Bush lifts drilling ban, oil execs leer, nation cringes, Obama sighs
Everybody get bloody: Why do we so love images of brutal misery and pain?
Going Obama-less: How I managed to miss the most celebrated event in recent U.S. history
I Twitter for you!
My handgun, my parasite
The Remote Control Penis
Totally Gay Happy Meals
You are not reading enough

I Twitter for you!

Too old/busy/jaded to 'social network,' but still want to seem hip? Call now!

Are you a Net neophyte? Very, very late bloomer? Profoundly paranoid about the totally CIA-monitored Interweb?

Do you still prefer to get your news and information from disposable printed matter made from poor ol' trees because you believe all high-tech gizmos are a total soul-sucking waste of time except maybe for your George Foreman grill and the old FM radio in the truck? Read on, friend.

Speaking of friends, do you have any? Do you have enough? How do you know? Are you sick of hearing about the "social networking" phenomenon, all those Web 2.0 companies with geeky-sounding names like Facebook and MySpace and Twitter and Tumblr and LookSpaceBookFeedPlaceWad, sites where 'friends' flock together like flies to cow eyelids and everyone's young and cute and funny and jacked-in to the cultural zeitgeist, but you have no idea what it all means or why you're supposed to care because you have, you know, a real life, yet you still have this nagging feeling that a potentially rich, exciting aspect of the culture is passing you by like an ice cream truck in summer?

Worry no longer, dear one. Salvation it at hand.

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The concept is very simple. Who needs Facebook and MySpace and the like? You do! But who the hell has time for such pathetic digital hoo-ha nonsense when there's dishes to be washed and gardening to be done and kids to be driven around and thorny little roses to be stopped at and smelled? No one!

That's where Geekamania comes in. Let us do the annoying but necessary-evil social networking crapola for you! For a small monthly fee, we'll keep you connected and relevant, even vaguely respectable/marginally noticeable to the jaded, spiteful, easily distracted ADHD youth of today, whether you think you want to be or not. It couldn't be easier!

Here's how it works: After we receive your credit card info, you fill out a small mountain of lengthy, deeply personal, oddly phrased questionnaires about, well, every aspect of your life. Personal tastes, travel experiences, sexual hang-ups, irrational fears, childhood traumas, recent car troubles, gross bodily functions, marriage-destroying sports obsessions, weight issues, sexual fantasies about Obama, nightmares and medications and lingering, acidic resentments over old boyfriends, along with your seething hatred of rude cell phone users and people who eat stinky tuna on the bus.

And don't forget the photos! We want them all: you on a rope swing, you scarfing pizza with 10 very pale people from your softball team, you looking all sullen and resentful at your friend's wedding, you with horrible red-eye, a blurry shot of your toes (artsy!), you and your best bro posing with Tera Patrick at the AVN Awards and grinning like monkeys, the works.

Don't forget to include lots of snapshots of your cats, your kids, your golfing buddies, your prom, that one shot of you from the office Christmas party where Darren from Accounting has his arm draped around you and is clearly pawing at your breast and no one can believe you're actually dating that alcoholic loser.

We take it from there. We design, set up and maintain as many hip social networking pages as you want, spinning off the information you provided but also totally rearranging it and making it up at will, all to make you sound exactly as cute/clever/sexy/boring/lonely/unstable (you choose) as you've always dreamed. You don't have to do a thing!

How do you know it's working? That's easy. We send you, every month, a breakdown of all the activity on your various sites. The best messages, meanest postings, weirdest comments, the most embarrassing photos of your supposedly hot-looking connections -- and, most importantly, the names and personal stats of all the new "friends" we've earned for you, all broken down into nice pie charts and bar graphs and color-coded thingamabobs. Just like USA Today, only even less useful.

What should you do with all this amazing information? How the hell should we know? Viva la revolución!

Here's just a few of the recent Facebook/Twitter status updates we created for our satisfied customers:

"Susan is eating banana pancakes and watching the rain."

"Tom is slamming some cold beerz and organizing a fantasy football league instead of feeding the baby. Don't tell wifey!"

"Erin just noticed a boo-boo in her knitting and now has to undo four hours of work. Grr!"

"Jen got up at 7am to do laundry only to find the machine is busted and then she broke a nail hitting it with her hand. God my life sukks!!"

"Tina is STILL looking for love but finding it in all the wrong places LOL!!!"

"Jay is eating Thai food with Morgan and watching a 'Mad Men' marathon. So gud!"

"LouAnn is sad."

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Still not convinced? Still claim you really don't care about any of this Web 2.0 crap because you have a "real" life to lead? That's OK. We know you're lying.

Of course you care. Look, all the kids are doing it. Hell, even old folks and parents are on Facebook these days, not to mention all your co-workers and former lovers, and didn't I just see a grainy cell phone pic of some surfer dude sucking a Jell-O shot from your ex-wife's thigh at the Hard Rock in Cabo? Dude, it was totally her. I just saw it in my Facebook news feed. Whoa.

Look, we know how it is. Most days, it's all you can do to walk upright and shove food in your mouth and into the gaping maws of your various demons, much less bother with keeping up with the insufferable digital revolution.

Let us take the anxiety out of keeping you remotely relevant to the culture before you die all alone in a cold garage somewhere. Let us give you the vibrant, multifaceted life you always wanted but never had the time to invent, spell-check, cross-post, drunkenly update and freak out over for yourself.

Remember our slogan: "Geekamania: Because you don't have time for this sh-t."

Going Obama-less: How I managed to miss the most celebrated event in recent U.S. history

I was hoping for a piercingly unique perspective.

