Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

Our local mullet wrapper published a couple of columns the other day regarding our local sainted college football coach (the one with a winning record, not the other one) who has apparently spoken up in favor of a religious fanatic who's managed to get himself appointed as a football coach at the Air Force Academy and has obviously spent more time trying to convert his team to extreme Christianity than to winning an over-grown child's game to justify his taxpayer-paid salary. This guy put up a banner in the locker room exhorting the would-be future 2nd Looeys to join "Team Jesus Christ", but under pressure from the evil liberal media out there in Colorado he's now pulled the offending banner down, but still has prayers during games. Our sainted one went on record during an interview as saying that he supported his embattered compatriot and that "Christians" needed to speak out. This from a guy who is well known as a speaker at churches and who allows a minister to wander up and down the sidelines during games, praying with various and sundry players (presumably asking forgiveness of the High Holy One for dropping passes or not using the brain He gave them to pick apart the other team's defensive plan). Yup, that's all we need; more outspoken "Christians" using federal or state taxpayer dollars to feather their bully pulpits to spread the gospel of right-wing wackiness.

What's really bad is that the Air Force Academy has apparently become a hotbed of religious nutcases who've been allowed by the higher-ups in the Pentagon to turn a once respected military academy into Liberty University West. Various accounts indicated that a Brigadier General in charge had "codewords" for his flock, so when he said something like "Airpower!" the cadets in the know were supposed to respond with "ROCK, Sir!"; when the befuddled newbies (and Jews, Hindus, Muslims and agnostics) asked someone more sure of him/herself what it meant, they could "testify" about Jesus and how God likes America's military to be faithful to him in the cockpit. Those cadets who missed "prayer sessions" were hearded by upperclassmen back to their rooms in what was affectionately called "heathen flight". No wonder our terrorist friends think we're taking a page from the Crusades.

Apparently the American Taliban-types have made the military, and particularly the academies, their target. Is the idea that they'll take over the military with hopes of molding more and more of potential future political and business leaders into their own image? Probably and the prospect should scare the hell out of everyone. It's interesting to me that we're all for secularizing the Iraqi government, helping them get away from the conflict between the various sects of Islam, but we're willing to allow sects of Christianity to take control of OUR government, allowing public money to fill the coffers of "faith-based" organizations and private schools. Meanwhile, the conservative "commentators" and "experts" say absolutely nothing about it and pooh-pooh the idea that putting Bible-thumping extremists in charge of governmental entities is a bad thing and, I suppose, why should they? They are pretty much all cut from the same cloth and their goals are the same--to recreate America into the myth that they've created, a nation "blessed" and "established" by God and a bunch of God-fearing Founding Fathers, happy to allow the preachers and Bible-thumpers to spend tax money freely for their own purposes and to heck with anyone who disagreed with them. Forget the fact that history doesn't support that myth and that the myth puts us in a dangerous position with all the other humans that we've got to share this world and its resources with; our new fundamentalist elites want us to cut ties with the non-believers and to be isolated, perhaps the better for God to tell them apart from the rest of us infidels on the soon-to-come Final Days.

I suspect, reading daily now about boycotts and listening to pundits on the religious and conservative mouthpieces, that we'll eventually get the government and country that the fanatics want and on that that day you'd better hope you've exercised your 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, because the faithful will probably come 'a huntin' for you, if you're not among the faithful. A new Dark Ages will arise and everything our country ORIGINALLY stood for will fall with a crash and the rest of the world will soon follow suit. But maybe the great mass of the easily-led will open their eyes to the danger when their readily-available pleasures are outlawed and made illegal by God's Army; maybe, but I wouldn't count on it, not as long as SUVs are still around for them to drive.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Survivor Guilt

Yes, I'll admit it, I'm a fan of "Survivor", much as I agree that it has lead to the "realityization" of American TV and probably to the hastening of the Apocalypse and the Second Coming of Christ, who will take out God's Righteous Wrath on all us boob-tube addicts. All it took was a season's worth of Richard Hatch, the scheming, conniving, naked gay guy (and probable future guest of one of Uncle Sammy's nicer prisons for tax evaders) to get me hooked.

