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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Kill Your Television

It's always fun to look at the fall prime time lineups offered by the six networks, just to see what new levels of awfulness they have sunk to in order to hold on to the market share of what seems to be an increasingly fickle and yet increasingly gullible public.

In that spirit, a bunch of us, led by all-purpose pop culture maven Mike Burger, every year attempt to predict what's not going to catch on this TV season. Our mission is to choose ten shows, old or new, that will have gone to the idiot box in the sky by this time next year.

Without further ado...here are my entries in the 2004-05 Allison LaPlaca Open!

Drum roll, please!

1-2. Everybody Loves Raymond, NYPD Blue
It's been widely reported that it's the final season for each of these prime time warhorses.

3. Crossing Jordan
Jill Henessey is back, but I imagine that much of this show's already too small audience has forgotten about it in its long absence, and it will die a quick death, just like the murder victims on the show.

4. 8 Simple Rules
The show got a post-John Ritter boost, as people who tuned in to find out how they dealt with Ritter's absence due to his tragic death. But now I think the novelty has worn off, and there's not much reason to continue without him now.

5. Tru Calling
It's always good to pick a show that got saved by the network at the last minute last season, especially one in a bad time slot.

6. Grounded For Life
It doesn't have a full order for the season yet (bad for a returning show), it's on Friday night, and I forgot it was even still on the air until Mr. Burger's website reminded me.

7. Desparate Housewives
Here's a prime time network show with a title that sounds like it belongs on at 1 AM on Cinemax. Plus the commercials were almost as annoying as the ones for NBC's "Hidden Hills" last season. I'm betting "Alias" will be back sooner rather than later.

8. Father of the Pride
I'm joining Kristin in calling "fraught" on this one. It has the makings of a colossal failure - big budget, big hype, a network (NBC) that's something of a kiss of death (remember "God, the Devil, and Bob?" "Stressed Eric?") for animated programming.

9. Commando Nanny
The title reminds me of both Fran Drescher and Hulk Hogan, and neither is something I want to confront regularly. I've had good luck with picking bad titles in the LaPlaca; last year, I decided that "The Brotherhod of Poland, New Hamsphire" and "Rock Me Baby" were the worst sitcom names. Who knew that Gerald "Major Dad" McRaney was still alive?

10. North Shore
The Fox people think they have another "OC" on their hands here. The ratings thusfar suggest otherwise.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Shut Up And Sing?

It's funny to watch the Republican spin machine with one breath shout "Shut up and sing!" to left-leaning or Democratic people in music, and promote their own musicians when they have them. CNN further explains the politics of musicians here.

Now you probably shouldn't base your support for a political party based on the quantity, quality, or hipness of its celebrity spokespeople. But if you're going to...

For the Dems - Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M., Bonnie Raitt, the Dixie Chicks, the Dave Matthews Band, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Tom Waits, David Byrne, Carole King, Sheryl Crow, Patti LaBelle, Black Eyed Peas, Blink 182, Willie Nelson.

For the Repubs - Michael W. Smith, Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, Randy Travis, Ricky Skaggs. Most people in Christian music and country music. Possibly Britney Spears, if she meant what she was quoted as saying in "Farenheit 9/11."
But not, regardless of what U.S. News reported last Friday, Foghat.

I'm not sure whether Bush would get any points for Foghat, mind you.

Zillions of articles in National Review, Weekly Standard, and elsewhere about how conservatives are now cool on college campuses across the nation notwithstanding, the GOP are not and never will be the party of cool. I think it comes down to this: If there are only two (viable) political parties in a given society, the one that has a substantial and powerful faction that thinks outlawing oral sex is a good idea is not, and will never be, the "cool" party.

Besides, you know George W. Bush is That Guy. That Guy, who some of your friends is fun to go out with until trouble starts. You know That Guy, the one who talks tough, whose words cause a brawl, who is conveniently not around when the actual fighting takes place. Before you know it, you've got bad beer poured all over you, or perhaps a bloody nose or broken jaw. Now John Kerry is probably a bit of a bore, brings up Vietnam like he's Walter in "The Big Lebowski." But when a brawl starts, I think he's a guy who's got your back. And he's not That Guy.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

All The Critics Love U In New York

If you're going to protest the Republican National Convention in New York, well, have fun, but not too much fun. My first instinct was to say not to go, but I decided that the people likeliest to start trouble aren't going to be dissuaded, and the more non-troublemaking folk that show up in New York, the more chance that the lunatic fringe won't be allowed to dominate the proceedings.

Remember that America, and the world, are watching. From that fact you can derive most of my other advice for anyone planning on making your voice heard on the streets of the Big Apple next week.

Lots of the protest activity will be televised. The press is lazy and would love nothing more than to cover the sensationalistic spectacle of black-clad anarchists throwing rocks through Starbucks franchises and getting into fights with police officers. Make it as hard for them as possible, whether that's by wearing your Sunday best or by looking like you're on your way to the workplace, a trendy nightclub, a fraternity party, or a job interview. The press would have to actually have to work for a change rather than traffic in lazy strereotyping.

The Republicans wouldn't mind seeing rioting in the streets because they want to make it look like Bush is the only thing that stands between the American people and total chaos. That he has been able to project such an image with some degree of success is the main reason he still has support from people who aren't either fundamentalist preachers or members of the board of an oil company. The news media want rioting in the streets because it gets them ratings, and therefore advertising money; they can only get so much mileage from Scott Peterson and Kobe Bryant. I wouldn't put it past either of them to try and foment chaos; the use of agents provocateurs is a time-honored tradition in union-busting and counter-insurgency operations. Ergo, look upon anyone who wants to get violent with a suspicious eye, not only because they might be moles for the Bushies, but because they are being jerks in general.

