My irregular musings on city life, politics, baseball, roller derby, and whatever happens to be getting my goat today.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why Not Al

Well, Why not?


In a further sign that our society is blurring the line between the media and reality, Al Franken has been declared the winner of last year's Minnesota Senate campaign by the Minnesota Supreme Court and will be sworn in soon as the 100th Senator. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy about this. I mean, Norm Coleman always struck me as a serious wanker, and worse, he's a Republican. But a couple things bother me about this. Not least the fact that from my perusal of Blogistan, it seems to me that all Republicans and conservatives were quite convinced that Coleman's arguments were valid without really knowing what they were, and and all Democrats and progressives seemed to accept that Franken's arguments were true, without really knowing what they were. This constant wrangling and litigating over elections without giving much thought to who actually got the most votes and whether that should matter makes me worry that in the future the United States might end up dysfunctioning a lot like places like Honduras, in which all parties decide politics is a zero sum struggle for power, the rule of law be damned.

But in addition, there's the strange case of "Why Not Me?" the 2000 masterpiece of political parody documenting Franken's fictional rise as a candidate, election, and subsequent fall from grace in a storm of meth addiction and mental illness. It's a good indication of why I'm not a real blogger that I searched the condo this evening and was incapable of locating this book and finding a suitable excerpt. At this point I've given up. But one piece I remember was his sort of prescient bit about winning the fundraising battle by operating a 900 number that combined campaign information and phone sex. Now that's what I call social networking. Needless to say upon reading the book, which I highly recommend because it's laugh out loud funny, I said to myself, "well this guarantees that Al Franken will never run for political office."

Bearing in mind that this is the same state that once elected a professional wrestler as Governor, this is still prettyfar out there. But about that whole Jesse Ventura thing: I once asked my uncle, a longtime Minnesotan, about how Ventura managed to get elected, and he admitted that he'd voted for the wrestler himself. I asked him what the hell he was thinking. We were on the deck of a cruse ship in the Carribean, believe it or not, during what members of my family have since come to refer to as "the Titanic Incident." He balanced his Cuban cigar on the railing and took a sip of his Manhattan. Finally he said, "you don't understand who else was running."

In this case I think the same logic applies. Welcome Senator Franken. Why not?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Naked Hiking Day

Not quite sure what to think about this. The governor of South Carolina disappeared for several days. His wife indicated that the family didn't know where he was, and reports were that nobody in state government did either, yet he had not taken steps to have the Lt. Gov or somebody step in and assume executive powers.

So obviously I figured he must be in rehab for his crack addiction or something, and people were covering for him. He does seem a bit . . . addled, so I figured a little rehab might be in order.

But then, we heard that he'd gone for the weekend to hike the Appalachian Trail. Now that made sense, too. I mean, I see why he'd be lying about hiking this weekend, seeing as how Sunday was Naked Hiking Day. If Gov. Sanford had really been hiking the Trail this weekend in secret, it seemed likely that he'd been doing so in the buff. Oddly, this made me like the guy a little more, although it also made me grateful I wasn't hiking anywhere near him, since he comes off as kinda creepy, you know?

Then, of course, he throws a press conference (that he was 45 minutes late for) in which he claims he was in Argentina having an affair with a "dear, dear friend" he met on the Internet. With whom he apparently spent "hours" driving along the shore in Buenos Aires, even though there are barely 2 miles of waterfront highway in the city. How slow was he driving? Or perhaps we should be asking, is "driving along the shore" some kind of conservative politico slang for getting a blow job in a parked car?

What I do know is this is two scandals in two weeks involing hypocritical conservative politicians who claim that letting gay people marry each other would undermine the institution of marriage. Ensign and Sanford belong in the same club as Newt Gingrich, who famously left his wife while she was recovering from cancer to marry his mistress, whom he later also divorced for a younger woman with whom he was having an affair, and then converted to Catholicism and claimed that the drive for same sex marriage was undermining the institution. I've got news for you guys - something is, in fact, undermining the institution of marriage, and it's - you guys!

