ignored it for seventy years, and only got involved when he saw a shot at the high chair, grasping for power and fame in an office that, for over two centuries, has been filled by men of honor and responsibility. And now that he’s in there, he’s acting like a game show host—because that’s what con-men do, to distract you, while they’re rifling through your pockets.

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This traitor and his gang have walked the extreme boundaries of credibility and professionalism, honing the public impression towards what we’re used to, while their de facto impact is an assault on what it means to be an American. They are helped greatly in this villainy by the fact that our ideals are subtle, fragile things which shatter in the hands of the disrespectful. Words can be twisted. Denials can be made—and false equivalences. Intent is the crux—and intent can be masked—is being masked, behind a barrage of bullshit the like of which this country has never before seen.

So that’s Trump—a traitor, pure and simple. But let’s move on to an even more unpleasant theme—those who voted him into office. What can be done to save these people from their own inanity? Mandatory Public Education?  Maybe just to remind them what it’s like to have an educator at the front of the classroom, correcting them when they say something bat-shit crazy stupid. What can you do when people believe the lie and scoff at the truth? Will the dishonesty and willful evil of the empowered go unchecked, as it did in 1860, until we have no alternative but to start taking pot-shots at our neighbors and set the country aflame?

For most of us, the Right, the Truth, is always there, right in front of us. We are rarely confronted, personally, with the evils of bad government. We see politics as optional—‘if we had more time, maybe, or if something were to go really wrong, then….’ And then there’s the inertia of one day after the other, our little lives seeming to have little connection to the big doings in the halls of power.

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But I find myself obsessing lately over that old adage ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. If we had voted better, none of this would be happening. We see it now, when it’s far too late to fix—but it was visible back in November, for those who cared to look closely. And this recent playing around with ‘the  rules’—who are they kidding? They make the rules—and by they, I mean all of them. If the Democrats are not filing a thousand lawsuits, right now, then they’re part of the problem and have gone as far off the rails as the GOP.

I hear Democrats telling us to stay engaged—hey, how about some tit for tat? Why aren’t you people raising hell and a half, every day? Are you really okay with this assault on everything we live for, everything our soldiers, down through time, have died for? Is every civil rights victory for the past century to be wiped away by this monkey in a Chinese silk suit? We knew there were disgusting little rich bastards, hiding in the shadows, supporting ISIS for the distraction value of their bloodthirsty tyranny—but who knew one of them would be the President of the United States? Up off your lazy asses, Democrats—it’s all hands on deck time.

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Daylight Is Their Greatest Enemy (2016Mar12)


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Saturday, March 12, 2016                                        12:42 PM

In the present political climate I often wonder how the world I grew up in became so surreally chaotic. But then I realize that the staid and stuffy aspects of society that bothered me as a youngster have all been, to varying degrees, knocked into rubble—silence is no longer the answer to an ugly problem. And we have found many ugly problems had been caused by the suppression of beautiful people—real people, not just the idealized Dicks and Janes of the 1950s. That people, in all their variety, can no longer be publicly shamed for being different, in whatever way, is a great step forward—but institutionalized biases persist—and individual families’ lore makes bigotry an eternal legacy—so true equality and acceptance continue to elude America.

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We have today a clash that was impossible in the 1950s—Plurality has won many Supreme Court battles, from Thurgood Marshall’s historic vindications to the recent acceptance of gay marriage—thus the laws that made equality a joke have all been deemed unconstitutional—but the personal hatred and fear still persists. The cancer of Capitalism confuses the issue enormously—especially because lots of old, bigoted, homophobic, evangelical white men have most of the money. The opium of Religion confuses the issue, too, by supporting ancient codes of morality that predate both science and medicine, i.e. they were written by ignorant people—and by making up ‘teams’, each religion vying for supremacy, as god intended—their god, anyway.

