Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Prohibition in Alabama

As a result of a petition drive by Christians who oppose drinking on moral grounds, the people of Athens, Alabama will vote today on whether or not to prohibit the sale of alcohol within city limits.

It was only four years ago when they voted to allow alcohol sales. Apparently it took three and a half years for people to stop wailing and gnashing their teeth long enough to get up a petition.

If the measure passes, it will still be legal to possess and consume alcohol in Athens, which strikes me as hilarious because it means they’re essentially voting on the question “Do you want to keep $250,000 in extra tax revenue out of the hands of the city government, and another $250,000 out of the local schools?”*

Two other measures are up for referendum today: “Should Athens cut off its nose to spite its face?” and “Would you like the city to shoot itself in the foot?”

If the measure passes, those who drink will continue to do so, even if it means spending their money out of town. Those who signed the petition and led the charge for prohibition will congratulate themselves on their great moral victory against tax revenue. Ah, but their consciences will be clear: “At least I live in a town where it’s illegal to sell alcohol, and if that don’t get me some heavenly brownie points, I don’t know what will.”

The best quote in the story comes from the Reverend Eddie Gooch of the United Methodist Church, one of the petition-drive leaders who says he isn’t worried about the city losing business or tax revenue. Says Gooch: “Normal economic growth and God will make up any difference if residents dump the bottle.”

God could not be reached for comment, but he did issue this statement: “If Eddie Gooch thinks I’m shelling out half a million bucks to make up for a shortfall he’s largely responsible for, he’s dumber than a bag of hammers.”

*These figures come from Athens mayor Dan Williams in the Associated Press story.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Ideology Trumps Humanity in Texas

One of my all-time favorite bumper stickers is “Jesus is coming—and he’s pissed.”

The people of High Point Church in Arlington, Texas undoubtedly believe the first part, and are doing their best to make sure the second part comes true, too. This is the church that agreed to hold a memorial service for a Gulf War veteran whose brother is a church custodian—then reneged, 24 hours before the service, when they learned the deceased was gay.

The veteran was Cecil Sinclair, who died at age 46 from a post-surgical infection. Church pastor Gary Simons said no one knew Sinclair was gay until members putting together a video tribute ran across pictures of men “engaging in clear affection, kissing and embracing.”

Sinclair’s sister, Kathleen Wright, denied that any of the pictures provided showed men kissing or hugging. Nevertheless, Simons pulled the plug on the memorial service, but noted that “Even though we could not condone that lifestyle, we went above and beyond for the family through many acts of love and kindness.”

Well, well, well. Thanks for being the lifestyle judge there, Gary. Seems to me that the family probably wanted the service held at the church because they thought it would be a comfort to family and friends in attendance. They were grieving, and thought a religious service would provide a balm to the weary, as the old hymn goes.

I doubt if they were asking for mandatory attendance from church members. Nobody who might have been offended was likely to show up, but if they had, they might have learned a nice lesson about gay people and the families who love them. They might have seen with their own eyes that Cecil Sinclair didn’t choose his orientation. They might have had to reconsider their beliefs.

Of course, I don’t think megachurch pastors really want church members reconsidering their beliefs, certainly not if the result means humanity trumps ideology.

Simons also said “We did decline to host the service—not based on hatred, not based on discrimination, but based on principle.”

Yeah, right. The decision wasn’t based on hatred, but on principle. It’s a little hard to tell the difference from where I sit.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Songs About Dumb People

You know, not every post here at the Runes has to shine the mini-flashlight of truth on the self-righteous, the self-important, the self-deluded, and the self-goofy. We don’t always have to pick on the warmongers, the Pharisees, the pretend-ignorants, or the Poor Dope and his poor dopey sycophants.

Sometimes it’s enough to look at a moment in America’s cultural past and say “What in the hell was that all about?”

I’m referring, as of course you know, to the song “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” a number-one hit written by Bobby Russell and recorded by Vicki Lawrence back in 1973.

Nothing against Vicki Lawrence, mind you. In fact it’s fair to say that I had quite a crush on her back in the heyday of “The Carol Burnett Show,” and so when she hit the top of the record charts I was happy for her.

But I heard the song on the radio this week, and I thought: “Man. That’s one dumb song.”

If you don’t remember “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” it’s kind of a Southern Gothic murder ballad about a guy who’s executed for a murder committed by his sister. A person could write a pretty good song about a guy who’s executed for a murder committed by his sister, and by good I don’t mean sell-a-million-records good but sensible-lyrics-with-internal-logic good. The Vicki Lawrence version is the former.

The song starts out with a fellow named Seth, who’s back in his Georgia hometown after two weeks away. Instead of heading straight home to see his “young bride,” he stops at a bar and meets up with his best friend Andy, who regretfully informs him that his wife has been cheating with a boy named Amos. (I love the fact that Amos and Andy can make it into a song that takes place in Georgia in 1973.)

Seth gets upset at this news, but Andy isn’t smart enough to know when to quit. For some bizarre reason he goes on to say “To tell you the truth, I’ve been with her myself.” Short of actually describing the sex acts he performed with Seth’s wife, I’m not sure Andy could have said anything stupider to a man who has just learned his wife is cheating on him. How did he expect Seth to respond? “Thanks, Andy—I feel a lot better knowing my wife slept with more than one person while I was away. Here’s your medal for honesty.”

In the next verse, “Andy got scared and left the bar,” possibly because he realized no medal for honesty was forthcoming. Seth heads home to an empty house and finds the only thing his Papa had left him: a gun. Next thing you know he’s on his way to Andy’s house, located in the backwoods. There’s a-gonna be a shootin’—except that when Seth arrives and looks in the back door, he finds Andy already “lyin’ there in a puddle of blood.” Someone has already knocked off Andy.

Now here’s where it gets even farther off track. Here’s where Seth shows that Andy didn’t have the corner on stupidity in that neck of the woods: “Now the Georgia Patrol was makin’ the rounds, so he fired a shot just to flag ‘em down.”

He fired a shot? To attract state troopers to a crime scene?! Nice move there, Einstein.

But even after firing his misguided shot, Seth still should have had time to get the hell out of there. First off, imagine the Georgia Patrolmen, making the rounds in their state trooper car, undoubtedly with a pretty large region to cover. A shot is fired and they miraculously hear it over their George Jones 8-track and official state police radio. The only explanation for what happens next is that one of the troopers must be some sort of robotic cop with a prototype global positioning system implanted in his head: “That shot could only have come from Stupid Andy’s place in the backwoods!”

The police arrive at the scene and find Andy dead and Seth holding a gun. The next line is “A big-bellied sheriff grabbed his gun and said ‘Why’d you do it?’” (I think it would have been funny is the line had been “A big-bellied sheriff grabbed his gun and said ‘Damn, that’s still hot.’”) There’s a trial, but it’s a sham: The judge is in a hurry to get home to supper, so he finds Seth guilty and sets the execution date for the next day or the very near future. Only then do we find out that the narrator of the song is Seth’s little sister, and that she has killed not only Andy but her cheating sister-in-law. As she puts it, “Little sister don’t miss when she aims her gun.”

Now, I suppose it’s possible that the sister used the very gun Seth had inherited from their father, which would explain why Seth’s lawyer didn’t introduce any ballistics evidence in the trial. But there’s hardly any way to read or hear these lyrics without coming to the conclusion that the little sister is a freakin’ psychopath. First off, she had to know that when a man who’s been cheating with another man’s wife is found dead, there’s one obvious suspect the police would look for first, if, of course, he hadn’t been dumb enough to be standing around the murder scene holding a smoking gun. She set her brother up like a bottle of grape Nehi.

Second, she claims in the last verse that “They hung my brother before I could say the tracks he saw while on his way to Andy’s house and back that night were mine.” Oh, really? They hung him that quickly, did they? What were you doing, sleeping in? Were you going over sketch ideas with Harvey Korman? Did you get lost on the way to the courthouse? I’d say there was plenty of time for the little sister to confess if she wanted to.

But she didn’t want to. She had the taste for blood after she killed Seth’s wife and noted “That’s one body that’ll never be found.” It’s possible she hid the body in the backwoods, but I think she ate it.

By the way, while the title of the song is “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” and while the first line of the chorus is “That’s the night that the lights went out in Georgia,” at no time in any of the verses do any lights actually go out in Georgia.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

They Could Always Write In Jesus

OK, back to the Des Moines Register and their hard-hitting expose of evangelicals who can’t find a Republican presidential candidate whose views are as narrow-minded and provincial as theirs. Here at the Runes, our official position on this issue is “Tough bongos.”

Why? Because in their hurry to elect one of their own kind, the evangelicals failed to notice their candidate was a man of no character and less intelligence, a man beholden to no one but the super-rich. In the past six years, how many man-on-the-street interviews have included some variation of the line “All I know is Bush is a Christian, and that’s good enough for me”?

That’s pathetic. That’s the rapture mentality for you: Earthly things don’t matter to me cause I’m a-gonna be lifted up to heaven.

There’s a running theme through that Register article, and it should give a good dose of the willies to anyone who’s serious about the political process and making the country stronger. Let’s see if we can detect that theme:

[Members of the Central Assembly of God Church] are turned off by poll-driven and single-issue candidates who are ignoring their top priorities—abortion and same-sex marriage.

[The senior pastor of First Federated Church of Des Moines said] “The war with Iraq is on everybody’s mind. Right to life and gay marriage, which are important to Christian conservatives, aren’t as big with the general public.”

“We seem to be losing traction,” said [a Central Assembly of God member]. “The pendulum seems to be swinging in the other direction.”

Everyone who said the theme was “Our obsession with other people’s lives is far more important than the interests of the country at large,” give yourself ten points.

Ignoring the fact that we can’t technically be at war with Iraq because for all practical purposes we are Iraq, let’s try to figure out why the deaths of 3000 American soldiers and the continued health and well-being of a hundred thousand live ones just might be a tad more important to the general public than the nuptials of Chuck and Larry in Massachusetts.