I was hoping the fact that my first sticky and sweltering and reasonably exotic vacation in years just so happened to coincide with the most thrilling American presidential inauguration in my lifetime would mean I'd almost surely return with some sort of singular, coolly global take on the glorious Obama transition, some quirky or slightly unorthodox or at least decidedly non-American view on the whole magnificent, heartrending switchflip. I mean, how could I not?

It would be, I assumed, a perspective that would help underscore just how giddy and thrilled and intensely relieved the entire planet was that The World's Worst was finally back to shoveling manure and monosyllabism at his dishwater ranch, while someone who spoke in complete sentences and actually enjoyed dancing with intellectual complexity was finally back in charge, and hence the U.S. could finally breathe again and the toxin had finally receded and is it not still the most remarkable thing ever?

In fact, I figured there'd simple be no escaping it, this tremendous event I cared so much about, the buzz and the headlines and the deluge. The inauguration was so historic, so electric, that the Obamafied jolt would be felt from the Mission to Macedonia, from Budapest to Bolivia, from Slovenia to Scandinavia to right where I was getting my bones blasted clean somewhere on the sticky and sweltering edge of southern India.

Didn't happen. Not even a little. Oh, there's no doubt the news, the headlines were out there all right, buzzing like swarms of happy malarial mosquitoes hovering over the slums of Mumbai, with hundreds of millions of locals paying close attention indeed. But for some incredible and curious reason, I missed it all completely. And, as it turn out, intentionally. What a thing.

Or maybe it's not all that curious. Maybe it has far more to do, at least in part, with that splendid reminder I'd long forgotten, the same fine memento that every regular globe-trotter already knows, and which, to my mind, remains perhaps the most astonishing facet of long-distance travel.

It is, of course, just how terribly easy it can be, how powerful and jarring, to entirely detach, to unplug, to get so far around the world and spend enough time in a place full of unfamiliar smells and fantastically spiced foods and inexplicable toilet design that you very easily upend your entire normal worldview. I repeat: What a thing.

Admittedly, I spent most of my stint in India in the lush funk of Goa, an odd, hybrid coastal state that's one big dose of Indian culture intersliced with all sorts of wanton flavors, most significantly Portuguese (the original colonizers of the region until India yanked it back by force in the '60s), but also hits of Mexico, Vietnam, Bali, Costa Rica, Hawaii, you name the sweltering muggy funky gorgeous sprawling overgrown ever-decaying hippie-injected tropical locale, Goa has a big hookah hit of it.

But remote or no, I still had options. I still could've found a way to jack in. After all, the news media is my lifeblood. It is how I'm wired, has drenched my life for well over a decade, is the thing that oft makes my id go. And of course, this inauguration was the culminating event, the climax, the merciful end to more than eight years of unbearable suffering and socio-spiritual decay for millions of us bipeds who cared a whit for the health of the planet, the soul, the mind, various flora and fauna.

Put another way, no one was more ready, more excited, more grateful to be rid of Bush and to celebrate the grand Obama changeover than yours truly. The inauguration was the perfect-pitch moment I'd been waiting for, quite literally, for years. How could I possibly miss it?

And then, it happened. Or rather, didn't. On the big day, with the entire world riveted to our country's most stupendous ceremony in a millennia, there I was, seeking out no Net café, no international newspaper, no local bar with a fuzzy TV tuned to CNN where I would sit, transfixed and elated, ice-cold Kingfisher in hand, cheering and sighing and smiling from 9,000 miles away, as the world changed for the better.

In fact, I was nowhere near it. With the exception of a few expats talking it up and a few happy foreigners congratulating me on how my nation was finally regaining a large dose of international respect, I just simply... let it all go.

I do recall feeling some vague tug, some notion that I should really be doing something, writing and processing and whispering profound somethings into my MacBook Pro, eager to spend 50 rupees to jack in to the local Net and file a gleeful, celebratory column on the whole shebang from the far-flung mists of the land of Shiva. But that was about as far as it went.

What to make of it? What the hell happened?

Maybe I got it wrong. Maybe it's not merely about cheerfully unplugging from the grid when you can. Maybe it's not just about having your worldview flipped around by the glories of distant travel. It is, I think, far more about the unconscious. All about how you go about your day and your life thinking you know what you're all about, thinking you know how it all is gonna go down, that you know exactly what you do and what you need in any given situation.

But of course, the good news is, you know nothing of the sort.

Turns out, what I really needed most this trip, was to pay no attention at all. What my mind, my heart, even my body craved -- without my express written consent, no less -- was to not wrap my mind around any of it, to relax that mental grip I'd been holding for so long, even at this most stupendous juncture.

Hell, I was in India, after all. If there's one thing I learned about that sandalwood-scented land of pollution and poverty and teeming chaos and stunning, thick beauty and two million gods, it's that your normal expectations -- of self, of work, of mental processes, of how it's all supposed to be -- haven't the slightest chance in hell of surviving intact. Simply put, the place openly defies every concept of normalcy and strategy you can possibly hold. A plan? Krishna laughs at your cute little plan.

Which means you only really have two choices: fight that fact and get angry and flustered and miserable, or roll with it, let go, and smile as you place more flowers around Ganesha's happy head. With my sincere apologies to Obama, I'll take the latter, any ol' divine day.

The XXX of life: When even smut becomes quaint, you know times have changed

Please note: This is a column about porn. All sites and products mentioned herein, while quite safe and healthy for your heart and soul, are just incredibly, obviously NSFW. If you are foolish enough to view them at the office, I cannot be held responsible for any spontaneous screaming, fainting, or firing that might occur. This means you, Senator. Carry on.

