Thursday, April 19, 2007

Politics - but first, some ground rules

It is my hope - provided of course this little corner of the Internet gets viewed by more people than my immediate family - that there will be discussions about politics.

Of course, any opinion is welcome here. The last thing I want is a forum for only the like-minded. Though satisfying from one perspective, it's lacking in several others, including the romantic, sadly anachronistic image of two strangers at a publick house engaged in a lively debate about the state of the world over a bottle of house wine with a complete absence of rancor or invective.

Impossible, you say? Naive and idealistic, you mutter? Maybe. But it's my blog, and I get to lay the rules down:

  1. If you don't like the man or his politics, at least respect the office. He's not "Dubya" or "Slick Willie," he's President Bush or President Clinton respectively. Feel free to poop all over actions and decisions, but remember that we're speaking of offices of honor.
  2. Arguments will be supported by facts here. When someone suggests, for example, that the War in Iraq is, oh, just hypothetically speaking here, a complete clusterfuck, a boondoggle, a sop towards Big Oil and Big Engineering, and a tragic drain on human life, a good response would be an attempt to refute those points - NOT an attack on that person's patriotism. Likewise, a reasoned justification for the war is no excuse to call someone a warmonger or worse.
  3. We like curse words here (see clusterfuck, above). Curses are like red pepper flakes - it would be a tragedy indeed if they were completely missing from the palate of discourse, but too much just makes things distasteful and inedible. So, in that spirit: Shit.
  4. I reserve the right to make more rules.

So let's kick things off by giving you a flavor of my political views: I arch fairly far to the left of center, but have some decidedly right-wing views that indeed fall so far right as to be better described as Libertarian.

For example: I'm a flat tax guy. Lookit: I do my own taxes with the help of a tax program - you know the one I'm talking about. The big one. In addition to all the forms and other related nonsense it generates, it also gives me a sort of recap sheet before anything else prints out. And it has told me for the last fifteen years of my professional life, where my income has ranged from $18,000 a year to (thankfully) several times that, my actual tax paid after all the hoo-ha stands right around 19%. That's a good number, as far as I'm concerned. Add it all up, subtract whatever dollar amount equals poverty, and tax the rest on a flat percentage basis. The IRS - a government employer of 100,000 people - becomes a shell of its former self. Government revenue skyrockets. James L. Payne, author of the book Costly Returns: The Burden of the US Tax System, posits that for every dollar of tax the government collects, the taxpayer actually needs to pay $1.65, due to the costs of complying with a labyrinthine tax code and the cost of supporting the IRS itself. We can do better.

For another example: I believe that the Government exists solely for the succour of its citizens, and should only be used for that purpose. Any government that passes a law restricting the rights of its citizens (such as the Defense of Marriage Act) is an act of abhorrence. There's no justifiable excuse, no matter of public interest to defend here. That's not what Government does - or is supposed to do. This is America, god dammit. If a couple of gay guys or girls wish to know the exquisite misery that is married life, I say let 'em. It doesn't pick my pocket and despite the rhetoric of the Christian right, homosexuality is NOT like cooties: you can't catch gay. If you believe it's against God's law because the Bible says so, I better not catch you digging up your entire garden (Leviticus 19:9), wearing an article of clothing made of a wool-linen blend (Lev. 19:19), or heaven forbid eating a medium-rare steak (Lev. 19:26). If you're going to wave the Bible at me, you better live your life according to ALL its tenets, not just the ones that make you oogy when you think about 'em.

Last example for now: I think most drugs which are currently illegal should be legalized and have the everloving CRAP taxed out of them. It's not politically expedient to legalize, say, pot, now or ever. I know this. But I also know this: interdiction DOES NOT WORK. It has never worked. It will never work. Period. It just fills the prisons with people who aren't criminals and provides the occassional photo-op for an overeager DA trying to make a name for himself. I have no problem with the commercials exhorting people to tell their kids about drugs, or the ones that speak to kids themselves about not starting - besides the fact that they're stupid and ineffective. GOD, that pisses me off - like everything you see on TV, those commercials condescend to kids and give them no credit for having a brain. Do you really think that a kid will look at an egg frying in a cast-iron skillet and REALLY think it's his brain on drugs? Come now.

Anyway, like I said at the top of this little missive, I welcome all viewpoints here. Want to defend the Defense of Marriage Act? Step right up, there, manly man, and make your argument - and thanks for visiting.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Of Swastikas and Nappy Hair

My little swastika
My little swastika
You can do what you want
But I'm taking it back
It's not yours anymore
It's mine now
Well, I got me a white one to give to my bride
I got me a black one that my uncle dyed
Green means football, that's the Notre Dame sign
I got me a pink one: gay pride

-Dan Bern, My Little Swastika

Who is this miscreant, this spreader of hate, this Dan Bern? Is he a Nazi? a Skinhead? A Klansman?