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In the 1960s, the growing liberal population was relegated to the ‘sub-culture’—equality and free speech used to be something of an underground movement, vulnerable to police brutality and legislative bans. Criminalizing drugs, particularly weed, was targeted at the subculture. Lenny Bruce, the stand-up comic, when he wasn’t being arrested for talking openly about sex or using profane language, was being arrested for possession. Schools banned long hair on boys and pants on girls. Looking back we are tempted to say, how trivial, how silly—but this was the level of blind conformism that those in power presumed upon themselves.

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Thus ‘the establishment’ made themselves easy targets for lampoon and ridicule—and liberality became more mainstream—there was a backlash of ‘what’s the big deal with long hair and dirty words—especially while our kids are being sent into a meat-grinder in South East Asia?’ And ever since, it has been more and more the case that the establishment is now the underground movement –and the trouble is that evil thrives in secrecy—especially wealthy evil. The worst disaster to befall the Republican party in the last election was when some journalist smuggled out a tape of a meeting where they spoke plainly among themselves. When we heard Romney’s ‘47%’ comment, he lost the race. Daylight is their greatest enemy.

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The sixties were an era of great conflict—even riots in the streets—and that was when truth and justice were ‘the underground’. Now that greed and evil are the new ‘underground’ movement, we can just sit back and wait for the end of civilization as we know it—the bastards. Like all poorly-shaped minds, they search the new liberality, cherry-picking those freedoms that allow for dirtier tricks than ever before, while ignoring the ideals behind those freedoms.

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Their idea of ‘fighting fire with fire’ is to lie and twist the truth and engender fear and loathing of one group for another, while pretending to be good businesspeople, good family people, and good Americans. I hate a bald-faced, shameless liar—and so I don’t much care for Republican politicians. At least the Democrats accept Science—I mean, really.

In a way, Trump, by presenting the GOP as the naked fascism it is, is a breath of fresh air—finally, a blatantly stupid, hateful pig who doesn’t try to pretend he’s just as intelligent and sensitive as a Democrat.

No News Is Good News (2015Sep29)


Tuesday, September 29, 2015                                          12:19 PM

I’m exhausted—and no wonder. The pope, the speaker, the UN, refugees, drought in California, water on Mars, a super blood moon, the new Daily Show once again precedes the Colbert show… is it just me or is the world turning twice as fast these days? Have you noticed a lot of news shows start their segments with, “Well, there’s a lot to cover tonight…”? That used to signify a ‘busy’ news day—now it’s just what they always say.

My personal life, away from the TV, isn’t quite as busy. But I did just post a big Brahms performance I’ve been working on for months—and I just found out today is my son’s 27th birthday! (I wish Claire had told me before I said to him, “Good Morning”—like it was any other day…) We had our daughter and her husband here for a visit from California last week. Claire just passed her big OT qualification test—a culmination of years of study for her OT Master’s Degree—and a sign that she will soon be job-hunting. But first she has to do jury duty in NYC—we were relieved she was only called downtown last week for Thursday morning—commuting right through the pope’s visit to ground zero—that would have been a hassle. I’ve got a road-test next week that will re-instate my driver license, if I pass it—Spencer just passed his a few weeks ago. So, okay, maybe I am busy.

As they say, it beats the alternative. I’m sitting here at my keyboard, on watch to tip the delivery man when he gets here with birthday lunch Chinese take-out. Tuesday is new movies day On Demand—Melissa McCarthy in “Spy”—so there’s even a good movie in my ‘cart’. Time to catch my breath, I think.

Patton was right—“Americans love to fight”—but I think he oversimplified it, thinking in bellicose terms. Our Revolutionary War was a declaration of our willingness to fight when we encountered unfairness. “Live Free or Die” seems overly familiar and trite to us today but it was a formula for suicide in the centuries before the Declaration—when the greatest prior advance in social justice had been the allowance that a person owned their own soul at death—“Free Doom”. Somewhat less ambitious, wouldn’t you say?

