Monday, August 30, 2010

Stuff that makes me feel old

Cell phone/texting culture - When I was 9, my dad brought home a portable phone from the radio station where he worked. It was a blocky Motorola thing, and it looked like a portable video game to me. When my dad told my 11-year-old brother he could make a call on it, he was apoplectic (a privilege not extended to me, a recurring theme of my childhood). He dialed my great aunt, who lived two doors down. “Hi Boo! It’s me, Colin. I’m calling you on a Cellular One phone!” (We called it a Cellular One phone, for crying out loud!) It was a scene lifted directly from that awful “That ’80s Show.” Shortly thereafter, we put the phone away with all the reverence of Cameron’s dad’s Ferrari. After all, such a thing couldn’t even be breathed on wrong.

And that incident more than any other (even more so than Saved By the Bell reruns) cemented my image of cell phones. They were expensive technological toys for yuppie executives. Nothing I or even my parents would ever need. And I went to high school and even college at a time when the only cell-phone users were overachievers who were flaunting any combination of ambition, status, wealth or smug self-importance.

I didn’t get a cell phone until I was 24 and in grad school, and even then it was a Christmas present from my mom, who saw it as a convenient means for me to make impulse trips to chauffeur my teenage sister on her many, many excursions (again, recurring theme). When she could no longer pay the bill and I went several months without service, I barely missed it. By the time I got my current phone (Mardi Gras 2006...more on that in a moment), everybody in America had one, and texting was in its mestastasizing phase.

The new age of smartphones has accelerated beyond anything I care or will ever care about. In fact, it actively makes me angry. Not because of the technology itself - I rather enjoy iPhone games - but because of what it’s done to society. It was bad enough in 2001 when my friends at school would steer every conversation toward their cell phone plans; but now, it’s even worse. Why? Because it’s getting to be where you have to have this technology to function. And there’s something in my brain that wipes out even the strongest curiosity if it becomes a social imperative. Also, I’ve always been one for an open social environment. Nothing saddens me more than to go to a college campus and everyone is looking down at their devices. I was in college only five years ago, and even then people still talked to each other.

So for now, I carry my almost 5-year-old Nokia cell phone, and people often remark that they had that same phone about five phones ago. My mom and sister both have iPhones, and I can’t keep up with them. In thinking my phone isn’t that old, I somehow feel much older.

Michael Cera - Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist may have been the first movie anyone ever told me I would be too old to get. That came from a friend of mine who is six years younger than me (itself making me feel old). Cera’s career is proof I’m a cultural has-been in two ways: 1) Age: Cera was born in 1988. When I was in college, my friends had siblings that age, and when they’d tag along they mostly absorbed themselves in their NSYNC coloring books; and 2) He’s the torch-bearer of hipster humor, which apparently culminates with shrugs. I’ve actually liked him in movies like Superbad, but in no trailer since then have I heard him say anything witty. And considering that trailers are supposed to show the best part of the film, and that his movies rock the box office, I guess he’s dialing into something that skipped me completely. Or maybe I’m just jealous of who he gets to kiss.

Playing football - Just yesterday, after a terrible flag football game, my 33-year-old teammate (glimpsing my aching, forlorn face) slowly stood up and said, “This is a young man’s game.” I reflexively replied, “I’m not old,” as I limped, rubbed my brush burns and struggled to catch my breath. And with that, I suddenly understood why baby boomers are so annoying.

Every NFL player in Tecmo Super Bowl is retired - Granted, this just happened, and in fact it’s probably a miracle that anyone from that era still played recently. But in an age where Jeremy Shockey (my age) is a veteran who has battled numerous injuries and has been a member of two Super Bowl-winning teams, it’s still strange to think there’s been this much turnover in pro sports.

Hearing my friends groan about turning 25 - Self-explanatory. Also, anyone younger than me referring to themselves as “no spring chicken”; people I welcomed into college as a senior undergrad who now have homes and families; and bald heads. Come to think of it, most of that stuff actually makes me feel younger...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Honor. Duty.

In honor of restoring honor today, here's an honor of a tribute to the man who will walk in the honorable footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today:

I have more to say, but I'm busy organizing an affair of my own called, "Restoring America's Duty." Our keynote speaker is Alan Grayson, and Al Franken, Dennis Kucinich and Rachel Maddow will also address the estimated crowd of 2 billion. It will be held on Sept. 11 at Ronald Reagan's grave. But it won't be political. 

