Monday, January 31, 2011

Ungovernable? You Bet!

During the last ten years, I’ve become increasingly convinced that the human race (whatever the culture) has pretty much become ungovernable, and this week’s revolt in Egypt helps prove my point. Blame it on the Internet. Even back at the inception of the Internet more than two decades ago, the really smart people realized that this new way of sharing knowledge was inherently seditious, and there’s no doubt that— if the governments of the world had known then what they know today— the Internet never would have been allowed to flourish. Even the best futurists back then, however, could never have predicted the impact of social mediums like FaceBook and Twitter, and WikiLeaks.

For ten thousand years or more, governance has always been a delicate dance between government and the governed. The United States, over the last 235 years, has arguably done the best job of consistently getting this balance right, but even this nation has experienced some monumental hiccups. Coming out of WWII, I believe that the American people were far too compliant and trusting of their government. The delicate dance was unbalanced, and McCarthyism and Vietnam were two pathetic results, both fueled by a government that exploited paranoia about communism and citizen trust to prey on the governed. The HUAC congressional outrages of the early 1950s could have been stopped before they gained any traction by just a few well-placed riots and a press that was willing to explain what was happening. Facebook and Twitter would have had a monumental influence as well.

The last two years have shown us street riots in France and Greece and England and Tunisia and, now, Egypt— but most Americans still think that it could never happen here. I say, “Wanna bet?” The U.S.A. is dead broke. The ultimate solution to the deadbeat status of the country is new taxation, most likely in the form of a national sales tax on everything but groceries and medicine. Problem is, now you’ve got the Tea Party (Taxed Enough Already), and these are some of the same self-proclaimed patriots who rushed out after Obama’s election and stocked up on guns and munitions in quantities never before seen by the American arms industry outside of a wartime setting. They weren’t doing this just to boost the economy. Wait and see what happens if the U.S. government, led by Obama working with the Republican congress, decides to try and implement a national sales tax. Wait until the Tea Party gun owners all simultaneously get cheesed off about a second presidential term for Obama, and they network with each other on the Internet. Wait until there’s a convergence between a new tax policy and a mindset that believes Obama is a Muslim and foreign-born (and did I mention that he has dark skin and kinky hair?)— and all of this is played out within a poorly educated, white trash population of people who can’t find a job or pay their mortgage. You think it can’t happen here? Guess again.

Friday, January 28, 2011

WTF is Up with Sarah Palin?

I’m starting to really enjoy Sarah Palin. Really. She provides just the right mix of amusement and astonishment that I used to get from a fresh copy of Mad Magazine back in my teenage years, but even publisher William M. Gaines could never have dreamed up something as outrageous as the cartoonish diva from the frozen North. Tuesday night in Obama’s State of the Union speech, Palin must have felt that she hit the mother lode. In the President’s slogan, “Winning the Future,” she saw the acronym WTF, and she made the connection with the same three letters used on her favorite communication medium, Twitter, as raunchy shorthand for “What the Fxxx?” Then Palin immediately posted a video and a tweet to let all her fans know how clever she is. Watching the video, it’s obvious that she was experiencing the same snickering titillation that a pre-pubescent child feels when it first learns that the word, “pussy,” has a double meaning.

Months ago, I decided to give it a rest with Palin on my blog. To use an old cliché, writing about her was like wrestling with a pig. It just made me feel dirty, especially when I knew that the pig actually liked it. But as I said, I’m starting to enjoy her more and more. You don’t hear much from the Democrats about her these days, but now the Republicans have taken up the charge. I think I know why. The Tea Party is a very real problem for the Republican Party, and since Palin seems to be the de facto leader, taking shots at her has the effect of clipping the wing of the Tea Party movement without overtly offending the Tea Party constituents. And god knows, she is such an easy target. I almost feel sorry for the Republicans. George W. Bush was not exactly a modern Jeffersonian version of presidential genius, but Bush was intellectual light years ahead of the Tundra Tootsie.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Obama’s “Sputnik Moment”— a Flawed Analogy

Born almost four years after the launch of Sputnik, Obama should be forgiven if he shows a somewhat naïve understanding of that galvanizing event. The fact is— October of 1957 and January of 2011could not be more different in terms of American capability and motivation. Sputnik was not so much a Soviet triumph of superior technological ability as it was an American blunder based on bureaucratic infighting and outright government departmental incompetence. Once the U.S.A. got serious about orbiting a satellite, this nation had the Explorer in orbit just 84 days after Sputnik.

