Monday, June 30, 2008

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Drawn and Cartered

Temporary lay offs--Good Times
Easy credit rip offs--Good Times
Scratchin' and surviving--Good Times
Hangin' in a chow line--Good Times
Aint we lucky we got 'em--Good Times
--theme song from the '70s sitcom

John McCain, who some time ago, maybe back when he was a "maverick" (is he also a Rockford File?), admitted that he knew nothing about economics, has apparently been brushing up on the subject. He's brushed up by backing up--all the way to the Carter administration, evoking memories, and comparisons, that he hopes causes voters to give Barack Obama the brush off. Running against Jimmy Carter has been the Republican strategy for a quarter of a century, plus two. Ronald Reagan got the ball rolling by running against Carter in 1980. I mean, really running against Carter, not the Liberal Democrat Incarnate of popular myth, but the actual, physical, living, breathing human being. Reagan won, partly due to the situation in Iran (I wonder what ever happened to that country), and partly due to the dismal state of the economy. And what a dismal state it was, what with double digit inflation and unemployment running about 7.5%. Under those circumstances, God would have lost to Reagan. During Reagan's presidency, unemployment increased to a whopping 10%, but was down to 7.1% by 1984. If I'm doing my math right, that's, um , a .4% difference (I hate decimals. Whoever invented them should be decimated ) between Carter and Reagan. I'm not sure how many actual, physical, living, breathing human beings this .4% represented, but there was apparently enough of them for Reagan to trounce Walter Mondale in the general election. Of course, it didn't help that Mondale had been vice-president under Jimmy Carter, the Liberal Democrat Incarnate of popular myth, or maybe just short memory. It also didn't help that upon receiving his party's nomination, Mondale triumphantly announced plans to raise taxes. That's always a vote getter. Four years later, Reagan's vice-president, the first George Bush, ran against Michael Dukakis AND Jimmy Carter. I still have a vivid memory of the commercial the Bush campaign put out that year. There was a picture of Willie Horton--hold on; wrong commercial, wrong vivid memory. OK, the other commercial showed a bunch of down-and-out people during the Depression of the 1930s. Actually, it was the Recession of the 1970s, but it was in black-and-white, so it was LIKE the Depression of the 1930s. Who wants to go back to the 1970s?, the narrator ominously, or maybe just drolly, asked. Not us, the voters replied, for now Jimmy Carter was not just Liberal Democrat Incarnate, but 1970s Recession Incarnate as well. Dukakis, who would have preferred to have been identified with John F. Kennedy, was trounced. Bush couldn't rely on the same tactic four years later, for by then the economy, stupid, had become Carter Lite, and thus he served a single term, to make the comparison complete. Since then Carter's name's been occasionally bandied about, but the Republicans have moved on to the War on Terrorism, or thought they had until war was declared on America's pocketbook.

And so McCain has revived the Grand Old Parting Shot. He sounds just like Reagan in 1980, and 1984, and the first Bush in 1988, warning about a return to the "failed policies of the past." The past is certainly returning in other ways. High prices at the pump, high unemployment, and soon, they're predicting, high inflation. This is more than Carter Lite. It's Carter Heavy! It's wholly appropriate McCain would evoke his name, except for one little thing. CARTER ISN'T PRESIDENT. He hasn't been president for a very long time. Britney Spears wasn't even an embryo when Carter last sat in the Oval Office. The man who has presided over Carter Heavy is the son of the man who presided over Carter Lite, President George Walker Bush.

Of course, John McCain isn't President Bush. He's a "maverick". But while criticizing the failed liberal policies of an increasingly distant past (even Ashton Kutcher has left the '70s behind) wouldn't it be nice to occasionally criticize the failed conservative policies of the here and now. Do that, and I might not feel the need to put quotation marks around "maverick". Some true conservatives (they call themselves that to distinguish themselves from the other kind, whatever the other kind is) don't consider George Bush a true conservative (so that must be the other kind!) what with the deficit and all that, so John McCain could always try that tack, except he's not trying that tack. Not that the true conservatives want him to. They don't like John McCain. No one in the Republican Party seems to like him very much. So why is he the presumptive nominee? Either they've already written 2008 off and are throwing McCain under his his very own Straight Talk Express bus, or they think he'll get those swing voters thrilled at the prospect of a "maverick" boldly taking on a president who's been out of office for 27 years. Hey, babe, take a walk on the wild side.