I just learned that the date and location have some historical significance. Karma, I guess, or maybe divine crystal light energy. But out of respect, we won't stand directly on top of Reagan's grave during our speeches; we'll be two feet away. And to show our commitment to taking back Reagan's social and political legacy, we've invited Ron Reagan to speak. So there!

But again, let me stress that this event is in no way political. So don't bring any signs. Signs make things political. See you there!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My entire life story in a nutshell

Over the past few days, parking at my apartment complex has increasingly become a hassle. Two nights ago, I had to park almost halfway across the complex from where I live, which makes for awesome impromptu exercise at 1 a.m. In the almost four years I've lived there, I've only had to do this once before — and that was after an ice storm two years ago.

I harbored two theories for this sudden glut of vehicles: 1) Two weeks ago, workers repaved part of our lot, telling us to park elsewhere in the meantime, and maybe it was another section's turn; 2) My upstairs neighbors are noisy punks who frequently have friends over at all hours of the night.

After talking to management yesterday, I learned that neither is the reason. As it turns out, they've leased the entire complex, something that they'd last done briefly two years ago (during the ice storm era, no less). They told me this very excitedly, and I don't blame them. That means they're good at what they do, and it's job security in their eyes. They're always friendly and helpful when I need them.

But it also means it'll probably be a long while before I don't have to take that long hike to my place when I get home late at night. And as someone who already deals with loads of logistical nightmares from the odd hours I work, I had a hard time mustering up enthusiasm for the complex's newfound popularity. Even if, as I said above, it's genuinely good news.

Ironically, I'm never one to fight for the closest parking space in most situations. I could write a whole other piece on how ridiculous a tendency that is, and what it says about our petty, instant-gratification-obsessed, overly entitled, obese culture (it says a lot). At stores and the like, I often park pretty far away, if only to get some exercise. Home, however, is a different story. It's just annoying to walk a quarter-mile to your place at odd hours when it isn't your choice, and you ultimately have no reason to complain.

Thanks, success!

Monday, August 23, 2010

More amateur auteurship (digital-upgrade edition)

I'm currently borrowing my brother's DV camera, which is the best video device to which I've had access. This is my first substantial attempt at making a video with it. I'm hoping to play with it more so it looks a little less analog in post-production (and I look a little more accurate). 

YouTube adds pounds and subtracts definition.

This video is based on actual events and, as Will Smith might say, is a little break from the norm. I think Mikey would like it.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I expect this to be more divisive than my political posts

Today's entry is something I wrote in December 2009 but didn't publish. 

The Onion AV Club has a great feature called "Q&A" where staff writers pose and answer questions relating to how entertainment has affected their lives (or hasn't). I really enjoy this feature, and on several occasions have been inspired to write about my own experiences — sometimes writing much longer passages than the combined length of the AV staff's collective memories. I can't find the link for this particular one, oddly enough, but the others I've written about are there, so I'll probably publish those soon enough. I'd love to hear what you guys have to say on the topics as well.

Over at The Onion AV Club, writers share their list of pop culture phenomena that they've (sometimes secretly) never gotten into. I thought this was a fun idea and thought I'd share my own list.

1) South Park - One of the AV Club writers noted that they couldn't stomach the show for more than 30 seconds based on the voices alone. Hear, hear - or, I should say, don't hear. I further don't care for it because it jabs at gays, liberals and poop. Which is perfectly fine, if the wit is razor-sharp. But most of the jokes are lazy, essentially subscribing to the Larry the Cable Guy school of humor. And that's just inexcusable. Trey Parker and Matt Stone do deliberately stupid better than most, but South Park has never been worth the hype.

2) Batman Begins - Yes, I know, it held the title of Best Superhero Movie in the History of the Universe until The Dark Knight took the mantle. And I understand I may get shot for saying this...but Batman Begins made no impression on me at all. If I'd thought it was awesome, I would have never forgotten it. If it had been horribly bad, I wouldn't have forgotten it. But, for me at least, it fell into that middle sliver of category of movies that I forget almost instantly after watching.

