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Monday, August 27, 2012

Whole Lot Of Crazy

 

 

Lady, you're about a half a bubble off plumb, and that's for sure and for certain.
                                                                      Matthew Quigley to Crazy Cora
                                                                      Quigley Down Under

 

Is it just me?

Or do there seem to be a whole lot more crazy people than there used to be?

Now when I say “crazy” I don’t mean weird funny sexy crazy like Laura San Giacomo’s Crazy Cora from Quigley Down Under, a madly scrambled soul who, despite displaying moments of sober lucidity, spent much of her existence living in a make-believe world of could-have-been that was, for her, happier and better. Crazy Cora’s fantasy world was one where a life, instead of being violently lost, survived and prospered – in both senses of the word life. Cora was nuts, sure, and the events that drove her over the edge where terrible and tragic, but her manic insanity was bent to the selfless preservation of the helpless.

Crazy or not, Cora wanted to make the world a better and safer place and often did.

No, when I say “crazy” people, I’m talking the kind of thin lipped murderous crazy displayed by Alan Rickman’s Elliott Marston. If you’ve never seen Quigley Down Under (and really, you haven’t seen this movie? Seriously? This is one of the best non-western Westerns ever made. Stop what you’re doing and go watch it right now), Marston is the dangerous kind of crazy. Marston is oily smooth and greasy evil as only Alan Rickman could make him, oozing paranoia and casual malignance. Like Cora, Marston lives in a fantasy, only his world is a nightmare of an old American West transplanted to the Australian Outback, a place of Dodge City and Boot Hill and pistol duels and genocide. Marston laments that he was born too late and on the wrong continent. He wishes for the kind of place where he can just eradicate the undesirables, the weak and the helpless and the outcast. He regards the Aboriginals like vermin, like rats, to be exterminated without a second thought.

Elliot Marston wasn’t interested in making the world a better place. The only thing Marston wanted was more of what he already had.

Quigley, at least in some respect, was about the various facets of insanity and how we see our world. For that reason I often quote the Matthew Quigley line above to myself whenever I run into craziness.

Lady, you are about half a bubble off plumb, that’s for sure and for certain.

Maybe it’s because this is an election year.

Or maybe it’s because the GOP is meeting in Florida in the middle of a hurricane.

Maybe it’s just the heat.

I don’t know, but when Todd Akin is the head of any Committee with the word “science” in it (and that word isn’t proceeded by the word “creation”) and Mitt Romney's advisors are pushing Congress to preemptively declare war on Iran while Newt Gingrich is running classes at the RNC to teach conservatives how to tell the truth, well, it just seems like there are a whole lot more crazy people than there used to be.

Walleyed crazy.

Bug eating bang bang crazy.

Elliot Marston crazy.

For example, this morning I was reading an article about circumcision.

Maybe you’ve seen the hoopla about this? In light of the recent stiff resistance to the banning of male circumcision in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) made a statement supporting the procedure, reiterating their position that infant male circumcision significantly lowers the risk of HIV, genital herpes, HPV, and other sexually transmitted diseases. According to the AAP, circumcision also reduces the risk of various infections and other health problems.  A little less than sixty percent of American males are circumcised at birth nowadays. The AAP would like to see that number raised a lot higher.

They say it’s for health reasons. They say medicine and science back them up on this.

But, of course, that’s not the real reason, is it?

No, circumcision is really a secret Jewish plot to rule the world, one foreskin at a time.

This conversation, from a couple of commenters under the Yahoo article:

- i guess these doctors are getting ready for wwIII, and they need to make
every one seem like a jew, i for one, dont believe in this, and i will not
circumcise my kids, i think the skin is designed to protect, just wash it
every time you take a shower.
                - Funny enough, most of the doctors in the Task Force that wrote
                   this policy are Jews, and I am almost sure that the current 
                   president of the AAP is also Jew - not 100% sure of that though…
                            - The CEO of Yahoo is Jewish. There have been 7 pro-cutting
                               articles in 4 days. And since the recent layoff, Yahoo
                               has little news to report as it is...

Oh Noes! The Jewish doctors are getting ready for a Jewish World War III and therefore they want to Jewinate newborn baby boys so they’ll be more Jewey.

Got that?

How, exactly, the shorn manliness of America’s newborns will help the nefarious Jews achieve world domination escapes me, but rest assured my electronic friends this threat to our national sovereignty must be rubbed out before it grows.

Oh what?  We’re talking about circumcision here, if you didn’t see the dick jokes coming (oops, sorry), you haven’t been paying attention.

I went looking at a few of the usual websites, apparently Jews taking over America through foreskin confiscation isn’t an isolated idea.   On a totally unrelated note, I’m still trying to figure out why the same people who are so afraid of secret Jewish Evil Plots of Evil are so adamant in their demands that America must sacrifice all to defend Israel. Are you afraid of Jewish people taking over the world and stealing our foreskins or aren’t you?  Make up your damned minds, I’m getting tired of trying to figure out the plot.

Crazy?

Oh, we’re just getting started.

Speaking of dicks, over on Fox News today’s guest columnist is none other than Michael Reagan, son of former President Ronald Reagan.  Michael is a political consultant and the founder and chairman of The Reagan Group. And let’s just say that the nuts didn’t fall far from the tree.

Michael Reagan is afraid of liberals hiding in his email.

Yes, that’s correct. Liberals. In the email.

Now we’re not talking about liberals using email to send Michael dick jokes. No, we’re talking about actual Liberals.

Hiding in the email.

Stealing from conservatives.

One of the benefits of the Internet revolution has been access to free e-mail.  However, as we now know, the supposed "free" e-mail has come at a cost. As a believer in the free market, it is impossible to begrudge online companies their success, however, conservatives are sacrificing privacy and supporting liberal causes. If you use a Gmail or Yahoo e-mail address and are pro-life, support gun rights and oppose ObamaCare, you are funding activities aimed at trashing your own beliefs.

Bawazah?

Reagan’s premise is this:  Google, Yahoo!, AOL, Microsoft, and other “liberal” companies trick conservatives into signing up for “free” email, and then they “make a fortune by selling all sorts of sensitive customer data to all kinds of companies that want to sell every imaginable good or service.”

Oh no! It’s capitalism run amok! Not every kind of imaginable good or service! Anything but that!

Predatory capitalism is only American when conservatives do it. That’s a freebee, Kids, write it down.

And then, see, those companies donate their ill-gotten dirty money to Obama.

According to Reagan, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang recently contributed $30,400 to the Democratic Senatorial Committee. Adding illusionary insult to imagined injury, Yahoo! employees contributed more than $17,000 to Obama’s reelection – but only $2,875 to Mitt Romney. Google employees contributed $263,000 to Obama and just $5,000 for Mitt Romney. Microsoft employees sent $362,742 to the Obama reelection campaign compared to a paltry $82,000 for Romney. 

Reagan writes that in 2012, the fifteen top members of Congress received contributions from Google, thirteen of those congressmen were Democrats.  Reagan doesn’t identify who he considers the “top” fifteen members, but he is particularly outraged by the fact that Google was the “eighth” biggest contributor to Nancy Pelosi’s war chest (Reagan doesn’t bother to mention how much Google contributed or who made the seven larger donations. Probably because those people don’t give out free email to conservatives).

Reagan also points out that this has been going on for some time, back in 2008 Google, its employees, and their families gave Obama nearly a million dollars.  And once he was elected, a bunch of Google executives went so far as to pony up $25K a piece of their own money, which they made at least in part by apparently tricking conservatives, for Obama’s Inaugural Committee. This is apparently totally different from those Wall Street banks who took our money without so much as a reach around and are now busy giving it to the Romney campaign, totally different. But I digress.

First they came for our foreskins, now it’s communism via email! Oh those Nazi bastards!

It’s an outrage!

Yes, an outrage!