So there I was, innocently burning precious life hours hunting down classic, grainy screen shots from various cheesy retro porn movies of the '70s and '80s for possible use as charming graphical augmentation for my upcoming book (The Daring Spectacle, a mouthwatering column compendium and then some, coming very soon and please join my mailing list to stay abreast), when I was struck by three curious revelations, only one of which was how blessed and delighted I am that I get to search the Web for retro porn from home on a crisp Sunday morning and call it creative work.

The second was that I am now old enough and "wise" enough and slightly alterna-curmudgeonly enough to see these photos, to watch some of these classic raunchy clips wonder aloud to myself, wow and gosh and sweet Jesus with a leather riding crop, whatever happened to that kind of fun, sexy, enchanting porn? Where have all those good times gone?

Whatever happened, in other words, to the authentic tease and the thump and the titillation, the wink and the wicked grin, wherein you knew even the performers themselves were slightly shocked and awed by the fact that they were getting naked and very, very nasty in front of a video camera and by the way oh my God would you look at all that body hair and the natural breasts and belly flab, and can you believe Ron Jeremy used to be young and reasonably thin? What is he now, 80?

It's sort of startling, the change in tone and attitude from then to now. Then again, it's also nothing new. Being a bit of an aficionado of things prurient and filmic, turns out what's happened to the culture at large, to media and TV and magazines and even politics and the economy, has struck the porn biz equally, if not even more intensely. Or rather, it's more accurate to say, it's the other way around.

It's a surprisingly dependable rule: As it goes in porn, so it goes in the culture. Porn has always been a fascinating, illuminating arbiter and canary of various trends and attitudes, economic and moral and sticky.

Sometimes the smut biz leads the revolution (CD-ROMs in every computer, online payment systems, streaming video technology, etc.), sometimes it follows instantly behind, providing crude but efficient, mock-a-licious commentary ("Who's Nailin' Palin" being the hottest porn title of 2008, right behind last year's "The Eliot Spitz-Her Story", and so on).

You already know, thanks largely to the Net and those damn whippersnapper kids with their crazy iGizmos, that print newspapers are gasping for survival and the record business is on life support, and even the movie industry is in all manner of terrified convulsion, as all traditional media suffers its most spectacular upheaval since Gutenberg dropped acid and realized a new way to shove ink onto paper.

Did you know that the colossal porn industry is suffering just as hard? That free smut sites like YouPorn and Xtube and PornHub and Red Tube and (my favorite name of all) Freud Box and roughly 8,000 others just like them are slaughtering the porn biz's once-indestructible cash cow, the porn DVD, leaving all SmutCos scrambling to create what my friends over at the wondrous have already mastered: the art of the targeted, high-quality online fetish experience?

Like any major cultural overhaul, some of the shift is glorious and creative and healthy indeed -- like kink, where the performers do seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves, at least a little, doing it for the pleasure and the joy and authentic dirtiness, or the new wave of amateur, "real," home-grown delights like and, et al. And some has been, shall we say and at least as far as I'm concerned, a little nauseating.

Professional porn, to be sure, has taken the road less subtle. Product has become so slick, manufactured, soulless and mechanized and micro-niche it seems impossible to find a truly sexy piece of professional raunch anymore. Most of the more modern fare is all about gynecological extremes and gross-out overkill, so much choking and gaping and spitting it's like a boring pool party at Caligula's condo. Not for the squeamish. Or the sexually joyful.

Of course, I admit this is also exactly what any grumpy old-timer would say about the flapper girls in the '20s, or the showing a bit of wrist in the 1790s. Whatever happened to subtlety? Whatever happened to a bit of tease and mystery? What's wrong with a nice bit of hand-holding and a furtive glance at the occasional exposed ankle meat? Mmm, ankles. Taste like chicken.

Which brings up my third feebly interconnected revelation. Turns out, no matter where you reside on the spectrum of sly hipster perversion, no matter how far off the mainstream grid you like to think you frolic, there is no escaping the curmudgeon factor of getting older. Ain't it a bitch?

It's what strikes me whenever I see one of those hardcore hipster dudes, the scowling Mission District waifs and biker chicks with the four-inch earlobe disks and the punk neck tats and the skater tees and the raw selvage and the cute hunkered slouch and the bagger job at Whole Foods.

I think: Just a few more years, sweetheart. I think: Not long at all before you glance back and see all a whole gaggle of wicked weird kids coming up behind you and go, dammit, whatever happened to innocent face tattoos and fanatical Wolf Parade concerts and ironic graphic T-shirts depicting Winnie the Pooh butchering a unicorn with a chain saw?

Or more on point: damn kids these days, with their crazy online homemade fetish porn and their incessant media upheavals, their hardcore heartless fetishes and gagging and butt plugs the size of small Volkswagens.

Where is the nuance? Where is the subtlety? Where are the cheesy, thumping background music and the leg warmers and the awful editing? Where are the even remotely authentic heat and joy and glint? And most importantly, does it not seem mandatory that we all watch a lot more porn, to try and learn something important about life?

Everybody get bloody: Why do we so love images of brutal misery and pain?

I do not know you. I do not know your temperament or your cosmic calibration or what angle of disposition governs your very being. Not yet, anyway.

I do not know, therefore, whether or not your heart allows or enjoys or for some ungodly reason really, really loves to wallow in relentless images of human beings either bloody, exploded, weeping, dead, limbless, drowned, terrified, on fire, butchered or malnourished or maimed or otherwise suffering in searing, tragic pain in every corner of the world at all times everywhere.

Is that you? Are you salivating at the prospect of such a cruel pageant? Do you wish at all times to be surrounded by images of woe and distress and heartwarming defenestration? Because if so -- and there must be quite a lot of you, really -- have I got a photo montage for you. A few, actually.