The question answers itself. The general public (as defined by the senior pastor above) understands the human cost of war, grieves for the families of the dead, and is mature enough to realize that with every death our national defense grows weaker by a power of one. The evangelicals can’t be bothered with that. They’re too busy freaking out over two men kissing.

It takes a sanctimonious soul and a callous heart to claim that preventing same-sex marriage is a higher priority than ending the fiasco in Iraq. Most human beings recognize those qualities as character flaws.

Maybe that’s why the evangelicals are losing traction.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Pity The Poor Evangelicals

In its never-ending quest to keep Iowans informed of the events that shape our lives, the Des Moines Register recently blew the lid off a story so big that if there had been a page before the front page, that’s where they would have put it.

Don’t read on if you’re faint of heart. But thank your lucky stars the Register had the integrity and fortitude to report on this shocking development:

Iowa evangelicals are having trouble finding a Republican candidate to back.

Yeah. Right there on the front page: “GOP presidential candidates fail to appeal to a key constituency.”

Well, in the immortal words of Emily Dickinson, boo-freakin-hoo. Forgive me if I don’t feel sorry for a group of people who in 2004 shuffled into the voting booths like good little sheep and reelected the immoral, corrupt, bloodthirsty sonofabitch whose godly pandering was an obvious sham to any of us who didn’t have our thumbs up our Bibles.

In terms of knowing the difference between right and wrong, these evangelicals have no credibility. And now they’re crying because the GOP front-runners haven’t bowed down and kissed the feet of their two pet issues: abortion and same-sex marriage.

American men and women are dying in the Iraq quagmire. Insurance companies are making obscene profits while denying coverage to sick people. Manufacturing jobs are drifting overseas. The gap between rich and poor is growing wider. And these people are looking for a candidate who will make them feel better about sticking their noses where they don’t belong.

If you consider abortion wrong, don’t have one. If you don’t want to marry a person of your own sex, don’t fall in love with one. But godDAMN, how short-sighted, superstitious, and stupid do you have to be to base your entire political belief system on things that don’t affect you in the slightest?

A guy named Ken from Altoona says “If a person can’t live by the Ten Commandments, how can he lead the nation?”

Easy, Ken. He swears to uphold the Constitution. That’s what we require in a leader. He protects the rights of every citizen and he doesn’t send them off to die to protect his oil investments. Your boy George thinks the swearing-in part of the inauguration ceremony was a mere formality, and he’s not doing too well in the Commandments department, either. Bearing false witness. Killing thousands of Iraqis. Coveting oil and money and power and whatever else he’s coveting these days.

This is what the evangelicals have wrought. Their stubborn insistence that the Poor Dope is a godly man shows them to be incredibly poor judges of character. And their insistence on blathering on about abortion and same-sex marriage shows them to be blind to the real problems facing this country today.

* * *

I’m not done with this topic, but I’m out of time today. Next week I want to take a closer look at the Register story.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Random Thoughts on Cal Thomas

No, not Cal Ripken. Cal Thomas. Sorry.

As “America’s most widely syndicated op-ed columnist,” Cal Thomas has always failed to impress me. He’s one of these guys who treats any liberal idea with a condescending pat on the head, as if it’s something to grow out of. He’s smug and snide and he comes off as a right-wing Mr Belvidere, without the wit and charm of a Clifton Webb.

Cal recently weighed in on last week’s CNN YouTube Debate, in which the Democratic candidates answered questions from among thousands that had been videotaped by concerned Americans and then uploaded to YouTube. Now, I don’t know about Cal’s regular readers, but any warm body who follows the campaign process even casually should be well aware that these televised Q&A sessions are technically not debates. I don’t think it’s necessary to keep pointing this out, but Cal, not wanting to pass up a chance to be pedantic, makes sure to note that “As before, this was not a real debate.”

He does give CNN credit for trying to liven up a dull and “too-long” campaign season with the YouTube format, but then complains that “This was a boring version of ‘American Idol,’ or worse, a political rip-off of ‘The Price is Right’ (How much do you think each candidate is worth? Come on down!)”

Talk about padding the column. How was it like American Idol, Cal? How was it a rip-off of The Price Is Right? It was the same thing it always is: A question is asked, the candidates answer, and you move on to the next question. That’s been the format for years. With nine candidates competing for time, you’re not going to get deeply nuanced answers, you’re not going to get much in the way of follow-up, and you’re probably not going to hear anything that’ll make you change your mind about your favorite candidate. At best—especially with the first caucus still more than five months away—you’re going to get the urge to read up on a candidate you might previously haven’t thought much about.

Cal goes on:
The problem with televised cattle calls is that the moderator and audience take at face value what politicians tell them. It is as if they are expressing themselves for the first time on every subject and Democrats are rarely asked about contradictory positions they’ve taken and whether it was conviction, or focus groups, that “converted” them. Republicans are always asked such questions.

Those italics are mine, by the way. It might be true that Republicans are always asked about their contradictory positions, but I’m not aware of any planet in this solar system on which it’s happening. Ever since the Poor Dope took office in 2001, there’s a very obvious contradiction that I don’t remember any Republican (including the Dope himself) being asked: “Why did you swear to defend the Constitution—and then not?”

I wonder if Cal would agree that that’s a contradictory position Americans deserve an answer to.

Cal also manages to pontificate on the old “We’re fighting them over there” nonsense, noting that if he had been the moderator of the debate, or televised cattle call, or whatever, he would have asked Hillary Clinton “Do you now believe the insurgents and terrorists would not take over the country [after U.S. withdrawal] and use it as a base to come after us here?”

I don’t know how Sen. Clinton might have responded to that, but I do remember enough about my “Non-Democratic Regimes” political science class in college that terrorists wouldn’t know what to do with a country if they did take it over. These are radical extremists, not revolutionaries looking to topple a regime and install their own government. Suicide bombers aren’t really looking for ways to make the trains run on time—or in this case, to provide electricity and water to a country in ruins.

Terrorism, in short, isn’t a system of government. It’s a tactic. The Poor Dope and his War on Terra supporters of the Cal Thomas variety are doing a great job pretending they don’t understand that.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Turn! Turn! Turn!

Back before it was legal to turn right on a red light, there was no such thing as a “No Turn on Red” sign. It would have been like a sign that said “No Ramming Other Cars” or “No Running Over Pedestrians,” because, obviously, there are just some things so illegal you don’t need to be reminded of them. You don’t see a lot of signs that say “No Murder,” “No Arson,” “No Embezzling,” etc.

I was living in Indiana when it became legal to turn right on red, and my dad used to share his theory about why the law was passed. He always said it was because some sign company had a surplus of No Turn on Red signs and needed to get them out of the warehouse.

I could see his point. Shortly after the law was passed, No Turn on Red signs popped up all over in Crawfordsville (the largest city close to us, and for a long time the largest city I wasn’t afraid to drive in). We had this great new law designed to improve traffic flow, but somebody was arbitrarily deciding which intersections it couldn’t be used at.

Because, my dad joked, or half-joked, someone got a good deal on those signs.

The first moving violation of my life came in 1986 in Decatur, Illinois, when I failed to notice the No Turn on Red sign at the corner of Woodford and Garfield. I came to a stop, made sure nothing was coming, and turned right onto Garfield Avenue—on red. Busted.

I don’t know why you couldn’t turn right on red there; after all, if you looked to your left you had a pretty straight shot down Garfield. So even though I was driving safely and endangering no one, the City of Decatur hit me up for a few bucks thanks to an arbitrary sign placement.

The maddening part about that ticket was that one block west of the Woodford/Garfield intersection, there was just a stop sign at the cross street. The visibility was worse than it was on Woodford, but if you wanted to turn right onto Garfield you were free to do so at your discretion.

Laws that promote the general welfare are good. Laws that are just revenue-generators are not.

Here in the Des Moines metro, we’re in the fifth year of a five-year plan to revamp and expand I-235, the freeway that runs through the middle of town. The project has included rebuilding a number of bridges and widening the exits (two turn lanes in each direction on some of them—big-time!).

The problem is that when they rebuilt some of the bridges, they extended the little concrete wall between the road and the pedestrian walkway across the bridge. They extended them so much that when you came off the exit and wanted to turn right on red, you couldn’t do it without taking your life in your hands.

Because the wall stuck out so far it was impossible to see if traffic was coming.

The sensible solution would have been to shorten the walls a little bit. However, the sensible solution lost out to the cheaper solution. Apparently that warehouse still had lots of No Turn on Red signs, because now half the exits off I-235 forbid turning right on red.

It was the right move for safety reasons. But with gas over $3 a gallon and awareness of energy conservation on the rise again, we have hundreds of cars idling at these exits every day. Does that make sense?

Iced Coffee and Lazy Copywriting

McDonald’s has a radio spot running right now that drives me up a wall. The setting is a business meeting of some sort, and the chairman says “All in favor of taking a break for some iced coffee from McDonald’s, say Aye.”

A chorus of Ayes goes up, because honestly, who’s going to vote against any kind of break in the workday? The chairman then asks “All opposed?” and one lone guy says “Nay.”

There’s a brief pause, and then a voice that sounds like it belongs to a 12-year-old boy shouts “Get him!” The meeting-goers then turn into an angry mob and presumably thrash the guy who dared vote his conscience about the friggin iced coffee break.


Why is there a 12-year-old boy in this business meeting? And why, when the Ayes have clearly won the vote and the iced coffee break is all but written in the employee handbook, is the boy so vindictive?

Does he hate the man who voted No? Or is it just lazy copywriting without a shred of integrity?

Every time I hear this—which is pretty much every morning—it makes me glad I don’t write advertising copy for a living. Then I remember I do write advertising copy for a living and it makes me wonder if the guy who wrote the McDonald’s spot is making more money than I am.

Because if true, that would be wrong.

Actually it makes me think he’s got something on his creative director, some blackmail pictures or something. Because honestly, if you’re working on a high-profile account like McDonald’s and you can’t come up with anything better than “Get him!”, you might be in the wrong business.