So expect, my friends, to hear more about how Barack Obama is just like Jimmy Carter, Failed Liberal Policies of the 1970s Incarnate. Just keep two things in mind. First, a decade is ten years. Carter took office in 1977. As far as the seventies go, he had a measly three years. A lousy measly three years, but what came before was hardly a rose garden. For the first part of the decade, not only wasn't Carter president, most people outside of Georgia didn't even know he existed. Yet we still had inflation, high unemployment, long lines at the pump. You see those lyrics that I started this spiel off with? Written during a Republican administration.

The second thing. When he ran for re-election in 1980, Carter was challenged within his own party by Ted Kennedy, who was backed by a lot of unhappy liberals. Why were they so unhappy? They didn't like the way Carter kept deregulating things. They thought him too conservative.

In Memoriam: George Carlin 1937-2008

Commedian and Author

"That's all your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get...more stuff!"

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Blog Verite: Rock, Paper, Caesar,

The following conversation took place a couple of years ago at work:

"What's this paper doing on the floor? Now it's covered with footprints!"

"That's because everybody's been stepping on it."

"Well, I can see everybody's been stepping on it. Why is everybody stepping on it?"

"To get to the tape machine."

"Why don't they just move the paper?"

"Where? You see how crowded it is."

"You can move it, uh, hmmm...I have to use the tape machine, so I'll just step on the paper myself. When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

"Why don't you piss against a rock?"


"Why don't you piss against a rock?"

"Why should I piss against a rock?"

"You just said, 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do'. Well, in Ancient Rome, didn't they piss against rocks?"

"What makes you think they pissed against rocks?"

"'Cause they didn't have toilets."

"Why wouldn't they have toilets? They had aqueducts."

"What's an aqueduct?"

"An aqueduct is--well, it's kind of like a pipe. A big, long, pipe that can bring water over long distances. For instance, I think it's an aqueduct that brings water from Lake Erie all the way to Akron."

"Really? That's pretty impressive."

"It is."

"Just think, piss from Ancient Rome is going all the way from Lake Erie to Akron."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Fist Fuss

It's been almost two weeks since Barack and Michelle Obama's famed "fist bump", and people are still talking about it, which, of course, means I can still talk about it, and talk about it I shall! So, what the hell did it mean? There seems to be two schools of thought, so let's get educated!

(As I'm sitting here typing this in the library, someone just shouted, "Tim Russert died!". One possible consequence is that people may actually stop talking about the fist bump. I'm still going to write about it. Tim Russert would have wanted it that way.)

The first school of thought is that the fist bump is descended from the Black Power salute, made famous during the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. American Tommie Smith had just won the 200 metre race, and John Carlos, also representing Uncle Sam, came in third. Both men were black. Upon receiving their medals, they bowed their heads and raised their fists skyward, scaring the hell out of millions of white Americans watching at home. I don't know why they were so scared. Look where their fists were pointed. What were they going to do, punch out the birds? At any rate, Obama and Michelle are supposedly carrying on the struggle. From Mexico City to the White House. I'm not sure what that portends for the immigration issue.

The second school of thought is that this is some sort of secret Al-Qaeda handshake. A secret handshake in front of fifty-million people? If I were Osama bin Laden, I'd revoke their membership. Let Hezbollah have 'em! Of course, they could be signaling all the sleeper cells, instructing them to create havoc during the upcoming presidential election. Don't worry. The terrorists are no match for Republican poll watchers.

So, which is it, Black Nationalism or Islamofascism? I'd like to suggest a third possibility.