I stumbled on such a pageant recently. It was, if I recall, about 800 photographs taken by assorted shooters from the Reuters new agency, all gathered into a little online flipbook of incredible, relentless agony and posted somewhere on Yahoo for your viewing and cringing pleasure. Do you want to see it? No? Good.

It was, they say, a photographic overview of 2008, one of a myriad of year-in-review galleries posted all over the Net this time of year from every news agency and blog and newspaper you can name, ostensibly the best and most striking pictures taken of this thing we call the human experiment.

I find that, while sometimes these media scrapbooks can indeed be touching and profound, more often than not they seem most interested in exploring what it means to have large portions of your flesh ripped from your body. Charming.

Here, apparently, is the endless reminder offered by such media yearbooks: Bleakness rules the world, with occasional relief provided by cute polar bears or dew-dripped flowers or people making out during some sort of holiday or festival or enormous party to which you weren't invited.

But mostly, it is disaster. Pain. Death. Corruption and landmines and torture, bloody stumps waving in the air like high-fives from the devil. It is mangled face after war-torn body after wailing widow and did I mention the blood and the blood and the blood? I used to think browsing those noxious "What do they look like now?" scrapbooks of aging celebs and former teen idols on lowbrow tabloid sites like TMZ or Gawker was depressing. Ha.

I know what you're thinking: This sounds exactly like the kind of material, the kind of inexorable negativity, that justifies our deep loathing -- or at least a well-deserved mistrust -- of major media, that lets you blame them (or rather, us) for making the world seem so relentlessly dark and horrible because there you are innocently surfing the Net and sipping your coffee and feeling pretty good about your day, and hey that phantom pain in my abdomen finally faded away and maybe I'll get laid tonight and, wait a second, oh my God, what the hell is this and oh sweet Jesus is his entire face missing? What's wrong with her leg? Is that a giant tumor? Why is that child on fire? Do I really need to see this?

I think it was somewhere around the 200th photo of a (usually foreign, usually third world) face torqued in unbridled agony that I was hit by the same question I always run up against while working in major media: Is this all there is? Was this really our 2008? Tear gas and tragedy and so much splattered blood it makes "Saw IV" look like "Blues Clues?" Are we really made of nothing but suffering and gore and the occasional cute penguin in a Santa suit to make it all better?

Answer: Of course not. But this is what we see. These are the stories we seem to care about, that seem to define us the most, the ones that draw us in -- or rather, the ones that draw us down, into that low-vibration zone where it's ridiculously easy to wallow and simmer and sit like so many decaying couch potatoes in the dreary living room of human suffering.

It is not always easy to parse. I am in full agreement with the like-attracts-like principal, how low vibration begets low vibration and we are very much a culture that fetishizes death and pain, and hence we sort of get what we deserve. Blame "the media" all you like, but it is often as much a mirror as a perpetrator. Which came first, the gruesome image of the gunshot victim, or your weird, dark desire to stare at it until something shifts in your stomach and you feel like taking more drugs and kicking the dog?

But of course, it's not that simple. I'm also in full agreement with my friend Rob Brezsny, who argues that imagination and choice always supersede our worst cultural secretions. In other words, if you choose to believe the prophecies of doom and suffering spun by the soothsayers of the world -- including the news media but also popular culture, film, blogs, fiction, and so on -- then sure enough, that will increasingly become our story, and the sadness and pain will continue to manifest like a bloody volcano that never stops erupting.

It is perhaps the most significant question we face: Where do we find balance? How can we evolve past such reliance on horror and wallowing to tell us who we are? How can we shift the story, even a little, and focus our attention elsewhere?

Or to put it in more practical, capitalistic terms: How can we devise a world where uplifting or spiritually rich or open-hearted tales and images of life and love and energy get the same attention, the same number of profitable clicks, as relentless stories of, say, the wife who was shot in the head by an enraged husband who then killed himself and his three kids in the Wal-Mart parking lot?

Because I think I just saw that picture. I think I just read that story. Again. And again. And again.

The Remote Control Penis

They say the male birth-control pill is ready to go. But is something missing?

Vividly indeed do I remember the lovely and sordid tale my friend once told me, many years ago, of the terrific guy she once dated, a strapping young thing who - through a series of unfortunate childhood events - had to have a remote-controlled, robotic penis installed in his body.

Let me be more specific. Apparently, this fine lad's delicate man tissues had been damaged in a very unpleasant bicycle accident in his youth, and he could therefore no longer enjoy normal erections. Everything else functioned just fine, but when it came to sex, despite having full sensation, all systems were mangled, all blood vessels shot. Sad indeed.

But then, a savior. Through the miracle of modern medicine and not-so-modern pneumatics, ingenious doctors were able to install some sort of marvelous contraption, a valve and a rod and bladder and a little pump - a complete mechanical system by which our boy could, well, inflate and deflate his manhood at will, last as long as he liked, repeat as frequently as energy and soreness and lubricant allowed, and thereby enjoy a (relatively) normal sex life.

It worked like a charm. It also worked like an aphrodisiac, a mesmerizing technological miracle, and a pair of old Reebok Pump basketball shoes. What you did was: Squeeze a little bulb at the base of the perineum a few dozen times to inflate, to raise the flag and see who salutes. Enjoy indefinitely (!) When finished, simply reach up underneath into God's country and press a different little bulb to deflate the air bladder and, well, lower the mainsail (my friend said this particular procedure sounded like a sad squeaky toy, sighing slowly. She found it adorable).

