Grammar Lessons

March 26th, 2009 by Gid

Even though it seems to be going out of style, I learned about the subjunctive from an early age and continue to use it to this day. My mother was an English major, and passed her facility for language – and her meticulousness – to me. If she were here (there it is), she’d agree that it can be rather handy to have around, especially if you’re the type who occasionally experiences difficulty in discerning reality from fiction.

If it weren’t becoming passé, the subjunctive would be especially useful in describing current events. We could say, for example, that if the Thai army were anywhere near the Cambodian border, they’d know it. We can wonder how the political climate could change if the entire Democratic party were cohesive enough to function as a team instead of shooting themselves in the foot by forming a caucus of Conservadems. We could possibly thwart those Conservadems, if all of their constituents were to write them and express their consternation and shame. And how wonderful would it be if Cheney were facing indictment for war crimes and fraud?

Luckily for many, however, the subjunctive is falling by the wayside. Mr. Bayh can therefore put on his best BVM look and tell the nation that he and his fellows are going to give their full support to Obama without a hint of sarcasm. They can tell us that they don’t want the Republicans able to filibuster important legislation, despite the fact that they’re enabling this option. The Chinese government can swear that they are unequivocally innocent of any wrong doing in Tibet – and honestly, those monks and their unreasonable demands for peace and human rights really are enough to test anyone’s patience. The North Koreans can maintain that they’re doing nothing more than testing a rocket; what could be more innocuous? How could anyone see a security risk? Members of the Republican party can object to Obama’s nominee for Ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, because he lacks enough experience for the job. After all, he’s only served as Ambassador and negotiator to eight other entities including some during times of war. Just make a little tweak, the subjunctive becomes the indicative, and presto, it’s all true! What could be more comforting? And if anyone should question the prior statements, they need only emulate Mr. Steele and maintain that it was “all part of a master plan,” which would become clear later on.

When I was little, we had a little game called, “Let’s Pretend.” We’d play it for hours, being kings, dinosaurs, cowboys, cops and robbers, limited only by our imagination. Eventually, however, someone’s mom would show up to end the game, citing the necessity of real life activities: chores, eating lunch, doing homework.

It seems possible that some of us might have learned over the last eight years that it was long past time for someone’s mother to show up and stop the childish games, especially the deadlier ones. The American public pulled its collective head out of the sand and voted the Republicans off the island, and we seem to be moving – however slowly – toward some semblance of national responsibility. Now who’s going to make sure everyone behaves and does their chores? Hmm. Perhaps we might find some answers here and there if we look.


March 19th, 2009 by Gid

“Some of my best friends are negroes.” In the 50s, no one would have batted an eye at hearing such a common phrase uttered in public. The other n-word was also commonly used with little outward reaction, even in polite society. Over the last half century, however, some changes seem to have occurred. Blatant discrimination against people of color, of whatever race, is illegal, and derogatory epithets are tolerated less well outside of a few certain rallies. Despite the fact that we now have a black president, there is still reason for the right-thinking people to be of good cheer, plenty of evidence that we’re valiantly keeping the 21st Century at bay.

Just yesterday, the Obama administration reversed our former leader’s staunch support of hatred and subjugation by signing the United Nations’ General Assembly statement condemning human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Could this indicate that we’re slipping further away from the moral examples of the Vatican or the Islamic countries where a queer existence can warrant punishment or death? The signing of this UN statement could herald such developments.

Well, according to Robert Wood, Acting State Department Spokesman, “The United States is an outspoken defender of human rights and critic of human rights abuses around the world. As such, we join other supporters of this statement and we will continue to remind countries of the importance of respecting the human rights of all people in all appropriate international fora.” Herein lies the message of our triumph: The secret of the last eight years of law-flaunting dictatorship remains safe!  How?  Read on.

This announcement might have been cause for concern had I not heard Hillary Clinton several days earlier saying that “the new administration takes persecution and discrimination against gays and lesbians very seriously.” Some might construe this as an offensive endorsement of the homosexual agenda, but careful consideration of her statement reveals it to be reassuringly devoid of meaning, because it cannot be construed in any way to indicate any action to further the human rights of the GLBT community. Discrimination in housing and employment are still common (if not legally sanctioned), Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell and DOMA still stand, and the wounds of Prop 8 are still fresh for the salting.

If this weren’t enough to reinforce the impotence of this measure, Robert Wood immediately reassured us, vowing that a “careful interagency review” concluded that “supporting [the United Nations'] statement commits us to no legal obligations.” So while the gays are rejoicing at what they see as progress, we remain secure in the knowledge that nothing need change. Besides, there are still nearly 60 countries opposing the U.N. declaration, and Syria responded by citing the Gospel of Anita of the Orange: homosexuality could lead to social normalization and possibly legalization of other deplorable acts, including pedophilia.

