Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm just trying to develop an online body of work (even if the work is throwaway nonsense) to advance my writing career.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Politics Me Off

It's another birthday for Mick Jagger and for two-or three-hit wonder, Dobie Gray. According to Gray's official website,, he was able to persuade South African authorities to let him perform for an integrated audience back in the 1970s. That's a pretty impressive, and underrated, achievement. "Drift Away" remains the vocalist's best known track while "The In-Crowd" and "Loving Arms" receive occasional airplay on oldies radio. "Drift Away" is a nice song and all, but it's a little overplayed and Uncle Kracker's cover version didn't help; it wasn't terrible, just unexciting. Still, at least he had the good manners to involve Gray in the project.

I've concluded that I remain interested in the subject, but don't really like politics much. Like any human endeavor, there are a few heroes, a few villains, but mostly flawed human beings lost in a moral miasma, where it's difficult to know what's right and even harder to do what's right. Politicians who compromise their principles in order to achieve results are spineless and those who cling to principles in order to play obstructionist games are intransigent ideologues. So you can't win.

It isn't that politics is so terribly different from other pursuits, like business, entertainment, medicine, media or personal relationships. All of these are subject to human frailties like jealousy, greed, revenge and plain honest mistakes. Politics is not, by definition, more corrupt or more wasteful than these other arenas but it is understandably more reviled than most. There are a number of reasons for this, but two stand out and, of course, interrelate. First, in a more direct way than any other human undertaking, it is our money that bankrolls government. To be fair, government and politics are not precisely the same thing, but the association between the two is undeniable. Second, with that money controversial things happen. Wars are started; programs are funded; deals are brokered. Not everyone wins and those who don't are generally unhappy and disillusioned.

Corporations waste money, too. Mass media can, either deliberately or unwittingly, shape public opinion in directions that may endorse war or reject it. And personal relationships are always a factor in how decisions are made. So it isn't that these other forces aren't powerful, but when things go well, it's often because someone is said to have "set aside" politics. And when things go badly, politicians get blamed.

For me, then, it isn't that politics is worse--more petty, more vindictive, more corrupt--than, say, entertainment, but it is more of a grind. Preconceived notions are undermined so often that it's jarring. Not that rethinking one's preconceived notions is altogether a bad thing, but it's something people almost inevitably resist. So it's tempting to either tumble into the realm of foolish consistency--whatever my "side" says is undeniably correct and unassailable--or withdraw in disgust--they're all crooks anyway. For the contemplative sort, politics is a confusing business. People you loathe are sometimes right and those you respect and admire are sometimes wrong. And nobody's perfect so you have to decide what you can live with.

I see why so many view politics with disinterest and watch Entertainment Tonight or professional wrestling. But I can't do that. In order to preserve my own self-worth, I have to pretend to be intelligent and engaged. I have to claim I know what's going on even when I don't. This must be the curse of all people who write for no money. We want acclaim and notoriety and if the only people from whom we can get them are friends, families, and ourselves, it will have to do.

Meanwhile, give me the beat, boys, and free my soul. And cheer up. At least you can read.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Swearing Foresworn

What the world needs now is a Swear Off between Andrew Breitbart and Rahm Emanuel. Just think of how many times the phrase "expletive deleted" would appear in the transcripts? Who would win? The age difference is only ten years, a lot in athletic terms but not much in foul language competitions, so to say Breitbart would have the edge due to his "youthful energy" or Emanuel gets the nod based on "cursing experience" might be something of a stretch.

I keep complaining about the apparent late 70s, early 80s redux. Previous examples included gripes about the New York Yankees winning yet another World Series and the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics competing for an NBA title, not to mention high unemployment and a shaky economy. But it doesn't stop there. Jerry Brown, governor of California from 1975 to 1983, is now running for--yes, that's right--governor of California.

Speaking of things that never change, how many years out of the last fifty-five has the mayor of Chicago not been named Richard Daley? Time's up. Thirteen. The Daleys have dominated Chicago for about three generations. There were five mayors between father and son, one of whom served for only eight days. The younger Daley has had his share of success but I think it's time for him to go. People can only remain in power so long before things turn sour.