Despite the fact that the GOP selected New York City for its convention site, the locals are by and large with you. Bush's approval ratings in New York and its immediate surroundings are among the lowest in the country. And for good reason. Most of them want to see a new president, many of them as badly as you do. Trashing their city can only hurt your cause, and theirs.

Political conventions are, at this stage in the evolution of campaigns and elections, boring by nature. Nothing much happens at them and they are scripted to the extreme. And the more boring they are, the less of an impact that they have. If the anti-Bush people in New York don't play into GOP hands by making themselves the story, the "story" of the convention will be one of two things:
a. The RNC was a painfully boring affair because the GOP was trying to present a face as bland and inoffensive as possible, and largely succeeded. Bush and his surrogates aren't really going to inspire anyone on the fence at this point with their speeches; all they can hope to do if they don't get the circus in the streets they want is hold a few Republican-leaning stragglers. Few people would watch anyway.
b. The RNC was a replay of Houston 1992, full of saber-rattling and culture war bloviating, and scared and/or turned-off voters will desert Bush and the Republicans.
While I doubt that the GOP will be so stupid as to repeat the mistakes of Houston, there is no good reason to stop them from boring the public to tears, or to take the spotlight off of them if they are that foolish.

Last but not least, remember - eyes on the prize. Before you do anything in New York next week, ask yourself if whether it's going to help send Bush scurrying back to Texas for good.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Hot Fun In The Summertime

You can read all about my travels in the Heartland this past weekend over at The Answer Guy's Annex if you like.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Zell Out

The Republicans have chosen retiring "Democratic" Georgia Senator Zell Miller as their keynote speaker.

Zell Miller was a segregationist when he thought that was fashionable. He was then a pragmatic centrist governor of Georgia in the mold of Bill Clinton in Arkansas when he thought that was fashionable. He was a friend of Clinton when he thought that was fashionable, even going so far as to give Clinton's nominating speech - a very good one - at the 1992 Democratic National Convetion.

And now he's a neo-conservative because he thinks that's fashionable. Talk about your flip flops; going from conservative to moderate southern liberal to hard-right over a political career beats any wavering John Kerry has ever done by a country mile.

(Pointless aside I couldn't fit anywhere else: Apparently Miller (along with Alan Keyes) supports repealing the 17th Amendment, which provides for the direct election of the U.S. Senate, and returning the Senate to a body selected by state legislatures. Other than some marginal short-term gains for the Republican Party, I can't fathom what he thinks the benefits of a return to such a system; if history is any guide, it wouldn't reduce corruption, reduce the extent to which the Senate is a club for the super-wealthy, or do anything but increase the power of state legislators, and it's hard to see how that would accomplish any good given the nature of most state legislatures. Or maybe conservatives just think everything was better in the Gilded Age.)

Apparently that they can't even find a fresh face in their own ranks that they want to present to America, their own version of Illinois Senate hopeful Barack Obama, who served the same function at the Democratic National Convention last month in Boston. Instead they've opted for an old man in the twilight of his career. And they can't dare show their true colors in public, so they have to trot out the most moderate people willing to share a stage with this campaign, and, in addition, a man who, for whatever unimaginable reason, still calls himself a Democrat.

To paraphrase Joan Jett, you don't lose when you lose fake friends.

Vacation

The Answer Guy Online will go on a brief hiatus, as I will be out of town this weekend.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Expos Say...

Major League Baseball is still looking for a new place to put the Expos. Quite naturally, they want taxpayers somewhere to foot most of the bill.

The top sites under consideration is, of course, are in the District and in Loudoun County near Dulles Airport.

The Loudoun County site would be a nightmare in many ways. If you're in Washington, and suburban Maryland, Arlington, or Alexandria, the Dulles area isn't much easier to reach during weekday rush hour than Baltimore is with a car. If you don't have a car, Baltimore is actually an easier trip, and would be until the Metro extension to Dulles is completed, which is at best several years away. Walkup traffic would be negligible in any case, and most people who worked in Washington would go to one or two weeknight games per year, the way they go to Baltimore now. A stadium would bring little other than traffic to that area, since at a suburban ballpark, people tend to come and park their cars and then simply leave right afterwards. Unfortunately, that area seems to be the only one in Northern Virginia that wants a stadium, as Arlington and Alexandria, which have easy access to downtown Washington, would make good stadium sites to attract people from the District, have both made it clear neither is interested.

Washington itself would be a good site for a baseball franchise. The factors that led to baseball leaving town have changed markedly, and likely for good. There is money in the city now, and the success of the MCI Arena indicates that a stadium in or near downtown could be a good idea. That said, the city is already a tourist trap and isn't presently starving for reasons to bring suburbanites and tourists downtown, so it's in a better bargaining position vis-a-vis sports ownership in other cities. Given all of its budgetary problems, its structural deficits, and the fact that the city can't keep its streets and neighborhoods clean or safe, it would be a mistake to throw the kind of money at Major League Baseball they probably want. Furthermore, it's so painfully obvious that Washington is the place to put the team, it probably serves the city well to drive a hard bargain.