And after the revolution, when Texas was willing to enter the Union rather than submit to Spanish imperialism, we fought for them. Then the majority of Americans decided to fight against slavery—give or take a week-long Civil War historians conference on the ‘root causes’. It was unfair—and we were willing to fight over it. In both World Wars, we entered on the losing side—fighting unfairness. The internal struggles over racial equality, gender equality, and the rights of the sick, disabled, LGBT—all fights over unfairness. You show me an injustice and I’m ready to start swinging—why? Because I’m American, that’s why. I really would rather die than live in unfairness.

There are always those who don’t get the central premise—as early as Hamilton’s arguments with Jefferson over Federalist versus Republican, there were those who sought out the ‘easy win’—people who felt that leaving the mother country was simply a chance to be an England of our own, with a monarchy and all that implies. They wanted Washington to be “President for Life” and be addressed as ‘your majesty’—but Washington said ‘no’, like an American. Hence he is known as the Father of our Country not just because he fought the war, but also kept the peace as an American would and always will.

Today we have many people who don’t get the central premise—they think America’s greatness resides in its wealth and power—its shock and awe. Nonsense—childish nonsense. The unbelievable success of our country comes not from any material richness or military prowess—it comes from our ambition to fight for the truth. Yankee ingenuity has been finding new shortcuts towards a better future since the founding. Freedom of speech has made our democracy into the strongest of ties between a government and its people of any country on Earth. Open minds and open commerce have exploded into a global community of digital thinking, space exploration, genetic manipulation, super-sonic travel, and on and on.

Our greatest threat is the explosive variety of our success—the ‘easy wins’ float around like fish in a crowded barrel—the opportunities to exploit our success by working either in lieu of the American spirit (through hyper-capitalism) or in direct opposition to it (through extremist bible-thumping and xenophobic exclusion) are more numerous, and get better media coverage, than the real goals of true Americans.

The enemies of America seek to reinstate unfairness through new pathways—income inequality, religious division, jingoism, and denying the existence of intractable racial injustice—and all their arguments are based on fear and hatred, with a big dollop of laziness and greed to top it off. They make me tired—traitors in our own land. Fight the power!

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There—I had to get that off my chest. I always get self-righteous after watching a documentary. I just watched “Standing In the Shadows of Motown—The Funk Brothers”—about all the great studio musicians whose uncredited artistry was behind hundreds of number one hits—hits that I remember from my childhood as the ‘product’ of the lead singers and groups whose names are so familiar to us all today. A handful of men in a Chicago basement would be responsible for over a decade of a multi-million-dollar music industry, without so much as a credit on the dustjacket. That kind of unfairness burns my chaps and it always will. Why? ‘Cause I’m a ‘Murican, that’s why.

Cruz Sucks Anew (2015Jul20)


Monday, July 20, 2015                                             1:03 PM

It seems that Ted Cruz’s stupidity goes unnoticed in the shadow of Trump’s monkeyshines. This morning I heard him say that he would defend ‘religious liberty’ for those being persecuted for their belief that marriage was a sacred institution between a man and a woman. I assume he’s talking about how horrible it is to ask a Christian to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.

But if you’re in the cake-selling business and you don’t serve gay people when they ask for a wedding cake, that’s bigotry, not freedom. If you don’t serve any group, for any reason, the way you do others, that’s bigotry. We have the freedom to believe whatever we believe, but we do not have the freedom to make our religious beliefs part of our business policy. If we did, the shop aisles would run red with blood from the stonings, the beheadings, and the crucifixions. And if they were honest about it, these ‘religious freedom fighters’ would hang a sign outside their shops that says, “Christians Only”. If they’re against anything non-Christian, then why would they serve Jews or Muslims or Buddhists? Doesn’t an altogether different religion trump a difference on a single point of protocol within the Christian faith?

