How not to root for a Mormon, when you are one

My grandfather was a Norwegian, a steelworker, a union man, and a life-long Democrat.  As such, he believed that Walter Mondale was the finest man ever to run for national political office.  Of course, a lot of that had to do with Mondale’s strong support for unions, but a lot of it was Mondale’s Norwegian ancestry.  Mondale’s grandparents were from Sogndal; they moved to Minnesota in the mid-nineteenth century.  That was close enough for my grandfather; he loved the guy.  He walked on clouds for most of the ’84 election; well, all except for the result part.

I thought about that last night, as Mitt Romney accepted the Republican party’s nomination for President.  A Mormon: a major party nominee.  I thought, of course, of Missouri and Governor Boggs, and Van Buren of ‘your cause is just‘ fame, and of the humiliations of the Smoot hearings.  Of the colossal unconstitutional farce that the Smoot hearings even happened.  I thought of Joseph Smith’s quixotic run for the Presidency back in 1844.  He had no chance of being elected, of course, but a platform of internal improvements, compensated emancipation for slaves, and prison reform could well have headed off the Civil War, if implemented.  I thought of the great Mo Udall, such a great mixture of ironic distance and passion, for the poor, for an end to Vietnam; still my favorite Mormon politician ever.

And I thought of Barack Obama, and what his victory meant to my African-American friends.  The idea that he could win was inspiring in ways I can hardly imagine.

A Mormon, one vote away from the Presidency, and the validation that would mean.  It’s an awesome thought.

We all have these words we use to describe ourselves, and we all feel close to people who describe themselves similarly.  I am a father, I am a baseball fan, I am a playwright, I am an American, I am a liberal.  When watching the Olympics, we find reasons to root for or against certain athletes, and of course, one major rooting interest is patriotic. As an American, I root for Americans.  As a Norwegian-American, I also root for Norwegians.  I am a Mormon, and a Mormon is now the Republican candidate for President.

But boy am I torn.

Because another word I use to describe myself is ‘liberal.’  And I go with liberal, not ‘progressive’ or ‘left-leaning moderate’ or whatever.  Ever since the Fox News commentariat started treating ‘liberal’ as a dirty word, I’m got even less interested in backing down from it.  In my ward, at Church, I’ve heard people use the word ‘liberal’ as an epithet; I call ‘em on it, and it hardly ever happens anymore.  I’m a liberal.  I’m also really into politics, really into policy; being liberal is something worth defending, I think. I’m an L-word liberal, in other words, and the more I’m attacked for it, the more tenaciously (obnoxiously) I cling to it. 

So Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee for President, and a self-described conservative.  (This week: snap!).  I think he’s a good guy–I still have very fond memories of the Salt Lake Olympic Games, and give him full credit for stepping in like he did.  I think that’s a genuine accomplishment, something to be proud of.

But I don’t want him to win.  I think the policy positions he has chosen are uniformly awful.  I think he’ll make a terrible President, if elected, not because he’s a bad person, but because he believes in policies that have no chance whatever of working.

So I’m conflicted.

I have a Dad and a brother who love Romney like my Bestefar loved Mondale.  And my Dad seemed genuinely puzzled the other day.  I have a lot of misgivings about the Obama presidency–so why wouldn’t that make me a Romney supporter?  What I did not explain carefully enough is that my difficulties with the President are precisely why I’ll never vote for Romney.  It’s not that Obama is too liberal–he’s not liberal enough.  I have reservations about Obamacare not because it’s a step towards socialized medicine–I have a problem with the fact that it’s NOT socialized medicine.  That’s what I want: a single-payer system.  Of course, it’s possible that Mitt Romney is not actually the die-hard tea party conservative he’s campaigning as.  That’s frankly the only reason to not move to Canada if he wins (as my daughter threatens to do.)  He might actually not be completely horrible.  He might even be a slightly less inept President than George W. Bush.  That’s a thin hope to cling to.

But he’s running against Barack Obama, a man who I also genuinely admire, and who holds policy positions that, though somewhat to the right of mine, are reasonable and thoughtful and likely to work, somewhat, at least.

I want to warn people against Romney, warn them against the perils our country faces if he wins.  But I have to do it without warning them against a man I admire, a kind of man I also sort of am.  The approach has to be: “Don’t vote against the Mormon! Do! Not!  Uh, for policy reasons, mind.  He’s actually a really good guy.  But don’t vote for him!  Oh, and I’m a Mormon too, as it happens. . . So. . . .”

What do you know about the Church and would you like to know more?”     

The New Normal

Every fall, the TV networks announce their new fall ‘season.’  TV’s calendar has traditionally followed the school calendar–summer ends when school starts in the fall, at which point, presumably, folks have more time in the evenings to watch TV.  Plus, they’re building audience for October sweeps (the Nielsen ratings in October that determine advertising rates).  So there are all these news shows in late September, and ads for those shows starting in August.

A few years ago, I taught a class on sit-coms, which meant watching every new sit-com one fall.  Since that time, I’ve gotten in the habit of trying to watch at least one episode of every new show (except for reality shows, ’cause life’s too short).  My wife has put up with the fall new show blitz for years, and is tired of it, so we’ll pull back this year, only watch some of them.  One we will not be watching is The New Normal, on NBC.  KSL, the NBC affiliate in Salt Lake owned by the Church (my church, Mormon), won’t be showing it.

The premise of The New Normal is something like this: a gay couple in LA decides to adopt.  A single Mom from the midwest agrees to be their surrogate.  Her conservative grandmother rounds out the cast.

It’s from the makers of Glee, I’m informed by the ads for the show.  Well, I like Glee a lot, because I like music a lot, and I like the idea of a musical TV show.  (Anyone else remember Cop Rock?  Check this out!)  And the singer/actors on Glee are all really good, and the musical sequences are often very clever and fun.  And the show’s terrifically gay friendly, which I also like.  Kurt, a gay kid who’s one of the show’s central characters, is exceptionally well acted by a kid named Chris Colfer, who has the most beautiful singing voice.  And his father is a mechanic, and a very blue-collar guy, who nonetheless is completely supportive of his son, and their relationship is really lovely.  It’s the best thing on the show, honestly.  The writing on the show is also massively preachy and irritating and cliched and bears the same resemblance to actual life in an actual high school as The Village People bear to actual construction workers, police officers and Indians.  So Glee’s a mixed bag.  Boy, is it ever.  But it’s worth watching, because of stuff like this.  And this.  And this

So The New Normal is going to be a gay-friendly TV show by some of the same people who write Glee.  Which might mean what’s bad about Glee (the writing), and not what’s great about Glee (the music.)  Which might mean kind of a bad show, honestly.  I love that Glee‘s gay-friendly.  I think that’s awesome. It’s also not all that ground-breaking. Uh,Will and Grace

Which is why, although this is the kind of thing about which I suppose I ought to have an opinion, either outraged or supportive, in fact, I don’t.  KSL’s statement defending their decision was pretty weasel-y: “dialogue might be excessively rude and crude. The scenes may be too explicit or the characterizations might seem offensive… For our brand, this program feels inappropriate on several dimensions, especially during family viewing time.”  Might be?  Didn’t they at least preview the pilot?