One More Thing

Another quick story about the advertising business. My old boss back in Decatur used to sum up the agency/client relationship thus: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't keep him from pissing in it."

This is true. But sometimes you can't even get the horse's attention. From 1995-97 I did some freelance copywriting for clients in and around central Illinois, and when I wasn't busy (which was, sadly, most of the time), I'd go through the newspaper or listen to the radio, trying to find prospects in dire need of better creative. I'd then write them a letter, send them a brochure and demo tape, and ask to be given a crack at their next advertising project.

I didn't get a whole lot of business that way, but of all the business I didn't get, my favorite was a store that sold auto parts in downtown Decatur. These guys had run an ad in the Herald and Review that was not only hand-lettered and hand-illustrated with a pencil, but hand-erased as well. I mean the illustration was right out of Napoleon Dynamite's notebook, and you could see the erased lines in the newspaper ad itself.

I wrote and offered my services, but they didn't see the value in it. They were apparently quite happy with their in-house marketing department, eraser lines and all.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Opposite of the Height of Hypocrisy

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
—Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

And today, class, that word is “hypocritical,” a word most popular with people who have only the slightest inkling of its definition.

I happen to have an example right here, because it’d be a pretty short post if I didn’t. This observation was posted in the comments section at the Rolling Stone website’s coverage of last weekend’s Live Earth series of concerts:

I thought Gore said that people need to use less energy and depend on fuel less to help put a stop to global warming. So lets put together a set of concerts that use tons of lights, problably the amount of electricty it takes to power several towns. Also, How did the artists get to these concerts? They had to take jets and then either a car or a bus to get to these venues. These concerts were so hypocritical, it just further proves how stupid some of these artist really are.

This comment comes from someone named Teabag, who lives by the old axiom that spelling, punctuation, and subject/verb agreement don’t matter on the internet, though of course he’s hardly the only member of that club. Teabag says it’s hypocritical for people who want to raise awareness about global warming to use any energy at all in their attempt to spread the word.

Now, I suppose it’s possible that the old Teebster actually means what he says, that he’s opposed on general principle to large well-lit gatherings to which the attendees traveled on anything other than bicycles. He might well walk to work, reuse the same brown bag for his lunch day after day, and use a hamster-powered generator to fire up his laptop long enough to rail against the wasteful ways of those jet-takin’ musicians.

But that doesn’t seem likely, does it? No, Teabag seems more like one of those global-warming deniers whose favorite talk-radio guy told him it was a hoax and gave him a few talking points for doing battle with us bleeding-heart do-gooders. (“One of the concerts was in Antarctica, which, if you liberals haven’t noticed, is covered in snow year round—some global warming, huh?!”) Teabag also shows his true colors by trotting out that old standby of the pretend-confused: “But I thought Al Gore said people need to use less energy!” (You can get away with the “But I thought you said” ploy until you’re about six years old. After that people know you’re fibbing.)

And of course, there’s the hypocrisy angle. Concerts involving “tons of lights,” or gatherings where people have to come by jet or bus, are okay as long as nobody involved states a political view that conflicts with those Teabag holds dear. The poor guy can’t get his head around the fact that people who understand how important it is to raise awareness of global warming would actually make an effort to raise awareness of global warming. Each musician could have stayed home, played songs on the front porch, and relied on his or her neighbors to pass the word along, but somehow the concert organizers thought it might be more effective to reach, oh, two billion people at once.

I think that’s the part that bothers old Teabag. Whatever energy was spent on producing the Live Earth concerts will be counteracted in the long run as more and more people get the message and adjust their lifestyles. That’s how raising awareness works, and there’s nothing hypocritical about it.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Easy on Those Fireworks

This essay first appeared on the op-ed page of the Chicago Tribune back in 2002. I was going to write a new piece about the proliferation of fireworks displays, but lo and behold I realized I still had this one on my hard drive. It’s five years old but even more applicable today.

On April 26 [2002], the Portland Beavers beat the Iowa Cubs 7-5 in a Pacific Coast League game. The temperature was down in the high 40s by the time the game was over, but a couple hundred of us stuck around anyway to see the post-game fireworks.

And it occurred to me while I was sitting there in a sweatshirt and jacket and hat and gloves that there’s something very strange and disconcerting about watching fireworks on a chilly night in April. In fact, it might be even more strange than the fact that a baseball team from Iowa is playing in the Pacific Coast League.

It’s strange because when I was growing up, fireworks were reserved for special occasions. Well, one special occasion, actually: the Fourth of July. You could see them on the third, too, between movies at the Ben-Hur Drive-in Theater, but for the most part you had to wait until Independence Day itself to ooh and aah over the big professional fireworks. We were told they were expensive as all get out, which is why it was a good thing they were only needed once a year. I don’t have any idea how much fireworks cost in 1970s dollars, but it was enough that we were supposed to feel grateful we got to see any at all. I always imagined we had a choice: one more cannon cracker or a fully staffed fire department for the rest of the year.

Not only did we have to wait a whole year between fireworks displays back then, there were also excruciatingly long character-building intervals between individual rockets. I remember one Fourth when the people in charge shot off one rocket every twenty minutes like clockwork. And you’d hope, watching that rare rocket streak to its apex, that it wouldn’t be another one of those little ones with the tiny explosion and fewer sparks than you could get from a Bic lighter—but that’s generally what it was because that, for the most part, was what the fireworks committee could afford.

Still, though, they’d manage to throw in a huge one now and then, the kind where the sparks shoot out in the shape of a gigantic boutonniere, and the crowd would ooh and aah in legitimate awe. If it was a particularly good display, there would always come a moment when people in the audience realized they were all saying “Ooh” and “Aah” in unison. From then on there would be self-conscious attempts to add other sounds to the mix, like “Ohhh” and “Wow” and “Neato” and what-have-you, but when you’re truly impressed by a fireworks display, nothing really beats or sounds more natural than “Ooh” and “Aah.”

And if you were lucky, there’d be a grand finale.

Some, of course, were grander than others. Depending on the budget.

These days you don’t have to wait a year to see fireworks. (Evidently they aren’t as expensive as they used to be—that or a whole lot of sponsors have a whole lot of money in their explosives budgets.) Minor league teams regularly schedule post-game displays to help get people in the seats (even on chilly nights in April), and you’ll occasionally see them advertised as part of other events that have nothing to do with Independence Day. I don’t know if this is good or bad, although I can say without a doubt that the fireworks themselves have come a long way from what I grew up with. There’s no booster club member taking twenty minutes to set up the launcher and then realizing he’s out of matches, so there’s no waiting between rockets. Today the whole display looks like a hundred grand finales from 25 years ago, one rocket after another, sometimes a dozen going up at once in a non-stop spectacle of dazzling light and tremendous noise. They’re synchronized to music these days, too, usually a medley of stirring, brass-heavy songs from Star Wars or Aaron Copland. You don’t see a lot of fireworks displays set to Leonard Cohen.

But the most strange and disconcerting thought that occurred to me on that chilly night of April 26 is that I’m afraid someday we’ll reach a point of diminishing returns on our expanded fireworks season. I’m afraid someday we won’t even hear the self-conscious oohs and aahs because the most astounding displays will have become too commonplace to astound people anymore. I’m afraid someday we’ll see people leaving the game after the last out because, hey, we saw fireworks last week.

I like the idea of saving fireworks for a special occasion, and wouldn’t mind seeing them with less frequency.

Especially (and I apologize for resorting to this phrase) if it keeps people from being burnt out on them.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Zack Hill and the Unelected Judges

Q. When is “unelected” a pejorative term?

A. Whenever a court makes a decision that right-wingers don’t agree with, at which point they insist that “unelected judges” are a threat to the very fabric of society. The people who blather on about unelected judges would have you believe that anyone off the street can stumble into a courtroom and declare himself the judge.

They’re absolutely silent on the issue of not being elected when it comes to decisions they support, of course. Last week the Supreme Court ruled that schools could restrict the speech of students at school-sponsored events (the infamous “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case), but those who agreed with the decision somehow forgot to mention the five “unelected judges” who wrote the majority opinion.

It would never occur to me to take issue with unelected judges. I paid enough attention in Mr Hart’s junior-high history class to know that judges are appointed—and that they’re appointed by Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and whoever else happens to be holding the office in charge of appointing judges. It is absolutely irrelevant that judges aren’t elected: You might as well complain about unelected umpires at your local Little League game.

Which brings me to a comic strip called Zack Hill, by John Deering and John Newcombe. Zack Hill is a funky-haired 10-year-old who makes pithy observations about life and growing up and whatnot. He has a crush on an apple-cheeked classmate named Tanja and he’s pursued by a Goth-like girl named Winona. His widowed mom runs a boarding house full of wacky characters. There’s occasional political humor, but it’s always been fair-minded—and it’s never fallen into the category of blindly partisan, hideously unfunny tripe like Mallard Fillmore.

However. Today’s strip got my dander up. (Much of the Runes has been written in a state of heightened dander.) It’s a four-panel Sunday strip and it shows the four main kid characters reciting the pledge of allegiance. (For my thoughts on the validity of forced pledges, see here.) When it comes to the part where most people reciting something by rote would say “one nation under God,” the rebellious Zack says “one nation under unelected judges who rule we can’t acknowledge God in public.”

Oh, Zack, Zack, I know you’re only ten years old, but your cartoonists have led you down the horseshit path for reasons I can’t fathom. First off, there’s the whole “unelected judges” thing I covered earlier. But then it gets worse: When did any judge ever say you couldn’t acknowledge God in public? Such a ruling would be unconstitutional, Zack—you’ve been sadly misinformed.

Forcing the words “under God” into the pledge—and forcing children to say them—was an unconstitutional state endorsement of religion. Beyond that, you’re free to evoke God and Zeus and Cthulhu to your heart’s content, and pretending you’re not is disingenuous.

The last panel shows Zack saying “…and liberty and justice for all judges.” It’s not really funny and it doesn’t make much sense, so maybe Deering and Newcombe just wanted to point out that 10-year-olds don’t have a firm grasp of political nuance.