Not that I wouldn’t put that past Ted Cruz, in his heart of hearts. The fundamentalists only attack gays as the most vulnerable target—and (this is important) the least likely to impact their revenue stream. They really are against other religions just as much as they’re against gays—but they can attack the gays without it being attached to a specific religion. As if gays are just evil incarnate (a sentiment I’m sure they feel quite genuinely, if quietly).

But Cruz skirts around the central issue of freedom—inclusion. He confuses inclusion with permission. America certainly includes Christians—even Ted Cruz can’t deny that. But he tries to make the case that denying Christians permission to force their beliefs on others is somehow exclusion—it isn’t—any more than we exclude gays by forcing them to serve Christian customers along with the rest of their businesses’ patronage.

Cruz is slippery—his stupidity is in his cleverness in trying to make a wrong a right. He can talk all day, but bigotry is still bigotry, even if you claim it as a ‘religious freedom’. His attempts to glorify ignorance are impressive, but he’s still not stupid enough to pull ahead of Trump in the GOP polls. I still remember when you shut down the whole government out of personal pique, Ted, and I ain’t gonna forget it. You suck.

It’s been said that religion is just an excuse—that the fighting in the Middle East and elsewhere all stems from more mundane motives: real estate, racism, greed, lust for power, etc. When fighting localizes down to Muslims of different sects, the mundane motives become inextricable from the differences of scriptural interpretation—just as they did during the European wars sparked by the Reformation.

There are very few saints among the believers—they are just as human as we atheists. Some of them secretly are atheists—a concept which should give pause to the atheist-hating fundamentalists—shouldn’t they be more afraid of the undeclared atheists in their midst? But, whatever. My point is that sometimes religion is used as an excuse—not always, but people under duress will sometimes reach for an answer. Worse, it is entirely possible that a ‘great religious leader’ is actually an insincere manipulator, using religion to further his quest for influence or dominance.

While such abuses are not the norm, they are also not unheard of. Thus even when we accept religion as the root cause of certain global aggressions, we still have not pinned the specific causes down with any great accuracy. Just as religion takes many sub-sects, all religions can be used to justify a variety of actions in a variety of ways. As many decisions are based on a limiting of piety as are based on a surfeit of it. If we apply these uncertainties to the virtually infinite spectrum of religions, we find that the only real compass for our motives is a gut understanding of the difference between good and evil.

If religion were the root of conflict, wouldn’t atheists be obliged to be the most pacifist humans on the planet? Well, I can assure you that we aren’t any better than the faithful when it comes to acting in good faith. There are just as few saints among the atheists as there are among the believers.

I think the root of all conflict is the will to fight. When a person has no sense of justice or respect for the peace and property of others, that person will commit injustices. That’s the bad kind. When people are oppressed to the point of feeling the need to strike back at their oppressors, they will fight. That’s the good kind. But once the fighting starts, all players play by the same rules.

And once the fighting stops, there will always be casualties calling to their loved ones for vengeance. Vengeance is a temptation, but it is also our greatest enemy. Many wars, ongoing and long-ended, are still being fought in the minds of those who loved the casualties or lost their homes—and will never fully end until the thirst for vengeance is foresworn. But how do you ask someone to lay that burden down?

The intermingling of politics and religion in America is a great danger to our government—but it is a greater danger to religion, and I’m surprised that more religious leaders don’t see that. America has always walked a knife edge, carefully deciding where faith will be spelled with a capital ‘F’ and where faith is spelled lower-case. The attempt to merge faith and government has innate hazards—the same hazards that drove the first colonists here, followed them, and plagued them anew, splitting off new colonies to accommodate the emerging sects of Protestantism. Ultimately, the American colonists adopted a policy of separation of church and state (and this was long before the Revolution) as a matter of practical need. Even the most staid religion is too amorphous to be a guiding principle of government—only justice can be counted on for universality of application in civil matters.

And justice sometimes has to be fought for. I tell myself that this is why America tries to inculcate world peace by having the most powerful military. And that is the true conundrum of war—it’s not about religion—ultimately, we can only hope for peace while fighting against injustice. The trick—and we seem to have lost the knack of it, if we ever had it—is not to compound the injustice being fought with the ways in which we fight it.

