Monday, August 23, 2010

Mosque We?

Mosque We?
Quentin Smeltzer, SmeltzerNation, 8/22/2010

No one is more disturbed than I that on every issue that comes up, I seem to side with my liberal rather than my conservative friends.  However, as I’ve recently written, until you righties actually get something right, that’s just the way it’s going to have to be…

The latest example is what is known as the “Mosque Controversy.”  Should an Imam be allowed to build a mosque at Ground Zero?  First of all, only Imam’s build mosques, as far as I know, so the fact that the construction is being put forth by an Islamic, religious leader really can’t be helped. 

Stupid attempts at humor aside, I understand it is a cultural center, not a mosque, and it is not to be built at “Ground Zero” but two blocks away.  I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Manhattan (I lived there for ten years) but two blocks away in Manhattan is like the next town over for the rest of the country.  A lot goes on in two blocks of Manhattan.  Neighborhoods can begin and end, social-economic conditions flip, the architecture changes, different languages are spoken; everything can change in the space of two blocks in Manhattan!

But let’s try to be reasonable here.  Those of you who oppose this new mosque, how many blocks would you like?  Would three blocks be better?  Four?  How about four blocks and a side street?  How about just past the topless bar, and across from the pizza joint, near the church that was converted into a nightclub? 

I am also troubled by the term Ground Zero.  Shouldn’t we call it Ground Less Than Zero, since it’s been almost ten years now and there is nothing there but a giant hole in the ground?  And doesn’t the fact that this particular religious leader is one Imam who has worked diligently to promote peaceful dialog and understanding between Muslims, Jews and Christians count for something?

Not to the Fox and Rush crowd.  They see a wedge issue.  They see another opportunity to rile up the yahoos and get them out there in the streets with their Obama-as-witch-doctor signs on the evening news.  They see a way to stir anger against the Democrats, which is the only way they’re ever going to win another election: because they haven’t got a single idea that works between them. 

Oh wait, I forget, they have ideas:  when Reagan cut taxes, the economy improved and revenues went up.  Gee, that must mean that if we keep cutting taxes, revenue will go even higher!  In fact, if you really care about the budget deficit, cut taxes to zero!  Revenues will explode!  That assumes, of course, that you can explode to zero.  Which, sadly, brings us back to our topic. 

Some say the cultural center-cum-mosque will be a thumb in the eye of the 9/11 victim families.  Others say it will show the world that we really mean it when we say this country protects and defends religious freedom, whether it’s popular or not—especially when it’s not. 

The correct answer is door number two.  Sorry Conservatives.  I really do hope to side again with you soon.  However, I’m afraid that, once again, you’ve chosen incorrectly.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Vacation Fun!

Vacation Fun!
Quentin Smeltzer, SmeltzerNation, 8/21/2010

It’s been a while since my last post because we’ve been on vacation.  You know what a vacation is: that’s when you go someplace you chose not to live, to get by without the creature comforts you most enjoy, to eat food you wouldn’t normally eat, and to pay boatloads of money for the privilege. 

A recent New York Times article says buying “things” doesn’t make us happy.  This is particularly good news for those of us with no discernible source of income.  Unfortunately, the article goes on to say that paying for experiences like sushi rolling lessons or vacations does make us happy.  So my wife decided we should take the money I'd been saving for a new motorcycle and spend it on a vacation.

And it is true that vacations always make me happy… when they end.  Nothing brightens my day like the news that I can stop paying hundreds of dollars a day to use stuff I can use at home for free.

But is it all about money?  If you looked at my bank balance you might conclude that it is.  But what about family bonding time, adventure and new experiences?  And it was a new experience to be yelled at by the attendant for daring to bring a small cooler poolside.  It was fun finding no parking place in the motel lot at night.  It was a delight to watch my wife and son shop for useless crap in the interminable string of gift and novelty stores that lined the main drag of our vacation village. 

And then there was the day we spent at the Six Flags Great Adventure amusement and water park.  My wife bought our “all-inclusive” tickets online, so we only paid about $120 to enter!  Our fun-filled day started with a mile-long walk from where we were allowed to park, for only an additional $10.  Then we got to stand in a swelling, impatient crowd waiting for the park to open.

When it did, we raced for the gondola ride, which I thought might give us a good overview of the park.  It turns out the gondola ride moves at roughly the same speed as the old woman in the commercial who has fallen and can’t get up.  This made for one LONG ride, inching along with our feet dangling thirty feet above the hot pavement.  Instead of traversing the park, giving us the reconnaissance I had hoped for, it made a small loop in the one corner of the park we had already seen.  Scratch off the first 45 minutes of our thrilling day!