One example: In June 1999, I saw The Thirteenth Floor. Two months later, I was strolling along Venice Beach when I saw a faded soundtrack CD for the movie in an open-air market. Once it managed to jog my memory, I realized I literally had not thought about the movie since minutes after seeing it. If I've ever forgotten a movie more thoroughly than that, then I still don't recall it.

Batman Begins made slightly more of a dent in my conscience than that, but mainly because it reminded me how much I liked the Tim Burton Batman films. Burton added a welcome element of darkness to Gotham City, but he also kept the humor that is a natural by-product of something as ridiculous as the Batman universe. There seems to be a rule that modern superhero movies have to be dead-serious and mildly depressing. This seems to suit today's audiences just fine, but it's not really my bag.

Oh, and Batman Begins also jacked up use of the word "reboot" about 10 million percent. I can live with that, but it's also led to a rise in actual cinematic reboots, which has done more to keep me out of theaters lately than the recession. Will somebody please break Zac Efron's legs before he has a chance to ruin Footloose?

3) Comic books - I share this with one of the AV Club writers, but for different reasons. I have lots of friends who are into the graphic-novel world, on both sides of the pen. I myself once had a substantial comic-book collection, and even drew a comic called Gringo Amigos in high school (so named because in the original plot, three white guys decide to go to Mexico to see if their tacos are better than Taco Bell’s...come to think of it, I should scan that for the blog).

But the same pallor that's been cast over movies seems to have infected (or perhaps was inspired by) comic books. From middle school on, everyone I knew who was into comics were deadly serious about them. One of my friends in 7th grade gave a presentation on how to handle comic books. It was very interesting (I myself had done a similar thing for baseball cards the year before), but it also reminded me how anal the hobby could be. When you can't even lay your publication flat on a table to read it, you know you're in a niche run by obsessives.

But when you're reading something called Elf Quest, a little skin oil on the page is the least of your worries.

4) Knocked Up - I left this entry into the Judd Apatow canon feeling resentful, almost angry. Why? Because this movie, despite its laughs, had two fatal flaws: its attitudes toward women and aging.

This is epitomized in the scene where Leslie Mann's character shadows husband Paul Rudd, convinced by circumstantial evidence that he's cheating on her. She tracks him down to a house and marches in, ready to give him the righteous third degree...and it turns out he's not with a mistress, but huddled with a bunch of guys drafting players for fantasy baseball. The two have a confrontation, with Paul admitting the reason he's been so coy about the league is that he's desperate to have one thing to himself. Virtually every move that he makes has been about her and their children. He is, by all accounts, a doting and devoted family man. She, on the other hand, is a possessive and unappreciative harpy, and a hypocritical one at that. I couldn't wait for her comeuppance.

But who does the movie portrays as the bad guy? Yep, the guy. In the scenes that follow, he's heaped upon by his wife and Seth Rogen alike for having the nerve to have any outside interests. In the Knocked Up universe, growing up means a spiral into solemnity, getting serious about your life by putting away any and all things that sustain you because they're mere distractions in the pursuit of love. And by love, we mean service to a shrill, spoiled woman with few redeeming qualities, to whom you're merely a makeover project. But who nevertheless completes you.

Screw that. Screw screw screw that. I was so angry at that I almost yelled at the screen, right in the crowded theater (actually, I think I might have). Yes, that would have been childish, but with the way that movie portrays adulthood, maybe we'd all be better off as kids.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pretty serious comedy

I told myself I wouldn't write about the Islamic cultural center issue again. It's increasingly becoming an issue important only in how divisive it's become to Americans, and how far we have yet to go to live up to our ideals. You could even call it a distraction. But suffice to say, I still support its construction and reject the idea that sensitivity (at least as far as the arguably false and definitely ignorant howling now going under that name) should trump American rights. That's not what we're about, after all.

I did, however, run into what is now my favorite clarification of the situation. And what surprises and impresses me about this article is what prompted me to write about it — it's on, a (this is a compliment) lowbrow comedy website known for articles like Five Nuns Who Could Kick Your Ass, The Six Worst Things Ever Slipped Into Children's Cartoons and 5 Things From The 1990s That Might (As Well) Come Back.

The latter article is written by someone named "Gladstone," aka "G-Stone." His sense of humor — self-deprecating and pop culture-laden — fits in perfectly with the we-don't-take-ourselves-seriously vibe prevalent across Cracked.