Seems like an odd way to go about it, though.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Random Thoughts To Confirm My Continued Existence

I was heading to Indiana on I-74 last weekend and noticed a new bit of gun poetry somewhere around Champaign, Illinois. See if you can spot the lapse in logic in this one:

When gun control
Has you beat
Criminals will
Own the street

Remember, the audience they’re trying to reach with this doggerel doesn’t happen to include writers of left-leaning blogs. No, they’re going after people who are sick and tired of the government trying to pry guns out of their cold dead hands.

And if they have to pretend that gun control means the elimination of local law enforcement agencies, well, you know, whatever it takes.

* * *

Quick update: You might remember that a couple of weeks ago I emailed my post “Still Disconcerted” to each of the Democratic candidates, asking for an explanation of why they said they would authorize the killing of Osama Bin Laden even if it meant the death of innocent civilians (Dennis Kucinich is the only one who said he wouldn’t). I also asked who they were trying to appeal to with that position, because the rabid Bush-loving kill-em-all types aren’t going to be voting in the Democratic primaries anyway.

To date, only the Kucinich campaign has responded to my email, thanking me for writing and confirming what we already knew, that Kucinich has never wavered from his antiwar stance. I made it onto Edwards’ and Obama’s fundraising email list, but I opted out—which someone at those respective campaign headquarters must have interpreted to mean I didn’t want any email from them. That’s not true: I want an answer.

I made it onto Chris Dodd’s fundraising list, too, but instead of opting out I’ve been replying to the request for funds with my own request for an explanation. Neither one of us has budged so far.

* * *

One more thing. There’s some ridiculous website now that will rate your blog as if it were a movie being submitted to the MPAA. The Electron Runes was granted an NC-17 rating, based on the fact that the word gun was used 18 times, death six times, dead five times, hell four times, gays twice, and pain once.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Enlightenment, Part 1

It’s been about a year now since a couple of roving missionaries knocked on my apartment door and invited me to come to their church. There was a woman a little older than me and one in her 20s, both modestly dressed. The younger one stood quietly while the older one went through the spiel and asked if I was confused by all the different claims made by all the different religions.

I acknowledged that there were certainly a lot of claims, though I had to admit I wasn’t exactly confused by them.

She acknowledged my acknowledgement and asked if I attended church. I said I hadn’t been a regular churchgoer for years. She politely asked why not, and I said “It just stopped making sense to me.”

She made her pitch anyway, letting me know that her church had taken all the confusion out of religion simply by following the Bible. “It’s all right in here,” she said, tapping her copy. I shrugged and shook my head and said “That’s the part that stopped making sense to me.”

I don’t know exactly when I stopped believing in deities, but I know the process began while I was still a firm believer. Anyone who’s been through the process knows that’s not necessarily a contradiction. You see things and you want to doubt but you won’t let yourself.

The table was being set. All I had to do was admit to being hungry.

Rural Indiana wasn’t exactly a hotbed of diverse beliefs when I was growing up, so I was under the impression the church was the final arbiter of truth and the rest of society was just catching up. Salvation was the ultimate goal, and I believed everyone else in the world must think so, too.

Look around you, kid. Look around at the 125 people here in their Sunday clothes, older than you, smarter than you, more faithful than you—do you think they’d be here on a Sunday morning if there weren’t a perfectly good reason to be?

I believed because that’s what you do. That’s what you do when you’re a kid and the only thing you see is other people believing. In sixth grade, 1971, I visited a Wednesday-evening Baptist service with a friend and picked up one of those little Jack Chick comic-book tracts designed to scare people into righteousness (my own church was Disciples of Christ, where nobody tried to scare anybody). This particular tract railed against hippies and stated that the peace symbol was the sign of the antichrist, and of course I, with all the critical thinking skills of a popsicle stick, assumed it was true. It had to be—it came from a church, didn’t it?

The next week we sixth-graders were lined up after recess and I noticed another friend of mine with a peace-symbol button on his jacket. I explained ever so helpfully that he was wearing the sign of the antichrist, and he responded with well-justified indignation: “Oh, I suppose God is for war.” I didn’t have an answer for that. There was a scriptural reference in the tract, but I read Revelation front to back and never did find anything about a peace symbol.

I did the whole confirmation and baptism thing in seventh grade. In our church that meant taking a few weeks of special classes to prepare you to say Yes to the question “Do you accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”

But honestly, they might just as well have skipped the classes and said “We’re going to line you up in front of the church and ask you a question, at which point you will say Yes.”

Saying Yes meant we publicly acknowledged that 2000 years ago a supernatural being took human form, died, and came back to life. Keep in mind that for years we’d all been brought up to believe that 2000 years ago an all-powerful supernatural being took human form, died, and came back to life, so this wasn’t a huge stretch for us. Nobody had ever challenged us to think seriously about the believability and likelihood of the story, nor did they have much reason to. Everyone else believed it, so why shouldn’t we?

(Or, more accurately, everyone else believed it, so it must have happened. This is why they set the confirmation and baptism age high enough that you’ll want to answer correctly and join the rest of the crowd, but not so high that you’ll say you need to think it over first. Implausibility, I now realize, isn’t sufficient reason for believing in something.)

So on that Easter Sunday in 1973, they chalked up eight new souls. Our names were added to the church membership, and after the ceremony we were all congratulated by our families and the church elders and whatnot, as if we’d walked on water and not just toed the company line.

Of course, it was a pretty big deal to me at the time. Who couldn’t get behind salvation? Who wouldn’t choose eternal life? It was nice knowing we had virtually automatic forgiveness for our sins, but the way I understood it, our magical baptismal dunking had washed away any desire we might have had to sin in the first place.

So that was the cloak I wrapped myself in for the next several years. As a point of clarification, I was never a Bible-thumper, never an evangelical, never a crusader. I was never obnoxious about my faith and I never tried to convert anyone else. It was personal to me.

It was also a tremendous handicap. While I’d always had a thirst for knowledge, I was only willing to receive it up to the point where it conflicted with my religious beliefs. I attended a well-respected liberal arts college and was surrounded by great literature and humanist thought, but I’m pretty sure my GPA would have been higher if I hadn’t had to filter everything through Biblical literalism.

I was protected by the Armor of Truth. Fortunately, it had a few chinks.

(to be continued)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Evolution #9

According to a recent Gallup poll, 70% of Republicans don’t believe in the theory of evolution. That seems outrageous when you think of the GOP as the party of bankers and millionaires, yet it’s perfectly understandable when you realize that a whole lot of people call themselves Republicans simply because they don’t have a Christian Fundamentalist Party to belong to. They’re throwing off the curve, though in fairness I’m not sure they’re as much to blame as the Republican politicians who pander to them.

The poll also revealed that only 53% of Americans believe evolution is “definitely or probably true.” Most of the blogs I read regularly have already covered this, and have lamented quite rightly that it shows a depressing ignorance about something that should be one of the basic building blocks of every person’s education.

Of course, some of the folks who reject evolution do so because they’ll get kicked out of the club if they don’t. When religious leaders frame the debate as “evolution vs your immortal soul,” it’s no surprise that anyone with a superstitious, credulous approach to life is going to line up on the side of not burning for eternity.

There are churches where the people believe in theistic evolution, where the Bible is considered a mix of history and metaphor, and where people are encouraged to use their powers of reason. I suspect Gary Bauer doesn’t go to one of those churches. Remember Gary Bauer? He ran for president in 2000 and is known for such hysterical announcements as “Our society will be destroyed if we say it’s OK for a man to marry a man or a woman to marry a woman.”

Bauer’s never been known for intellectual nuance, but USA Today trotted him out anyway for a quote in a story about the evolution poll. Now, one thing you can count on from evolution deniers: They love reducing this complex scientific topic to the level of a cartoon.

Not a funny cartoon, either. More like a Mallard Fillmore. True to form, Bauer told USA Today that “Most of us don’t think we’re just apes with trousers.”

(I’m looking into the rumor that Charles Darwin’s original title was The Origin of Species: Apes With Trousers.)

If you take a hundred evolution deniers and ask them to sum up their opposition in a single sentence, 90 will say “We ain’t related to monkeys.” (Five will start spouting the pretend-science of Intelligent Design proponents, and the other five will ask what you mean by a sentence.) Given enough time, you might make a handful understand that we are related to monkeys—and apes and wombats and figs and amoeba. Maybe.

But every time a dimbulb like Gary Bauer misrepresents the theory of evolution by making a joke about trouser-wearing apes, another mind closes a little bit tighter.

The USA Today story also quoted someone named Don Racheter, described as a “fiscal and cultural conservative who heads a free-market think tank in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.” Racheter says “People have a right to their own view on how life began and how [that] should be taught.”

No arguments there. You’re free to hold your own views, no matter how kooky. You’re free to believe your kookiest views should be taught, too. But speaking of kooky views, Racheter says he’s surprised that Democrats don’t agree. He says Democrats “ought to be for choice in religion and choice in education as well as choice in reproductive rights.”

Huh? I don’t know any Democrat who’s anti-choice on religion. I think most of us are pretty much behind choice in reproductive rights as well. But choice in education? What does that even mean?

If it means teaching a valid scientific alternative to evolution, go for it. But since such a thing doesn’t exist, I can only assume Mr Racheter thinks creation myths are a worthy use of science-class time. I found a list of 46 at this site, so that ought to take up a semester or two right there.

One More Thing

On Monday I sent a copy of the post titled "Still Disconcerted" to each of the Democratic candidates, asking if they honestly thought it was acceptable to assassinate Osama Bin Laden if it meant the deaths of innocent civilians. (On the email to Dennis Kucinich, of course, I acknowledged that he answered that question No in the New Hampshire debate.) So far I've received automatic replies from Clinton, Edwards, Obama, and Dodd. If anyone actually answers the question, I'll let you know.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Cup of Ice

If this were one of those what-I-had-for-breakfast blogs instead of whatever the hell kind of blog it actually is, you’d already know that in the past month I visited New York City for the first time and became smitten with the city and one of its inhabitants. You’d already know that some guy turned left into the path of my car in a little town in rural Illinois, causing $2100 worth of damage and prompting me to get out of the car and yell “goddammit” at the top of my lungs (and that I was surprised not to receive a citation for disturbing the peace: “We don’t say the GD-word in these here parts, boy—at least not in such a public forum”).