I guess what I like about "Survivor" is that these are all regular folks, not celebrity nutcases chewing dialogue on talk shows, where you cannot tell if they're acting or being real. On "Survivor", you can see the good, the bad and the ugly duking it out every week, trying to keep from getting their torch extinguished during the Tribal Councils. They lie, they set up "alliances" they generally don't intend to keep and, at the last show where the "jury" gets to vent their rage and dismay at the two remaining candidates for one million semolians, the ones who aren't going to win the big bucks take their frustration out on the potential winners for NOT being honest and above-board (even though everyone of them would have gotten the same treatment if THEY were in the hot seats).

The ironic thing about "Survivor" however is that the "regular folks" who start out on the show become, at least those in the later rounds that everyone remembers, celebrities themselves. Just look at Rob and Amber, two "Survivor" alumni who've gone on to second place in the latest "Amazing Race" and whose wedding was taped for a two-hour special on CBS. They're a cute couple (albeit scheming and occasionally dismissive of "lesser" contestants in both shows), but if it wasn't for "Survivor", you'd never have given them the time of day if you passed them on the street. It doesn't take much in the US of A to become a celebrity, it seems. Hopefully, they'll all invest well.

I've got to say I enjoyed this last season of "Survivor" a bit more than some in the past, simply because there was a little bit less viciousness in the folks and a fairly nice guy, a firefighter from New York, won, beating a conniving young woman pretty convincingly. He was bossy and a bit funny the time he got drunk on native hooch one show, but he was the oldest person to win the big bucks (all of 41, a veritable spring chicken by my standards) and he wasn't the type to go backbiting when by himself in the woods with a cameraman. When he felt betrayed by his alliance buddy Ian, Tom the fireman confronted the skinny dolphin trainer and literally brow-beat the kid into giving up at the next challenge.

I doubt I'd last through the first show on "Survivor". Not because I couldn't handle the physical parts of it, since I surprise myself at my own endurance sometimes, but because I'm pretty much a loner who got very lucky in finding someone in marriage who could put up with me. I doubt that I could lash out at offending teammates who were lackluster in their challenge performance and couldn't just lie straight-faced at people that I knew were going to be voted off in a couple of hours. I'm just not ready to be a celebrity.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Thinking Ahead

I listen to a lot of "talking heads" on TV and radio, sometimes because the alternatives on other channels or stations aren't worth listening to, sometimes because it acts as a nice mental exercise. Too many of us only listen to the people we agree with instead of listening to the people whose opinions make us crazy; that's rather like swimming downstream with the current, no resistance or challenge. That's why I think it is funny when I listen to conservative-leaning shows and hear all these callers who generally agree with the talking head; all they are getting is an easy ride, moving with the current. They really should be listening to the people they supposedly disagree with so that their minds can be getting some exercise; whether you agree with the opposition or not, to make yourself think, develop arguments against the other guy's opinion or arguments in support of his position and perhaps even developing ideas the other guy never thought of, it'll make you a better person, a smarter person better able to see the other side of things and realize nothing is truly black and white except for a checkerboard.

As a people and as individuals we don't seem to be thinking ahead much anymore. American history is replete with individuals who had a great deal of courage and foresight that enabled them to look beyond the public opinion polls or the next election to do things that might not have been the most popular, but eventually created a greater benefit for the greater good. Abraham Lincoln fought what became a very unpopular war to save the Union; he could have simply let the South go, bought off on the Secessionist idea that State's Rights were paramount and let them become a seperate country. Robert E. Lee, by all accounts a brilliant officer and someone not necessarily dedicated to the preservation of slavery, chose the short-term view and, by rejecting Lincoln's proposal to head the Army of the Potomac, probably contributed to the massive death toll on both sides and extended the conflict for years. Why didn't Lee look ahead to a Republic that insured the rights of all, black and white, instead of siding with a Confederacy that sought to preserve a short-sighted brutality that would have doomed its citizens to an agrarian economy tied to a failed political ideal?

