Thursday, July 28, 2005

Pataki and the 2008 Election: Early Thoughts

I read yesterday that New York Governor George Pataki has decided to sit out next year’s gubernatorial race, a step most pundits say points to a presidential run.

Although I have followed George Pataki's career no more closely than Corey Feldman's, I have to admit that the Republicans could nominate someone worse. Much worse.

Like Rick Santorum, who continues to flirt with a run in 2008 despite barely registering in national polls.

Like Sam Brownback, whose hair scares me nearly as much as his views.

Like Newt Gingrich, who justifies the old adage that a country should not elect a leader nicknamed for a slimy amphibian.

What do these others have in common? All are—or are seeking to be—poster boys for the religious right. And it would be good, IMHO, for the elephants to avoid moving any more to the right.

Let’s recall that the Republican creed includes the belief that the most effective, responsible and responsive government is government closest to the people. Last time I checked, that didn’t involve US senators telling us that the Supreme Court is way out of line for “allowing” consensual sex between couples in their homes (Rick Santorum’s opinion).

Readers here already know that I’m a fan of moderation in politics and political discourse. And I do not know enough about Pataki to become a fan. What I am saying is that it would be nice to have the chance to consider candidates for president—Republican or Democrat—who want to stay out of my life.

Tax me to help defend the country, yes. Maintain a robust police force, yes. Tell me what I cannot say in a classroom because it might offend somebody, no. Tell me what to do (or what not to do) in my bedroom, no.

Let us have candidates who are socially mainstream (if not—gasp!—liberal), tough on crime, and interested in cutting taxes. If Pataki is indeed like that, he does face a tough climb—he’s nowhere near John McCain, or even fellow New Yorker Rudy Giuliani, in the early polls—but what a welcome relief.

On paper, that’s the kind of candidate we should see more of. I’d like to see the democrats, too, get reasonable folks in the running, if nothing else to reduce the knee-jerk partisan demonizing that is all too easy when the donkeys’ front-runners in early polls are Hilary Clinton, John Kerry, and Howard Dean.

Assuming that Dick Cheney’s “Hell, no” replies to questions about his potential candidacy stand firm, this will be the first time since 1952 that a sitting president or VP has not been in the running. This gives us a chance, starting now, to learn as much as possible about prospective candidates.

I may find out, for example, that Pataki is an ass-clown who has no more business being in the White House than Elvis Presley on an anti-drug visit. That is exactly what this time is for (the discovery stuff, not the bloated hypocritical singer stuff).

If faced with a choice between the far right and the far left, will it be any surprise if the US political climate continues to deteriorate—or if we see increasing numbers of rational Americans becoming even more disenchanted with national politics?

And because nobody else is saying it yet, let me be the first: Jim Cantore for President!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Cable News, Hollywood, and Killer Dust Clouds: A Conspiracy Theory

So there I am, minding my own business, simply trying to peruse the latest news on and stay informed about my world.

And then I see the kind of headline that causes panic in men's souls: Massive Dust Cloud Heads to US.

A deadly blanket of particulates descending upon America?!? Is it time to get the bottled water, run to the basement, and seal up the windows with duct tape?

No. You see, the read-beyond-the-headline Web surfer will discover that this event, sold to the casual observer as a threat to all of us, is in fact nothing to get excited about:

1) The cloud will probably impact only Florida (and possibly parts of Texas), NOT the entire U.S.
2) Winds often carry Saharan dust across the Atlantic, and this is not particularly noteworthy.
3) The sand is likely to be seen only via unusually colorful sunrises and sunsets.

Not exactly run for your life material here. But that is not what the news gurus would have us believe.

Why the hype? Well, it should be apparent to any right thinking American that the cable news networks have sold what is left of their souls in an unholy alliance with Hollywood.

You see, we have been hearing for months about dwindling audiences in theaters nationwide. Studio execs are concerned, alarmed, mortified. The news media—which rely on overviews of hot summer movies to fill the time between coverage of terrorist attacks and stories about missing blonde teenagers—are more than happy to help out.