Remember that appearances can be deceiving. Our former president successfully modeled this aphorism throughout both his terms, and his legacy lives on! Our economy is booming, our troops ensure our safety, and no child has been left behind. Mr. Cheney is here to ensure that any blame is appropriately placed, and that any fears of terrorism are addressed. Mr. McCain is still here to guide us in the fine art of obstructionism, and Mr. Limbaugh to inspire us while we eagerly await the release of Former President Bush’s Authoritarian View of History. Before you know it, we’ll again have the kind of competent leadership we want in Washington instead of Alaska.

Buy, Buy, Baby

March 19th, 2009 by Gid

Even before the current recession began, I was always rather frugal about spending.  Both of my parents grew up during the depression, and they taught me what I needed to know about money – specifically, not spending it if you can help it, and never spending it if you don’t have it.  money1Unlike many of my peers, I currently have no debt, and a sound credit rating, which I don’t worry about, contrary to daily televised exhortations that I obsess over them.  Over the years, I’ve received countless offers for credit cards urging me to spend my little heart out and not pay a dime of interest for a certain number of months.  I currently have two cards, used very infrequently, and the balances are paid in full monthly.  Although I’ve made the occasional goof and forgotten to pay the balances on occasion, I’d be willing to bet that I’ve paid far less credit card interest than most.

Throughout K-12, I was never taught this.  There was a home economics class that was an elective, but it centered more on household duties than on the business of running a home.  I learned history and math, I took art and music, and even suffered through innumerable sessions of dodge-ball, deemed educational by the same applied intelligence that put vending machines full of cakes, pies, candies and pop in the school cafeteria.  I took civics, typing (no, computers were not taught at my school back then), English, and even driving.  There was a class in accounting for those who were interested in a business career, but there were no classes in practical finances for the layman: how to make a budget and live within it to avoid the credit card trap; how to shop around for everything from groceries to CDs and mutual funds; that starting a retirement account in high school could potentially make me a millionaire by the time I retired; what escrow is and what you need to know to buy a house; when to buy life insurance and make a will.  If I didn’t know that most Republicans and the religiously disadvantaged would forbid it; I’d add on avoiding pregnancy (and other catastrophic pitfalls), how to plan for a child and the fundamentals of raising one.

These are all things that the vast majority of people will either need to learn or would benefit from by learning to avoid hardships.  For every item mentioned, someone could add ten more, and soon we’d wind up with a good curriculum for Life Skills 101.  The banking industry would condemn me as a maleficent heretic, because what I’ve just suggested could potentially cost them countless billions if it were to leak out, so tell no one! It may have a negative effect on the economy, as spending would decrease if there were no credit abuse, but the positive effects on the economy are security, confidence and stability to name just a few.

We don’t have much of the latter at the moment, and while there are those exceedingly well-off individuals who need not concern themselves with such things, those not independently wealthy, who have yet to find their match on a website specifically geared toward finding a wealthy benefactor (for only the most discerning gold-diggers) must economize.  I’m keeping my penny-pinching practices in play, being properly picky about every expense, but even so, there are some things I just won’t buy.  Even if I had the money and cared nothing for the environment, I still would not buy a Hummer (I don’t think anyone needs one).  I don’t need a $200 dress shirt when I can find a nice oxford button-down for $20.  I will never buy a 56” plasma screen television.  My cell phone is a phone; it does not do pictures, email, or web surfing.  I will never take a taxi if the subway will do.

Given my preferences, I would certainly never buy a pension plan for GHW (greedy, hardly worthy) Bush, yet the Former Presidents Act means that we’ll be paying his salary, mail, staff allowance, and travel funds until he dies, and Secret Service protection for 10 years.  Given that he spent more than a third of his term on vacation, wouldn’t it be fair to reduce his pension by a third?  Might we request repayment of one third of his salary and expenses (about $1.2M) for the last eight years?  Can we penalize the pensions of BushCo proportionate to proven waste and costs incurred by lack of oversight during their administration?  Can we revoke part of their pensions when (please, oh please!) they’re convicted of defrauding the American people, committing war crimes, bypassing proper legal venues and violating civil rights?

I would never buy a stock, mutual fund or other asset without first finding out exactly how much money is going where, and when, and what I can expect in return.  I would never buy myself an all expenses paid luxury trip or hunting excursion, nor would I ever buy a financial institution, yet I find I have done so.  We all own 80% of AIG; we paid $170B for it, and we will never know exactly how all of that money was used.  We know that part $526K went toward buying some nice vacations for the top executives, and another $165M will be given as bonuses to reward the work of those same executives responsible for driving the mogul into the ground, thereby exacerbating a financial crisis.

