Monday, July 27, 2009

The Crazy Train of Summer

I've blogged about the joys of summertime in Phoenix in a previous post, so we're not riding that bus again. As our high temperatures sit well north of 110 degrees (114 forecast for this afternoon) with little sign of abatement for the next three days, the unrelenting, monotonous heat is making everyone here mean, irritable and cranky. I didn't include "crazy" since crazy is a facet of life in Phoenix that knows no season, but the sudden burst of baffling behavior across the country makes me wonder what's up. People in, say, Boston can't blame the heat like we do.

Has anything interesting happened in Boston recently? Well, someone tried to break into their own house and the police didn't like it. No sir, not one bit. Harvard professor Henry "Skip" Gates (and I'm not going to ask how a black man got the nickname "Skip") found his front door jammed upon his return from a trip so he broke into his own house. The police were called and things kind of went to hell after that, with the professor being arrested and booked for disorderly conduct (charges since dropped) after an acrimonious encounter with the police sergeant in command. From all accounts it sounds like what should have been a minor incident turned into a show of temper and macho posturing, and the media have conflated it into a major racial issue. Both sides dug in their heels and accusations of "racial profiling" were raised.

Racial profiling has become such a flash point of race relations in this country, which seemed to radically improve for a while when Obama became president. Not so fast, I am told, racism is still alive and well in this country, and that's true. The news this morning said that there was no mention of race in the original 911 call to report the "break-in." Is it such a big difference to say "There's a couple of guys breaking into my neighbor's house" as opposed to "There's a couple of black guys breaking into my neighbor's house?" In the second sentence you're just adding observational information which happens to be true, information which might conceivably make apprehension easier. Is that racist? I don't know. At any rate it seems that "beer diplomacy" is making its entrance on the national scene as both aggrieved parties have been invited to come to the White House and have a brewski with the Prez and hopefully work out their differences. A certain amount of detente was achieved with Communist China several decades ago with "ping pong diplomacy," which used the game of table tennis to start a dialogue, so diplomacy involving unlikely activities can sometimes work. I'm hoping it does in this case, because we really need to get past this.

The caboose on our Crazy Train of Summer is occupied by recently minted ex-governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, who just will not go away in spite of all my frantic bargaining with the universe to reform my behavior and become a devout Christian if she would just slip and fall into a huge peat bog somewhere in the melted tundra of Alaska and disappear forever. But no, she has to stage a series of picnics in her state to say goodbye over and over again to the people who voted for her, supposedly in good faith that she would actually fulfill her commitment and serve her term. What she's going to do in the near future we're not sure, but you can bet the rent it will be unpleasant to the extreme.

But since Palin has never met an open microphone she didn't like, she jumped on every opportunity to bleat in her annoying, fingernails-on-a-blackboard Caribou Barbie voice that she loves the Alaskan people so very much but doggone it, those pesky ethics accusations were just too much of a chore for her to deal with. She is like an incredibly bothersome seven-year-old girl who drives everyone insane with an endless stream of self-centered, narcissistic demands, like "Look at me! I'm quitting my job!" and "Look at me! I'm gonna write a book!" and "Look at me! I'm walking out the door!" and "Look at me! I'm (fill in whatever you want)."

They even asked her Eddie-Bauer-mannequin of a husband, Todd, what they were going to do now and he mentioned something about going bear hunting. Hey there Toddster, you want to have a really interesting experience? Why don't you lose the high-powered rifle and go mano-a-mano with one of those grizzly bears? I can just about guarantee you a unique adventure you'll never forget. And if you survive, you can truly call yourself an outdoorsman because you met nature on its own terms and won. I know that leveling the playing field and being fair is nothing you nor your wife know anything about, since it's way too much fun to use those helicopters and automatic weapons to indiscriminately slaughter wildlife at taxpayer expense for no good reason whatsoever, but why don't you try it for once? It would make so many people so very happy, which would give a certain amount of meaning to your boring little life.

When I was a child my parents would talk about the "dog days of summer" and I was always intrigued by that. Turns out that phrase came from the fact that starting in early August, the Dog Star Sirius - Alpha Canis Majoris, the brightest star in the nighttime sky - would rise and make an appearance in the pre-dawn sky right before the sun came up. So as we stumble into the dog days of summer, we can only hope that the Dog Star will bring some of the common sense and cheery optimism of our canine companions into the collective consciousness of the nation. God knows, we could use a shot of sanity right now about as much as we could use a big blast of cold air from Canada.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Birth(er) of a Nation

When it seems that the American socio-political landscape could not get any more fragmented or fractured, a new version of pond scum has been spotted clinging to the bottom of the cultural septic tank. These are the "Birthers," a new branch of the gigantic Idiot Tree that makes up the right-wing political faction in this country. Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, Birthers seem to hang onto the ridiculous, discredited notion that President Barack Obama is not an American citizen and therefore cannot legally serve as president.