The result: there is a killer dust cloud coming to your neighborhood. Panic.

Hollywood did not want to resort to this. Naturally, they first tried to trot out some sequels, figuring that Revenge of the Sith’s $375 million+ had nothing to do with the fact that it is the final Star Wars flick.

So we are fed such gems as Son of the Mask, Miss Congeniality 2, and Ace Bigelow: European Gigolo. Oh, the crowds.

Then their marketing wizards put their heads together—and decided that remakes would save the day.

So we are being subjected to the likes of The Longest Yard, The Pink Panther, and The Dukes of Hazzard. They even have the balls to push on us Bewitched, a movie about—get this—the making of a movie based on a television show.

Shockingly, all this isn’t working. Therefore, the plotters take the next natural step and imply a threat from deadly Saharan sandstorms.

And because everyone knows that the safest place from a lethal airborne dust cloud is a movie theater, the problem is solved.

And I imagine Hollywood will take it a step further, filling the latent demand for natural disaster flicks with a quick blockbuster production of Cumulus of Death. It will be like The Day After Tomorrow without snowdrifts. And hopefully without Dennis Quaid.

So if the headlines scare you, do the right thing for America—go see a movie. If only for a couple of hours, relax and escape from these unspeakable horrors that we cannot control or possibly defend ourselves against.

I recommend War of the Worlds.

P.S. A note for the record: My denunciation of The Dukes of Hazzard must in no way be construed as an objection to Jessica Simpson parading around in “Daisy Dukes.” Tell me that she will not actually speak in the movie, and I might just see it.

When it comes to cable.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Dear John Roberts

So, who wants to be humiliated today?


Ah, thank you, sir. Please stand up so we can all see you. What’s your name?

I’m sorry … did you say "John Roberts?"

What, was John Doe too busy? I know George W. Bush is seeking someone who will not generate controversy … but methinks he picked you hoping he could just slip a nice boring name right by the Senate with no one the wiser.

Was his only screening question for you, “Hey, buddy—how easy is your name to pronounce?”

Sorry, Judge Roberts, I know I’m not being fair. I should give your new pal the prez some credit. In the wake of recent high court names like Antonin and Thurgood, “John” is a damn good choice. After all, other countries laugh at us enough already—let’s not go back to the days of justices named Rufus Peckham, Mahlon Pitney, and Felix Frankfurter. No, John, I’m not making this up.

So now you are on your way to your confirmation hearings. Congratulations to you, Your Honor. Now the world’s emerging democracies—Iraq, Palestine, California—can sit back and watch how an experienced institution like the US Senate handles its constitutional mandate and honors a qualified candidate and universally acknowledged nice guy.

Or not. I’m guessing it will be about as dignified as Pam Anderson’s home videos.

You should know, John, that I am neither an ideologue nor a student of the jurisprudential arts. But I have read much today about your background and beliefs, and here’s what I’ve discovered.

You are a normal guy.

That’s going to be a shock to most people. Especially after what we will be hearing for the next two months.

Voices on the right will start by saying that you are the perfect judge. And, if pressured, they will assert that you are actually Christ reborn—and insist that a vote against you is an affront to God. (Not everyone’s God, just the one that speaks American English.)

Voices on the left will begin with your plans to remove all of our rights. And, if pushed, they will point out that you kick helpless animals—and contend that a vote for you is support for a beast that eats babies. (Not the unborn ones—you want to force all women to have those BEFORE you eat them.)

The truth? I doubt you feast on newborns. Anymore. And I really doubt you are Jesus—despite the disturbing fact that you ARE a white male with European features … which we all know to be the bodily form that the Son of God prefers.

From my initial investigation, I declare you to be thoroughly all right. For starters, I have learned that you grew up in Indiana—which hasn’t unleashed anything dangerous on our nation since John Cougar’s “American Fool” album.

You are conservative, yes, but not radical. Your democratic friends even call you reasonable and balanced—and fun.

