Tuesday, October 31, 2006

AGE OF CYNICISM

Professor Alan Wolfe was recently on Mike Barnacle’s radio program here in Boston. He teaches political science at Boston College and has a resume as long as your and my arm (try Googling him). He was drumming up interest for his latest book, Does American Democracy Still Work? New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006, and was spouting many of the predictable liberal talking points. But my ears pricked up when he said that we were living in the age of cynicism … a thought with which I totally agree. He then went on to say that politicians (implying, I think, the Bush crowd because he had just been scouring Karl Rove) want us to be cynical because it freezes the political discourse and consequentially allows them to do whatever they want.

I got to thinking about this pronouncement and quickly realized – what could be more cynical than such an aphorism? He clearly (and, I think, unintentionally) proved his first point.

Friday, October 27, 2006

HALLOWEEN HAIKU

The Halloween moon
Piercing the leaf-dusty sky
Lights our candy quest

Thursday, October 26, 2006

MR. NOVEMBER

Reggie Jackson’s nickname was Mr. October because he almost always came through with a stellar performance in the World Series. (I saw him hit three home runs in one critical Yankee World Series game in the 1970’s.) This was when baseball’s World Series was held in early October. Today is October 26th and only three games have been played in the World Series. Tonight, rain is forecast in St. Louis and so the fourth game probably won’t be played until at least the 27th … and the fifth, maybe on the 28th. Then, there will be a travel day before the series moves back to Detroit. So the sixth game (if necessary) would be played on the 30th at the earliest. Thus, any hiccup in this process would push the seventh game (if necessary) into November! What is going on here?

Expanding the number of baseball teams and the number of scheduled games has pushed out the World Series by at least three weeks until now freezing weather and snow now threaten the “boys of summer” with cold-related injuries. Why? We all know the answer … money. This is also why the National Hockey League now plays the Stanley Cup games in early June. (I remember one such Boston Bruins game played in a dense fog because it was so warm in the arena that the ice was sublimating.) The real problem is that greed persists … and we know that things will continue to get worse. Eventually, all sports will have to be played year-round in order for the television networks to recoup their enormous investments in the TV broadcast rights. Even now the thrill of attending live sporting events has been substantially reduced because of all the players standing around idle while TV advertisers insert more and longer commercials.

I have a solution. Let’s create on omnibus sport. Make baseball a contact sport with football-like pads and have it played on a huge ice rink. Put hoops in left, right and center fields so that home runs hit into them get an extra score. Allow personal grudge fights and encourage bench-clearing melees. And call this sport “politics”.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES

Wringer washing machines and wood-frame curtain stretchers

A skateboard made with metal wheels (taken off of an old pair of skates) nailed to a 2x4 scooter.

Bing Crosby singing “The Ole Lamplighter” on a 78-rpm record (with “Bye Bye Blackbird” on the flip side)

Drinking yeasty home-made root beer out of old ketchup bottles

“Helping” the circus roustabouts raise their tents (for a free ducat)

That toy that dropped darts on a corkboard containing silhouettes of enemy ships (from a cardboard box with a mirrored bombsight and “bombs away” levers)

Live chickens in Grandpap’s coal bin

Lowell Thomas reading the nightly news on the old Philco radio

Other newscasters – John Cameron Swayze, Gabriel Heatter, Fulton Lewis Jr.

My mother knitting a kaki sweater for the “boys overseas”

The “Toonerville Trolley” comic strip in the Sunday papers

Other comic strips – “Katzenjammer Kids”, “Notary Sojak”, “Maggie and Jiggs”, “Prince Valiant”

“Just Plain Bill (Barber of Hartville)” on afternoon soap-opera radio (while I was staying home sick)

Other soaps – “One Man’s Family”, “Stella Dallas” (and her daughter, Lolly Baby), “Portia Faces Life”, “Lorenzo Jones”

Hand-woven plastic lanyards and elastic cotton potholders

My sister wearing a crinoline skirt and brown & white saddle shoes

Eating Cracker Jacks … looking for the prizes and avoiding those bitter paper-jacketed peanuts

My father (a die-hard Republican) crying when FDR died

“Curious George” and the “Little House” book (about how it became a city derelict until was moved back to the country and fixed up)

Front-page newspaper maps of the ever-changing battle lines on the Korean peninsula

Fried “city chicken” drumsticks made with ground-up veal formed around lollypop sticks

Winter hay rides with real horses and sledges

Viewing a hoochy koochy girl in the Mutoscope (peep show) movie machine at the penny arcade

Building a toy frontier fort with Lincoln Logs

Fletcher’s Castoria and paregoric (for childhood’s range of stomach distresses)

A tin model of the “Spirit of St. Louis” in my father’s bottom dresser drawer

My grandparent’s telephone number (1903W … a party line)

Mom’s baked ham and home-baked beans (w/ a mixed green salad)

“Pick-up Straws” and jacks

Watching the McCarthy hearings on TV (I even remember “At last, Senator McCarthy have you no shame?”)

