The Harmful Rays of the Moral Vacuum

The Harmful Rays of the Moral Vacuum
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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hold the Presses

Work and real life has gotten in the way of my blogging hobby.  But I can only stay away from my dear reader(s?) for so long.  Don't call it a comeback.  Today, I'd like to focus on some news items.  After all, it's important to stay abreast of current events.

First, it is with sadness that I note the passing of 1980s film star Corey Haim, arguably the more talented of the pairing with Corey Feldman which Hollywood marketed as The Two Coreys.  Haim, only 38 years old, had battled drug addiction for years.  He is best remembered by discerning moviegoers for his roles in the teen comedy License to Drive and the vampire flick The Lost Boys.  (As an aside, The Lost Boys is best remembered by discerning fans of the "The Doors" for one of the worst cover songs in rock history.)

Haim's drug of choice was crack cocaine.  DJ AM, another celebrity (or is sub-lebrity a more appropriate term for these two guys?) also succumbed to crack addiction after a period of recovery back in September of 2009.  The ease with which crack paraphernalia can be purchased is stunning.  DJ AM, in the process of filming an MTV program about addiction, was able to purchase a crack pipe from a New York City bodega.  In fact, most bodegas in New York City sell crack pipes, which double as glass vials with crappy cloth roses in them, or sometimes even as ball point pens.

I will never forget the time I learned about the cloth rose crack pipe trick.  I was sent to visit L.A.'s notorious Skid Row for my previous employer about two years ago.  For those fortunate enough to be uninitiated, Skid Row is a 35 square block area in which drug users, the homeless, and people who just want to check out of society have formed elaborate encampments.  The area is ringed by most of the social service facilities in the Los Angeles area.  Drug dealers ruthlessly ply their trade outside of addiction recovery centers and HRO housing units.  The area has improved in recent years due to increased policing, but I still cannot emphasize how awful it is.  I would describe it as literally having the same vibe as New Orleans, where the streets are filled with hundreds of revelers.  Except the revelers are hopped up on crack, heroin, and other drugs.

I was given a personal tour by the man who at the time commanded the Skid Row police precinct.  He pointed out to me how the streets were littered with broken balloons (used to transport heroin), and cloth roses.  "Did you ever wonder who would buy those crappy trinkets that they sell at gas stations?," he asked me.  As we were walking around, we interrupted several people in the act of brazenly smoking crack.  Many of the people there had been using and living on the streets for years.  They looked like extras from a zombie film, but they were real.  The police commander told me with frustration that the local bodegas sell paraphernalia and malt liquor to the people in recovery and that their crackdowns on this grim commerce never take hold.

On to a lighter story, that of (former) Congressman Eric Massa.  For those who haven't been keeping up on this unfolding news item, Massa first announced that despite only being in his freshman term, he would not run again.  Most presumed this was because his cancer had relapsed.  Then surfaced allegations that Massa acted inappropriately with male staffers. 

Massa copped to using inappropriate language within the confines of his office, and attributed this to a difficult adjustment after his long service in the Navy.  He announced that rather than retiring at the end of the year, he would resign effective in several days.  But the story keeps going.  It's like some sort of bizarre gift.  I do not mean this in a political sense.  People from all walks of life and all political leanings make mistakes.  Massa admirably took ownership of his inappropriate behavior, at least the behavior that has as of yet come into the open.  And listen, if the guy did engage in consensual behavior with some male staff members, that is between him and his wife.

But this has become something bigger and more important than a national news story with implications for the November midterm elections.  It has become comedy gold.  The scandal keeps snowballing, and Massa keeps taking ownership of new, increasingly questionable behaviors.  He has now admitted to groping male staff members, but not sexually.  What he describes is essentially a huge man pile that he put together in celebration of his 50th birthday.  At a sort of frat house where he cohabited with several male staff members.  Which a key staffer warned him was not a professional place to live.

For the record, Massa prefers to describe what went on as tickling, rather the groping.  And he says that by comparison, some of the hazing that goes on in the Navy looks like "an orgy in Caligula."  I have no doubt that he is correct, given what I have heard about some Navy rituals.  But this story has the pacing of a Saturday Night Live sketch. 

First he admits to some slightly off color behavior.  Then he ramps it up a notch.  And there's got to be more.  Stay tuned to this story.  I believe it will get to the point where we hear Massa say things like "Yes, I was wearing leather chaps and a spiked motorcycle jacket in a Turkish bathhouse while a team of young Filipino men gave me a hot oil rub down.  But it was a non sexual rubdown, and I was only in the bathhouse investigating the plight of the small business owner in today's volatile economy."  I do have to give Massa credit for resigning rather than dragging out his self destruction like some other New York politicians.  I'm sure the leadership of his party is grateful for that.  Now it's up to embattled New York Governor David Paterson as to when to call a special election to fill Massa's seat.  I did not mean that last line as some sort of pun alluding to Massa's behavior, by the way.

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