Monday, December 31, 2012

Pipe Dreams and Fancy Schemes

Rather than make up some lame best/worse list from the past year, I'd rather list a few things I would like to see happen in the future. They vary in subject and are in no particular order, but all are equally important. At least to me. I'm not talking about things in general, like "a return to civility," but specific things that I lie awake and think 
about in my quietest hours. It's because I'm a problem solver, and I'm waiting on some progressive think tank to call me up and actually pay me to dream up gems like these. Some may call them pipe-dreams, but I'd prefer to think of it as "creative visualization," which I read causes your wildest fantasies to come true, provided that they are first approved by CIA guidelines on astral projection. So, if I shut my eyes and concentrate, the Akashic record of all things past and future will grant my desires, which include:

     -In the near future, the discredited and co-opted Tea Party will break away from the Republicans and form a third political party called the Neo-Dixiecrats, paying homage to their philosophical forefathers. This will encompass the race-baiters, the climate deniers, the science refuseniks, the rape defenders, the Obama haters, the wackos, morons, and yahoos, leaving the business of governing up to those who actually have the country's best interests at heart.

     -After the first of the year, NRA President Wayne "Call Me Crazy" LaPierre will convene another news conference in which he will reveal that because of pressure from his members, he now agrees that military assault weapons have no purpose on city streets other than murder, and his conscience leads him to oppose the sale of high-capacity magazines and drums to the general public. LaPierre says, "The police are out-gunned, and just like the 'Tommy Gun' was banned in the Twenties, I see no reason not to outlaw assault-style weapons now." LaPierre further announced an NRA fund to assist victims of gun violence and educate school children about the dangers of firearms. In a candid aside, LaPierre told assembled reporters, "Look, I always knew that the Founders were only talking about muskets, but these guys were paying me a million dollars a year. The hi-tech weapons of today don't really have anything to do with the Second Amendment."

     -Leading up to the mid-term elections, the benefits of legalizing marijuana will spread from west to east, just like the original pot craze in the sixties. But this will be about personal freedom and the potential revenues resulting from government regulation and taxation of marijuana sales. Pot laws will fall in state after state like dominoes, who, by coincidence, see their pizza sales rise. When the possession and sale of small amounts of pot are legalized, the prison doors will open wide and release tens of thousands of non-violent marijuana offenders back into their communities; municipalities will discontinue using SWAT teams to kick in the doors of marijuana growers; because the profit has been taken out of illegal pot trafficking, the crime rate drops precipitately; the bloody conflict in Mexico ends because marijuana was the cash crop and the demand for harder drugs has now diminished. The U.S. government smacks themselves on the head and says, "what were we thinking?" while Congress votes to end the fool's errand, the failed "War on Drugs."

     -Rupert Murdoch decides that the Republican Party has gone too far and transforms the Fox News Network into an entertainment channel that only shows Elvis movies and old re-runs of "All In The Family." Murdoch announces that a major portion of Fox's profits will go to Planned Parenthood and the establishment of a series of nationwide adoption agencies for unwed mothers. Shortly thereafter, Rush Limbaugh's sponsors decide that "enough is enough," and end one of the longest and most obnoxious chapters in radio history. After his arrest for "inciting a riot," Rush is declared a "clear and present danger" to the common order and is spotted wandering the streets with Bill O'Reilly, attempting to kick the homeless.

     -President Obama brings the war in Afghanistan to an early end, pledges that the U.S. will never again initiate a war by invading a sovereign state without provocation, and announces a commission to look into the Bush administration's lies leading up to the bombing of Baghdad.

     -The Bass Pro Shop opens in the Pyramid to praise and unprecedented excitement. The featured attractions are unique to Memphis and the world and become a must-see in travel articles and tourist guides. The underwater visual experience is so enthralling that even the jaded people of Memphis return to the area, revitalizing the North Main St. district while creating scores of jobs. Bass Pro decides against plastering their name all over the pyramid or putting a giant fishing lure on the exterior.

     -The owners of the six major record companies decide that, hereafter, Rap will be considered as an art form, just not music. Some guy screaming into a microphone while a DJ plays sounds from days of yore is not a musical presentation; it is a spoken-word recitation, accompanied by pilfered snippets of already existing songs. I don't care how much they pay in royalties,"sampling," regardless of its widespread acceptance, is merely stealing another artist's creation.  Imagine Andy Warhol "sampling" Vincent Van Gogh.

     -It is discovered that Donald Trump was not born in Queens, NY, as his records indicate, but in his mother's native Scotland. His father falsified the birth notification with assistance from paid lackeys in the press, hoping the boy would be president someday. The Donald is declared an illegal alien and is forced to "self-deport," where he begins a campaign for Scottish independence from an "illegitimate monarchy."

     -In 2016, we will elect our first woman president: Elizabeth Warren. And finally...

     -Justin Timberlake will record my most soulful composition, "A Woman's Touch," available for listening on YouTube by Randy and the Radiants, and it becomes his biggest hit to date. I move into a zero-lot line on the river and pay off my credit card bills. Hey, it could happen. And a guy can dream, can't he? All I need is a little help from my friends and some collective creative visualizations. That just might bring me the same happy new year that I wish for all of you.

  



    

    

    

    





Monday, December 17, 2012

Mayamania

Mayan Calendar cake by Con Amore, Brooklyn.
If you are currently reading this, I guess the Mayans were full of it. If they were such an intelligent civilization capable of accurately forecasting future events, where are they? They couldn't possibly have predicted the end of the world when their calendar stopped, because it only lasted 5,125 years. The Jews have already got them beat by 648 years, and still no one listens to us! But just let the ancient Mayan calendar come to an end and the whole world goes crazy. The Mayans are reputed to have created the world's most accurate calendar, but so what? I understand the Babylonians kept excellent time as well. I think what happened was that the Mayans were carving their great wheels with so many icons and glyphs, they finally ran out of room. What they needed was a congressman like Steve Cohen, and they could have gotten a new calender every year- autographed. There have been doomsday prophets since the dawn of man predicting the end of the world, but no ones nailed the date yet. So why is Dec. 21, 2012 causing an international freak-out?

The History Channel fueled the fire by airing a two-hour documentary attempting to link the prophesies of Nostradamus to the Mayan apocalypse. The ancient seer may have talked about a certain Hister when discussing World War II, but his quatrains are so generic, they've been used to explain everything from dirigibles to donuts.  A 2009 movie titled "2012" is in regular rotation on the cable movie channel. It depicts, among tsunamis and firestorms, the destruction of Hollywood, which would have been considered biting the hand that feeds had the film not made so much money. The Left Behind flicks made a ton of cash too. According to one reputable poll, twenty-two percent of  Americans believe the world will end in their lifetimes, and anytime you can get one out of five people to buy into pseudo-historical paranoid bullshit like that, it's worth a fortune. Occult books and New Age websites followed and soon a low-level panic gripped the world. NASA had to step in with an hour long YouTube video refuting the rumors, and you know you can believe everything you see on the internets. The recent Mayan time cycle that ended on the Winter Solstice is known as the "Long Count." As an amateur boxing historian, I don't think the Mayans were predicting the destruction of the Earth so much as predicting the winner of the Jack Dempsey- Gene Tunney Heavyweight Championship fight of 1927. (I just make 'em up, friends. I don't explain them).

Among the more insane information disseminated online were the rumors that an alien spaceship, which had been camouflaged by a mountain in the French Pyrenees until this moment, is the sole means of escape from the destruction, and a previously unknown planet named Nibiru will suddenly appear from behind the sun and crash into the Earth. Consequently, according to news reports, the French government has blocked further traffic from entering certain mountain villages during the Solstice so that residents might "live in peace." Neo-hippies and New Age freaks have flocked to the ancient Mayan homeland in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula for the date. Hotels close to the ruins at Chichen Itza, near Cancun, have been booked for a year in advance so spiritual tourists can gather near the pyramid for organized drum circles, and "ritual dancing." A group called Birth 2012 is sponsoring forty events around the world to launch a new global spiritual campaign. AP reporter Jack Chang quoted the movement's founder as saying, "We've activated this campaign for three days of love," making it sound vaguely like Woodstock. Either this is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, or else we've gone through all this hocum before. I once climbed the pyramid at Chichen Itza, and though it was nice as pyramids go, with an ocean view, I felt no mystic crystal revelations. I have long grown tired of the phrase, "been there, done that," but I think it just may apply here.

The hysteria spread as far as China, where at least two men built arks to survive the chaos. No one is loading in animals two by two yet, but both men have gone to considerable expense. Chinese media reported that although both ark-builders feared a destructive flood, only one equipped his vessel to withstand a nuclear meltdown, which is probably wise in light of recent events in Japan. I would hate to be the guy who wakes up on Dec. 22 with the realization that he spent his life savings on a giant, homemade frigate that's sitting in the backyard. Anthropologists have translated one Mayan etching  to say that on the feared Dec. 21st date, "Nine gods will descend from heaven to Earth." This would be a pretty good trick, except that it might be the 1919 Chicago White Sox coming to play another game in the Field of Dreams. The etching never said what the gods planned on doing once they arrived. But if they're going to launch a new era of kindness and generosity and they land in Mexico, they had better have papers if they plan to spread their message to this country. Willie Nelson sang about "Seven Spanish Angels," escorting souls to heaven. The Maya tossed in two more for good luck. I think it would be great if the descending gods only spoke Spanish.

