Category Archives: Media

What REALLY scares me about Talladega


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St. Oran’s Day, 2010

“Talladega is scary enough for me without Halloween.” – Elliott Sadler

“The primary and most beautiful of Nature’s qualities is motion, which agitates her at all times, but this motion is simply a perpetual consequence of crimes, she conserves it by means of crimes only.”  – Marquis de Sade

“… Let me just quote the late great Colonel Sanders, he said, ‘I’m too drunk to taste this chicken’ —  Will Ferrell as Ricky Bobby in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”

Dover may have the Monster Mile – and a Hulk-like statue representing its resident bugaboo, towering over all who enter the track and, in itsy-bitsy-scale, given to the race’s winner with a scale model of the winner’s caw in its paw – but Talladega is the Beast Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken, especially at night — a Hell-house where speed, hubris, mayhem and bloodthirsty fans combine to make it the scariest track in all of NASCAR.

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And, of course, the fall race is usually scheduled around Halloween (this year it falls right on the spookiest holiday of the year), so weirdness is given a full-mooned magnitude.

That this race — the wildest, most dangerous and unpredictable race on the circuit — also happens to be the most crucial of the Chase races, falling at the time when the few true competitors separate from the rest of the Chase pack–it’s enough to make the likes of Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick shake in their boots, who are separated by a mere 67 Chase points.

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There is no way to out-drive Talladega; you just go fast and draft, stay out of the way somehow of the Big One always about to happen and then scoot ahead at the last minute, coming out of Turn 4 of the very last lap.

The three leading Chase drivers all have middling records there, but that’s as good as anyone gets in the whirling blades of Talladega-style fate. Kevin Harvick’s average finish at Talladega is 15.5 (he’s won there once in 19 starts, in this year’s spring race); Denny Hamlin’s is 16 (no wins in 9 starts, 2 DNFs); and Jimmie Johnson has a 17.8 average finish in 17 starts, with one win and 7 DNF’s including four crashes.

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Brian Vickers won the 2006 fall race at Talladega by spinning Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson on the final lap.

Perhaps the most masterfully controlled driver of them all, it’s not surprising that Jimmie Johnson hates Talladega. Talent aside, his mojo is small, too, at this track; Wynona is elsewhere, probably hungover in the skankiest camper of the down-and-dirtiest infield partier in the universe.

Talladega is a track with a curse, whispered with variations, the way all ghost stories grow like black vines in the minds of a culture, One story has it that after local Talladega Creeks were slaughtered by warriors of the larger Creek nation in retaliation for their collaborating with the forces of Andrew Jackson, a Talladega shaman cast a curse on Dry Valley as the survivors left.

But legends of curse would not arise had not the track’s history been an oval petri dish for spooky culture, weirded as it has been by corporate skullduggery, freak accidents, Bigger Ones than anywhere else on the circuit and a trick-or-treater’s lusty thirst for all-out, hell-raisin’ partying.

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For the full-mooned lowdown, see my post from earlier this year, Big Bill France and NASCAR’s Temple of Doom. Suffice to say here that Hallow-Dega promises to be true to form – predictable only in mayhem, naughtiness and redline blood alcohol content.

But there is more to Talledega’s story than its story, if you get my drift-—and have the patience to follow my riffs …

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An old Irish saying goes, “Say this three times, with your eyes shut / And you will see / What you will see.”

It helps to see some things with eyes shut. The universe, as the space scientist now come to know, is mostly dark matter and dark energy, stuff which can’t be seen or known but by how it affects the visible universe. They now postulate that an entire universe may be operating inside our own; inside our own bodies the dark elements pass, tiding with news we can’t know, but is. If you have read this far in the post, about a billion of these loosly-arranged particles have streamed through, a billion ghosts emerging from their dark forest to come and go through you, talking of dark Michaelangelo …

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So assume, if you will, that there is an underside to Talladega which has shaped its history, the way dark matter gave our galaxies their spiral whorls. We get to that Other World darkly, through dark portals in the mind, the heart …

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“Hallow-Dega,” as it has come to be known, refers more to nightside spookiness than racin’ – it’s booze-fuelled, costmed revelry casting a strange hangover on the race proceedings of the next day. A pall of excess which casts long blue shadows from the cars, even at high noon.

It’s all in good fun, right? A chance to get loose and wild, forget about the big bad world, the economy, the frantic, manic, ugly polticiking that has consumed the country, and indulge in hard liquor, loud racin’ and bad women. Sweet home Alabama, indeed.

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Yet Hallow-Dega’s vibe cannot help but take on a darker tenor from just how much bad world there is out there. Like the nipple of a greater exposed hooter, the haunting of Talladega is fed by the collective scream-fest of its participants. And there’s a lot to get spooked about. The following itinerary is just a few things which have somehow been thrown into that oval witch’s cauldron –- the bat’s ear and eye of newt foraged from the dark forest of events which convinces me that the Hallowe’en tradition of the dead loosed on earth for a night has, like so many other things, gone 24-7-365.

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There is an old Irish fairy tale about a king’s storyteller who woke one day without a new story to tell the king. It had never happened before, and he was appalled. What was he going to sing to the king that night?

Puzzling over his predicament, the storyteller walks over hill and through dale until he comes across a beggarman lying on the ground who challenges him to three rounds of dice, the first two which he wins (the beggarman has a secret bag of gold tied to his belt, and gives it up freely after losing), but on the third toss the storyteller loses, and the beggar demands his wife.

To game back his wife, the storyteller plays with his own life at stake – and loses again. His soul belongs to the beggarman now, and he is transformed by that Otherworldly figure him into a hare, tormenting him with various butt-biting pursuits dogs and the like.

He then makes the storyteller invisible and goes calling on King Red O’Donnell, dressed in his beggar rags and conniving all of O’Donnell’s silver from him through a variety of tricks.

At night’s end (which is really the end of day in our world), the beggarman returns the storyteller to his old stature (along with his wife and all of his belongings) and says simply, “Now you have a story to tell the king.” And walks off into mist, whistling merrily.

So, having already supped full well with Talladega’s known horrors, I offer a parallel universe of dark tales from our world which fans and drivers and owners and officials all bring, in varied mixtures of dread and denial, with them to that mad track, begging this question: who—or what’s– truly cooking at Hallow-Dega?

Bone appetit

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The Beast of the Gulf

Out in the Gulf of Mexico, things on the surface are calm, glittery with full moonlight, rocking gently and uteral while shrimp trawlers file out of their late-late-late-night ports, back in business again. Whatever desperately expensive measures taken by British Petroleum to contain and quell the spill of 4 million barrels of oil from the ass end of its exploded Deepwater Horizon well, none of them equaled the quiet (OK, biological) heroics of a heretofore-unknown microbe, devouring most of the oil floating on the surface.

The broken well eventually was capped and coastal damage was relatively slight – spookily so. Still, everyone knows that most of that spilled oil is just floating around in the middle leagues of the Gulf, between surface and abyss. And no one knows what that immense drifting black plume will do in the coming decades.

And whatever that damage to the environment might finally tally up to, the fear — the emotional and psychological damage — may even be greater. A recent poll conducted by Auburn University shows that some 71 percent of Alabamans believe that permanent damage has been done to their Gulf, with 61 percent saying that their own household had been negatively afflicted by the consequences of the spill. Thirty-two percent said they would pack up and leave the area if they could.

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If they could. But movement isn’t an option for so many recession-racked Americans, their mortgages underwater, unemployment forcing them into smaller and meaner circumstances. British Petroleum did a bang-up PR job of getting the heat off of them, but millions along the Gulf Coast know the beast is still out there, a giant black manta fanning its miles-wide wings of oil, waiting, waiting, for its shadow to do the damage, upon sea-life, shores and psyches alike—not tomorrow, or the next, but over the cumulative toll of years.

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A ghost compound in the mountains of Afghanistan

Last week, NPR reported on a foray of troops of Alpha Company of the 3-327 Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, onto the Ghaki mountain pass in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan, in search of Taliban insurgents. Alpha Company had recently been part of the massive search for Linda Norgrove, the Scottish aid worker who had been kidnapped by Taliban insurgents and killed by an American grenade during the rescue operation.

As soon as their Chinook helicopter landed and the hatch opened, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired directly in, killing an Afghan interpreter and wounding four others. The Chinook was disabled. With just one wheel on the ground and half of the wounded helicopter hanging over a 7,000-foot cliff, troops jumped to the ground. Some of them set up guard while waiting for relief to come in, while other fanned out in search of hostiles, warned that “friendlies” were in the area as well. What does it do to the mind of a soldier when any man could be both?

Along their patrol, Alpha Company came across an abandoned base, a bunkered outpost where they found spent carbine shells—signs of a recent battle – as well as fleece jackets and sleeping bags, stuff normally not left behind. They also found vehicles clustered together and burnt and a bunker that had been bombed. Funny thing is, it wasn’t bombed from without; the mystery occupants had destroyed it themselves. Fleeing Taliban? Nope. The soldiers credited it to “OGA’s” – members of the Other Government Agency, meaning the CIA. CIA ops apparently had been defending the pass (the CIA had declined comment on the story), waiting for Afghan milita to replace them; but the Afghans had never arrived and they got the hell out of there before any official American presence was called in.

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A mystery base in a mystery war, with mysterious opponents with murky allegiances, in a war with no apparent end or design, against an opponent more steely in its resolve than found anywhere in the world. A haunted place that drains American will like blood.

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A case of the pot calling the kettle, er, biased: Bill O’Reilly of FOX News and Juan Williams, former NPR journalist now Fair And Balanced, FOX-style.

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Deals with the Devil

NPR, as you know, has been in the crosshairs of the aggrieved and mobilized right over the firing of long-time correspondent Juan Williams, also now an employ of FOX News, for some offhand comments he made about Muslims on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

The comments seem innocuous enough — O’Reilly had been looking for support for his own remarks made on a recent episode of ABC’s The View in which he directly blamed Muslims for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. (Co-hosts Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg walked off the set in the middle of his appearance.) Williams then responded: “Look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

Williams – a journalist I’ve admired over the years, whose news analysis seemed sound until he started working for FOX – was fired for what NPR CEO Vivian Schiller says were remarks ”inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a News Analyst with NPR.” She added that Williams had been warned in the past to keep his opinions out of his journalism, something which he was given free reign to do at “fair and balanced FOX,” which has set the low bar for selling opinion as news.

Williams was aggrieved, saying in a piece on FOX News,

They have used an honest statement of feeling as the basis for a charge of bigotry to create a basis for firing me. Well, now that I no longer work for NPR let me give you my opinion. This is an outrageous violation of journalistic standards and ethics by management that has no use for a diversity of opinion, ideas or a diversity of staff (I was the only black male on the air). This is evidence of one-party rule and one-sided thinking at NPR that leads to enforced ideology, speech and writing. It leads to people, especially journalists, being sent to the gulag for raising the wrong questions and displaying independence of thought.

Williams is calling for the cutoff of taxpayer funding for NPR, considered one of them most sound journalistic enterprises in all media, and he’s joined by a chorus of aggrieved Republicans and FOX wonks (Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee are both) accusing NPR of bigotry and liberal bias.

Williams has signed on a $2 million contract with FOX—jackpot for a journalist, most of whom work for low pay under the constant shadow of having their jobs eliminated to bolster corporate profits.  And he’s free now to say whatever he wants to, because FOX doesn’t have journalistic standards, and has a culture where outrageousness is encouraged.  (As when commentator Liz Trotta remarked in May 2008 that somewhat  ought to “knock off” Osama Bin Laden – and Barack Obama.)

