Monday, September 27, 2010

Week in Review

The Week in Review
By Quentin Smeltzer, 9/27/2010

I’ve been travelling lately so it has been a little difficult to keep track of current events.  But let’s see, Christine O’Donnell won the Republican primary for the Senate race for Delaware and Bill Maher outed her as a witch.  Evidently the time is right for a candidate who has firsthand knowledge of satanic mass, believes that stem cell research is bad because scientists have already inserted human brains into mice and is sure there is no such thing as evolution because she has yet to observe any changes in the monkeys at her local zoo.  And who could argue?

On the other hand, her anti-masturbation stance may prove more problematic.  I mean, let’s face it, sex with ourselves is pretty much the only sex some us ever see.  Especially those of us who are married.  And it is not just the anti-masturbation position.  It is the way she argued against it.  Said Christine:  “I mean, if you’re going to masturbate, what am I here for?”  What indeed, Christine, what indeed?

Then there was Steven Colbert, who testified Friday before congress in character as a right wing, bloviating fool.  Evidently it didn’t go well.  People called it embarrassing, inappropriate, out of place and disrespectful.  But let’s take a step back, shall we?  First of all, this is congress we’re talking about.  If bloviating fools aren’t allowed to testify there are going to be some pretty lonely congress-people up there.  Second, Colbert warned them he was going to appear “in character.”  Did they think he meant he was going to wear a bear costume?  And third, he submitted his serious testimony in writing beforehand.  I have no idea what he said in his written testimony and neither do you, which should tell you everything you need to know about the effectiveness of serious testimony.  

But I will tell you why the Colbert thing backfired.  Because nobody laughed, that’s why.  Had he started with serious testimony and then announced he was going into character, and then come up with a funny line or two, all would have been well.  But to press ahead with his act to stone-faced silence was just painful to watch. 

Doing your act in front of stone-faced silence is something I know a thing or two about.  Having had a few successful comedy performances and a few less successful comedy performances I can tell you there is a very simple distinction between what is funny and what is not:  if they laugh it’s funny.  That’s pretty much how it works. 

Some other stuff happened recently, like congress voted down repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  I’ve never really understood how that is supposed to work, by the way.  I mean, the recruits go off on weekend leave and they come back and they’re sitting around and Bill says, man, we hooked up with these smokin’ babes at a bar.  And Steve says, my girlfriend and I went out to the lake.  Then they turn to Bruce and ask, what did you do this weekend, and Bruce says, Oh, nuthin'.

I guess the final bit of news was the Republicans released their Pledge to Do to America What They Did the Last Time They Were Allowed to Do Things to America.   But this time things will be different.  The Republicans realize they made mistakes the last time they were in charge.  That’s why this time they are pledging to cut taxes for the super-rich, return us to the healthcare system which was serving us so well, remove pesky regulation from Wall Street and oil companies, and go to war with Iran at the earliest imaginary opportunity.  Frankly, it would be less scary if they were pro-witchcraft. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tea Time?

Tea Time?
By Quentin Smeltzer, 9/16/2010

Democrats are rubbing their hands in glee now that eight Tea Party candidates have beaten more moderate Republicans in Republican primaries.  But why? 

Democrats say people like Sharon Angle, Rand Paul and Christine O’Donnell can’t win general elections.  Heck, even Karl Rove says O’Donnell can’t win!  Well, maybe not in Cuba, turd blossom, but I think she’ll do just fine right here in the good ol’ US of A.  In fact, she might do alright in Cuba now that Fidel has admitted that a true welfare state, without a cold war superpower pumping cash into it, really can’t make it on its own.  Tea Party activism should be popping up in Havana any day now…

Republican hypocrisy is surely the eighth wonder of the world, not that anyone can name the original seven without turning to Wikipedia.  By the way, six of the seven wonders have disappeared along with all Republican credibility. 

A few months ago Republicans were wailing about deficits.  In fact, that’s what got the tea baggers out of their trailer homes and into the streets.  That and the fact there’s a Kenyan Islam-o-terrorist in the White House!  How did that happen?  But now Republicans insist that hundred thousand dollar tax cuts be extended to millionaires at a cost of billions of dollars of borrowed money per year, extracted from the futures of the rest of us.  Sounds like a plan!

Of course, these are the same Republicans who won in 2000 with a pledge to restore fiscal discipline.  Then they ran up the largest spending binge seen on this planet since the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (second wonder of the world) or the last time Donald Trump decorated a vacation home (wonder why).  To say Republican necks must be suffering the effects of whiplash doesn’t do it justice.  My belief is their heads actually spin like Linda Blair’s in the Exorcist. 

When predicting whether tea baggers can be elected, you have to remember that this is the country that elected George Bush—twice!  And the second time he got the most votes!  Powerful forces are in play.  Cutting taxes is a drug.  It is more powerful than roads, bridges, health care and foreign wars.  It is a drug the way welfare was a drug.  It is an obsessive compulsion that leads to debilitating results. 

Will a society endure that is based on the socialist principle that you give to all according to their need?  No it will not.  Few will work if it not working pays.  We figured that out a few decades ago. 

But will a society endure that is based on a Darwinian meritocracy, where it is every man for himself according to his ability and his effort?  No it will not.  The talented few will end up with all the marbles and the middle will suffer.  Without a strong middle class to buy stuff, the economy will collapse.  This isn’t theory.  This is the end of eight years of Bush.  This is what is known as 2008.

We’ve seen both of these movies, so why worry?  Because Americans love a remake, that’s why!  Somehow we forget that Rocky will win and John Connor will survive.  Somehow we’re surprised when the head of the little girl possessed by demons turns completely around on its axis.  Just like Republican “principles.” 