The Mayan people made great contributions towards the advancement of knowledge. They were peerless as astronomers and among the first to use math and science in astronomical calculations. They discovered the concept of zero and created an advanced writing system. Mayan architecture and agriculture still influence today's world, as well as their discoveries in medicine. They did all this but failed to discover the wheel. And despite being advance metallurgists, their weaponry was no match for the Spanish Conquistadors who conquered them and sped the collapse of Mayan civilization in the ninth century. Only the ruins remain, but the Mayan calendar never mentioned that unfortunate occurrence. Perhaps the cosmic purpose for the existence of the race was to give to mankind the gift of chocolate. In any case, we don't need the Maya to forecast the destruction of civilization, we've created our own hell. The end of the world might be a step up. If you're still breathing, we're probably stuck with each other for a while, so we need to either discover a way to peacefully coexist or suffer the same fate as the Maya. I'd never root for Armageddon, but we got it coming.


 

Monday, December 03, 2012

Bitch

This bitch over here is about to drive me nuts. Hang on ladies, I would never refer to my loving wife, Melody, in so coarse a manner. I'm talking about the seven-month-old, female pup named Nancy that we adopted from the animal shelter last July. When she arrived, Nancy weighed eight pounds and was wobbly on her feet, but as soon as we started feeding her pet store food, she hit a growth spurt and morphed into The Giant Puppy. It was like watching a wolf getting its first taste of red meat, then becoming ravenous and eating everything in sight. If there is no food in her bowl, she'll gnaw on the couch, or go outside and chew on tree limbs. Now she weighs fifty pounds and shows no sign of stopping. We thought we had given a home to a baby speckled pup. Now we're wondering if  we aren't raising a leopard, like in those old Cary Grant movies. Since the Giant Pup is in her teething phase, we bought her fifty bucks worth of chew toys and Nylabones, but she destroyed them all in twenty minutes. And I'm not talking about little furry playthings. I mean rugged, well stitched rope toys with big knots in them. So now, as I write this with mutilated hands and bloody fingers, I have come to the realization that I am her chew toy, and Nancy badly needs an attitude adjustment.

I have raised puppies before, but it's been a while and I had forgotten about the mania. I've taken the program offered by the Shelby County Obedience Club, (the dog passed; I failed), but it looks like I'm fixin' to take a refresher course. Melody and I have watched a lot of The Dog Whisperer, so we're constantly saying, "Chhhh" to the dog, until it sounds like a Biblical plague of crickets invading our home. A stern "No!" seems to be more affective. Consequently, it seems like someone is always screaming at the dog, and I have a fragile disposition, as you know. Nancy responds to her name, but she thinks her surname is "goddammit." We're not even certain if the pup speaks English. And since she's still a baby, she doesn't realize how strong she is or the power of her canine jaws- but I do.  After five months of living with Nancy, I have arms that look like a junkie's and the hands of a cage fighter. She has eaten a pair of my favorite socks and a couple of T-Shirts, and I have to keep my house shoes off of the floor. Anything that doesn't squeak or rattle is still fair game. She'll chew on your shoe with your foot still in it. She has a tendency to leap on me and nip at my extremities, so when I first get out of the shower, I have to make certain that she's not in the room. Nancy has learned to eat ice cubes and will attempt to climb up on the coffee table and pick them out of your glass if you are at all inattentive. I know that these bad behaviors can be corrected by proper training and obedience classes, but we've noticed that since she's been leaping on our friends, we have fewer guests that just pop in. So we're rethinking the whole obedience thing.

The problem is the damn dog is so freaking adorable, I can't bring myself to discipline her. Melody has no problem taking her by the collar and putting her outdoors, but I don't want to hurt the dog's feelings. I tried the old rolled-up newspaper a couple of times, but she only thought I was playing and came at me more fiercely. After she's exhausted herself, however, she loves belly rubs and neck scratches and will curl up at my feet like a loyal companion. Cesar Millan might suggest that the problem is me. I have detected small signs of her beginning to mellow lately and after a few lessons, I am sure that Nancy is going to be a wonderful pet. She is whip-smart and spunky. I'd say she was "mischevious," but there is no such word, so please stop saying it. The word is, "mischievous,"- three syllables, not four, and she is certainly the scamp. Since there are two older dogs here, there should be territorial issues, but like other females I could name, Nancy rules the roost. She also has floppy ears that feel like velvet and the longest tail that wags in sections when you appear. Her cheerful greeting at the doorway is uplifting every time and if I'm only away for fifteen minutes, she's so happy when I return, you would think I'd been gone forever. What I'm getting at here is that shelter dogs are often smarter and more clever than pure breeds. I have had both and I know that the dangers of over-breeding include reduced mental capacity and a tendency for illnesses in certain breeds. This pup has the strongest set of mixed genes that natural selection has to offer. We don't know where they came from, but they're strong alright.

The Giant Pup
Nancy is also an endless source of amusement. Since we don't know her lineage, her behavioral traits are always a surprise, like her ability to speak in low tones. She'll prostrate herself before one of her siblings and start chattering like a monkey. What's strange is that they seem to understand her. The bark is another matter. You want your dog to have a substantial bark to discourage strangers from lingering around the yard. A healthy bark likewise gives a start to any solicitors that have the bad sense to ring the doorbell. But a piercingly loud puppy bark can be disconcerting when it's directed at you in an unceasing manner. I suggest to Nancy that she should use her "indoor voice," but Melody just tells her to shut up. It's another issue we have to address, but I'm not up to using one of those shock collars or anything similarly medieval. I'd hate it if somebody put one of those pinch collars on me, so if the training ain't painless, she can go ahead and bark as far as I'm concerned. I'll admit to being at wit's end on occasion. We concluded that maybe older people need to get older dogs, after all that frenzy has subsided. I'm speaking of the dog's, not mine. But just when I think I can't take another minute of barking, or the puppy demanding my total attention when I'm trying to watch the Grizzlies, she will wriggle her way up into my lap and fall asleep. I tried to take a picture of it last night, but she weighed so much, I couldn't reach the cell phone. Just like the Princess and the Pea, I wouldn't dream of disturbing her, especially when my legs were pinned.

I'm sure that like many other people, I wish that I could save them all. I see the pictures of the stray and abandoned dogs online and I wish I had the means to start a refuge, like the elephant sanctuary in Hohenwald, where all dogs run free and happy. Only, that's not the way it works. I don't need to remind you of the fate of unadopted shelter dogs, only that they are as deserving of love and a decent life as any pet acquired through a breeder. Since we domesticated these animals, they are entirely dependent on caring people for their well-being. Your dog is waiting for you, but that means responsibility as well. You just can't teach kindness. You either have it or you don't. But these adoptable dogs out at the Animal Shelter could melt anyone's heart. They speak to you with their eyes and their expressions, and any fool could see their need for simple affection. I defy you to visit the shelter and not be moved. Even an apartment dweller knows where the dog parks are, and a shelter dog knows when its been rescued. It's obvious by the many photos of "happy endings" posted by the shelter staff when a dog has been adopted. Check it out, the dogs are smiling. Any love offered a shelter dog will be returned tenfold, as we are now happily experiencing with our new pet. It will be even more joyous when Nancy removes her teeth from my arm. She needs some training, and soon, because this puppyhood is a bitch. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Twinkie Mafia

When Elvis died, I was shocked and saddened. Shortly afterward, I mourned the demise of Overton Square. I internalized my pain when they closed Borders Book Store, but I can't live in a world without Twinkies. The Hostess Company made a surprise announcement that after 82 years, they were going out of business and liquidating their assets. Perhaps underestimating the popularity of their products, Hostess caused a Black Friday type rush on grocery and convenient stores across the country. Every cupcake and Ho Ho in sight were crammed into grocery carts and whisked into the vaults of end-of-the-world preppers and panicked mini-muffin addicts. I would say the snacks were flying off the shelves like hotcakes, but they're not hot, and the percentage of what constitutes actual cake is questionable. I wanted to pick up a case of Donettes, but the hoarders beat me to them. And that shrill, wailing sound you heard last week came from stoners all over Colorado and Washington who just got gobsmacked by Newton's Third Law of Motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. What an evil karmic trick: to finally legalise recreational marijuana and then eliminate your Ding Dongs.
 