But rude and crude dialogue?  Uh, have you seen an episode of Whitney?  Also on NBC? Sexually explicit, and aggressively, unwatchably un-funny Whitney?  This fall, NBC’s got a sitcom during family hour called Animal Practice, about the sexual hi-jinks of veterinarians; that’s okay? And they’re both on during ‘family viewing time.’  

Ah, ‘family viewing time,’ that supposedly sacrosanct hour from 7-8 (first hour of prime time) when TV’s supposed to show some discretion and at least marginally better taste; well, the New Normal‘s on after that.  When you think of the irredeemable rubbish available on TV, cable and networks, during that hour, it seems a little preposterous to insist that networks follow it.  And, of course, they don’t.  Also, count how many police procedurals are on during ‘family viewing time.’  Shows that basically live for rape and murder and serial killers.  Of course, on those shows rapists and murderers and serial killers all get caught and sent to jail, but with lots of graphic bad stuff shown along the way.  So how is that ‘family viewing’? 

Look, to state what’s obvious, KSL overreacted to a show that suggests that loving and committed gay couples represent some kind of ‘new normal,’ even though they actually obviously do. I think the show promotes gay marriage and I think the Church owns KSL.

I was talking to a friend the other day, a great guy, LDS like me.  And he said that he opposed gay marriage.  I know this friend’s brother, who is gay, and I asked this: “if your brother were to come to you and say, ‘I’ve met the man of my dreams, we’re flying to New York and getting married,’ what would you say?’”  And my friend said, “I’d be so happy for him.  That would be awesome.”  And he would, and he’d come to the wedding, and he’d give the new couple a crock pot or a small appliance or something. It’s possible to oppose gay marriage in the abstract, as a political issue, but also support your gay friends.  In fact, isn’t that what most people, on either side of the political spectrum, do?

I’m on record as supporting gay marriage politically.  I’m also on record as opposing bad television shows.  I have no idea where that places me in regards to The New Normal.  Quite possibly, the show may be so dreadful that this entire kerfluffle will have been forgotten in six months.  If it turns out to be good, I’ll catch it on Hulu.  Or maybe even NBC.com.  KSL’s decision won’t affect anyone who really wants to watch it.  Meanwhile, older viewers, who maybe don’t know how to access Hulu, won’t have to be troubled by it.  And that’s all this is about.  

What not to wear

Reality bites.  As an actress niece of mine likes to point out, every time a reality TV show airs, it means money out of the pockets of hard-working actors.  They could fill that time slot with another scripted drama–they could create Art.  Instead, we see ‘reality.’  One could even make the case that Reality TV is ontologically disorienting, phenomenologically warped; it’s not about what’s real, but what’s ‘real’, it constructs a post-modern ‘reality,’ a carefully scripted, carefully edited selection of scenes that were staged and filmed and crafted and honed and polished and probably even rehearsed, mostly in an effort to make shallow, petty people appear shallower and pettier.  It’s Jersey Shore, it’s American Gypsies, it’s Swamp People, it’s The Real Housewives of Wherever.  It’s the Kardashianization of American society.  It’s the End, the Apocalypse, Ancient Rome, The End of Western Civilization.  Or something.

And then there’s Clinton and Stacy.

I love What Not To Wear.  

I have spent my life in the theatre; studying it, teaching it, directing plays, writing them, even, on occasion, acting.  Costumes matter.  It’s amazing what a good costume designer can do, the way costumes can enhance, or maybe even help create a character.  We are what we wear, and studying that, both historically and contemporaneously, provides a marvelous insight into human culture, human psychology. 

Liking costume design doesn’t mean I can actually do it.  I know just enough so, when I’m directing, I can sort of nod knowledgeably when my designer takes me on my first rack walk.  “Hmm, yes,” I opine sagely. “Yes, that’ll work nicely.  Well done.”  My great friend Janet Swenson (a costume designer of rare and extraordinary talent) knew me well enough to see right through me, which is not to say we didn’t have our disagreements when working together.  But we always wanted the same thing.  We wanted the clothes to reflect the characters. 

I also can’t do it in real life.  I would be perfectly capable of dressing like a hobo all the time.  In fact, I only dress like a hobo part of the time, when my wife isn’t there to say things like “you’re not seriously going out in public dressed like that, are you?”  The homeless bum look works for me.  It’s not that I value comfort over fashion, I value comfort over everything

In case you’re hopelessly in dark right now, What Not to Wear is a reality TV show; it’s on TLC.  It stars Clinton Kelly and Stacy London.  The idea of the show is: ordinary people who go around dressed badly get nominated (turned in, really) by their friends. It’s like a fashion intervention.  Clinton and Stacy film them surreptitiously for a couple of weeks, commenting all the while on their terrible taste, then confront them.  The target folks then get fashion advice from Clinton and Stacy, and a credit card with five grand, which they can use for a New York shopping spree.  They get a hair and make-up makeover, and then they get to show off their new look for the friends who recommended them in the first place.

Here’s why I love the show: Clinton and Stacy are incredibly good at this.  The people on the show are not fashion models.  They’re very average looking people; sometimes, quite unattractive people.  But Clinton and Stacy never put them down (they tease them good-naturedly in the early going, but it’s very light-hearted).  Instead, they’ll say things like “you’re short, but you have lovely eyes, and you’re a little small-busted.  So a good look for you would be. . . .”  And it’s amazing–these people (almost always women) look terrific after their make-over.  They really do; they look way better; not just more attractive, but more confident, more self-assured.

And that’s what’s really wonderful.  These women, they’ll admit they dressed badly not just because they didn’t know how to dress well, but also because they were insecure, they didn’t want to be noticed, they wanted to blend into the background, they didn’t feel good enough about themselves to make the time and effort to dress well.  Clinton and Stacy build their confidence.  They take very average looking women and they say ‘you’re actually really beautiful; if you wear different colors or different styles or wear your hair differently, your unique, personal beauty will have a chance to shine.’  