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Williams is free to slug away, Liz Trotta-style, with a network who’s much like NASCAR in its “have at it, boys” opinion-as-news style.

Williams carries with him to FOX journalist cred—-albeit a quickly-fraying one—-which the network will use, in blackface, to pander its hardcore parody of news in the service of GOP PR.

(News Corp., which owns FOX News, donated $1.25 million last year to the Republican Governors Association, a PAC created to defeat Democratic candidates, as well as $1 million to the U.S. Chamber, a $75 million fund which is paying for a sizable chunk of attack ads against Democrats in races across the country. News Corp. didn’t admit to the donations until after it was reported elsewhere in the press. CEO Rupert Murdoch has said that the donations were made because it is “in the interest of the country and of all the shareholders … that there be a fair amount of change in Washington.” Emphasis on those big-business stockholders …)

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Rupert Murdoch is all for pro-business politics in Washington.

Enjoy your new freedom of expression, Williams. And thanks for your new career handicapping the Fourth Estate’s function of keeping government honest and open. And for assuring our next generation that anything you say can be taken for truth in a media where anything goes. Now go and enjoy that big fat paycheck while your peers wonder what the fuck they’re going to do when their 99 weeks of government federal unemployment assistance is exhausted.

You know what a FOX teabagger is? One of the talking heads on that channel who licks the marbles of Rupert Murdoch as he sodomizes America for his shareholders.

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A Truth, Drowned in Dope

I turn to NPR—one of the last bastions of decent journalism–for the next story.

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Tiffany and David Hartley.

The lure was a partially drowned church. Tiffany and David Hartley were on vacation, jet-skiing together on Falcon Lake in Zapata, Texas. The church was on Mexican side of the lake; American tourists had often headed over there to take pictures and fish for bass.

It somewhere near that water-mortared church that David Hartley was shot in the head. His wife Tiffany called 911 and said she couldn’t get the body on to her jet-ski and then, with more shots being fired at her, she fled for her life.

Investigators believe that Hartley was killed by halcones – lookouts for drug runners. In a further gruesome twist, the Mexican investigator in the case was killed and decapitated, his head sent to authorities inside a suitcase.

The search for Hartley’s body was soon after called off by Mexican authorities. Tiffany Hartley wants her husband’s body back before returning to their native Colorado, but there’s not much American authorities can do.

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Members of the Los Zetas gang, purported to have a growing presence along the Texas-Mexico border.

“This is a weird case,” a U.S. homeland security official said. The cartels know that killing Americans is bad for business.” Best guess so far is that the halcones were young, trigger-happy recruits who might have wanted the jet skis.

On Oct. 6, Tiffany Hartley and family members were escorted by Texas Parks and Wildlife to the spot on Falcon Lake where David Hartley disappeared, there to lay a wreath on the water.

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David Hartley’s body is probably floating down there in the nave of that drowned church, a fresh soul recruited in the brutal supply of dope (pot, coke and meth) to American addicts. (Ironically, David Hartley was an oil field worker – a tradesman in the traffic of cheap energy, that other American addiction.)

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For Alabamans, the bulk of their illegal drugs comes from Colombian, Mexican, and Caribbean Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs, and those organizations maintain extensive distribution networks within the state. (Motorcycle gangs deal in meth as well, but on a much more limited basis.)

Methamphetamine has become the drug of choice in many impoverished rural areas – in Alabama, the unemployment rate is around 20 percent in those places—and its credited with the rise in thefts, violent assaults, and burglaries in those areas. But heck – street dope dealers can make about $5,000 a week, as long as they can last before getting killed or busted. It’s not so much a choice between safe or dicey as between nothing or everything.

On Oct. 19, a routine traffic stop on Interstate 20 near Leeds–a town about 20 miles away from Talladega–led to the confiscation of some 90 kilograms of cocaine worth about 5.4 million. The driver of the truck, 35-year-old Juan Rios of McAllen, TX, is being held without bond in the Jefferson County jail. (McAllen is about 80 miles east of Falcon Lake along US-83.)

Seargant Dewayne McCarver, commander of the Huntsville-Madison County (AL) Strategic Counterdrug Team, is working hard against the rising tide of drugs in his area. “I wholeheartedly believe the vast majority of all crime revolves around the drug culture,” he said. “It’s amazing what a crackhead will do for one rock. If we get the drugs off the street at any level, it saves lives to some extent.” The Talladega County Drug and Violent Crime Task Force carried out warrants at 243 meth labs in the first three quarters of this year alone.

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Meth will fuck you up fast. These crime mugs of the same meth addict were taken a year and a half apart.

The biggest challenge to the illegal drug trade, however, isn’t law enforcement. It’s the growing popularity of contraband pharmaceuticals, especially painkillers like oxycontin and dilaulid. And a lot of those pharms aren’t stolen from drugstores or bought on the street, but rather lifted from Mom’s medicine cabinet. Last year, fatal overdoses from painkillers overtook those from heroin abuse.

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The Daily Home, based in St. Clair and Talladega Counties, reports that prescription drugs have reached epidemic proportions in their school system. “Ninety percent of our problem with drugs is from prescription drugs,” says school superintendent Dr. Bobby Hathcock. There have been fatalities from teenagers taking several medications at once. St. Clair County District Attorney Richard Minor says they have prosecuted adults who keep their medicine cabinets unlocked under the charge of “chemical endangerment of a child.”

Pharmaceutical cartels aren’t much different from their dirtier brothers across the border who traffic in illicit drugs. They both are invested to the teeth in making sure that the means of fleeing reality are readily at hand.

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Reality – our truth – is the cathedral that’s been swamped by all the means of evading it. As long as fear truth, opiates will abound. And Lord how they abound, like sweet black floodwaters covering the heads of millions for whom letting go to abandonment is far easier than holding on to next to nothing.

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Razor Blades in the Eye Candy

The weekend’s box office king was Paranormal Activity 2, a $3 million, R-rated creep-fest, taking in some $41.5 million in theaters. The entire action is supposedly recorded on home video and surveillance-video footage of Otherworld menace in a hapless middle-class couple’s home.

Meanwhile, Clint Eastwood’s $50 million Oscar-seeking movie Hereafter –– a more highbrow take on the presence of death in life –- was a comparative yawner, ranking fourth in box-office take and raking in just $4 million in its opening weekend.

Well, as Sam Zell, the rogue owner of Tribune Corporation famously said, “Pulitzers don’t sell papers,” and studio execs know that lowbrow gets the biggest bang for the fewest bucks. That’s why few and fewer of Eastwood’s type of film is getting made in Hollywood, in favor of cheapo grossout flicks which have a short shelf-life in theaters but do big business in DVD sales (which are often unrated and, hence, even grosser) domestically and overseas.

To wit, Saw 3D, the seventh installment of the torture-til-ya-puke gorefest, releases soon on a franchise that has grossed $340 million dollars worldwide.

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Plural victims of a franchise’s singular device.

3D has given the movie theaters a needed shot in the arm, and while there have been some magnificent creations in the medium—-like James Cameron’s Avatar—-you’re more likely to see something like Saw put stuff that’s nobody’s business right in your face. (The premiere of Jackass 3D, by the way, was the box-office winner the previous week, offering more the next 90 minutes of maxiumum grossout in sleazy stunts.)

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The testicularly-abused crew of “Jackass 3D.”

The taste for “ultraviolence” —- as it was called by droogie Alex in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange –- is, it seems insatiable, a pit with no apparent bottom to it. Movies are just part of well-liquors offering shots of ultraviolence -– there are video games, the Internet, and home-grown splatter using digital cams of every description.

Oh, and did I mention porn? … There’s probably only one thing guys like to see than people getting mangled and killed, it’s women getting fucked. Probably horns of the same beast.

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Digital video technology is making horror and porn a socially networked enterprise, available to all.

And for top-lifting nubiles in the Talladega infield, we have only to consider sex tapes released by the likes of divas Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian to get a sense of where their permission-—and searingly low-bottom fame—-comes from.

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Paris and Kim show their celebrity-eyed fans what to do – and how.

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True Blood

There’s plenty of blood sport on TV these days. I wonder if the NFL has ratcheted up the on-the-field violence in response to the challenge from televised ultimate fighting bouts. In an especially vicious weekend a few weeks ago, players taking hits to the head by defenders’ helmets were knocked flat, suffering concussions. This came a day after a Rutgers college player was paralyzed by a helmet-first collision, and discussion has been rife all season about the long-term consequences of hits to the head. Now the NFL is stepping in, levying fines of up to $50,000 for what they are deeming illegal hits.

The increasing viciousness of defenders is as much a product of the culture as the sport, as they go at receivers trained fighting dogs. But the NFL has to tread carefully, because they could err the way of NASCAR by draining too much of the danger from the sport. It’s what the bread-and-butter fans pay for, that blood.

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But you can recognize the rock-and-a-hard-place juncture that the NFL stands at. Facing increasing criticism from the medical profession for the consequences of what they do best, they have to set limits. Yet those very limits will just drive fans on to bloodier venues.

In Alabama, heavy-hitting football is a manly tradition – the SEC is one of the most brutal in the country – and Alabamans have much to root for with the Auburn Tigers and the Crimson Tide of the University of Alabama, currently ranked first and seventh in the BCS rankings.

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The Iron Bowl.

The big big game for Alabamans is the Iron Bowl, the showdown between Auburn and Alabama on the day after Thanksgiving. Alabama has won the past two contests, with Auburn winning the previous six.

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Crimson Tide alumnus Mark Forester of Haleyville was planning to return for the game after finishing a stint in Afghanistan as a senior airman out of Pope Air Force Base. But on a mission in Uruzgan Province on Sept. 29 he was killed trying to rescue a stricken comrade (who also died) when his Special Forces unit came under fire.

More than 80 members of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron from Pope AFB attended Forester’s funeral in his hometown, and the streets of Haleyville were lined with locals who had turned out to honor their own. A friend said that Forster “firmly believed that his purpose and duty in life was to the United States. He felt like that was what God put him on the planet to do -— literally.  He was just a patriot to the core.”

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Forester had been deployed in Afghanistan two months ago. He was the fourth member of his unit to be killed in action over a two-week period.

405 Americans have been killed and more than 2,000 wounded in Afghanistan since the start of the year. The reality of that conflict has been kept carefully out of our sight until Wikileaks came along. Now in its ninth year, this war grinds on, slowly eating into the American psyche through a slowly spreading network of grief and fear.

For many young Americans, the military is the only work available to them. Whether they go out of patriotism or necessity, there is an increasing awareness among deploying soldiers that they may not be coming back – or coming back missing limbs or some part of their minds. Something tells me that dread of that reality represses itself by means of blood sport – a catharsis, but a problematic one, because you can’t purge the darkness just by pumping up its volume.

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Tea Party jackboot fascist has meaningful discussion with MoveOn.org protester.

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Politics as Satanic Mass

Whatever ultraviolence—-fancied and/or real–is being suckled from bad mama’s teat by young fans I can reluctantly pardon, given the behavior of their political elders. These guys are hammering and screwing everyone in sight in this most-vicious midterm election season ever.

OK, everyone’s pissed at Washington and the stagnating economy. It’s just that no one knows who to properly blame. But if you have failed to cover your ears and eyes whenever the networks cut to a commericial, you have been toxically  exposed to the sewering howl of attack ads.

You will emerge from their bloodbath dripping with the conviction that all polticians are scuzzbags, clowns, cronies, anti-Americans, Bible-stompers, mother-haters, gun-banners, baby-killers, animal-euthinizers, Constitutional hijackers and/or gavel-weilding socialists who would as soon let docs to kill your granddaddy as use the part of the Constitution about the separation of church and state for buttwipe.