“Dad’s Old Fashioned Root Beer”

Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club on weekday radio (“Good morning breakfast clubbers, so nice to meet you …”)

The National Farm and Home hour (on very early Saturday morning radio out of Chicago)

The Saturday Night Fights w/ Bill Stern (sponsored on radio by Gillette, “To look sharp and be on the ball … ”)

Seeing an old civil war veteran (Grand Army of the Republic) in my town’s July 4th parade (in the 1940’s)

Sunday Swiss steak and mashed potatoes “supper” at Grandma’s after church (around 1 PM)

Having the (bleep) scared out of me by the movie, "Spellbound"

Coloring the oleo by squeezing and massaging a yellow pill inside its plastic bag

Monday, October 23, 2006

HIP-HIP-HORRAY

For over four years now our main-stream media have been leading the cheers for our enemy in the war on terrorism … from running a video of an American soldier being killed by an Iraqi sniper … to publishing secrets about U.S. tactics for surveiling enemy communications … to insisting that terrorists from around the world be given U.S. Constitutional guarantees … to judging American soldiers guilty of battlefield “crimes” before they even face military tribunals. Why? For the life of me I can’t explain it.

This is not the country I grew up in. During the Second World War, Ernie Pyle brought home the vicissitudes of the dogface GIs fighting our common enemies. He made them heroes by chronicling their day-to-day struggles and small individual conquests. Has such reporting happened in our war on terror? I don’t recall seeing one story about heroic actions by U.S. troops. Does this mean there haven’t been any? Even, Pat Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan, after leaving the NFL and volunteering for combat, was only fleetingly a hero – until it was discovered that it was friendly fire that did him in. Then he was universally characterized by the media as being misguided or even stupid for his act of patriotism.

Now that the Republicans are poised to lose some of their political clout in the upcoming elections, I wonder if the mainstream media will keep up their assault on patriotism? Probably … at least until there is a Democrat in the White House. Then, the critical question would become: will our media giants pick up their pompoms and once again cheer for our side?

Friday, October 20, 2006

WRONG WRIGHT

Now that I have been identified as a “Dartmouth Blog,” I feel obliged to weigh in on the proposed new Dartmouth Constitution. It now seems clear to me that the motivation for these Constitution changes was the election of the three “upstarts” to the Board of Trustees. Why is this so bad? The new Constitution supporters’ rational for their unilateral change in the ratification proportion -- 2/3rds vs. 3/4ths -- is a little soft given that the US requires 3/4ths of the states to ratify any amendments to our nation’s constitution. Changing a constitution is, by its nature, a very serious matter. Also, the proposed change of one Trustee nominee versus multiple petition candidate nominees reverses the prior nomination-process complaint. If it was unfair then, why would it be fairer if it were reversed under a new Constitution? There are other disturbing elements to this Constitution situation, but I will let them slide for now.

My perception (and, I believe, that of many other alums) is that the root of the current fracas is President James “Diversity” Wright (and his three predecessors … yes including Kemeny … but maybe not McLaughlin). To me Pres. Wright is a one-trick pony. I have yet to read anything he has written that seriously ranges into any of the other facets of a liberal-arts education. I once asked him at a luncheon in Hanover why Dartmouth didn’t have more Rhodes, Fulbright, and other senior honors scholars. His response was stupefying … he said he didn’t want students, who tried for such honors and failed, to have this failure define their Dartmouth experience. One has to conclude that the Dartmouth Trustees have plotted the route that Wright has been following. Therefore, again to me, I see the Trustees as not acting in the best long-term interest of our college. Thus, I welcomed the election of the upstarts and still do. I never believed that the Board of Trustees would be “taken over” by these upstarts … but that they would start asking the tough questions that I felt needed asking.

Have these upstarts been so inconvenient as to warrant such an extraordinary act as changing our Constitution? After all, “diversity” should also mean a diversity of ideas. We have, unfortunately, seen what self-perpetuating Boards have done to neuter corporate governance over these last few decades.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

THE un

The United Nations can’t seem to resolve the issue of which country will be the next South American representative on the Security Council. The General Assembly has been unable, after multiple votes over these last days, of generating a 2/3rds majority vote for either Venezuela or the U.S.-backed Guatemala. This, despite the fact that the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, in his speech to the General Assembly a few weeks back, called the U.S. president, George Bush, “the devil." He spiced up this insult by saying that the podium (from which he spoke) still smelt from sulfur because Bush had spoken there the day before. The General Assembly’s vote has vacillated from a tie to numerous small advantages to both Guatemala and Venezuela.