Basketball players are turning into city mayors. Former Piston legend Dave Bing is now running Detroit; ex-Sun Kevin Johnson occupies Sacramento's top office. And for years Charles Barkley has toyed with the idea of running for Governor of Alabama, although the fact he keeps hedging doesn't say much for his decisiveness. Still, it would be any reporter's dream to have Barkley as an elected official. He was blunt and direct as a player, is blunt and direct as a writer and sports commentator, so there's no reason to believe his behavior would change as a politician, at least not at first. If he got a few controversies under his belt, then maybe. It's hard to say whether Barkley's DUI in late 2008 would undermine his electability; I never know with these things anymore.

France's reputation as a cowardly nation has not been enhanced by a decision to ban a garment worn by fewer than 2,000 individuals. The French are not cowardly or, at any rate, French people are no more likely to be cowards than Americans, Chileans, or Japanese, but this is a bush league move. Rather than get serious about societal difficulties that run much deeper than clothing, French officials have chosen to take legal action against the very people they claim are victims of oppression. It is reasonable enough to require people wearing veils to remove them when taking passport photographs and there's also no harm in asking someone to take one off during a face-to-face discussion or business transaction. But there's no logical basis for preventing people from covering their faces while they're walking down the street. And this approach doesn't seem like the best angle to confront the problem of women who are being browbeaten, pressured, and intimidated into wearing burqas. This is nothing new. I made largely the same points a few years ago in reaction to a similar campaign by Dutch politician Geert Wilders. To no a veil. Get it?!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What the Hell, Mel?

Is it possible that Mel Gibson was the craziest member of the "Lethal Weapon" cast, which included Danny Glover and Gary Busey? Don't get me wrong, I didn't think Gibson could possibly be as good a guy as his public image suggested about fifteen years ago, but is he really that bad?

Say what you like about Glover (see Chavez, Hugo), but as far as I know he has never left a phone message to a former love interest with references to her getting raped by a pack of crackers. And take your shots at Busey (see Accidents, Motorcycle) but he hasn't threatened to report anyone to the people who take money from the "wetbacks".

Poor Mel. Always being victimized by the Jews who start all the wars, the packs of niggers who rape women, and the wetbacks who... well, apparently they just get their money taken. Is the guy as stupid as he sounds? As Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts pointed out, the "N" word isn't even the most offensive part of the diatribe, it's the word "pack" that implies animalistic tendencies among African-Americans. The only animal here is Gibson, a man unable to measure his words or blunt his rage.

Everyone has prejudices. A man who reveals prejudices is not necessarily a villain. But this is really mean-spirited stuff. And let's not overlook the fact that Gibson has also been accused of domestic violence against Oksana Grigorieva, the woman toward whom he directed these reprehensible comments. Knocking a woman's teeth out is worse than hateful speech but it's the words that present more of a public relations problem for Gibson because they can never, ever be taken back. No one actually saw him strike Grigorieva but people have heard and read his words over and over. It's not a fair world and I think a guy whose worst offense is violence toward women deserves more castigation than a guy whose worst offense is making bigoted remarks, even recorded ones, but I suspect the hate will stick to Mel longer than the hitting. Of course, there is a chance he isn't guilty of the violence, that those claims are inaccurate. We shall see.

If indeed the European crisis, slow growth, housing market woes, and persistent unemployment are going to induce a "double dip recession", can we at least find something else to call it? That seems like such a tired, boring phrase. How about a "reeeeecession"? Or a "rerecession"? Or "recession squared"? Let's just hope it doesn't happen, for both practical and linguistic reasons.

The Jones Act doesn't need to be waived. It applies only to foreign ships within three miles of the United States' coast. That's why President Bush deactivated it during the Hurricane Katrina crisis and why President Obama doesn't need to now.

But, President Obama, please pardon this personal appeal, would you mind getting off the golf course? Seriously. That's one of the claims that dogged President Bush, that he seemed out of touch. Despite golf's transformation over the past twenty to thirty years, there remains an aura of exclusivity and privilege about it. Sure, it's more of an "everyman" game than it used to be, but so many stereotypes about aloof doctors and bad executives involve their presence on the golf course when they should be addressing problems elsewhere. One of the things I liked about Obama from the beginning was his preference for basketball, far more of a blue collar game and one I play myself. I identified with it. I realize golf isn't solely a game for upper class twits anymore, but under the circumstances, I think every appearance on the golf course does incremental damage.