Franklin Roosevelt is an odd duck these days; he's both villified by uber-conservatives (who see him as a crazed Socialist who failed to really solve the economic problems of the Great Depression with his experimentations in Socialism and probably gave Eastern Europe away to Joe Stalin) and talked about in almost-glowing terms by others of the Big Elephant persuasion (because of his work in Social Security, to which they now wish to make substantial changes, channelling his ghost for support). The fact is that Roosevelt was a politician and a man; both had their amazing strenghts and staggering faults, but at least he looked ahead and tried something different from the stuck-in-the-mud policies of the conservatives who ran a post-WWI America to a return to "normalcy". His dreams, his experiments, are still with us today, good or bad, and they've had an undeniable impact on our society and will for decades to come.

Where are the dreamers now? Some conservatives say Ronald Reagan was one, but for all the talk about the "Reagan Revolution" what did he really do? The Revolution basically involved a mode of political communication that overly simplified the argument between Left and Right and created the modern morass we now find ourselves in, where moderates are left with nowhere to go and extremists on both ends of the spectrum take no prisoners . The result from that so-called "Revolution" is that nothing is getting done to really move us forward. Democrats can't really take the high road on this, since they had their chance to move things forward and managed to blow it as well. Lyndon Johnson made some tremendous strides in the days after Kennedy's asassination in civil rights and social programs, but then he saddled us with Vietnam, even knowing that the South Vietnamese government was corrupt and did not reflect the majority of the people. His successors in the national Democratic Party are bamboozled by their recent defeats at the hands of the Republicans, unable to see how they got their legs got cut off from under them by flashy rhetoric and faulty logic, still trying to regain the glory days of the New Dealers.

Look at our so-called "energy policy" since the infamous Arab Oil Embargo of 1973; it has simply been a reaction to high oil versus low oil prices. When oil got expensive, everyone started talking about alternatives and conservation; when it got cheap, the alternatives were (literally) pushed to the side of the road by SUVs and RVs. Think of how much progress could have been made had we not all but abandoned alternatives to oil and gas in the mid-Seventies? Instead, we are playing catch up. Who developed hybrid cars for the American market? It wasn't GM, Ford or Dodge. Solar power is still nearly an afterthought for most situations, wind power is barely making a dent anywhere and hydrogen fuel-cell research, while it did get a mention in the President's State of the Union address, has barely any Federal money behind it. Meanwhile, oil prices are going through the roof and we're still driving gas guzzlers.

A number of commentators have indicated that they think this next century will belong to China, not the United States. It's a depressing thought that our nation will probably become another England, once a great power, able to bend the world to our views and culture, but soon to become a client country of the great Asian behemoth, saying "How high?" when they say "Jump". We're the world's greatest debtor nation, spending like there is no tomorrow (and there may well not be one, the way we're going), saving little if anything of our salaries, being prodded instead by media to buy the latest, live in the biggest and newest, and to put it all on credit. Meanwhile, we spend our tax dollars liberally overseas trying to keep a relatively small number of extremists from turning our cities into mirror images of downtown Baghdad and plan on sending men to Mars when we cannot even manage to keep potholes out of our roads. Our students are encouraged to "study" Creationism and its newest offshoot, "intelligent design", ignoring or "thinking critically" about evolution. It is even more depressing because it didn't have to be this way and it doesn't have to be in the future, but because there is such a dearth of leadership and courage to stop the downward slide, I'm not sure it can be stopped. Americans still like to be told that we're the best country on earth or that we're "blessed" by God, who has some sort of master plan for us and we tend to denigrate those who try to tell us the truth (remember how Jimmy Carter was castigated for talking about the "malaise" in America during the early Eighties?).

I'm pretty sure another Great Communicator will pop up one of these days, tell us that "It is morning in America!" again and our eyes will glaze over and we'll begin to chant in unison, "I LOVE Big Brother! I LOVE Big Brother!" while everything heads downhill like a snowsled on Teflon.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


I've always loved reading the comics in the newspapers. I'm old enough to remember "Pogo" and the original writers of "Steve Canyon", "Dick Tracy" and even "Prince Valiant". While I might not have always gotten the humor or the point of subtle commentary, the artwork and effort placed into the funnies were always appreciated, especially sitting around the breakfast table in the mornings with my father, as he ate his usual two fried eggs, bacon and toast, before going to the Pontiac garage. We actually subscribed to two newspapers, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and the Tampa Tribune, so I got to see a pretty wide variety of comics (now, I couldn't begin to tell you why an auto mechanic's family on one income bothered to subscribe to two different newspapers, but we did).