Outrageous that good God fearin’ conservatives should be tricked into signing up for the liberal socialism of free email! That’s the first thing Hitler did, you know, hand out free email accounts. True capitalists, i.e. patriots, should pay for their email accounts.

It’s outrageous that a company not only embraces liberal ideas that obviously can’t possibly work but do anyway in total defiance of God’s Will, but then they go and make billions doing it while at the same time employing millions of Americans right here at home. And they have the unmitigated bald faced effrontery to be some of the most profitable and successful companies in America.  It’s blasphemy! How dare they flaunt Jesus like that? How dare they?

It’s outrageous that companies should support people and candidates Michael Reagan doesn’t approve of.  Conservatives granted corporations personhood and this is how they’re repaid? Holy Moly! Why what if this catches on? What if all those nearly aborted babies conservatives save grow up to be democrats? The ungrateful little bastards!

Can you believe that Google and Microsoft and AOL and Yahoo! would go and spend their money on candidates that they like?

And if that wasn’t enough, their employees and their families do too.

These people act like they can just support whoever they want! Just like conservatives.

God damn it! Have these liberals no shame? No shame at all?

Son of Reagan (And really, why didn’t Ronny rename the kid Jesus when he adopted little Mikey?), mentions, sotto voice, that these companies also, maybe, have affiliated political action committees which, uh, well, sort of also contributed to Republicans too – but those contributions are far smaller than the ones to Democrats. Mike doesn’t think that’s fair.

“Conservative friends and associates are often surprised when I ask, ‘Why are you supporting liberal candidates and causes with your free e-mail?’ They react with disbelief, but that is precisely what is happening.”

Yeah, I bet they’re surprised. 

Surprised Michael Reagan is allowed to wander around without a nurse. 

Reagan then casually mentioned how you can get an email address from Reagan.com without the taint of stinky liberalism on it, quite a bargain at $40US per year.

Show of hands, how many of you are going to sign up for an @Reagan account?

I was thinking about doing it, just because I so enjoy the idea of the kind of people who send me hate mail having to address it to TrickleDownThis@Reagan.com. Frankly I think that’s worth the $40. 

Michael Reagan will likely make a couple billion off of Texas all by its lonesome self.

Because there’s some major crazy going on down Texas way.

"[Obama is] going to try to hand over the sovereignty of the United States to the U.N., and what is going to happen when that happens? I'm thinking the worst. Civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war maybe. And we're not just talking a few riots here and demonstrations, we're talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms and get rid of the guy. Now what's going to happen if we do that, if the public decides to do that? He's going to send in U.N. troops. I don't want 'em in Lubbock County. OK. So I'm going to stand in front of their armored personnel carrier and say 'you're not coming in here'. And the sheriff, I've already asked him, I said 'you gonna back me' he said, 'yeah, I'll back you'. Well, I don't want a bunch of rookies back there. I want trained, equipped, seasoned veteran officers to back me."

That was Judge Tom Head, county judge in Lubbock, Texas – land of pointy toed boots, hats, heat, and all the sun drenched crazy paranoid Elliot Marston you can shovel.

Judge Head, in his quest to help Texas remain the laughingstock of Crazyland, offered up that opinion last week on a local news show.

I get the impression that the judge is actually visualizing himself as some kind of Boris Yeltsin, standing in front of imaginary socialist tanks.

But come on, UN troops?

UN troops?

Seriously.  Have you ever met any UN Troops? Who’s going to invade Texas, the Dutch? Ecuadorians? All twenty members of Fiji’s Peace Keeping force? The Belgians? Who? You know who leads UN invasions? Us. Usually with the dickweeds from Texas in the vanguard a whoopin’ and a hollerin’ and waving their giant hats.

Jesus Hopalong Christ, what in the hell are these people smoking?

Why is it that those folks who think of themselves as the biggest bestest Americans are always the first ones to talk about revolution and revolt when they think they’re going to lose an election?  And you’ve really got to admire the raw naked crazy inherent in Judge Head, he’s the guy who thinks that raising taxes to help fellow Americans is communism, but raising taxes to hire his own private army to kill Americans and overthrow the government is somehow patriotic

Needless to say, Judge Head claims his words are being taken out of context.  He says he’s not calling for revolution in the event of an Obama reelection per se, just that he needs to be prepared to support fellow Texans if they rise up in revolt and Obama sends in the Belgians. Or something.   

If it had been anywhere other than Lubbock, Texas, Judge Head would have been sedated with a hypo-dart fired from a safe distance, netted like a blood maddened hammerhead during Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, hauled off to a remote spot in the middle of the Pacific Garbage Patch and unceremoniously dumped in deep water where he can’t do himself or anybody else any further harm. 

Seriously, Judge, you’re about half a bubble off plumb, that’s for sure and for certain.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me.

But it sure seems like there are a whole lot more crazy people than there used to be.

And not the good kind of crazy either.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Todd Akin, Social Media’s Bitch

What good is social media?

Why Twitter?

Why Facebook?

Why all the rest of it?

As a modestly popular blogger and somebody who spends an inordinate amount of time on social media, I’m often asked those questions.  And I see those questions posed repeatedly in the media outlets where I tend to hang out.

What good is social media?

Typically I don’t reply, I think the answers are obvious.

We’ll come back to that.

 

By now, I’m certain that most of you have read or listened to Representative Todd Akin’s infamous remarks regarding women’s supposed natural ability to ward off unwanted forcible impregnation:

First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy after rape] is really rare.  If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

It really raises the question, doesn’t it?

What do you mean, what question? Read that last part again:

…the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

See?

Obvious question is obvious.

If all women have this heretofore unsuspected superpower, what else are they capable of?

Now, I’ve long suspected that that women can spit venom. No seriously, you should see the look my wife gives me when I’ve done something dumb. Venom. From the eyes.  Like a cobra.  And I think it’s a provable fact that they can read minds.  And I’m pretty sure women can secretly levitate too. Women can actually use a Port-o-Potty, or any other unsanitary public facility, without sitting down – they literally hover over the seat in perverse defiance of gravity. Levitation.  What’s to say they don’t secretly slip out of bed at night after we’ve gone to sleep and then put on skin tight spandex and a cape and fly around Gotham fighting crime?  After women become mothers, they are able to conjure a seemingly inexhaustible supply of tissues and those baby-wipe thingies directly from the fabric of the universe with nothing more than a simple wave of the hand.  Magic. Dads don’t get this ability, only moms. Why is that? (because we’d use the zero-point energy hidden in our sleeves to summon an endless supply of beer and hot wings, that’s why. But I digress).

Perhaps a woman’s inability to locate her car in a mall parking lot after an hour of shopping is just cunning misdirection?

What? I’m just asking is all. Sheesh.

Actually, Akin’s comment raises a whole bunch of questions.

See, Akin didn’t give us enough information.

He doesn’t say how the female body shuts the whole thing down.

And, really, how does that work exactly? Are there special muscles? Does the rapist eventually get a package in the mail marked “Return to sender?” Are there force fields involved? Magic fairies? Jesus? What?  I’ve got my old college biology textbooks around here somewhere, and I’m pretty sure there’s no mention of this ability.  Is it something new?  Recently evolved, mayhap, in the decades since I graduated? That would be pretty exciting, wouldn’t it? 

Kind of craps all over creationism though, huh? Bummer.  

Next question, if the female body prevents impregnation by preventing sperm from fertilizing the ova, isn’t that basically birth control? The end result is no different from using any barrier method of contraception.

Or does the female body prevent impregnation by preventing implantation of the fertilized ova into the uterine wall? Because that would be no different from hormonal birth control like The Pill  (including the morning after variety) or Norplant, or IUD’s for that matter, and so on. 

Does the Pope know about this?

Here’s a thought, does this ability work by rejecting the implanted zygote?

