Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Summer Of Our Discontent

We are so going to pay for the mild winter we recently experienced. I fear that it's a grim foreboding of things to come and that this summer in Memphis is going to resemble Pirtle's Fried Chicken; hot, greasy and extra-crispy. There are other such Biblical signs. Melody and I were sitting on the deck enjoying the balmy weather when a mosquito the size of a sparrow landed on my arm. I swatted it before it could bite, but the splatter looked like it just flew in from the blood bank. I thought we were going to have to call in the CSI to analyze it, or at least Dr. Henry Lee. Until now, it's been a relatively mild June, so you might ask; "What other scientific methods do you use to reach your doomsday predictions?" Easy. We made it through the Beale Street Music Festival, the International Bar-B-Que Festival, and the Sunset Symphony without a single drop of rain.  It must be decades since the Memphis in May celebration went three for three. I don't remember that happening ever. That's great for the folks at MIM, but it's like one of the plagues of ancient Egypt for the citizenry. I mean, what's a Beale Street Festival without a sea of mud, or a cookout on the bluff without a torrential downpour? Do you even imagine that we're going to celebrate a sunny, dry, and hugely successful Memphis in May without somehow paying for it? If there's to be a forthcoming equal and opposite reaction, I fear the ides of August.

There's nothing like a good old Bluff City summer, where the temperature is 100 degrees at noon and 90 at midnight, and you live in a perpetual state of damp and discomfort until the simple act of breathing burns your lungs. You walk outside and it feels like the air itself is sweating. Then it goes on for three straight weeks until irritability spreads like prickly-heat and you're snapping at your co-workers like a giant turtle on his back with red, swollen eyes that will not close. Then whiskey and beer sales skyrocket along with firearms purchases and incidents of domestic altercations until long-time partners can no longer stand the sight of one another, and the next thing you know there's a zombie apocalypse and some crackhead is trying to chew on your face. And that's during a normal summer. I can still recall years at the Bar-B-Que Fest when I was cooking faster than the pork. Imagine ultra-violet rays penetrated by new, atomic sunbeams while "Tan Moms" fry like bacon in a skillet. They'll have to move the burn units closer to the beaches. The thought of lying in the sun, oiled up like a Caesar salad, is horrific to me in every way, but the mutated solar flares may cause even the most devout sun-worshipper to seek extended periods of shelter. This may be difficult for some, but not for a great indoorsman like me. I've been practicing for years.

In case you haven't noticed, this year's weather extremes are breaking records all over the world. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that last month was the second hottest May since they began keeping records in 1880, exceeded only by 2010. March was the hottest on record with over 15,000 temperature records broken across the country. This was the warmest spring in history for the continental United States. Greenhouse gas emissions from industry, transportation, and land usage are cited as reasons that the first decade of this century was the warmest ever recorded. Currently the states of Texas, Colorado, and California are on fire. Arizona and New Mexico are suffering the largest wildfires in their respective state's char-broiled histories. There have been killer tornadoes and historic floods dotting the map this past year, and hurricane season just started. The good news is that NOAA is predicting fewer storms than usual this summer. The bad news is that, because May produced the highest temperatures ever recorded for both land and ocean surfaces in North America, the hurricanes will be of greater intensity and destructive power. As a nation, we've spewed enough fluorocarbons, vehicle exhaust, radioactive waste, and other gasses into the atmosphere to have severely damaged the ozone layer, and there are five decades worth of space trash orbiting the Earth like the rings of Saturn. I'd say this is "reaping the whirlwind."

The international scientific data about man-made causes of climate change is in. The only ones left disputing it are a few hucksters who make their money selling snake oil to the yokels, and the entire congressional delegation of the Republican party. John Boehner once blamed climate change on cow farts. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, whose state is burning, called global warming "a hoax." Iowa's Senator Chuck Grassley said, "Climate legislation is a scheme by coastal liberals to take your money." And the GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, wants to eliminate the EPA, founded in 1970 by Richard Nixon. Since the Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the oil and gas industry, they will not consider alternative means of energy until they have sucked the last Stegosaurus stain from the bowels of the Earth. They claim that tougher regulations will make it harder to compete with the lax Chinese, but even in big old Communist Red China, the government has released a 710 page report saying, "China faces extremely grim ecological conditions under the impact of continued global warming." A recently published report by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research states "The link with human caused global warming is clear..(concerning) extreme rainfall and heat waves." Still, almost presidential candidate Rick Santorum said, "It is one thing for ideologically driven science to indoctrinate children in classrooms. It is another for politicians to use science to destroy national economies and redistribute global wealth. I refer, of course, to the latest scientific non-controversy, man-made global warming."

I suppose by the time anyone reads this, the thermometer will have reached 100 degrees or close to it. The only people looking forward to this summer's temperatures are the executives at Memphis Light Gas & Water and Baskin-Robbins. Over here, we're investing in dark curtains and stocking up on air filters, hoping another "Hurricane Elvis" doesn't pass this was anytime soon. If this is to be the hottest summer on record, I would also be investing in iced tea futures if I had any money left. As for the idiotic pseudo-debate over whether or not climate change is affected by humans, we may have already reached the tipping point. If that's the case, the argument is irrelevant, despite the tsunami of cash flowing into Republican coffers from fossil fuel consortiums, like oil onto the pristine beaches of the Gulf Coast. President Carter tried to warn us, but he was such a downer. We were too busy disco dancing to pay attention to a buzz-kill like Jimmy. That's why we're at the mercy of severe and unpredictable weather and continual "Code Orange" air alerts. It's been thirty-five years since Jimmy Carter's "heads-up" to the country, but we scorned him, so by now there may be nothing left to do but sit back and watch the show. At least until the New Madrid fault ruptures, then I imagine the power might be out for awhile.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Almost Cut My Hair