But don't be sad, conservatives. Here's a fine, reasonable response from our good buddy Grover Norquist to give you some perspective:

“I disagree with the idea that this shows problems for the modern Republican
Party,” said Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, a group that applauded Mr. Sanford’s attempt to refuse some federal stimulus funds earlier this year. In reference to the fiscally conservative philosophies of Mr. Ensign and Mr. Sanford, he joked, “I think instead it shows that sexual attractiveness of limited-government conservatism.”

You see? Everything's cool. Because the sexual exploits of middle aged white guys are not morally offensive, the way, say, a happily married gay couple would be. It's just guys out having fun. No harm, no foul. Because personal "morality" is a construct designed to keep low status, unimportant people under control to keep the social order intact in order to preserve the power and privileges of the elite. There's no reason to keep the elite under control, for heaven's sake. They can do whatever they want to whomever they want to. That's the whole point. The only thing offensive here is the unfairness of the Liberal Media in being mean to these guys. Leave poor Mark Sanford alone!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More health care bitching

You'd think that a policy which has the support of more than 70% of the public, that the President ran on as a candidate and won, would have a decent chance of becoming law. Unfortunatelu, several "Democratic" Senators seem to suffer from a compulsion to split the difference between what the public wants and the maximalist demands of big corporate donors. As a result, it's likely that health care reform will either not pass, or be so watered down that it will leave millions uninsured while failing to reduce costs. "But it will drive insurance companies out of business to offer an affordable, quality alternative" is actually taken as a legitimate argument by some of these clowns. This is bizarre - if firms can't compete because they are more bureaucratic and topheavy than the public sector, than, um, they suck. So why should I care if they get outcompted?

Friday, June 19, 2009

America Ain't Ready for Reform

At heart, I think people - or at least sane people - all want the same things. Among these are absulute power over everything, and to live forever and never die. Also love, sex, tasty food, and victory for your local sports team etc. but I really feel that much of human motivation is a semi-conscious groping for immortality and absolute power.

Now absolute power, as far as it goes, the problem is as the movie says - "there can be only one." Since the odds are slim that it would be you, most of us in the modern world have decided that it's better nobody than somebody else with the absolute power, and have arrived at some form of democracy as the second best answer.

But as for immortality, that's a different story. Back in Buddha's day the only choice was to achieve a state of mind where you could forget that old age, sickness and death existed, but in the modern world we are coming intriguingly close to finding a cure for these things.

Which brings us to health care reform. I just don't think we are defining this problem the right way. The way I usually hear it talked about is, "health care is too expensive," meaning too large a fraction of our economy is the health care system. I'm not sure what this means, and I don't think I agree. You don't hear too many people complain that too much of the economy is the automobile industry. You don't hear too many people complain that too much of the economy is the software industry. In fact, when these industries grow, it's "good news," and when they shrink and lay people off, it's "bad news." You don't even hear people complaining that too much of the economy is the adult entertainment industry. But health care? Too big. I don't get it.

I get that the fact that many people can't afford coverage.

I get that the US has crappier outcomes than other developed contries in terms of infant mortality, cancer survival, diabetes, etc. These things are legitimately problems.

If you re-state the problem as we're not getting our money's worth then I'll agree with you. But just saying "we're spending too much on health care," I don't get it. What are we supposed to be spending money on instead? Big screen TVs? Bigger houses? New cars? WHY?

The answer you usually get is that spending on these things is economic growth and creates jobs. But isn't the same true of health care? I mean, doctors and nurses and phlobotomists have jobs, don't they? Isn't that economic growth?

So here's my health care plan/economic recovery plan/stimulus package. We convert all of the slack resources of the economy into health care, and launch a Manhattan Project/Moonshot type program to eliminate old age, sickness and death. We could stop building homes and TVs and cars for a whild and just do medical research all the time, and treat all the sick and disabled people in the world with really top flight medical care.

You think I'm being facetious, but let me ask you this - do you think it's reasonable, or even sane, for Senators to be backing away from universal, quality health care because it's too expensive? The problem here is that the country has been infected by the conservative trope that people know how to spend their money better than the government does. I call bullshit. You don't see the government spending all its money on malt liquor and Swank magazine and conducting the people's business in a trailer, or an abandoned apartment building on West 69th, do you? The economy is in crisis because people did completely stupid shit with their money. Do you seriously think that individuals spending their money on Hummers and flat screen TVs, and then borrowing someone else's money to buy a mini mansion they know they'll never be able to make payments on, is a better use of their money than high quality health care for everyone? Would you rather add 30 productive years to your life, or be able to buy new games for your Play Station Portable? If you really think consumer spening is a better use of our resources than medicine, you are probably an idiot. Or a "libertarian."