Nope. He's a Jew, and he's got a good point.

Bern, all the rage among the folky-singer-songwriter set (and a good time in concert), argues that the only reason the swastika stands as such a pervasive symbol of hate and intolerance -- indeed, of evil -- is because we as a society are still letting it be so. In his song he makes the point that the Chinese used the swastika for 3000 years and it no more meant evil to them then the checkmark sign does to us today. But in twelve years of usage, Nazi Germany has seemingly erased a civilization's benign use of a random symbol.

Hey: It's been a long time since Nazi Germany has influenced anything. Bern is right. It's time to stop viewing symbols as personifications of the boogeymen who used them. I know it's difficult to conceive of now - but it could happen. Symbols are only powerful if we give them power.

Which brings me to the recent brouhaha regarding Don Imus and his apparently unforgivable statement about the Rutgers basketball team.

Let me start off by saying this: I DESPISE Don Imus. He's irrelevant, unfunny, mushmouthed, and I think that that kid thing on his ranch that he does is more self-serving than philanthropic by orders of magnitude.

But people, people, lord amighty - back off the guy! He's a radio guy. He gets paid to make people laugh, and that means, usually, making fun of people. Listen to Howard. Listen to Opie and Anthony. Listen to any of them, and you'll hear them say things EVERY DAY that are more insulting to more people than what Imus said about the girls from Rutgers. Why they chose to fixate on this one remark out of thousands made by all the shock jocks, all the morning Zoo chucklefests on every goddamn radio station in every goddamn market in the US is beyond me.

Now, people have made the argument that all this ridiculous kerfuffle serves as a beard to shield Revs. Sharpton and Jackson from the embarassment of the complete and total vindication of the Duke lacrosse team - heaven forbid they should ever admit to backing the wrong horse - but it doesn't matter. Obviously this issue resonated with a lot of people, and notwithstanding the motive behind making a big deal of it, it's certainly a big deal.

My point is this: Why are we allowing words to hold so much power over us? Idiots will always be idiots. Those who hate and hurt will always do so. It's not the words they use. It's what they think, and the ideas they articulate. Here, check this out:

Nappy-haired ho.

See? It's not the words. It's the idea behind it. Without a malevolent spirit behind a word (or in this case, without any spirit behind them whatsoever), it's just a word, devoid of emotion.

Words have power because we give them power. Words will immediately cease to have power the microsecond we stop giving it to them.

Let's all take back the swastika.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Sox Lose on Opening Day: Panic in Streets of Hub

Blockbuster news coming out of Kansas City: The Red Sox are now mathematically eliminated from going 162-0.

Armed as they were with such a compelling story, talk radio yesterday popped and sizzled with a blow-by-blow analysis of the Red Sox’ epic collapse. Schilling showed a shocking lack of control; Pedroia and Youkilis got overaggressive on the basepaths and got gunned down at second by ten feet each; Sox bats stayed silent thanks to the presumptive Cy Young winner, Gil Meche. And as an extra added bonus, we had an entire off-day to discuss the same three-hour game over and over and over again.

Please, people: Can we all take a breath here? I hate to utter a Boston blasphemy, but it’s just one lousy game. There are many more to play before I have to start my “wait ‘till next year” piece.

Yesterday morning, some poor sap called in to the morning yakfest here in Boston and actually tried to articulate this very point – that maybe, just maybe, the talking heads of talk radio, blissfully free of context or long view, were overanalyzing the bejeebers out of this one single game.

He was, quite literally, shouted down and off the air, and ridiculed in absentia for some time thereafter. I’d love to say I was surprised in addition to being disappointed, but I wasn’t.

I admit, though, that I was a little surprised that the very piece you're currently reading was rejected by the site for whom I write, BostonDirtDogs, because they actually like the idea of fomenting panic in the hearts of the Faithful, and apparently wouldn't dream of publishing anything that resembled the voice of Reason, however still and small that voice might be today. Hey - it's their gig, and I admit that beyond contributing, I enjoy reading the site, so maybe they have something there.

But come on. It’s a long season. We need to keep perspective or we’re going to lose our collective minds. Few people likely remember Opening Day 2004, when the Sox, fresh off their Aaron Boone hangover, got shelled 7-2 at Baltimore. The Sox’ erstwhile ace, Pedro someone or other, gave up a three-spot in the early going and the game was never close. We remember what happened from there, don’t we?

Yes: a win is better than a loss. Fully admitted. Any Red Sox fan would have preferred to start the season with a win, but half the league loses on Opening Day. It’s going to happen; best thing to do is hitch up your trousers and hunker down for a long season.

I don’t know if the Red Sox are going to go all the way this year. I can’t even state with anything like certainty that they’ll make the postseason. But I can tell you this: the measure of a team is not winning in April; it’s winning in October. Let’s withhold judgment on the 2007 Red Sox until some time after game 1.