There are other things that I will not buy.  When the former Vice President on CNN’s John King show this past weekend reprised his standard war cries of attack threats, and said that the Obama administration is threatening the safety of our nation, I did not buy it.  When he said that everything BushCo did was 100% legal, I did not buy it.  When he said, “I don’t think we can blame the Bush Administration for the creation of [the current economic] circumstances,” I did not buy it.  When he said that “… the extent to which they fix the problem with the financial institutions in this society; that is a Federal government responsibility.  It’s … all of the financial regulations and management of our currency that is a Federal responsibility.”  That I can buy.  I’m sure that once someone points out that this contradicts his prior assertion, he’ll claim that he did not say it.  This, I will not buy.  As galling as it was to see him – outside of a courtroom – so soon after his much anticipated departure, it was gratifying to know that he’s reinforcing Republican incompetence.

Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) resulted in the eponymous Lemon Test used by the Supreme Court to ascertain whether legislation complies with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  This asserts that the government’s action must have a secular legislative purpose, that the primary effect neither advance nor inhibit religion, nor result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion.  We are, therefore, supposed to believe that the Defense of Marriage Act (1996) and the addition of section 7.5 to Article I of California’s Constitution (Proposition 8, 2008), were not influenced by religion.  I do not buy it.

Bernard Goldberg recently listed his top five most offensive left-wing media smear machines for Bill O’Reilley.  The first 3 came as no surprise to me, MSNBC, the New York Times, and the Daily KOS.  Fourth on the list was Bill Moyers, followed by Janeane Garofalo in fifth place, whom Bill O’Reilley ranked over all other celebrity liberals for her belief that “dumb and mean find a nice home in the GOP.”  Garofalo is trying to sell me on the idea that “… the right wing has a way of always having an enemy, whether it be immigrants … brown-skinned people … homosexuals, women.  They … rally around an enemy, an ‘other’ that they can get mad at.”

Wrap it up, I’ll take it.

Cry, Cry Baby

March 12th, 2009 by Gid

Once upon a time many years ago, several children were playing outside in the driveway. A few were playing with a ball, two were doing things on a skateboard, Tom was playing with a toy truck. I can’t really remember what I was doing. Mike suddenly decided that he wanted to play with the toy truck, and took it from Tom, and did not want to share. tantrumTom, having the advantages of size and ownership of the vehicle in question, repossessed the truck. Mike tried to reason with Tom, to help him see the error of his ways, but to no avail; he even tried to insist that the truck was really his. Mike was not pleased, and became loudly, emphatically and enduringly vocal about the situation. When he realized that his performance was not reaching his audience, he went into the garage, and came out swinging one of his dad’s golf clubs. Everyone scattered, and that was pretty much it for playtime that day. The next time, we all gathered elsewhere and did not tell Mike where we were. It didn’t work for long, and he found us anyway. Not that it did him any good, because no one wanted to play with him. We were then treated to a reprisal of his previous show.

Fast forward forty years or so; it’s November of 2008, the nation has just definitively declared that the day of the Decider and his disciples was done, and Democrats dominated the day – and the House and the Senate. Now at first, the Republicans were very nice. They made the proper noises of capitulation and presented themselves as supportive of the new regime and willing to work toward the country’s common goals. This, of course, lasted all of five minutes, and before the President had even been sworn in, a new era of obstructionism began.

The first tactic, hardly original, was to simply deny the truth, whatever it may be. It had worked so well in the last eight years: global warming is not happening; there is no energy crisis, drilling for more oil is the obvious answer; there are WMDs in Iraq; there was no warning of 9/11. The same idea can be put to excellent use here! The swearing in itself was challenged as being invalid; a bill was introduced to consider that the war in Iraq was won, and that our mission was accomplished; Obama is not a bona fide citizen of the US, and therefore unqualified to hold office. Then other venues were explored: the cabinet appointments were delayed for little reason; a Republican cabinet nominee abruptly changes his mind about an offered post, only suddenly realizing that he might have ideological differences with the rest of the administration; false allegations were made against any Democrat as long as they could make for a news byte that sounded remotely feasible; they have cursed the new administration for outrageous spending while utterly failing to mention that said spending was significantly less than that of the previous administration, which facilitated an economic meltdown; Republicans have done their best to delay the stimulus package, thereby postponing recovery, while some have threatened to refuse any stimulus funding for their state (I’ll bet their constituents are thrilled). I’m sure that Mikey, wherever he is, would wholeheartedly approve this as the true, bipartisan cooperation as originally promised. At least, the five-year-old Mikey would have, but I’m inclined to believe that Mike evolved beyond such behavior a few decades ago.

It seems that the GOP isn’t the only group experiencing a sort of second (third? thirtieth?) childhood. What of the Chinese navy crew who got close enough to a US cruiser to cause alarm, and then dropped their pants? I remember such antics being used on a bus during a field trip for middle-schoolers to shock an elderly couple on the highway. What of Jim Cramer who insisted that he never recommended the purchase of Bear Stearns stock; did he think that no one was watching his show when he said that, and that no video record of the broadcast would be retained? And what of those few Democrats who suddenly discovered their conservative tendencies and voiced objections to their own party’s agenda? Are they going through an experimentation stage, or are they feeling the pressure of a junior suddenly asked to declare his major?