(Here is where I'd like to tell you my friend's nickname for this lad, but they tell me this is still a family website and baffled children/grandmothers could be reading this and are already panicky that they saw the word "penis" on screen. So I'll just say it rhymed very closely with "The Wonder Sock.")

This heartwarming tale comes to mind as I read of how scientists have now developed a tiny valve they can surgically implant into the manhood of mankind to, well, control the flow of sperm at will. Your own built-in, reversible, radio-controlled vasectomy! they exclaim, with a winking Australian grin.

Apparently, said contraption involves a little remote-controlled switch that can, at the press of a button, activate or deactivate the flow from wherever it is that sperm flows (a musty little furniture shop somewhere on the outskirts of London, I think) by opening and closing a valve installed into the all-important duct known as the vas deferens. Nifty!

I know what you're thinking. A remote-controlled sperm valve? Are you crazy? Who the hell would want something like that?

I'll tell you who: Every modern male under 30, that's who. Hell, add in a digital camera and an MP3 player and maybe built-in GPS, and you've got the next iPod.

See, like my friend's wonder sock, I think such technology would play directly upon the dual modern male fantasies of unlimited penile dexterity and übergeek tech coolness. In the age of gizmo wonders and technologically advanced everything, why not a mechanically enhanced penis? Why not a little Iron Man in your iron man? Make it easy, make it relatively affordable, market it like you would the Bang & Olufsen stereo option on an Audi R8 (i.e., an invaluable enhancement, not a threat), and I say: Viva la revolucion!

It is, of course, all part of the eternal quest for an easy, idiot-proof male birth-control device for consensual adults that doesn't involve sheathing everything in miserable amounts of latex and therefore dulling the finest sensation known to all malehood next to perhaps a superlative foot massage and maybe sipping dark rum in a hot tub with nubile pagan fire priestesses from the moon.

But maybe such a valve won't be necessary. After all, they say there's already been a big breakthrough in male birth control, that scientists have finally developed a surefire "male pill" that knocks any man's sperm count down to zero, and all that's left is a bit of clinical testing.

So effective is the new pill that it's apparently safer than condoms, safer than the female pill, safer than staring at a photo of Ann Coulter for three full, agonizing minutes while your sperm commit mass suicide from sheer horror. Amazing.

But apparently there's a problem. Big Pharma doesn't seem to care about this new breakthrough. And why? Money, of course. They say there's just not enough interest. Men don't seem to be clamoring for it, the market doesn't seem to be there, millions don't stand to be made, and hence no one wants to fund more research on the thing, which could result in a wait of three to five more years before such a pill hits the market, if it ever does.

What's more, some argue that dumb-as-nails men are too unreliable for such a thing anyway, that no woman worth her weight in diaphragms and Nonoxyl-9 would dare trust a man to remember to take a pill every day, because of course men are generally irresponsible schlubs who can't even remember their own phone numbers and etc. and so on and cliché cliché cliché.

To which I say, utter and total B.S. There's not a smart modern male I know who wouldn't love to know he wouldn't - couldn't - get a date pregnant, that there could be no "accidents," that he will never get that life-altering phone call. Hell, there's already a trend whereby some baby-terrified men are getting old-school surgical vasectomies in their early 20s, rife with the fear that some nefarious huntress might try to snare them in the baby trap. Shift the power dynamics of fertility and birth control to men? Talk about your massive cultural psycho-sexual upheavals. Watch for it.

But maybe that's neither here nor there. Maybe the pill's researchers need to hook up with the valve engineers and the genius docs who installed my friend's lover's old penis pump way back when, and all work together to solve this most pressing issue and move humanity, uh, forward.

Which is to say, you want to guarantee men engage fully in matters fertile and impregnable? You want to make sure they care deeply about familial responsibility and planning? Don't just give them a pill. Give them a slick badass high-tech gizmo to deliver it, maybe a hot little button on their iPhones that not only shuts a microvalve and releases the pill's chemicals, but also boosts stamina, responds to voice commands, calculates the tip on the dinner bill, organizes their playlist according to a given date's particular mood, and of course, reminds them exactly where the clitoris is. Really, what more do you need?
Source: By Mrk Morford,

Totally Gay Happy Meals

It is the end of the nutball Christian right. Here is your proof. To go
Hey, remember the angry evangelicals? The quivering clan of militant Christoholics who propelled Bush into office and seized the national narrative for a few terrifying moments about five years back, ran deep into the woods with it and rubbed it all over their naughty bits in a frenzy of fear and confusion and lust for all things homophobic and saccharine and spiritually denigrating?

Dying. Nearly dead. Gasping their last. Very soon to be a footnote, a caricature, a gag, a punch line, blasted to the dustbin of history like dried housefly limbs after a sneeze. You should know this now.

Yes, you are right; they already were a caricature, a cultural pothole, a nasty rash in the armpit of society. But it wasn't all that long ago that they were, through a bizarre series of sociopolitical machinations still being parsed by baffled historians, a powerful rash, hugely newsworthy, as dangerous and unstoppable as they were wrongheaded and sad. Remember?

You were not much younger than you are right now. As the Bush era crested, as the neocons' power reached nuclear levels, when female nipples and f-words and evil gay agendas ruled the news, the evangelical Right -- led by the most virulent, spittle-flecked gaggle of mental throwbacks to ever stain the American newswires, Focus on the Family (Dr. James Dobson's clan) and the American Family Association and its nefarious leader, the Rev. Donald Wildmon -- these groups controlled, for a brief, awful moment, the national dialogue. They were the temporary arbiters of taste, the warped conscience of a freaked-out culture. And lo, it was ugly.

Rejoice, won't you? For their time is over.