Which is why his latest blog threw me for a loop: 3 Reasons The "Ground Zero Mosque" Debate Makes No Sense. Title-wise, it doesn't sound much different than Cracked's average daily content, in which the writer will make a point in a way that may involve a random cleavage pic (one of many running gags). But it's probably the most sober, serious thing that has ever run on the website.

Granted, that's relative. There are still repeated cracks about Sarah Palin's speech patterns and something called goat rhoti. But the points he makes couldn't be clearer, and most importantly, they don't lead up to some grand punch line. And by the way, he was there during 9/11. It's a quick and satisfying read, and a perfect summary of how I feel about the issue.

The comments have been interesting. They're running the usual heated-debate angle, though with many thanking Gladstone for moving them. Others said things like, "This is a humor site! I don't need to read politics here." Translation: "I don't want to read liberal stuff. Shut up and sing, etc."

I think this is a weird reaction. When I see a humorless conservative diatribe on a comedy site, my reaction is not, "I don't come here for this!" And not just because said diatribe is indistinguishable from the typical content of conservative humor(less) sites.

I don't believe in keeping genres separate, and I suspect most others don't either. In one of his books, Dave Barry (of all people) goes off an extended tangent about the Vietnam War and what a mistake it was, something that should never be repeated again. Despite falling in the midst of a humorous timeline of the baby boomer era, the passage still seems appropriate. In Soft Pretzels With Mustard, comedian David Brenner capped what started off as a funny childhood story about schoolyard feces-flinging (they'd toss balls of horse poo at him on the way to school) with a dead-serious remembrance of the Holocaust (he fought back, because the attack was steeped in anti-Semitism). In the same book, he relates a story about being in a pool hall during a raid, where his humor didn't save him from being arrested. He ends that one with, "What the hell IS easy?"

Comedians making serious points have the same resonance with me that my track coach did the one time he said "fuck." He was known for his Tony Dungy-style laid-back piety and never-raise-your-voice demeanor, and was beloved overall. But one day, disappointed with the way his athletes were slacking in the rain, he chided them along the lines of, "You're practicing like you don't give a fuck." He didn't even say it that forcefully, but it shocked everyone. Because he didn't say that word, ever. After that, the drills went much better.

Same thing with comedians and comedy writers. An unexpected lucid point is a good one.

If anything, the fact that a comedy writer felt the need to offer such a sober, reasoned piece of writing gives it more gravity. It's also incredibly telling that a humor site offers some of the best arguments in favor of the cultural center.

Fans of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck often say that the men are entertainers. And I suppose that's true. But it's often brought up in a defensive context, such as when they make a particularly line-crossing allegation or otherwise act like unbalanced nitwits. Few people, I suspect, watch or listen to these guys strictly as comedians, which is why they'll never have the same impact as Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert or even G-Stone. Rush and Beck do have an impact, but it's a different impact. It'll never be the kind that leaves you surprised and thinking in an unexpected way. 

And that's what I got today. Thanks, Gladstone.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Putting things to rest through rules

Rule #162: Thin skin deep

If you're so shallow that you feel the need to compare and contrast the looks of Democratic women and Republican women, at least be fair. Nancy Pelosi doesn't look half bad, considering she's 70 years old. Helen Thomas is 90 and also a bad partisan example. And anyone can look ugly in harsh light and when caught mid-sentence.

It also doesn't bolster your case for the GOP to pad your list with publicity shots of hot pundits and decades-old shots of random sexpot actresses, when the Democrats are mostly veteran politicians and reporters.

Just like with most things, you can cherry-pick to make either side smoking hot or a gigantic smoldering pile of ugly sticks. In the end, it doesn't matter, because it's what's inside those heads that counts. And these days, there's little competition in that matchup.

Rule #163: Square deal

Stop being so outraged that someone wants to put a mosque in Times Square. For one thing, it's not actually on Ground Zero — it's several blocks away from the fast-food franchises and other buck-turning businesses surrounding that hallowed ground. Second, it's merely a new location for an already-existing mosque that's outgrown its current abode, which by the way is nearby. Third, it's run by American Muslims who thought the 9/11 attacks were a tragedy just like the rest of us. Fourth, there are so many worse things going on that directly affect us in this world that we should be concerned about without the latest Fox-fueled false outrage.

