APOTHEOSIS OF BILL MAHER
After a series of “don’ts” …
Don’t be sucked in by the su-superior,
don’t swallow the culture bait,
don’t drink, don’t drink and get beerier and beerier,
do learn to discriminate.
Do hold yourself together and fight
with a hit-hit here and a hit-there,
and a comfortable feeling at night
that you’ve let in a little air.
A little fresh air in the money sty,
knocked a little hole in the holy prison,
done your own little bit, made your own little try
that the risen Christ should be risen.
D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930), “DON’TS.”
I can’t say that I fully understand the title of Bill Maher’s newly produced
show, VICE, but the intent seems laudable.
Since titles cannot be copyrighted, my own choice would have been “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,”
where the show originates. Another choice might have been “VISE,” as in,
if you put the head of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld,
Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell in a vise, you could not squeeze more lies out
of each of them.
The most telling segment of a recent show presented the story of Iraqi children born with birth
defects allegedly resulting from the use of weapons firing radioactive shells
into the houses of their families and their neighbors by American troops,
during our recent invasion and occupation of their country. While the Defense Department has now
officially increased the statistical number of innocent Iraqi’s killed during
what Pope John Paul II called our “unjust” invasion and occupation of that
country from 100,000 to 134,000, there still seems to be no accounting for the
greater number wounded and maimed.
Moreover, the realization that our “footprint” in Iraq will also include
unborn generations of children whose very genetic structure has been
compromised leaves this distant witness to United States barbarity, already
experiencing dried out tear ducts and emotional burnout bereft of further
Since we have, this day, all assembled to dedicate the George W. Bush Presidential Library and
Whitewash in Dallas, Texas, now balancing its reputation for murdering good
Presidents by extolling the nonexistent virtues of the basest of all
Presidents, I feel it incumbent upon me to recount my own most vivid memory of
the Presidency of George W. Bush. On the
way toward achieving that final tally of 134,000 innocent dead, and after the
absence of weapons of mass destruction had been established as fact, the
interim tally had reached 40,000. At one of his rare press conferences, George
W. Bush was asked how many innocent Iraqi’s had died since our invasion. This was before further alibis and fictitious
pretexts for the invasion had begun to be invoked. Bush replied, candidly, “forty thousand.”
He uttered not a word of regret; not a word of
condolence; not a word of remorse; not a word of sympathy (much less empathy);
not a word of sadness, and as we all know, because Republicans never apologize, not a word of
apology. Mr. Bush wore the same
expression of isolated affect he displayed while reading that children’s book
to a class of students, when he was told that the United States of America was
under attack, on September 11, 2001.
Indeed, in my opinion, that children’s book ought to be the ONLY book on
display at this new Presidential Library – that book and that photo of isolated
affect that should also be posted next to the definition of “isolated affect”
in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual. The same isolated affect we
witnessed in that video of George W. Bush’s briefing prior to the advent of
hurricane Katrina, where he was told explicitly what consequences were certain
to materialize in the aftermath of that hurricane. Bored and uninterested, George W. Bush
half-listened to the weather and terrain and engineer experts; then he got up,
left the room, and went back to Texas on vacation. I shuddered to think, watching George W. Bush
enunciate the words “forty thousand” in connection with the innocent dead in
Iraq that perhaps he really was reflecting
the true sentiments of the American people – that George W. Bush was what we,
as a nation, had really become.
The program VICE has broken a rigid taboo of Network
broadcasting. All throughout the long
years of U.S. slaughter of innocents in Iraq and Afghanistan, and U.S.
fomenting conditions under which the peoples there (and elsewhere) became more
apt to kill each other, the commercial Networks have been blackmailed into
censoring any and all accounts of the victims of our arrogant imperialism. The oligopoly that has become “news” broadcasting
was told, in no uncertain terms, by Condoleezza Rice and others that if they
dared to show civilian casualties, major advertisers would pull their
commercials and drive the networks into bankruptcy. Perhaps it was an empty threat, because businesses,
no matter how large -- large enough to engulf the entire economy – still need
to remind consumers of the advantages of buying their products and availing
themselves of their services.
Network executives were taking no chances.
To divert attention from its role as one of the leaders of this nation’s
military industrial complex, General Electric, for example, would ennoble NBC
by sponsoring a campaign to reinforce the importance of education and would
spend millions, if not billions of dollars on commercials emphasizing GE’s civilian
use products, so as to divert attention from the other, darker side of their
free enterprise endeavors. The only
exceptions to this adamantine censorship were uplifting programs about a few –
a very few – Iraqi and Afghan children who received medical care in the United
States. Now you know why, with war and
American outrages against civilian populations in Western Asia raging abroad,
comedian Bryan Williams will take all the time in the world to detail every
weather condition, good or bad, in every region of the United States. Everywhere.
All the time. He dares follow no
other course. Neither do Pelley nor
HBO is not financed in the same way. However, they cannot be totally free from
political pressure. We shall keep a
sharp eye on how many more broadcasts Maher and VICE will dare to venture to
tell truth to the power of public opinion.
Bill has also improved in some other respects. He no longer denounces the Ten Commandments,
which is a good thing, since Republicans have demonstrated that the ultimate
Commandment is now more relevant than ever.
The Republican budget priority is to covet the meager assistance parceled
out to the poor for the benefit, through continuing tax breaks and subsidies,
of the very, very rich. And while Maher
still has his own dubious agenda items, like legalizing drugs, which would
further degrade the underclass by turning them into a race of zombies, at least
he does not share Jon Stewart’s fixation on the nauseating subject of
So here’s to Bill Maher and the sins of his
rapidly advancing old age. A tattered
flag in the cause of justice is better than no banner, at all. Long may he wave!
Harvard Hollenberg is a writer and an appellate lawyer in New York City.
© Copyright Harvard Hollenberg 2013. All rights reserved.