The general panic that gripped the public looked like food riots in impoverished countries, fed by rumors of a growing black market where fortunes could be made in discontinued Hostess products. I found it ridiculous until I found that sellers on eBay were offering Twinkies for $5,000 each. One optimistic entrepreneur was offering a box of Twinkies for $200,000, no doubt looking to finance a summer home. Being a person who occasionally enjoys an orange frosted cupcake, I lurched for the kitchen, plundering through the pantry, thinking that if my wife bought a pre-bankruptsy announcement box of Twinkies, we could pay off the mortgage and tell Bank of America to kiss our ass. I use Twinkies for medicinal purposes, so the nutritionists are wrong to say they have no reason to exist. If I have medicine that is not to be taken on an empty stomach, what's better than a Twinkie to soften the blow. I can recall times in my wild past when I was awakened with a queasy stomach due to too much fun and drink the night before, and the only conceivable thing to eat was a Twinkie. The soft, vanilla cake can absorb anything, not to mention the delicious cream filling that's never seen a cow. However, I must have eaten the last box, never imagining that I was consuming diamonds and rubies with every bite. Now, I'm conflicted over whether to eat this last loaf of Wonder Bread, or vacuum-seal it, put it in a display case, and see if it appreciates in value.
 
Hostess' management blamed the Grain Millers Union who have been on strike since November 9. Immediately, right-wing propagandists heaped scorn on those selfish workers and their uncooperative union bosses, and conservative bloggers and social media trolls followed suit. Their message is, "If you miss your Ho Hos, blame the unions," but like Paul Harvey used to say, "And now for the rest of the story." Hostess is owned by a private equity firm, Ripplewood Holdings, and two hedge funds, Silver Point Capital and Monarch Alternative Capital. Since 2002, Hostess has had six CEOs. When Hostess emerged from its first bankruptcy in 2004, the unions agreed to concessions that saved the company $110 million dollars. Rather than investing in modernization, the company's board voted to raise the CEO's salary to $2.55 million per year, tripling the compensation payed to the previous executive. In addition, other executive salaries were increased by as much as 80 percent. According to the New York Times, "private equity backers loaded the company with debt, making it difficult to invest in new equipment." In 2011, the company again filed for bankruptcy, unilaterally imposing wage and benefit cuts and ceasing pension payments for their employees. When the union went on strike, management demanded more concessions and gave workers a deadline to return to the job. Hostess employees responded by saying there wasn't a "Sno Ball's" chance in hell they would return under those conditions and filed a complaint with the NLRB. So management announced liquidation, filing papers prepared well in advance of their demands to the union.
 
This was a real Mitt Romney/Bain Capital kind of deal. The new CEO is a liquidation specialist hired months ago while union negotiations were still underway, and although Ripplewood Holdings wanted to preserve the brand, the hedge fund boys refused to put up any more cash. In the event of bankruptcy, the equity partners and their investors walk away with millions of dollars, leaving 18,500 workers unemployed and 33 plants shuttered. If they can place the blame on the unions, they'll get away clean. One laid-off sacker who had worked for Hostess for 35 years said, "The people who are running this company are not interested in making bread." At least, not in the sense he means. Hostess revenues are estimated to be $2.5 billion per year, with Twinkies alone earning $68 million so far this year. The brand is so popular that a petition has been circulated urging President Obama to "nationalize the Twinkie Industry." If Hostess is allowed to go the way of Kay Bee Toys, the black market underground in sugary treats could give rise to a Cupcake Mafia, with Twinkie the Kid as the cappo di tutti capi. I would hate to see bloodshed and violence erupt over contraband Dolly Madison cakes, even though some are to die for.
 
All is not lost for the Twinkie Nation. Hostess has a suitor from Mexico named Grupo Bimbo who tried to buy the company after their first bankruptcy. At first, I laughed at the thought of mothers sending their kids off to school with Bimbo cakes, but as it turns out, Bimbo Bakeries own Sara Lee, Entenmann's, Ball Park Buns, and Thomas' English Muffins. Here all along, those pesky Mexican job-takers were making our delicious breakfast pastries right under our noses. I hope Grupo Bimbo succeeds in their efforts to purchase the company. I would hate to see an iconic American brand like Hostess, serving up empty calories for eight decades, fall victim to vulture capitalists, even if they have to move to Mexico. I'll volunteer to be the first to try a Mexican Twinkie, or even a Hostess Taco. It's often been said of the spongy treat that archaeologists in some future millenia will stumble across a once vital civilization that has crumbled into dust, and the only thing remaining entact will be the cockroaches and a box of Twinkies. In fact, the shelf-life of a Twinkie is about a month. But if a buyer doesn't step forward soon, before the private equity firm sells of the company in small lucrative pieces, the entire Hostess product line may have finally met its expiration date.
 
 

Monday, November 05, 2012

Sandy In My Shoes

Woody Allen used to tell a story about his father who had a concession on the Boardwalk where passing men tried to knock down a pyramid of milk bottles in order to win a prize for their girlfriends. One season, a hurricane struck, tearing up the Boardwalk and destroying every edifice in sight, and the only things left standing were those little milk bottles. Woody's dad, Mr. Konigsberg I believe, never saw anything like Hurricane Sandy. For that matter, none of us have ever seen anything quite like this. Sure, there have been a history of hurricanes on the Eastern Seaboard, but none 700 miles wide. The storm destroyed affluent and poor neighborhoods alike, turning both beachfront mansions and inland row houses into rubble, proving that a hurricane has a definite liberal bias. Everyone shared in the misery and news footage from residents in New Jersey pleading for help from their government were really not that much different from the cries of people left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. There was sufficient warning of the storm's severity, so at least people had the chance to find a spot and hunker down. The most surprised creatures in the area were the tunnel rats in New York City's subways. As usual, a Pennsylvania evangelical minister, John P. McTernan, blamed the storm on gays, but faulted both Obama and Romney, claiming, "both candidates are pro-homosexual and are behind the homosexual agenda...the Holy God of Israel is systematically destroying America right before our eyes." I would imagine the God of Israel is busy with Syria and Iran right now, and here I've been told that it was Obama who was destroying America. 
 
Students of psychic phenomenon will recognize that all this was predicted by the great clairvoyant Edgar Cayce over 90 years ago. Cayce, known as the "Sleeping Prophet," said in a 1936 reading about climate change: "Portions of the now East Coast of New York, or New York City itself, will in the main, disappear...watch New York, Connecticut, and the like. Many portions of the East Coast will be destroyed." Cayce also predicted a catastrophic pole shift in 1998 and Japan under water. However, the psychic also claimed that the Messiah would appear in Israel in 1999, so Cayce's prophesies are not entirely dependable. If Cayce was known as the "Sleeping Prophet," I wish to be known as the "Slumbering Seer." Although I'm writing this two days before the election, I pretty much know what happened and I don't believe they'll be remodeling the Oval Office any time soon. So, unless states with Republican Governors, like Ohio and Florida, succeed in their plans to suppress the vote, it's the same as it ever was. Or, to quote The Who: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." Speaking of "The Boss," it's worth noting that in the final week of the campaign, Obama was touring with an impassioned Bruce Springsteen, while Romney's opening acts were Kid Rock and the Oak Ridge Boys. My heart's on fire for Elvira.
 
There's nothing like a mammoth, killer hurricane to focus your attention on what's important. The government's response was praised by elected officials from both parties, and to his everlasting credit, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie suspended partisanship to work with the president on behalf of the storm's victims. Christie and Obama made an odd-looking duo, like a multi-racial Laurel and Hardy with the Governor asking the President, "Why don't you do something to help me?" For Christie's co-operation with Obama, he was roundly criticized by members of his own party, when only last week he was their golden boy. I'll bet a lot of Jersey Boys, and girls, were glad that he put aside politics to work in their behalf. That's his job. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made an unexpected endorsement of Obama after his post-Sandy performance, and he could give a damn what people think. I'm sure it ruffled Donald Trump's bouffant to see bi-partisanship working on behalf of the needy. FEMA's role in the disaster was night and day when compared to the cronyistic agency it had become under the Bush administration. These storm victims need shelter that only FEMA can provide. This restoration is going to take a long time and people will get frustrated along the way. Can you imagine the neo-Reconstruction era that would result if Romney got his wish to divert disaster relief to private business? His quote about disassembling FEMA came back to bit him on the ass right at the wrong time.
 
A second Obama term looks brighter than the first, even though the wolves await to excoriate him over the attack in Benghazi, Libya, and believe that he is leading a cover-up about the murders of American diplomats. Fox News hysteria claims that members of the CIA made urgent requests to defend the American Embassy but were ordered to "stand down." Even though the Washington Post's David Ignatius has refuted the claim with point-by-point solid evidence, the torch and pitchfork brigade still want their licks in on Obama. So they speak of impeachment before the votes are even counted. My hope is that some Republicans will emerge, like Chris Christie, that will put country before partisan ideology during the next four years, shed their shackles to Grover Norquist, and actually try to help in the recovery from the Bush Recession. They have failed in their primary mission to make Obama a one-term president; they have failed to wrest away the right of a woman to choose what is best for her own body; and they have failed in their obstruction to prevent the progress the Obama administration has made on the economy and unemployment. Perhaps a new approach, like compromise, might seem attractive in a second term. Mitt Romney can return to venture capitalism and ultimately fade into obscurity, like Bob Dole, minus the character and dignity.
 