Did I miss anything? Of course I did; the assault is endless and reaches its most fevered, bottomless pitch this final weekend before Election Day. The true house of horrors this season springs out every time they cut to a commercial.

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Surely separated at birth: Rick Scott and Freddy Kueger.

I don’t know which race ranks sets the standard of sliminess for our younger generation—-there are so damn many. Here in Florida, I’d have to go with the campaign of Republican Rick Scott for Governor of Florida. Scott was infamously forced out as CEO of Columbia Healthcare back in the late ‘90’s after it got hit with a $1.7 billion dollar fine for Medicare fraud; he later took the Fifth Amendment 75 times in a single deposition attempting to determine his role in the fraud. Flush with cash from his executive buyout package, Scott began numerous investment funds which grew his nest egg to $218 million – a fund which became an inexhaustible political war chest.

Scott spent $45 million of his own money to defeat Republican primary challenger Bill McCollum. Asked in August if there is any limit to the funds he would invest in the general election, Scott said “no”.

He’s effectively outspent Democratic rival Alex Sink with another $25 million in attack ads. He’s fought the obvious criticism from his opponent about his billion-dollar felon status with suggestions that Sink had a hand in a $6.7 million fine paid by the parent company of a bank she was CEO of for allowing an affiliated company to steer bank customers into high-risk securities — a practice Sink says she had no authority over.

In recent days, Scott has pulled ahead in the polls, and if the Republican turnout on Nov. 4 will be as sizeable as predicted, he will prove that any crook with enough dough can build image that doesn’t exist merely by destroying his opponent. It’s an old right-wing talk radio tactic: demonize your opponent’s virtues and then you don’t have but the vaguest stand of your own). Add $60 million from your fraud nest egg and bingo: Big money always wins.

Way to go, Rick Scott.

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To this observer, Alabama politics is about as hard-hitting as its football, with the corruptive lubrication of big money always in the works.

Indeed, Alabama’s mid-term election comes on the heels of a cash-for-votes bribery scandal involving 11 state legislators, lobbyists and businessmen attempting to legalize bingo gambling in the state. (One of the state legislators involved was Jim Preuitt of Talladga.)

Not to be outdone in dastardliness, the mid-term races in Alabama are showing what contemporary politics can lower itself to:

– In the Alabama Fifth Congressional race between Democrat Steve Raby and Republican Mo Brooks, the two seem like bizarre inversions of the other. Raby, the Democrat, is a lifetime member of the NRA, a deacon in his Baptist church, is pro-life and has farmed since high school. Brooks, his Republican opponent, is an attorney, well-educated, is a member of the Sierra Club and prefers tennis to hunting. And yet the two accuse the other of the stock-in-trade epithets of the season, the more conservative Raby glued to Nancy Pelosi’s agenda by Brooks, Brooks hung with the Tea Party mantle of “silliness” by Raby. None of it makes sense to me, but the epithets somehow stick.

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Bizarro World, Alabama Style: Democratic candidate Steve Raby is the gun-toting, right-to-life conservative farmer, and Republican Mo Brooks is a tennis-playing, Sierra-Club supporting attorney.

– Black voters in Alabama are receiving recorded phone calls saying that blacks risk “going back to the cotton fields of Jim Crow days” unless Democrats Ron Sparks and Jim Folsom are elected. The robocalls were placed by state Sen. Hank Sanders, a Selma Democrat who made the calls for the Alabama New South Coalition. Democrats likely need a strong turnout among black voters in Alabama to elect Sparks to the governor’s office and Folsom as lieutenant governor.

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Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right: Democratic incumbent Bobby Bright of Alabama is facing withering attacks from both Democrats and Republicans in his re-election bid.

– Some candidates are taking flak from both sides. The left-leaning Blue America PAC is spending some $50,000 to run attack ads against Rep. Bobby Bright, a Democrat congressman running for re-election in a very conservative district. Bright had distinguished himself as a right-leaning Democrat, distancing himself from the party’s agenda and saying he would not vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the house. He’s also under attack by the National Republican Congressional Committee and the conservative American Future Fund for being, well, a Democrat.

– Republican Robert Bentley holds a 20-point lead over his Democratic rival Ron Sparks in his bid for the governor’s mansion. That despite the gaming scandal under the former Republican governor’s watch; he’s even suggested that voters be allowed to have a say in the bingo issue. Sparks has said it’s not so simple, since gaming requires state regulation; and even though both Republican and Democratic legislators were caught up in the scandal, the ire of voters seems to be pointed against Democrats, and Sparks looks to be one of those victims.

Why? Because Alabama politics is rife with corruption, and that seems fine with Alabamans as long as there’s money in it for them. Indeed, in addition to the bribery scandal under the former Republican governor’s watch, many jobs were created. Five Alabama metro areas were among the top 10 American cities posting the most significant declines over the past year.

That has translated to a 9.1 percent unemployment rate for the state – good news, especially for Republican gubernatorial hopefuls – though rural areas lag far behind at around 20 percent. (Ironically, demand for cotton by Chinese mills is at an all-time high, raising cotton prices to levels not seen since 1870; however, draught in Alabaman has local farmers looking to just break even on this year’s crop.)

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Alabama cotton farmers can’t get a break for nuthin’.

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The Curse

Talladega Speedway, as most of you know, is said to be cursed, built on an Indian burial ground, or cursed by a departing Talladega shaman after the tribe was crushed by Creek enemies for collaboration with Andrew Jackson’s white soldiers.

Curses cuts several ways.Dale Earnhardt Jr. has done well racin’ at Talladega – he’s won it six times – but that seems to have cursed his latter career, as he has not won now since 2008. Jimmie Johnson has won only once at Talladega and crashed frequently, but he’s won four consecutive Sprint Cup championships. Fate is topsy-turvy at Talladega, an equivocation which is fair and foul at once.

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A Cleveland DJ by the name of Rover hired a witch doctor recently to put a curse on LeBron James, Miami Heat player recently deserted of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Something tells me that James will continue to play at a stellar level, while Cleveland will remain cursed by lousy sports teams.

Women who hate their monthly menstruation rituals – known, in most circles, as “the curse” – can opt now for medications which shorten or even eliminate menstruation. The meds are really for birth control, preventing ovulation. It’s another fix for a sexually obsessed culture, joining the ranks of breast augmentation and mood pills to keep our gals shining and young and ready to hook up at a whim’s notice. And yes, I’d want the same thing too if I had to endure the discomfort and embarassment of bloody thongs every month; the male correlative is certainly Viagra, a physic for droopy-dick-in-the-clinch syndrome. Perhaps our curse is not found in our on-again, off-again bodies but rather in our minds, which are cursed with the mania of perfection, hairless bodies with six-pack abs and enormous boobs, primed penises and clot-free vaginal gullies pistoning in endless abandon, babies and age be damned.

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Curse is the conviction that one is being preyed upon the by ill will of another – God or Devil, bad Mommy or really bad Daddy, bullies at school, a vengeful ex, even stepping on an invisible tripwire on a spree anonymous bum events, psychologically or spiritually accident-prone, invoking a comedy of tortured errors.

Our response to curse is to find cures; they are perhaps two faces of the same thing. Lord knows the physics and compulsive rituals meant to rid oneself of the freezing jail of the cursed life – psychotropics, pain meds, booze, sex addiction, gambling, extreme sports, binge-and-purging, shopping, blogging. Of course, cures eventually become the curse, snarling the cursed in a web of accursed cures, the obsessive repetition of the nightly blackout drunk, the manic rituals of endless hand-washing and gripping fear of stepping outside into the big bad world, the eternal pursuit of oblivion inside (or penetrated by) the next dick or pussy in the nightly parade.

For most who have fought their way through their cures – through therapy or recovery or whatever manner of travailing through the dark forest to morning – there is often a sense that the curse was a blessing in disguise, forcing movement through all the false remedies, come to a grown-up recognition that the world never centered enough around you to bother with curse, that your affliction was in a sickened mind to begin with, that cure meant in some way coming to love the curse. Ranier Maria Rilke, the great German poet of the early 20th century, famously refused analysis by Sigmund Freud, stating, “If you rid me of my devils, you will surely banish my angels as well.”

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The Marquis de Sade.

Perhaps Marquis de Sade, that badboy rogue of the 18th century, was right when he wrote, “In order to know virtue, we must first acquaint ourselves with vice … It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure.” Problem is, it’s just so damn easy to get lost in the forest of cure and stay there. For all the avenues of recovery that have become available to alcoholics, still about 95 percent of them die drunk. The cure is too damn sweet to let go of, or rather the fantasy of curse is too strong.

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The Talladega curse afflicts fans as well and drivers alike, if you buy the premise of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, where Bobby (loosely an incarnation of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) loses his track mojo in a wreck at Talladega and goes mad, unable to drive without becoming  convinced that his head is on fire. He spirals down from the heights of NASCAR fame, divorced by his wife (who only wanted to be married to a NASCAR champion), moving in with his mother and delivering pizzas on a bicycle. And then his absent father Reese (loosely Dale Earnhardt Sr.) re-enters his life, teaching him to translate his fear of driving into reckless abandon once again. That, and love of a woman – a waitress who surely plays the role of Wynona, NASCAR’s goddess of fate – gets Ricky Bobby behind the wheel again, racing at the Talladega 400. He wrecks on the final lap racing his arch-nemesis, running to the finish line (the way Carl Edwards did when his car wrecked on the last lap of the 2009 spring race at ‘Dega). He doesn’t win the race, but the champion chump is back in full glory and ignorance, having overcome the curse of his own fear.

Could this weekend’s Amp Energy 500 be such a test for Jimmie Johnson, flagging in the points, about to be passed by Denny Hamlin or Kevin Harvick, a restrictor-plate-race master who won the spring race at Talladega this year?

Many fans believe that Jimmie is too beloved by his NASCAR elders, a favored son given favored treatment. Last week at Martinsville, a drive-shaft cover for the No. 48 Chevrolet was confiscated during inspection, although officials merely asked the team to replace the part. Coming off the draconian points-dock and suspension and fines of Clint Bowyer’s No. 33 Chevy a few weeks ago for a seeming infinitesimal excess of chassis height discovered in a post-race inspection following his win at New Hampshire on Sept. 19, the free pass of the No. 48 made many fans believe his legend is engineered not so much by Hendrick Motorsports or Wynona but rather NASCAR Corp. To me it seems silly – NASCAR knows that Johnson’s seemingly permanent lock on the championship isn’t popular with fans, why wouldn’t they try to level the field away from him?

Maybe they simply trust Talladega to do that work.

This weekend’s Amp Energy 500 will feature the premiere of The Legend of Hallowdega, an Amp Energy-sponsored short film directed by Terry Gilliam (a founding member of Monty Python and the creator of films like The Fisher King and Twelve Monkeys). David Arquette and Justin Kirk star in the 15-minute film which purports to delve into the spookier lore of Talladega, like the story that Talladega was built on an Indian burial ground and Bobby Isaac had actually pulled out of one race because he’d heard a voice tell him to boogity off the track.

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The movie will be played in mobile theaters around Talladega this weekend, and a 2-minute version of it will be televised during ESPN’s race telecast. (The full version will be available for viewing after the Oct. 31 race at http://www.legendofhallowdega.com)

Apparently the folks at Talladega Speedway are looking for some image cure. “The great folks at AMP Energy Juice have developed a new and innovative idea to research and debunk some of the myths surrounding HALLOW-DEGA,” said Talladega Superspeedway Chairman Grant Lynch. “We anxiously await the release of the film to see what Terry Gilliam and AMP Energy Juice have come up with.” The staged exorcism of Talladega’s curse by an Indian shaman back in 2009 must not have been successful, but then it may have been falling track attendance rather than trackside mayhem the track’s ruling elders were truly concerned about.