Finally, the reason you should shut up about it is because your bigotry is showing. Islam is no more a religion of hate than Christianity or any other; every religion has its group of fundamentalists who are willing to kill in its god's name and/or use said name as an excuse to exert control. It might seem like that's the exclusive province of Muslims, but a quick glance at a history book shows that Christianity had a virtual lock on that for many, many eras. And yet, most Americans don't go around calling Christianity "a religion of violence." In fact, most of those outraged by the mosque appear to align themselves with the Christian religion. Apparently, that's OK because during the Crusades and the Inquisition, atrocities were the product of extremists who didn't represent the majority of followers. Not like Islam, where every single adherent thinks exactly alike.

Any American group legally exercising its religion and property rights has a spot at the table. As long as they aren't infringing on anyone else's freedom, they have a right to do what they want. Anyone who doesn't object to a church being there should also be OK with the mosque. In fact, I can't think of a better way to prove our higher ground as Americans than to allow the mosque in Times Square. It shows that we are a nation of laws, rights and liberty, even in the face of fear. And that's a better stand against terrorism than any discrimination or bomb.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Our Saints conversation (Sexy coed version)

"Is Beavers a new guy?"

"He has to be, or we would have made fun of his name before."

"The Saints will be hot this year with Moore, Bush and Beavers."

"What do they call the Patriots cheerleaders? I'd think it was the Patriettes."

"Let me look it up...No, they're the New England Patriots Cheerleaders. Clever."

"Jeremy Shockey shaved himself."

"Beavers just muffed the ball. Fuck!" (Shakes fist)

"Strip, Gay, strip!"

"Well, they didn't quite finish. Nuts."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bumper stickler

By Earl "Clem" Bob

I just put a new bumper sticker on the back of my truck. It was hard to find space, what with all the pro-life stickers and the Calvin pissin' decals and that big Dale Earnhardt 3 with the wings and halo and the rusted-out panels and whatnot. But after seein' the new sticker on my neighbor Jim Bob's SUV, I knew it was too hilarious — and urgent — to ignore. 

At my request, Jim Bob managed to finagle me one from the local tea party headquarters. It's a good one. It's blue, and says in big letters, OBAMA, next to his campaign logo from 2008. Except that instead of that sunrise-looking thing, the logo features a hammer and sickle! And underneath Obama's name is what it stands for: One Big Ass Mistake America! Ain't it the truth? 

So of course, I was pumped as all hell to put this thing on my truck. I wasn't too thrilled to have to cover up another bumper sticker to fit it in, but that Bush-Cheney '04 one was gonna be a casualty sooner or later. That was from an era when I was a proud Republican, but I'm fed up with both parties now. Especially the Democrats.

I’ve only taken one drive since putting it on, and that was to the Piggly Wiggly. That’s a good way from my place, though, so lots of people had the chance to share in my latest message to Real America.

A peculiar thing happened, though.

At the town’s red light, a car that had been following me for most of the trip pulled up beside me. It was one of those hybrid Toyota Penises or somethin’. The driver leaned over and said to me, “Hi, sir! I like your Obama bumper sticker. And I just wanted to say, I appreciate that a conservative such as yourself can be so open-minded.” I didn’t know what the hell he meant by that, but I did like the compliment on my sticker, so I thanked him.

Soon after, I arrived at the Pig and loaded up on groceries. As I leafed through the latest “Field and Stream” magazine at the checkout counter, I suddenly heard a volley of gunshots. Now, that’s nothin’ unusual in these parts, so no one even flinched. But then some more rang out, and I thought to myself, “Those seem really, really close.” I thought maybe Jericho had accidentally shot himself in the foot in the store’s ammo section like he did that one time.

As it turned out, though, someone had been shootin’ at my truck! It was riddled with bullet holes (though some of them had been there already from that night I got drunk and mistook my truck for an intruder). The part of my rear window that wasn’t already shattered, was shattered. Fortunately, the collage of bumper stickers kept it more or less intact. Praise Jesus.

Before I could make sense of the situation, a souped-up pickup truck full of guys came screamin’ in the parking lot. I’d know that vehicle anywhere — it’s my old friend Roscoe and his posse. They watch shows like “America’s Most Wanted” and “Dog the Bounty Hunter” and spend their afternoons lookin’ for fugitives. Sometimes they find some who haven’t even been profiled yet! They’re good.