Ordinarily, the school days hi-jinks of the  candidates for the highest office are irrelevant, unless you're George W. Bush and you've gone AWOL from your national guard unit for over a year. But a couple of stories surfaced last month, each about the two presidential contenders' youthful student "pranks," which may help shed light on the mens' characters. The first investigative piece was about Barack Obama's liberal use of herbaceous materials as a student at Occidental College; the second concerned Mitt Romney's assault on a long-haired classmate when he was a senior at an elite prep school in Bloomfield, Michigan. According to witnesses, young Mitt was incensed at the appearance of an eccentric young man who had the gall to grow his hair long. Romney led a group of students through a residential dormitory until they found the offending party, tackled him and pinned him to the ground, while Mitt hacked away at his hair with a scissors. The rueful participants claimed it was something they could "never forget," except for the Barber of Bloomfield who said, "I don't recall the incident myself, but I've seen the reports and I'm not going to argue with that." Unfortunately, the victim of the attack, John Lauber, who died in 2004, was unavailable for comment.

The revelations about Obama's school years come from Clinton biographer David Maraniss' new book, Barack Obama: The Story. College classmates claim that young Barack was a copious user of the "sticky-green," and invented novel ways in which to smoke it, including, "chooming a doobie." I had never heard that expression, but for the uninitiated, I would assume it's synonymous with "burning a fatty," or the "smoking of a marijuana cigarette." "Barry" was also known to invent some smoking trends; one called "T.A." short for "total absorption." Another was called "roof hits," where a bunch of guys smoked pot in a car with all the windows sealed, until they tilted their heads back and inhaled the remaining smoke from the cloud in the ceiling above. Obama also had the tendency to leap forward in a pot circle shouting, "Intercepted," and take a hit out of turn, but one schoolmate said, "No one seemed to mind." I appreciate an imaginative leader that takes the initiative. If Barack had hung around some of my crazy friends, they could have taught him "the shotgun," and "inside the paper bag." The major outcry over these stories has come not so much from social conservatives as from pot smokers who object to Obama allowing the DEA to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries in California, Colorado, Montana, and Washington.

The stories about Mitt Romney's prep school days at the Cranbrook School, first reported in The Washington Post, are far more troubling. Mitt is my same age, so when I say that I know guys like Romney, I mean I know guys exactly like Romney. When long-hair first came to Knoxville, there was an unexpected reaction from the locals. Rather than correctly assume that these were the same students as before who had just grown their hair out over summer vacation, some of the citizenry reacted as if they were under alien attack. There were accounts of roving Melungeons harassing the hippies, always in groups, including reports of malicious hair-cuttings similar to the Romney incident. Ultimately, there were areas of town that long-hairs learned to avoid. The single one-on-one confrontation I witnessed between a redneck and a hippie occurred when the former asked the latter if he was "a boy or a girl," which evoked a response of an anatomical nature that started a brawl in the Vol Market. Similarly, many students were disturbed that their college was changing from the drunken party school of renown into a haven for pot smokers and sandal wearers. The line of demarcation seemed to strike right in the middle of my age group, half succumbing to the hippie ethos, and half stubbornly clutching to their bottles of Jack Daniels. There was a lot of abuse and plenty of resistance from bullies like Romney, who could not accept the changes.

Among the students who accompanied Romney on his hair-cutting foray, one recently recounted the events for the record and said, "When you see somebody who is simply different taken down that way and is terrified and you see that look in their eye, you never forget it." Although Romney claims to have forgotten it, the remorseful rabble with him that night remembered returning to their rooms shouting in triumph. A witness claimed the event has "haunted him," and referred to it as "assault and battery." Confronting the accusations on Fox News, Romney explained, "As to pranks that were played back then, I don't remember them all, but again, high school days, I did stupid things...And if anyone was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologise for that" Later, he expounded that some of his pranks "might have gone too far." I did stupid things in high school too, but that never included leading an assault on a hapless, helpless victim of non-conformity. I just did things like grow my hair long. Obama has publicly taken responsibility for his cocaine and pot use as a young man, yet Romney's the one who can't seem to remember anything.

Admittedly, Romney became an honor student at Brigham Young University where everyone looked like him: finely-coiffed, well-groomed, and white. No one to bully in Provo. In fact, the university had an honor code that included: no bad language, alcohol, tobacco, tea, or coffee, and to "observe dress and grooming standards, and live a chaste and virtuous life." The Mormon college also encouraged "undergraduate marriages," so Mitt married young. Nothing wrong with any of that, but here I had always thought that college was for raising hell and indulging in the pursuit of happiness, along with all those books and such. I believe that my college experience is more typical than Mitt Romney's. So is Barack Obama's, whose indulgences did potential harm only to himself and no one else. While Obama was doing "roof hits," Romney was doing post-mortem Mormon baptisms in Salt Lake City. Remember back when George Bush was running against Al Gore in 2000, and alot of people decided to vote for Bush because, "he was the kind of guy that you could sit down and have a beer with?" Well, Bush didn't drink beer, and neither does Mitt Romney, but if presidential preferences are determined by such inane attributes, I'd rather choom a doobie with Barack than be part of a hair-hacking posse led by the pampered and privileged son of a governor.