Reportedly, the other two sites under strong consideration are Norfolk, Virginia and Las Vegas, which are way suboptimal, in addition to being smaller than the market they would be leaving, Montreal. The Hampton Roads area consists largely of transplants (heavy military presence) and is highly transient, the same issues that deep sixed two previous franchises in Washington, but lacks Washington's size, affluence, and transit network. Las Vegas be a fast-growing area, but it consits mostly of transplants, isn't especially affluent, and would be by far the smallest media market in MLB. For all of the shortcomings of Portland, Oregon or Charlotte, North Carolina, they'd be better choices for the Expos than Las Vegas or Norfolk.

Of course, if it were really up to me, I'd put the team in...New Jersey. But that's a story for another time.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Syncrhonicity?

Some Columbia student notices something interesting about the Dodge logo. Click on the link - it's worth it.

Puts all those macho commericals for Dodge trucks - especially the one where the father who looks like Michael Rappaport teaches his little son to say "Hemi" - into their proper perspective.

You'll recall that there were commercials for Dodge Durango where a couple guys stood next to each other at urinals and one of them bragged about the size of his new truck, that it was...seven inches longer than his previous truck, and other similar pseudo-Freudian banter.

Grab life by the horns, indeed.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The Hornet's Nest

Quick thought as I near bedtime.

I noticed that, in a move that will surprise no one and accomplish nothing, Israel has apparently just killed five more Palestinians while trying to assassinate another senior Hamas official.

It's hard to argue about the assassinations of most of the people targeted from a strict justice perspective. Most of them are pretty contemptible people - they target innocent Israelis and don't even have the guts to sacrifice their own life for their cause.

But I would think wonder from a practical perspective that these killings, even if they are successful and appropriately selective, as many of them, like this one, are clearly not, actually do more harm than good. Not only do they help make Israel an international pariah, each killing makes the international news and encourages someone somewhere to become an Islamic terrorist. Especially in Palestine.

The "iron fist" approach doesn't seem to be working very well. Yassir Arafat may not be the Gandhi or Mandela the Palestinian people desparately need, but someone needs to find that person, if they're out there.

Monday, August 16, 2004

A Novel Without A Hero

More than one person has asked me for my take on the resignation of New Jersey Governor James McGreevey.

It's a sad story, a Greek tragedy on a grand scale, where there appear to be no true heroes.

The press conference at which McGreevey announced he would be resigning was a brilliant move insofar as it made everyone focus on the fact that he's gay when that's not even really the reason he's resigning. It makes him look like he's standing up for something when he's really being pushed out for corruption. Would anyone show any sympathy for a married heterosexual governor who puts his unqualified mistress into a high-paying state job? I doubt it. Sexual orientation is not an excuse for this type of corruption, and apparently there is more to the corruption of McGreevey's administration than this lurid same-sex affair.

Of course, Golan Cipel doesn't come out of this looking so good. Here's a guy that was supposedly having an affair with the governor, and ends up with a cushy job (namely, being in charge of Homeland Security) for which he shouldn't be eligible. And now he's claiming that he's straight, and that he was the victim of sexual harassment. It's possible a straight man slept with a closeted gay man to advance his career. It's also possible he that would receive advances from that man but do what most straight men would do in such a case, namely, rebuff them. There's a number of possible scenarios here...
A. Cipel is gay, did have a love affair with McGreevey, who got him a job since when you love someone you do nice things for them. Then they broke up, and Cipel is trying to deny anything ever happened between them.
B. Cipel is gay, but had no interest in McGreevey other than what he could do for him. He used the attraction amother man felt for him to leverage himself into a cushy job.
C. Cipel isn't gay, but went along with McGreevey's advances anyway. Otherwise, identical to Scenarios A-B.
D. McGreevey made unwelcome advances, Cipel rebuffed them, and McGreevey tried to cover it up by offering Cipel a job.
E. Same as Scenario D, except that Cipel actively demanded the job.

Only under Scenario D is Cipel arguably not blameworthy, and even then that's assuming he's not behind the scenes trying to blackmail McGreevey into a big payoff. The fact that he's filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit doesn't reflect well on him.

I do feel a little empathy for McGreevey in one sense; in order to enter his chosen profession, he had to either live a lie from the beginning or slowly discover he was forcing himself to live a lie. And lest your response be, "Stay out of politics," I would answer that politics is far from the only arena in which gays have to keep who they love hidden. In many workplaces across the nation, particular when you get further from large coastal urban areas, nearly every workplace is at least little like that, a fact that's easy to forget living somewhere like Washington, DC. In a society where so many people weren't bent on writing discrimination against gays into our laws, perhaps there would be far fewer of these unhappy marriages that fall apart and ultimately hurt husbands, wives, and children. Does that make the Bible belt types to blame for McGreevey's poor judgments? No, but this unfortunate chain of events, in which a promising career is left in shambles, could not have happened in quite this fashion in a more tolerant nation.

And now New Jersey's government is in turmoil again, with different factions in both parties manuvering. McGreevey scheduled his resignation for November 15, after November's national elections; in the meantime, he's going to try to continue to run government as before. Republicans in particular are trying to push for a quick resignation, since his resigning before September 3 would result in a gubernatorial election concurrent with the presidential election, a two-month campaign for effectively a one-year term as governor, since New Jersey is scheduled to have its next regular gubernatorial election in November 2005. Different politicians in both parties are pushing their own agendas and numerous names are mentioned as possible gubernatorial candidates.