Ironically, the Supreme Court's asinine Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for unchecked and a untraceable amounts of corporate money into the political process, probably ended up serving as a second stimulus to a still ailing economy. This was the most expensive race in history with estimates that total expenditures will reach $6 billion. The Koch Brothers and their Americans for Prosperity PAC coughed up $35 million. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife gave $20 million to the Romney campaign. And Karl Rove's American Crossroads PAC surrendered $100 million, 93 percent for attack ads. The Democrats had their Superpacs too, but lacked the large donors like the NRA, which gave $10 million, mostly for attack ads against Obama for some future fantasy confrontation between government agents and groups of armed "sovereign citizens." That money went to ad agencies, consultants, and home-town TV stations, indirectly helping local economies and employing scores of field representatives. Who says the government can't create jobs? The major problem now, after the clean-up not just from Sandy, but from a second major storm that is churning up the East Coast, is the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. When Democrats lose an election, as in 2004, they agonize over it, re-group, and prepare for the next political battle. When radical extremists, like those hiding under the Tea Party imprimatur lose, they become dangerous.
 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Gimme' A Head With Hair


My life came full circle last week. I was in desperate need of a hair trimming and I happened to duck into the same barbershop where I received my first haircut as a child during the days when barbers cut hair with dull axes and knives and were specialists in "bleeding." I remember so well when my mother first brought me to this place of sharp scissors and buzzing clippers, and long black combs dipped in a mysterious blue liquid. I squirmed and cried as if I were about to be tortured, despite the frantic reassurances from my distraught mother, and I was only twenty-six years old. As I grew older, I  requested, "Just a little off the top, and hold the leeches." My barber was Marvin Kennington, who had a tattoo on his arm which read, "I Love Ya Wanda." I always asked him about her but he was vague as to Wanda's destiny. Marvin cut my hair until I was a teenager when he became a professional wrestling referee under the name of Randy Roper and worked the matches on both TV studio wrestling and the Monday night main events at the Coliseum. We were good pals and I always enjoyed entertaining the notion that Marvin might have borrowed my name for his nomme de guerre. It's possible.

The strange thing is that the barber shop, located in a tiny space in High Point Terrace, looks almost exactly the same as it did decades ago. I sat in the very chair I remembered as a child, and when I  looked down at the footrest and saw the name "Koken," I was flooded with memories and became wistful, as if in a personal "Rosebud" moment. I knew it was the exact chair even before the barber had a chance to tell me how the gears and hand pump had been refurbished and the seats reupholstered. I chose the oldest barber there since I trust a man persistent in his trade, and also he was the only guy available. I regaled him with boyhood tales of bicycle rides and visits to the soda fountain in the drugstore that no longer existed next door. I believe the name was Farrell's, and the long-submerged memories came bursting forth, like the smell of the bubble gum that came in a pack of baseball cards, the taste of a real fountain Coke, or the challenge of a jaw-breaker. When I was through reminiscing, I realized I had been in the chair over 45 minutes and the barber was still snipping. Although it took him a while, my wife Melody said it was among the best haircuts I've had lately. The problem is, there's just not that much to cut anymore. I'm not looking for topiary spirals in the horseshoe fringe. Just clean me up so I don't look like Howard Hughes, and I'm good for another few months.

The only reason I went to the barber shop to begin with is that my wife won't do it. I have the beard trimmer with the hair-clipping attachment. It would take five minutes. Melody will pick my clothes, prepare my food, listen to my complaints, laugh at my bad jokes, and cuddle with me at night, but she refuses to cut my hair. She accused me of being a cheap bastard, but in truth, I've never enjoyed the barbershop experience. That's why I've had so few barbers in life. In all my years in the Bluff City, I've had five barbers: The aforementioned Marvin Kennington, Bobby Rye, Hector Flores, Jackie Ayers, and George Perry. With Marvin it was pretty simple; buzz cut in the summer; Elvis in the winter. Bobby Rye was a bespectacled flat-top specialist with a shop on Poplar Ave. He was a bit intense and not very talkative, but the man was an artist. Your hair would be as flat as a sidewalk, but he always left a small patch in the front to be propped up straight with a dab of Butch Wax. Bobby saw me from young adulthood until I reached the age of eighteen, when I stopped getting haircuts altogether. Because I was a musician and I could, my longhaired days ultimately turned into ten years. Upon returning to semi-normalcy, my barber was Hector Flores, mainly because he was also my landlord.

When I was nineteen, my hair fell out. Other men's hairlines recede; mine retreated. I first noticed it in the shower when the water level rose above my ankles because the drain was clogged with ringlets of my hair. I was traumatized and pondered what could be the cause of this hair avalanche. Was it because I had let it grow and the weight was pulling it out? Was it the pot? Was it my cheeseburger diet? I finally decided that it was karma for spending too much time looking at my hair in the mirror when I thought I was a teen rock star. Now there was more on the towel and the pillowcase than on my head. Other men begin to lose a little hair; I was shedding like a Collie. I became morbidly self-conscious, which will sound familiar to any man whose hair is prematurely thin, because everyone has sport with the bald man. You can't call someone ugly, or joke about anybody's weight, but the bald man is still fair game. It's improper to refer to a little person as a midget, but it's fine to call a bald man "slickhead," "chrome-dome," or "cue-ball." At high school reunions, they give funny awards for the shiniest pate. In a panic, I began to execute the comb-over to present the illusion of hair, until one night, some woman in a club exclaimed, "Hey! You're all bald on the top." In my show-biz desperation, I opted for the "hair-weave," which needed periodic maintenance for which I found Jackie Ayers. She remained my barber for the next thirty years until her retirement.

By this time, the pesky weave had been replaced by an off-the-rack, standard hairpiece. It was nothing for an old pro like George Perry to cut my hair and trim my beard in fifteen minutes, but he closed his shop too, which is why I ducked into High Point in the first place. I had a public event to attend and Melody declined to accompany me as long as I looked like a homeless vagabond. It was Melody who finally talked me out of the hairpiece. I knew I was reaching the age when I wasn't cute anymore, and the synthetic hair wasn't helping. My sympathies remain with the frustrated hairless, but it's been liberating to free myself from hairpiece bondage and all the accessories that go with it. Today, a balding man can just shave it clean and everyone calls him sexy. Years ago, everyone would just assume he had alopecia. Although it was a nostalgic jaunt through boyhood memory, one thing about the old barbershop has changed; men's haircuts cost twenty dollars and beard trimming is fifteen. I told Melody that if she thinks I'm such a cheap bastard, I'll give her the thirty-five bucks, drape a towel around my shoulders, and let her start hacking away. Consequently, it seems as if more professional haircuts are in my future. I may even return to my childhood barbershop once again, except they forgot to give me my lollipop.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

A Reason To Believe

After my last article declaring an early triumph for Barack Obama, the comments I received were blistering, and rightly so, considering his somnambulistic appearance at the first presidential debate. To say that Romney ate his lunch is charitable.  Obama's debate performance was baffling. He had the opportunity to confront Gov. Romney on a range of issues, but for whatever reason, he chose not to, tossing away his best chance to repudiate the GOP/Tea Party platform and allowing the grinning governor back into the race. Among my many critics, one said that I had "spiked the ball on the one yard line," which is among the mildest rebukes I can repeat. The others were the same racially charged remarks that you might expect when accompanied with a side order of crow, or in this case, Jim Crow. I didn't like it. It was too stringy and definitely did not taste like chicken. I did, however, receive one serious comment from a gentleman to whom I promised anonymity if I could use his letter as the basis for a new rant. He wrote:
As an undecided voter, why should I vote for Obama? What has he done with regard to the economy, foreign policy, and galvanizing our country? And please don't insult me by shifting an answer to why Romney isn't qualified...What has your guy done?
 
A reasonable question deserves a reasonable response, and I believe I can answer this one without even mentioning the name of Mitt Romney. Anybody can google "Obama record" and come up with a long list of achievements, so rather than just writing a campaign newsletter, I would like to point out a few accomplishments that have affected me personally or the lives of people I care about. Some of these initiatives were passed in Obama's first two years when he had a bickering Democratic Congress; others were achieved in the past two years while the president labored against constant Republican obstructionism. The Tea Party controlled House and their equivalent in the Senate have blocked or filibustered every bill the Obama government has presented, yet the latest unemployment figure is below eight percent and the stock market has gone from 6,500 two months after Obama took office, to 13,610 today. Who wouldn't want over a 55 percent return on their investment in just three years? Critics have called this a "jobless recovery," while in a period of two years, the Republicans blocked nineteen jobs bills. This included the "American Jobs Act," which would have created two million jobs and provided tax breaks for small business, modernized 35,000 public schools, given companies tax credits for hiring veterans and the long-term unemployed, and invested in roads, bridges, rail and airports. Imagine what the unemployment number might be if Obama had a governing majority.