Only 12 years previous, we had emerged from WWII with half of all the world’s GDP and half of the world’s manufacturing capacity, as well as the world’s pre-eminent rocket scientist in Dr. Wernher von Braun whom we had obtained from Germany. Moreover, we had the world’s highest scientific and mathematical literacy levels in our workforce as a result of having the best educational system on earth. We could make anything, and we did make everything, and compared to every other nation we were wealthy beyond measure. With an income tax rate at 90% on the richest Americans, the U.S. Treasury was awash in money that we could spend on going into space, or creating an interstate highway system, or anything else that suited our fancy. In 1957, the only thing keeping us from going into space was United States Government policy.

The Eisenhower administration had decided that the space race should be waged within this country as a friendly rivalry between the military services (sound familiar?) The Navy had the Vanguard satellite and the Army had the Explorer, but because the Army launch vehicle for Explorer was a converted ballistic missile, old Ike thought that the Navy project would be less likely to ruffle Soviet feathers. Vanguard was given the inside track, but when the pathetic little Navy rocket exploded on the launch pad, Ike took the leash off of Wernher von Braun and his Army ballistic missile team, and they had Explorer up in orbit almost overnight. As for American paranoia over Sputnik, and the national perception that the Soviets were somehow superior to us— nothing about that situation was based in reality.

Which brings us to January, 2011. Americans are NOT paranoid (unfortunately), and most of us carry a perception that we are somehow superior to every other nation. Nothing about that situation is based in reality. The thing is, thanks to our own widespread ignorance and a school system that fails to educate, we are just too stupid to see that the “Sputnik Moment” is not at all analogous to the present state of affairs.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The NFL Playoffs— It’s About More Than Football

Last weekend’s two day’s of NFL playoff games offered some of the best football in recent memory, but the TV coverage away from the field also captured my interest. On Saturday, a network promotional piece proudly announced that the game was being seen by United States Military personnel in 175 foreign countries. When the same promotional piece was telecast on Sunday, the number of foreign countries where the U.S. Military was said to be watching the game had grown to 177. I figured that Saturday night while I was sleeping, U.S. troops must have invaded two new countries. Another explanation, I suppose, would be that two new embassies might have opened, and a squad of Marines might have been detached to both locations to watch the NFL playoffs while they guard the operation of whatever the hell it is that we do in 177 countries. I wonder. Am I the only guy who notices this crap? Or am I just the only guy who’s naïve enough to question it?

And then there’s the product commercials— not as spectacular as the Super Bowl commercials— but still worth a look. Kraft Foods advertised a macaroni and cheese product with the voice-over done by the silky baritone of Ted Williams. Williams, for those folks who don’t watch Oprah or Dr. Phil, is the formerly homeless and alcohol addicted radio announcer who has been given a new 15 minutes of fame because of his voice. When Kraft quickly paid Williams the big bucks to peddle macaroni and cheese, Ted looked to heaven in a staged TV close-up and appeared to say, “Thank you, Jesus.” However, as I watched the Kraft commercial several times and listened carefully to the famous Williams voice, it’s now evident to me that he was really saying, “Thank you, cheeses.” When he gets out of rehab, Dr. Phil can ask him about this, but I’m pretty sure I’m right about this. There’s no such thing as macaroni and Jesus.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Second Miracle for John Paul II?

Being Pope has to be the best job in the world. Unlike the position of a football coach or a corporate middle manager, or any other job you can name where your success depends on achieving positive results to improve the institution that is paying your salary, the job of being a Catholic Pope means you never have to do anything that makes any difference. It’s like being an absolute monarch or an emperor, but with less accountability. If you spout a papal utterance of some kind that condemns birth control and unplanned teen pregnancy at one and the same time, nobody will differ with your convoluted logic because implausible double-speak has always been an integral part of Catholic dogma. Or maybe you denounce homosexuality but totally ignore that same trait in your worldwide clergy. Everything is window dressing because that’s the main part of your job. And when your career finally comes to an end, maybe you can become a saint. As Dana Carvey’s church-lady used to say on SNL, “Isn’t that special?”