You’d also already know that after 28 years of being a fan of the Roches, I finally saw them perform live in Iowa City—and actually got to meet and chat with them afterwards.

It was all very exciting, obviously, but it’s not the sort of thing I want to write about here at the Runes. However, something absurd happened last night that I thought my twos of readers might enjoy hearing about.

My younger daughter and I were returning home from a trip to Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, where Phillies righthander Jon Lieber had just tossed a three-hit shutout against the Royals. I stopped for gas at a Shell store just off 435 North, and after filling the tank I went inside for a drink. As is my custom in convenience stores, I got a bottle of pop out of the cooler, then filled a cup up with ice. (For some reason I find this preferable to fountain drinks.)

The woman at the counter informed me that I could save money by getting the ice in a larger cup. “There’s a special,” said she. “You can get the 44-ounce cup for 79 cents, as opposed to the 32-ounce cup for a dollar-nine.”

“Yes, I noticed that,” I noted cheerily, “but I’m not getting a fountain drink. I just want the ice.”

“OK, I’ll give you an ice cup,” she replied, proffering a cup much smaller than the 32-ouncer I had already filled with ice.

“But I want more ice than that,” I said by way of rejoinder.

“Then I’ll have to charge you for a fountain drink.”

“Balderdash, good woman! Prithee explain why thou wouldst charge me for both a fountain drink and the bottled beverage I selected myself from yon cooler?” (I’m kind of paraphrasing here.)

“Our distributor says we have to—”

“You know what? It’s not that important.” Since I’d already paid for my gas at the pump, I left the store in very non-dramatic fashion, leaving her to deal with about a nickel’s worth of ice and plastic cup, which I assume and hope she threw away. Distributor’s rules or no, I didn’t care to stick around and listen to why it’s okay to gouge customers by charging $1.09 for a 32-ounce cup of ice.

Most stores just give you the ice, and some charge a dime or fifteen cents. The store down the street, Pour Boys, was nice enough to give me the ice and will now be my official convenience store of choice for future trips to Kansas City.

Coming soon: What I Had For Breakfast.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Still Disconcerted

I’m still kind of disconcerted about the moment in the Democratic debate in which all but one of the candidates raised a hand to signify that “Yes, I would fire a missile into Osama Bin Laden’s guts even if it meant killing some innocent civilians.”

I’m disconcerted because I can’t figure out whom they’re trying to appeal to with that response. Have they forgotten November? Have they forgotten the mass turnover in the House and Senate? Have they forgotten the message we intended to send back then?

The results of the November elections did more than just quantify public dissatisfaction with the Iraq quagmire: They repudiated everything President Poor Dope stands for: corruption, aggression, cronyism, and a stupidly undiplomatic approach to foreign policy. The voters demanded change. (And the fact that we haven’t seen a whole hell of a lot of it will be the subject of a future post.)

The voters demanded change, but their response to the Osama question shows that the Democratic candidates (with the exception of Kucinich) still don’t get it. Reasonable people understand that blowing up Bin Laden solves nothing. Reasonable people understand that killing more innocents in pursuit of a criminal the current administration has given up on is unacceptable.

And since I would define reasonable people as those responsible for keeping the poor dope’s approval ratings in the low 30s, I have to ask again: Who were the Democratic candidates hoping to reach with that mind-boggling show of hands?

Were they honestly trying to appeal to the 28-32% still loyally, stubbornly, desperately clinging to their belief that the poor dope knows what he’s doing? Here’s a news flash: Those people aren’t voting in the Democratic primaries. They don’t care how many innocent civilians die, and they don’t particularly care how many American soldiers die, either.

They’re the ones offering such brilliant political solutions as “Pave the whole Middle East.”

They’re not you. They’re not us. They don’t matter.

If you want to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice when you become president, you’ll have a grateful nation behind you. But if you’re just going to shoot first and ask questions later like you’re applying for a position in the current administration of thugs, then stop pretending you have something different to offer.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Bloodthirsty Bunch

I’m a little concerned about a couple of things I heard in Sunday’s Democratic debate. The first is Hillary Clinton’s statement that “We’re safer now than we were.”

If she’s talking about those of us within U.S. borders right now, her comment is immeasurable and therefore meaningless. If she’s talking about American troops serving in a country they should never have been sent to in the first place, it’s downright insulting.

Hillary looked very confident and poised at the debate, and she had enough good things to say that I might eventually be persuaded to let her out of my Republican-lite doghouse. But “We’re safer now than we were” is an empty phrase, and we’ve already spent six years with a president who can’t communicate in anything but empty phrases. Give us some substance, please.

The other thing was much more disturbing. Moderator Wolf Blitzer posed the following question, which I’m paraphrasing: “If the intelligence community knew the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden, but that he would only be there for 20 minutes, would you move to eliminate him even if that meant killing innocent civilians?”

Now, you and I both know that’s a bullshit question, for a lot of reasons. When you have a field of eight presidential candidates eager to explain their positions to the public, why in the world would you be asking yes-or-no questions? What would have been wrong with asking something more open-ended, like “As president, what would you do to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice?”

Instead they turned it into a ridiculous hypothetical, a situation the candidates might encounter if they were playing Osama: The Video Game.

And unfortunately, with the shining exception of Dennis Kucinich, the candidates blew the response.

Kucinich, who’s been consistent in his antiwar sensibilities since he ran in 2004, was the first to respond: “I don't think that a president of the United States who believes in peace and who wants to create peace in the world is going to be using assassination as a tool, because when you do that, it comes back at your country.” That’s a bit of wisdom completely lost on the current administration of asshats, by the way.

Barack Obama took a different approach: “Osama Bin Laden has declared war on us, killed 3,000 people, and under existing law, including international law, when you've got a military target like Bin Laden, you take him out.” Well, aside from the fact that I think you have to be a sovereign nation before you can declare war on one, this completely dodges the “innocent civilians” issue. How many hundred thousand dead Iraqis are there now? Did the death of any particular one of them bring us closer to finding Bin Laden?

Blitzer then posed the question to the whole panel as a “show of hands” type thing (which, even though he’d been doing it all night, still came off as kind of simplistic and surreal), asking who among them would fire a missile that would kill Bin Laden and anyone who happened to be in the neighborhood.

They all raised their hands, except Kucinich. And that’s pretty freakin sad.

Do we need another bloodthirsty president? Do any of the candidates honestly believe that terrorism dies with Bin Laden, that blowing him up closes the book on 9/11?

I’m not saying Osama Bin Laden doesn’t deserve to die. I’m saying a dead Bin Laden wouldn’t make us any safer, especially if he’s surrounded by a bunch of dead people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And by the way, if President Poor Dope really wanted to find Bin Laden, he could have invested a small percentage of what he’s wasted in Iraq to do so. If he isn’t going to make the effort, why is the question important enough to ask the Democratic candidates?

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Guns and Poetry

There’s a difference between gun owners and gun nuts. You can be a gun owner without being a gun nut, but I can’t imagine there being any gun nuts who aren’t gun owners. (Although I suppose it’s possible. There are a lot of people who are nuts about occupying Iraq but who can’t bring themselves to enlist and occupy it themselves.)

I think gun owners cross the line into gun nuttery when they (1) interpret even the slightest gun control effort as the first step in a massive national gun roundup, and (2) believe that more guns are the answer to all of life’s problems. After the Virginia Tech shooting, some of these people said the tragedy could have been averted if students were allowed to carry concealed weapons.

Because that’s what you want: A campus full of wanna-be heroes and bullets flying every which way. Joe Sophomore takes a shot at the crazy Korean kid, Tom Freshman hears the report and takes a shot at Joe Sophomore, and Bob Junior, who’s been holding a grudge ever since Tom spilled beer on him at the Phi Psi kegger, seizes the opportunity to save the college from the beer-spillin’, random-shootin’ freshman. Ker-pow.

But, in the words of Arlo Guthrie, that’s not what I came to talk to you about. I came to talk to you about the Burma Shave-style signs you’ll find on I-74 between Champaign, Illinois and the Indiana state line.

The signs are posted by the Champaign County Rifle Association, and they’re just like the old Burma Shave signs that appeared on American highways from 1929-1963. Each set of five signs has a bit of doggerel in the abab rhyme scheme, and the final sign points you to a website where you can learn more about how guns are your friends.

I have no issue with gun safety education or roadside poetry either one. I don’t begrudge anyone a spirited defense of the Second Amendment, at least until they start dipping into gun nuttery as described in the second paragraph. My problem with these verses is that they suggest utterly simplistic and unrealistic solutions to real problems.

Which makes them fair game here at the Runes.

Here’s a verse I saw recently:

Police don’t always
Arrive in time
What protects you
During the crime?

Now, what they want you to think is “Aha, a gun! A gun would protect me during the crime! If I only had a gun, I could avoid being robbed, raped, murdered, etc.” But unless you’re a quick-draw artist on a par with Billy the Kid, you’re no match for someone who’s got the drop on you. That’s the thing about bad guys. If they’re mugging you or robbing your house, they’ve got a plan. If you’ve been taken by surprise, you don’t.

If you’re being physically assaulted, it only makes sense to fight back. But if someone’s after your money, it seems to me that what protects you during the crime is keeping your damn mouth shut.

Here’s another one:

Terrorists love
Gun control
Unarmed victims
Are their goal

Wow, it’s really too bad there wasn’t an armed security guard in the World Trade Center that day. “You just turn that plane right around, Mister.”

I’m sure the guy who came up with that poem patted himself on the back for a long time, but honestly—is he even aware of the definition of terrorism? To borrow a phrase from Batman, terrorists are a cowardly lot. They operate on the sly, planting bombs and then getting the hell away from them (except for the suicide bombers, to whom a gun would be a laughable deterrent).