Next, we got on one of those spinning, swing rides; the kind you can catch at the local fair that sets up in a field in your town every summer.  Hardly amusement park quality, but still enough to induce a mild case of vertigo coupled with nausea.  My son wasn't interested in the big roller coasters after that, so instead we decided to head into the water park to enjoy some splash-tastic fun!

Speaking of fun, the first choice we faced in the water park was how much we wanted to pay for a locker for our street clothes!  I think we opted for the $17 “medium.”  Standing in front of a wall of lockers my wife swiped her receipt in front of an electronic reader, and--voila!--a floor-level door popped open.  After changing into our bathing suits and jamming our street clothes into this rat hole we were ready to get wet 'n wild!

To get our wacky, watery adventure started, we stood in a line with inner tubes and climbed a four-story tower to go down a water slide.  The ride lasted twenty seconds.  The line lasted twenty minutes.

Quickly tiring of that, I spotted the line for the Black Cobra water tube ride.  This queue appeared to be short so I corralled my family in.  After we were in this line for twenty minutes we made a turn around a bend and saw there was a hidden part of the line, meaning it was three times longer than it first appeared.  After an hour in the broiling sun we got to the top to see a single attendant operating only one of the two Cobra tubes available.  I thought about asking this high school student making minimum wage why the other tube wasn't being used while people suffered sunstroke in the brutal heat, but really, I was just so happy to get the hell out of there I jumped in the raft with my son and we pushed off.  The sweltering, claustrophobic, neck-snapping ride lasted all of thirteen seconds. 

It was already lunch time and I was eager to see what delights might be available.  The answer was a marvel I had never seen before and frankly never hoped to see in my lifetime: the $10 slice of cheese pizza!

After this yummy lunch of white dough, tomato sauce and "real" cheese came the interesting challenge of finding a place to sit by the giant wave pool.  With arms loaded with bag and towels I walked past maybe 500 chaise lounges, each with a towel or a pair of sunglasses on it to “hold” it.  Finally, incredibly, I found the one open lounge in the entire park!  I put our stuff there, rechecked to make sure I still had my sunglasses, and started off to find wife and child.

Just steps away I was accosted by an angry New Yorker who accused me of stealing his chair and rifling through his property.  “The chair was empty,” I assured him.  “No it wasn't,” he said.   I used to argue with this kind of goon, sometimes receiving a fat lip for my trouble, always receiving a dose of adrenaline sufficient to make my eyeballs vibrate out of my head.  Now I take a cue from the pastor of my church:  I make my voice very small and say:  "Okay."

This doesn't do much for my action hero self image but it does help ensure that my feet reach the ground the rest of the day.  It also scores points with the wife who really doesn't need me to provide drama.

I gathered our things and we sat on our towels on the concrete.  At least the giant, wave pool will be fun, I thought.  But just as we got in they ordered the hundreds of people in it to get out.  There was no explanation.  Half an hour later when we were allowed back in there were no waves.  It was just a vast, crowded swimming pool, only deep enough to cover the tops of our knees. We left the pool and returned to our pile of towels on the ground.

It was around this time that my son, wife and I all noticed that our bare feet were beginning to blister from hours of standing and walking on hot concrete with no place to sit.  I cautiously asked if anyone was ready to go and tried to conceal my joy when it was unanimous:  oh yes.

Understandably exhausted from the three or four rides we had managed to cram into the course of our fun-filled, sun-baked, over-priced, five hours in the park, we made the long, painful hike back to our Lilliputian locker.  I crouched on the floor like a homeless person foraging a tipped over garbage can and clawed our belongings out.  We changed into street clothes and began the long death march back to our car. 

What a day!  Like the vacation itself, our Six Flags experience had indeed made me happy.  To leave.  As they say in their television commercials:  More flags, more fun!  I'm thinking they're still a couple of flags short...  

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Motorcycle Lust

Motorcycle Lust
Quentin Smeltzer, SmeltzerNation, 8/10/2010

As I wrote in “Self Help, Your Complete Book of Bad Advice for Every Situation in Life,” Europe still generally accepts the concept of the mistress.  I know this largely from watching movies. 