And once again, the fact that New Jersey abolished the position of Lieutenant Governor becomes, for the second time in four years, more than a mere trivia question. So, between the time McGreevey's resignation becomes effective and whenever the next gubernatorial election is held, the Garden State will again have a parliamentary-type government, with the Senate President serving as Acting Governor. Will it be for one year or two months? Time will tell.

Will this make it harder for a gay man (or a lesbian) to be elected state governor? Hard to say, since it's never happened and didn't seem likely to happen anytime soon in any event. The old political adage that a man in office is "better off found in bed with a dead girl than a live boy" may indeed no longer be true, since McGreevey's political adversaries have tended to focus on the corruption issues rather than the sexuality issues. This whole story shows how much things have changed in a few short years.

If you want more on this developing story, read this site.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Hell In A Bucket

When I see a headline that reads Believe In Hell: Get Rich I just have to read more.

Turns out that it's just a study done that suggests that countries where more people believe in hell are richer and less corrupt than countries where people don't believe in hell. I've no idea what countries they evaluated or what metric they used to determine what countries are "believers" in "hell;" they appear to have excluded, for whatever reason, essentially the entire Islamic world.

And they make no claim that believing in hell will make you richer. There goes that sure ticket to wealth. Although that's probably a good thing, since the Bible says it's more difficult for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter Heaven. If you add these propositions up...believing in eternal damnation would make one a more likely candidate for it, which would seem to be counterintuitive.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Whiter Shade Of Pale

Interesting article about the "bleaching" of District of Columbia juries.

If the changes observed in jury trials are as dramatic as the City Paper suggests, than it's unfortunate that the racial divide is so great, even in Washington, a city where a large of number of white residents in particular are committed enough to urban living that they don't let themselves be bothered by the fact that they live in a city where they're the minority. (By this I mean that much of DC's white population moved there from somewhere else; compare this with Baltimore or Philadelphia.)

The City Paper is known, however, to exaggerate on issues like this one.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Milestone

I've written so little about baseball this year, in large part because I've had so many things on my mind, many of them political in nature in this election year.

I just had to point out that Red Sox fans have been feeling a great deal of despair not only over the Nomar trade debacle, but the fact that, while we were all gearing up for a classic Red Sox-Yankees pennant race (albeit hopefully with a different result than most of the other ones) this season, the unfortunate reality has been the Red Sox' record has been closer to that of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a franchise that has thusfar defined expansion team futility, than that of the Yankees.

I am happy to report that as of this afternoon, after the clinic put on by Pedro Martinez in today's game at Fenway, that said unfortunate fact is officially no longer true.

While it irritates me to no end that I'm saying this on August 12, hey, it's a start.

Oops...I Did It Again

Sapurumar Niyazov, also known as Turkmenbashi, is at it again, fresh off a decree to stamp out the wearing of gold teeth. This time he's banned television actresses from wearing makeup, because he thinks it makes them look androgynous.

On the Crazy Dictator charts, the strongman of Turkmenistan has long since zoomed well past Qaddafi and is challenging North Korea's Kim Jong Il. And not even Kim Jong Il, as far as we know, attempted to build a massive palace out of ice. And he doesn't have a solid gold statue of himself that rotates so it always faces the sun.

Or maybe it's that the sun always rotates to face Niyazov's statue - we're not sure.

If you have a Livejournal, you can track the oh-so-wacky Niyazov and his oh-so-wacky edicts here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Blame Canada

To paraphrase the old joke, looks like Winnipeg police were afraid of a hockey game breaking out at a fight.

Canadians are sure going to be starved for entertainment once the unfortunate NHL lockout starts. On the plus side of the ledger, perhaps some of those Sunbelt teams with ridiculous names will be culled from the league.

Milk It

Whatever happened to "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service?"

A lot of people in this area are abuzz about a new controversy. A Silver Spring woman is irate because employees at a local Starbucks told her to cover her breast while she was breast-feeding her child. She managed to get a group of like-minded mothers to demonstrate outside this particular Starbucks.

People like this managed to get a law passed in Maryland that prohibits business owners from objecting to public nursing, but this apparently isn't enough for them. Now they demand that Starbucks issue a nationwide corporate policy supporting their right to breast-feed in plain sight.

I have zero interest in watching a mother nurse a baby in public. Out in the open, I can simply look away or get away, but that's more difficult in a confined space such as a typical Washington-area Starbucks.

Call me old-fashioned if you must, but a lot of social problems would vanish overnight if people in this country were more capable of restraining themselves from "in-your-face" behavior in public.

Workin' For A Living

I think this piece in The New Republic really gets to the heart of the real problem with the supposed "economic recovery" under which we are living.

It's not necessarily that there aren't any jobs or even enough jobs, though there are not as many of them as we would like there to be. Though the business cycle had been on a downstroke and that may be reversing itself, the problems manifesting themselves in this economy appear to be systemic rather than merely cyclical.

It's that "good jobs" are going away and are being replaced by lousy ones. And not merely in the wage sense. Jobs that provide employment security are being replaced by jobs that don't. Jobs that provide health benefits for health families are being replaced by jobs that don't. These facts are not reflected in unemployment numbers, even before you consider that people whose unemployment benefits are exhausted aren't considered "unemployed" anymore.

When I was born, the country's largest employer was General Motors. For all the bad that the corporate congolomerates of the past have done, an autoworker at GM could own a home, support a family, and have some hope that his (and it usually was "his") children could aspire to an even better life. If one played by the rules, while you weren't likely to get truly rich, one could carve out a decent, respectable living.