Because, see, seems to me that a deliberate miscarriage is functionally no different from an abortion – just without the hardware and assistance. 

If women can do any of this on demand as Representative Akin seems to believe, then why would his Bearded Angry God get so upset over assisted birth control and/or abortion? After all, if God gave women the inherent ability to “shut the whole thing down” then by definition he must approve of birth control and/or abortion. Right?

And we improve on God’s design all of the time, from conceiving and birthing babies to eyeglasses to cooking our food to pacemakers to using technology to kill other human beings. 

God, should he actually be up there somewhere frowning down on the lot of us, doesn’t seem to object to any of that. So what makes this situation different? Because there are children involved? Really? This from the Deity who offed every first born child in Egypt on a whim and demanded the blood sacrifice of children in the Old Testament? 

God killed a lot of children in the Bible. No really, a lot. Frankly I’m trying to figure out what a few more matter. 

Funny they left that part out.

Since it’s so important, you’d think somebody would have mentioned it in at least one of the Testaments.

They mentioned the killing part all right, over and over. But not the part Todd Akin and his friends think is so important.

Now, I admit that I tend to empirical evidence and logic and things that I can see and feel and touch and therefore mumbo jumbo juju, especially the evangelical version, makes my head hurt. So maybe somebody can explain something to me. Here’s the part I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around: If a woman can prevent impregnation in the event of rape, “legitimate” or otherwise, why don’t more woman actually do so?

No, seriously, if a woman can prevent pregnancy resulting from rape without help, then why are we having this whole conversation in the first place? Why don’t women just close their eyes and squeeze their fists and bunch up their butt cheeks (I’m a little unclear on the actual process here, just go with me) and Voila! Presto Change-O, problems solved. Right? If this is an option, why don’t more women avail themselves of it? Why would they run the anti-abortion hate gauntlet in front of Planned Parenthood when they can just do it at home through force of will?

And how come woman can’t do it all of the time? For any pregnancy? Why just rape? That seems kind of, I dunno, specific from a biological trait stand point. 

In evolutionary terms, a trait like this would require that women get raped a lot and need some kind of ability to get rid of the resulting offspring. That pretty much makes us men assholes as a species, but if I squint my eyes I can maybe conceive of certain biological pressures that might result in such an ability (and now you know how science fiction stories are born).

However, if God gave women this ability on purpose, well then He must have expected them to get raped a lot.

That sort of make Him a big fat asshole, doesn’t it?

But here’s the real question: If Akin’s small petulant god gave women the ability to magically disappear rape babies, and He really, really, really gives a good goddamn about all babies as Akin says He does, then why the hell didn’t he give women the ability not to be raped instead

Or at the very least the ability not to be impregnated against their will?

Doesn’t seem that difficult of a design problem to me, if you’re God, I mean.

Any of the above methods would work and are biologically practical. A muscular sphincter  that closes off the uterus from the vagina would do it.  A mucus plug would as well, and the uterus grows one of those during pregnancy so the mechanism is already there – God wouldn’t even have to throw in anything extra.  Volitional control of hormonal balance or control of the uterine menstrual flush cycle would work too. Or the actual ability to spit nerve poison. Or teeth. Something.

But no.  According to Akin, rape first. Pregnancy second. Then, then, you get to shut shit that down.

Oh yes, that makes perfect sense. Sure. That’s the kind loving Christian god Akin believes in, right there.

 

Here’s what I want to know, why is it that ridiculous gibbering dolts like Akin aren’t held to account?

 

Seriously, why aren’t these people and their idiotic ideas held to account? Why aren’t the very questions I posed above, ridiculous though they might be and that’s sort of the point anyway, why aren’t those questions asked of people like Akin during the debates? During every interview? During every campaign stop. This is your bullshit idea, Congressman, explain in detail please. Don’t shift the goal posts, don’t look away, answer the question, yes or no, do you believe in the bullshit you’re shoveling or not.

The media needs to step up and start doing their jobs.

Akin is in no way unique. 

The House, the Senate, the Judiciary, the White House, Governorships, all the way on down to the local school board, are far, far too often filled with these people. Creationists. Birthers. Flat Earthers. Moon Landing Deniers. Truthers. Holocaust Deniers. Conspiracy nuts of every stripe.  Misogynists. Bigots. Anti-Vaxxers. Fearful little haters.  They range from those who think you can actually make it rain by singing and doing some kind of fucking rain dance, to people who believe, literally believe, that you can pray the gay away.

These people are just plain goofy.

There’s just no polite why of putting it and frankly I’m sick and tired of trying.

If these people had their way, we’d still be hiding in caves pissing our animal skin kilts in blind fear every time the sky gods made boom boom thunder.

And the thing is they know that they’re goofy, a lot of them do anyway at least at some level, otherwise they wouldn’t try to hide their silly nonsense. No they know just how stupid they sound, otherwise they, like Akin, wouldn’t backpedal so easily when called on their nutty bullshit.

They get away with it because too many Americans don’t call them on it. 

They get away with it because, we believe in freedom of speech and freedom of belief without consequence or responsibility.

So people like Akin and the other idiots at large aren’t held to account. And because they aren’t made to drag their idiotic beliefs out into the light of day and suffer the ridicule and mockery that such bullshit deserves, they just keep at it.

Akin is just the latest in a long line. 

It’s not limited to the Left or to the Right, though in the last few decades it certainly seems that the GOP has more than its fair share of raging nut cases probably because the Right has increasingly become the party of religious extremism.

Today the press, the blogosphere, the pundits, the professionally outraged Left, the professionally outraged Right, and the politicians are focused the wrong thing.

They’re outraged over Akin’s use of the word “legitimate.”

Sure, it was an asshole thing to say. Sure it implies that there are different kinds of rape, some more valid than other forms of sexual assault. And sure, it implies a certain common belief among people like Todd Akin, that in many cases the victim was really asking for it, or suffered “buyer’s remorse” after consenting to sex, or some other silly excuse for a heinous and terrible violation.  And sure, that’s a damned revolting viewpoint in a sitting lawmaker.

I grant you that the phrase “legitimate rape” is cause for some degree of outrage.  In degrees of douchebaggery it ranks right up there with Whoopi Goldberg’s “rape rape” dismissal of Roman Polanski’s sexual assault on a young girl. It’s an asshole thing to say. No doubt.

Predictably, everybody is off either condemning Akin’s use of the word, or attempting to justify it by saying he meant something else.

Akin himself apologized for misspeaking, whatever the hell that means.

But what everybody seems to be missing is this: Akin’s comment is a manifestation of a much larger problem. It’s a symptom of a much deeper disease. It is a warning sign of superstitious theocracy, a religious fascism cloaked in freedom of belief.

Akin’s religious viewpoint is nothing more than an excuse to remain willfully ignorant of provable science and indisputable facts.

The so-called “doctors” that he quotes, if they actually exist, are no more doctors than creation scientists are actually scientists.  If there really are actual medical doctors who hold this bizarre falsehood as truth, they should be immediately relieved of their license to practice medicine.

This is the “science” that Akin and his ilk would impose on us, on our children, on our nation. 

It’s a repudiation of everything that we have learned and a return to the ignorant fearful Dark Ages.

 

People often ask me, what good is social media. Facebook, Twitter. What purpose do they serve?

Social networking serves to shine light where none existed before.

Todd Akin said the things he did because in the past he could get away with it.

In the past the Todd Akins of America could take to local stages, local media, and spew their ignorance with impunity, as fact. They were rewarded for it, as Akin has been up to this point.  They were supported by people who were just as ignorant as they were. Whatever gaffe they made was contained, limited in scope.  Hidden from the greater world, a needle in a pile of hay chaff.

Now, as Todd Akin found out Sunday, when you speak nonsense, increasingly it goes viral.  Millions of Americans see it almost instantly.

As they should.