Let's watch that fist bump again. Barack and Michelle. Such a young attractive couple. Barack looks like he should be on the cover of GQ. Heck, for all I know, he has been on the cover of GQ (someone Google and find out). Michelle is dressed to the T's. Slit revealing a bit of leg above the knee. Sleeveless. She's got a Jackie Kennedy-type of hair style. Or maybe Laura Petrie (I wonder if she wears Capri pants around the house). Barack and Michelle, waving victoriously to the cheering crowd. They turn and face each other. Barack moves in for a kiss, but not on the lips. Looks like just a peck on the cheek. Wait. Higher than that....He's aiming for her ear!...Let me rewind and watch that again...Did he blow in it, or did he nibble on the lobe?...It's inconclusive...Whatever he did, he's done. Now, on to the main event, the fist bump. Michelle goes first. She raises her hand, and clenches her fist. A nice , tight clench. Look at her expression. She kind of lowers her eyes, and...let me get a closer look...I know I'm at risk of getting eyeball cancer staring this close to the screen, but I just have to know...She's biting her lip! I swear to God Almighty, she's biting her lip!...Let me watch that again...and again...and again...whew!...and again...It's inconclusive...OK, she's got her fist up, now Barack raises his hand, clenches his fist, tightly, and with a forward thrust, makes contact. It only lasts a second, but what a second! OK, they pull away from each other, Michelle gives the thumb's up--heh, heh--and, wait--IS SHE BITING HER LIP AGAIN?!I'm going in for a closer look--BUMP--I just hit my head on the screen. Let's just say it's inconclusive. Now, Michelle turns to leave, and as she walks away, Barack PATS HER ON THE TUSH!!!!

In conclusion, the fist bump was merely an act of, ahem, affection. A perhaps more spontaneous, and even more natural, act of affection than, say, the famous Al and Tipper Gore mouth lock at the 2000 Democratic convention. I shouldn't be so hard on the Nobel Laureate and his wife. They were a step up (right direction, at least) from the usual presidential and presidential-wannabe couples. Usually the spouse--no matter how attractive--looks like she's (so far it's a she. Sorry, Bill) been pulled down from the attic, dusted off, and strategically placed next to their supposed soulmate. No matter how often you see them together, they look like they've just been introduced fifteen minutes earlier.

If Barack and Michelle Obama make it to the White House, they will be the first presidential couple in my lifetime I can actually imagine doing it.

(On second thought, maybe Tim Russert wouldn't have wanted it that way.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Deer Tick...Tick...Tick...

Home, home on the range,

Where the deer --BANG!

A ban against shooting deer in North Royalton--a suburb of Cleveland--has just been repealed. Though this city hasn't been a "range" for quite some time, the deer roam anyway, and thus often are heard the discouraging words of local home owners, who apparently can't stand the territorial competition. By banning the ban, they hope the deer go the way of, well, the antelope, not seen in Northeast Ohio for years (there's no ban against shooting antelope. Coincidence?). This may be a wise move. These creatures pose a significant threat to public safety. For instance, you could hit one while driving and talking on your cell phone!

So you'll get no objection from me. All I ask is that the next time we build another big box store, another strip mall, another subdivision, another office park, another McDonalds (over 50 billion franchises serving you); the next time we pour cement, concrete, asphalt, gravel, etc; the next time we uproot, cut down, mow down whatever passes for wilderness these days, we remember that the deer were here first. They may very well have squatting rights.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Delegate Matters: Reflections on the 2008 Primary Season

Hillary finally conceded. Who'da thunk?

David Gergan, the inside political hack-turned outside political pundit-turned inside political hack again-turned outside political pundit again (I actually respect his views, I just felt a disclaimer was necessary), said on TV that when Hillary first announced her candidacy, he thought she would win. I didn't think she would win. Why? Simple. She's a woman. STOP THROWING THINGS. We've never had a woman president. I assumed sexism might be the reason.I didn't, and am still not convinced, Barack Obama could become president either. Why? Simple. He's black. PUT THAT DOWN! POLICE!! We've never had a black president either. I assumed racism might be the reason.