Right-wing conservatives have always appeared to be sad losers that time has forgotten, completely unencumbered by bothersome concepts such as logic or intelligence. Steadfastly and resolutely defiant in their ignorance and firmly ensconced in their self-constructed web of delusions, a considerable majority of them can just be written off as senile old gaffers, pathetically ravaged by dementia and Alzheimer's disease in their golden years. I remember back in last year's presidential campaign when a disheveled, frizzy-haired old woman stood up at a McCain rally, where she obviously felt comfortable spewing idiocy along with everyone else, and accused Obama of being an "A-rab." McCain meekly told the woman she was wrong and Obama was an "honorable man," but that sort of fell into the same category as faint praise. He quickly changed the subject and proceeded to prattle on about how qualified his vice-presidential candidate was. And we all know where that ultimately went. Ignoring the implication that in McCain's mind "Arab" and "honorable man" are diametrically opposed, maybe it wasn't his job to make a big deal about correcting a misinformed supporter. But what a wonderful thing it would have been, had he chosen to do the right and honorable thing and stood up for the truth in the wake of an unfounded slur about his opponent's ethnic background. But I have long held the view that "honor" is merely a buzzword with McCain, as opposed to a desirable quality worth attaining.

Anyway, just like a case of political herpes, the Birthers will not go away. The other day on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews" program, a sarcophagus with a mustache named G. Gordon Liddy (my first reaction was "Is he still alive??") propped himself up in the studio and regurgitated the same old tired accusations, revolving around Obama's Kenyan father. Forget the facts that his MOTHER was an American CITIZEN and he was born in HAWAII, one of the 50 UNITED STATES, Liddy would not back down. When presented with a Certificate of Live Birth for Barack Obama from the state of Hawaii (what they send out when someone requests a birth certificate) Liddy deliberately and stubbornly refused to concede an inch. He even would not budge when Matthews pointed out that literally millions of people - including the Republican governor of Hawaii who has affirmed that Obama was born in his state - would have to be in on a 40-year-long conspiracy and cover-up to conceal Obama's background. And just how likely would that be? But don't take my word for it, you can see the whole delightful exchange here on YouTube:

Obviously there is something very wrong with Liddy. Either he is completely, irretrievably senile or very much over- or under-medicated, and he comes off looking like a sad, baffled old man. Much like John McCain. What he and the Birthers do demonstrate is a complete disregard for evidence and logic, and a single-minded, blind adherence to their absurd beliefs against all odds. Needless to say political discourse in this country is not advanced by this exercise in stubborn futility. Do they seriously believe that Barack could have gotten elected to the Senate without being a citizen, and no one would have discovered it years ago??

I don't expect the Birthers to give up and go away any time soon. After all, nothing is more persistent, more destructive or a bigger waste of time than an idiot who thinks they are smart. Eight years of George W. Bush proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt. But is it too much to hope that someday soon these people will get tired of their Don Quixote-like quest to battle windmills and just move on? Profound stupidity gets really boring after a while, (see Palin, Sarah) and the Birthers are way past their sell-by date.

Update: Ironically, McCain has become one of the few Republican voices who are telling the Birthers that they are full of crap and they should drop their little project to become the Stupidest People On Earth. You can be sure that last year his campaign staffers went through Obama's background with a fine-toothed comb and found absolutely nothing they could use against him.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Driving home from grocery shopping yesterday morning I could not find a single thing to listen to on the radio so I reluctantly tuned into one of the local talk stations. I sometimes do this as a self-imposed punishment for all the horrible things I have done recently, intentionally or not, and as a sort-of voluntary test-drive through purgatory in the vain hope that someday, forgiveness and redemption will be mine.

You have to understand that talk radio in Arizona is a bland, unappetizing pastiche of half-assed, inept attempts to copy the tired "styles" of Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or whatever right-wing toilet happens to be commandeering the national airwaves at the moment. Local talk radio hosts are completely interchangeable, and seems like they are all scrambling to be the first to get to the top of Mount Stupid. But I heard someone (and it really doesn't matter who) blathering on about the recent military coup in Honduras and how of course Barack Obama is doing everything wrong by supporting the deposed president and blah blah blah, but to make his point he got someone on the phone whom he referred to as a "citizen-journalist" for a "first person" account of what was happening. Really? A "citizen-journalist?"

While the citizen-journalists's grasp on reality was nearly as tenuous as their grasp of the English language, I became intrigued by that title. There are few titles around that sound so important and noble but mean absolutely nothing. The "citizen" part implies democracy and freedom of speech and independence, while the "journalist" makes you think of someone who doggedly pursues the truth and writes it up in a professional, educated manner. Put them together and you have "citizen-journalist," a really cool title.