You are principled, yes, but practical. You even argued a case before the Supreme Court on BEHALF of environmentalists—and won.

You have lived in Washington for years now and have managed to avoid the Post’s gossip columns. And the police, which is more than we can say for mayors here.

So if some senators give you hell, John, it will say much more about them than about you.

Realistically, though, can the special interests on both sides control their media machines from declaring this vote the most important national decision since the Dancing with the Stars finale? Can committee staffers hold back on dredging up your foibles at Harvard? Will Chuck Shumer finally resist an opportunity to grandstand?

Call me a pessimist, call me a cynic, call me a realist—any way you slice it, my answer to all these questions is “no.” This will be a circus, Judge Roberts. Prepare for the clowns.

Yes, John, clowns scare the crap out of me, too.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

First (and Last) Impressions of the Blogosphere

Two apparently unrelated events:

Today, I stared at the bloody carcasses on the street as I passed the aftermath of a nasty car wreck.

Yesterday, I toured a small slice of the blogosphere, courtesy of the omnipresent “NEXT BLOG” function.

How are these connected? Well, dear reader, I discovered that blogs—like car crashes—are funny things. Not “ha-ha” funny, mind you. But when something is so wrong, so out of place, so disturbing ... well, it's hard to do much of anything but snicker.

It’s not easy to provide statistics on how much of the blogosphere is merely insanity and/or inanity. The fraction of existing blogs I scanned was so small, for example, that it can only be compared to the percentage of American brainpower residing in Jessica Simpson.

Nevertheless, patterns emerged.

I was pleasantly surprised right away—two out of the first three bloggers wrote decently, presented their views politely, and resisted the urge to compare their penises to NASA rockets, power tools, or Greek gods. They even spelled well.

And then realized I’d hit my quota of normalcy for the evening.

I soon found myself bouncing between writers promoting (and demonstrating) various S&M techniques, spouting drivel about bringing pure communism to America, or merely advertising various varieties of crap over the web.

And these goods and services aren’t on your typical must-have list. Want to invest in Iraqi dinars? Peruse gay Asian porn? You’re in luck, just check the next blog.

Or are you drawn to the personal side of blogging? In that case, you surely loved the blogger who thought that the world wanted to see hundreds of pictures of his deformed baby. Yes sir, I found them too.

Mesmerized by the little girl’s manic rants against her little brother, with their vivid descriptions of vomit and fantasy vignettes of fratricide? Uh huh, I’ve already been there.

Have you seen the erotic daily posts that the burly man in Kentucky writes to his pickup truck? I beat you to that one.

If this is what’s out there, I think I’ve had my fill of the “average” blog. I don’t want these details from MY OWN family—I sure as hell don’t see myself checking in on these folks again.

But there’s always another side to the story. Maybe it’s inherently good to have a global community with such an open exchange of uncensored views. After all, consider where I’d “been” during my tour. Stops in Argentina, Australia, and Azerbaijan. Visits to Bahrain, Belize, and Bangladesh. Appearances in Cairo, Conakry, and Canberra.

Even Canada … who even knew they had computers?

Bloggers around the world can get to know each other, the pundits say. Come in with a clean slate. Read and learn. Find out who these foreigners are. Understand how they think. Then, people from different cultures won’t judge each other based on stereotypes and previous demonizations.

No, we will hate each other based on our actual words. Much better.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Big Fat Harry Deal

I, perhaps like you, have struggled for years with the fundamental question of our era: to read or not read.

To read or not to read Harry Potter books, that is.

While hundreds of millions of kids—and not a few adults—have jumped onto the Geek Prince bandwagon, I have simply watched it pass. As a generation has grown up in the wizard’s worldview, a few brave souls have merely stood back and shrugged. Pretending not to notice. Unenlightened by the exploits of a little nerd who, somehow, is a hero to a generation. Carrying on with our Hogwarts-free lives.

But no one is truly immune.