But enough about the Tea Party "know-less-than-nothings" who scream "Socialism!" with every breath, and on to your question. When you speak of "galvanizing our country," I remember the night of November 4, 2008, when an estimated 240,000 people jammed Chicago's Grant Park to hear the new president's victory speech. Millions more around the world heard Obama say, "If there is anyone...who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, tonight is your answer," or, "We have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red and blue states. We are and always will be the United States of America." Through my own tears, I thought that event was pretty damned galvanizing, but on inauguration day, a private dinner took place with a small group of GOP congressional leaders, including Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Jim DeMint, Newt Gingrich, Bob Corker, and evil linguistics genius Frank Luntz. They pledged as a party to block and obstruct President Obama on all legislation; in essence, undermining the economy to regain the White House. I believe sabotage is still a crime. The country was galvanized, but the great promise of the Obama election was wasted for political advantage and the governing process was poisoned. The Frank Luntz propaganda instructed, "Don't say 'healthcare reform,' say 'government takeover' instead, and before you knew it, a corporate sponsored, renegade "Tea Party" began showing up at congressional town hall meetings, wearing holstered weapons and shouting down their representatives with cries of "Marxism," and "Death Panels."

Which brings me to the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare." What half the electorate once believed was socialized medicine was merely insurance reform after all. I have written past Rants about my decade's inability to buy health insurance from anyone, at any price, because of  "pre-existing conditions." I lived with it until I needed emergency surgery and suddenly my medical bills were costing more than my house. My wife and I found ourselves pleading with doctors and negotiating with clinics for brother-in-law deals and bargain-basement savings. Were it not for my subsequent admission to the Church Health Center, I would have either been dead or broke, or dead broke. Obamacare forbids insurance companies from discriminating against pre-existing conditions or placing caps on coverage. The Insurance bid'ness isn't complaining because they're gaining 30,000,000 new customers and no one yet has been assigned to see a government doctor, except at the Veterans' Administration, which saw an increase in its budget every year under Obama. The Congressional Budget Office once forecast Obamacare savings of $123 billion over ten years, before a GOP-led states rights campaign put the numbers and the program at risk. Meanwhile, there have been 33 separate House Republican votes to repeal Obamacare. I don't understand how a party with an active evangelical Christian wing could vote against a government that wishes to feed the hungry and care for the sick. But that's just me.

Lastly, I have a wife, a mother, a sister, three sisters-in-law, two nieces, a great-niece, and a stepdaughter. My life is filled with women, which is why I want a president who will protect their rights. I want to know that my mother's Medicare is solvent and my wife's Social Security benefits are intact. My stepdaughter will benefit from Obama's student loan reforms, and thanks to the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, my niece is paid the same as a man who does the same work. Under Obamacare, my other niece, who is expecting, can be assured of top-notch pre-natal, and post-natal care. And for any woman who may find it necessary to make a personal choice regarding pregnancy; under the president's plan, her privacy is protected and the procedures are professional, and not subject to the intrusive probes or unwanted ultrasounds of the GOP shame squad. Unfortunately, I lacked the space to discuss foreign policy, like the killing of Bin Laden and the decimation of Al Qaeda, or that minor detail of ending the Iraq War. There was that minor business of Obama bringing the country back from the brink of economic collapse while saving the auto industry, repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and winning the Nobel Prize, but then I'm beginning to sound like a Google list. One group that is bound to benefit from Obama's re-election are professional investors. This includes a certain ex-governor currently running for president- so he'll have a soft place on which to land when he returns to wherever he calls home.


 




Monday, September 24, 2012

Mitt's Meltdown

With zero precincts reporting, we can now accurately predict that the next President of the United States will be Barack Obama. Now that Mitt Romney is une beignet Francais, or French Toast as we call it in the lower 47 percent, his bi-lingual supporters might say his pate de fois gras is cooked. I mean, whose left that he hasn't insulted or offended except the Obama haters? And there aren't enough of those to elect him president. Oh, I'm sorry; I forgot the "principled conservatives," and the anti-tax zealots who are prepared to vote for the architect of the despised Obamacare, and his running-mate, the champion of small government who co-sponsored an anti-abortion bill with shunned Missouri Senatorial candidate Todd Akin, which introduced the term "legitimate rape" to the nation. The slapstick campaign of Romney and Ryan is like watching the Watergate hearings. Every day there's a shocking new revelation that is damaging to Republicans nationwide. By choosing these two escapees from the Ringling Brothers as their candidates, the GOP didn't just shoot themselves in the foot, they blew their brains out.

It was bad enough that Lord Mitt was surreptitiously taped saying out loud to his wealthy donors what everyone thought he believed anyway, but there's a sweet irony that he was done-in by a bartender in league with James Earl Carter IV. The tape made great reality television and opened the eyes of working people everywhere as well as the elderly, the military, and the poor. Romney violated the unspoken alliance between the privileged and the peasants, the filthy rich and the unwashed rubes, the pampered and the propagandized. Not even the 24-hour, Fox News, Mitt Romney infomercial could save this sinking ship from titanic disaster- that is, everywhere except the South. In our blue corner of this red-state wasteland, Romney can still depend on the votes of the resentful Caucasoids, regardless of their economic status. The deceitful have succeeded in fooling the delusional, who will vote against their own well-being before voting for a Marxist, Kenyan, Muslim with a secret agenda to turn the United States into a European-style Socialist state where everyone gives according to their ability and receives according to their need. As Mitt Romney said to his donors in Boca Raton, imagine the chutzpah of the rabble demanding everything from health care, to food, to shelter. Next they'll be insisting on clean water from the tap when bottled water is sold in every 7/11. The wealthy have convinced the middle class- or what's left of it- that Obama wants to take money from hard working taxpayers, and give it to Romney's gangs of loafers and moochers.

A lot of people receive government benefits- Social Security and Medicare recipients, those with disabilities, the working poor like the fireman with two jobs who still needs food stamps to feed his family, and those in poverty who receive some sort of welfare benefit. This is where the real class warfare begins- wealthy Republicans ginning up resentment against the most vulnerable among us by portraying them as lazy, black, able-bodied schemers who live lives of leisure by gaming the system. They've been doing it since Ronald Reagan's "Welfare Queen," and the myth of the "Welfare Cadillac" still lingers on. Seniors and soldiers have earned their retirement benefits and if you've ever known anyone on welfare, then you know that it's a wretched existence. Although there will always be someone looking for an illegal advantage, it's a lie to claim there is rampant abuse of the system, just as it's a lie to divide the nation between "makers and takers," as Paul Ryan has done. His adopted Ayn Rand philosophy may make rich people feel special, but it's no way to govern. It does fit perfectly, however, with the notion that half the populace are mendicants, undeserving of compassion from their government.

I was introduced to Ayn Rand during a vulnerable period in my life by a conservative intellectual who used to work for segregationist Georgia Governor Lester Maddox. He was the accountant of a music producer I was working with while living in a make-shift commune south of Nashville with a psychedelic, hippie band. He gave me a copy of "Atlas Shrugged" to read while the band guys were constantly borrowing my car. The idea that the "makers" could just take their ball and go home, leaving the "takers" to fend for themselves, was an appealing idea when I was 21 and chafing at the communal experience, but I outgrew it when I realized the world is not so simple and we humans are interdependent in every way. Unfortunately, Paul Ryan  has never outgrown his Ayn Rand obsession and sticks by the old slogan that everyone should "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps." Unfortunately, after the Bush Recession, there are scores of people without any boots, but in Ryan's world, "A strong back is a terrible thing to waste." Thus, the easily disprovable lie that Obama has  removed the Clinton era "welfare to work" requirement that is repeated ad nauseum by the GOP. The irate Tea Party knuckleheads believe that entitlements are Socialism rather than part of the social contract, but even Ayn Rand ended up claiming her Medicare and Social Security benefits when she got old and sick.

In 1988, the Democrats nominated another governor from Massachusetts who had difficulty with the personality he projected to the electorate, named Michael Dukakis. He lost in a landslide. So it will be for Willard Romney, and richly deserved. For four years, we have witnessed the Republican Party refuse to lift a finger to help the President, unless it's the middle finger, and now they wish to be rewarded for their treachery. In colonial days, the GOP's obstruction might well be regarded as treason and its perpetrators pilloried. Now, according to conservative former Congressman Joe Scarborough, the Republicans have become "the party of stupid." It would seem that if an eager student has to take the SAT test to get into college, an aspiring politician should have to pass a civics exam before becoming a candidate. This is the point where everything falls apart for them. The Senate Republicans' rejection of the Veterans Jobs Act is only the latest example of a party so desperate to make this president look bad that they would refuse to care for the volunteer soldiers who fight our wars. This will be a washout election where the voters rectify the terrible mistake of 2010 and oust the Tea Party extremists who have impeded the country's progress. Then we'll salt the earth from whence they came so that we'll see them no more. When the election is over, Mitt Romney can return to doing what he does best- making money from the misery of others and firing people that provide him services. Au revoir.