Because the parochial ignorance of people like Todd Akin is not limited to the dolts who vote for him, it affects us all. Each and every one.  It affects our society at every level, now and into the future.  Because we are America, the ignorant foolishness of Todd Akin affects the entire world.

These people have enjoyed freedom of speech and freedom of belief without consequence for far, far too long.

What good is Twitter?

What good is Facebook?

What good is social media?

You’re looking at it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Everything I need to know about politics, I learned in sixth grade

A version of this post appeared here on Stonekettle Station during the 2008 election season.  Somebody recently asked permission to repost it.  After rereading what I had written four years ago, I decided to update it for the modern age instead // Jim


 

My first introduction to democracy was Sixth Grade.

Back in my increasingly distant childhood, we learned about democracy starting in elementary school.

The lessons were fairly simple, mostly there was a lot of talk about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and the 4th of July. I have this fuzzy memory of making a construction paper American Flag while the teacher droned on about freedom, Betsy Ross, and apple pie. I’m pretty sure that the words “Nazi” and “Communist” were not used despite the fact that some hippy liberal named George McGovern was running for President of America out there in the real world.

The whole thing was supposed to introduce us to the American democratic process.

We spent an entire semester learning about how the government worked. A lady from the local election committee came to the school and gave a lecture on voting. Since the school was also a polling station, the teachers would trundle out a huge mechanical tabulator and we all got to stand on an inverted milk crate and flip the switches and pull the lever behind the curtain, like being a midget Wiz in the land of Oz.

I remember thinking it was all very exciting.

Our semester of junior democracy concluded with the election of our very own student body president.

I don't know if sixth graders still elect a student body president nowadays, but if they don’t, they should. Because, see, I learned things in that election. Things that have served me well over the years.

The first thing that I learned was this:

Not everybody gets to be the president.  For example, I was unlikely to ever get elected president, of a grade school class or a country. Oh sure they tell you that anybody can be president, but that’s a bit of a fib, isn’t it? I wasn’t good looking or rich or connected. I sure wasn’t going to be president (I could have probably pulled off Presidential Speech Writer, but even back then I made a lot of typos and used a lot of four letter words so maybe not).  The fact that I wasn’t ever going to be president was a hard lesson, but somehow I’ve managed to carry on and I think I’m probably a better person for it. A little bitter perhaps, but better.

Which takes us to the second thing I learned, No matter the democracy, some people are always going to be more equal than others.

See, right from the start you knew who the class president was going to be.

Jeff the Jock.

Oh sure, even at that age, you could tell Jeff was destined for big things.

Jeff was a winner. Handsome and popular, he had perfect hair and a perfect white smile that would never need braces. He played sports, all kinds of sports and he was always the best, the best quarterback, the best pitcher, the best wrestler. He was a champ. He sat First Chair in the band. He was a straight A student. His parents had money. His farts smelled like happy flower scented potpourri and everything he touched turned to gold.

It was a forgone conclusion that in about six years he’d be the homecoming King after leading the high school football team to the Class-AAA championships.

There was little doubt that Jeff would go on to a first rate ivy covered college with a ponderous blue blood sounding name and then he’d be on to a nice tidy life in law, or medicine, or politics*.

Jeff was just one of those folks who are born with the magic.

He was one of those kids that others gravitated to. 

Everybody wanted to be his friend and anybody could have figured out that he was going to be student body president – just like he’d be president of everything for the rest of his life.  But, this being democracy and all, we had to go through the motions of an actual election.

I worked on his campaign, making posters. We all donated our lunch money to buy posterboard and markers and material to make campaign buttons. We stayed after school to work on the posters and I often walked a couple of miles home instead of riding the bus because of it. But, hey, I was happy to be part of freedom and democracy. Some of the mothers made cookies for us, and we had a lot of fun. Being a dork from a non-rich family in a well to do community and therefore none too popular, I was flattered just to be one of the outer circle.

Jeff even complimented me on my poster making abilities. He was a great guy.

And he was also a consummate bullshit artist.

Jeff’s opposition was a girl whose name long escapes me. I do remember that she was a bookishly practical girl with big ears and that I didn't like her very much.

The key plank in Jeff’s election platform, pretty much the only plank, was a soda machine.

That’s right, a soda machine.

Soda (pop, as everybody calls it in Michigan) was a damned big deal to us kids.  It was sweet and cool and fizzy and delicious.

The only pop machine in the school was in the teacher's lounge, but we students didn't have access to it.

Jeff promised us that if we voted for him he'd get us a pop machine.

Did I mention that Jeff was a great guy? Seriously, nobody else was promising us soda. Jeff! Jeff! Jeff!

In contrast, the opposition candidate was a real wet blanket. Big Ears said that a soda machine wasn't a good idea. She'd talked to the principal about it and her parents and she felt that it simply wasn't practical. She said there were more important things we should be thinking about. I don't remember what those things were, but I do remember thinking that she and her irritating supporters were just stupid girls (I was eleven, sue me). 

Besides, I was part of the in crowd, Jeff’s extended posse, man. We weren’t going to listen to some dumb girl.

Jeff told us what we wanted to hear, in fact he made that soda machine sound like a done deal and you could practically taste those icy cold beverages when he spoke.  Cool delicious pop, that was the ticket.

Consequently Jeff was swept into office on a wave of popular support.

The Stupid Girl faded into the mists of history and the blurry depths of my increasingly fuzzy memory.

President Jeff was allowed to use the PA system for his victory speech. I don’t remember what he said, I was too thirsty. Boy, it was going to be a new era now that President Jeff was in charge. Jeff was a pretty assertive guy, probably from an excess of manly testosterone.  We figured the Principal was probably already on the phone to Royal Crown demanding immediate delivery of that soda machine. 

I figured I’d buy two, one for lunch and one to sip while riding the bus home that day.

Oh yes, we’d done it. All hail President Jeff. What a guy. It was going to be glorious.

Funny thing, we never did see that soda machine.

Turns out that there were practical problems involving cost, regulations, nutrition, pimples, and some other stuff that probably had to do with George McGovern and Communism. President Jeff just couldn't make good on his promises.

I wasn’t sure how, but I suspected the Stupid Girl had somehow sabotaged the whole deal just out of pure spite.

As bitter disappointment began to raise its ugly head, President Jeff shrugged, smiled his winning smile composed of perfect Chiclets, and said he'd done the best he could but it was out of his hands. He never complimented me on my drawing abilities again, and he never thanked me for my support. In fact, he rarely ever spoke to me again, even though we rode the same bus daily until high school graduation and lived only a block or so apart.

You know, it's been forty years since Jeff The Jock was Rosewood Elementary School's student body president and his failure to get us that damned soda machine still chaps my ass. Of course, things turned out more or less all right.  I still managed to carve out a fairly successful life and though the memory haunts me, I’m a reasonably well adjusted citizen – just as long as nobody sneaks up on me with an RC Cola, I can’t be responsible for my actions in that case. Just saying. Especially if I’m holding a bottle opener.

Now, despite the fact that I spent my formative years without being able to enjoy a refreshing soft drink, I don't hold anything against Jeff because he did teach me some valuable lessons about politics and politicians. Things that have served me well over the last four decades: 

- Haircuts and hot air are directly proportional, i.e. the more money a politician spends on his haircut, the more full of shit he is. This is an infallible indicator of character. If he's got good hair, you're not getting the soda machine.

- Politicians always tell you what they think you want to hear. With that in mind, you should listen very carefully.  After they are done talking, after the cheering is over, go home and ask yourself if what you heard Is really what you want. Really. Or is it what some guy with good hair told you you want?  You should probably sit down by yourself in a quiet place and figure out what it is that you really want. Are you sure it’s a soda machine?

- Leaders tell you what you need to hear, even if it’s not what you want. Sometimes that means you’re not getting the soda machine, but at least you know where you stand.