The mistress is the twenty-to-thirty-something-year-old girl who sleeps with the married, forty-to-sixty-year-old man.  This keeps the man happy—I’m just guessing here—and it frees the married woman from the expectation that, at least once or twice a year, she pretend to enjoy sex.  The older man is gratified, the younger woman gains valuable experience, and the wife gets to spend her time on the important things in life:  cooking and chatting with friends.  The marriage thrives and everyone is happy.  In Europe. 

Here in the U.S. we don’t have the “mistress.”  We have “adultery.”  We have “grounds for divorce.”  If sex is the reason man invented alcohol, then likewise, I believe married sex is the reason man invented the motorcycle.  The motorcycle is the closest thing to the girlfriend that the married, American man will get. 

The parallels are many:  The motorcycle is hot.  The motorcycle is sexy.  You get on top of the motorcycle and ride it.  You may feel inspired to wear leather.  In any case, you know you should wear protection.  The motorcycle encourages you to go faster and harder.  If not treated with proper respect, the motorcycle may injure or kill you.  One can give you road rash, the other can result in rug burn.  When the motorcycle gets a few miles on it, it is expected that you will trade it in for a sexy, new model.  The motorcycle can be expensive, but nothing, a wise acquaintance of mine once said, is more expensive than the girlfriend. 

I was flipping through the channels the other night and stopped on Headline News or one of those channels where they spend most of their time yammering about the latest, sensational rapist, pedophile, wife killer or the like.   News flash:   they are pretty uniformly “opposed.”  Anyway, I caught a few seconds of a discussion about a new, feminist movement.  These new feminists, apparently, believe in letting their married men have the girlfriend.  By understanding that the man’s sex drive far outweighs their own, and by consenting to that reality, these women feel empowered, not victimized. 

I didn’t get to hear as much of the discussion as I would have liked.  Before I could even think about inviting my wife into the den to watch the show with me, the woman espousing the new view was shouted down by a trio of enraged harpies.  Diving for the remote, I quickly changed the channel to Sports Center and reviewed scores and highlights until the shuddering subsided.

This experience and others lead me to believe that it is highly unlikely that the Continental view of the mistress will prevail here any time soon.  While this may be a bad thing for married people, it is decidedly good news for your local, motorcycle dealership. 

Finally, let me say to my own wife, if she’s reading this—and, believe me, she scrutinizes every word—that the above comments should in no way, shape or form be construed as meaning that I myself would like a girlfriend.  Be advised, however, that I may soon be asking for permission to buy yet another sexy new bike.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Republican Recap

Republican Recap
Quentin Smeltzer, SmeltzerNation 8/3/10

Well, Lindsey is out of jail and into rehab but nothing much has changed for the Republicans.  They still say jobs are the number one priority, but they block the passage of any bill that will help create jobs. 

They still say the biggest financial threat we face is the deficit, but they are opposed to raising taxes on the top two percent richest Americans to levels that produced a budget surplus in the Clinton years. 

Sharon Angle continues to refuse to answer questions from the press (no, Fox News doesn’t count), and the Republicans refuse to consider comprehensive immigration reform while plotting to change the Constitution to strip American citizenship from a sizeable percentage of the brown babies born in this country.  I don’t think that’s much of an overstatement, do you? 

This would all be laughable, particularly the part about refusing to raise taxes on the rich to historically normal levels, except many of the poorest and presumably dumbest amongst us support these lunatic positions with a fervor edging ever closer to violence.  All of this leads many news organizations to predict big gains for Republicans in the coming November elections. 

So, let’s get this straight: Republicans presided over entangling us in the two longest and mostly costly wars in our nation's history while simultaneously running our economy off a cliff.  The first war was understandable, except for the fact that it’s gone on for nine years.   The second war was a crusade, pure and simple. 

At the same time, Republicans drove the economy into the biggest contraction since the Great Depression by cutting taxes, eliminating business regulations and spending as if a sizeable percentage of the money was siphoning directly into their pockets—which it was. 

Since 2008, Democrats have been making progress undoing all of these disasters, but not quickly enough for most of us—almost entirely due to Republican obstruction, by the way.  And all of this adds up to… vote for Republicans???

Okay then…

In the past I have heard some snarky Republicans call for a literacy test in order to qualify to vote.  Be careful what you ask for.  These days anyone capable of adding two plus two and getting four is unlikely to vote Republican.  Unfortunately, apparently, judging by the poles, that doesn’t include much of the public. 

I voted for Reagan, the second time, and I will vote Republican again the day the Democrats create greater incentives to not work than work, impose so much regulation they strangle business, and tax to the point where they drain the economy of its lifeblood.  

We're not there yet, folks.  Not even close.