Truth is, it means squat. Doesn't mean they are fair, impartial and free of any personal or political agenda. They could be some derelict whom someone dragged in off the street and gave a script to read over the telephone. And you can bet that any point-of-view they espouse has been carefully and rigidly screened to back-up and reinforce the view of the talk-show host. And who's to know if they're even in Honduras or not? It could be some fat greasy guy calling in from his mother's basement in New Jersey. That person could be no more qualified to be a "citizen-journalist" than that crazy guy with all the rabbits who writes a blog.

Okay, bad example. But you know what I mean. Beware of titles, especially one that gets thrown around a radio talk-show and sounds so imperious and respectful. Usually, they are the exact opposite.

Respect people, not titles. And always question authority.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Stuff I Think About

I gotta admit, I have a really good life. I'm retired but I keep myself busy with lots of projects and activities. My biggest project is keeping myself amused. And that is a full-time job. A lot of the time the world is just not funny enough on its own to keep me going, so I have to amuse myself. These are some of the things that pop into my head as I try to get through the day:

>> If you're reading a news story about the economy and unemployment and it starts getting too depressing, if you substitute the word "topless" for the word "jobless" it makes things funnier. Not better, just funnier.

>> Everybody knows Andy Rooney, the "irascible curmudgeon" (nice for "cranky old goat") correspondent on CBS' 60 Minutes news magazine. I don't understand why he is still on television. He is at least 3 decades past his "sell-by" date. Curiously, if you subtract 3 decades from his present age you get uncomfortably close to my present age, so what does that tell me? I hope I can live long enough to become a caricature of myself.

>> The other day it dawned on me that the difference between the words "perpetuate" and "perpetrate" is only one letter. When I first realized that I thought it was really clever but now not so much. Since they both mean sort of the same thing, to extend the life of something, can't we get rid of one of them? I've calculated that the amount of brainpower we'd save dealing with only one word instead of two would keep Fox News going for 10 years. On second thought, I really don't want that to happen, so we're keeping both.

>> Favorite comedienne Lily Tomlin says in her stand-up routine, "If olive oil comes from olives and corn oil comes from corn, where does baby oil come from?" The humor there lies in a deft swapping of "source" for "intent". That is, olive oil "comes" from olives but baby oil is "intended" for babies. Point is, nothing takes the funny out of something faster than analyzing it. Remember that next time someone insults you. If you make them explain it it will NOT be funny or effective. This is the voice of experience.

>> This is the land of the free and everyone is in favor of personal freedom and doing whatever you want, blah blah blah. But seriously, for the love of God can we pass a law permanently outlawing eating contests? Every July 4th it's a hot dog eating contest. I really can't think of any set of circumstances that makes gluttony entertaining or acceptable. To watch a bunch of people, who are mostly overfed to begin with, stuffing their faces with food is just plain revolting. If you take into account the number of people in the world who are dying of starvation at any given minute, plus the number of Americans who are obese, it makes eating contests somewhat of an obscenity. Get rid of eating contests. They might have gone over big at midwestern state fairs in the early part of last century, but they have no place in the world today.

>> Fox News Channel: "Fair and balanced." HAHAHAHA! That never fails to amuse me.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Go Away and Stay Away, Sarah Palin

So it hasn't been a miserable enough week with all the celebrities dying and that frizzy-haired whack-job in North Korea shooting off missiles just for the hell of it, when that complete waste of a life known as Sarah Palin sees fit to inflict one of her political bowel movements on this country the day before we celebrate our independence.

That she waited until the day before Independence Day to announce her "independence" from her elected office shows a grasp of subtlety and symbolism that is on a par with a second-grader marching around town with a "TOMORROW IS MY BIRTHDAY" sign. Also if she would have announced today, July 4th, absolutely no one would have paid attention. Palin never, ever says or does anything that doesn't have an ulterior motive behind it. To say she is calculating, cynical and duplicitous is an enormous understatement. To pretend that she has anything interesting or useful to say is pathological.

In a completely rambling, disjointed, stream-of-consciousness news conference - which is much more indicative of someone who is very much used to having other people tell her what to say as opposed to saying what she actually means - Palin blathered on and on about a variety of subjects, which covered a bewildering range from a simple-minded basketball metaphor to complaining about people making fun of her disabled child, Trig. Really? People saying bad things about a child born with Down Syndrome? I want to know who they are, because even I have a problem with that and I pretty much hate children. To me it's much more objectionable that Palin is invoking her own disabled child to make her point about what a terrible, awful, horrible thing national politics and the media are, and how it has been just grinding up her and her family who are really good people and don't deserve such treatment, even if we ignore their completely dysfunctional trailer-trash qualities. It was a surreal news clip: Palin droning on, making less sense with every passing second, while seagulls or geese or something honked and cackled in the background, like they were laughing and making fun of every word she was saying.