How many libertarians does it take to change a lightbulb?

None. If they can't manufacture a light bulb themselves in their very own bomb shelter, they'll just live in the dark and be "free."

But I digress. The point is, health care uber alles. If you don't have your health, you don't have anything. Once Congress sees the light and enacts my health plan, I will release my plan for achieving absolute power. Keep watching this space for more details.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


My Great Aunt died on Friday. I don't have anything witty or clever to say about that. She lived in the same house in Brooklyn since the early 1960s. It was a refuge to me as a young child living not so far away in New Jersey. I felt at home there, safe and accepted for who I was in a way I never really felt back home in the burbs. She was my grandmother's sister, I guess you could say she was a surrogate grandmother at the time since my real grandparents were all back here in Illinois. She encouraged me to read and write and explore music. When I was very small, we had a book and an accompanying 45 record she made of children's songs - she had been an elementary school teacher before leaving the field to pursue acting. You may have seen her on TV - she did some recurring guest spots on several soaps, did a recurring sketch portraying the mother of a late night talk show host, and once did a commercial with Sean "P. Whatever" Combs. There were supposed to be more spots, but after the first one she heard some of his music and did not approve.

Back in the day, my aunt worked to integrate New York - she and a white friend would go to a restaurant and make reservations, then a black couple would show up later to claim their seats. You don't think of New York as a place that had restaurants that refused to serve black people, but that's because you don't really understand how much times have changed. Nobody young really does, I guess.

Although a young radical, in her old age she was the first person I ever heard describe herself as a "neocon" which she defined as "a liberal who's been mugged." While I don't agree with everything she ended up buying into, I completely understand her support for Giuliani. A longtime New Yorker who depended on the subway to get around, she felt intimidated by the lawlessness of the late 80s and early 90s and felt it limited her mobility and thus her ability to accept roles in the theater that kept her out late at night. Whatever you want to say about some of the methods used, by the late 90s everybody felt safe taking the subway home again. My values of tolerance and diversity do not extend to armed thugs and gangbangers either.

Even when we disagreed about stuff she was always interested to find out where I was coming from. If it weren't for her I wouldn't value my own mind enough to write about stuff. I wish I'd spent more time with her as an adult. I'm glad I got to see her several times the past decade since my brother's been in New York too.

Anyway, she was a big influence on me and now she's gone. The circumstances were awful and the way our society treats old people is often a disgrace, but honestly it wouldn't make much difference to me if she'd died under the "best" circumstances. Death sucks. I hear that healthy people are able to integrate death into their understanding of life, accept it and move on. I want no part of it. The human condition is a tragedy. The only way to understand it is through art, the thing itself is an incomprehensible mess.

She was strong. She was funny. She is gone, and the world is poorer for it.

Deep Thoughts on Iran

Go Reds! Beat State!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Driving with Bonzo

On our way home today, driving north past Wilson we passed the Buddhist temple in the building that used to house the Paul Revere Chapter of the American Legion. Every year they put up a giant lotus behind a statue of the Buddha to celebrate the Buddha's birthday. This was only a couple months ago, so Bonzo remembers. "Happy Birthday, Buddha!" he says as we drive by. Then he starts to sing the song we made up back when the birthday display was up:
Happy Birthday, Buddha.
Happy Birthday, Buddha.
Happy Birthday, Bald Fat Guy,
Happy Birthday, Buddha.
Hey, it's a long trip home some days. Anyway, at the end of the sound, Bonzo starts to blow, like he was blowing out candles. I tell him if you blow out candles for the Buddha, you have to ask, "Where does the flame go when I blow it out?"

"Where did it go?" he asks. "Where did it go? I don't know!"

Then: "There it is! It's right there! It's right there! I found it! I found the Buddha, it's RIGHT THERE!"

Many years from now, perhaps I will be enlightened.