All the Vatican needs to make sainthood happen is a miracle or two. No problem. The process employed by the Vatican to find miracles is identical to the process used in the early George W. Bush administration to find reasons for invading Iraq. What’s required is a commitment to the ultimate goal, and nothing more. Then the necessary facts and data are simply manufactured to gain public support for that goal. This process works particularly well with Catholics and miracles because a person who can believe in the virginity of Mary will pretty much believe anything. In the case of John Paul II, the bar is set especially low because of his immense popularity and lifetime celebrity status. He could have taken the path that Pope Benedict has taken and done everything in his power to stop the Catholic priests from molesting little children. That would have been a true miracle. But he didn’t do that. Window dressing was easier for him. And when he needs that second miracle to gain sainthood, the Church can say that he once boiled a potato which came out of the scalding water looking like the face of Jesus.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Word or Two About a 2nd Amendment Remedy

During the recent senate campaign in Nevada, Tea Party candidate, Sharron Angle, freely talked about a 2nd Amendment remedy for political disagreement with a Democrat incumbent. Yesterday in Tucson, Arizona, Americans got to see a 2nd Amendment remedy in action, and that statement applies even if the crazed shooter wasn’t politically motivated because the 2nd Amendment covers every situation where a gun is involved.

I’ve always been wary and skeptical of people who worship documents. I try to avoid people who believe in the literal truth of the Bible or the Koran, and I even feel uncomfortable in the company of people who accept the perfection of the U.S. Constitution. I think that the framers of our Constitution, the Founding Fathers of our nation, were brilliant and principled men— but they weren’t fortune tellers. When they wrote the 2nd Amendment, they could never have foreseen a world where amoral and mentally-deficient people can easily arm themselves with devastating automatic weapons, and then network with other unhinged minds over the Internet to gin up each other into a mass frenzy of ideological hatred. The Founding Fathers would have seen this scenario as a recurrent and structural recipe for disaster. They might still have made gun ownership legal, but they would not have enshrined gun ownership into a sacred constitutional right.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Should O.P. Honors Get the Mark Twain Prize?

Facing national bankruptcy, we expect our cash-strapped citizens to dig into their empty pockets and cough up enough money to fund a fleet of 12 aircraft carriers. This single American military expenditure, alone, is greater than the total military budget of any other nation on earth. Then we outfit the carriers with nuclear-tipped weapons, and send them out on the high seas to bully and intimidate any other nation that opposes or even mildly disagrees with our national objectives (whatever the hell that means). And nobody, absolutely nobody, in this country ever says that anything about this is distasteful or offensive or inappropriate. But if the commander of one of those carriers (albeit a commander with an adolescent level of maturity) tries to jump start a new career for himself as a sketch comedy writer and producer, the nation rises up in indignation. I wonder if Cleopatra held the crew of her royal barge to a similar high standard of conduct. Or maybe Cleopatra recognized that the whole idea of maintaining a royal barge to project a power-image was absurd, so absurdity on board should be tolerated as just a natural part of the bigger picture. If this was the case, then Cleopatra was smarter than any of us.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Will This Cut Into the Summer Baseball Schedule?

Harold Camping says he’s not making any long term plans. As the head of Family Radio Worldwide— an independent Christian ministry— he and his minions are spreading the word that the End Times (JesuSpeak for the end of the world) will start on May 21 of this year. Given the fact that old man Camping is 89 years old, he might be correct in his forecast, at least on a personal basis.

He and Christians just like him are looking forward to this final judgment day on the basis of predictions spelled out in the Book of Revelations that seem to match up with current events. In other words, a lousy global economy, an American ass kicking from the Muslims in the Middle East, and the fact that Jews still inhabit Israel— all of this means that the rest of us are toast come May 21st. You just gotta love the way that these mental-case Christians take a single incident or situation and extrapolate it into a hard and fast rule that governs the entire world and the future of mankind. “Ancient cultures always walked in single file. We know this because Biblical scholars have found an ancient illustration of the three wise men approaching the baby Jesus in the manger, each following one behind the other.”

These are the same brilliant intellectuals who think that the world is less than 6000 years old. Their god might be eternal, with the power to create heaven and earth, but his master work (the human race) — according to their belief system— is exceedingly temporary, lasting a mere nanosecond on the time scale of eternity. My question is this: will the end times cut into the summer baseball schedule?