The folks at Amp Energy seem to have more personal, poisonal ambitions than that, given this final paragraph in an announcement of the movie in The Sporting News:

Amp Energy expanded its marketing budget for the Talladega race in order to develop the film. To measure the return on its investment, the brand will monitor paid media and earned media impressions.

Oh, right–it’s a commercial. Something tells me that humoring the fans with a commercial isn’t going to rectify ‘Dega’s resource issues.

Well, it’s a paycheck for Gilliam. He could sure use it: the once-successful director’s recent work has been cursed by all manner of project-ruining disasters. In 1999, while attempting to film The Man Who Killed Don Quioxte, the leading actor suffered a herniated disc on the first day of shooting, and then the set was severely damaged by a flood, causing the film to be cancelled at a $32 million loss. A decade later, he was filming The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus in New York City when lead actor Heath Ledger died. He himself was struck by a bus while filming and broke his back.

Fateful choice wouldn’t you say, to be the man chosen to direct a comic movie about the curse of Talladega?

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Well, a guy’s gotta do what he’s gotta do. And a brand’s gotta keep the franchise hoppin’.

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It’s All About Speed

I doubt Amp Energy expects to get much actual mileage out of Dale Earnhardt, whose No. 88 Chevrolet they sponsor has been a middle-of-the-packer all season long. The Earnhardt Jr. franchise has lost a lot of its lustre, but Dale Jr. fans are die-hard believers, standing by their man through thick and thin. (Last week, Earnhardt led in Martinsville for an entire lap, and the stadium came alive with hooting, roaring applause.)

Speed and energy drinks seem to have a comfortable, if disastrous relationship. Kasey Kahne finishes driving the season with Team Red Bull after jumping ship at Richard Petty Motorsports. Energy drinks are liquid speed, anyway, legal speed which emulates amphetamines the way crushed Oxycontin rivals herion. Down enough Amp Energy drinks and you can drink all weekend, watch the races and survive the drive home. (Try your luck, boys. Last spring Alabama State Troopers arrested 127 for driving under the influence over the race weekend.)

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The new fun badboy drink on the market is Four Loko, a fruit-flavored malt beverage with an alcohol content of 12 percent (beer runs at about 6 percent) and laced with enough caffeine as a cup of coffee (156 milligrams), collapsing the beer-can / energy drink conundrum in one convenient container.

It’s potent stuff, and with its colorful packaging and flavors like watermelon, blue raspberry and lemon-lime, it’s especially popular with underaged drinkers. And it has very potent effects: last month, six students from Ramapo College in Mahway, NJ were taken to the hospital after drinking it. One of those admitted said he’d had three cans of Four Loko and several shots of tequila in just under an hour; he had a blood alcohol level of .40, which is almost fatal.

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Elroy McConnell (2d from left) with his three sons.

Last August, 51-year-old Elroy McConnnell of Orlando and his three grown sons were on vacation at Redington Beach in St. Petersburg, celebrating the birthday of the youngest son along with their wives and children. One night father and sons were returning from a movie when their Ford Fusion was broadsided by the Chevrolet Impala of twenty-year-old Demetrius Jordan, who had run a red light going more than 80 miles per hour. McConnell and his sons were killed on impact, but Jordan and his passenger survived. Jordan told police he had been mixing Four Loko with liquor and smoking pot. A can of Four Loko sat behind Jordan’s seat after the crash.

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Elroy McConnell’s Ford Fusion after Demetrius Jordan plowed into it running s red light at over 80 mph, high on dope and Four Loko.

The following Monday, four McConnell wives drove back to Orlando as widows.

Eighteen attorneys general are urging the Food and Drug Administration, which has never approved adding caffeine to alcohol, to determine whether the drinks are safe.

Of course, it’s not the fault of Phusion Projects, who manufactures Four Loko. Co-founder Chris Hunter says the company is being unfairly singled out and that they take steps to prevent its products from getting into minors’ hands.

“Alcohol misuse and abuse and under-age drinking are issues the industry faces and all of us would like to address,” he said. “The singling out or banning of one product or category is not going to solve that. Consumer education is what’s going to do it.”

Rigghhhhhtt. The same way that consumer education is effectively teaching college students about the bum effects of “smart” or “attention” prescription drugs like Adderoll or Ritalin. These drugs are like essays you can buy on the Web – shortcuts to peak performance, steroids for the brain.

They work, but they don’t, because they work too well. My younger brother died at age 44 a couple of years ago, his heart blown out by taking too much Ritalin. He had a legitimate reason – he’d suffered attention-deficit problems for years as the result of a near-fatal car accident when he was 18. Ritalin helped him focus at work, but it also helped with other things. He cut about 25 pounds of overweight in a year; it helped him go at life at twice the normal speed. He took way more of it than prescribed (in fact, no doctor was overseeing him), and it killed him pretty quick.

For those who are cursed with a jones for speed, the Talladega cure is like putting out fire with gasoline. Pour  in the nitro of booze and energy drinks and Four Loko and energy pills and well, it’s have at it and how, boys. That’s NASCAR’s mantra as it tries to survive on the cultural radar, one which began with Big Bill France dream of speed which caused Talladega to be built in the first place, steam-rolling over every bit of truth that stood in the way of sculpting a Galatea whose wings would become real enough, though in every cursed way you can imagine.

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All Hard Roads Lead to ‘Dega

So it is with all of these back- and under-stories at play that the crowds begin to make their way to the camping areas of Talladega, ready for another howlin’, hootin’, hooterin’ bash of fast cars, beer bongs, drugs by the fistful, costumes and wimmen.

Talladega will be one the nation’s party centrals this weekend, having been passed over by a vicious weather system which closed schools in town on Tuesdsay afternoon and delayed their opening on Wednesday morning. It will be cooler this weekend, more Halloweeeny; bared nipples will be perkier.

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Atten-shun!

Elsewhere the system served up hurricane-force winds, heavy rains, tornadoes and snow. Record low pressure was to blame, with millibars sunk to a level comparable to a Category 3 hurricane. Wind gusts of up to 81 miles per hour affected residents from Illinois to Tennessee. More than a dozen tornadoes were reported in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana. At one point, at least 31 states were under a thunderstorm watch or warning.

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But I guess we can count ourselves lucky. In Indonesia, a 7.7 magnitude quake on Monday struck near the Mentawai Islands, causing a tsunami whose 10-foot surge moved 2,000 feet inland. Some 272 locals were killed and another 412 are missing as of this writing. And then yesterday, 600 miles up the coast of Indonesia on the island of Java, at least 30 people were feared dead after the eruption of Mt. Merapi, one of the area’s most volatile volcanoes.

Talk about living between a rock and a hard place.

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Volcanic ash covers everything in the village of Kinaherjo in Indonesia.

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Here in Central Florida, a high of 92 degrees is forecast, breaking all previous records. Hot, still, stricken, the remnants of the front aren’t expected our way for a couple more days. I guess we should count ourselves lucky, too.

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All week my wife and I have been watching 80’s and ‘90s-vintage horror flicks on AMC like the Friday the 13th and Halloween series. The stuff looks tame compared to the gore-fests now pandered on DVDs. Back in our innocence, perhaps, but I remember how spooked I was watching Nightmare on Elm Street and Aliens and Silence of the Lambs.

(Perhaps the scariest movie I can recall is seeing Phantasm in 1979, on a film projector in someone’s home – this was before video – while on LSD. The drugs probably made me more susceptible, but I remember being scared in four dimensions — all those doors to Hell opening up down endless halls.)

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The Tall Man — Hell’s El Dudo — plays ball with prospective lost souls in “Phantasm.”

Now, it all looks so pedestrian. Like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, I think I have supped full with enough horrors to leave me somewhat numb to scary movies – or maybe I just avoid them, needed no more such stimulus. Indeed, horror movies may be the wholesale property of the young, who haven’t suffered enough consequences to stay clear of imagined ones.

Now, I’m no advocate of those “realistic” haunted houses put on by fundamentalists to convince kids that they’re going to hell if they don’t convert IMMEDIATELY – c’mon, let the young have their fun. But I am haunted by the news, as you have seen in this post.

The thing that haunts me the most -– short of the growing fear that the economy’s going to fall apart to the point where my wife and I will find ourselves living out of a car -– is how the hidden war now in Afghanistan with its hidden house of horrors is seeping up, like swamp gass, from floorboards of our American psyche.

I’m really disturbed about the news (some of it from Wikileaks, but also by admission by military leaders) about how rampant drug abuse, crime and suicide is among soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, more than 100,000 soldiers are on prescribed anti-anxiety medication, and 40,000 are thought by the Army to be using illegal drugs. Since 2002, some 1,100 Armed Forces members have committed suicide, an average of one every 36 hours.

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Why is it that when these guys aren’t getting slaughtered by hostiles, they’re doing it to themselves? And what do these vets bring back stateside with them, along with their medals and prosthetic legs?

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Oh, there are so many hard roads to Talladega, each infected with enough mental pollutant to make any fan indecently crazy: slow death in the Gulf, a bad economy, violence everywhere you look, bum politics, a digital omniverse replacing real people, obsessional cures for a fearful world flooding in through every door and window, bad weather … all of those are bad roads, but I’m going to bet that the nightmare of what’s going on in Iraq and  Afghanistan hovers over young male fans en route to Talladega more than all of the others. Because it’s nearly invisible and yet everywhere at once. The Otherworld will be present at Hallow-Dega not in the revelry of its costumed participants so much as the dark universe of our common soul, belabored by hell of our common existence.

All of those roads of excess and hubris lead to Talladega, making that track and its events a bellweather of a breaking state of mind. It’s going to take a lot of partying and faux HallowDega boo-ing to dispel the gooseflesh of those nightmares.

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But I don’t know. Talladega fans—especially party-hearty young men—have grown up in such an extreme culture, nothing may penetrate their steel-girdered, eternally adolescent abandonments.

And Talladega may not be the place any more for so harrowed a folk. Restrictor plate-racin’ in the no-kill Car of Tomorrow may not provide enough of an extreme buzz to engage such scattered, thrill-seeking attentions, even at NASCAR’s wildest track. Maybe that’s why attendance at the spring Talladega race was down 15 percent from the previous year and 22 percent from the same race in 2008.

Could it be that NASCAR’s Temple of Doom has gone the way of “Friday The 13” and “Hallowe’en,” become a tame and lame and dated blood sport where there is so much more thrilling eye candy available almost everywhere you look?

I mean, when all else fails, there’s always the next tour of duty overseas, carousing with death and its dark horsemen of terror, fear, brutality and IEDs on some lonely Afghan mountaintop …

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Postscript: Hallowing the Harrowing, or, How I Came to Love the Curse

Today is St. Oran’s Day, a Catholic feast day still celebrated in the Hebrides. The story of Saint Oran is a real Hallowe’en story – or a myth which has endured as one of the best tales of the event. It also encloses an important message which, I think, gives me license to keep opening new doors and seeing things in new ways. For any writer, St. Oran would serve as patron saint of the next clean white page to fill.