Now the largest employer in the nation is Wal-Mart. Low wages, no benefits, and no security. You can't really raise a family on what they pay without another job.

And what have we gotten for this tradeoff?

Some of us have done very well. But not everyone rises to the top in lucrative professions. And if, for whatever reason, you don't quite make it under the new winner-take-all rules, your future is grim.

I think this was, more than any sense of generalized indignities suffered by low-wage workers and as much as how difficult it is to live off the fruits of low-wage labor, the impression I came away with from reading Nickel & Dimed. That for more and more people, whether they know it now or not, that this is their future. You may not exactly starve to death, but you better not get sick, you better not get into a car accident, and you better not complain about it to the wrong person.

Even if you can survive with your job intact, if you must work for your money, our society is building a systemic bias against you and in favor of those with the means to make money work for them.

In other words, all our modern technology and advancements nonetheless seem to be pushing things in America back towards some newfangled Gilded Age.

I know all of my readers are ready for me to lay into President Bush immediately, but this phenomenon is bigger than any president or administration. This trend was gathering steam when Bill Clinton was in the White House too as well, and I don't expect John Kerry to do much about it either in the event he gets to live in the White House come next year. Both parties appear to have been captured; for now, I prefer not to think about what might need to happen to cause that to no longer be the case.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Who Could Imagine That They Would Freak Out Somewhere In Kansas?

Don't go looking for any Rage Against The Machine, OutKast, Notorious B.I.G., or Stone Temple Pilots CDs in Kansas public libraries. Apparently Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline has withheld some 1,600 CDs from distribution to public libraries due to objectionable content, namely, that they promote "violence" or "illegal behavior." (The music, incidentally, was given to libraries by the recording industry as part of a price-fixing settlement.)

Most good music at some level promotes illegal behavior - or least should be designed to make people like Phil Kline think that it promotes illegal behavior, even if it doesn't.

I've come to expect this sort of thing from the state that gave us an Board of Education that wanted creationism taught in public schools.

I'm just wondering what Devo is doing on the list, aside from just being weird. Maybe in Topeka, Kansas, the state capital that also brought the world the oh-so-charming Rev. Fred Phelps, that's enough.

Follow-Up (for DEK): The CD price-fixing suit I wished I had blogged about a few months ago.

The first time we got a goofy story about it was when, due to what the industry called a "computer glitch," a library in Seattle getting some ungodly number of copies of "Three Mo' Tenors" in connection with the settlement, and similar things were happening at libraries nationwide. I suspected, as Dwight also did in the comments, that they were merely using the settlement as a way to throw out what didn't sell. I saw this story and its references to OutKast (whose stuff does sell) suggest to me that maybe it really was a computer glitch and that they fixed it.

While I wouldn't necessarily expect a library to carry stuff that stores won't sell to minors, the inclusion of Devo on a list of artists producing objectionable content strongly suggested that Kansas was casting far too wide a net.

Help Is On The Way (Part 4)

According to President Bush, cutting taxes on the super-rich is a good policy that really rich don't pay taxes anyway. Of course, this is what Leona Helmsley thought too. You can find more about this here.

Bush may not have quite the wealth that John Kerry or John Edwards have, but he comfortably fits into just about any reasonable definition of "really rich" you can concoct. Does this mean Bush doesn't pay taxes? Wouldn't the voting public like to know?

And if they don't pay taxes anyway, why did they need their rates cut in the first place?

Help Is On The Way (Part 3)

The Bush administration has outed an al-Qaida mole, and apparently it's already hurt the effort to capture al-Qaida agents in Pakistan.

For all the secrecy about stuff like who met with Dick Cheney's energy task force, they can't keep this stuff secret?

Then again, this is the administration who leaked the name of a covert CIA operative to carry out a vendetta against her husband.

Monday, August 09, 2004

School For Scandal

California has shut down a special school that taughts unsuspecting immigrants
that there were 53 states.

It would be fun to see what their quiz bowl team would look like. Heh.

Amateur Hour

Peyote Cafe, 18th Street, Friday night. Three-plus hours of music and amusement.

Random observations:

* The three truly inevitable karaoke songs:
1. "Sweet Caroline."
2. "Friends in Low Places."
3. "Wanted: Dead Or Alive."

* Neil Diamond. Singing a song by the Jewish Elvis is generally pretty easy. Not wanting to be the guy who does "Sweet Caroline," which is best left to people who are both more intoxicated and less talented than myself, since it is the hanging John Wasdin meatball of the karaoke universe, I went with "Cracklin' Rosie." I've always had a soft spot for the song, especially since I heard a fun cover of it at the first Phish concert I ever went to.

* The "drunk women singing some lewd song" thing never seems to get old. In this case we had two of them trying their hand at Bell Biv Devoe's "Do Me."

* I have a great respect for Bruce Springsteen, and not just for his songwriting ability. Even a song like "Pink Cadillac," which challenges my singing range not one iota, is tough to get through. I've seen more than one guy think he can take on "Born To Run," only to have his voice just die early in the third verse. And a typical concert by the Boss can go north of three hours! Astounding.

* I've only been to Peyote Cafe twice, and I've two different awful renditions of "Total Eclipse Of The Heart," in which the (male) singers inserted copious F-bombs. I wonder if that's something that happens everywhere, is endemic to this place, or if it's just another manifestation of the "double sitcom phenomenon." (The "double sitcom phenonemon" is that weird effect whereby if you only watch a sitcom twice ever, it will often be the same episode.)