After all, I just made a reference to the young magicians’ school, didn’t I? I’m not proud that I can tell you Slytherin is one of the houses at Hogwarts, young wizards love to chase the splendidly named Golden Snitch, and Dumbledore is an old, wizened warlock dude who, whispers in back alleys have it, may not make it to the next book.

All this, and not a single word of J.K. Rowling’s scribbling has met my eye.

This isn’t all that remarkable by itself. Despite never watching one frame of a George Lucas film, my mother knew all about Jedi light sabers, Chewbacca’s primal yodel, and Yoda’s confused sentence structure. Sure, the latter was from years of enduring my gems such as, “To the playground I will go” and “More pancakes for me you will make,” but you get the point.

Phenomena like these pervade spaces well outside their direct influence. They become part of our common culture, creating references that serve as shorthand for more difficult concepts. The tales of the His Royal Geekiness pervade American life, and his stories bring us together.

Well, most of us.

This weekend, I felt like the proverbial kid who is picked last for kickball. I walked through both city streets and suburban cookie-cutter strip malls and saw more than a few folks—young and old alike—with noses buried in the newest adventure, and I had to wonder what Monday conversations would go right over my muggle head.

If this makes me sound bitter toward the whole Nerd Necromancer community, please ignore it. Because I’m not. Really.

In fact, despite my (admittedly uninformed) belief that these books don’t seem too challenging and aren’t exactly brilliant in their plots and character development, I am a huge fan of the Harry Potter experience.

Why? It boils down to one simple fact, one eternal truth.

I like books.

To paraphrase the immortal Gordon Gekko, books—for lack of a better word—are good. Books are right. Books work. Books, like greed, have marked the upward surge of mankind.

And, I must say, this wizard stuff is getting kids to read. We shouldn’t forget that the average kid spends more time each day staring at a television and playing Grand Theft Auto than most of us sleep each night. If these books get kids to read, make it “cool” to have books in their hands, and encourage them to read other books in between Harry Potter installments, then I’m all for it.

Just don’t ask me to read one of those geeky books.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Packing the Court: A Modest Proposal

As we wait for the fray over the Supreme Court nominee to commence, it’s proving hard for politicians, pundits, and prognosticators to suppress the urge to speculate on the eventual lucky contender.

“Lucky,” wiser heads are thinking, is a poor word choice. Sure, there is an upside to being tapped on the shoulder to serve--it’s a chance to get a job for life. One in which your primary duty is to sit on your ass and pretend to pay attention.

Most Americans don’t care what you do, or even know who you are. You can mock lawyers and they don’t dare talk back to you. And you can go commando under a swanky dark robe while pulling in more than $160,000.

I’d consider minimum wage for that kind of opportunity.

On the other hand, the eventual candidate will have his or her life sliced and diced like no one since Jeff Gannon. Remember Clarence Thomas? We learned more about pubic hair “jokes” than we cared to know. Remember David Souter? We found out that he was closer to his mom than Oedipus. Remember Robert Bork? We were treated to reports about his video rentals, of all things. (Surprisingly, the revelation of his utter lack of taste in renting “Ruthless People,” starring Judge Reinhold and Bette Midler, was NOT the turning point of his nomination hearings.)

Let’s just say that if the press and the party hacks had this much fun tearing folks apart in the 1980s and 1990s, it’s not going to be a cake walk for any Supreme Court nominee this time around.

Thus, I propose that the President consider nominees who are unlikely to receive this level of scrutiny, who will please both sides of the aisle. How about folks without a long history of legal opinions to be savaged on the Senate floor? Why not candidates who lack the ideological “liabilities” that the talking heads swing at like political piñatas?

So without further ado, behold this writer’s humble suggestions:

1. Britney Spears. The poster child of the left five years ago--for promoting sex with minors who dress as prepubescent eye candy for horny middle-aged men--our little Brit has gone and got all growed up. She’s now married and is procreating while still young, which should please the religious right.