Sadly, there are also instances of some tantrums gone horribly awry, like Mikey’s golf club incident. 10 (no, 9; no, 11; no, 10. Reporters: If you can’t verify the facts, skip ‘em. Wait. Never mind, don’t let truth get in the way of the news.) shot in southern Alabama – and I really had no idea Alabama would be headlining when I wrote the ending of my last post. A depressed teen decides that the population of Wittenden needs to be decreased. Nevada made similar headlines.

Thankfully, hope still looms on the horizon. The Dow has done well this week, there’s talk of a financial oversight panel to curtail the activities of future Madoff’s, Utah’s has eased some of its arcane alcohol-related laws (they’re still screwy, but a bit less so), and this unlikely state may soon support civil unions. The UK is using life-size cardboard constables to deter crime. OK, so maybe that last one isn’t exactly rational on all levels, but it’s a nice thought. I wonder who’ll be the first on their block to “own” one. Let’s keep the experiment going for at least one more week before we make room for the galactic superhighway.

Tinkerbell’s Truth

March 5th, 2009 by Gid

It was a very interesting week in the news, and despite the currently pervasive fatalistic attitudes inspired by the economy, not all of it was bad.  Some was very inspiring.  For example, Barbie turned 50, and while some may claim that life begins at 50 (or 30, or 40, or whatever age you happen to be), it’s been found that the perpetually bouncy blonde beauty-queen’s approval ratings have been suffering a decline lately.  While this may not be good news for Barbie, it’s certainly good news for girls and young women, who appear to be learning that the ideals of beauty that inspired anorexics and bulimics are no more valuable that lacquered cow pies.

Some of the news was delightfully funny. It seems that the Iowa House has approved a bill changing the name of the Department of Elder Affairs to the Department of Aging — DOA.  I have to wonder just how many House members have relatives who are senior citizens, and whether they like them at all.  Will they also change the name of their local HUD office to Services Lodging and Urban Management?  I admit I have a fondness for Iowa jokes, since my partner hails from there.  My delight in this little news item was heightened by the next commercial break, which included an ad for a new drug available for controlling depression.  As law requires, the ad includes a litany of possible side effects, one of which is potentially lethal.  Isn’t it ever so slightly ridiculous to have a law that points out potential death to those suffering from depression?

Ridiculous laws are nothing new.  In my state of origin, for example, It is legal for a robber to file a law suit, if he or she got hurt in your house.  Law also allows any person over the age of 12 to have a license for a handgun as long as he/she has not been convicted of a felony.  How these might be interpreted in tandem, I’ll leave up to you.  In New York, people may not greet each other by “putting one’s thumb to the nose and wiggling the fingers,” nor may one walk around on Sundays with an ice cream cone in one’s pocket.  There are such things on the books for every state in the union, and most countries founded over a year ago.

Other ridiculousness was in the news.  Republicans, for example.  They’re still blaming Obama for all of our economic woes.  I wonder if, as children, they were taught to revile the apple farmer who grew the apple that was used by the evil queen to poison Snow White.  Rush Limbaugh was in the news.  I can think of little that is more ridiculous, except, perhaps for those who take him seriously.  Then, Rachel – my much admired Ms Maddow – trotted out the pièce de résistance.

It seems that the aluminum fabrication giant Alcoa wished to build a smelting facility in Iceland.  Before they were allowed to proceed, however, they were required to have the site surveyed (at their considerable expense) by a governmental office to certify it to be free of “Hidden People,” whom we know as elves.  I felt sorry for them.  Not Alcoa; I’m sure they were able to bear the cost.  Nor was I sorry for the Elves; they’re lucky to have someone to protect their interests in this day and age.  I felt sorry for the lampooning taken by the Icelanders when this particular story was brought to light.

Iceland has a lot going for it.  It’s got natural beauty, it’s concerned about its natural resources, and a very large percentage of its population is very well educated.  Before the economy tanked, it was a great place to visit; though I don’t know this first hand, I do know a couple people who recently returned from there, and had only good things to say about it.  I’ve also always been told that Icelanders are very friendly as a whole.  And then, just because it slips out that most of them are very serious about elves, they’re subjected to ridicule.

I’ll admit that when I first heard the news, I chuckled right along with Rachel, but I know I should be more kind.  And if I want to poke fun at the Icelanders for their religious beliefs without seeming hypocritical, I would be obliged to poke fun at others, like Hare Krishnans, or even followers of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or those silly people in Alabama, where it’s illegal to deny the existence of a polymorphous, omnipotent deity.