I suspect the “terrorists” poem was just an attempt to link terrorism and gun control, which in rural Illinois might well be code for “Democrats.” Either way, I don’t think terrorists particularly care whether their victims are armed or not.

(And by the way, when I say terrorists I’m talking about people trying to achieve a political advantage through the use of violence. I’m not using the George W. Bush definition, which is essentially “Anyone who gets in my way” or “Anyone I can fool my remaining supporters into believing is out to get them.”)

Next time I travel to Indiana I’ll write down some more of these gems. In the meantime, here’s one of my own:

Violets are blue
Roses are red
I woke up and found a burglar in my home and tried to be a hero by pulling a gun on him
Now I’m dead

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Man Was Nice Before He Was Religious

Did you know that Jerry Falwell once said Billy Graham was Satan’s servant on earth?

I don’t know what Graham’s reaction was (I hope he turned the other cheek, cause Falwell would have hated that), nor have I done enough Googling to find out the reason for the insult. Maybe they were fighting over a parking spot or something.

In any event, though he hasn’t been relevant in my life for several years, I’ve always thought Billy Graham was one of the more sincere and least offensive evangelical types. I respect the fact that he isn’t always getting his mug on TV to demonize the gays and the liberals, which is probably exactly why a Pharisee like Falwell didn’t care for him.

Anyway. Billy Graham has a syndicated column in which he dispenses advice to the sort of people who see some value in asking Billy Graham for advice, and in today’s column (discovered through a link at someone else’s blog), he answers a thought-provoking but profoundly sad question from a Mrs S.G.

The headline:

The letter:
DEAR DR. GRAHAM: My neighbor is the nicest person I know, and she’ll do anything for anyone who needs help. And yet she isn’t at all religious, and says she’s never found any need for God. How do you explain this? I thought only religious people were supposed to know what it means to love others. -- Mrs. S.G.

I don’t know how old this Mrs S.G. is, but it sounds to me like she’s been around a while—which makes her last line one of the saddest things I’ve ever read. How sad to be so sheltered, so insulated from the real world that you think only religious people are capable of love.

Doubly sad if that’s what she’s been indoctrinated to believe her whole life.

If Mrs S.G. had written to me, I’d have been surprised because I don’t have a syndicated advice column. But hypothetically speaking, my answer would have been something simple, something like “Mankind knew how to love long before religion was invented.”

A similar answer from Billy Graham, of course, would have been career suicide. So he went with the safe reply:

DEAR MRS. S.G.: Your neighbor's concern for others is commendable—but if she had Christ in her heart, I believe she'd be an even more loving and compassionate person.

No, Billy, you’re either loving and compassionate or you’re not, and as Mrs S.G. said, her neighbor is the nicest person she knows, one who will “do anything for anyone who needs help.” The neighbor has attained a state of loving compassion. She’s a 10 on the loving compassion scale, which doesn’t go to 11.

I think Billy Graham knows this. I think he knows that a world of loving compassionate people would be utopia, whether they were believers or not. He also knows which side his bread is buttered on, so he goes on to cast aspersions on the neighbor woman’s heart:

But something has happened to us—and that “something” is sin. Yes, we can love—but all too often our love becomes twisted and selfish. It may even become so dim that evil overtakes us. Like a deadly cancer, sin has dulled our ability to love the way we should.

Is he suggesting Christians have a monopoly on selfless love? Is he suggesting the neighbor’s behavior masks something twisted, selfish, and sinful?

Or is he just changing the subject?

His final advice to Mrs S.G. is to pray for her neighbor so that she’ll come to understand God’s love, etc etc. But whether Mrs S.G. takes that advice or not, I hope she’ll open her eyes and see for herself that people are good, and that it isn’t religion that makes them that way.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Tragedy Made Trivial

I was among the thousands of St Louis Cardinals fans—and baseball fans in general—saddened last April 29 by the death of relief pitcher Josh Hancock in an alcohol-related traffic accident. Hancock was legally drunk and talking on a cell phone when his SUV ran into the back of a tow truck that had stopped to help a motorist on US 40 in St Louis. He was killed instantly; the tow truck operator and the driver of the stalled car weren’t hurt.

The saddest part of the story for me was that the Cardinals won the World Series last October, and Hancock, a key member of the bullpen, only got to bask in that glory for a few short months. This kid—just 28 when he died—only had from October to April to tell people he was a member of the world championship team.

That was the saddest part of the story up until a couple of days ago, when the St Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Hancock’s father is filing a wrongful death lawsuit seeking damages “over $25,000.” And here’s where it gets goofy: The defendants in the suit are the restaurant where Josh had been drinking, the owner and driver of the tow truck, and—get this—the driver of the stranded vehicle.

Mr Hancock’s suit alleges that “The intoxication of Joshua Morgan Hancock on said occasion was involuntary.” According to the Post-Dispatch, one of Hancock’s lawyers said “It's understood that for the entire three hours that Josh Hancock was there, that he was handed drinks. It's our understanding that from the moment Josh Hancock entered Mike Shannon's that night that he was never without a drink.”

Wow. Apparently when Josh Hancock walked into Mike Shannon’s restaurant that night, they jammed a funnel in his mouth and emptied several bottles into his protesting gullet. They couldn’t hear him saying “No, stop, two’s my limit,” because the funnel was in the way.

I’m just speculating, of course. I don’t know how else to explain the term “involuntary intoxication.”

It seems to me that a person has a number of choices when he’s handed drinks for three hours. He can say No at some point, or he can accept and enjoy them all. If he chooses the latter, he can find an alternate ride home or he can hop drunkenly his SUV and go barreling down US 40 while chatting on a cell phone.

Hancock made the wrong choice. But it was his.

Missouri’s dram shop law was repealed in 1934, but there are still statutes that allow someone to file a suit if an establishment knowingly serves “intoxicating liquor to a visibly intoxicated person.” I don’t know enough about law to speculate if there’s a case here. I do know that the manager of the restaurant offered to call a cab for Hancock, but he told her he was heading to a hotel three blocks away.

I can understand Mr Hancock’s pain. But I can’t understand the desperation, the grasping, the greed that would cause him to name the tow truck operator and the motorist in this lawsuit. “The guy should have known not to drive a car that might stall while my son was being forced at gunpoint to drink too much—and the tow truck operator should have known better than to stop and help.”

Hell, as long as you’re throwing defendants in right and left, why not include whoever makes the schedules for major league baseball? If the Cardinals hadn’t played in St Louis that night, this tragedy wouldn’t have happened.

Josh Hancock made a bad mistake. But this lawsuit trivializes his memory, and I hope a judge dismisses it quickly.

* * *

This is a poem I wrote a few years back.

On the Old Mill Road

On the Old Mill Road the trees squeeze you in on both sides
And the curves surprise you with impossible angles
From a time when life didn’t move so recklessly fast

Deer and rabbits wander up and eat the memorial flowers
Freshened weekly by the survivors
Who write their congressmen and demand
A wider road running straight through the woods

The message being that the state is responsible
For providing safer roads
For our drunken children to drive on

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Death of Falwell

I guess I’m not all that broken up about the death of Jerry Falwell. I mean, I’m sure he was well loved by his family and friends, but for those of us who never bought into the idea that Christianity is the exclusive province of well-to-do warmongering Republicans, he was kind of a douche.

And here’s the thing. I wasn’t always a liberal, and I wasn’t always a non-believer. But Jerry Falwell came into prominence way back when I was a faithful churchgoin’ boy, and I remember thinking he was a creep then, too.

Not sure why, exactly. Maybe it was the smug look on his piggy little face. Maybe it was the arrogance of the term “Moral Majority,” which went against everything I believed about Christian humility. I was never much of a Bible scholar, but I had always taken to heart the verse “He who exalts himself will be humbled.” And Falwell loved exalting himself.

Falwell and people like him helped me decide which camp I wanted to be in, and it sure wasn’t the camp of the self-righteous, the camp of the arrogant, the camp of the people whose superstitions keep them from opening their eyes and seeing the real world.

By the time Falwell made his idiotic pronouncement that part of the blame for 9/11 belonged to “the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for an American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America,” I’d long recognized him for what he was: a glutton for the spotlight and a hero of authority-loving Americans who won’t think for themselves.

And sadly, those folks will find someone else now to do their thinking for them.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hate Crime Bill Hatas

I’ve never been a big fan of the phrase “Don’t get your panties in a wad” (or its more assonant cousin “Don’t get your undies in a bunch”), but every once in a while I run across something that makes it obvious why the phrase was coined in the first place. Today it happens to be the people who oppose the Hate Crimes Bill.

These folks definitely need to unclench a little bit.

I refer you to a letter I found in the online version of the St Louis Post-Dispatch, a letter from a Mr Jim Hassinger of St Charles, Missouri, who says the Hate Crimes Bill is unfair and possibly unconstitutional. According to Jim, the bill “allows our federal government to punish perpetrators of crimes against some selected citizens more severely than perpetrators of crimes against unselected citizens.”

Technically, he’s not far off. The bill essentially adds “sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, and disability” to a list of categories that are already covered by federal hate crimes legislation—race, religion, color, and national origin. So if you commit a crime against a black person, a Muslim, or an Irishman because you hate black people, Muslims, or the Irish, then yes, the punishment will be more severe.

That doesn’t mean you won’t be punished otherwise. If the crime is assault and battery, you’re going to pay the price for assault and battery. If Jim Hassinger isn’t planning on committing any hate crimes, why is he so worried about a perpetrator getting a little extra punishment?

Jim goes on to completely miss the mark (and to misuse the word “explicitly”):

Citizens explicitly less protected under this law include: senior citizens, pregnant women, unborn children, military personnel and the homeless.