Clinton’s especially good at this.  He just comes across like this great friend, warm and sympathetic and kind.  He and Stacy have a great rapport–they seem to like each other, and like the people they work with.  Clinton’s gay–I only know that because I happened upon a magazine in the doctor’s office where he talked about marrying his partner in New York–but it’s not Queer Eye or something–his orientation isn’t front and center on the show.  Instead, his expertise is the focus.

I love people who are good at their jobs.  We have a mechanic we’ve been taking our car to for twenty years now, because he’s just amazing.  We have a guy who mows our lawn who’s like the best lawn-mower ever.  I admire competence.  And there’s a sub-genre of reality TV shows that feature that, people who are really really good at something, like Mythbusters, or Cake Wars, or Antiques Roadshow.   I think shows like that promote expertise, promote excellence.  I think it’s good to be good at stuff.  Nobody’s better than Clinton and Stacy.    

Politics and the Structure of Melodrama

Checking the network TV listings, the Republican National Convention is what’s on this week.  I won’t be watching.

I don’t watch informercials.

But I especially don’t want to watch this year.  I have insisted from the beginning that this election is between two decent, honorable and competent men who happen to disagree about policy.  You’d never believe it from watching the campaign unfold.  It’s gotten uglier and uglier and nastier and nastier, with no end in sight. 

Both parties clearly feel that there’s a political advantage to be gained by going negative.  Back in 2000, David Foster Wallace wrote what I still consider one of the most thoughtful and brilliant essays on contemporary politics: “Up Simba!”  Both parties have a solid bloc of voters who will vote for them no matter what.  It’s in both parties’ interest to make the process so awful that it turns off thoughtful, non-partisan folks, who might otherwise prefer an honest discussion of the issues.  And so what could be a reasonable national conversation about our problems and how to solve them, becomes melodrama.  Bad guys, good guys.  Invented narratives suggesting moral turpitude. On both sides.

Melodrama’s a product of the nineteenth century.  The Industrial Revolution crowded farmers into cities, created massive transportation and communication networks, and created the need for popular entertainments for working class audiences.  Melodrama combined comedy and tragedy, action and adventure, fantasy and romance.  The stories were uniformly of heroes, villains, heroines and comic side-kicks, with lots of physical comedy and action sequences, all pumped up with musical underscoring.  It was a diversion, fun and exciting.  Folks ate it up.  You got involved in the action, too.  You booed the villain, cheered the hero.  I remember when I saw Star Wars the first time, first movie I saw after my mission; Darth Vader made his first entrance, and we booed.  Fun stuff. 

Theatre history textbooks say melodrama died out around 1915.  Poppycock.  Melodrama didn’t die out, it moved to another medium.  D. W. Griffith is the seminal figure here, a guy who figured out that film could do everything the stage could do, only more excitingly and much much more cheaply.  Instead of traveling by train, town to town, lugging with you all the stage machinery necessary to put a fake train on-stage so you could tie a girl to the railroad tracks, to be rescued at the very last minute, you could film that sequence with a real train, and open in every town in the country on the same day. 

And especially in American melodrama, two villains were particularly popular.  One was the avaricious banker, the moneybags financier, who foreclosed on the family farm or rented you an unlivable tenement apartment. The greedy, smooth-faced (or moustache-twirling) rich guy.  Boo!  Hiss!

Or, the frightening foreigner, the anarchist, the swarthy mysterious stranger in our midst, somehow not really us, not really a true-blue American.  Smooth-talking stranger, quietly insidious, as he undermined The Family and The American Dream.  Jews were particularly popular villains in this vein, but also folks from other ethnicities; gypsies, Eastern Europeans, orientals. 

And so Democrats construct Mitt Romney as the avaricious capitalist.  In one popular narrative, he (and his cronies at Bain Capital–could you imagine a better name for them: Bain=Bane) fired a guy, costing him his health insurance, and his wife died as a result.  Perfect!  He foreclosed on the family farm, and Ma died of a broken heart.  We know that story; it’s in our genes, practically. That’s why all the pressure from the left to get him to release his tax returns–we know he’s rich, we want to know how rich, and how much he’s paid in taxes.  Very, and not much, is our guess.  So one of his main calling cards, his success in business, gets used against him.  

And Republicans construct Obama (it’s never Barack Obama, or President Obama) as the anarchist foreigner, the untrustworthy Other.  They can’t really construct him as the nineteenth century Negro, either as the grinning Steppin Fetchit fool, or the wise old Uncle Tom accommodationist.  They know better than to employ racism that baldly, plus, of course, Obama is stylistically so . . . reasonable, so cool, so unflustered. There’s not really a Negro stereotype that fits him.  That’s why they’ve been so busy painting him as a Man of Mystery.  The birther nonsense plays into that.  And that’s why the Right wants his school records.  That’s why you’ll hear ridiculous garbage about his college years: how he doesn’t seem to have had friends, and how all his classes were from Marxist radicals.  They’re trying to paint this pro-business moderate as some kind of communist.  Or Moslem.  His middle name, after all, is Hussein. 

It’s hard to sort through all the nonsense and get to the actual issues.  One game both sides play, for example, is to find some foolish thing someone in either party has said, and use it to suggest that this is the kind of thing Those People actually believe.  We’re human beings, we all say dumb things from time to time.  But if you can make hay of it, make it seem like the other party consists of people who aren’t just folks you disagree with, but monsters . . .  anything to win, right? 

‘Course, something else can happen too.  Something as dangerous and potentially catastrophic as the Paul Ryan budget plan starts to look, well, substantive, a triumph of Policy over public relations.  That’s what’s really scary–when extremism gets a free pass. There actually are policy issues in this campaign of genuine importance, and while I’m endlessly willing to look at ideas from any source, some ideas really are bad ones.  If that makes me look partisan, so be it–there are good ideas and less good ideas and also some real stinkers.  We should acknowledge that as well.   

Best way to deal with it all, though, is to look, whenever possible, for the funny.  Really, there’s nowhere on earth where human petty vanity and foolishness and pride and ambition are so painfully exposed.  The predominant dramatic structure for politics has become melodrama.  But really, as every great writer from Aristophanes to Mark Twain has known, it’s the richest possible field for comedy.  Jon Stewart for President, and let’s tune out the nonsense. 

Casa de mi Padre

When I saw Will Farrell on Jon Stewart, promoting his new film, Casa de mi Padre, I knew I had to see it.  The clip they showed wasn’t so much hilarious as deeply weird, and I’m all about deeply weird.  Will Farrell in a homage/spoof of telenovellas, in a role in which he speaks entirely Spanish.  A language, by the way, which Will Farrell does not speak. It looked like the kind of odd-ball vanity project maybe ten people would see, but it also looked so strange, how could I resist?  So last night my wife and I, thanks to our Netflix fairy godmothers, watched it.