 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Hurricane Mitt

When I was a child, I asked my father where did babies come from. He flushed a bit and said, "Remember the tree we planted in the front yard?" I did. "Well," he continued, "the Daddy plants a seed inside the Mommy and it grows into a baby, just like that little plant grew into a tree. Do you understand?" I thought for a second and said, "I guess so, but do you have to water it every day?" That explanation held me long enough until I finally learned of the actual mechanics of the thing. I heard the famous "senior day sex talks" that the late Dr. Breen Bland delivered to decades of Christian Brothers High graduates, and by the time I reached college, I felt I had a pretty good handle on things, so to speak. But never, in any health class, human sexuality lecture, or biology lab, did I ever hear anybody suggest that the female genitalia contains a trap door that lets the good seed in, and keeps the bad seed out. If that were the case, they could never have made that creepy movie starring Patty McCormick. That idiotic theory, voiced by Missouri Senatorial candidate Todd Akin, was so dismally stupid, it got him dis-invited from this week's Republican Convention in Tampa. Out of all the moronic statements made by this year's GOP presidential candidates, Akin should be sent some sort of floral arrangement by the Democrats. His comments about "legitimate rape" were so repulsive, it attracted public attention to the party's platform, which pretty much adopted Akin's political stance in toto. Regardless of where Hurricane Isaac makes landfall, this has the makings of a perfect storm for the Republican Convention.

By the time you read this, there either will or will not have been a GOP conclave, and the city of New Orleans will or will not still be standing. Current forecasts indicate that Isaac may hit New Orleans on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, providing a terrible reminder of Republican neglect in the midst of their celebration. I never wish anyone any physical harm, but I was fantasizing what might happen if the storm made a glancing blow at Tampa causing the power to fail and stranding 30,000 rich, Republicans in the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Nothing major mind you, just a couple of days without air conditioning and possibly some backed-up bathrooms. Or, perhaps a short circuit in the VIP room, cutting short the Oak Ridge Boys' set. Can you imagine how fast they'd be on the roof howling for government assistance?  Party leaders have already cancelled the opening session, which thankfully accounts for a 25 percent decrease in bullshit and forces the Tea Party goons to march in a non-primetime hate parade to rail about Obama and abortion. The GOP line-up of speakers, from John Boehner to Ann Romney, will have to compete with a strengthening hurricane chugging its way up the Gulf, and on the day that Congressman Paul Ryan is to be nominated Vice President, a major storm may once again strike New Orleans, making his small government argument moot. With the billions spent on this single campaign, the anti-government teabaggers should pray that this time, the levees hold.

In a way, the hurricane may help the Republicans. With a shortened convention, Congressman Ryan may not have the sufficient opportunity to explain why he co-sponsored all those restrictive abortion bills with the banned, "he whose name is not to be spoken," Rep. Todd Akin. Ann Romney won't have the time, while praising Mitt as the ideal man, to explain the twenty point gap between her husband and the president among women voters. After Akin's remarks about rape victims being able "to shut all that down," when it comes to conception, I'll bet that there are hordes of Republican women that understand the dangers of the Tea Party zealots gaining real power. They may pull for Romney in public, but they'll pull the lever for Obama in the voting booth. Who could possibly believe in this age of joblessness and despair that the Republicans would be discussing abortion and birth control at their convention? Rick Santorum has been given a prime speaking spot just to hammer the point home. Despite Romney's attempt to focus on the economy, his running mate's extremism may well make this the "Abortion Convention." The party platform makes no exceptions for abortion and would have the government make certain that a pregnancy resulting from rape was carried to term. Sarah Palin once warned of imaginary "death panels." Now the GOP wants to impanel the "gestation police."

The Republicans will allow that "Sure, Obama inherited a tough situation, but his policies have made it worse." Or, "We are in this situation because of Obama's failed policies." This is the Joseph Goebbels' version of "The Big Lie." It has been revealed that the Republican caucus, since their seditious meeting on inauguration day, have used an unprecedented strategy of blocking, filibustering, or otherwise impeding every measure the president has proposed. They have chosen to sacrifice both the economy and the good of the American people in order to bring down Obama. Romney preaches his desire is "to get America back on track," while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell states that his "top political priority is to deny President Obama a second term." In fact, the alleged "failed policies of the president," can only be a GOP-concocted fantasy since they blocked every bill he proposed. The policies of the president were never given the chance to succeed because of Republican obstructionism. Followers of politics may recall that the Republicans blocked the Unemployment Benefit Extensions Act, an Aid to Small Business bill, the Bank Reform Bill, and a Jobs Bill blocked in the Senate. And now they want the American people to reward them for their bad behavior.

I was wondering who schedules a convention in Florida in August even before I realized it was hurricane season. But it's turned out to be the proper setting for this crowd of angry, frustrated white people-  heat, storms, high winds, alcohol, sex, and to top it off, Florida Governor Rick Scott has declared it legal to carry firearms into the convention hall. It's almost paradise for the Tea Party mob that has hijacked the Republican Party. It also may be a good thing that Romney put Paul Ryan on the ticket to pacify the pistol packers, or in Rick Scott's Florida, some disgruntled wingnut might wish to take "second amendment remedies," should things not go his way. Republicans are known for putting on orderly conventions, but this mixed bunch of ideologues, anti-abortion zealots, tax refusers, and Obama haters might just buck the trend. And we haven't even discussed what will become of the Ron Paul delegation. Romney has ridden his private sector, businessman acumen to the nomination, but he may be making his acceptance speech amid a natural disaster requiring a massive public sector response. Perhaps he might reconsider his discounting the need for more firemen, police, and first responders if some brave National Guardsman has to pull him from the convention floor in a basket dangling from a helicopter.

Monday, August 13, 2012

For Dog and Country


We're admitted dog lovers over here, only we're not insane about it. I mean, we don't feed them people food or dress them up or anything like that. But, the Friends of  Memphis Animal Services has a Facebook page where they regularly post pictures of cats and dogs available for adoption, and they hooked me. I saw a picture of a puppy's face that said to me, "I'm out here waiting for you." My father's name was Sam, but that doesn't necessarily make me the "Son of Sam" unless I begin to listen to the canine voices in my head. So, I re-posted the picture instead with the suggestion that, "Someone needs to go out and grab this little girl up." Only, no one did. I followed the dog's progress for a couple of weeks but there were still no takers. Melody and I already have two adopted dogs; only they adopted us. We didn't have to go anywhere or do anything. Each dog just wandered up separately and decided to stay, so we certainly weren't looking for another. But the days continued to pass with the pup still in the pound until we began to become concerned about the animal's well-being. We decided to drive out to the shelter and look at the dog with the understanding that if it were skittish or sick, we would leave it alone. Guess who has a new puppy?

The new shelter is clean and attractive, but when we approached the front desk and inquired about the dog, they didn't know what we were talking about. We were told by a stoic civil servant whose job reeked of political patronage that we needed to ask one of the volunteers about any particular dog whose photo appeared online. I turned in search of such a person and saw a large cage against the lobby wall with the floor coated in The Commercial Appeal. A sign on it read, "Pet of the day," and there was the puppy, looking into my eyes and telepathically transmitting, "So, you've finally come." I said to Melody, "This is our dog." A volunteer spotted us ogling the dog and informed us that she happened to be on sale that day. When we carried the pup outside and placed her on the ground, she reacted as if she had never seen grass before. She was thin, but not malnourished, and had been spade and given her first shots, only she was filthy from living in cages. The kindly woman volunteer said that if we agreed to adopt, she would give the dog a bath and a pill that kills all fleas immediately. Melody and I exchanged looks and said, "get out the bath salts, this baby's going home with us."

When asked what kind of dogs I have, I usually say, "a black one and a white one," since they are of indeterminate ancestry. Both males, the black dog, Steve, looks like a Lab/hound mix with a sway- back and a bum leg. Jack, the little one, resembles the love child of a rat terrier and a Chihuahua with a bad disposition. We named the new pup Nancy, after a dear friend, because they're both so sweet. Steve immediately claimed her as his girlfriend, which was just as well since Jack, the alpha with a little man complex, refused to look at her. Nancy stared disbelieving at all that backyard to wander, but she could still barely walk and stepped as gingerly as a chicken on a hot-plate. After a pet store run, some puppy food, and a couple of chew toys, we sat back and watched her come alive. Melody is the Dog Whisperer of this family and had the pup house-broken in a week. Since the puppy never suffered abuse, she fortunately doesn't have any emotional issues, unlike Steve who bows up like a camel at the sight of a fly-swatter, or Jack, whose chronic licking has caused his paws to resemble the stigmata. Nancy did have one bad habit, and I'll put this as delicately as possible. Because she was underfed at the shelter, she developed an untenable interest in the other dogs' leavings; and nobody wants a shit-eating dog. Melody solved the problem instantly and enterprisingly by sprinkling the poop with red-pepper flakes. Nancy is now back on her puppy-food diet.