“Roscoe!” I yelled over his truck’s roar. “Hiya doin? I’m so glad you’re here! Did you see anyone shootin’ my truck?”

Suddenly, there’s a gun in MY face! “I got half a mind to shoot you dead right now, you Marxist terrorist jackass,” Roscoe said with a fury rare even for him.

“Wha?” I stammered in alarm. “Git out, Roscoe! You know I ain’t like that.”

“So what’s with this OBAMA sticker?” he snarled as he jumped out of his driver’s seat. “You changed, man! You’ve let your yearnin’ for health insurance corrupt you, comrade!” And with that, he aimed for the sticker at point-blank range.

Suddenly, he pointed down his gun and chuckled. “One Big Ass Mistake America? HAW! Damn, Clem, I’m sorry! I could swear from a distance that you hated America. But now that I’m right up on it, I can read the message.”

Roscoe went on to tell me that stuff like this happens all the time. So many anti-Obama stickers look like real Obama stickers, he said.

“The stuff these guys come up with is genius,” he said. “But hard to read, so you think it’s the real thing. They should take a cue from the churches and make these decals as loud and tacky as possible. Maybe then I could save my bullets.” We had a good laugh and we went on our ways.

So consider that a lesson learned for ol’ Clem. When it comes to bumper stickers, you can’t be subtle with small print and satirical overtones and whatnot. You gotta make your point and get out, lest someone mistake you for some evil liberal. Too much is at stake in this country!

In the meantime, I’ll be looking for a new bumper sticker to cover up the OBAMA (and also to add a layer of adhesive to keep my glass intact). If anyone knows where I can find a PALIN-BECK 2012 decal, that’ll do just fine.

Earl “Clem” Bob speaks for America.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

This political prop brought to you by the letter C

In a development that surprised absolutely no one, Missouri voters passed Proposition C with more than 76 percent of the vote on Tuesday. Prop C declared that the state would exact no penalties against its residents if they refused to comply with the federal health care insurance mandate.

Of course, the referendum is ultimately worthless, because it’s a state law written to undermine a federal law. And the Articles of Confederation hasn’t been in force for awhile.

But Prop C drove tea party-leaning voters to the polls and its success has energized a base that didn’t seem all that unmotivated to begin with. So regardless of what happens next, it’s served its purpose.

On an intellectual level, it would seem like no one has any reason to support Prop C. Obviously you have anyone who supports health care reform, who understands that a mandate is necessary under this new system to broaden the risk pool and thus drive down premium costs. To those tired of hyper-partisan politics, Prop C seems like the latest temper tantrum from the anti-Obama-at-all-costs crowd. Neither of these are particularly surprising.

Yet, even those who hold true to conservative views would seem inclined to dislike Prop C, given its unconstitutional nature. And those given to disgust over government spending and so-called frivolous lawsuits should have a field day over what the coming rounds of court will cost taxpayers.

But this isn’t an intellectual exercise at all. Like seemingly everything else these days, it’s fraught with emotion and irrationality. Not to mention the smug pronouncements of Republicans who claim The People Have Spoken!

(Side note #1: When a conservative candidate or proposal wins, it’s because The People Have Spoken. When Obama overwhelmingly wins the presidency, it’s a mistake made by a bunch of young voters who will soon have buyers’ remorse. People speak selectively, you understand.)

Regarding Prop C, the voters have spoken, but they haven't said what its supporters think. The mind is capable of staggering compartmentalization, and this is a case of that. As long as the idea of a health care insurance mandate has been around, the conservative cry has been, “The government can’t force me to buy insurance!” And thence Prop C becomes a question of, “Do you want the government to tyrannically force you into buying something you don’t want?” Of course not! Come to think of it, how did this get only 76 percent of the vote?!! To quote Christopher Walken in Blast From The Past, "COMMIES!"

Of course, if the question was framed as, “Do you think the state of Missouri should spend thousands of dollars unsuccessfully defending a law that is not only constitutional, but could shrink the health care risk pool to a point where insurance companies might just leave the state altogether due to the expense?” you might get 76 percent voting in the other direction. Yes, that question isn’t any less loaded than the first, but it’s more truthful.