- Beware the politician bearing gifts. There’s always a catch. Politicians don't listen to you unless they need your vote. And probably not even then. After they get your vote (or once they’re sure they’re not going to get it), they will go back to listening exclusively to their friends - until they need your vote again. These people generally get other people to donate the soda and they only share if they expect something from you.

- Poor people are invisible. Rich people don't give a crap about you unless they need your lunch money. The more money you have, the more they care about your concerns.  These people generally have their soda imported and they don’t share.

- Political parties are fun. There’s a sense of belonging, even if you don’t. There’s lots of people just like you with opinions just like yours.  There are activities and ideas and lively conversation. Sometimes there are even cookies. Thing is, cookies are cheap, a soda machine on the other hand is expensive – and it’s a long term commitment.

- If you believe campaign promises will be fulfilled, you’re going to be disappointed. You’re also childishly naive. Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, independent, doesn’t matter – the hard realities of office trump wishful thinking every time. New politicians are usually sincere, they’re not out and out lying, they earnestly believe they can deliver once in power.  That’s why they’re so darned cute. Their disappointment is as sharp and as bitter as the disillusioned people who voted them into office expecting chocolate rainbows and flying bunnies. Savvy and experienced politicians, however, know better. They make promises on the campaign trail with their fingers crossed behind their backs.  Both will promise you your very own soda machine complete with flying bunnies. One means it, the other is lying, but the end result is the same.

- As always, the real power is behind the throne.  Nowhere is this more true than America. It would behoove you to learn something about what’s back there because the only way you’re getting a soda is if that power wants you to have one.

- The Stupid Girl was probably right. Unfortunately, History doesn't remember the losers, even if they were right. Even if they bring soda.

- You’re still a dork, Pumpkin. The Candidate’s mom probably won't give you a lift home, even though it’s raining and you missed the bus working on her son's campaign. He might be a great guy, but champs don’t ride with the riff-raff.  If you’re lucky maybe he’ll give you a friendly wave as he rides past, drinking a soda.

If you’re unlucky and he lost, well he might give you a different gesture.

 


 

* I looked him up on Facebook, he’s a lawyer.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Unsinkable Mitt Romney

 

So, it’s Paul Ryan.

Color me not particularly surprised.

I’m reminded of Gene Hackman’s line to Will Smith in Enemy of the State:

You’re either incredibly smart or incredibly stupid…

In preparation for Tampa, Mitt Romney announced that he was tapping Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan as his running mate.

In requisite conservative Chicken Hawk fashion they made the announcement in front of a war machine to the sound of crackling American flags and martial music. Hooray! I can think of no more appropriate setting than to make the announcement in front of the battleship Wisconsin.

If that’s not the very epitome of the modern GOP, I don’t know what is.

Two men who never served themselves, who have never ever put themselves in harm’s way, standing in front of a symbol of military might. They represent the very face of a political apparatus that embraces the proud tradition of sending other people’s kids off to fight and die in foreign lands – and then denigrates their service when they come home, because they don’t happen to belong to that same ideology. People like me, for instance. Oh how Republicans love the trappings of war, tanks and battleships and patriotic music and the roar of fighter jets overhead. They love the words, strategy and tactics and battle. They love to put targets on their enemies and they love to talk about returning fire. They love guns and they love to drive Humvees and they love to declare war, war on this and war on that. They just don’t like going to war themselves. Funny how neither Romney or Ryan, standing in front of the World War Two battleship, Wisconsin, made mention of how Mitt managed to avoid military service during Vietnam by taking the Mormon to France or how Ryan went into politics in high school and has been firmly lodged there ever since.  Neither of these men served a single day in their entire lives, and yet there they were, beating the military drum.

Yes, how utterly appropriate.

If they could have dug up Dick Cheney and his five draft deferments, they would have had a complete set. The men who came from across the nation, republicans and democrats in equal measure, and crewed that warship during our nation’s darkest hours should be disgusted. But I digress.

Mitt Romney, the man born with a golden spoon in his mouth and who increased his fortune a hundredfold by liquidating American businesses and sending American jobs overseas, standing in front of the nation and telling us that we need to buckle down, stop sucking off the government teat, get jobs and get to work.

Paul Ryan, the man who started out as a high school class president and who has never had an actual adult job outside of government, a man who as a boy would have been on the street after the tragic death of his father but for Social Security and government safety nets, loudly embraces the selfish screw you philosophy of Ayn Rand and thinks other people should get real jobs and stop sponging off the government.

Oh yes, making the announcement in front of the battlewagon Wisconsin was absolutely appropriate.

I can think of few other settings that would so perfectly summarize the hypocrisy of the modern GOP.

Today, the media is hyperventilating into a paper bag, all full of excited and feverish speculation about what the addition of Paul Ryan means to this election year’s monkey fest. What does it mean? Oh, America, what could it mean?

I’ll tell you what it means: Mitt Romney is doubling down. 

He’s embracing the failed tactics of his predecessors, only more so. Exactly like his party goes to war.

He’s pulling a John McCain.

Romney was faced with a simple choice, go big or go home.  Polls in recent weeks clearly show President Obama with a distinct and and increasing lead. CNN Opinion Research has Obama up by seven points and Fox News itself has Obama leading by a full nine percentage points.  Fox’s hysterical Chicken Little panic is obviously designed to terrify conservatives into action, but it’s telling that even a unashamedly biased mouthpiece like Fox News gives Obama the lead.

Now it’s a sucker’s bet to call an election this far out, but it would appear from both liberal and conservative perspectives that Romney is lagging.

There’s a reason for this.

The simple truth of the matter is that nobody likes Mitt Romney.

Face it, he’s a stiff. He looks like he popped out of his mother’s womb at a precisely scheduled time with a full head of perfectly coiffed hair, wearing a perfectly pressed Armani suit, and toddled off to a board meeting before his eyes were even focused.  HIs idea of looking like a regular Joe is to don a pair of brand new thousand dollar designer blue jeans ironed with military creases by the help – he looks like a CEO awkwardly trying to mingle with the peons at a company picnic. His spontaneously unscripted moments are scripted.  He’s the kind of guy who relaxes by reading Forbes and quarterly earnings reports.  Those robots in Disney’s Hall of Presidents are more lifelike and have more personality than Mitt Romney. Romney is a guy who was born rich and made himself richer by liquidating American businesses and putting working class folks in the unemployment line. He’s the guy who lives in the big house. The economy tanked and regular folks lost their homes and shirts and livelihoods, Mitt Romney bought a vacation house with a car elevator in the garage and his wife took her horse to London. No matter how you slice it, that’s who he is.

The problem with Mitt Romney is that Mitt Romney looks and acts exactly like a cliché of what he actually is, a rich white guy.

He’s a bored rich guy who doesn’t have to work for a living and has run out of things to do, he doesn’t have the chops to be Batman so he decided to run for President.

Mitt Romney is literally the rich preppy asshole upper classman from every single John Cusack 80’s teen movie. 

This guy has absolutely nothing in common with ninety-nine percent of America – most especially the light beer swilling, tractor-pulling, NASCAR watching, gun humping, Jesus worshiping, tea partying GOP base.

So why is he the GOP nominee apparent?

Seriously, out of all the choices, why is the average out of work, down on his luck conservative going to vote for the guy least like them? Why? Because (leaving aside the obvious color issue) twenty years ago they were told that a rising tide raises all boats, that’s why. A bunch of rich white guys from Wall Street, people just like Mitt Romney, relieved themselves on the American public and told them it was a summer rain shower. Oh they gave it a nice official sounding name, Trickle Down Economics, but warm whiz is what it was.

Mitt Romney is the poster child for Reaganomics.

See, here’s the thing, a rising tide is great – if you happen to be a member of the yacht club.