So what's this all mean? We've conquered racism but not sexism? Well, some of Clinton's supporters, most notoriously Geraldine Ferrara, would say that. This unconquered sexism incidentally doesn't seem to extend to blue-collar white males with no college education in industrial states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. They're cool. And they're not racists, either. They're elitistists. Or, if saying that out loud gives you a lisp, anti-snobbites --people who look down their noses on people who look down their noses. If they were to bring All in the Family back, I could see it now:

EDITH: Oh, Archie, I invited the Jeffersons over for dinner!
ARCHIE: Edith, you dingbat! I don't want those elitists in this house!

So, then, who are these sexists? According to Hillerites, they're in large enough numbers to keep her from getting the nomination, but apparently not in large enough numbers to keep her from winning a general election. The sexists, I suppose, are those in the media, and those who vote in caucuses. As for the racists, according to some Obama surrogates (and men of the cloth), they're Bill and Hillary themselves for suggesting a black can't be elected president. You're racist for suggesting that all the racists won't elect a black president! And you're a chauvinist pig for suggesting that chauvinist pigs won't elect a woman president!

I'd prefer to think that maybe the racists and sexists canceled each other out, and this was a fair fight after all. Of course, in the general election, there will be no canceling out, and the racists and sexists (if Hillary's also on the ticket) could join forces. One consoling thought: some of the most racist and sexist people I've known in my life don't even bother to vote (I'm a blue-collar white male with no college education myself, and back in the olden days I use to run into racists and sexists every now and then).

Of course, you can have a dirty fight without resorting to racism and sexism. Both sides screamed bloody anti-democracy. The voters of Michigan and Florida were disenfrancised, as Hillary argued to that undemocratic body known as super delegates. Obama wanted those same super delegates to honor majority rule. As long as those majorities weren't in Michigan and Florida.

Speaking of democracy, just how democratic is this dictatorship on the left and the right that we call the two-party system? The primary season, I suspect, was designed to hide this ideological censorship. Third parties may never have made it to the Oval Office, but they often did make their point, and were a lot more common, back in the days when conventions chose the candidates. Don't mistake this as a pitch for Ralph Nader. That would be throwing away a vote. It would be illogical. It would be irrational. But let me ask you, suppose someone pulled a gun on you and said "Your money or your life?" What would be your most logical response? What would be your most rational response? You'd hand over your money? Now you know how I feel about the two-party system.

At any rate, how did Obama beat the awesome Clinton machine? Well, there's your answer right there. If you want a machine for president, vote for R2D2, with C3PO as his running mate. On the cable news blab shows, the Clinton surrogates all gave the same assembly line talking points, while the Obama crowd's spin was much more customized (this occasionally backfired, as when some poor sap of a surrogate in Texas couldn't tell Chris Matthews what exactly Obama had achieved in the Senate).

The Clintonites best talking point was, "What part of peace and prosperity didn't you like?", a reference to the nineties. Well, Hillary herself must not have liked the peace part, as she voted for war. The prosperity part is a little harder to dismiss. Although a sophisticated argument may be made that the Clintons are at least partially responsible for the current economic catastrophe, most people judge a president by what happens on his or/and her watch. Curiously, Hillary never emphasised economics until Obama won ninety-thousand or so primaries and caucuses in a row. Contributing to the delay, I suspect, was that when her husband was president, the economic differences between Democrats and Republicans were downplayed, and the social differences played up. So much so, that this became the accepted way to tell the two sides apart. God and Guns vs A Woman's Right to Choose. But Hillary soon found her voice--or Dennis Kucinich's. She attacked NAFTA, which her husband had wholeheartedly signed into law. Hillary claimed she had been against it all along, as George Stephanopolis's book confirms (she thought it might distract from her health plan). For his part, Obama struck out (and failed to throw a strike) with blue-collar workers. He belittled the little guy's fondness for guns and God (on the latter: I've seen quite a few blue-collar guys with satanic imagery tattooed on their arms. Are they Libertarians?)

