Wednesday, October 23, 2013

An Act?

In the world of entertainment, a longstanding tactic for getting the audience on your side is to not appear to be very smart. I can't say where or when it started, but Shakespeare used it in certain stress-relieving scenes in his tragedies. In our day, Jerry Seinfeld played the dumb-guy-trying-to-seem-smart role to perfection, and today's cable schedule is jammed with characters who make a good living appearing to be dumb. Larry the Cable Guy, The Duck Dynasty folks, and other neo- fools doing things like repo-ing cars, shooting gators, hunting razorbacks, or digging for gold all appear dumb as dirt every week when we tune them in.
And, yes, there seems to be less and less separating political figures from other celebrity genres. Reagan didn't become California governor based on his leadership of the Screen Actors Guild, and the list goes on and on. I'm not even saying these folks were bad public servants. I am saying that, in certain times and places, Larry the Cable Guy has a better chance of being elected than the local Nobel Laureate who bagged the prize for his stunning economic analysis. The tactic didn't quite work for George Wallace (though he did win electoral votes in deep Southern states in 1968), nor for Herman Cain, who's probably no less brilliant than the average pizza company CEO. In a crowded field, someone is likely to play the "dumb, but lovable" card.
That brings us to Ted Cruz. It's hard to remember someone becoming so well known so quickly while appearing to make so many enemies, even within his own party. People who have known him professionally more than a short time all say the man is darn smart. I believe that, because, unlike stupidity, smart is something you can't fake, at least not in the long term. And, truthfully, Cruz' public persona isn't so much "I'm just a dumb old boy.". It's more like "I'm like Jimmy Stewart in that movie. I know those other guys here are crooks, and I don't care what they think of me. If YOU think they're crooks, too, then join me! You don't know it yet, but I'm running for president. I'm against anything ever endorsed by Barack Obama, and I know you are too, whereas these GOP squishes and RINOs around here only pretend to hate him. What am I for? Who cares! I'm just saying join me, or someone will be taking your gun and throwing you in jail if you try saying something nasty about Hillary. And I'll tell you why my brilliant plan for shutting down the government didn't work. My own party turned out to be gutless wimps! All you non-wimps, join me!"
The message looks like a long shot for carrying Senator C. to the White House, but, hey, doesn't everyone start as a long shot?  No, I don't like the guy either, but I think I see a little method to his madness. And it's not as though the GOP is crawling with presidential types these days. Cruz might be smart enough to fool part of the people all of the time.      

Monday, October 07, 2013

Taking (Small) Stands

I'm writing this from the Bay Area, on our way tomorrow to attend Marla's wedding at the end of the week. We're hoping the Iowa fall weather doesn't present  problems.
I'm generally not inclined to write much about anything I've done. As with everyone, I have good characteristics and others that aren't so good. A few things have popped up lately, though, that can make for decent stories, if not an entire lesson.
I started going to my barber a couple of years ago when he took over the one-chair spot of Bonnie, whose age and health caught up to her. Ted, the current guy. does a decent job with hair, but his opinions can be a little jarring. The last time I went, a couple of guys showed up and took seats, waiting for him to finish with me. Next thing I know he was commenting oddly on things like Treyvon Martin, the late first victim of George Zimmerman. The thesis of his little rant seemed to be "Oh, us poor white guys. We can never catch a break because of all those creeps in Washington."
I wasn't completely surprised to hear this kind of stuff, but folks here are more moderate than most places, and I had heard his former gripes on behalf of working people, which I had no problems with.  Anyway, I stayed in the chair, made a little face and resolved the same day to start looking for a new barber. I doubt Ted will ever miss me, but I think I'd feel better about going somewhere else, because I have one black friend, and hope to have more.