But if you don’t own a boat and you can’t afford a ticket as a passenger, well then your only hope is to get hired on as crew otherwise you’re left treading water. And that’s fine, not everybody is a Captain. As long as there are enough boats you’ll stay above water. Problem is, Mitt Romney and the other captains did what a lot of rich yacht owners do, they registered their boats overseas for tax purposes and got themselves some cheap foreign deckhands. It’s twenty years later, but a lot of conservatives still seem to think that sooner or later the rich folks sailing past will throw them a lifeline. Instead, those same rich folks are standing at the rail enjoying the view with a glass of tax free champagne, and they’re pissing over the side – and if we all shuffle together down here between the waves, well we might be able to enjoy a brief warm trickle in the cold, cold ocean. Thanks rich people. Thank you, Ronald Reagan.

The problem with trickle down economics is one of proportion. Without some very specific regulations and enforcement, the rich folks benefit enormously from a booming economy, the middle class does all the deck work and gets a modest lifestyle on credit, and the poor get put away down in steerage with the rats where they’re out of sight and out of mind.  Every once in a while, if they behave, Mitt Romney will put on his thousand dollar jeans and ladle them out some soup – because not only is that tax deductible it buys rich people a place in Heaven.

And then when it all hits the iceberg, well then the rich bastards jump in the paltry few lifeboats and motor away, leaving everybody else to drown.

When John Thain, the last President of Merrill Lynch, crashed his company and lost his job, he got a multi-million dollar golden parachute. Everybody else, employees and investors and the American public, got screwed and left to go down with the ship.  That’s exactly what I’m talking about, people like John Thain take risks with our entire economy and when their greed and lousy leadership result in a massive economic collapse they just get richer while everybody else ends up broke and swimming for their lives. And if that isn’t enough, Thain, after he destroyed Merrill Lynch and sold what was left off to Bank of America asked the board of directors to give him another ten million.

Mitt Romney and his boy wonder along with every other member of the Republican Party keep telling us that people like John Thain shouldn’t pay taxes because they create jobs. Seriously? You have to wonder what these people are smoking. Thain destroyed hundreds of thousands of jobs, literally hundreds of thousands of jobs, directly like those at Merrill Lynch and indirectly by contributing to the economic collapse though careless and unscrupulous business activities. Thain made hundreds of millions of dollars in salary and bonuses doing it and that money came directly from people who are now paying off hundreds of thousands of dollars in bad mortgages and will be for the rest of their lives.

Thain literally bought himself a gold plated toilet with that money. You want to talk about pissing on the rest of us?

People like John Thain have enjoyed Bush Era Tax Cuts for ten years now, so where are the jobs?

No seriously, where are they?

And now? Now Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan want you to believe that we somehow owe John Thain more money.

The rich are always outraged when the ship of state springs a leak. Sure. Of course it wasn’t their fault, never is, right? Bad crewing is what it was. It was those parasites down in steerage, yeah, those bastards. Funny that the rich aren’t outraged when there aren’t enough lifeboats for all, costs must be kept to a minimum and profits maximized after all – just as long as there’s enough lifeboats for them.

What people like Mitt Romney want is to convince you that being beholden to the government is bad, but being beholden to rich people is somehow desirable.  The reason, and what those folks never tell you, is that the government is answerable to the people, the rich emphatically aren’t, QED.  If you’re depending on the largess and compassion of people like Mitt Romney and John Thain, well, you’re an idiot.

Case in point, Saturday morning, Romney hired himself a First Mate who wants to increase profits by getting rid of the life preservers.

Mitt Romney needed somebody who can carry that message, somebody who can convince the slaves to fight for the Confederacy, somebody who can convince the crew to help the rich folks into the lifeboat and then go down with the ship with a smile on their faces.  He needed somebody young, dynamic, pretty, and – and given the lessons learned from McCain’s mistake – intelligent and well spoken. In short, just like McCain he needed a running mate that would offset his image as an old stodgy rich white guy pissing on the rest of us.  What he really needed, was somebody who could look the crew and passengers right in the eye and convince them that lifeboats are just for the owner of the shipping company and anything more is really just a waste of deck space. Trust me, the ship will never sink.

What you’re seeing here is the same philosophy that these same folks use to wage war. We’ll never lose. They’ll cheer us in the streets. It’ll be over in a month. We don’t need body armor.  God loves us best of all, he’d never let us down so we don’t need a backup plan or safety nets. Besides, we could stand to shed some of the riff raff. Trust us. More champagne? It’s imported.

Somebody managed to finally convince Romney that Latinos aren’t going to vote for him no matter what – not even the ones that conservatives think can’t tell the difference between Mexicans and Cubans. It’s just not possible for the GOP to court the Latino vote when every conservative worth his genuine Ben Franklin powdered wig is loudly blaming immigrants for everything from acne to the price of lettuce and demanding to see their papers.  When you’ve got Joe Arpaio stomping around the Southwest in his hobnail boots, there’s no point in bringing onboard Marco Rubio.

The GOP is already chock a block with loud corn-fed white guys who hate minorities, gays, the poor, non-Christians, and Barack Obama. They’ve got that part covered in detail. Chris Christie would have been redundant.  Besides, Christie would have had to start watching his mouth, and even if he wasn’t from New Jersey that’s just not going to happen.

Rob Portman was too damned boring. Romney’s already boring, adding Portman to the ticket gains him exactly nothing except another stiffy in a tie.  If you don’t live in Ohio, you don’t know Rob Portman from Natalie Portman. Conservatives, despite their recent glum show of enthusiasm, are already not excited. For them, this isn’t about putting Romney in the White House, it’s about getting Barack Obama out. Then once they’ve righted the world and fumigated the Oval Office, like the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt they’ll go around chipping the stinky black guy’s image off of everything. Given that the school books are printed in Texas, I figure it’s only a matter of time until Obama’s name, like that of Chuck Darwin  and Marty King Jr, will disappear from our history. Remember, Folks, the only science that matters is creation science and the only true blue oppressed civil rights leader you need to know is Dan Cathy. Once a Republican is back in the White House the economy will magically rain down sugar coated happiness and manly non-gay rainbows, the tide will come in, the boats will rise … and all the undesirables will drown just like Jesus intended. Amen.

And the guy with the plan, the plan that rains down magic sugar frosted rainbows, is Paul Ryan.

Fox News hailed the selection of Ryan as evidence that Romney is focused on the economy.

Heh heh, right.

If Romney was focused on the economy, if Romney actually had a plan that he could sell to the masses, well then he wouldn’t need Paul Ryan now, would he?

Bringing Ryan onboard lets Romney claim to be focused on the economy and jobs while spending all of his time talking about conspiracy theories and how Obama sucks giant liberal donkey balls. Right from the start, Romney and his former competitors have attempted to make this election into a referendum on Obama, selecting Ryan as his running mate lets Romney continue to do so.

You’re either incredibly smart, or incredibly stupid.

If Romney plays the staid conservative game, he will certainly lose.

And if he takes a big risk, which is what Ryan is, he just might lose even bigger. But he just might win too.

It depends on whether the Ryan Budget Plan will galvanize the Tea Party and the undecided vote in favor of Mitt Romney to a larger degree than the threat of Ryan’s Ayn Rand Utopia will goad disillusioned democrats and independents into getting off their teary asses and going to vote for Obama again.

And Ryan should scare the bejebbers out of both sides. 

Conservatives have been shitting themselves blind for the last three years, gibbering in black panic over what, exactly, Obama meant by “change.” As Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan’s plan outlines nothing short of a complete reordering of the national tax code and a massively radical change in federal spending priories for the next century.  Ryan’s plan would drastically shrink the US Government and would, for all practical purposes, remove almost all of the safety nets ninety-nine percent of Americans, the entire middle class, i.e. pretty much the entire Tea Party among others, depend on.