* A group of six men attempted to sing "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." Unfortunately, though one of them could kinda sing, none of them had any rhythm.

* To the extent that he collects royalties whenever a bunch of drunk guys at a karaoke bar attempt to sing "Tiny Dancer," Elton John ought to throw a little of it at Cameron Crowe. If someone tracked karaoke frequency, I bet "Tiny Dancer" renditions have gone up by a factor of ten after "Almost Famous."

* The most amusing highlight of the night were the two guys signing "Hungry Like The Wolf." Not only did one of them attempt to relplicate the female sex noises heard before the final chorus, the other guy inserted wolf howls at irregular intervals in the song.

The best singing performances of the night:
* A good-looking, blonde guy doing a good and faithful rendition of "Let's Get It On." Woof, indeed.
* A young black guy doing a letter-perfect "Let's Stay Together." Dedicated to Rick James. *chuckle*
* Tricia did a fantastic job with "Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This."
* Another handsome guy singing nailing Billy Joel's "Only The Good Die Young."

Friday, August 06, 2004

Superfreak No More

Rick James has passed away at the age of 56.

Yep, I've got a copy of "Super Freak," and I just put it on.

Hateful

This Washington Post editorial, about the phenomenon of "Bush hatred," set me to thinking. I've long thought about figuring out whether it was fair to say that I actually "hated" George W. Bush.

I do have a deep aversion to the man, no doubt about it. It's difficult for me to listen to him clips of him speaking without rolling my eyes, tough to look at a picture of him without grimacing, and damned near impossible to sit through one of his speeches without yelling insults at the screen.

It wasn't always this way. Determined not to treat Bush the way the right wing treated Clinton, I decided to keep an open mind. I wasn't quite sure what to expect in January 2001. His record in Texas hinted at what was to come, but America, thankfully, is not merely Texas writ large.

Don't get me wrong; I've never liked him or anything he represented. When he gave his first major address to Congress in 2001, the phrase that stuck with me the most was "I'd like to ask for a refund." I recalled that once upon a time, a President told a nation "Ask not what your country can do for you," and then after Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and everything else, we had reached some new nadir. Bill Clinton, for all his intellectual brilliance and his remarkable political skill, encapsulated perfectly the promise and the disappointment of the Baby Boom Generation; he left Americans more cyncial about their leaders than ever before, but now we had a president whose applause line was "I'd like to ask for a refund." I knew then that dark times were upon us, but didn't necessarily think that had much to do with George W. Bush, as he merely seemed to reflect the climate in which his political fortunes had grown.

I waited for some sense of give-and-take from our nation's leader, some sense that he would help heal what was a deeply divided nation after the 2000 elections, and then again after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

I waited in vain.

He pushed a hard-right agenda from Day One, one that a neutral observer wouldn't have anticipated from his relatively bland 2000 campaign. Thanks in large part to him, no longer does politics stop at the waters' edge when it comes to foreign policy. He has no problem with writing discrimination into the Constitution if he thinks it will get him more votes. He promulgates policies that will bring us more polluted air and water, and more despoilation of our landscape and has the unmitigated gall to give them labels like "Clear Skies" and "Healthy Forests."

He said he and Dick Cheney would "change the tone in Washington." Whether that's more hilariously wrong than his statement "I'm a uniter, not a divider" I leave as a mental exercise to the reader.

Over three years, as I have seen one dishonest and disingenuous propaganda campaign after another, one exercise in counterproductive fearmongering after another, my irritation has grown.

Still, hate is probably not the right word.

I hear a lot of people on my side talk about what an idiot Bush is. Heck, I even have a T-shirt that says the same in five foreign languages. But he's not an idiot.
I despise him because I see something worse than an idiot. I see a man who through all his life has been ignorant - ignorant about the world around him, ignorant about anyone outside his inner circle, ignorant about people not blessed with the incredible fortune (in more ways than one) he inherited - and in some sense is proud of this ignorance. He knew nothing about foreign policy when he was running for president. Neither did Bill Clinton, but Clinton is the sort of man who will try his damnedest to learn what he needs to know. Clinton always wanted to know what his critics were saying about him - one could even imagine him reading a lot of books and articles written by people who didn't like him, though he probably skipped the "Clinton is a serial rapist who operates a cocaine ring out of a secret airport" stuff. It's probably been a long time since Bush has been exposed to even one unkind word written or spoken about him anywhere.

I know some people that I don't think are particularly intelligent. To the extent that I can be said to hate or even dislike any of them, it's not out of any contempt for their lack of smarts. I get frustrated when people around me keep stupidly making the same mistakes sometimes, but that's quite different from hatred. Yes, none of these people are President of the United States. But if people do bad things because they don't know better, while you're better off avoiding them, is that reason to hate them?

The big problem is that Bush lives in a Manichean cartoon world where there are obvious heroes who must triumph and obvious villains who are pure evil and must be destroyed at all costs, and in the latter category is anyone who dares cross him for any reason. There are a lot of people in America - and elsewhere - who share this mindset. Bush believes he is an agent of God, a shining light of righteousness in the world who was placed on the earth to destroy evil. But so does Osama bin Laden. So did the 9/11 al-Qaida hijackers and the Hamas terrorists who blow themselves up with shrapnel grenades on Tel Aviv buses. Remove the "God" part and the same could be said for Stalin, Mao, or Hitler. In the real world, the monster is seldom aware that he is a monster or even could ever be a monster. If you believe your adversaries are human beings with the same desires, hopes, and dreams that you have, it's that much harder to commit terrorism or genocide or any other kind of mass murder.