What can I say?  It was one of those movies that we both liked, but it was one of those where I kept laughing out loud and she’d say ‘what?  I don’t get it.’  And then I’d rerun it, and she’d laugh and I’d laugh more the second time. A lot of the jokes were in the backgrounds of shots, a lot of them involved continuity errors (turns out, my wife’s better at spotting those than I am).  Plus it had Will Farrell, speaking Spanish.

The homage/spoof is a genre I’ve grown to love, especially the ones remaking a kind of movie nobody makes for real anymore, the grindhouse/drive-in movie movie.  When I was in high school, me and my friends would crowd into my car and head over to the Starlite drive-in on a Friday night and we’d watch these terrible old American International/Roger Corman films.  Bad sci-fi, bad car chase movies, blaxploitation films (unaccountably popular in white-bread Indiana), and occasionally, bad Westerns.  For my birthday a few years ago, a good friend gave me DVD’s of a double-feature he and I remembered fondly, a particularly awful drive-in double date double feature.  Hitchhike to Hell, and Kidnapped Coed.  My son and I watched the DVD together, and my son, who I like to think we raised proper (a movie buff, in other words), was entranced.  He couldn’t believe someone seriously made movies that bad, or that there was a market for them. When drive-ins went under, though, an entire B-movie industry went under with them.

And B movies were amazing, really, which is not the same thing as saying they were good.  They had tremendous drive and energy.  Every shot was in one take (they typically had, like, a week to shoot them), and the actors did their own, very dangerous, stunts.  When I was in MIA (the forerunner to Young Men’s/Young Women’s), our leaders always warned us against movies with, as they put it, gratuitous nudity and violence.  We’d nod our heads solemnly, knowing we were off that Friday to see drive-in movies that were basically nothing but gratuitous nudity and violence.  Hey, I was sixteen. But that’s a lot of the voyeuristic pleasure of movies.  And, as I said, I still appreciate the pace and power of those films, their urgency, and of course, the music.

And nowadays, out of affection, big-deal studios are tackling them.  Black Dynamite (2009) parodied blaxploitation cop movies.  Robert Rodriguez, Eli Roth and Quintin Tarantino made Grindhouse (2007), which was subsequently re-released as two movies, Planet Terror (spoofing zombie movies), and Death Proof (spoofing car chase movies).  Loved ‘em both, probably more because I’m so fond of the movies they’re making fun of/honoring.  (‘Cause it really is both.  You’re mocking the conventions of these things, but you’re also trying to make a really good one.)

So now, Will Farrell is doing novellas.  And it’s brilliant.  Of course, Farrell doesn’t actually speak Spanish, which means he has to speak it rather slowly, which means the subtitles can keep up, but it also makes his character seem slow-witted, which is fine because he is.  Farrell is Armando Alvarez, a simple cowhand, but also son of the wealthy Don Miquel (Pedro Almendariz).  Armando’s brother, Raul (Diego Luna), is smarter, richer and a drug dealer; he’s come home to introduce his new bride, Sonia (the impossibly beautiful Genesis Rodriquez, who turns out to be a pretty nifty comedienne).  But Raul is in a turf war with the vicious drug lord Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal), who it turns out is Sonia’s uncle.  (That’s pretty funny too; he looks younger than she is).  Bernal’s an international movie star, of course, and he’s clearly having a ball here, vamping it up as a slime-ball.  Meanwhile Armando falls in love with Sonia, although really he’s so dim he doesn’t seem entirely sure what to do about it. (He does, quite memorably, figure it out.) He also hangs out with his two best friends, Esteban (Efren Ramirez: Pedro from Napolean Dynamite) and Manuel (Adrian Martinez). 

There are songs, of course.  Including “no lo se“, a song Farrell sings with his two buds, about how he doesn’t know anything. (“Why does the moon shine at night?  No lo se!”).  Funniest song in the movie, except perhaps for a song in which the lyrics are, in their entirety, “la la la.”  There’s also a bloodbath scene at the end, all slow motion shots of people getting shot, which somehow looked just fake enough to be funny.  (Diego Luna, who spends the entire movie with a drink in his hand, takes a sip as he falls, gunned down). 

There’s also a white jaguar, played by a puppet so fake it was practically a muppet.  It dispenses spiritual wisdom, and heals Farrell when Bernal shoots him.  There also appears to be a sequence in which the white cat defeats several coyotes, which we don’t see–instead, an apology statement appears on-screen for the gratuitous violence of the scene.  

It’s not falling-down-in-laughter funny.  But somehow I laughed more than if it had been overtly funnier.  The director, Matt Piedmont, is an old writer friend of Farrell’s from his Saturday Night Live days; he knows how to set up a gag and make it pay off. 

At his best, Farrell is the funniest man alive.  Of course, his movies are uneven–they all have funny moments, but they don’t always hold together.  This movie looks at novellas with affection and good cheer.  I don’t know how many people will see it, but it certainly tickled my funny bone. 

Not all masterpieces

Sorting laundry this morning, I thought I’d watch a little VH-1, their weekly top twenty program.  Getting a sense of what records the kids these days are spinning on their phonograph machines.  First song up, Maroon Five.  Second, Matchbox Twenty.  Third, No Doubt: (I thought they were dead!)  And all the songs were, wow, generic pop tunes. The Maroon Five song sounded like all the other Maroon Five songs–I think there were goldfish in the video.  The Matchbox Twenty song had an okay guitar riff, but otherwise seemed sort of vaguely misogynist–there was a fashion model in the video.  The No Doubt song seemed to be about trucks. 

As a certified ‘get off my lawn’ aged geezer, I suppose it’s required that I make disparaging remarks about the music of today, pointing out the insipid lyrics and forgettable tunes and unmemorable personalities of what’s on the radio these days, assuming people have radios and listen to music on them.  We baby boomers are particularly obnoxious in that regard.  I’m reading a book right now about Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic records, and the guy who discovered, signed and promoted, oh, Buffalo Springfield and Sonny and Cher and Crosby Stills Nash and Young and Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones and heck, I’m still only on chapter four.  You’ve probably seen those internet memes dissing Justin Bieber, comparing his dumb lyrics with those of Frank Sinatra or Bob Dylan.  I mean, we baby boomers, we single-handedly ended the War in Vietnam, solved racism, invented rock and roll and landed on the moon.  Take that, kids nowadays. 