2. Tom Cruise. He’s handled both British pranksters’ cruel squirting microphones and Matt Lauer’s brutal interrogation techniques with aplomb. He speaks with authority on issues ranging from the dangers of America’s ignorance about drugs to America’s obsession with drugs to America’s reliance on drugs. And “Cocktail” proved that he will be able to handle his liquor as well as anyone in Washington (except for Ted Kennedy).

3. Will Ferrell. “Kicking & Screaming” solidified his place as one of the finest actors of our generation, perhaps of all generations, and a seat on the high court would place him in the same high stratum of comedy-actors-turned-public-servants as Congressman Fred Gandy. He gets bonus points for being able, in coming years, to recruit to service on the federal bench his SNL buddies Jimmy Fallon, Tim Meadows, and Horatio Sands--thus reducing the nation’s unemployment rate.

I’ll be the first to admit that other, more mainstream candidates may have better “credentials” and more impressive “jurisprudential experience.”

And I have no doubt that voices in the Senate, in the media, and in my head will claim that inserting pop culture into the Senate would be dangerous, placing our nation on a slippery slope.

And maybe they are right. This trend might lead us to something truly preposterous--like a pro wrestler or a bodybuilder movie star becoming governor somewhere.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Blown Away: The Guts and Glory of A Hurricane Hunter

It’s time again for an annual ritual all too familiar to American TV viewers.

Raise your hand if any of these ring a bell: An otherwise reasonable person leaning into a sand-laced wind topping 60 MPH. A padded black microphone, paired with a not-so-fashionable blue windbreaker. A whirlwind warrior -- a Weather Channel reporter named Jim Cantore.

I see several hands in the audience. Good, we have some hurricane coverage addicts in the house.

For those of you living in a cave, you obviously haven’t been assaulted by the images of Hurricane Dennis battering the Florida panhandle today. (Then again, if you live in a cave, you probably don’t spend a lot of time perusing anything followed by “” anyway.)

But if you are in any way aware of the world around you, you know about the trials and tribulations of the hurricane correspondent. You may have even seen some of the footage of today’s storm. Not exactly must-see TV, I’ll admit ... but you have to salute the constitution, the vocal strength, and the steel-like skin of our nation’s finest weather reporters.

Here’s how I imagine the average cable news network’s office two days before the storm’s projected landfall. Executive #1 holds out straws. Correspondent #3 draws the shortest. Executives #1-4 and Correspondents #1, 2, and 4-10 share guilty glances. Correspondent #3 dons his blue windbreaker and goes to Expedia for one-way tickets to Hurricane Landfall, USA.

And then there’s the Weather Channel. No straws, no guilty glances. Only our brave knight Jim, eager to face the worst maelstrom the Atlantic Gods have to offer.

Compare and contrast.

One is news. Weather, yes … but presented as any other news event. And not too exciting to watch.

The other is spectacle, it’s entertainment. We have office pools on how long it will be until our plucky hero gets clocked by either a tree limb or a pissed-off, less intrepid cameraman who is sick and tired of this shit.

So, as the storm hits, we gasp. We watch our protagonist take shelter briefly behind a shaky wall, or under a twisting tree, as street signs and power lines sail by in the background.

He’s dodging metal sections of a nearby gas station roof. Screaming over the howling wind. Stumbling as the gale roars, nearly hurling him into the newly roofless building.

And we laugh. We can’t help ourselves. This is Jim Cantore’s shining moment, this is what he lives for.

In awe and giddy anticipation we stare at the screen, barely blinking ... silently hoping that we’ll finally see him forced to surf the storm surge. And then we can cheer as our valiant warrior emerges out of the raging-river-that-was-once-a-street, like Luke Skywalker from the trash compactor. Only without lasers and stuff.

Am I making light of the danger? Do I not realize that hurricanes are serious business? Dear reader, I am fully aware that hurricanes kill. In fact, I’ve been through one of these monster storms, and that’s one too many for me. It's not something the average person would want to be caught in, with or without a camera. So I wish one of these horrible storms on NOBODY.

Nobody, that is, except Jim Cantore.