Cue the voice over:  In a world where no one pays taxes and you can pay for your cardiogram with a chicken, if you have a chicken… Don’t miss, Robber Barons II, Mansions and Misery!  Coming this November to a congress near you!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Just a Hunk, a Hunk of Burning Hate

Just a Hunk, a Hunk of Burning Hate
Quentin Smeltzer,, 9/8/2010

As you are likely aware, three days from now some nutjob pastor in Florida is going to burn copies of the Islamic holy book, the Quran.  I say nutjob in only the most positive way.  This is the kind of thing that could only happen in Florida.  Or Texas.  Or Arizona… heck I guess it could happen anywhere in this country, although it is difficult to imagine it taking place in my polite state of Connecticut.  Then again, we may elect the former head of the World Wrestling Federation as our new junior Senator, so let’s stick with it could happen anywhere. 

One thing I remember from my youth is conservatives love to burn stuff.  McCarthy incited the burning of pro-communist books.  The Catcher in the Rye was burned.  Beatles records were burned.  Before my time, a few Negro slaves were tossed into the flames.  One thing Americans know is that if you don’t like something, blow it up, and if you can’t blow it up, at least set it on fire!

To be fair, this urge to burn stuff is not confined to the right.  I don’t recall any conservatives burning the American flag.  I remember quite a few of them jumping to the conclusion that we must have yet another change to the Constitution (which they so dearly love just the way it is) to protect the flag.  But they weren’t burning it.  They didn’t burn their draft cards.  And was it conservatives out there burning their bras?  No, of course not.  Republican girls need the support. 

Nor is this urge to burn confined to America.  The Nazis famously burned books with which they disagreed.  The Chinese burned books (and buried the scholars who wrote them)!  The Quran has been burned before, during the Spanish Inquisition.  There was the destruction of the library at Alexandria and the burning of the Mayan codices in 1562…  Good times, good times…

So let’s face it, we all of us, left and right, near and far, we all love to burn stuff!  In fact, burning stuff may be the world’s favorite way to say, I disagree with you.  But why is this?  How to explain it?  Well, can you say “Weenie roast?”   And here’s a question for you:  what’s more cheery and heart-warming than a fire?  Answer:  a fire that devours thoughts and ideas you don’t have the intellectual firepower to refute, that’s what!

So let’s not get too down on our little pastor from Florida.  He’s not original, he’s nothing new.  He’s just doing what tyrants, despots and the intellectually feeble have done for centuries: casting big scary shadows from teeny, weenie people with just a little help from a glowing pile of ignorance and hate. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mad Men

Mad Men
Quentin Smeltzer,, 9/1/2010

Why is everyone so mad at the Obama administration?  The George W. Bush administration was all marketing.  The Obama administration has no marketing.  I think this is the problem. 

In the Bush years we heard about the “Clear Skies Initiative” which gave companies free reign to pollute.  We heard about “tax cuts for everyone” which let the rich steal the middle class’ future.  We heard about “mushroom clouds” from Iraq, which let us start an unpaid for, trillion-dollar war in search of weapons of mass destruction.  Still haven’t found them.  

The Republicans told us about “fiscal responsibility” and “deregulating business.”  We got crazy spending, a financial meltdown and a contaminated gulf.  We heard about “small government” and watched New Orleans drown.  We heard about “a culture of life” and lost cures that could have helped millions—my twelve-year-old son, for one. 

To call it all bullshit might be on target.  But I prefer to call it marketing.

If you say anything negative about the vast mass of people that inhabits the space between New York and Los Angeles you will quickly be labeled an elitist.  Sarah Palin routinely warns the country not to discount the intelligence of her followers, apparently well aware that there's an issue here.

Many pundits and pols will say “the American people are not stupid,” but really, sadly, they are.  Think back to the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq.  The minute I heard on the radio the return of the Hank Williams Jr. song, “Don’t Give Us a Reason,” I knew we were going back in.  You knew it, too.  So don’t look down on bumper sticker politics.  This is exactly the kind of politics Obama needs. 

Let’s take healthcare reform, which is still, somehow, unpopular.  Let’s give regular, medical care to people who haven’t had the good fortune to make a lot of money so they can get off the couch and go back to work.  How is this not popular?  No marketing, that’s how. 

Imagine if we could get ol’ Hank Jr. to sing a new song entitled “We Take Care of Our Own,” warning greedy insurance companies not to mess with the good ol’ US of A and not to deny poor widows and hard workin’ farmers access to that country doctor.  You know what would happen?  The same morons now demanding repeal of health care reform would demand more health care reform.  This isn’t rocket science.  It’s marketing. 

How about bumper stickers and a song called “Pay Your Share,” where ol’ Hank warns all them evil bankers to stop siphoning away the money that grandma and orphans depend on?  Can you say repeal the Bush tax cuts for the rich?  I bet you could after you heard that song.

Could we get Obama to visit a ranch and clear some brush?  How about a cowboy hat?  EVERYONE looks better in a cowboy hat.  And anything would be better than pictures of his skinny legs in those shorts he insists on wearing when he plays golf.  They don’t wear shorts on the PGA Tour for a reason.  It isn’t comfort; it’s called marketing.

On the television show “Mad Men” it is clear that the main character, Don Draper, is a man who can see what everyone wants and he uses that knowledge to sell whatever he has.  The tension comes from the fact that Don doesn’t know what he himself wants.  Obama knows what he has to sell and he knows that most of us want it.  What Obama lacks is the most basic understanding of how to sell it. 

Bumper stickers and country songs, Barry.  And pick up a hat while you’re at it.