However, I've noticed over the last few years a disturbing trend has cropped up on the comics page with the rise of the "comic strip with a message". I suppose that comics have had political leanings for years, going all the way back to the Hearst "Yellow Journalism" days; even "Pogo" with its "We have met the enemy and he is us" back in the Vietnam war years can probably take some blame, but it has gotten much worse since "B.C." turned ultra-religious in tone and the introduction of "Mallard Fillmore" as a supposed balance to the left-wing tone of "Doonesbury". Yeah, "Doonesbury" has had a particularly political tone to it for years (remember the infamous "Reagan's Brain" series?) but at least it has gone after sacred cows on both sides, as well as satirizing other aspects of our society and been pretty funny in the long term. "B.C." started out as relatively funny, but after its main writer got religon sometime in the 1980s, it has gone downhill fast. A couple of characters show up from time to time, a strange looking Indian and a guy who looks vaguely Italian, and they usually are spouting off something about the Creator and Jesus. You can count on "B.C." to have heavy religious propaganda during the Christmas season and during Easter. I realize that the evangelized among us probably enjoy it to some extent, but frankly, it's boring and heavy-handed.

But compared to "Mallard Fillmore", "B.C." is high art. "Mallard Fillmore" is the creation of a guy named Bruce Tinsley (I've got Tinsleys on my father's side of the family and it terrifies me to no end to think I might actually be related to him), who apparently got tired of the left-wing views of most comic-strip characters and felt compelled to draw his own right-wing polemic-spouting alter-ego of a duck who works at a Washington D.C. TV station as a reporter. Our local newspaper decided to start running the strip, I suppose, as a counter-weight to "Doonesbury", but all it has done is establish beyond all doubt that Tinsley is a Johnnie-One-Note, whose daily whine about all things "liberal" is tiring to the extreme. I can only imagine who actually reads "Mallard Fillmore" and laughs (and not from the stupidity and shallowness of the writing); it is probably the same folks who buy Ann Coulter's books and Bill O'Reilly's "O'Reilly Factor for Kids!" (after the telephone sex scandal, I can only shudder at that one!) and who call up our local newspaper's "Zinger" anonymous insult/commentary column and recite the right-wing Big Elephant line off of the GOP website verbatim.

Tinsley's approach to humor (and I use that word advisedly) is to say that all "liberals" (and I think he means anyone who is to the left of Ghengis Khan and Vice-President Cheney) believe in spending tax dollars without any limit, getting the government into tremendous debt and overlooking all sorts of wrongdoing in moral matters. Well shoot, that sounds like the modern Republican Party to me, once you look at the current budget deficits, spending on all sorts of foreign adventurism and the Tom DeLay business. However, as I pointed out in my earlier blog about fanatics, Tinsley and his ilk have begun to think that THEY are the majority and that their narrow-minded ideas and goals are what everyone else with any sense must believe. I'd much prefer "Mallard Fillmore" to be on the editorial page, if it has to be in our local mullet-wrapper at all. It's about as funny as reading a George Will column anyway.

And what is it with rerunning "Peanuts" ad infinitum? Yeah, it was interesting in its day, but "Peanuts", run apparently as a constant memorial to George Schultz, is right up there these days with "Family Circus", "Dennis the Menace" and "Andy Capp" in terms of interest. Take my word for it, they ain't Shakespeare. "Zits", "Get Fuzzy" and "9 Chickweed Lane", which I generally get from the Internet these days, are much more creative, much funnier and entertaining than poor old Charlie Brown, even in his best days after being rerun to death. I wish that more comic strips would follow the example of "Bloom County" and "Calvin and Hobbes": When you run out of ideas, kill the strip, don't keep it around, recycling ideas over and over like "Garfield" until some Hollywood producer decides that it is time to make a movie out of it with Kenneth Branaugh playing the lead. Wouldn't that be something, some day, to see maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger playing "Mallard Fillmore--The Movie"? THAT will be the sign of the Apocalypse, the end of humanity and civilization as we know it.