(Side note #2: For what it’s worth, I’m not a fan of the system being put into place. It’s a hard sell. I think it’ll be better than what we have now, but it’s ultimately a compromise over the much-better ideas of a public option or single-payer. But a mandate is the only way it’ll work in this form; otherwise, only sick people will sign up. And you need a large pool of healthy people to drive down costs and sustain payouts.)

I find it fascinating how successful the rhetoric has been in the Prop C campaign. Mainly because it’s so ridiculous. As I mentioned in my last blog, “freedom” piped up with much regularity. Freedom apparently means to the right to deal with massive bills and giant corporate conglomerates your own way. With bootstraps as your tourniquet because you can’t afford anything better to stanch the hemorrhaging. And if you have a problem with the way we do health care in this country, get a job or move away, freeloader! The People Have Spoken!

One interesting, though scary, side effect of Prop C (and Obama in general) is the emergence of a whole batch of sudden constitutional scholars who snidely ask just exactly where in the Constitution it says the government has a right to grab citizens by the balls and demand they pay up for health care. In those exact words. These types have been around for a while, but the Obama era has brought them into the mainstream. And they could very well drive the debate for years to come, aided and abetted by screamers like Glenn Beck, who frame the debate in twisted ways that American voters inexplicably lap up with a beer funnel.

(Side note #3: One reason political debate is so stupid these days is the terminology. Who knows if they really believe it, but many conservatives — especially tea partiers — paint things they’re against in the worst possible terms, and blithely assume liberals think in the same bizarre mind-set. That’s why we’re so often accused of wanting dead babies, for example, because clearly that’s all being pro-abortion rights is about. Or that we want racial and gender equality because, as white liberals, we hate ourselves. Or that we insist on separation of church and state because we hate Christians and actively worship gods and demons we know are wrong and evil.

Same thing with health care. Obviously, we’re for reform because we want the government to rule over everyone with an iron fist. It has nothing to do with addressing the serious health care crisis in America, with saving people from being one illness away from bankruptcy. No, it’s all an insidious plot to make everyone slaves to our elected representatives. For some reason or other. I imagine this mind-set exists is because it’s exactly what right-wingers want — money, power, glory and moral certitude at the expense of everyone they deem inferior — and they assume that’s what we want too and resent the competition.

And that, I think, is why it’s so hard to debate nowadays. How do you make your case that something is the smart and humane thing to do when your counterpart can quantify things only in terms of their personal checkbook?

Side note within side note #1: George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign was little more than an appeal to greed and moral superiority. “It’s YOUR money, and I want to give it to you!” “It’s time to restore honor and dignity to the White House.” I remember my aunt telling me she voted for Bush because “He will be good for my stocks.” When Bush took office, he had no qualms about enacting a far-right agenda and was open about his rich-enriching intentions. Obama gets the same criticism from the right that Bush got from the left, but without foundation. Obama has gone out of his way (maybe too much so) to compromise and to enact provisions that help middle-class and poor Americans, which is not in his self-interest. And that’s the fundamental difference in why conversations now are so irrational. When one side claims to hold the monopoly on freedom and accuses the other of Marxism, the exchange is already too far gone. End side note within a side note, as well as the side note itself. I think.)

Ultimately, Prop C is a political statement, and while its success in the short term seems to portend an end to the Obama era, it could just as well backfire. And even if it doesn’t, it’ll take more than a symbolic rebuke to bring about a significant pendulum swing. Having actual solutions would be a good start. So would a healthy sense of perspective.

After all, California just declared Proposition 8, the ban on gay marriage, unconstitutional. Wonder how that fits in with our supposed rightward march?

Monday, August 02, 2010

Sticker time!

Today is Election Day in southwest Missouri. It will be remembered for all time as the tea-partiest election in a tea party time (I hope).

To wit:

1) Proposition C. The main referendum, popularly known as "Prop C" in a nod to both street cred and fruit punch, Prop C declares that Missouri will not prosecute anyone for violating the federal health insurance mandate. Which sounds great, except the whole point of the mandate is to enroll everyone so that costs fall due to the increased risk pool (and help will be available for the poorest among us). It would supposedly drive costs lower to the everyday taxpayer than our overpriced charity system now. And the doomsayers who think of this mandate as socialism redux should know that it's actually a boon for private insurance companies, who will receive plenty of new, healthy customers. It's not great, but it's a start toward the public option and/or socialized medicine of which the mandate is a pale shadow of compromise.