At Toastmaster meetings, people can speak on pretty much any subject, though loudly proclaiming one's own beliefs may not be in good taste unless you're willing to hear someone else's convictions when it's their turn. So our club doesn't have much of that
Even so, I thought of a way to make a moral point. I was illustrating how speakers who produce the best  quote sound smarter. I then proceeded to recite the words of a Mormon hymn. The message (seven verses in all) was Christian, but not really doctrinaire in its message. I'm not ashamed to say I enjoyed doing it. I fouled up a bit at one point, but finished OK. None of the members' written comments expressed any discomfort. Whew!

One of the tennis players around here is a fellow named Phil. It's strange to me that Phil never seems to actually enjoy himself when playing. If he makes an error (which we all do), he unfailingly follows it with a string of  "Oh, s---". His comments have been known to involve deity as well, though he is not alone in that practice.
I don't like hearing this, and I'm aware that a playground sits just on the other side of a chain link fence from our sorry little pair of courts. A couple of weeks ago I reassured Phil in a kind of sarcastic way that there were no children in the park, so he was free to emote any way he wished, even though the presence of children had never hampered him before. This annoyed Phil a little and he made a remark poking fun at my view of God. I felt obliged to reply, and did. We never approached any violence, and no doubt I'll be playing with or against him again. Is he likely to rethink his language choices in the face of this tiny confrontation? I doubt it. On the other hand, how can you measure what isn't said?  

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Lights Out, Doors Locked

I guess most people don't care to read stuff that's unrelentingly negative, and with that in mind, here's a one-question test, fill-in-the-blank format. I heard a commentator the other night say that if Shakespeare were around today he's be writing plays about ____________. I'll give one small clue. The commentator was British. Answer later.

Today, however, we are doomed to look at the government shutdown, just hours old at this point. It may not go for weeks or months, as the sequester spending restrictions have, but government offices of all kinds are now shuffling papers while preparing to turn off the lights and lock the doors until things are resolved and the thousand-headed creature we built to serve our needs goes back into action.
The cynical among us (and this is now possibly a numerical majority) will say, in an effort at bipartisan disgust, "They're all bums and crooks. Throw 'em ALL out, I say."
Not me. I don't want to be a cynical old crab pretending to have the inside scoop on everything. I want to fix blame where it belongs, and that, my friends, is on the Republican House members, specifically those elected in the last two - four years. Yes, I'm talking about the tea party crowd, now about a third of all GOP members of the House.
The Republican regulars welcomed these newcomers into the House, where they took charge as a party, but not in fact. What's easy to forget is that these white, southern mostly male group may not know a great deal about healthcare or government finance or how the national debt works, but they sure do know how they got elected, and whose money made it possible. The redistricting which took place made dozens of little GOP fiefdoms in which the incumbent's only worry is: Will some guy even farther to the political right challenge me in the next primary?
It's not an exaggeration to call this group what they, in fact, are. Not doubters or cynics or even partisans. They are haters, and there is no one they hate more than President Obama. Put the term "healthcare" in front of them and they're already suspicious, but if you give it a name - "Obamacare", you have a howling lynch mob. Once you've called the president a "Sharia-supporting socialist and tyrant/ baby killer, there's just no way to back to Shreveport or McAllen and talk about working on a "compromise".
This group is uncontrollable in the House, and view the people who are their nominal leaders as "squishes" and "sellouts". Their orders are more likely to come from the NRA or Exxon Mobil than Speaker Boehner, a fact he has discovered, and capitulated to. The wonder isn't that the tea party crowd won't follow the Speaker, but that he doesn't look over his shoulder and see a bloody knife handle sticking out.
Of course, I could be exaggerating just to be entertaining. Perhaps a few days of no compromise will humble the GOP enough to drag themselves back into acting like a functioning part of the Constitution. But when they do, we will have a new healthcare system and we will manage to do what Reagan did eighteen times - raise the national debt ceiling, the alternative of which is even scarier than closing the road to Yellowstone National Park.         

Now, back to the teaser question. The commentator filled the blank with "the British Premier League", the world's most-watched soccer organization. I'm pretty sure I am going to watch more BPL this season, perhaps even enough to know something about it.