Yeah. Except it’s all nonsense.  Vietnam was exceedingly popular among my age group in the 60s, the civil rights movement began in the 50s, and the 26th amendment, giving young people the vote, resulted in a landslide win for Richard Nixon, who the newly enfranchised kids voted for nearly 2 to 1.  As for pop music, it’s worth pointing out that this song, and not, you know, “Stairway to Heaven” was Ahmet Ertegun’s first big hit with Atlantic.  “Splish Splash” as recorded by Bobby Darin.

We love to falsify history, we love to revise it, with particular emphasis on our own supposed heroism or nobility or coolness.  This is particularly true of the history of popular music.  It wasn’t all Abbey Road and Live at Leeds.  The songs of my youth were certainly not all masterpieces.

I thought I’d take a glance at the Billboard Top 100 for 1968, just to see what was popular back then.  I was twelve that year, and had just discovered radios and the music to be found on them. I listened a lot that year.  And I mean, ’68, the year of the Chicago Seven, probably the Beatles’ greatest year.  I bet pop music was amazing in ’68.

And it was. The number one song on the Billboard top 100 for 1968 was this, the Beatles singing “Hey Jude.”  Top that, other years.  So what was number two?  This.  “Love is Blue,” Paul Mauriat and his Orchestra.  Okay, okay, not a half bad tune, not exactly a classic, but not too shabby.  How about number three? 

Honey.”  Bobby Goldsboro, singing “Honey.”  I can’t say definitively that “Honey” is the worst song ever recorded.  It certainly faces stiff competition.  But it’s got to be in the running.  It’s got it all: a syrupy heavenly chorus, idiotic lyrics, appalling sexism bordering on abusive misogyny.

How about ’69? Big year for music, ’69, what with Woodstock and all.  Big year for Creedence Clearwater Revival, big year for Sly and the Family Stone, big Stones year.  Elvis did “Suspicious Minds” that year.  So guess, just guess, what the number one song in America was in 1969?  I’ll give you a hint: they didn’t play at Woodstock.  Here, guess, then click on this link, see how you did.  I’ll wait.

That’s right.  The Archies, singing “Sugar Sugar.”  Same year as Woodstock. 

Jump ahead a few years, to 1972, my first year in high school.  Great year for music, 1972.  Wow, was it ever.  Led Zeppelin Four came out that year, probably their best album.  “Stairway to Heaven” was on that album.  The Rolling Stones had a good year as well, with Exile on Main Street: “Let it Loose,” “Torn and Frayed,” “Tumblin’ Dice.” Often considered their greatest album.  Jethro Tull came out with Aqualung that year; Elton John, with “Rocket Man,” The Moody Blues with “Nights in White Satin,” Don Maclean with “American Pie.”  Great year for music, ’72. 

Billboard number one: a darn good one, Roberta Flack with “Killing Me Softly With His Song.”  Number three, another good song, “American Pie.”  I love numbers two and five, though.  Gilbert O’Sullivan with “Alone Again, Naturally” and Sammy Davis Jr. with “Candy Man.“ 

As for nowadays, sure, some dumb songs are on the top forty today.  Absolutely. That’s always, always been true.  But Iron and Wine is a fantastic band, as good as anyone in the sixties.  Adele is better than Janis Joplin.  There, I said it, and I stand by it: she’s flat better.  Bon Iver is amazing.  I don’t know any band, from any era, I would rather listen to than Arcade Fire. The Civil Wars is a great band.  It’s not all Justin Bieber.

And is Justin Bieber any more obnoxious than, oh, any other pretty boy with a soulful voice popular with thirteen year old girls?  Like, say Tommy Roe, Bobby Sherman, Donnie Osmond, Leif Garrett, Shaun Cassidy?

I’ve been lucky enough to grow up surrounded by terrific music.  Kids today are equally blessed.  No one generation gets to be coolest.  

 

Home from the hospital, finance, and asymmetrical information

My wife’s home from the hospital now, napping while I blog, feeling much better though still pretty wrung out.  And I just finished reading an interesting book about banking.  And Paul Ryan is Mitt Romney’s VP pick.  And the Dodgers are pulling off a huge trade.  And all this got me thinking about asymmetry of information theory.  Hang on.

Here’s why my wife was in the hospital.  She had a very minor medical complaint a couple of months ago.  Off to our doc, and she (the doc) said she wanted to run some tests, and sent us to a specialist for more tests, and he eventually said she needed surgery.  Not urgently, not immediately, but her condition, not serious now, was likely to get more serious if untreated.  He performed said surgery on Tuesday.  Actually, a robot performed it, under the docs’ supervision.

Paul Ryan plans to phase out Medicare, replace it with a voucher system.  Instead of Medicare just paying for treatment, folks would get vouchers they could use.  The idea is that people would price compare, and the magic of free markets would drive the costs of medical care down.

I just finished reading a book about the rise and fall of WaMu, Washington Mutual, the bank that until fairly recently held the mortgage on my house.  WaMu, at one point, bought Long Beach Mortgage, a company that specialized in high risk loans, whose salespeople were especially fond of an instrument called an Option ARM.  That is, an adjustable rate mortgage, in which the customer could make one of several monthly payments, the lowest of which was interest-only.  They literally generated thousands of these loans, and at one point, WaMu’s risk assessment folk looked at them, and said that if 5% of Option ARMs failed, the bank could be in very serious difficulty.  In point of fact, around 95% of them went into default. Not 5%, 95% failed.  And that’s probably the main reason WaMu no longer exists.

What ties these stories together is that phrase, asymmetry of information.  To start with my doctor; there was never a point in our dealings with him when we had anywhere close to the kind of information he had regarding my wife’s medical condition, and no possible way for us to obtain sufficient information to make an entirely informed decision.  He said she needed the surgery, and he explained why, and we trusted him.  I don’t regret that at all.  I think we were entirely right to do so.  Our health insurance company had access to better information than we had (they employ doctors who consult with them), and they approved it (routinely, I think), and we trusted them as well.  That’s the essence of the patient/doctor relationship.  They know more than we do, and we trust them to make appropriate decisions, to give us sufficient information to make what passes for an informed decision, to trust in their training and in the ethical standards of their profession.  That’s how medicine is practiced in our country, and it’s hard to see how it could be practiced any other way.  Doctors are very well paid, and we don’t resent that either–they’ve earned it, through years of training and experience.

That’s why the Paul Ryan voucher plan won’t work, can’t work.  It’s ideology masquerading as reason.  If I’m planning to buy an I-Pad, or a vacuum cleaner, or a pair of shoes, I can gather enough information pretty quickly to make a reasonably informed decision.  And the stakes are low–it doesn’t really matter much if I buy a vacuum cleaner that doesn’t work all that well.  I’m out a little money, and that’s all.  So market forces do tend to drive the costs of I-Pads down over time, and also drive people who make bad ones out of business.

But that’s not true of health care. I wasn’t about to call around to ten doctors to ask what they’d charge for the surgery.  I wasn’t about to call around and see if someone could do the same surgery cheaper but probably less safely by not using the robot. If I’d had reason to question the doctor’s diagnosis and proposed treatment, I might have asked for a second opinion from another doctor, but the same asymmetry of information would have applied to that conversation. And in fact, not having the surgery was not an option we ever seriously considered. I’m not particularly interested in my holistic medical options, or price comparing those options with those offered by the surgeon. This is my wife’s health we’re talking about.  I didn’t want the cheapest doctor, or the cheapest surgical option, I wanted the best, I wanted state-of-the-art. And I wanted science. If my insurance had balked at it, I would have done my best to switch to a different insurance carrier.

The WaMu Option ARMs are similarly a story about information asymmetry.  WaMu’s risk assessment people decided to hold a series of meetings with people who had used Option ARMS to finance the purchase of their homes.  They’d have these group sessions, and would ask really basic questions, like ‘do you know what an adjustable rate mortgage is, do you know the difference between that and a fixed rate mortgage?’  They learned that folks had no idea.  They didn’t have the slightest clue what kind of mortgage they’d signed up for.  All they knew is, a salesman had told them they would be able to buy their own home.  They’d gotten statements with several possible payments listed, and made the lowest one.  Every time.  They didn’t, for the most part, know what ‘foreclosure’ meant, or how interest worked.  They had simply signed a bunch of papers and moved into their homes.

Multiply that situation times several million, and you have a world-wide financial crisis. Which is why it’s essential that consumers be protected from unscrupulous lenders. Long Beach Mortgage style lending practices can and should simply be regulated out of existence, precisely because there will never be a symmetry of information between lenders and consumers.  I would add such regulations once existed, but no longer do.  Which is why, for me, deregulation is a dirty word.

In Eugene O’Neill’s play, A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Jamie, the protagonist, is furious with his father, because he’s dying, in large measure because his father never would pay for a good doctor, but only wanted the cheapest doctors.  That’s the situation that existed before health insurance; really in that brief time in the early twentieth century when the medical profession was just starting to actually figure out how to diagnose and treat previously lethal diseases, but before medical schools and the AMA and the whole health care establishment we have today.  And it’s entirely a good thing that the whole apparatus, training and self-policing and licensing, that all of it exists.  It works.  People get better from things that used to kill them. We’re so so much better off.

That’s why I like Obamacare.  I think every American should have access to affordable health insurance. That’s why I loathe the Paul Ryan Medicare plan.  That’s why I like regulations over financial markets.  I think unregulated finance just invites unscrupulous people to rip folks off.

And as a Giants’ fan, I think the Giants’ front office should try to block the Dodger trade somehow.  I think there’s a mechanism to get it done, and I think they should try.  But I admit they have better information about it than I have. 

Giants/Dodgers: Three days in August

Hospitals are wonderful places, temples to science and healing.  Also depressing: I find myself in need of diversion.  And what better diversion does American society offer than baseball.

It’s late August, and the Giants and the Dodgers are essentially tied for first place in their division.  Based on the games they show, ESPN seems to think the greatest rivalry in baseball is Yankees/Red Sox.  Strewth!  Balderdash!  That’s like the rivalry between Richie Rich and Scrooge McDuck–that’s Microsoft v. Google.  When the two richest teams in the land go at it, I’ll admit to a certain schadenfreudish hope for comical catastrophe, but that hardly meets the criterion for a rivalry. Giants/Dodgers goes back to the New York roots of both teams, given a NoCal v. SoCal twist.  Giants/Dodgers is sick

A week ago, though, things looked grim for my ‘Jints.  Melky-gate had rendered us all gloomy.  This past off-season, the Giants pulled of a comically one-sided trade that landed us the second best hitter in the National League, Melky Cabrera.  He instantly became a fan favorite, with an entire section of the ballpark devoted to fans of his dressed like milkmen; i.e. the Melkmen.  (Or Melk-maids, for those of the female persuasion).  Then we learned of the possibility that his success was due in part to chemical enhancement–he had tested positive for testosterone.  It got worse–turns out Melky had paid someone ten grand to create a fake website, to create the impression he’d ordered a vitamin supplement on-line, not knowing, see, that it was laced with PEDs.  It ain’t the crime, it’s the cover-up that gets ya. 

So he’s gone, suspended for the rest of the season.  And he’s a free agent at the end of the year, and the Giants have lots and lots of historical reasons to be real uninterested in signing a steroids abuser.  So Melky’s gone, the Melk-man outfits permanently retired.  And a team that struggles to score runs anyway just lost its best hitter. 

Or second best.  Because our catcher, Buster Posey has, without much fanfare, put together a wonderful season.  Last year, Buster’s ankle was destroyed in one of the ugliest injuries I’ve ever seen on a baseball diamond.  A complete recovery seemed unlikely.  For him to come back, this season, better than ever, well, beyond a miracle of medical science, also suggests a young man of remarkable strength of character. 

And this Giants team is about pitching, about a brilliant core of young pitchers.  For us to have any hope of winning the pennant, the kid pitchers are going to have to step up.  This Dodgers’ series–in Los Angeles–would show us all what they’re made of. So the Giants are about pitchers and the guy who catches them.  That’s the core of my favorite team.

Monday: Madbum. 

Most twenty two year old pitchers are still in the minor leagues, trying to harness their talent, developing secondary pitches, honing their craft.  Madison Bumgarner is already pitching big games in his third pennant race.  Madbum is a tall left-hander, from Hudson, North Carolina.  A good Christian kid, married to his high school girlfriend, his Mom’s a schoolteacher.  He’s got a smooth, three-quarter pitching motion, hides the ball well, throws a big fastball and sweeping curve, but his best pitch is a slider, which he gets in on the hands of right-handed batters.  Monday, he was up against the Dodgers’ best pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, and it was a gorgeous game, a taut duel between two terrific young lefties.  Giants’ first, Angel Pagan (and yes, that’s his name, got to be the most conflicted name theologically since Jim Gott was facing Tim Teufel) hit a double, got bunted to third, scored on a fly ball by the Panda.  Pablo Sandoval, in other words, who resembles the Kung-fu Panda enough that it’s become his nickname.  Panda knocked in another one later, and that was all Madbum needed: Giants 2, Dodgers 1.  Giants in first place, barely.

Tuesday: Timmeh. 

My favorite baseball player right has to be Tim Lincecum, the Freak.  Most great pitchers are tall: 6’3, 6’4″.  You get more leverage, throwing down.  Lincecum is generously listed at 5’11′.  Skinny, long-haired, he looks and dresses like a skater dude.  Been busted for pot, won two Cy Young awards, can do a standing back flip from a table, over a sofa, and land on his feet.  When we won the World Series in 2010, Timmeh impishly made sure to drop at least one F-bomb in every network interview.  But when Giants’ fan Bryan Stow was beaten half to death in the Dodger Stadium parking lot, Tim started a fund to help Stow’s family, and seeded it with a generous donation. 

He’s kind of a Franken-pitcher.  His Dad’s a mechanical engineer, and figured out the optimal way for a kid to throw a baseball. Which means that his throwing motion isn’t like anyone else.  And Tim throws a mid-90′s fastball with movement, a nasty curve, a mean slider, and those aren’t even his best pitches.  His change-up looks like a fastball coming out of his hand, and then drops off a table.  It’s basically unhittable.  At his best, he doesn’t get hitters out, he embarrasses them. 

And this season, he’s been terrible.  Not must a little off, completely terrible.  It’s been excruciating to watch, to see Timmeh, invincible Timmeh look unsure of himself on the mound.  He’s kept working hard, trying to figure it out, he’s changed his training regimen (it’s no longer as In-’N-Out burger intensive), and he’s looked good his last few starts.  Tuesday . . . well, he wasn’t quite the old Freak, but he was darn close.  Six innings, one run.  Buster got him two runs in the first, and Timmeh breezed from there.  Final score, 4-1.

Wednesday: Matt Cain.

It’s funny: most players have nicknames, sometimes pretty cool ones.  Matt Cain is just Matt Cain.  Big kid from Tennessee.  Tall, blonde, throws hard.  None of that captures him.

Let me try this: Matt Cain is a grown-up.  He’s the team’s union rep.  He’s just unflappable.  For years, he had a reputation as a bad luck pitcher–the team had a horrible time scoring runs for him.  There’s a stat for that (there’s a stat for everything, it’s baseball), run support–he had the worst run support in the National League.  Never a word of complaint.  At all, ever.  He just went out there an competed.

 He throws a good fastball, not great, a good curve, a good slider, a good change.  Normal repertoire of pitches.  He just goes out there, game after game, and quietly, without much fuss, gets guys out. 

Wednesday, I was following the ballgame on GameCast, with ESPN’s Baseball Tonight on TV.  And in the first inning, Angel Pagan (who’s been great lately), scored a run, and Curt Schilling was on ESPN, and he said (I’m paraphrasing) “That game’s over.”  His co-host was all, ‘it’s only the first inning, it’s only one run, surely there’s plenty of time for the Dodgers to win,’ and Schilling (a heck of a pitcher himself, back in the day) said “it’s Matt Cain. It’s August, it’s the pennant race.  Matt Cain will not lose this baseball game.”  And he didn’t.  Sweep. 

Baseball has the longest season of any major sport.  162 games, April to October, game after game after game, night after night.  It’s about staying physically ready, having a routine, doing your stretching and your lifting.  It’s about staying focused, staying mentally alert, ready to go.  Going to work, even when you don’t feel much like it, it’s about hard-working, lunch-bucket values.  That’s really the appeal of the game.  This is what Melky forgot: being good at baseball is like being good at life. 

Mawwidge

I’m home from the hospital, feeling useless.  The doctor said the surgery would take four hours plus, and there was absolutely nothing helpful I could do for her, so I could either sit in their waiting room, or . . . just . . . go home.  And it didn’t matter to them either way.  They’re ten minutes away–they’ll call me. It’s a routine surgery, nothing to worry about.  Everything about the demeanor of all the doctors and nurses inspires confidence, and she’s at a hospital I know really well–really well–where I’ve never gotten anything less than absolutely top-of-the-line care.  My own medical condition is one with a very high mortality because it’s difficult to diagnose; it often goes misdiagnosed ’til it’s too late.  The docs there at Timpanogas nailed it down in about twelve hours.  So there’s absolutely nothing for me to worry about.  She’s going to be fine. 

So, of course, I’m a complete basket case.

We met in a choir at BYU. She was the beautiful tall blonde girl I couldn’t bring myself to ask out for months and months, because, get real, there was no way.  A girl like that?  Not a chance for a schlubb like me.  But I was the tallest bass, and she was the tallest soprano, and we got to sit together.  Talked books, Heinlein and history, and music (Me, Gentle Giant, her, Camel), and movies.  And I had a girlfriend, it wasn’t like I didn’t have a girlfriend, until a friend one day pointed out that everytime she saw me with Girlfriend, I looked miserable, and then when I went to choir, I was happy before and after, and maybe that meant something maybe I should do something about.  Hmm.

Dec. 27, 1980, we got married in the Oakland Temple.

To quote Peter Cook in The Princess Bride, ‘mawwiadge . . . is what bwings us togever today.”  But that’s kind of right.  I’ve been thinking about Mormon theology: marriage is what bwings us together. It’s the one main thing, central to our theology.  See, God wants us, ultimately, to love everyone, every person on earth, to love, unconditionally, as He loves.   He also knows we’re not up to it.  We’re selfish and foolish and greedy and mean-spirited, we’re creatures of self-defeating habit, we’re not really up to much, honestly.  That’s the great Moses paradox. 

Moses Chapter One, Pearl of Great Price.  Moses gets this great vision of Everything.  I think what he saw was an even more awesome version of the show at the Hansen Planetarium, where you see stars being created and destroyed, and comets and asteroids and black holes and it’s incredible.  And you feel so puny.  And that’s what happened to Moses too: he sees this vision, and he goes “I know that Man is nothing, which thing I had never supposed.”  (verse 10). 

I love that.  Moses is a guy, he’s typically arrogant.  ‘I thought we were it, the shiz, the bomb. We’re the top, we’re the tower of pisa, we’re the top, we’re the Mona Lisa.  We’re Botticelli, we’re Keats, we’re Shelley, we’re . . . ovaltine!’  (If you’ll forgive scriptural exegesis from Cole Porter).  ‘But now I’ve seen your big light show, God, and We. Are.  Nothing.’

And then God says something even more amazing.  “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”  God’s mission statement.  You are, in fact, everything you said before.  You’re weak, puny, foolish.  Ya ain’t the top of nuttin’, pal.  You’re also the point.  You’re why it’s all there.

We’re nothing.  We’re everything.  And we can’t get our heads around the immensity of it.  You know that quote, Marianne Williamson actually, though often attributed to Nelson Mandela (he quoted it at his inauguration) “Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure.” 

We had to figure it out somehow, love and forgiveness and the plenitude of pure joy.  We had to have a starting point.  So God gave us love.  He gave us marriage.

And me and her, we’ve had our squabbles.  We’ve screwed up.  We’ve had our selfishnesses and foolishnesses and insufferable moments of pure idiocy.  But when I’ve been sick, she’s been my rock.  She’s basically been my rock through everything.  And I’ve got things I’m not good at, and she’s got things she’s great at, and vice-versa.  And we’re still together and that ain’t never changing.

She’s funny.  She makes me laugh, a lot, often.  I can bring the funny too.  In our family, you get props for funny–it’s the currency of our shared world, comedy. 

And sometimes in the morning, or maybe sitting on the sofa while I sit in my chair, watching TV together, or waiting for her to pick me up, and seeing our car coming around the corner, knowing she’s in it, or maybe sometimes just hearing her voice on the phone. .  . she takes my breath away.  I can’t breathe, I love her so much. 

She’s out.  The doctor called, it went perfectly normally, everything’s fine.  She looks exhausted.  She looks wonderful. 

Viral emails

I got two of ‘em today.  I usually get ‘em from my Dad.  You’ve all seen ‘em, those emails with a whole bunch of names in the ‘to:’ box, some of whom you know.  My Dad sends along a bunch of ‘em from a guy named Schwartzkopf, who I desperately hope is related to ‘Stormin’ Norman,’ the General who led our troops in the first Iraq war, under the first President Bush.  The ones I get are always seriously right-wing, usually factually inaccurate to a spectacular degree, and overheated in tone.  Our country, it seems, is on the brink of some kind of disaster or another, and we have to do something about it.  Now.

The one today is about a Tennessee high school principal, Jody McLeod, and comments he made at a football game.  Dude was apparently ticked off because someone (his school district?) wouldn’t let him say a prayer over the PA system, and so went off on a rant.  He seems to have thought that he could use the PA system to “approve of sexual perversion” as long as he called it “an alternate life style”, or “condone sexual promiscuity” as long as he called it “safe sex.” Seriously, at a football game?  I would love to see the high school where the principal got up there before the game and said “welcome to the game, and by the way, we’re in favor of sexual perversion.”  I think high school kids would find that pretty awesome.

When I get these things, first thing I do is check ‘em out on Snopes.com.  Most of them, of course, are completely bogus.  Some are legit, but there’s usually something hinky even about the legit ones.  This high school principal one, for example, actually did happen–the guy actually did say all this stuff.   In 2000.  So it’s hardly breaking news. 

But there are a lot more out there.  Obama’s a socialist Moslem, born in Kenya, and secretly anti-American and pro-terrorist, or whatever.  I’ve seen some reporting that Medicare premiums will go up by some preposterous amount (2 1/2 times is usually mentioned), or that Hillary Clinton has arranged with the UN to take away everyone’s guns, or that President Obama has gotten rid of the White House Christmas tree, or taken away the decorations, or done something nefarious with it, or that he refused the honorary assignment of President of the Boy Scouts.  All nonsense.  And they’re all right wing: Politifact checked out 79 of them, found them all to be false, 76 of them promoting conservative causes.

I have a theory about this.  I mean, young people are incredibly sophisticated when it comes to the internet.  My kids are a lot better at it than I am, for example.  I’m 56; I’m old.  But young people are also tremendously cynical when it comes to the internet.  If they got an email–unlikely, since young folks don’t much use email–and it made some grandiose claim about anything, they’d immediately be suspicious of it. What am I saying? Heck, if my kids got an email that was political at all, they’d be suspicious. Let alone this kind of political ‘Obama’s-a-moslem-commie’ stuff–they take that as seriously as they take Nigerian princes in need of their help.  They’ve been lied to professionally for years–every ad on television–they have their BS meters tuned to their highest settings. 

But older folks–folks older than me–do use email, and tend to trust it.  It’s a way to stay in touch, and they’re pretty proud of themselves.  They’ve figured out something internet-y.  So they get these things and they’re . . . susceptible.

And older folks tend to be conservative. I really saw this the other day when I saw Dinesh D’Souza’s anti-Obama film.  The theater was packed.  And I was just about the youngest person there.  The house skewed very old and very white, and they clearly ate it up.

And what’s the message.  Obama isn’t . . . one of us.  Obama can’t really be trusted.  Obama is Other, something exotic and . . . probably not completely American.  I mean, his father’s from Kenya, his step-father was Indonesian, Barack Obama grew up in Hawaii and Jakarta.  He took classes from people like Edward Said.  So there’s political mileage in making that case.  I really think that’s why the budget deficit President Bush racked up didn’t seem to bother anyone, but the budget deficits Obama’s had to contend with are really scary and really dangerous.  I mean, I get that, deficits are scary, and they are dangerous.  But they seem worse coming from a President whose middle name is Hussein.  And of course old white people care about few things on earth more than they care about their grandchildren.  That’s why this meme works: “we’re piling on debt for our grandchildren.”   

Someone is writing these things.  Someone has figured out how to send them out. I mean, I’m a writer, and I know how hard it is to make a living as a writer, so I’m sympathetic, but somewhere, some poor schmo has the job of making up ridiculous nonsense about the President or our country, writing it up in an email, and sending it out to scare older folks.  Boy.  Talk about having a job that sucks.

This doesn’t mean, by the way, that Democrats don’t use email.  Dems just use it differently.  Every time a prominent Republican says something stupid, I get an email from the DNC or MoveOn or someone, saying “Do you agree with Congressman Stupid Person, who said “Moronic foolish stupid thing? If not, send money to help defeat Congressman Stupid Person!”  Democrats use ‘em for fundraising.  Not quite the same virally vileness, but in the ballpark.  But mostly, it’s because the guy really did actually say the dumb thing.  I mean, it probably doesn’t represent any mainstream Republican policy position, but it’s still in the general realm of acceptable political discourse, to use the other guys’ stupidity to fund raise.

I chatted on Facebook the other night with an old friend, who asked, what do you do when your parents get these idiotic viral emails and believe them?  Boy, that’s tough. You can send them to Politifact, you can send them to Snopes.  But who knows what they’ll believe?  Somewhere, some guy has this terrible job writing these things.  But I bet it pays well.  Because they work.