Too little, too late. Hillary went down anyway, amid cries of media bias. And the media was biased. Not against women, or for blacks, but for the underdog. Even when he was ahead, Obama seemed like the underdog. Hillary had that effect on him. If he should put her on the ticket, it'll be four, perhaps eight, years as the underdog. Longer than Wally Cox.

Now, let's review the Republican primaries. Uh, did they have primaries? Yes, yes, now I remember. There was a lot of fuss about Mitt Romney, and Rudy Guliani, and the guy from Law and Order, but when the dust settled, there was John McCain standing and singing, "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran!" Of course, before we do that, there's the little matter of Iraq. McCain was pounced on for saying we'd be there for a hundred years. People assumed a century of roadside bombs and suicide attacks. This was a misrepresentation. He was talking about a Korea-type occupation. However, this was a misrepresentation of a misrepresentation. After all, the violent part of our stay in Korea lasted only three years. We've had five violent years in Iraq. If there's still violence this time next year, it'll be twice as long as Korea. If there's violence past that, it could last longer than MASH, except that John McCain is no Alan Alda (though the Bush administration has had no shortage of Frank Burns).

I recently interviewed Republican strategist James Backus Snopes about the problems facing his party in the fall.

KJ: What do you think your chances are in the fall?
JBS: I'd say they're pretty good. Great, in fact.
KJ: Really? You guys have controlled two, sometimes all three, branches of government for the last eight years. As a result, we have a war with no end in sight, a busted housing market, high unemployment, skyrocketing prices at the pump, and an entire planet that hates our guts. Yet you think you're going to win?
JBS: As we Republicans like to say, it'll be a cakewalk.
KJ: You're not worried?
JBS: Nope
KJ: Not even a little?
JBS: Nada.
KJ: Why?

So what if there's war and recession? At least we've been saved from folk music.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Isle Chatter

By now, the season finale of Lost has been analyzed, psychoanalized, scutinized, theorized, philosophised, and pretty much blogged to death, but I haven't had MY say, so pay attention...It was pretty good!

It starts out with last season's finale flashforward that we initially thought was a flashback. I was hoping this year they might have a flashback that we all mistake for a flashforward, but the show's producers chose not to. Who am I to criticize? They're in Hollywood, and I'm plopped in front of a library computer half a continent or so away. Anyway, we find that the guy in the coffin and in the obituary is Jeremy Bentham. Now, your faithful blogger has only a high school education, and I honestly didn't know Jeremy Bentham was some famous 19th century philosopher. I assumed he was some character on the show. I just couldn't remember which one. The guy with the time-travel experiments? The guy flying the helicopter? Hurly's shrink? If they're going to reference a philosopher, why not Plato? I've heard of him (he had his own republic, right?).

An exciting moment was when Jack and Sawyer rush to save Hurly from mortal danger. They instead find him pissing against a tree. He could very well still be in danger. There may be poison ivy about, and, as Hurly's fly is down, he could catch it in the very last place you want to catch poison ivy. I know, I know. Poison ivy's not native to the tropics. Well, neither are polar bears.

What would a season finale be without Locke and Jack sometimes failing to see eye to eye? Faith vs Science. Or Mulder vs Scully, without the underlying sexual tension. You do get overlying great dialogue. Jack harranges Locke for blowing up the sub, knifing a would-be rescuer, etc, but Locke has one of the show's all-time great comebacks: "You fired what you thought was a loaded gun right into my face, so let's call it even."