Does that make Bush or his supporters the moral equivalent of terrorists or Nazis? Of course not. But it does suggest, particularly given the level of power available to this society, unprecendented in the history of the world, that the capacity of humanity to destroy itself with hatred has never been greater. When we place people with this mindset in high office, we increase the danger.

I try best not to contribute to said hatred.

In my idealism, I would like to believe that our leaders should reflect our aspirations and hopes, putting our best foot forward towards the world. What I believe we have is a leader who reflects our basest instincts and all our worst features as a people.

The man I want to be cannot hate another person, whatever their flaws might be.

Fine mostly talks about the personal aspects of the "Bush hatred" phenomenon. And I am in a position where I understand and feel it more than most people. Bush in some senses reminds me of a lot of the guys (and some gals, too) I went to Dartmouth with and generally did my best to avoid. They had their tickets punched from birth, irrespective of any talents or smarts they may or may not have. Even if I felt no resentment for their unearned good fortune, I had no real way to relate to them on any level. I could ask them how they would feel if they were in the shoes of someone less fortunate, but unless they were sufficiently curious to contemplate such a thing or sufficiently compassionate to empathy toward such people, nothing I could say would make much difference. Even if they were to vote the same way I do - and many of them doubtless did - they would likely be doing it for different reasons: because their family does it, because it was fashionable in their circles, or because it benefitted them somehow.

Bush of course pays lip service regarding how compassionate he is, but I've concluded that lip service is all it is. I've remarked before about how I think he has a cavalier attitude towards sending people to their death. Policywise, as I've observed before, he says many of the right things but always comes up short when the rubber hits the road, not least because his real priority is taking care of his cronies.

I'm perversely impressed with the packaging job his handlers have done in painting him as a sympathetic figure. When I look at him, I see a small man made large by a massive image-making apparatus, a man whose massive sense of entitlement is mistaken for dignity, whose arrogance portrayed is as strength, whose recklessness is perceived as decisiveness.

Again, none of this would be a big deal if he weren't the most powerful man on the planet. Even a man with all these flaws can do good in the world - he might be a good husband, a good father, and even - though in this case, the record suggests otherwise - a fine businessman.

Fine doesn't discuss administration policy in any susbtantive way, except to conclude that nothing much has happened. (And to call his administration "scandal free" is, to put it mildly, a stretch.) A lot of people would take serious issue with this characterization, not least because of this war in Iraq, but I'm not writing this essay about substantive policy.

Fine does mention that the fact that Bush has ascended to these heights of power gives the lie to the notion that in America people rise and fall on their own merits. Perhaps if I had an illusion that we lived in a meritocracy, where I harbored dreams of becoming President of the United States despite my humble background, I suppose I'd be more bothered by the second Bush presidency for the reasons Professor Fine cites. But I know better than that; if I didn't, I couldn't pledge my support for another Skull & Bonesman for President this fall.

I understand why this idea bothers liberals more. Liberals have more people amongst their ranks who believe in the virtue of public service than the conservatives do. If your entire ideology is that government has no business doing much of anything to help improve people's lives, it shouldn't bother you much that the highest office in the land is held by an incurious, intellectually limited man. William F. Buckley's famous quip that he'd rather be governed by random names out of the phone book than the faculty of Harvard since the former, even if they couldn't locate Mexico on a map, at least wouldn't be trying to locate Utopia, comes to mind.

I've also heard a lot of people, mostly conservatives, claim that they'd affirmatively rather have a "ordinary man" in power. (You can tell a lot about a person's belief system based on their reaction to "Forrest Gump," a movie that I intensely detest.) I happen to be of the view that just as I'd bristle at the thought that my surgeon didn't know any more about surgery than I or any ordinary person would, or that my mechanic wouldn't know any more about fixing cars than I or any ordinary person would, I wouldn't want someone in charge of government policy who neither knows nor cares to know about the workings of government than I do. Of course, a Bush supporter pushing this reason would have believe that Bush were "just one of the guys," which is a silly notion when one thinks about it at all. Regular guys aren't put on the boards of large corporations or given multiple companies to run into the ground. And if anyone out there thinks that Bush would any more than John Kerry or Al Gore give Joe Sixpack the time of day, I have some oceanfront land in Missouri I can sell them cheap.

George W. Bush might actually be able to sell oceanfront land in Missouri. I think of him as a salesman, a very skilled salesman. He was seemingly put on this earth to sell something that people shouldn't want to buy. What he is selling is poisonous, but I have no clue whether or not he knows that, or cares. If I thought he knew he was selling poison, or didn't care whether he was selling poison, maybe I'd actually hate the man.

But I don't know. As much as people think they "know" some celebrity they see on television, they don't really know him. I always try to keep that in mind.

I do hate the poison, however. With a passion.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

So You Thought You Might Like To Go To The Show?

Roger Waters is going to bring The Wall to Broadway as a musical.