This means that at least half of the United Nation’s General Assembly countries (over ninety of them) find nothing wrong with Venezuela’s behavior and its consequential unsuitability for sitting on the august Security Council. What a sad day for this institution! The U.N. was founded with lofty objectives after WW2 by those who believed in world government … as a panacea to the world’s continuing belligerence. Now this body seems to stand for nothing but its own self perpetuation. Its members live the life of Riley … staying in the best four-star hotels, eating at the best restaurants, traveling first-class everywhere, immune from most laws, skimming from the vast flows of cash flowing through its coffers, and accomplishing nothing … if not less. It is un-democratic, un-effective, un-savory, un-representative, un-ethical, un-accountable, un-cultured, un-talented, un-managed, un-important, and un-sustainable.

It’s the un-.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

ACTIVISTS ASTRAY

The Boston Globe recently had a story about a pet shop in Cambridge that was torched, apparently by animal activists, who spray painted "No more exploitation of animals" on the store front. As a result more than two dozen exotic reptiles were barbequed rather than getting their morning ration of feeder mice.

This story imagines that the following groups could also be losing sight of their mandates:

- Save the Whales activists have been trapping these behemoths on their annual migration paths so that they might be encased in large blocks of Lucite.

- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) members have been sensitivity-training slaughter house workers to say a prayer for each animal they dispatch.

- The Hemlock Society associates have been planting these conifers in most cemeteries.

- The North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) members have been sending appreciative valentines to accomplished male geography students and teachers throughout the American continent.

Monday, October 16, 2006

NIRVANA

Whenever I'm feeling bad, I just remember that Gerry Studds is being forced, at the point of a pitchfork, to service Eleanor Roosevelt for all eternity. (And the U.S. taxpayers are no longer funding his $114,000 a year pension.) Then I don't feel so sad.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Topple Koopel

Ted Koppel recently wrote an Op Ed in the NY Times, the gist of which was – let’s allow the Iranians to build a nuclear weapon and, “If a dirty bomb explodes in Milwaukee … the return address will be predetermined, and it will be somewhere in Iran.” All one has to do is to substitute “When a megaton nuclear weapon explodes in midtown Manhattan,” to realize how incredibly loopy this advice is. First, proving it was Iran would be next to impossible. Why not North Korea … or the KGB … or China … or even Pakistan? Second, the economic consequence of such a “bit” of terror would cost trillions and set this country back twenty years. We could not possibly deal a quid pro quo to Iran.

I am eternally glad that this doofus no longer has the nightly eyes and ears of our fuzzy-thinking public.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

FOLEY'S FOLLY

I recently listened to Mike Barnacle, on local talk radio, relentlessly bashing those who are pointed to Barney Frank, Gerry Studds, Bill Clinton, etc. as counterpoints to the Mark Foley imbroglio. And, as much as it raises my hackles, I have to admit that, in a way, he is right. That old adage “two wrongs don’t make a right” is pertinent here. The fact that Gerry Studds buggered a 17-year old Congressional page … and then turned his back on the House of Representatives when they censured him … and then was re-elected five times … is not an excuse for … nor does it diminish Mark Foley’s despicable conduct.

What IS pertinent however is how these above individuals (and many others of all stripes) have participated in changing the culture in Congress, in the media, and in our country. By a “changing the culture” I mean that many of our old societal taboos regarding deviant behavior have been kicked to the curb. I am not focusing just on pop-culture promiscuity, but also on child pornography, on sedition, on drug and alcohol abuse, on lying (or, as it is now called, “spinning”), on “dirty tricks”, on bribery, on compulsive gambling, and on immorality of almost every stripe. This change in our culture is, in fact, the responsibility of ALL of us, both Democrat and Republican, both homosexual and heterosexual, both black and white, both male and female. We have not only allowed this to happen, but have been frequent active participants in its relentless progress.

I don’t mean to sound like the Taliban recruit, but I do believe that the coarsening of our culture is real and can be argued to be a vector in the downfall of Mark Foley. Mark Foley’s amazing recklessness in his contacts with Congressional pages, I believe, came about because he believed he was immune to any consequences. And this feeling of immunity had to evolve out of how our culture has reacted to a series of indiscretions and outright crimes by politicians, entertainers, and other “personalities.” Rap artists can brag about being cop killers, a former President can call our current President a liar, another former President can diddle a female intern in the oval office with a cigar, “personalities” can make sex tapes to the benefit of their careers, movie stars can exhibit blatant religious intolerance, and 36% of our society can believe that our government blew up the World Trade Center buildings on 9/11.

Clearly, tastelessness, amorality, anti-social, and deviant behaviors did not begin in our lifetimes, nor are they going to end any time soon. And those who campaign for their elimination are misty-eyed Pollyanna’s. (I’m not doing that here.) However, the pendulum eventually will swing back to a position of less acceptance of such behavior. (Note how Foley now stands accused of having sex with a twenty-one year-old ex-page … conduct that is legal and has been accepted if not celebrated by the media in the past.) As this change progresses, there will be many, many more Mark Foleys who end up in the land-fill of history … wondering how and why it happened to them.

The Aesop lesson here is: Morality no longer drives politics … it is now politics that drives morality.