The story of St. Oran goes like this:

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Oran may may have already been on the Isle of the Druids (Iona, off the coast of Scotland) when Columba and his 12 companions arrived in 563 A.D. to found a monestary. (Columba had been exiled from Ireland for copying a psalter in secret and then refusing to give up the copy when it was discovered. He’d gone to battle over that book, killing many of the king’s men with his loyal troops; as punishment he was excommunicated for a short time and then received the heavier penance of exile, told that he could not establish himself until the coast of Ireland had disappeared over the horizon. Iona was that place.)

At first, the abbey’s construction fares badly. Each day’s work is leveled overnight by some disturbed spirit. Columba sets up a watch to observe what happens at night, but each person set to the task is found dead the next day amid the fallen timbers.

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Columba decides to do the vigil himself and sits alone at the site in the howling cold dark. In the middle of the night, a being in the shape of a half-woman, half-fish comes to Columba from the booming waves. Columba asks the apparition what is repelling his efforts to build at Iona. The fish-woman tells him that his cutting of the sward has disturbed a great water being (the deity Manannan), and that the nightly destructions of his work would continue until one of his men offered themselves to be buried alive in a grave seven times as deep as a man’s length.

Lots are cast and Oran is chosen (other accounts say he volunteered) and he stepped down into the footers on October 28 and was covered with dirt. No wind rises up that night to spoil the work and the construction proceeds without incident.

After three days and nights Columba became curious to know how his friend had fared in the Otherworld, and to look upon his face one last time. So on All Hallow’s Eve (Oct. 31), the abbot orders his monks to clear away the dirt until Oran’s head has been exhumed. The monks do so. Columba leans down to look into Oran’s face when suddenly the eyes pop open, burning blue with sights of wonders no sane or dry or Church-bounded man has seen.

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Staring right at Columba, Oran declares, “There is no wonder in death, and hell is not as it is reported. In fact, the way you think it is is not the way it is at all!”

Horrified, the saint had Oran buried again at all haste, crying “Uir! Uir! air beul Odhrain” or “Earth, earth on Oran’s mouth!” (The saying “chaidh uir air suil Odhrain” or “Earth went over Oran’s eyes” is still widely heard in the Highlands and Hebrides as a reminder to unruly children to keep their mouths shut.

Despite the frightful encounter, Columba dedicated the monestary’s graveyard to Oran (Reilig Odhrain) and honored Oran’s sacrifice by saying, “No man may access the angels of Iona but through Oran.” The bones of many Scottish, Irish and Norwegian kings were sent to Oran’s graveyard; Duncan and Macbeth are interred in the St. Oran chapel at the center of the graveyard.

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The Saint Oran Chapel at Iona with the abbey’s graveyard just beyond.

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In Celtic, pre-Christian tradition, All-Hallows – Hallowe’en – is the Eve of their New Year, Nov. 1 being the New Year festival of Samhain. As a door between times, All Hallows is the night where the veil between this and the other world is thin, and all the dead are freed from their graves to walk the lanes of the living for a night. It is a night for treats or tricks, as encounters with residents of the Otherworld sometimes went well, others badly, depending less on the gumption of the spirit than the goodness of the mortal.

Most of this post has framed a tale of hauntings by real events, a sum of bummers and dirty deeds caused, mostly, by self-centered greed and lust and gluttony and fear. Contemporary culture is tormented by ghosts because we have built this modernity recklessly, our knowledge of the past covered over, the ancient foundations bulldozed to make room for high-rise condos and franchised shopping centers.

As Talladega is rumored to have been built on an Indian graveyard – incurring a curse which has always been evident in its trackside mayhem and infield bedevilment – so too have we built our contemporary life heedless of our past, a deed which invokes disturbed and angry deities (and fishy women).

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Wynona’s sea-sister.

Sacrifice is called for, but of what? My guess is a change of attitude, casting aside one way of fixed thinking for the vast and  ever-changing truths of a sea wilderness. Remember what St. Oran said, up from three days’ journey into the dark universe around and inside us all: The way you think it is is not the way at all.

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For all of us. Which means I have to take this post and bury it in the footers of a work, so that something living and fresh and renewed can begin again come first light. If the angels of Iona could not be accessed through except by the sacrifice of Iona, then it we’ve all got to get down and dirty with the past, maintain a living connection with tradition by letting mud cover our minds and allowing the dark truths to be free to flow from our mouths. Or nothing that lasts will be abandoned at last to the crashing wave and howling winds.

We’ve got to bury our cure if we would be free of our curse. No longer bound to it, we might come to love the dark truths hidden within.

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Note: for a related post about the military’s relationship with NASCAR, see “Over There.”

Silly Season 24-7-365


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The term “silly season” has become a rather sticky synonym for NASCAR’s race year, no longer limited its the off-season but framing all of it. I can’t see anything romantic or even complementary about the phrase, but everyone in NASAR seems comfortable with it. (So much so that if NASCAR could trademark “silly season” they would — and then threaten to litigate the hell out of anyone using it without paying them royalties.)

But alas, “silly season” is too much a part of history for anyone purchasing the rights. The word “silly” comes from Old English gesælig, meaning “happy” (related to sæl “happiness”),with a Latin root in solari “to comfort” and salvus, “whole, safe”.

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However, there was a shift in the latter Middle Ages when associations with “silly” morphed from “blessed,” “pious,” and “innocent” to “harmless,” “pitiable” and “weak” to “feeble in mind, lacking in reason, foolish” (1570s). The simple-minded son became a dunce, the Fool in the Tarot deck who walks smiling at the sun off a cliff. Caught up in the radiance of summer, this moron is not much earthly good—a dreamer, indolent, with a mind for mindless pleasures and bucolic fantasies. A rube, a dolt, a simpleton, a peasant hee-hawing at the sight of the Duke and Duchess frigging up a storm on a blanket next to their carriage parked on some far country lane.

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The specific reference of “silly season” is to summer and its uneventful doldrums; cucumber harvesting and “silly season” are merged in many languages. Well, duh: Think of all those long lumpy cukes at full-grown tumescence, grown ready for harvest, a haphazard plenitude of cunny-tickling boners sticking out impertinently every whichway in the garden, wardened by the phallic god Priapus, enraptor of the wood in every hard-on, buggaring the bum of any thief dumb enough to try stealing from the Master’s bounty at night. A boner-yard in absolute rebellion against the eventual boneyard’s garden of death.

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In the 1800’s the slow season for tailors  was called “cucumber season.” My guess it was during the summer season as well,  slack Sire Cunnypoke a-snooze between the balls.

In the Southern Hemisphere, “silly season” is associated with their Christmas revelries, a carnivalesque time of buffoonery and inversion which marked the passing of the toddering Old Year into the infant of the New. (For more on these rites, see my recent post “The Twelve.”)

Eventually journalists in Europe appropriated the term “silly season” and applied it to the news doldrums, that time of summer when their respective Parliaments were on vacation and the challenge was to come up with something interesting to read -– “silly” stuff instead of real news. Ace reporters were dispatched to rake the city’s muck for news, digging up stories of child abductions and mayhem and high-society scandal. The Fourth Estate slumming on Fleet Street.

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Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, was a convenient 19th-century invention of the Silly Season in British journalism, most of which back then was located on Fleet Street.

The essence of what we call tabloid news was conceived and hatched during the silly season, wild with speculation and innuendo in lieu of anything real happening, sniffing around the backrooms of taverns and bordellos for the taint of baronial profligacy.

Ironically, newspapers came to lose their massive market share to competition much more apt at reporting from this low road, sticking to the silly season all year round because, as it turns out, enquiring minds don’t want gravitas and civitas, they want instead to peek into keyholes and get the lowdown on the high and mighty, catching bewigged judges shagging pretties without petticoats in their chambers, et cetera.

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Hard-nosed investigative journalists have all but disappeared from the corporate news scape because they cost money and don’t draw readership as well as breaking news about a city councilman getting busted for drunk driving. As Sam Zell, profiteer-CEO of the nearly-bankrupt Tribune media conglomerate once famously said, Pulitzers don’t sell newspapers. (Wicked profile of Zell’s legacy this week in the New York Times.)

And so a media outlet which hopes to survive today’s market has to add chunks of ripe-cheese entertainments into its sterile simmer of hard news, interviewing pop stars on 60 Minutes and dipping into the Missing White Girl Well to keep eyeballs glued on the pages (print or Web) and screens. And so Kaylee Anthony succeeds Jonbenet Ramsey as the poster child of Scurrilous Deeds Against Innocence –- silly season sensationalism become a perpetual salt for sensory-overloaded consumers.

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Lost little white girls attract eyeballs ad infinitum ad nauseum.

Entire industries have rapidly set up around this bottom-feeding form of journalism and compete robustly against “mainstream” media — tabloids like the National Enquirer, where the other day it was  “reported” that Julia Roberts is seeking to adopt a child from an impoverished culture, a la Brangelina, and that the marriage of Prince William and his fiancée Kate Middleton is now in jeopardy due to the financial hanky-panky of Middleton’s brother James (as well as the revelation that her uncle James is a coke-sniffing playboy with a penchant for dealing drugs and hookers).

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Oksana Grigorieva and bellicose ex-boytoy Mel Gibson.

Over at the new-media tabloid TMZ, you can read all about the latest spat between Mel Gibson and his ex-girlfriend / mother of his child Oksana Grigorieva, or about Brittney Spears’ dabble with recording while she otherwise does the cha-cha with paparazzi, shopping and partying and ducking into your average white gas station loo to relieve her solid-gold bladder.

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At TMZ.com, it’s all Britney, all the time.

War in Afghanistan? Iran with nukes? This country headed for foreclosure? Who cares, when you can see pix of Katy Perry’s Vegas Bodacious Bachelorette Bikini party?

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Left: Lance Corporate Matthew Albert Snyder, killed in action on March 3, 2006, in Al Anbar, Iraq. He is news now because the Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday about the First Amendment rights of fundamentalists who protested at his funeral, some bearing signs that said that American soldiers were dying because God hates gays, or something like that. See below. Right: Katy Perry’s bachelorette party.

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Thus silly season reportage has become the only news that so many care to hear about, and gobble it 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

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Two

Political campaigns begin to heat up in the summer, and so  “silly season” gets additional cache from the ridiculous ends politicians will go to get elected -– kissing babies, making speeches from the back of trains, cutting taxes, being an advocate for every down-and-outer, promising snout to curly-tail of pork.

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The spending on campaigns these days is truly astonishing, with the attack TV ad become the main course, an opponent’s misdeeds (especially for those whose greatest error is that as the incumbent they have plenty of record to distort) framed in tabloid outrage and then resolved, in the final seconds, with a few images and slogans of the God-fearin’, family-oriented, flag-waving, glowingly-soft-focused candidate who “approves this message” from on high, apart from the goon PR machinery which doles out these steaming turds of vitriol with the same zeal that paparazzi stalk Paris and Britney, hoping to catch a stray bit of boobage or a DUI arrest because dirt is what America loves more than anything else.

At the gym yesterday I did my hard hour of cycling with a dozen or so huge TV monitors beaming the 5 p.m. World into my face =– local news, syndicated sitcom comedies, good ole Glenn Beck (hope you’ve seen “Right Wing Radio Duck,” featuring Donald Duck and the ideological vocal stylings of Glenn Beck), old motorcycles on the History Channel, endless Sports Chat on ESPN, Dr. Phil, etc.) When commercials ran, all of the monitors were linked by the same set of political ads for and against Florida gubernatorial candidates Rick Scott and Alex Sink, congressional candidates Alan Grayson and Daniel Webster, and Senate candidates Kendrick Meek, Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio.

A blizzard of harsh attacks and soft-glo endorsements, sometimes the same ad running simultaneously on three or four monitors. Television execs surely love the political silly season, with all of that obscene campaign war chest pouring directly into their coffers.