Did you know the AFA recently boycotted McDonald's? That's right, this once semi-powerful tub of right-wing brain-caulk recently declared a comestible fatwa against America's foremost purveyor of toxic foodstuffs because, apparently, some high-ranking McD's VP just joined the board of directors of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which, to the AFA, somehow translates directly into free pink condoms and mind-controlling rainbow flags in every toxic God-fearing Happy Meal.

Did you read about that? No? Of course you didn't. Here is why: No one cared. Well, that's not quite true. McDonald's sort of cared, just enough to write up a nice letter of response to Wildmon stating, in essence, that the AFA is a bunch of troglodytic knuckle-draggers with the sociosexual awareness of a fungal spore, and they should crawl away right now before God spanks them even harder with the 2x4 of total irrelevance.

I might be exaggerating. What they actually said was: Thank you, AFA, for your hateful consideration, but we support our employees' right to join whichever socially responsible and positive groups they like. And thusly did McD's flick the AFA away like a tick from a dog. Isn't that amazing?

Now, you may argue that McDonald's and the other megacorps that the AFA has tried to boycott in the past, including Wal-Mart (for selling "Brokeback Mountain" DVDs to unsuspecting toddlers), the Disney Corporation (for its overall corporate support of the evil gay agenda) and the Ford Motor Company (for advertising in gay magazines), aren't shrugging off Wildmon's wide-eyed cult out of the goodness of their gay-loving hearts. It's not like the majority of McD's honchos actually give a damn about gay rights, or gay marriage, or social justice, or the deeper aspects of love.

Nossir, they do so purely for economic reasons, because it's just good PR, because they are safe in the knowledge that the AFA's rantings have exactly zero effect on their bottom line and lots of their own employees are gay -- and by the way discrimination based on sexual orientation is thoroughly illegal -- and therefore it simply makes more business sense to support tolerance than it does to endorse homophobia and general spiritual stupidity. Isn't that right, Boy Scouts of America? You bet it is.

But wait just a second: Is it still not fascinating in this day and age that our most powerful capitalist companies, those most associated with mainstream, dumbed-down, unhealthy, rather uninformed Republican Americana, even these megacorps are now openly and rather shamelessly supporting gay rights and tolerance?

Is it not, concomitantly, interesting that no one at all cares a whit for what the hell the AFA has to say anymore? Is this not a sign of something interesting and sea-changing and good? I think it is. McD's, Wal-Mart, Ford and Disney utterly ignore the Christian Right? What's next, an articulate black intellectual president? Oh wait.

It is made all the more amusing, more comical and cute, by another recent tidbit, the final evidence you will need that the evangelical Right has returned to its original state of inbred silliness, and therefore it is very likely indeed that you will never have to read anything more about them ever again until Wildmon and Dobson join Jerry Falwell and Jesse Helms in the Great Gay Bath House in the sky.

It is this: The AFA's Web site apparently has (or rather, had, until just recently) an auto-filter installed. So utterly terrified of anything remotely gay are these kindly folk that whenever the word "gay" appeared in any news story on their site, their autobot automatically changed it to "homosexual." True.

Thus did it come to pass that many fine stories about American Olympic track and fieldster Tyson Gay become a whole lotta wacky stories about the epic struggles of some unlucky runner named "Tyson Homosexual" to post some good numbers in the 100-meter dash. Poor guy.

And that about does it. Your final proof that God laughs and snorts and doesn't give a flying McRib sandwich about any particular gaggle of humans, particularly those who profess that they know and love and worship him more violently and blindly than anyone else.

Somewhere in all this, a moral, a lesson. Perhaps a curious anecdote about how, in this country, it seems like every agenda, every stupid idea, every rancid fireball of ignorant religious fanaticism nevertheless gets its moment, its 15 minutes, its desperate shot at guiding the culture, just to see if it can, if there's something of value, if there's something to be learned.

And when it comes to the sad Christian nutballs, well, the lesson appears to be wildly obvious indeed: Avoid the sad Christian nutballs, now and forevermore. Hell, even God could've told you that.

You are not reading enough

Has the Internet killed the joys of sitting down with a good book?

The pile is waiting. The pile is getting higher. The pile looks impressive, probably isn't, still feels slightly overwhelming, vaguely threatening, even as it sighs, waits, drums its fingers on the inside of my skull, promising all manner of wonder and insight and syntactical bliss if I'd just, please, maybe, right now, even for just an hour or three, pay it some serious, focused attention. Please?

It's a bit of a problem. More than that, it's a moral, ethical, personal issue, a deep indignity of the soul, a painful twist to the nipple of my id.

See, I love books. Admire and appreciate and adore. Was a lit major at Berkeley, read voraciously, still love to read, still like to consider myself a big consumer of books and deep thinker about bookish issues and ideas and authoralia.

And yet, if I'm painfully honest, I have to admit it: I barely read books anymore. Not nearly like I used to, anyway. Not for a long, long time. And chances are, if you're at all addicted to the new media vortex, neither do you.

It's become a social conundrum, a cultural sore spot, a morose sign of the times. The question has been posed by agents and writers and a confused, hyperconsolidating publishing industry: What happened to all the readers? What happened to the culture of books? And the hint of fatalism, just underneath: If few truly read anymore, what of the state of the American mind? How much more dumbing down can we possibly stand?

Oh sure, books still sell, product is moving like crazy, but by and large it's truckloads of self-help and how-to flooding over a precious handful of sure-hit novelists, topped off with the grand cherry that is Oprah, single handedly keeping the tepid melodramatic coming-of-age family saga alive. In between, 18 zillion copies of "Eat, Pray, Love."