That just isn’t true. The existing laws are still in effect. It’s still illegal to hit a senior citizen in the head, to run over military personnel, and to embezzle from pregnant women. The Hate Crimes Bill doesn’t make anyone “explicitly” less protected, and in fact doesn’t make anyone less protected at all. Sure, the bill doesn’t mention senior citizens and pregnant women, but neither does it mention dentists, left-handers, first basemen, and people with googly eyes.

By and large, people don’t hate dentists for being dentists. But there sure are a lot who hate black people and gay people for being black and gay—and they’re willing to express it with chains and iron pipes.

But maybe Jim isn’t aware of such things. Maybe he’s never done a Google search for James Byrd Jr or Matthew Shepherd.

Of course, it’s too early to let Jim off the hook entirely. Because what really has his BVDs in a bundle is the concern that his church isn’t going to be allowed to preach against the gays anymore. In fact, says Jim:

…the greatest jeopardy is that under this law it is entirely conceivable that persons who read the Bible, you know, the parts pertaining to homosexuality…especially to another person, could be convicted of a hate crime. It has already happened in other countries.

Yeah, you read that correctly. Jim’s under the impression that reading the Bible is going to be classified as a hate crime—especially if one reads it to another person.

Of course, I suppose we could just cut those parts out of the Bible.

Gee, Jim, what you do in your spare time is no concern of ours. In any event, he’s not alone. According to a story on the CBN website, the director of a group called Repent America is urging Christians to contact their legislators and express their opposition to the bill. “Together,” he said, “as one loud voice, we must urge our lawmakers to vote against the legislation that seeks to silence us.” And the always quotable media whore James Dobson said “Pastors preaching from Scripture on homosexuality could be threatened with persecution and prosecution.”

Easy, fellas. Readjust your briefs. Stop pretending you’re being persecuted. There has to be a crime committed before it can be a hate crime, so try not to get all hysterical. Follow the example of Jason Rantz, a contributing editor at Family Security Matters, who takes a calmer, more reasoned approach:

But where I disagree is with the urgency of many on the Right when it comes to this bill. It is indeed possible that this bill may lead to restrictions on speech. If and when that happens, I will join the fight against the restrictions, as the First Amendment is easily the most important amendment of the Constitution. But is it
probable that this bill will lead to restrictions on protected speech? Not at this juncture.

I guess I’m suspicious of any pastor who’s so worried about losing his right to condemn alleged sinners that he values it more than the right of another human being to live without the fear of being beaten up.

Ah well. Let’s go back to Jim Hassinger of St Charles and see what bit of wisdom he’s going to leave us with:

I wish I felt bold enough to ask God’s blessing upon our country. But now, with great fear and trepidation, I humbly beg that God simply have mercy upon our nation.

Great fear and trepidation. Man, how can you pull yourself out of bed every morning?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Random Thoughts From the Hoosier State

I’m writing this from my folks’ house in rural Indiana, but I won’t get to post until I return to the Des Moines metro. My mom’s internet service provider is a guy named Merle, who comes to your house when you’re online and loads each pixel by hand. Mom’s still waiting for Merle to load the page with the 2004 election results, and I don’t have the heart to tell her.

* * *

There is no platitude so banal that pseudopatriotic Pharisees won’t put it on a bumper sticker. On the way here I was passed by a late-model car with one of those “Freedom Isn’t Free” stickers on the trunk. You know the one I mean: big bold font, eagle head, flag waving in the background. That sticker reminded me of a major difference between liberals and the sort of people who elected President Poor Dope: Liberals would be happy with a sticker that simply said “Freedom.” The people who sport “Freedom Isn’t Free” bumper stickers are really saying “I’ll define what freedom is for you.”

I think we’re all aware that eternal vigilance is included in the price of freedom, and that military service and sacrifice are certainly necessary when various forces conspire to take it away. But despite what the poor dope and these bumper sticker owners might want you to believe, the events of 9/11 were not an attack on freedom. They were cold-blooded murder by a number of religious fanatics, at least one of whom is still at large. Americans did not become less free when the World Trade Center went down; we became less free when Bush and Cheney decided to take a long pee on the Constitution.

So yes, I agree that freedom isn’t free. If we want to stay free, we have to be on constant guard against stupid people with stupid bumper stickers who keep voting for stupid warmongers.

* * *

I was reading one of my dad’s back issues of Sports Illustrated and found a little sidebar where various sports figures explained why they chose their uniform number. Some NBA player said he wore number 7 because it was “God’s number.” Asked to elaborate, he said seven was God’s number because God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.

Using that logic, I want to wear the number “umpteen billion” because that seems to be how many consecutive days this alleged world-creator has been resting ever since.

* * *

Actually, no one has ever asked, but I wear the number 56 in coed softball in honor of Jim Bouton.

* * *

I wish I’d waited a few more days before posting the goofy Nigerian scam post, mainly because the Leonard Peltier post was more indicative of what I want this blog to be. On the other hand, does anyone really care?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Casting Pearls Before Swine: Fun With Spam Scams

The rule of thumb for spam email is to delete each offending piece immediately, no matter how tempting it is to reply and ask to be taken off the spammers’ mailing list. Replying to spam, as we all know, confirms that there’s someone at your email address, which will then be sold to other spammers as “a live one.”

I have a Yahoo email account I never use, but since there’s a slim chance that someone might see me playing online Scrabble and want to contact me there, I go in and check it out every once in a while. Every time I do, I find that Yahoo has diverted about 10,000 spams into the junk drawer. Occasionally, though, a bit of spam flops into my regular inbox, where it promptly gets disposed of without a read.

Except that sometimes I can’t resist reading the Nigerian scam letters. They’re persistent, those Nigerians (or those pseudo-Nigerians—they might be from Kansas, for all I know). They’re persistent and creative, but the basic story is always the same: Somebody has died in a tragic accident, leaving upwards of $10 million in a Nigerian bank. If the sender can’t find someone to make a legitimate claim for it, the government will take it and use it for some sort of shady military operation. And if I make the claim, the sender will keep a certain percentage for himself as a finder’s fee.

By my estimate, I have right around a trillion dollars waiting for me in various Nigerian banks. Furthermore, there are only about 14 people left alive in Nigeria, as the entire rest of the population has been killed in a tragic car accident.

I have, at times, replied to the spammer and suggested he take my share of the money and invest it in Nigerian road improvements.

I only reply to the spam that comes to my Yahoo account, figuring that account is a lost cause anyway, and the only reason I do it then is to amuse myself. Last night I accidentally came up with a reply I’m happy to share with all twos of my readers, in case they’re ever in a similar mood.

The spam that got my attention was from a guy with the unlikely name of Goodness Egobiaram. The subject was “Hello Donovan” (which I couldn’t help reading in a snide Jerry Seinfeld voice) and here’s what Goodness had to say (verbatim):

Dear Donovan:

I am a senior Accountant in my Bank and Accounting officer to Mr. Arthur Donovan who was a contractor with the Federal government of Nigeria. On the 21st of April 2001, my customer, his wife and their two children were involved in auto-crash along the ever busy Sagumu-Ibadan Highway. All occupants of the vehicle unfortunately lost their lives. Since then, the Board of Directors of my Bank have made several enquires to their embassy to locate any of my customer’s extended relations but to no avail. Hence the need to contact you since you share the same family name.

I have contacted you to assist in repatriating the money and Property left behind by my client before they get Confiscated or declared unserviceable by the bank where this Huge deposits of US$10M was lodged.

The Bank has published several Notice for the Next of Kin of the deceased to apply for collection of this Funds or have the account confiscated within a shot Period of time.

Since I have been unsuccessful in locating the relatives for over 2 years now I seek your consent to present you as the Next of kin of the deceased, so that the proceeds of this Account valued at US 10 million dollars can be paid to you and Then you and me can share the money, 60% to me and 40% to you.

I have all necessary legal documents that can be used to backup any claim we may make. All I require is your honest cooperation to enable this deal through. I guarantee that this will be executed under a legitimate Arrangement that will protect you from any breach of the Law. Please get in touch with my email and send to me your Telephone and fax numbers to enable us further about this Transaction.

Best regards,
Mr Goodness Egobiaram
Senior Accountant
Intercontinental Bank, PLC
Lagos, Nigeria

Now, as comforting as it to know that this arrangement will protect me from any breach of the law (if not from random capital letters), I decided to decline Mr Egobiaram’s kind offer. But because I was in the mood to have some fun, I wrote him back so he wouldn’t feel bad about my ingratitude.

Dear Goodness—

I have great news for you. Are you sitting down? Arthur Donovan is still alive!

Despite what the newspaper accounts said, Arthur survived the car crash and crawled to a nearby farmhouse for help. Now, I’m sure you’re thinking that there were four bodies in the car, and you’re right. But the victim identified as Arthur was in reality his long-lost twin brother Albert!

That’s right. Everybody believes Albert was killed in that tragic plane crash in 1998 (the one that prompted his solicitor, a Mr Goodness Gracious, to offer me the cool $5 million in Albert’s secret bank account). The truth, however, is that Albert wasn’t actually aboard the plane! He paid a homeless man $25 to board that flight (for reasons I think we’re both well aware of), and then of course the pilot—actually Arthur’s trusted valet, Steven Mogumbo—ejected with his parachute right before the plane crashed into that mountain.

Anyway—Arthur survived the car wreck, but I should warn you that his face was badly burned. He’s had plastic surgery, but now instead of looking like the Arthur Donovan you loved so well, he now resembles a young Elton John. I’ve informed him about the money, so you can be expecting him to show up and claim it himself within the week. Please be discreet. If You-Know-Who and his minions find out Arthur is alive, they'll stop at nothing to get their hands on that cash. If only Arthur had resisted the temptation to get involved in the Johannesburg Affair--but of course, he always did have an eye for the long-legged diamond smugglers.

Thanks for bringing this to my attention. It makes me happy to know that the money will soon be in the hands of its rightful owner!