In direct proportion to the bankruptcy of duopoly politics, the squalor of the cross-party squawking descends every year to a deeper league of whale shit. Long ago the party wonks figured out that an ad which appeals to fear and fury translates into far more boots in polling booths than roseate trumpetings of fresh change in Washington. Still, some of the latter has to be thrown into the mix in order to give at least an appearance of a candidate standing for something other than an all-out attack on one’s opponent.

This sort of hardball Republicans excel best at, having long ago shown their willingness to heap up whatever dirt, however untrue or out of context, to destroy the image of an opponent in order to win elections and serve their vested interests.

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So now we’re thick into the greasy cheeks of the political silly season. There is no way to tune out the howl of manipulative rhetoric guaranteed to deliver results for all the wrong reasons–voting for what you fear more than what you advocate.

At least there’s some comedy in the works, too, if you think that appalling dunces like Christine O’Donnell have no chance of gaining office.

O’Donnell’s backlist of missteps and strange and/or idiotic pronouncements ought to give her Democratic opponent more traction than a monster truck — she defaulted on a house mortgage; owes $11,000 in back taxes; pays her rent with campaign contributions and faked her college degree. She’s taken extremist stands on abortion (she believes it should be banned under every circumstance, including pregnancies caused by rape or incest), vows never to increase taxes, supports environmental plunder in the name of “energy independence,” advocates the teaching of creationism in schools, opposes masturbation and says that gays have an “identity disorder.”

Whew. Many say she’s unelectable–a wholesale bonus for Democrats–but as Frank Rich recently pointed out, O’Donnell has just the sort of populist resume which appeals to so many of the angry dispossessed of The Great Recession. The GOP’s rosy embrace of O’Donnell conveniently masks their far greater corporate affiliations behind so much boob nonsense—just the sort of maneuvering in the past which got little folks of the Republican majority to vote in the GOP’s big-business agenda because the party was also against gay marriage and abortion.

Problem is, fools do have an excellent chance of getting elected. And when they are, the results have been disastrous. Think of that California actor who flawlessly delivered the lines of a right-wing assault on the government’s social contract, or of the right-wing radicalism of George W Bush.  Both were bonehead figureheads who played their role of President to a “T”: acting presidential while their cronies did the dirty work, cutting all of the regulatory restraints against Big Business and loosening the floodgates of wealth for the wealthy while the rest of the  country got poorer and poorer.

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The actor and the oilman, rustlin’ up some policy for their Benefactors.

Fools were given license to mock the king, and even got to wear the crown for a brief time during the Twelfth Night revels after Christmas—-but even a lame king like Jimmy Carter is was always a lesser evil to handing fool like George W.  Busch or perhaps Sarah Palin the scepter; the joker’s talents as an outsider who is privileged to mock and satirize and say things no one else is permitted to becomes a monstrosity when s/he presumes to rule.

The Tea Party Express would be far more effective as a comedy troupe than as a movement all too convinced of what only tallies as rebelliously unschooled and out-of-date beliefs. But try to convince America of such a thing. Just watch that grifter / opportunist / helicopter-hunting soccer mom of an IQ-challenged opportunist Sarah Palin win the White House in 2012, and see how much worse a court of fools is compared to a congress of wonks.

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Ah, well. When Silly Season becomes the Times, the joke is on us.

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There’s something voracious and pestilential about “silly season” when it exceeds its boundaries as it has in our times. Political campaigns now start the day after elections; there are celebrity channels like E!  which stay on the job 24-7; there are news channels like FOX Cable News which are dressed-up versions of good old right-wing talk radio, a glamorous eternal soapbox for venting every bit of unsubstantiated “news” about The Enemy (Democrats, liberals, progressives, tax-and-spenders, tree-huggers, celebrity activists, the current President and Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader and anybody and anything else which represents the death of 1950’s America, dead now for 50 years.)

And when you consider the sort of money spent on campaign spending — $1 billion on the 2008 presidential election, a total $1.2 billion on congressional races for the 2010 midterms – there is no sensible link between cost and good results.  It’s like healthcare or CEO payrolls, a hyperinflation  in direct proportion to a nadiring of performance.

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When Silly Season goes 24-7-365, time is disordered, bent out of shape. It’s like a cucumber grown so large no maiden could ever offer berth to it. Festive seasons are by nature and necessity short, a brief remission of time, slowing a society to bleed off its repressions and privations. But indulgence is the handmaiden of greed, and as any addict knows, there is never enough booze or dope or pussy in the world to satisfy the boundless intemperance of the permanently unzipped.

Silly Season 24-7-365 is like the court of Scotland in Shakespeare’s Macbeth after the usurper murders king Duncan and fits the crown on his head. Knight of Swords becomes the Baboon King, the land bewitched by an unleashed bedevilment of lower Nature.

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Macbeth, false king of Scotland, and the Louie, Ape King of Our Jungle.

On the night that Duncan is murdered, the Old Man remarks to his son Ross,

Threescore and ten I can remember well:
Within the volume of which time I have seen
Hours dreadful and things strange; but this sore night
Hath trifled former knowings.

ROSS

Ah, good father,
Thou seest, the heavens, as troubled with man’s act,
Threaten his bloody stage: by the clock, ’tis day,
And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp:
Is’t night’s predominance, or the day’s shame,
That darkness does the face of earth entomb,
When living light should kiss it?

Old Man

‘Tis unnatural,
Even like the deed that’s done. On Tuesday last,
A falcon, towering in her pride of place,
Was by a mousing owl hawk’d at and kill’d.

ROSS

And Duncan’s horses–a thing most strange and certain–
Beauteous and swift, the minions of their race,
Turn’d wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out,
Contending ‘gainst obedience, as they would make
War with mankind.

Old Man

‘Tis said they eat each other.

ROSS

They did so, to the amazement of mine eyes
That look’d upon’t.

If our age is truly the crowned Silly Season, primal time resumes in our works;  Chaos rules. So much in our world is breaking down –-  the economy, the health system, the housing market, Congress, NASCAR –- surely it seems that the Vandals have cleared the Roman gates.

“Taking back America” is a motto of the Tea Party movement –- returning Time to its rightful order (I assume that means white and pre-digital). Sounds great; it’s real close to  Reagan’s “Morning in America”  However, both  amounts to telling people what they want to hear, rather than challenging people to grow up.

Fixing a broken system with scythe and hammer – the implements of every radical agenda, right or left – is the purest invocation of Stalin as Lord of Misrule, the Ape King with his phallus for a scepter and writing his writs by flinging shit in every direction.

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Well, ya get what you pay for.

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Three

“Silly season” in sport originally referred to the off-season, when off-field or –track speculation of team or star changes took the place of “real” sport news. It gives fans something to chew on as their sport goes into hibernation, keeping the imaginary fires burning, so to speak.

In NASCAR, whose off-season lasts from November to January, the phrase “silly season” has morphed, in a weird legitimizing way, to refer to the entire year of the sport, on- and off-season combined. Perhaps the premier website for news and information about NASCAR is Jayski.com’s Silly Season site.

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Silly Sesaon has thus become All NASCAR, All the Time: How could that happen in so absolute a fashion? How could hiatus become permanence? How could NASCAR’s essential identity be so tethered to whatever for any other reason that something so marginally a sport could only offer marginality as proof of existence?

As evidence of this, I relate an experience riding the freebie bus back to Lot Seven after the Bud Shootout at Daytona in Feb. 2009. I laid out the scene back then in post titled “Let the Racin’ Begin”:

The evening’s best moment comes as we settle in plush rows of seats at very the back of the bus which lumbers slowly toward Lot 7. It’s completely dark on board and the windows are half-fogged as the bus makes it way into rural night. Maybe these lots are all owned by Daytona, but there’s a fast transition away from civilization into prehistory; brilliant track inverts into a vast envelope of undeveloped darkness.

Safe inside where it’s warm with human presence, our section at the back breaks into easy conversation. Four or so couples who surely don’t know each other but who share the same great Oval faith begin to recap the race.

“Good thing Dale Jr. wrecked early, or we woulda had a lot longer to wait for this damn bus,” says an old guy with a toothy smile. A convivial scowl emits from the woman sitting next to him, obviously a Dale Jr. fan. No concord in that home.

“Yeah but Edwards shoulda won,” a fat middle-aged woman sitting across from them asserts, her faith in her driver greater than anything the actual race could have suggested.

“Not a good night for my Biff,” a young guy says next to her. All heads nod in sage unison.

“I thought this one was gonna be Jeff Gordon’s for sure,” another old-timer says. “He sure hung in there the whole way.” Many heads nod to that too, whether in agreement with the observation or in concord with the hope.

“Aw, McMurray woulda won had not there been all those cautions,” another race fan interjects, causing more heads to nod though there are more grunts of protest. I’m going to bet that if McMurray keeps up his current pace, he may win the same grudging admiration that Kyle Busch earned last season. Winners are winners, no matter who they are.

“But my Carl shoulda won,” the fat middle-aged woman says again, asserting her faith, standing by her man.

Everyone laughs, and all feel cheered by this spontaneous gathering of belief which may be the only bond we share. Banter continues along these lines, everyone with a favorite driver and an expert on racing, retirees and young ‘uns, firemen and drywall installers, waitresses and meter maids and us, the virgin attendee-pro blogger and his programmer (who is responsible for many other websites), one weary busload of racing’s blood, circulating our way home. The bus rolls slowly on, into darker and darker regions, crossing roads where state cops hold back the traffic, the night giving right of way to we who have paid good money to watch the racin’ go round again.

In NASCAR’s heartland, the court of opinion rules, a court whose walls extend thousands of miles away from the tracks where races are decided. What fans believe is what matters, since it is they who are forking up all that dough to attend races, wearing the ballcaps and t-shirts and jackets and even jockey shorts bearing the insignia of their favorite racer. And if someone wants to stand up and give Jimmy Johnson the finger every time he goes round the track, then that fan is a fully blessed hierophant of NASCAR faith, an Elijah calling the faithful back to the blessed days of Dale Sr. (Who, truth be known, was awfully unpopular with fans until he died.)

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Indeed, considering how much the elders of NASCAR have bullied drivers and bellowed at the press, brownnosed sponsors and bastardized the sport with callous rule changes and rulings, the only legitimacy NASCAR can claim to have is the belief of its fans in racing, something which goes far beyond NASCAR but keeps the organization on its throne. No wonder the Silly Season defines NASCAR, for it is propped up by the endless machinations of collective opinion and conjecture.

Not very substantial stuff, which is why NASCAR could so easily disappear. If fan attendance and TV ratings are any indicator, the sucking sound in the NASCAR blogosphere is the noise of a sport headed down the drain.

(Perhaps there’s nothing unique about this. Silly Season 24-7-365 may come with the Internet turf and is afflicting every sport, every news event. But I blog NASCAR–sort of–so I’ll keep my fragmented lens pointed in that direction.)

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If NASCAR is the sum of what we believe about it – a gospel known as Silly Season — then what we truly know about NASCAR unimportant. This puts NASCAR up (or down) there with TMZ and the Tea Party Express, where truth is ipso facto what is interesting or desired if not exactly factual. Putare ergo NASCAR sum: What I believe is what NASCAR is.

Such a position allows everybody to be an expert, armed with knowledge that doesn’t have to be true to be real. You want NASCAR’s demise to be due to poor performances by Dale Earnhardt Jr., or dominating ones, at season’s end, by Jimmie Johnson? Then so be it.

The most obtuse – and thus apt — definition of “silly season” as it refers to NASCAR I think was gargled out of the mouth from Babelfish from and pasted on a bogus site titled About Pro Home Insurance:

The tenure stupid deteriorate is an during length used tenure in a universe of NASCAR. It refers to a duration during a deteriorate when drivers, sponsors, as well as alternative assorted group members make known their skeleton for a following season, customarily definition which they have been relocating to a opposite team. The NASCAR stupid deteriorate customarily began around mid-summer as well as lasted until early autumn, in copiousness of time to hope for a next season. Throughout a stupid season, most rumors per drivers as well as teams as well as their destiny locale whirl by a garage as well as in to a World Wide Web. However, most has altered in a universe of NASCAR, as well as stupid deteriorate is not defense to changes. For an collection of reasons, stupid deteriorate starts most progressing in a season, as well as does not appear to end, as well as if it does, it is weeks prior to a Daytona 500. Each year, it has turn increasingly lengthy.

“The NASCAR stupid deteriorate” — mangled translation fer sure but sheer poetry  as well.

Actually, I understood that better than a PR release from NASCAR dated August 30, 2010, that announced (no less) a re-organization of their marketing communications department:

… Following a comprehensive review of its communications function and public relations activity across the industry, NASCAR announced today that it will move immediately to create an Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) department that will better position the sanctioning body to lead best practices and provide overall thought leadership in the communications space for the entire industry.

“Our sport has unique challenges and very diverse constituencies and it has become clear that NASCAR must be a catalyst in this space to help all stakeholders find greater value,” said Brian France, NASCAR’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “This is a major investment for the company at a critical time and represents an elevation of this highly-important function for NASCAR and the industry. We are confident this evolved approach will yield immediate and long-term value for NASCAR, its media and business partners and the industry as a whole.”

The new communications structure will allow NASCAR to be even more effective on the competition aspects of the sport, an area where NASCAR was regularly cited in the review as being among the best when compared to other major league sports by media in all genres. It also positions the sanctioning body to take a much more strategic and offensive approach to selling the sport in a constantly-evolving traditional, digital and social media landscape. Three areas that will see greater communications resourcing and organizational focus moving forward include: brand and consumer marketing; digital and social media strategy and activation; and strategic collaboration with industry stakeholders …

Boy: “thought leadership in the communications space” … “a strategic and offensive approach to selling the sport” (my italics). Who are these guys trying to communicate with, anyway? Maybe it was code meant for their corporate bedmates, but the tone of it made me think that NASCAR is trying to charm back market share in its usual ham-handed, bullying manner.

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NASCAR’s current spin docs Jim Hunter and Ramsey Poston are getting a new boss–and a tweaked mission. I feel for these guys.

And there’s nothing like starting such a mission by shooting your current messengers (demoting Ramsey Poston and Jim Hunter) and initiating a “worldwide” search for a Chief Communications Officer.

Surely there’s a CCO in Pakistan who speaks English better than any of us.

And will do it on the cheap.

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Now back to the surgence of “silly season” belief, a schizophrenic hijacking of all sense of knowing what is important and what isn’t. In the court of fools, farts are  gold; in a land where silly season rules, shit on a joker’s stick trumps the collective wisdom of the Nine Muses every time.

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The Fool and the Nine Muses: Who’s leading who by the nose?

To wit: Just about every economist now believes that the TARP bailouts of 2008 saved the economy from tumbling into the abyss of depression and trimmed the unemployment rate by some five percent. But such facts have nothing do with the more potent, albeit false, belief that TARP was a socialist bailout of Jewish bankers which put a huge burden on our grandchildren.

To pine for NASCAR’s Golden Age (when the danger of racing truly infected the psyches of drivers) is like calling for America’s reclamation from evildoers and Black Housers and Commie-Progressive-Democrats, delivering us safely back into white-dominated, xenophobic, sabre-rattling past. It’s far easier to sell something that sounds too good to be true than something that merely is.

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Ah, for the golden age of Fireball Roberts to come agin, with his lucky Wynona in tow.

These silly season beliefs require no precision; if you believe that your daddy’s NASCAR makes the present moment seem like Babylon – or worse, Washington or Beverley Hills – fine. But to say this constitutes a consensus just because a lot of people are saying makes me wonder how much your daddy got around. “My Daddy’s NASCAR” is like saying “Our America,” as opposed to the one we have now. I daresay that beach racin’ is no way like the Brickyard, though they share the same era. Millions of like-believing fans repeat the same phrases without any real clue why their fellows are agreeing with them. It only suffices that they believe.

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Yer Daddy’s racin, Indy vs, Datyona style, ca. 1950.

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Four

“Silly” speculation and rumor about NASCAR dwarfs hard race reporting, which only the knowledgeable (and thus suspect) have any right (and agility) to report. What’s up with Junior? Where is Mark Martin going, and when is Kasey Kahne beginning? Why is Tony so surly with the press? What is bad bad NASCAR up to, making examples of drivers and teams which don’t make them as much money and fining drivers for saying things detrimental to the sport? Which drivers are dating and/or marrying which model, whose wife or girlfriend is having a baby? When will NASCAR change the goddam Chase format? Does anyone care that Jimmie Johnson stands to win an unprecedented fifth consecutive Sprint Cup Championship? Doesn’t everyone hate that?

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Such fluff is the stuff NASCAR dreams are made off. We fill our pipes with this dope and puff away, ruminating and speculating and masturbating over possibilities, gnawing away on the bones tossed to us by the officious and secretive, delivering the news by callous track and sport and media entities like NASCAR.com, the FOX News of racin’, as far and balanced as any corporate bedmate can be.

I so feel sorry for NASCAR journalists. (If you haven’t soaked a real one, do try Monte Dutton of the Gaston Gazette. I edit a blog called NASCAR This Week which features his coverage of the NASCAR season). They are bound by the conventions of their trade to be fair-minded, have no favorites and call things like they see it–with eyes trained on the entire sport– but are assigned to a beat where thehenanagans of the bloated, greedy and autocratic ruling body is a rung above roller derby.

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Monte Dutton (r)  on duty at the track.

The print press corps–the most informed and thus most difficult to control –have been relegated to increasingly minor spaces in track media centers, swept aside in NASCAR’s zeal to get airtime from radio and TV.  To make matters worse, these print journalists aren’t especially liked either by fans unless their sentiments fuse with their own. But that I guess is the nature of media consumption everywyere these days. People tune in to hear what they already believe, rather than to become convinced of this or that truth.)

And third, the print journo crew aren’t beloved by their newspapers, either. The American motorsports reporting cadre is about half the size it was five years ago as newspapers relentlessly sphincters its newshole becausee silly season competitors have sliced off their market share of advertisers and readers.

A lonely biz, and probably a dying one, not only for the shrinkage in the sport as well as the industry which covers it: but also because the Internet allows anyone to squawk away about anything, regardless of skill or qualifications. The blogosphere made silly sport of journalism, allowing license to fill a beat with the semblance of news; NASCAR bloggers are, on the whole, opinionated, biased, celebrity-crazed and prone to rant as they would, unbound from the old-school journalistic standards.  They have poured the highest, most combustible octane into the mix – no, nitro – adding a blinding whiteout of posts to the conversation, tooting and blatting every which way like matchsticked farts.

When NASCAR created its Citizen Journalist Corps, identifying 28 NASCAR blogs notable for their “professionalism, reporting and commentary,” they allowed these new media sites to get media creds for race events just like “traditional” media, as well as receive full access to their media outlets. Not that these guys and gals didn’t already have access; it was just an appropriation into the brand, which, by so doing, I suspect NASCAR hoped to get more pink in the effusions of the blogospohere.

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NASCAR Citizen Corpspersons Tallglassofmilk (Answer This, with Carl Edwards) and Valli Hillaire (The Fast and The Fabulous)

If you’ve read this blog, then you know I am no exception to effusion. I epitomize the worst of Silly Season silliness, with only as much real knowledge of the sport as I have gleaned over the past couple of years of reading Monte Dutton’s columns, attending just three races (two Bud Shootouts and half a Coke Zero 400) and digressing to the ends of the daily mind to get from the green flag to checkers of the next race of 2010, and probably never again after that. With plenty of eye-candy thrown in for blog-scanners who picked up their online reading habits from surfing porn sites.

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Gratuitous eye candy.

In NASCAR, the Silly Season never comes to an end; on- and off-season merge into one round of loquacious speculation, with the next season launching the day after the Vegas banquet celebrating the accomplishments of the last.

In many ways, time is an illusion in NASCAR, the season the sum of so many laps and races and points on the map; it’s all just one damn oval, turning left for nine months and then dreaming for three months of those left turns, rehashing great and stupid moves, the endless attention of fans decked in their gear, holding up cellphones to capture their celebrity for eternity, fending a juggernaut of crew members and crew chiefs, owners and sponsors, NASCAR officials and nail-biting wives, family members and media and buddies oh my …

Technology reduces the field of endeavor to Just Me with my laptop and blog, chattering on about My NASCAR as if I were Brian France – or should be – offering my fool’s advice to a billion-dollar corporation who fawns on me for my money while harassing me if I attempt to infringe on Their  franchise by attempting to monetize my blog.

It’s essentially My Silly Season, with my voice and vote the only one that matters to me, even though no one else gives a shit what I think or that I even try to say it. Technology gives me NASCAR 24-7-365 access if I care to have it, and boundless room for intemperate speculation, like the silly spiculation of rain all night on a leaky roof.

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Five

Silly Season 24-7-365 delves into a thicket of science which has to do with the end of time, or theories which are re-addressing our conventions of time. In the disordered court of Macbeth, time is “out of joint,” topsy-turvy, unnatural. Our time, especially in the new media’s million-fold lens, like a fly’s-eye — is dizzy, happening all at once, all perspectives thrown in, so complex there’s no way to fully perceive or conceive it. The Editor has been beheaded and Chaos is the cup reporter, the sorceror’s apprentice now tasked to report the news.

It’s madness, really, a specie of schizophrenia, where the conscious membrane or filter has been irrupted by the unconscious substream, a babbling brook of voices suppressed and inappropriate and just damn bad now in charge, like a fool’s court. (The Fool engages in craziness as his trade; the madman doesn’t know he’s crazy; and the blogger hollers away in the voids of Cyberspace, foolishly convinced that his or her voice is the choicer madness, surely on the verge of someone’s recognition and bigtime pay and fame. Who’s the greatest fool?)

Another NASCAR blog just adds to the carnage of knowledge with another surfeit of belief, but it’s understandable – every person has a right to put up what walls and boundaries they can around infinity, carving out a semi-conscious homestead somewhere in the cyberverse.

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A blog is like Yorick’s singing skull, providing another View on The News, babbling away to fend off the towering tide of social media it is part of. Cogito ergo putare — I think, therefore I believe; I dream, perchance to invade NASCAR’s inside realm, join that party, schmooze with my driver, tweet with his wife about their baby and dog, drive the damn car myself to victory.

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This media —- the space I litter with my own dusting of posts — offers the perception of inclusion exactly the way the Silly Season creates a virtual sense of NASCAR’s reality, even though it’s all smoke and mirrors, the way celebrity outshines the person who ferries it, the way that the coded jargon of political campaigns are rallying cries of nonsense. Give me back my daddy’s NASCAR? Sure. Party with butt-nekkid Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian in the glow of their sex tape? Unzip and have at it. Take back this country to prelapsarian Kansas, 1950, to the one nation under God proposed by Glenn Beck’s over-written Founding Fathers, deists become fundamentalists in Beck’s rodeo-clown view of history? It’s a free country, right?

Silly season madness gives all the permission in the world because anything goes in its fool’s court, or rather,  nothing truly happens in the minds of believers. It is a rebellion against time, or a subversion of it, freeing oneself of the briars of the present for the womblike glade of the pre-historial past with its million-year-dreamtime. Who wouldn’t want to revert, if they could? Why do you think substance abuse is so prevalent in this country as millions take exception to their reality and clock out for their zombie zone of their choice.

But maybe science has to take some of the blame for this. Traditional conceptions of existence which have been a part of our brainpans for hundreds of thousands of years are getting drowned by a quick update as new discoveries of the universe pour in.

Time itself is changing as the universe’s mysteries become better known. And what the space docs diagnose is not that the universe will come to an end – sorry, end-of-worlders – but rather that time itself will cease, rendered meaningless in the evolved order of things.

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An article by George Musser in the Sept. 2010 issue of Scientific American titled “Could Time End?” identifies four cosmic stages which will result in the end of time as we know it:

1. Loss of directionality — Time’s arrow breaks: “Time will stop marching forward when the universe exhausts its useful energy and reaches a condition of general stasis.” This follows the model of the eternally expanding universe but works in other models as well. “From then on, the only activity will be the random fluctuations of density and energy, causing clocks, if there are any left, merely to jiggle back and forth.”

2. Loss of duration — Time can now longer be measured: “The concept of duration will become meaningless when all systems that mark out regular time intervals fall apart or get swallowed by black holes. Energy may leak back out of the black holes, but it does so as radiation – that is, as photons and other massless particles. Because such particles have no fixed scale and do not change with time, they cannot be used as the basis for new clocks.”

3. Loss of causality – Time morphs into space: “Time may be reduced to just another dimension of space, breaking the link between cause and effect. One way that can happen is if our universe is a “brane” floating through a higher-dimensional spacetime, and this brane begins to whip around so fast that the time dimension bends over and becomes a spatial one, producing what we would experience as a ‘big freeze’”

4. Loss of structure – Time’s geometry dissolves: “Time disappears altogether as the universe descends into anarchy. This anarchy breaks out at the deepest level of reality, even deeper than that of the known particles and forces. Processes become so complex that they cannot be said to occur at specific places and times.” In this concept, the universe may actually be two-dimensioned, taking on what is only a three-dimensional appearance because of “regularities” – stars which don’t change for a long time. But where stars collapse, universal forces become chaotic; when all stars have burnt out into black holes, the illusion of 3-d space disappears, leaving the Projectionist to deal with a complex, timeless soup of chaos.

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Scary stuff, I guess, though neither you or I will be around for it; we’re talking tens of billions of years in the future when these events might happen. And of course, read the column titled “50, 100 & 150 years ago” in the September 2060 issue of Scientific American and the leading-edge concepts laid out above will seem so silly and stupid, refined as our sensibility will have become due to half a century of advanced knowledge. That is, if the Christian Rapture doesn’t come first, re-establishing God’s time on Earth.

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But we don’t actually have to wait to see what happens –- all of the scenarios for time’s end are in play right now  in the concept of Silly Season 24-7-365, as empowered in the speeding universe of cyberspace. Omnimedia is not omniscient – reserve that for The Deity of the bicameral mind, which we began to lose some 10,000 years ago – but it is everywhere and everything at once, which sort of makes any timeful passage through it rather Goth. It’s hyper-immediate yet hypo-sensical; hippocampical and hypno-cucumberal; where is this shit coming from but rents in the fabric of sense, shredded by this whirling dervish of preter-knowledge and uber-beliefs.

And so we hurry on to Fontana with all of the current NASCR storylines intact, like tethers to a gigantic floating racecar a la the animated flick “Cars” – Johnson surging, Harvick on his rear bumper, Hamlin floundering, Kyle Busch flubbing, Smoke surging then gurgling, Bowyer waving sheepishly far in the rear, every appeal to reverse NASCAR’s penalty against his time for chassis intolerance rejected—as if that ever happens).

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Oh and don’t forget the sideline hoopla which a race gal drinks like Southern Comfort, all of those cute babies held by drivers in firesuits, hot girlfriends become moms, the dream of multimillion dollar romance engaged as the heads of those NASCAR soccer moms are replaced with every Sally and Sarah and Betty Jo to fuck around with Photoshop as they dream the dream from dingy trailers and foreclosing bungalos around the heartland.

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Living the dream.

Silly season 24-7-365 makes it all too possible to emigrate to the lah-lah Land of Oz and call it home, rid of dustbowl Kansas 2010 (where the summer was especially feral, coming off an exceptionally ferocious winter) for good. What You Will is the alternate title for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a bit of foolery to entertain the troops between the holy rigors of Christmas and Epiphany; only now its “What You Will, All The Time” in silly season parlay. Disney World become My World, not because it’s possible but  because I believe it’s so.

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Six

So what news did you catch on Wednesday, the final day of drafting this post? The 24-hour news cycle was busy.

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Randy Moss was suddenly traded to the Vikings from the Patriots.

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The sports channels of ESPN and NFL-TV were throbbing on the testosterone of receiver Randy Moss’s sudden departure from the New England Patriots for the Minnesota Vikings, with speculation ripe on the wires about why the Patriots would do such a thing (Moss did not have a catch in the Patriots’ 41-14 trouncing of Miami last Monday night) and what it will mean for the 1-2 Vikes’ struggling offense.

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Roy Halliday pitched a no-hitter against the Cincy Reds in the first game of their division playoff.

All that talk was suddenly eclipsed by the news, in the early evening of the no-hitter thrown by Roy Halliday of the Philadelphia Phillies against the Reds (who led the league in hitting during the regular season) in Game One of their division playoffs. It was the first no-hitter to be thrown in post-season play since Don Larson pitched a perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series, and only the second time such a feat had been accomplished in the majors. Adding to that, Halliday pitched a perfect game earlier this year against the Rays. Talk about all of that! Which the sports wires did, shoving Moss aside as news that was so earlier Wednesday.

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Missing Pretty White Young Woman Paige Johnson.

On CNN’s tediously outraged “Nancy Grace,” we got the next installment in the Abused Pretty White Girl cycle, with news of the disappearance of Paige Johnson, a beautiful teen mom, and another story about a young black mother who left her 3-year-old girl alone to go out dancing; the child was found by cops at 3:30 a.m., wandering the neighborhood near her home. Guess where America’s sympathies flow.

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Singer Toni Braxton and Octomom Nadya Suleman.

Over at TMZ.com, we hear that singer Toni Braxton (who has sold more than 40 million albums over her career) is facing bankruptcy with possible liabilities of more than $50 million dollars to creditors ranging from Neiman Marcus, the William Morris Agency, the Four Seasons Hotel, the IRS, Orkin Pest Control and the City of Los Angeles Parking Violations Bureau. And it looks like Octomom Nadya Suleman will avoid foreclosure due to an offer of $20,000 by the fetish porn site Clips4Sale.com; all she has to do is have her hair washed and endure some tickling.

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Bumper-butters David Reutimann and Kyle Busch.

Over at Jayski.com’s Silly Season site, we find out that NASCAR officials plan to meet with Kyle Busch and David Reutimann, tweaking their 2010 “have at it, boys” policy with a soft, penalty-less reminder that their actions affect all the racers on the track. Also, Kenneth Luna, a crew member in the Nationwide Series, was suspended by NASCAR for violating sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) and 19 (violation of NASCAR’s substance abuse policy). And another crew chief – this time Steve Kuykendall, crew chief of the #13 team that competes in the NASCAR Nationwide Series was suspended for garage shenanigans involving carburetor tweaks. Another example made of someone who apparently doesn’t have a positive financial impact on the corporateion — the #13 team isn’t even listed on Jayski’s site.

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Garrett Gordon is a chip off of dad Jeff’s shoulder. No “crybaby” jokes, guys.

Over at Answer This, the NASCAR Citizen Journalist WAG blog, things are quiet -– Tallglassofmilk, the site’s operator, must have fallen in love elsewhere –- still, on the home page there’s a pic of Garrett Gordon, Jeff Gordon’s No. 2 child, playing (OK, placed) in the chassis of a race car. A son to race to glory! There’s hope yet for Gordon’s failed dynasty.

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You had to care about “hard” news –- so few do, these days –- to tune into reports about arguments made before the Supreme Court on Wednesday about a case involving fundamentalist protesters who picketed a private military funeral in 2008. Jihadists of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas (Kansas!) used the funeral to spread their message that God is punishing the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality by killing its soldiers.

The father of the soldier (who was not gay) who was being buried was not amused and sued the church, claiming that the protests had violated the family’s privacy at an specially painful moment.

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“We’re talking about a funeral,” Sean E. Summers, a lawyer for the father, Albert Snyder, told the justices. “Mr. Snyder simply wanted to bury his son in a private, dignified manner.”

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Albert Snyder, father of Lance Corporate Matthew Albert Snyder, killed in action on March 3, 2006, in Al Anbar, Iraq,

Snyder had won an $11 million jury verdict against the chucrh’s pastor, but an appellate court overturned the ruling on First Amendment grounds. So the Supreme Court case was all about how far the right to speak your mind — no matter how hurtful your thoughts are — should go.

The lawyer on the other side, Margie J. Phelps, said the First Amendment protected the protest, where seven pickets at some distance from the funeral carried signs with messages like “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God hates you.”

Ms. Phelps is a daughter of the pastor of the church, Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. Her argument alternated between smooth exposition of First Amendment doctrine and support for the church’s message.

“Nation, hear this little church,” she said. “If you want them to stop dying, stop sinning.”

Looks like Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church will have sway with the conservative Roberts court. And strange bedmates sided too with the antagonists of Westboro. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 21 news organizations, including The New York Times Company, filed a brief supporting the Kansas church. It said the First Amendment protects even hateful speech on matters of public concern.

Before the argument in the case, Snyder v. Phelps, No., 09-751, members of the church protested outside the Supreme Court. Abigail Phelps, another of Mr. Phelps’s daughters, carried a sign that said “America is doomed.”

Shades of Terry Jones and Dove World Outreach Church in Gainesville, where an “International Burn the Koran Day” was pre-empted by pleas from David Petreus and the White House, on the grounds that such “free speech” would result in more dead GI’s in Afghanistan and Iraq. And the goddamdist thing about it is that these idiots hijack so much bandwidth flouting beliefs like bared penises at a wedding—flagrantly, inappropriately, stupidly and with total abandon, because Silly Season rules are in effect, a fascism of fancy over truth, tempering superego murdered like King Duncan, the fool’s court of public masturbation in session, linking in its 24-7-365 circle-jerk politicians, NASCAR, the religious right and every 300-lb Paris wannabe with a laptop and a sugary belief that destiny awaits.

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Teaching the meaning of the First Amendment to our young.

Maybe the Mad Fools of Middleboro are right. Maybe we are doomed–not by lack of belief in their God, but rather to the surfeit of their own belief.

Clocks are racing backwards and forwards in this silly season, destroying time – history and future at once – in the manner that stock cars race counterclockwise (backasswards, turning left instead of right every time) in their furious attempt to cross the finish line ahead of everyone  else.

It’s the same way that the Weird Sisters in Shakespeare’s Macbeth danced widdershins (counterclockwise) thrice around their black simmering pot, winding up the charm to triple back-assed potency, brewing a topsy-turvy destiny for the foolish pretender who would be king and instead returned the land to chaos.

It’s the Silly Season way – 24-7-365 — and the rule of its fools is absolute.

So have at it, boys of summer, now in Chase of the home stretch, spiraling backwards to glory.

That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it, like an ape turd on a fool’s giggle-stick.

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