Though this seems to make more sense as a musical than The Who's "Tommy," , since it's got a clearer story line and more theatrical feel, or the musicals strung together from unconnected songs by Billy Joel, ABBA, or Queen, I'm still calling "fraught" on this idea. Not least because it seems singularly guaranteed to reignite the Roger Waters/ David Gilmour feud, produce what might be insufferably boring new songs in the vein of most of Waters' solo catalog, and might generate the same reaction that the Billy Joel musical "Movin' Out," namely, widespread indifference.

That said, if anything can get me to go see a musical, this might be it. "The Wall" was the first CD I ever bought, and I still have it and listen to it every so often.

Remember last weekend when I wrote about the people who had to sign a loyalty oath to the Bush/Cheney ticket in order to see the Vice President at a public school in New Mexico?

Here is the loyalty oath that people had to sign.

I'm not even sure what it means to endorse Bush "for the United States." Or what "herby" means.

Stop Making Sense

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we," Bush said. "They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." - President Bush

This quote would explain a lot of previously inexplicable Bush administration policy preferences.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Too Much Information

Stop the presses!

The New York Post reports that Scott Peterson liked to look at pornography, and that Laci may have disapproved. He apparently ordered some porn channels with his cable TV after Laci's disappearance but cancelled them in anticipation of the police searching his house. Apparently, the channel TENXtasy.com, according to prosecutors, isn't "HBO at night."

Objection. Don't knock it. Late-night cable soft-core porn helped get many an adolescent male through some tough years.

Now, I'm not qualified to judge the man's guilt or innocence in the death of his wife (and their unborn son) because, frankly, I haven't been paying a lot of attention to the Peterson trial. I just saw the newspaper racks and saw that the Peterson pornography thing was on the front page of the Post.

What this story says to me is that men - horror of horrors - generally like to look at pornography, are embarassed when they think someone else (including, interestingly enough, law enforcement personnel) might find out about that they view said pornography, particularly women, and especially their wives. Yes, ladies, your guy probably likes to look at porn when your back is turned.

In other Excessive Media Saturation Coverage-related news...John Ramsey, father of the famously dead child beauty pageant queen JonBenet Ramsey, failed in his bid for the Republican nomination for a state legislative seat in Michigan. He had near-universal name recognition but couldn't get all the votes he needed to succeed; he wound up finishing second in a crowded, six-person field.

His failed bid may have something to do with his saying that the loss of two daughters (JonBenet and another daughter who died in a 1992 car crash) caused him to be more "compassionate," which doesn't often go over well in a Republican primary, where people often trip over each other to see who can be the bigger hardass. In all likelihood though, it probably had a lot more to do with the fact that, though the Ramseys have owned a summer home in Charlevoix since 1992, they are relatively new permanent residents of the area. As I'm sure you all recall in nauseating detail, the Ramseys lived in Boulder, Colorado at the time of the JonBenet murder, and moved shortly thereafter, but to the Atlanta area, not to the wilds of northern Michigan.

John, not everyone can be Hillary Clinton; it's going to be a lot of fun to watch
Alan Keyes try in Illinois.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Bought And Paid For

No, not another rant about President Bush; at least, not yet.

Instead, I'm going to share this amusing story from the world of NASCAR.

In case you're too lazy to read the link, a NASCAR driver who includes Pepsi among his sponsors got into hot water (specifically, a $10,000 fine) because he blocked some NASCAR-sanctioned product placement for Powerade, a Coca-Cola product with a sign for Lowe's, another one of his sponsors.

NASCAR is perhaps the ultimate embodiment of a vulgar, crass commercial event where everything's for sale.

I kind of enjoy it when the sport is tripping over itself because it collectively signed too many deals that conflict with each other.

And if Major League Baseball knows what's good for it, it will resist moves like using the bases to promote some new movie.

Another Thought: Something tells me Pepsi reiumbursed Johnson for the amount of the fine.

The New Colossus

A promotion being run by Subway stores in Germany, poking fun at Americans for their tendency to be overweight,has been pulled. The ad campaign was a cross promotion with the movie "Super Size Me."

Aside from wondering why so many of Yahoo's "Oddly Enough" stories come from Germany - the country that brought us the Cannibal Trial, the Live Nude Mannequins, and a whole host of other goodies - I have to wonder how Tom DeLay found out about this promotion. I thought that hardcore conservatives didn't care what "Old Europe" thought about them.

I also wonder why a group calling itself the Center for Individual Freedom would be so critical of a corporate advertising campaign.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Code Orange

The Terror Alert has been escalated to Code Orange here in Washington, DC. (Those of you who don't live in DC, New York, or Newark, New Jersey are still at Code Yellow.)

Not having inside information about terror-related activity, I have no idea how much substance there is behind to these threats. I've always been of the mind that while it makes sense to alert law enforcement and other relevant peoples to increased threat levels, broadcasting this stuff to the general public only accomplishes spreading counterproductive generalized anxiety - and perhaps cynicism. Some of us are left wondering to what extent that these alerts are being manipulated for political purposes.

And if they're going to start doing it by region, there should probably be parts of the country that are at Code Blue or Code Green, like, say, remote counties in Nebraska.

This way those people the interviewed at that central Michigan that were freaking out about an al-Qaeda attack on their local shopping mall in "Farenheit 9/11" could switch to decaf.

If you're curious, no, nothing about my life really changes when the Terror Alert goes up. Being near the proverbial eye of the storm has taught me to be vigilant in a quiet way, all the while knowing that there are some kinds of threats about which I can do nothing.

Random Observation

The conversation I've got going now suggests that I need to either write shorter entries or avoid politics for a while.

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