But overall, the message is bleak: Fewer writers of real talent are being discovered, fewer publishers are willing to take any sort of risk, and serious, literary-minded reading, that glorious pastime, that fine personal art, the immersive and transportive and beautiful intellectual fertilizer, appears to be giving way to the more addictive but far less nourishing hellbeast of new media and the Net.

It's an easy beast to blame. I skimmed through Nicholas Carr's fascinating and depressing piece in the recent Atlantic Monthly ("Is Google Making Us Stupid?"), which talks up, among other things, the downfall of deep reading, of spending uninterrupted hours immersed in a literary tome or even a long essay, a victim to modern media's vicious ADD, short-attention-span approach to engaging the world of ideas.

Carr's upshot: The Net might actually be rewiring our brains, changing the way we read because it's changing the way we think, forcibly adapting us to tolerate only bite-sized summations and simplified blips at the expense of deeper thought, of the ability to parse ideas, to sink in for a long, committed intellectual journey.

Proof? That's easy: Just try to sit down with that dense copy of W.G. Sebald or Haruki Murakami after spending any portion of your week online, and watch as your Net-addled brain becomes almost instantly anxious and frustrated, eager after just a couple thousand words to jump away, ogle pictures, watch dumb teens humiliate themselves on YouTube, buy some shoes.

Christ, if TV numbs you out, encourages a passive, flaccid state of intellectual disengagement, the Net does the opposite, slamming so many tiny shots of pseudo-meaning and media and nothingness into your brain over the course of a few hours, it's like getting stung by a swarm of horny bees.

It seems all dour and dreary and unfortunate because not a week goes by that you don't hear about some gloomy book fair or publishing industry merger or the death of a legendary independent bookstore that just couldn't compete not only with Amazon, but with a generation trained to read nothing more challenging or lengthy than grammatically mangled e-mails or snarky text messages or snide 300-word pop culture takedowns on Gawker.

Ah, but I do believe all is not lost. There is lingering hope. I am moderately sure a brain thusly amped on the wicked energy drink of the Web can, through honest time spent, through forcibly yanking the Ethernet cable out of one's cerebral cortex, be re-rewired, untrained, re-addicted to the deeper juice. In fact, it isn't that difficult, really. We just like to think it is.

I can personally attest. About a year ago the most astounding thing happened: The hard drive on my MacBook suffered a rare and painful meltdown when I was away on vacation. I was, much to my initial horror, to be e-mail/Net-free for over a week. What was I missing? Who was e-mailing? What about all the blogs and the news and the Significant Global Happenings? What of all the salacious offerings of nubile flesh and social wonderment stroking my in-box as I sat there, entirely cut off and adrift?

Mercifully, the yoga kicked in and I quickly shrugged, sighed, noted the incredible opportunity, the gods trying to tell me to unplug. I hit the bookstore and bought three thick, sticky literary novels like a misguided vegan buys some grass-fed steaks for the first time, and devoured them whole.

As I did so, an amazing thing happened. Time slowed down. The brain quickly returned to its normal breathing. The mental seizures and the near-constant desire to click away and leap to something different, faded and soon vanished. And the books I so loved suddenly moved from the bottom of the intellectual priority list straight back to their original, top-tiered state of grace.

I vowed to never let them drop so low again.

Even though, right now, they have. Even though, right now, even as I add to the glorious pile of must-reads on my desk, I realize I've been sucked back into Net-time again, back to the world of instant feedback and clickable everything, as the pile grows heavy and scornful and lonely. Ah but here again, an opportunity. For it is here that I remember the most wonderfully humbling lesson of all ...

When I finally got my precious MacBook back, when all e-mail was restored and all Net access was re-granted and I was able to dive back into the perky digital maelstrom, when I spent a few hours and got all caught up, it finally hit me: I'd missed exactly nothing. The world was exactly the same. The beautiful churn continued, same as it ever was, with or without me. Isn't that fantastic? Someone should write a book about it.

My handgun, my parasite

Never forget: The brutal effects of the Bush regime will be felt for generations.

Ah, so this is how it's gonna be.

Like recurring cancer. No, more like a rogue rash, an STD, flaring up at unexpected times and in unexpected places and when it fades, you gently let yourself forget all about it until it suddenly erupts and hits hard and ruins your day, and then you can only sit back and moan softly, slather on ointment, shudder.

Wait, one more: Maybe it's most like a nasty intestinal worm, a wicked parasite like those you suck down in India or deep Mexico or the jungles of Indonesia, the kind that burrow deep and attach to all manner of essential organs and induce a wicked bout of dysentery or all-over body convulsion, until you finally crawl out of the hospital and drown in antibiotics and slowly work your way back to semi-health — but only semi, because of course you are never quite the same.

This is where we are. This is the state of the nation after having swallowed the malicious worm of Bush. We have, by all accounts, suffered — and somehow survived — the very worst of the illness, the cancer, the oozing spirit. But now, as America's worst president prepares to amble off the stage he never deserved to be on in the first place, it is time to prepare for any number of convulsions, aftershock, excruciating reminders.

Here is your Bush-loaded Supreme Court, for one regrettable example, addressing the much-misinterpreted Second Amendment for the first time in eons. Here is the majority of the court basically arguing that, in case you forgot, much of America still blindly loves its guns, and of course handguns are a nice addition to any God-fearing family's arsenal of ridiculous self-defense weaponry and therefore banning a device designed to do nothing but kill other humans is just plain wrong.

It is, by all accounts, a severe, dark cloud of a decision, loaded with sadness and a feeling of despair, the cruel notion that America is still defined by its love of violence, or even the utterly phony idea, put forth by Justice Antonin Scalia himself, that only violence prevents violence, or that the answer to the gun problem is, quite simply, more guns, because surely that's what the founding fathers intended, more paranoid NASCAR dads stocking Glocks in the rec room to protect the rug rats from those icky drug-dealing rapists who never come.