Also, Prop C is useless because state law cannot supersede federal law. Even its proponents know this, and consider it a symbolic statement against big gubmint. Because nothing calls for reduced government spending like the expensive lawsuit the federal government will file against Missouri if this thing is passed. So, really, there's no reason for anyone of any political persuasion to vote for this. 

Still, there have been a lot of patriotic appeals over Prop C. Would you believe the word "freedom" pops up a lot? I can't wrap my mind around the idea that lacking health coverage is some kind of God-given freedom. Taking away all of the greedy (and any other) ulterior motives for this stance, there's only one genuine argument to be made for this: that people shouldn't be forced to buy something they don't want. OK. But there's one problem with that: when those people get sick and need care, the rest of us have to pay for it regardless. Which is a large-scale example of exactly the kind of thing they claim to be against. It's the same principle behind seat belts — you might think they restrict freedom, but they also restrict your freedom to be thrown out of a car and become a part of someone's now-recurring nightmare. Which is definitely a time when you'll wish you weren't free from health care.

2) It's a Republican primary in the age of tea. There is actually a commercial that ends with the candidate saying, "I not only approve this message, I approve of you being a patriot." The spot itself doesn't list any real campaign platform, other than that the troops are good guys. It reminds me, as politics so often does, of an old MAD magazine article: "You might be a wrestling fan if you chant, 'U-S-A! U-S-A!' in a match between a guy from Texas and a guy from Michigan!"

I've opined for years how ridiculous many Republican campaign ads are, with hilariously unsubtle appeals to the flag and family values, and how the word "conservative" is any combination of boasted and scrolling across the screen in 54-point font. But what really strikes me, even after all these years, is how conservatives have hijacked every American word there is. I used to find this amusing in the early Bush era — but in the age of Glenn Beck, it takes on a sinister new bent. These people seem absolutely convinced that their opponents are (or can be painted as) anti-American saboteurs, and that they're the only choice if you love your country. Think about that when you're pondering who should be your county's recorder of deeds.

U-S-A! U-S-A!!

3) Speaking of loving America and upholding the Constitution... All but one of the seven GOP candidates for the U.S. House seat in the 7th District support repeal of the 17th Amendment, which gave the people the right to vote for their senators. Seriously.

4) Career politicians baaaaad! The opposite extreme? Goooooood.

5) Very few Democrats are up for a primary vote today. That's either a sign of party unity or party apathy. Not sure which. Nevertheless, there are plenty of decent, well-intentioned people running on both sides who are worthy of consideration. They tend to buy fewer ads.

Let's have a super Tuesday, Missouri.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Happy Sunday

So I was watching Pastor John Hagee's program this morning. The only reason I did so was the reason I tend to watch any TV show: because of channel inertia. I had caught Saturday Night Live last night, which reminded me how much Abby Elliott is definitely my type, and the TV was still on channel 12. Also, I was curious in that same academic sense that compels me to read rich-bastard magazines and watch "Fireproof" on YouTube.

When I think of the reasons that people go to church, things like clearing your conscience, feeling inner peace and a feeling of community come to the forefront.

I can only imagine what compels people to go to a Hagee service. I'm not saying that because I disagree with his politics (though I do, vehemently) or because I don't go to any church. I'll bypass the fact that his heavy emphasis on world politics and Obama-prompted outrage over government spending should repeal his tax-free status, really giving him something to complain about. Or that he rails against greed when, as the head of a mega-ministry, he once said, "I deserve every dime I'm getting."

No, I just don't get what gets thousands of people each Sunday morning to think, "I will get up early, put on my finest clothing and drive over to an arena to hear about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and why our American currency is being devalued. And I want this lecture to be full of hellfury and brimfire, yet still somehow fall flat. And I want to be told to repeat key statements of said sermon as if I'm learning a foreign language. Finally, I hope Pastor Hagee begins with a reminder of what a powerful force he is and how his sermon will blow me away." Judging by the muted reaction of the crowd throughout most of the service, even they apparently agree with me.

I'm not being snide; I'm genuinely curious. He doesn't seem to succeed as either a preacher or as a pundit. Maybe he should get someone who looks like Abby Elliott to do his legwork. Amen.

Here I am pretending to play guitar: