Sunday, September 17, 2023

Tom on Politics and the GOP

 The Texas Senate has apparently begun deliberations in the matter of Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is truly sleazy.  That characteristic alone is not unusual among the political class, regardless of party. General Paxton is simply more reprehensible than most.  I actually began this note yesterday, and the morning saw General Paxton acquitted by the Texas State Senate.  

While this entire proceeding had something of the  farce about it, there is a lesson to be learned here.  The Republican Party is beginning to splinter in a couple of important ways.  In Texas, the battle is between so-called 'Old Guard' Republicans, like former Governors George W Bush and Rick Perry, and current US Senator John Coryn.  The current trend among Texas Republicans has been to replace the moderates with culture warriors and faux Christians such as Ted Cruz and Greg Abbott, and outright thieves like the recently acquitted General Paxton, and this pattern is being replicated by many other Red states.  You have to remember that, on the federal level at least, the GOP is now, and will continue to be, a minority party.  Only once since the turn of the century has a Republican actually won the popular vote in a presidential election, and that was in 2004 when George W Bush defeated John Kerry. And before that, George HW Bush had been the last popular vote winner,  in 1988. The 2000 election doesn't count, because SCOTUS stopped the vote counting prematurely and essentially declared Mr. Bush the winner.  A couple of interesting things about that decision come to mind:  Losing candidate Al Gore acceded to SCOTUS's decision with grace and dignity, unlike Donald Trump's petulant refusal to accept his very clear loss in the 2020 election.  But the most consequential aspect of Bush v Gore was SCOTUS's assertion that the case was not to be considered precedential.  While not uncommon at the appellate level, such an assertion by SCOTUS was somewhat unusual when Bush v Gore was originally decided. More recently, the use of unsigned opinions by the nation's highest court has proliferated, which some observers believe undermines the legitimacy of the court.

The emerging split in the larger Republican party is between those Republicans who accept the will of the voters, and those who don't.  The latter group tends to believe that only Republicans are fit to hold public office, and are willing to undermine established voting procedures that ensure equal access to voting opportunities for all Americans, not just those who skew right.  Election officials are not supposed to be partisan, but an increasing number have made voting by such groups as students, senior citizens, racial minorities, veterans,and other 'marginal' elements of the population, increasingly problematic.  These Republicans tend to view brown folks with fear and suspicion, and some exhibit worrisome signs of anti-semetism.  They view women as second-class citizens not considered competent to exercise agency over their own bodies. Perhaps the poster child for partisan election officials was former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.  And as I think about it, current Ohio Sec. of State Frank LaChance is no prize, either.  Overly strict voter ID requirements are just one example of how certain voter groups are suppressed.   The Myth of Phantom Voters has long been a GOP trope.  But in any cases in which actual fraud has been proven, (e.g: Findings of guilt in a court of law, or a guilty plea in open court), Republicans are often at the bottom of it.  Sometimes the results are part of a collective effort to cast illegitimate votes or prevent legitimate votes from being cast, (mathematically, it's a distinction without a difference).

One such instance occurred in 2002, when the NH GOP hired  a Republican firm, GOP Marketplace, a Virginia based firm, to work in the US Senate race to replace Sen. Bob Smith, (Best known as an activist for the reasonable treatment of circus elephants.  You can't make this stuff up).  The contest was between John Sunnunu and current US Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.  GOP Marketplace was charged with, and found guilty of, diverting calls to a Democratic Get Out The Vote call center thay voters could use to get rides to the polls, presumably to vote for the Democrat, and redirected those calls to a Republican boiler room where the calls were intercepted, rides were  promised, but never showed up.  4 GOP operatives were convicted in federal court, and sentenced to prison terms.  The conviction]n of one of them was overturned on appeal. Mr. Sununnu eked out a narrow victory over Ms Shaheen.

And in North Carolina, a GOP operative was charged with a laundry list of electoral fraud violations so serious that the North Carolina Board of Elections vacated the victory of the winner of the race in the 9th Congressional District, which was narrowly won by the Republican candidate.  This happened in 2018.  The particular fraud alleged was an abuse of the absentee ballot process.

There have also been limited violations committed on a retail basis.  A couple of voters who lived in the elderly ghetto, 'The Villages'  voted in both New York and Florida in the 2020 election.  In another case out of New York, a man cast his recently deceased mother's absentee ballot,  as well as his own.  But my favorite was the Colorado man who murdered his wife and then cast his late wife' s mail in a ballot for Donald Trump, reasoning that: "She would have voted for him anyway":). All of the folks referenced herein voted Red.

Politics has always been a tribal business, and something of a contact sport.  But the fact is, that someone who was a member of one party or another was not always seen as having  a profound moral failing, as has been the case in recent years.  Politics is the method(s) that we use to organize society.  It's not a Calvinist judgement on a person's suitability for salvation, nor should it be a commentary on the choices that people make in their own lives. Politics should be just one of the many factors that we use to define ourselves, and that others use to define us.   It's a crude technique to be sure, but man has an innate need to categorize, for categorizing helps us to understand ourselves in relation to the world that we live in.  I saw someone on a talk show earlier who asserted that the current poisonous level of political rancor would be with us until the last boomer died.

To be clear, my issue is not with Republicans generally.  Rather it's with The Taliban wing of the party, who reject reason and science for the fevered musings of cranks and conspiracy theorists. It's the troublesome tendencies of some among this group who style themselves as "America Firsters".  These folks would happily deliver the Ukranians to the tender mercies of Vladimir Putin 

I'm tired of this note.  I'm even tired of politics, which is something that I never thought that I'd ever say.  Ken Paxton's free to run roughshod over the taxpayers of Texas while taking bribes from developers.   "Nothing to see here, folks...".   If Diogenes thought that he had a hard time finding an honest man in 4th century BCE Athens, he should spend a few days wandering the halls of the Capital.   

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Boebert escorted from 'Beetlejuice' performance

An elected official from Colorado (~who~ voted for this hoe?) was causing a ruckus at a theater there over the weekend (vaping, yelling, singing loudly) and was asked to leave by the ushers.  

Below is a video of the clueless and classless politician as she and some unfortunate but probably horney young guy are walked through the venue to the exits.  

Notice how this female legislature has no shame in what she wears in the same way she has no shame about what a fraud she is.  Karma's coming for you, bobo.

Monday, September 04, 2023

Tom on the GOOD Cartoons

 We were the generation that had all the good cartoons,  Some of those cartoons were theatrical releases, most of which originated from the Disney Studios, and they were feature length productions that dazzled the eyes and stimulated the imagination.  I can still remember being a kid and sitting in a darkened theatre and watching the Dwarf Chorus perform  today's Subject Line Song.  You have to suspend reality when you watch cartoons, because animated characters can do things that are logically impossible.  But kids are comfortable with magic, because much of their lived experiences seem magical.  The science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke once observed that: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic", and since children understand little about the larger world, magic seems as likely an explanation for that which they don't understand as anything else.

The Disney oeuvre was just the tip of the cartoon universe.  You have to remember that cartoons predated TV, and the market for animated cartoons was largely dependent on the motion picture industry.  When people went to the theatre during the prewar years, they didn't only see a movie.  Theatres would sometimes distribute cheap dishes and glasses to customers as a token of appreciation for their patronage.  Frequent moviegoers could assemble entire dinner services.  These giveaways became known as "Depression Glassware'', and have become highly collectible, with some rare pieces fetching hundreds of dollars on markets like EBay..Once the lights went down, the fun began. There would usually be a newsreel, which recapitulated both important and amusing stories of interest.  A typical newsreel from 1934 might feature a story about the arrest of one Bruno Hauptmann for the kidnapping of the Lindberg Baby, or a story about the killing of Public Enemy #1, John Dillinger outside the Biograpph theatre in Chicago by intrepid 'G-Man' Melvin Purvis , who was dimed out to the FBI by the famous 'Lady in the Red Dress', Anna Sage.  These newsreels were produced by companies like Fox's 'Movietone News' or Pathe, a French company.  Then we'd finally get to see the cartoon.  It could be a Looney Tunes' cartoon from Warner Brothers,featuring some of the most memorable cartoon figures of all time Bugs, Daffy, and Elmer; The Road Runner and the Coyote, or a Woody Woodpecker production from Waler Lantz.   It could be an offering from the Terrytoons studio, which gave us Mighty Mouse and my personal favorite:'Farmer Al Falfa'.  Sometimes they'd play 2 cartoons. Finally, they play the movie.  There was a method to the exhibiror's madness.: The longer the patrons spent in the theatre, the more they bought from the snack bar:). If it actually was 1934, the movie could have been "It Happened One Night", which swept the Oscars in 1935, winning the 4 major acting awards along with Best Director.

But then came the war and the cartoons took on a martial aspect.  Some cartoons dealt with the war effort. We saw the Disney Studios offering the irascible Donald Duck as their version of Everyman in such masterpieces as "Commando Duck" and "Der Fuehrer's Face".  And who could forget "The Gremlins From The Kremlin"?  Many propaganda cartoons focused on the Japanese were overtly racist, including "The Ducktators' ', "Tokio Jokio' ', and the unforgettable "Nips in the Night' '.  Some cartoons dealt with the Homefront. "Like Air Raid Wardens On Parade", "Scrap Happy Daffy", and "Scrap For Victory".  We went on to win the war and the veterans of the recent war and the girls who kept their beds warm on the home front more than made up for lost time and the notorious postwar Baby Boom was upon us.  And one of the defining products of the postwar years , (besides TV dinners), was the almost universal appearance of TV sets in American living rooms.  

TVs, like all mass media, have a voracious appetite for content.  For programming directed at kids, content was largely made up of cartoons.  There were other kid-centered things on TV, such as child oriented national shows like 'Howdy Doody' and 'Captain Kangaroo', and 'Bozo the Clown', (Now that I think of it, Bozo was a franchised operation.  Each city that wanted one had their very own Bozo), along with their locally produced counterparts like Major Mudd, Rex Trailer's Boomtown, and Uncle Gus.  Disny had an outsized presence in kids TV, princpally through live programming like 'The Mickey Mouse Club' and filmed programs like 'Spin and Marty', 'The Adventures of Davy Crockett', and my favorite:'Zorro'.  I can actually remember the theme songs to many of these shows  Old shorts were a staple of kid's programming.  We spent hours watching such riveting entertainment as 'The Bowery Boys', "Our Gang', and 'The Little Rascals', and boys were especially fond of "The Three Stooges' and 'Laurel and Hardy'.  But cartoons ruled in the mysterious world of kids TV.  They were violent, racist, sexist and thoroughly enjoyable.  Kids would sit before the Devil Box for hours on Saturday mornings, eating heavily sugary breakfast cereals, (Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs) and swilling highly caffeinated soft drinks  while they were targeted by exploitative ads for exorbitantly priced products that never quite worked as advertised.  Eventually, the moral scolds took notice and kids programming became anodyne; kind of like eating predigested food.  

That topic kind of got away from me, but it could have been so much worse.  I'll cut my losses and send this off before I decide to expand its scope. 

Monday Morning Smile


Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Tom on Mens Rooms in Bars


Part of an email I received from my brother: 
"Wind Beneath My Wings"-Bette Midler. (1988)

Today's Subject line is something of a tearjerker and I'll readily admit that such numbers are the sorts of guilty pleasures that I'd never mention when in a barroom in the company of manly men; tossing back shots of chap rye and eating those rubbery hard boiled eggs that seem to only be sold in disreputable drinking establishments.  Another way to tell if you're drowning your sorrows in a dive bar is to check out the condom vending machine in the men's room.  The type of condom sold will tell a girl much.  If the machine dispenses recognizable brands of "skins'  such as Trojans, ('Safety First' '), or Tropical Flavored Durex, you're probably OK.  If the only available prophylactics are 'Sheiks', which bear the smiling visage of silent movie star Ruidolf Vaentinno on the wrapper, you'd be wise to have your Obstetrician on speed dial.  And under no circumstances should you bet the next 18 years of your life on 'Jig-Jig' 'safes', that have a picture i\of an improbably buxom Asian woman on the wrapper and instruction for use written in an unrecognizable language made up entirely of consonants.   These vending machines actually dispense other necessities for a Man on the Make. There's usually a selection of hair products for men that bring to mind those good old days of the 1950s. Little plastic bottles of Vitalis always seem to be available, and for some men miniature butch wax sticks were available for the man with a flattop that seems to say: "Don't Mess With Me".  But if Vitalis seems too oily and your hair's too long for a flattop, a good compromise is Brylcreem, ("A Little Dab'll Do Ya...She'll Love To Run Her Fingers Through Your Hair").  But if a man's to make himself presentable, he'll need a comb and our handy vending machine sells those, too.  A quality establishment will offer the classic "Ace". comb, which is a nifty rubberized number that will give you good service until you lose it.  More typical are cheap combs whose teeth break off the first time that you use it.

But after an evening of drinking, men often don't smell terribly fresh.  If they hope to get lucky, most men need to 'freshen up', and here again, our trusty vending machine rides to the rescue. There's nothing like a nice cologne to make a man smell desirable, and our vending machine is, once again, Johnny on the spot. Nothing gets a girl in the mood more than a noseful of 'Hai Karate', or ' English Leather'. And if you wonder why a lady of common sense and self respect would deign to leave with a guy who prepares for his ride on the 'Love Train',by spending 10 dollars in a pissy-smelling men's room vending machine, remember that she's viewing the world through wine goggles.