For example, Paul Ryan’s plan will convert Medicare into a voucher program. 

What that means is that every middle class senior citizen, and the others who depend on Medicare, will be given government checks so that they can go buy privatized health insurance.

Think about that.

No. Stop. Really think about that and what the implications are.

First you’re basically looking at government subsidized health insurance.  Oh you can whore it up all you like, but that’s what it is, and it’s something that Ryan’s Tea Party pals and conservatives denounce as hated socialism.  

Second, for a voucher system to work you have to implement some pretty strict regulations on the insurance industry.  We’re talking about old people here, right? That’s who uses Medicare.  Old people usually have a lot of pre-existing medical conditions, they usually require increasingly expensive prescriptions, lots of them. Hundreds of dollars a month. They need expensive procedures and treatments and hearing aids and eye glasses and physical therapy.  Old people are expensive, they cost a lot of money when it come to healthcare and they typically can’t pay much in the way of premiums and deductibles.

Private health insurers hate old people the way auto insurers hate drunk drivers. That’s why we ended up with Medicare in the first place and why it costs so much.

Now, how are you going to guarantee that private health insurance will cover old people?

What?

What’s that you say?

Why there’ll have to be strict government regulation?

Yes, there will. Insurers will be forced to take people with pre-existing conditions. They’ll be prevented from dropping people with increasingly serious medical conditions and people who are absolutely guaranteed to develop serious medical conditions. There will be strict limits on what insurers can charge and what they must cover.  And so on. 

That would be sort of exactly like Obamacare, wouldn’t it?

Because if you don’t don’t have those kind of regulations in place when Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan get rid of Medicare, well then you’ll looking square into the face of actual de facto no shit death panels, aren’t you?

That’s just the start. You run into the same problems when you start talking about the privatization of Social Security and other government safety nets which were put into place specifically because private businesses can’t or will not cover the problem. The Ryan budget plan, if implemented, would cut roughly six trillion dollars from projected federal spending for the next ten years and it would also cut revenue by another four trillion dollars. It will radically change the government more than anything Barack Obama or the democrats have ever attempted in any fashion whatsoever.

And where exactly do you think that money is going to come from? Out of the Koch Brothers’ pockets? Out of the defense budget?

No, it’s going to come from people just like us.

Now, don’t get me wrong here, something must be done.  Federal spending and the federal deficit must be brought under control.  But when the ship is taking on water you don’t burn the lifeboats.

As the Tea Party’s fair haired accountant and as the head of the House Budget Committee, Representative Paul Ryan wields considerable power and influence – far more than he should.

But, and here’s the really ironic part, if Romney wins the White House this fall, he effectively takes Paul Ryan out of the picture and strips him of all his power.

The US Vice President has little influence and no authority when it comes to executive policy.

The Vice President has no authority when it comes to legislation, other than maybe casting a tie breaking vote in the Senate should it come down to it.

Right now Paul Ryan is a member of the club, one of the movers and the shakers, but should he change from legislative to executive, he’s persona non grata on the Hill. There is nobody less influential than the Vice President (Well, OK, sure, there was Dick Cheney, you’ve got me there).

But no matter how you slice it, for the next several months, until November at least, Paul Ryan is effectively out of congress or at best working part time – i.e. during one of the most critical budget negotiation periods in recent memory the conservative Chairman of the House Budget Committee is out on the campaign trail instead of wielding the gavel.

Romney is either incredibly smart, or incredibly stupid.

Time will certainly tell.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Things That Chap My Ass About The Olympics

What is it? Two weeks now?

Frankly I’m about done with the Olympics.

I generally have little interest in sports in the first place and the endless saturation of the Olympics does nothing to improve my outlook.

People who know me in person will confirm this, I’m not a fan of sports.

I’d make an exception for Calvinball, but the fascists at the IOC still won’t recognize it as a real game.

I don’t hate sports and I can understand why other people enjoy the competition so much. But to me, it’s just a bunch of generally obnoxious meatheads getting paid a generally obnoxious amount of money to run around playing a generally obnoxious kid’s game so that the next day the generally obnoxious idiot you work with can interrupt every single business conversation with “Hey, did you guys catch the Naked Lobster Tossing Championships last night?” I’m glad they’ve found something that gives both them and others joy without, mostly, illegalities, but I really couldn’t possibly care less about who beats who, or who wins the championship, or who goes home with the title, trophy, big ugly gold belt, or the other guy’s balls in a shoebox. Just don’t care. Can’t make myself care (The single exception to this is the Iditarod Sled Dog race. Seriously, when I see a quarterback making $20 Million a year to lead the offensive line across a thousand miles of ice at sixty below, maybe I’ll start paying attention to football).

Sporting events bore me. Sitting on sticky plastic seats with a bunch of shirtless intoxicated goobers wearing giant plastic cheese wedges on their heads isn’t really something I look forward to. I’m always watching the clock and waiting for it to be over – and, really? Overtime? For crying out loud, just kick the damned ball and let’s get the hell out of here already.

So, anyway, I’m not a big sports fan.

I’m not, but by rights I should be. 

Howard Cosell was the narrator of my childhood. I grew up in a family of sports nuts.  My dad loved sports, especially those traditionally American sports. Football, baseball, basketball, hockey, boxing, you name it, he always had a game blaring from the radio while working in the garden or in the yard. Whenever I hear a ballgame on the radio nowadays, I smile and think of my Dad. He knew every stat for every player of every sport by heart. Sundays we’d spend over at a relative’s, with a house full of noisy cousins and a game on the TV. Beer and colorful cursing flowed in equal measure, especially when it was Michigan vs. Notre Dame. Every week throughout the entire decade of the 70’s, we’d come running at the sound of the blaring trumpets that heralded The Wide World of Sports, just so we could cringe at that Yugoslavian ski-jumper, Vinko Bogataj, who famously lost his balance on the ramp and went spectacularly out of control in a tangle of arms and legs as he careened off the side of the jump in Oberstdorf, West Germany during the 1970 Ski-flying World Championships. Every week we’d watch the agony of his defeat in horrified fascination as he tumbled wildly through the air like a rag-doll in a hurricane and crashed into the crowd below the ramp. The scene would always end with the same phrase from one of the watching adults, “…that poor bastard.”

If it wasn’t a bunch of guys chasing some kind of ball around some kind of field, it was two knuckle draggers pounding the slobber out of each other in a ring.  Boxing is probably one of the reasons I got interested in politics, well one particular match anyway. The hype surrounding the famous “fight of the century,” i.e. Smokin’ Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden in 1971, was basically a thumbnail version of everything that’s come since in America.  The black-power anti-establishment liberal with the funny religion in a brutal no-holds-barred slug fest against an establishment-supporting conservative pro-war Christian. For years before and after the fight both contenders engaged in hyperbolic self-promotion, bizarre insults, and endless character assassination (too bad the current batch of jackasses running our country can’t follow Frazier and Ali’s later example and bury the hatchet and, if not become friends, at least tone down the assholery and engage in some small mutual respect). A couple of years later, long past both their primes, they met again at the Thrilla In Manila. I remember that fight, because the bottom of the screen kept flashing “live via satellite” and I thought the implications of TV from outer space were a whole lot more interesting than two slabs of beef pounding their frontal lobes into oatmeal.

When there wasn’t a ballgame (and really, when isn’t there a game of one kind or another on?), or a fight, there was always auto racing. Dale Earnhardt’s death a few years back was notable because it happens so rarely nowadays, but when I was growing up we watched auto racing specifically for the fatal accidents, which happened about once a month. (Oh sure, everybody says they don’t watch car racing for the carnage, but without the threat of death it’s just a bunch of florid rednecks roaring around in a circle cutting each other off. They might as well be on the DC Beltway. Big whoop).