Is it worth mentioning how handguns kept in the home are much more likely to be used for suicides and homicides, not to mention fondled by those same curious rug rats who find daddy's little Elvis in the sock drawer and decide to aim it at their sisters? Worth pointing out that the self-defense argument is not only pathetically illogical, part of a silly pseudo-cowboy mythology, it's also statistically untrue, a perpetual, insidious lie that's undermined the American identity for generations?

Nah. Let us not stare down that particular barrel of gloom just now. Instead, let us prepare. Let us steel ourselves. As we head into the Obama era and as the GOP juggernaut mercifully sputters and lurches back to the cave of 1950, let us be reminded that escaping the Bush aftermath isn't going to be all wine and roses and new energy policies.

See, we've been enjoying a small reprieve. These past six months or so, it's been sort of delightful to finally turn our attention toward the imminent Democratic sea change and away from the ravages of the Bush disease, to finally look toward the new, as we get to focus on all those things we might be able to do once we get out of this damn hospital and get the weak-kneed Democratic Party out of second gear.

But oh, not so fast.

Let us be reminded, the Bush virus will be with us for years, generations. Aside from the shambles of Iraq and the Middle East, aside from handguns and the decided mixed blessing of the Supreme Court's recent spate of decisions, there are maneuvers and decisions we don't even know about, nefarious arrangements, a corruption so deep that normally staid historians are behaving more like alarmed climate-change scientists: We know it's going to be bad, but we just don't know how bad.

There are destroyed nations, mauled infrastructures, horribly compromised federal agencies from FEMA to the EPA, the CIA to the FCC. There is a rogue outsourced military, citizens who can no longer sue gun manufacturers, six straight years of increased poverty, untold numbers of homophobic, misogynistic judicial appointees, devastating environmental policies the consequences of which could take generations to comprehend, much less repair.

Where do you dare to look? Women's rights? Science? Foreign policy? Currency devaluation? Big Oil? Halliburton's billions in war profit? Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and the Dick Cheney agenda of torture and pre-emptive aggression? What about unchecked corporate cronyism, the shunning of the United Nations and of international law, Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, wiretapping and surveillance and "evildoers" galore?

And finally, what of all those families, the thousands of dead U.S. soldiers, the tens of thousands of brain-damaged, disabled, permanently wounded? Bush's legacy isn't just one of staggering social ineptitude combined with shocking success at serving his corporate masters. It's foremost a legacy soaked to the bone in blood.

Truly, I firmly believe the record will reveal that no president in modern history has done more to unravel the American identity, to dumb down the populace and cater to the basest instincts of man than the one about to mispronounce his way into the history books. Even Nixon didn't leave office with Bush's incredible range of ignominy.

Ironically, this is why many in the GOP are chuckling in secret, rubbing their hands together, plotting their revenge. They know the colossal pile of issues and problems Barack Obama will inherit is so overwhelming, so unsolvable, it doesn't matter how smart and aggressive he might be. It doesn't matter that he'll have a Democratic Congress. He's just plain doomed. Combine this with America's infamous short attention span, and within a few years, just watch as the GOP emerges from the murky depths, the champion of a "new" solution.

I know, it can seem bleak. Insurmountable, even. But here's the lesson of any major injury, of surviving a serious illness and getting on with your life. Often, it's not merely about letting time heal all wounds. It's not always about ignoring the scar, or looking away from our permanent deformity and pretend we don't now walk with a savage limp.

It's far more about learning to live with the violence that's been wreaked upon the national body, letting the scale of the wound fuel us, shock us back to life. Question is, do we have enough optimistic ointment to cover it all?

©2008, Mark Morford

Bush lifts drilling ban, oil execs leer, nation cringes, Obama sighs

I admit to bafflement. I admit to a bit of total confusion mixed with a certain level of stupefied awe and teeth-rattling frustration as to why anyone with the mental acuity of more than a housefly would think that stabbing more holes into Alaska and the eastern seaboard in the search for a few remaining precious drops of oil is a good idea, would solve anything at all, is anything more than the equivalent of hurling matches at the devil.

Perhaps I'm missing something. Perhaps there's some dark, secret genius behind President Bush's otherwise absolutely imbecilic and dangerous corporate-whore move to lift the federal ban on offshore drilling, a ban placed there by his own father, as Dubya actually stood there with a straight face and tried to imply that this insidious move was meant to impart something good and helpful for a gas-stunned nation, that he was "doing all he could" to help with prices at the pump, when you could actually see the oil dripping from his shivery bones and the giant hand of Exxon shoved up his weak little spine, making his mouth move.

Oh, I fully understand the corporate arguments, even the political ones. Asking why the oil companies are eager as rabbits on meth to gouge further into the planet is a bit like asking a surgeon why she wants to operate, or a lawyer why he wants to sue, or a snake why he wants to sink his fangs into a nice juicy rat and swallow it whole and smile for a week. It is, quite simply, what they do.

And politicos, well, they're of course generally terrified of their own shadows, merely following what the people scream, and enough misinformed people scream about high gas prices and demand some sort of relief and, well, politicos from both sides of the aisle will say just about anything to mollify and deflect and pretend to care, even if it means lying, even if it means feigning total ignorance and blaming the oil speculators, even (or rather, especially) if it means an utter and complete shunning of the facts at hand. ...

Read the rest:

©2010, Mark Morford

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Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SFGate and in the Datebook section of the San Francisco Chronicle. To get on the e-mail list for this column, please click here and remove one article of clothing.

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