It's been awhile since I raised a pup, and I had forgotten that the reality is far more taxing than the fantasy of doggie kisses and belly-rubs. Melody compared it to raising an infant that is either asleep or needs constant attention. The rough play and growling noise of the pup playing with Steve is constant and nerve-racking because you're never sure when it's getting serious. Jack, the little dog, keeps looking at me as if to ask, "What have you done? Everything was fine!" But after a week or so, everyone seemed to be adjusting well, and as soon as the puppy calms down in five years or so, we'll have a peaceful home once again. I should amend that last statement by saying everyone is adjusting well except me. It's because I had completely forgotten the teething phase, and although we got the puppy some twisted ropes, rubber balls, and squeaky toys, it's my right arm that looks like a Nylabone. I've been instructed to be more alpha with the dog and shout "no" and put her down when she starts biting my arms and hands, but she's so adorable that I'd just as soon go ahead and suffer. As for barely walking when she got here, you should see Nancy run now. I believe I might even have a Frisbee dog in a month or so. Melody and I agree, however, that perhaps it's better for older people to adopt older dogs.

Not everyone is emotionally equipped to care for a pet. It really depends on the human. The shelter mainly takes in three types of dogs; strays, unwanted litters, and animals whose owners have surrendered them. Every time a dog makes the news for being stuck in a pipe or rescued from any precarious situation, people's hearts are touched and they scramble to adopt that particular animal. These dogs at the shelter don't make the news, unless there's a personnel scandal involved. They're not pure bred or show quality, yet equally as deserving of love and care. It requires patience, equanimity, and a combination of discipline and reward, rebuke and praise. Did I mention love? If you can handle that, you'll be rewarded ten-fold and discover that the love and loyalty of a dog can add a dimension to life that is immeasurable. I implore you to make the drive to the shelter. It's easy to find. Just tell one of the volunteers that you would like to see the pets available for adoption, and try not to have pre-conceptions. There is such a variety of handsome animals that you won't even have to worry about finding your dog- your dog will find you.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Romney Invades Poland!



Here's what I learned in ten years of writing songs in Nashville. When somebody says they have something they want to play for you, and it's obvious that time, money and emotion have been invested in the project, even if the tune is infested with monkey pox, it does no harm to praise the result. Usually, a small group of cynical guys will listen without making eye contact, and when the song is over, they'll say, "Nothin' wrong with that," giving the positive affirmation that the interested party seeks without really venturing an opinion. So, when Mitt Romney is asked what he thinks of Olympic preparedness while in London on the eve of the games, is it so hard to say, "Everything looks great and I'm sure we'll have a swell time," instead of launching into a six-tiered critique of British security? Romney's one of those guys that if you show him a new watch that you bought, he'll say, "You should have talked to me first." The mayor of London used Willard's witless gaffe as a rallying cry in front of 60,000 people in Hyde Park. The British press excoriated Romney as "worse than Palin," while tabloid headlines screamed "Mitt the Twit." Years ago during one of Dubya's hilarious trips abroad, when he gave an impromptu neck massage to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, it only creeped her out. Romney succeeded in offending an entire nation with what Winston Churchill once referred to as "arrogant pedantry." So much for "improving our unique Anglo Saxon relationship." Just move along folks-- no "Ich bin ein Berliner" here.

The bad press did not prevent Romney from staging his fundraiser with the heads of all the European banks currently embroiled in the LIBOR scandal, but that's another topic. In a televised press interview, Mitt wore his frozen-smile face while deflecting questions about his dressage horse participating in the Olympics to his wife, Anne. Mitt claimed he wasn't even going to watch the event and didn't know what day it was scheduled. Imagine the number of handlers and groomsmen required to prepare and ship a horse overseas for an international competition. You can't say Romney's not a job creator, at least in the horse arena. But if he's paying the tab, don't tell me he won't find a television somewhere to see how splendidly his pony dances. The most exciting horse-related news for Memphians is that Congressman Steve Cohen's brother, Martin, has invented a new type of stirrup that is being used in the Olympics by the U.S. Riding Team. I suppose I'm allowed to promote Cohen Stirrups if everybody attached to these games is already plugging something. The only controversy I can imagine is if some Cohen stirrups wind up on a Romney horse.

Michelle Obama headed up the official American delegation, although she had to share camera time with the Romney's while waving to the entering athletes in preparation for the opening ceremonies, which were very light-hearted when compared with China's martial approach. There was a lot of drumming, but the British drummers were looser and more relaxed than the sea of synchronized drummers the Chinese used four years ago. That's because the jolly Brits were all volunteers in the production, while the Chinese conscripted young boys from their families and forced them into Olympic drum schools, nailed their feet to the floor and beat them with bamboo rods until they got it perfect. But, the British know how to do whimsy and the Queen showed such a marvelous sense of humor, she nearly smiled. In director Danny Boyle's opening film, when Daniel Craig appeared at Buckingham Palace as James Bond, I suppose I wasn't the only one to ask, "Did Sean Connery die?" The only other request that I might have had for the Royals is, would it be too much to ask Prince Harry to bring Pippa?

The journey through four decades of British music was great to a point, but I would like to take this opportunity to apologise, on behalf of the so-called "Baby Boomers," for my generation's obsession with the song, "Hey Jude." Even in Beatles history, this one was late in the game when the band was breaking up and everyone believed Paul had written an anthem that would last. Except, after the first 10,000 listenings I began to hate the freaking song and would be horrified if young listeners judged the Beatles' musical catalog by this stinker. Let's face it, they had a seventy year old entertainer singing a forty year old song, and when the "Na na nas" kicked in, the cameras showed a younger generation that knew not Paul McCartney. If they wanted to dust off the Beatles, they should have gotten Ringo's ass up there and had them play some Beatles songs. And I hate to be the one to break it to you, but Sir Paul's voice is shot. The network anchors blamed it on "emotion," but this man played a Command Performance for the Queen when he was barely 21. Why would one more sporting event make him emotional?  Perhaps they should have concluded with something a little more contemporary, like the Pet Shop Boys, or Wham!

Meanwhile, the Romney circus had moved on to Israel where the campaign had arranged a major fundraiser starring the Vegas Zionist, Sheldon Adelson. Only it was the holiday of  Tisha B'av, when Jews mourn the destruction of the first two temples and fast for the night, so the Romney staff quickly arranged a 50K per plate fundraising breakfast where no press was allowed. I'm certain the pot was sweetened by the remarks of Romney advisor Dan Senor, the partisan hack hired by the Bush government to give press conferences from Iraq. Senor hinted that a Romney presidency would give tacit approval for an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, creating another international flap. In an interview with ABC News, Romney's face froze into a twisted contortion resembling a grin and said that everything must be done to prevent Iran from becoming a "nuclear capability state." Well, every nation on earth is a "nuclear capability state." I tremble at the thought of Romney invading Poland, his next stop. With his distaste for trade unions, he might insult Lech Walesa.

The travelling Bush 2.0 caravan couldn't sour the celebration of the London games, however, so after a glorious public celebration of socialized medicine, the competition finally began. We settled in only to see Michael Phelps' fall from glory. Let that be a lesson to you kids not to stay too long on the bong. It makes your legs rubbery. While new American stars were being born, I've already become addicted to women's weightlifting. It's the single opportunity for an announcer to say, "her snatch looked better than her clean and jerk," and not get censored. With Mitt Romney gone until the equestrian events begin, the competition can proceed without sniping from the Savior of Salt Lake City. After the Fleet Street press scolding he received, I'd stay clear of the dressage myself. Want to know why the British media reacted so furiously over Romney's seemingly inane pre-Olympic comments? Because he displayed bad manners, and in England, manners count. From my admittedly limited interactions, the British people are simply nicer than they are here. That's why they call it civilization.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Corporate Olympic Spirit

The London Olympics are just around the corner, but it appears as if pre-games jitters have set-in. The most explosive controversy in this country was the discovery that the Ralph Lauren designed, official U.S. Olympic uniforms were manufactured in China. Democrats and Republicans who can't agree on the color of the sky have discovered unity in their outrage. House Speaker John Boehner said the Olympic Committee "should have known better," and Senate majority leader Harry Reid sputtered that they should throw the uniforms in a big pile, burn them, and start over again. The impracticality of that notion is illustrated by the fact that polyester doesn't burn well, and it might be considered a tribute towards the country that is holding our national note to let them continue making our clothing. I think the Olympic team should dress like the rest of America, and when I looked last night, my shoes and Dillard's brand slacks were made in China, my underthings in Costa Rica, and my groovy, Cremieux shirt was made in Sri Lanka. I don't know what's more offensive; that the US team uniforms were manufactured overseas, or that they allow the Ralph Lauren, "Polo" logo to be plastered all over the clothes like a NASCAR driver. I'm no style maven, but isn't the Polo brand a little passe? I'd be embarrassed to wear an oversized symbol of corporate branding on my coat. To make it worse, the man-on-a-horse logo is on the jacket's left side, so the athletes will be pledging their allegiances to Ralph Lauren.