And that’s a thought worth considering, if your atheism is of the virulently anti-religious sort. Don’t be a carbon-copy of Ted Cruz for the other side—be better than that jerk, no matter which side you’re on.

Improv Poetry   (2015Jul06)


Monday, July 06, 2015                                             3:37 PM

I have two kinds of improvs—ones that I just sit down and do, and ones that I think about beforehand. Today I did both. When I improvise on the piano, I have one rule—if it sounds like someone else’s music—stop doing that. I’ll gladly copy a chord progression or something general like that, but if I’m not being original, I’m not really improvising, am I? I even go so far as to try not to repeat myself—though to listen to my stuff, you’d find that hard to believe. Still I maintain that, technically, no matter how many times I play one-four-five chord progressions or circle-of-fifths, I’m always trying to do it differently in some way.

Oddly, you can do a lot of different stuff in music without changing the overall sound of what you do. And that’s a shame for me because if my music showed half the invention and exploration I put into it, it wouldn’t sound nearly so monotonous.

Today’s improvs get ‘poems’ to go with them:

Freedom

We don’t call Freedom chaos but it is

Unless there is some self-control involved.

We’re free from someone else’s stupid rules—

That doesn’t mean we do whatever we want.

Freedom lets us have our own opinions

But preference isn’t purpose—think what you want

But do the right thing.

Exercise USA

 

Let’s all do the exer-blues—ankle-weights and running shoes—

Fancy pants, expensive trainer—fat-to-lose, or muscle-gainer—

Sweat to Eighties—leotards, ladies—pumpin’ Ahnolds—compress Hots/Colds…

When you’re young your springs ain’t sprung—

You learn to swim and go to gym.

Them was the days—a half-remembered haze.

You’ve been retired.

Now get inspired.

Cats, Tabbies, Felines… What’s That Word? (2014Dec18)


Thursday, December 18, 2014                        12:39 PM

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Oh yeah—Pussies! That’s the word. Anyone who is afraid to go see “The Interview” at a movie theater—anyone who is afraid to show the movie in their theater—all world-class pussies who bring shame to our proud heritage. Some anonymous hacker makes a vague threat against anyone going to see this movie—and we do his bidding? I could scream with frustration.

Let me be clear. I think the Seth Rogen comedy-film paradigm, even propped up by the legitimacy of his friend, James Franco’s, reputation, has run its course. I anticipated being disappointed with the derivative ‘mad-cap’ zaniness of this farce, but I’m a tough audience—I’ve watched a lot of comedy, decades of it, and I’ve become somewhat jaded. But that doesn’t mean the kids wouldn’t have enjoyed it.

One of the things that made me anticipate disappointment was the crass hook of the story—joking about assassinating a living head of state (even the head of a crapulous state like North Korea) is unquestionably in poor taste, not to mention how it suggests bad behavior—it strikes me as just about the worst premise of any comedy I’ve ever heard of. Plus, the South Park boys, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, have already used the idea in “Team America: World Police”, although they were talking about Kim Jong Il, not Kim Jong Un. And it must be said that the meta-comedy of Parker and Stone is far more fertile soil for geopolitical satire than this latest offering from Rogen, the reigning king of the rom-coms (at which he is excellent).

But the quality of the film is beside the point. This is an issue of freedom of speech. How outraged we all would have been if SONY had made a boardroom decision not to release this movie for political reasons. How we would have poured into the streets in protest if our own government had tried to stop the release of this movie. But some jerk with a keyboard mentions 9/11, and we censor ourselves!? Unbelievable.

I call on SONY to release this movie immediately, to offer it on DVD, to stream it online. I call on theater owners to run this film night and day, in the name of their country. And I call on everyone to go see this no-doubt-average film, just because they don’t like being told what to do. Stop the cowering. Release “The Interview” now!