Yours truly,

PS—If funds are available, I’m pretty sure Arthur would be amenable to renaming that fatal stretch of the Sagumu-Ibadan Highway after his late brother. If it causes just one of the few remaining Nigerians to drive a little safer on that road, it’ll be worth it.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Hoping Against Hope and the Dead Dog

Like if he stood there long enough that dog’d get up and run
--Bruce Springsteen, “Reason to Believe”

Leonard Peltier is serving back-to-back life sentences in Leavenworth for the murder of two FBI agents during the 1975 shootout at the Jumping Bull ranch on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. A leader of the American Indian Movement and a citizen of the Anishinabe and Lakota nations, Peltier continues to maintain his innocence.

Amnesty International considers Peltier a political prisoner. According to the website The Case of Leonard Peltier, he is nine years overdue for a parole hearing. There’s ample reason to believe that the government both withheld and falsified evidence in their case against Peltier, and there’s nothing that ties him to the murders beyond the fact that he was one of 30 people on the Jumping Bull ranch that day. Even the US prosecutor on the case has said “We can’t prove who shot those agents.”

The whole sad story is covered in Peter Mathiessen’s book In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, and in Michael Apted's documentary “Incident at Oglala.” But in surfing around the internet last night I ran across something that took the sadness to a whole new depth.

It was a simple thing, but heartbreakingly sad. It was an online petition asking George W. Bush to look into the case of Leonard Peltier.

The group behind the petition is called Kola, which happens to be the Lakota word for “friend.” Their website describes them as a grassroots human rights organization whose objectives include spreading “correct information on every issue concerning American, Canadian, and Australian indigenous peoples.”

I applaud their efforts. I wish them the best. I hope Leonard Peltier gets to experience freedom again someday.

But asking George W. Bush to look into something that will have no immediate political benefit for him and his sycophants is like taking a stick and poking the dead dog in that Springsteen song. The dog’s not going to run.

The petition assumes George W. Bush has a conscience. It assumes he has the mental capacity to understand the facts of the Peltier case. It assumes he’s a serious, thoughtful person who’s dedicated to justice.

Those are three assumptions for which no evidence exists.

Kola is trying to appeal to the humanity of a person whose response to Hurricane Katrina was to yuk it up and pretend to play a guitar. There’s nothing there, folks. There’s nothing to grab onto.

Can’t you imagine that petition crossing the poor dope’s desk? Can’t you just see the smirk? “Free who? Lenny Pelter, who’s that? An Indian? What is he, an outfielder?”

Even if Bush had the reading comprehension required to understand phrases like “falsified evidence” and “coerced affidavits,” and even if he were to make some statement about the Peltier case at all, I’d lay odds that his comment would be something like “Well, if the court found him guilty, he must be guilty.”

I’d love to be proven wrong about this. But Bush showed his true colors early on and hasn’t wavered once in the last six shameful years. Sad to say, but poking him with a stick at this late date isn’t going to accomplish anything.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Another Wacky Judge Named Roy

Not every post here at the Runes relates directly to exposing the self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and willful ignorance mentioned in the banner above. Sometimes the subject is just plain old batshit insanity.

I don’t know what it is about judges named Roy, but if you thought Judge Roy Moore of Alabama was a contemptible asshat you’re going to love Judge Roy Pearson of Washington DC. According to an AP story on MSNBC.com, this paragon of justice is suing his dry cleaner for losing a pair of pants.

For $65 million.

Back in 2005, Pearson, an administrative hearings judge, stopped in at Custom Cleaners and dropped off a number of suits to be altered. When he returned a couple of days later, a pair of pants was missing. He asked the shop owners, Mr and Mrs Chung, for the full price of the suit: $1000.

The Chungs refused to pay the thousand bucks, and one week later, the original pair of pants turned up. But by then the good judge had decided to sue. He demanded $15,000 for the cost of renting a car and driving to a different dry cleaner every weekend for the next ten years. But $15,000 is small potatoes in the extortion game: Look what else he wants:

(From the AP story)
But the bulk of the $65 million comes from Pearson's strict interpretation of D.C.'s consumer protection law, which fines violators $1,500 per violation, per day. According to court papers, Pearson added up 12 violations over 1,200 days, and then multiplied that by three defendants.

Now, the thing I always want to know in stories like this is what the judge’s family thinks. Is he married? Isn’t his wife telling him to stop making an ass of himself? Aren’t his kids saying “Dad, you’re really, really embarrassing us.” How can they live with such a dickhead?

And how does this guy sleep at night? Does he climb into bed thinking “I am such a good fellow, suing those working-class Korean immigants for $65 million”?

(I would be very disheartened to learn that Pearson’s family is behind him all the way on this—“Gosh, Dad, all the other judges’ kids have 65 million dollars, so why don’t we?”—so I’m going to assume the best about them.)

The good news is that the president of the American Tort Association has written to the board that oversees Pearson’s court, asking them to reconsider his appointment at the end of his term. In addition, the former chief administrative law judge of the National Labor Relations Board is recommending Pearson be disbarred.

Sounds like a good idea to me. Maybe the Chungs could hire him to make deliveries.

You and Your Fancy-Schmancy Slogans

Local radio commercials tend to be fairly horrible, for a number of reasons. One is that when a radio sales rep sells a package of spots, copywriting is included free in the package. Why charge for a professional copywriter when you have a disk jockey on staff? Yes, sir, we’ll just have our morning guy write those spots for you.

Yeah, that’s the morning guy with the fart sound effects cued up at all times.

Another reason is that a lot of local radio talents have the notion you have to sound like an announcer, even when you’re playing a character. Of course, maybe that’s because the disk jockeys are writing spots in which the characters sound like radio announcers.

Another reason relating to talent is that just having a cousin who wants to voice radio spots doesn’t mean she should be allowed to.

I mention all this because I heard a spot this morning that summed up everything that’s bad about local radio commercials. (Yes, this means I switched from the local NPR station. Honestly, hearing President Poor Dope’s voice every morning was making me lose the will to live.) The spot was for a used car dealership and featured two guys who were either employees of the dealership or the worst actors in the Des Moines metro. The gist of the spot is that one guy is making some advertising suggestions and the other is saying that none of them are necessary. The first guy says that maybe they need a slogan, and the other replies “We don’t need a fancy slogan. All we need to do is sell good used cars.”

It was the “fancy slogan” line that got me. “We don’t need a fancy slogan.”

Think of all the advertising you see and hear in a given day. Think of all the taglines (or “slogans,” for you laymen). Did you ever think a company was being elite, or haughty, or worse, hoity-toity for employing a tagline?

TV Anncr: Sponsored by Michelin—because a lot’s riding on your tires.
Car Guy 1: Oh, did you hear that? “Because a lot’s riding on your tires.” La-de-freakin-da!
Car Guy 2: Oh, look at me! I’m Michelin! I have a fancy slogan that makes me better than you!
Car Guy 1: Elitist pigs!

You’ve got to be extremely distrustful of advertising to think that using one of its most common conventions might somehow give the impression that you’re putting on airs.

Either that, or you have the lowest self-esteem on the planet.

* * *

One More Thing

I know this post was better suited for The Rat Race Choir, but I suspect the Choir is on permanent hiatus. I wanted to keep what passes for momentum going here at the Runes, and I didn’t feel like commenting on the dumbass and his veto of the military funding/troop withdrawal bill. I mean, honestly, what more needs to be said? The poor dope’s attempt to go down in history as the big macho war president is entering its fifth year of failure, and as long as there are people like Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice massaging his prostate, he’s not going to change his little excuse for a mind.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Your Only Choices Are Fear and Paranoia

I’m glad my job doesn’t involve updating online content.

Because apparently, updating online content is a high-pressure occupation where you don’t have time to think about what you’re doing or if it even makes sense. Apparently there’s an online content supervisor riding your ass constantly, screaming “If you can’t make that survey go live in five seconds, I’ll find someone who can!”

That’s the only explanation I can think of for the survey I just saw at MSNBC.com.

The survey accompanies a story about 18-year-old Allen Lee, a high school senior in Cary, Illinois. Lee carried a 4.2 GPA and had never been in trouble before, but when he wrote an essay for his English class that his teacher and principal considered too violent, he was charged with disorderly conduct.

Yeah. They turned his essay over to the police and the police turned it over to the McHenry County DA, and the McHenry County DA—who must not have a lot to do—decided they’d better bring charges against this dangerous writer. Lee now faces the possibility of a $1500 fine and 30 days in jail.

Folks, the thought-police are here. You missed the announcement because there wasn’t one.

According to the AP story, the teacher who assigned the essay told her students to “be creative,” and that there wouldn’t be any judgment or censorship. She might have forgotten to tell the class that she reserved the right to freak the hell out and have people arrested, but, you know, jeez, you can’t remember everything. There’s a paragraph from Lee’s essay in the news story, and yeah, it contains some violent images. But if the whole thing is as obviously tongue-in-cheek as the sample paragraph, there are some extremely unqualified judges of both creative writing and human psychology in the Cary-Grove School District.

In any event, Lee was a Marine recruit who was looking forward to joining the Corps after graduation, but after his arrest, the Marines released him from his contract. They didn’t want him writing anything naughty about our enemies.

The teacher and the principal weren’t the only ones getting off on their paranoid adrenaline rush. Tom Carroll, an assistant DA for McHenry County, said that “in light of recent events…that makes the reaction all the more reasonable.”

Note to Mr Carroll: The reaction was not reasonable in any sense of the word. Even if Lee had exhibited the same psychoses as the Virginia Tech shooter (which he didn’t), the reasonable reaction would be to prescribe some counseling and some rather intense observation. Writing is not disorderly conduct in any context.

Now, back to the harried online survey writer I mentioned at the beginning of this post. This is the exact wording of the MSNBC.com survey:

Should students face legal action for submitting violent writings in class?
• Yes, such writings must be dealt with severely, especially after the Virginia Tech massacre.
• No, students who submit such writings need help, not jail time.

Those were the only choices! No option for “No, creative writing is never against the law,” or “No, you can’t assume a correlation between violent writing and violent behavior,” or “No, this is a dumbass question that assumes the respondents have bought in to the very culture of fear and paranoia that mass media outlets have been instrumental in propagating.”