Properly chastened, Jack, along with Hurly and Sawyer, head back to the chopper while Locke and Ben prepare to move the island (I'm skipping over how Ben escaped his captors. Suffice to say, another unholy alliance between the losties, this time Kate and Sayid, and the once fearsome, now increasingly mundane Others). Locke and Ben are interrupted by the arrival of, uh, what was his name again? Jeremy Benthem? Hold on while I check a Lost web sight with characters names on it......Keamer. His name was Keamer. How could I forget a name like that? Anyway, Keamer the mercanary shows up all wired up with some radio-controlled explosive (I wonder if he got that at Radio Shack?). He threatens to blow up the boat if Ben doesn't give himself up. As other bloggers have pointed out, this makes no sense. First off, Keamer's already seen Ben let his own daughter get killed. Even if he hadn't, he must know by know that Ben regards the people on the boat as his enemies. This is a little like Adolf Hitler warning Neville Chamberlain that if he doesn't give up Czechoslovakia, he'll blow up Germany. No other series could survive such holes in the plot. But Lost is all about holes in the plot. It's why we all fell in love with it in the first place.

An emotional Ben (as he later describes himself) kills Keamer anyway, blowing the boat, along with Jin and Michael, to Kingdom Come. He then moves the island in the most low-tech way possible ("possible" being a relative word on this show), by turning a wheel. No carbon footprint here!

The island disappears as the helicopter with Jack, Kate, Sayid, Sun, Hurly, Desmond, Aaron, and "Kenny Rogers" attempts to land (I skipped over why it's those eight in the chopper, but, hey, I never said this was a summary). Actually, two islands disappear. Or do they? With all the overflights various characters take this season, how come noone mentions two islands? Jack tells "Kenny" (I refuse to look up his name) there's another island nearby, but as the pilot, shouldn't he know? Apparently you can only see the second island by standing on one particular spot on the first island. And vica-versa. I have a theory. THEY'RE BOTH THE SAME ISLAND! THEY EXIST SIDE BY SIDE IN TWO DIFFERENT TIMES AND TWO DIFFERENT SPACES!! WHEN THE CHARACTERS LEAVE ONE FOR THE OTHER THEY'RE ACTUALLY TRAVELING THROUGH TIME!!! THE FOURTH DIMENSION IS WHERE...Huh? Oh. Uh, sorry, ma'm. Won't happen again...The librarian says if I don't calm down I'll be ejected.

At any rate, those eight characters (ten if you count Ben and Walt) are off the island. So, how's this going to work next season? Locke, Sawyer, and others left behind in the present (actually, 2005), and Jack, Kate and co., in the future (our present?). And this is without all the time travel!

Past, present, or future, if there's one character I want in the thick of things, it's Hurley. He's the true Everyman of this series. A somewhat discomfitting thought given that he's been in and out of mental institutions, but it's true. Locke and Jack are idealized Everymen, two Walter Mittys whose dreams of purpose have been realized. Hurley's not sure of his purpose. Winning the lottery? Saving the day? Losing weight? He reacts to each plot twist as if he were watching it all on TV, just like us ("So, Bernard is white. Bet you didn't see that one coming!"). Unlike us, of course, he gets to occasionally participate ("Attention, Others! Come in, Others! We have your people!"). Speaking of Hurley, remember that flashback in season 2 which has Libby in the same mental ward as him? That needs explaining. Was she his stalker? Hurley could have used that kind of story line!

In conclusion, I'd like to talk about Jeremy Bentham. SPOILER ALERT! Aw, who the hell am I kidding? By the time this is posted, everyone will know anyway. It's the future late John Locke. Why he, or the show's writers chose that name, I'm not sure (after four seasons I finally figured out that maybe Sawyer was named after the Mark Twain character because they're both con men--Tom conned his friends into whitewashing the fence, remember?--and they both like to read). I did some research, and found out that Bentham was a proponent of utilitarianism, the belief in the most good for the most people. Sounds interesting, but I really don't think that's the reason. Almost a century and a half after he died, Bentham's preserved body, fully clothed, sits in the University of London. Now recall that at the end of this season's finale, Ben tells Jack that they all have to go back to the island, including the late John Locke...