Over at Fox News, the main complaint was about the beret. Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy wondered aloud why they couldn't wear cowboy hats and dimwit "contributer" Kimberly Guilfoyle complained that the berets looked, "too Frenchy." Fox News' outrage was calmed when it was pointed out that certain elite U.S. military forces also wear the beret. The general agitation was sufficient for six Democratic Senators, including Schumer and Lautenberg, to propose the "Team USA Made in America Act of 2012," as if they sold Olympic uniforms off-the-rack at Macy's. Ralph Lauren has since promised that the outfits will be all U.S. made by the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but first he has to build some plants in the U.S. that still make clothes

London, meanwhile, resembles an armed camp with missile batteries on the rooftops and gunboats on the Thames. There are currently more air defenses in London than during the Blitz, and the Brits are such sticklers for curfews and such, that some poor civic lackey did the unthinkable. Last Saturday, Bruce Springsteen was giving a free concert in Hyde Park, which is surrounded by foreign embassies and the tony homes of London's mega-wealthy. He had already played for three hours, but when he returned for an encore, he said to the crowd of 65,000, "I've gotta tell you...I've been trying to do this for fifty years," and he called Paul McCartney onstage to join him. Springsteen's face reportedly lit up like a child as they burned their way through, "I Saw Her Standing There," and then began to play "Twist & Shout." The problem was that the concert's organizer, Hard Rock Calling, promised the event would end at 10:15, so promptly at 10:40, an overzealous city official cut off the power in mid-song, leaving the rock icons to shrug and walk off the stage. Angriest was guitarist "Little" Steven Van Zandt, who tweeted, "When did England become a police state?" British journalist Richard James wrote, "Only in Britain could a local council pull the plug on the greatest artists of the last 50 years, giving it their all."

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney was unavailable for comment because he was busy preparing for his two major London fundraisers on the eve of the Games. The first presidential candidate in history to travel to a foreign country and openly solicit funds during an American election campaign, Romney will host a reception, at $2,500 per person, for the peasants, and another "private dinner" with Mitt, costing from $25,000 to $75,000 per plate. At those prices, they'd better be serving hummingbirds' eyelashes and fillet of Komodo dragon, but as an added benefit, you get to rub tuxedoed elbows with the co-hosts; the heads of Barklay's Bank, The Bank of Credit Suisse, Deutche Bank, and Wells Fargo Securities. Romney, aside from money-grubbing in Socialist Britain, will be attending the Olympics to watch his wife's "therapy horse," Rafalca, compete in the dressage, sometimes known as "horse ballet." It should be a unique sight, watching a presidential contender suspend his campaign and fly to another continent to root for his horse. I'm certain that Mitt believes the entire country will be pulling for the Romney horse to "bring home the gold." I only hope they treat the horse better than the dog.

The other major Olympic news concerned former Britain Football Squad captain, David Beckham, being left off his home country's roster for being "overage." How does that make you feel? I don't think the British ever forgave him for taking away "Posh Spice," but I sure hope he decides to play for our side. So, construction delays aside, no one does pomp like the British and it should be quite a show, especially with all that international corporate money to spend. The Olympics also gives me a legitimate excuse for staying home and watching hundreds of hours of televised events, at least until I get so sick of that John Williams theme music that I begin to recoil at the sound of trumpets. For sure, I'll be watching the "horse ballet." It will be a welcome change from a steady diet of Hard Core Pawn and Lizard Lick Towing. Only, the Olympics are a reality TV show that is unscripted, and, berets be damned, it's an occasion for genuine national pride, depending on how Fox News decides to spin it.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Surprise, Surprise!

The frazzled, frothing, obstructionist Republicans had set aside the date of June 28 as the day they would finally decapitate the Obama administration, but a funny thing happened on the way to the guillotine. The Tea Party dominated GOP had scheduled a House vote to declare Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress just hours after the Supreme Court was due to strike down Obamacare, delivering the old one-two punch to the president's chances for a second term. Minority leader John Boehner had warned his troops that there would be no celebrations, and "no spiking the ball." Instead, they got sacked in their own end zone and the other team did the celebrating. If I say that the conservatives' ace reliever walked in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, I will have made three separate sports analogies in one paragraph.

Everyone on both sides expected the Supreme Court to hand Barry his hat and overturn his major legislative accomplishment, but somehow Chief Justice John Roberts developed a conscience and not only sided with the court's "liberals," but wrote the majority opinion upholding the legality of the Affordable Care Act. It's worth noting that of the five votes in favor of retaining Obamacare, three were from women. The Tea party had set up a battery of microphones to bleat their delight to the lame-stream media, but instead they ran from the courthouse steps screaming, "It's a tax! It's a tax!" like Charlton Heston at the end of "Soylent Green" shouting, "It's people! Soylent Green is made from people!" Later in the day, the GOP-produced Eric Holder passion play was spoiled when outraged Democrats refused to participate in this particular farce and walked out, leaving the right-wing centurions to hammer in the nails alone. Thus, for allegedly withholding documents concerning a botched operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms called, "Fast and Furious," Attorney General Eric Holder, not John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, or Janet Reno, became the first sitting cabinet officer in American history to be held in Contempt of Congress.

California Representative Daniel Issa, the leader of this posse, sputtered, "Very clearly, (the ATF) made a crisis and they are using this crisis to somehow take away or limit people's Second Amendment rights." Translating from the overtly hysterical, the ATF supposedly allowed guns to be smuggled to Mexican drug cartels so the resulting carnage would so horrify this country's citizens that the confiscation of firearms would begin, triggering the Second American Revoltion. The nearest equivalency I can think to compare would be if we sold cheesburgers and pizza to the Canadians and became so grossed out over their morbid obesity, our entire country went on a diet. This effort to humilate Obama on the same day that his health care legislation was due to be struck down would have been declared transparent on its face had it not contained a kernal of truth. A Border Patrol Agent, Brian Terry, was murdered with a gun purchased by a suspect that the ATF office in Phoenix was tracking. Journalist Katherine Eban has written an article for Fortune Magazine entitled, "The Truth About the Fast and Furious Scandal," which offers a definitive account of the tragic episode. Eban concludes, "The ATF never intentionally allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels," and quotes IRS Special Agent Linda Wallace, who investigated the case, as saying, "Republican senators are whipping up the country into a psychotic frenzy with these reports that are patently false."

As for the historic decision upholding the Affordable Healthcare Act, I was all set to rail about this overtly politicized Supreme Court and how, once again, a conservative majority did the bidding of the Republican Party. I was going to reference Bush v Gore and Citizens United as the first two nails in democracy's coffin, and overturning Obamacare was the third. I was prepared to draw paralells between the Roberts Court and the courts of the 1930s which thwarted FDR's New Deal and was absolutely convinced another 5-4 decision along party lines was forthcoming. This convincingly proves that I don't know squat. Only, I'm in good company. Constitutional scholars and Court watchers were all expecting the law to be struck down but never imagined that it would be John Roberts that would save the bill. Now, instead of comparing Roberts to Warren Burger in the seventies or Earl Warren in the sixties, he turns out to be more like the conservatives' nemisis,  David Souter, who considered resigning rather than serve on a court that could approve Bush v Gore. Judge Roberts' principled stand motivated the Executive Director of Families USA, Ron Pollack, to write, "It has taken close to a century to enact meaningful healthcare reform. Now that the Supreme Court has upheld the law, it will become a living reality for all Americans very soon."

So the battle lines have been drawn. Mitt Romney promises to "Repeal and replace Obamacare," only he doesn't say with what. The individual mandate was, after all, Mitt's baby. Now he treats it like a bastard lovechild. In Massachusets, meanwhile, 98 percent of its citizens are covered because of Romneycare's individual mandate, highest in the nation, and they seem to like it. I don't particularly like the government telling me that I have to buy something either, but health insurance is something I have long tried to purchase, but have been denied. The mandate is the only way within the current system that healthcare  becomes affordable and available to all. Let's face it, health insurance is just another racket invented by greedy capitalists to skim cash from hospitals and the lucrative medical testing industry. Ever wonder why your aspirin costs ten dollars a tablet in the hospital but only seven bucks a bottle in the gift store? Insurance companies are the ones that are getting in-between you and your doctor, but it's a revenue producer, so the corporatists have to convince you with lies that, "Obamacare is a govenment takeover of healthcare," and that the government will now dictate your medical preferences. The government is only enriching the insurance companies by providing them with 33 million new customers, but that's better left unsaid. Currently, this is the way the game is played. If you want decent healthcare you need to buy insurance, at least until the people wake up and ask, "Why?"