If there was nothing else on, there was always golf. I have never understood the attraction of watching paunchy middle-aged people with sticks amble aimlessly across a lawn for two hours while other people follow them around whispering like they’re in a library. Honestly, you know what golf needs? Heckling. Scantily clad cheerleaders. Mascots. Drunken rowdy soccer hooligans. Exploding balls. Hungry lions released onto the fairway. Something. I have never understood the attraction of golf. I never understood it until Tiger Woods that is. If I had known that round-heeled women were uncontrollably attracted to men in ugly pants…

And of course if all that wasn’t enough, every couple of years, there are the Olympics.

The Olympics’ primary function is to make you cheer for sports you’d never ever watch otherwise. Ever. Rowing? Dressage? Nordic Skijorning? Seriously, what the hell is that? Who cares? USA! USA!

Two thousand years ago, the Greeks invented the Olympics as a way to honor their gods,  Zeus in particular – a large muscular bearded man’s man of a manly deity who apparently enjoyed the company of other manly men while watching naked oil-covered men wrestling. Bring the kids, we’ll make a day of it. But I digress.

Every couple of years, the constantly warring Hellenistic world would declare a truce and athletes would come from all over the Mediterranean to compete against each other.  The Olympics were more than just games, they were an opportunity for intrigue, political alliances, treaties, and war by other means. There were great religious celebrations and even competitions in song, poetry, and art. 

As to the actual games themselves, they began as a simple footrace, but eventually grew to include sports derived from the military arts: boxing, wrestling, a form of mixed martial arts, chariot and horse races, archery, javelin and discus throwing. 

The ancient Olympics were tough, competitors often died like some Greek version of The Hunger Games.

First prize was a crown made from leaves or upon occasion an olive branch.

Congratulations, Diagroas, you’ve pummeled Theagenes into a bloody mush, the crowd loves you, history shall always revere your name, Zeus himself admires your manliness (and would like you to stop by the temple later tonight, bring your olive oil), you made Rhodes proud and shamed  those Spartan pricks back to their stupid mountain, well done, Sir.  Here’s your prize, it’s this, uh, yes, a uh, magic stick for your trouble. Remember to put it in a glass of water so the leaves last longer. Thanks for coming.

Oh, yes, one other thing just in case it wasn’t clear from the context: in the ancient Olympics, athletes competed completely naked, slathered in olive oil.  Seriously, think about that. No no, not the naked grappling part (though that would be risky enough even without the olive oil), I’m talking about the naked martial arts without a cup part, I’m talking about the naked horseback racing while covered in olive oil without stirrups or saddles or an athletic supporter. Seriously, no wonder men died, I’d think you’d welcome it. Testicles make really bad shock absorbers. Kill me, Zeus, please kill me now.

Two millennia ago, Olympic sporting events were based on the skills used to wage war, plowshares from swords so to speak.

Fast forward to 2012.

Modern sports, though often couched in war-like narration, are no longer based on warrior skills. That’s why you won’t see Drone Dodging or Freestyle Grenade Juggling in London this year. 

What do we have instead?

Badminton.

As somebody said on the my Facebook page, winning Olympic Gold in Badminton is like being crowned the best ballerina in the Marine Corps. 

Back in the early part of the last century, the Olympics included power boating and ballooning.  Power boating. Ballooning in coal fired, steam powered hot air balloons that rammed each other with giant metal prows for mastery of the skies! That’s what I’m talking about.  There was Tug-Of-War, teams of soldiers dragging each other through a pit of starving alligators! (OK, I just made up the part about the steam powered alligators, but tell me you wouldn’t watch that. Because that would be awesome!).  Hell there was even polo.  I know, I know, polo sounds like something a bunch of sissy weak-chinned inbred aristocrats do instead of having sex, but we’re talking Olympic Polo here – big hairy brutish sons of bitches on horseback swinging giant flaming wooden mallets of death at each other. Think Canadian Hockey, on war horses. Dude.

And they gave that up for what? Badminton?

Badminton sucks so bad that communist countries apparently cheat by trying to suck at it more.

What else have we got?

Golf? Damnit, it’s still just paunchy middle-aged guys in ugly pants aimlessly wandering around with sticks.

Canoeing? Woohoo! An Olympic sport I can participate in! Let me get my cooler and stop by the liquor store, I’ll meet you guys down at the river. 

Curling? No, really, curling? We gave up Olympic power boating for curling? That’s not a sport, that’s a bunch of maple syrup addled Canadians sliding rocks across a frozen pond. Look, I’ve driven across the Yukon, rocks and frozen lakes that’s pretty much the whole damned thing, so sure, it looks good to them. But what’s next, Flannel Groping? Lumberjacking?  Curling is the Canadian equivalent of the American sport of driving around in your truck shooting holes in road signs. 

There’s beach Volleyball. Now I think we all know why there’s beach volleyball in the Olympics. And I think we all know who decided that there should be beach volleyball in the Olympics. And I think we can be pretty sure that decision was made at a Hooters and frankly I think it beats the ever living hell out of naked men wrestling in olive oil. But, a sport? Come on. Look, there’s a reason why the internet is saturated with pictures of volleyball players in their “uniforms” – and damned few images of anybody actually playing volleyball.

How about Dressage? 

Perhaps you’re more familiar with its common working man sports name, Horse Ballet.

Horse Ballet.

I’ll be honest, right now I’m picturing Budweiser beer wagon Clydesdales in tutus performing to the commentary of Howard Cosell, there may or may not be naked men and olive oil involved.

Dressage and Eventing are supposedly descended from actual military equestrian arts, specifically the skills necessary for horse soldiers to guide their mounts during battle.  Frankly that sounds like the kind of comforting bullshit parents tell their nerdy horse kids after they got picked on by the football jocks.  But, hell, let’s go with it.  War horses. Jazz it up by combining Dressage with Olympic archery and shooting events and what do you get? Full on cavalry battles!  More, let’s make it a rule that owners have to ride their own horses.  Tell me you wouldn’t tune in to watch Anne Romney wielding a rifle in one hand, a saber in the other, and controlling her mount with her knees. Sure it would be disturbingly close to watching a Romney home sex video, but sacrifices have to be made in the name of international brotherhood.

Speaking of combining lame sports into awesome events:

How about a hybrid of the previously ridiculed badminton with kick boxing? I call it Bad Judo. Replace the shuttlecock with something a little more … interesting. Say like this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic. I know, I know, brilliant. I’ll split my Nobel with Zach Weiner.

What if we combined figure skating and powerlifting? No? It’s the leotards, isn’t it? OK, bad idea but check this out: you know what you get if you combine Olympic Sailing with Fencing? Pirates!  Tell me the whole world wouldn’t tune in for Olympic Pirating. To hell with Zach Weiner, that Nobel is all mine!

Maybe what this thing needs is some new events.  Did you know that the International Olympic Committee recognizes the card game Bridge as a sport? Ditto Chess. The advantage of both is that the threat of including either in the Olympics makes people tune into badminton. 

The IOC also recognizes “underwater sports,” I’m not really sure what that is but I’m picturing some kind of big battle with spear guns and mini-subs like in the James Bond movie Thunderball. I’ll be honest, I would watch that every single day of the year. 

Sumo is another sport that is not currently included in the Olympic lineup. And that’s a damned shame because I think it ought to be.  Now, I’m not talking the Japanese version because obviously they’d have a seriously unfair advantage over other countries – especially those where food is a bit scarce. No, to be fair, I think Olympic Sumo teams would have to be composed of drunk college freshmen in those giant fat suits. 

Here’s the thing, people who watch golf on TV will watch anything – even badminton.  Frankly, I think it’s only a matter of time before texting while driving and eating a cheeseburger is a recognized sport (the women’s version would be texting and driving while putting on makeup).

What?

Oh right, my drunken sumo wrestling idea is stupid but synchronized swimming is a real sport.

Fine, how about this?

Two words:

Naked luge.