But back. to Bette Midler.  The first time that I ever heard of her was when I read an article in Rolling Stone magazine back when it was printed on a cheap newsprint.  The article was about the Continental Baths, which was a gay bathhouse in the basement of the old Ansonia Hotel.  Besides being a safe space for spectacularly sexually active gay men, (ever hear of 'Glory Holes'?  Ask me and I'll tell you), the baths were one of those quintessentially New York venues where quality live music could be heard on a regular basis.   Miss Midler was the Queen of the Continental Baths, but she was far from the only quality musical act.  Barry Manilow would occasionally act as her pianist, (check out the video of Mr. Manilow's 'Copacabana' on YouTube.It's hilariously campy). Melissa Manchester performed there, as did Nell Carter and Labelle. And The Manhattan Transfer were regulars.  The place wasn't open all that long, but it made its mark on the New York music scene.  And for some reason, every time I think of Bette Midler, I think of the Continental Baths.   The movie, "Beaches" was your standard Rom-Com, and I had a crush on Barbare Hersey after I saw the film.  But Bette Midler made that movie...

Monday, August 28, 2023

Tom on Politics and presidential types

 The presidential debates were pretty much as I expected them to be.  Nikki. Haley performed better than I expected her to do, as did Ron DeSantis, although he continues with his 'Mr Grumpy' persona. Mike Pence was more animated than I ever recall seeing him. But 6 of the 8 candidates drank the Trump Kool-Aid, by raisding their hand agreeing to support him, even if he's convicted of a felony. None supported Mr Trump with more gusto than Vivek Ramaswamy, swho demonstrated that he's not ready for prime time. He touts his business skills as a qualification for government, much like Mr. Trump did in 2016.  Business and governance demand completely different skill sets.  A businessman would refuse to use federal funds to rebuild the charred ruins of the old royal town on Maui.  He'd sell the placer to developers from out of state, who'd erect expensive condos and leave those left homeless to fend for themselves, and that's exactly the prospect the worried the dispossessed residents of Lahaina.  A businessman's purpose in life is to make a profit, and you don't make profits by being a mensch.

Politics demands a more compassionate method of operation.  The rich and the educated can do OK in any economy.  Tradesmen and professionals possess the skills necessary to thrive anywhere, and their talents are intrinsic.  Land and buildings can be seized by those so disposed.  Works of art and other tangible items can be looted from their rightful owners.   The only things that you truly own are your skills. And the reality. is that many of our citizens don't have the skills necessary to support themselves, much less a family.  For some, being a member of a despised minority group can put a young man on the Road to Perdition at an early age.  When you hit the age of majority with a lengthy police record, a couple of illegitimate children, and a bad attitude, you don't have a chance in today's society.  Some people have issues with drugs or alcohol that they can't seem to overcome.  Veterans who served honorably find themselves crippled by PTSD, and often homeless to boot.  Some people are just not terribly bri9ght, and they have no skills that anyone is willing to pay a living wage for. Government exists, in part, to help those who need help.  Some rail against 'socialism' and other such derogatory terms applied to those in need of some help from their government.  

Capitalism is the economic engine that has made the West rich and prosperous beyond the imagining of our forebears.  But in its most elemental form, capitalism is a system that benefits the few at the expense of the many. The Industrial Revolution transformed mankind from a society that made things, instead of growing things.  And in the past half century, we've become a society that imagines things and breathes life into their imaginings, which is how we ended up with our current digital economy.  The visionaries who have imagined new ways of doing things, and marshalled the resources to transform their visualizations into new products and processes are richly rewarded, and deserve to be.  But growing wealthy, either from being in the right place at the right time, or by developing a product or p-rocess that makes everyone's lives just a little bit better, should not be seen as license to be greedy and, increasingly, that's the direction in which the country is heading.  To be fair, some have used their newfound wealth to help others through their philanthropic endeavors.  And wealthy individuals have occasionally distinguished themselves by using their own money to do the right thing.Aaron Feuerstein, who owned a company called Malden Mills that burned in one of the most spectacular  fires that I've ever seen, spent millions of dollars of his own money in order to keep paying the salaries and benefits of his employees.  Mr Feuerstein showed that it was possible to be both wealthy and compassionate.

Businessmen, (and women), control vast enterprises and do so by issuing orders and directives that they expect to be obeyed without hesitation.  Those who fail to fall into line are marginalized or discarded, although an enlightened CEO0 will tolerate dissenting viewpoints as a sort of reality check.  But when you are charged with running a statue or a country, you soon find that things aren't quite that simple.  Other elected officials answer to the voters who elected them, not some imperious 'boss'.  Managing an often recalcitrant congress is like herding cats. Everyone has their own axe to grind, and much that happens is beyond an executive's control.  So when I hear folks extoll the virtues of businessmen, as opposed to professional politicians as suitable contenders for national leadership, I know that I'm dealing with someone who reacts, rather than thinks.

Monday Morning Smile