Well Sarah Palin, you most definitely deserve all the abuse, degradation, humiliation and derision that you get, and much much more. And if it spills over onto your family, that's too damned bad. You're the one that puts them in the media spotlight every single day, so deal with it, you moron. You are the one who cynically and unashamedly uses them and does anything to further your own political ambitions. Like the saying goes, "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." If you don't have the courage and the intellectual integrity to stand up to your legions of critics and take responsibility for the outrageous idiocy that seems to come as naturally to you as breathing does to everyone else, don't blame it on the media. If you're looking to blame someone, take a look in the mirror.

Palin sold her soul to the right-wing lie factory when she became a candidate, and she gladly and willingly acquiesced to every single idiotic thing they had her do and say. EVERY word that came out of her mouth at political rallies and appearances was staged and scripted down to the smallest detail. This was very graphically shown when Palin was interviewed by CBS' Katie Couric who asked her a perfectly innocuous question about newspapers she has read and Palin completely went off the rails, sounding like a dolt who was totally incapable of forming a coherent thought. After she had her emperor's-new-clothes moment and was unequivocally shown on national television to be a dimwitted moron, her Republican handlers blamed the media for doing a "gotcha" interview. Well if she wasn't such a blathering, brainless dope she wouldn't have gotten "caught" with a question that a nine-year-old could answer. That is a time-worn and much-used page from the Republican playbook: when your candidate proves beyond a shadow of a doubt how ignorant and unqualified they are, always blame the media.

You can only cover up stupidity for so long, and it became clear after about two weeks that Palin would not be able to keep her dismal lack of intelligence under wraps much longer. The rest of the campaign just reinforced how incredibly unqualified she is to hold any form of national office, let alone one so close to the Presidency. That John McCain even brought her on the national scene is just one more reason in a very long series of reasons why that senile old scumbag needs to spend all eternity burning in hell.

America deserves so much better than McCain/Palin, and I wake up every morning thanking the universe that they were defeated. It's somewhat of a mystery as to Palin's motives behind stepping down from the Alaska governor's office. I can't imagine how that could possibly help her if she is considering a White House run in 2012. After all, we can just make the point that if she bailed out on the people who voted for her because being governor was too difficult or stressful for her, what is she going to do as president or vice-president when the going gets really rough? Will she get stressed and bail out then, too?

Sarah Palin is the Britney Spears of American politics. Actually more like Britney Spears circa 2006 when she was shaving her head and beating cars with umbrellas. It's really hard to determine a motive behind her actions yesterday, which on the surface appear to be a form of political suicide, but you can be sure she is up to no good. We should never underestimate the power of a stupid, dead-headed, loud-mouthed moron who has a large number of other stupid morons supporting her. It mystifies me to my very core how anyone could see any good in her. She is profoundly and genuinely stupid, intellectually and morally bankrupt, a smarmy liar, a hater of wildlife and a despoiler of the environment, supremely cynical, absolutely devoid of anything resembling class, and more than willing to whore herself and her family out if it means advancing her agenda. She is the incredibly annoying little lap dog of the conservative right, always ready to degrade herself in any way her masters tell her to, and is rapidly carving out a niche for herself right next to other right-wing septic tanks like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. Sarah Palin is a world-class blight and an acute embarrassment to this country. Without a doubt the best thing she could ever do is take a long, long walk out into the Alaska wilderness and never, ever come back.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Hell-On-Earth Weekend

Independence Day 2009 is tomorrow and I have named the weekend closest to the holiday as "Hell On Earth Weekend." Allow me a couple of minutes to ruminate about early July in central Arizona.

I have been living in Arizona for sixteen years now, soon to start my 17th year at the end of the month - I moved here July 31, 1993. In my first full day in my new apartment the high temperature was 113 degrees. I thought to myself, wow, they weren't kidding in the least about this desert heat. It was blazing hot even at 9am in the morning and by mid-afternoon, a somnambulant, claustrophobic veil of heat blanketed everything with its stifling intensity. Even the doves outside my bedroom gave it up and hightailed it to some shady bit of shelter. Not knowing any better, I took a short walk outside and quickly noticed there weren't a lot of other people walking around. As I looked up into the hazy, glassy sky and listened to the surreal buzzing of the cicadas in the palo verde trees, I felt that the heat is so overwhelming it seems even time stops in its tracks. I walked around my new-found home town and thought about how different this place was from my previous home, the San Francisco Bay Area, and from the small town in western Pennsylvania where I was born. I understood that my new home would have a lot of challenges and opportunities but I also knew it would never be boring.

Residents of this area have come to realize that the wonderful, mild weather we enjoy during most of the year comes with a price, and that price is summertime. Starting in mid- to late-May, when the temperature starts edging up to triple digits, and lasting through the vast wasteland of June, July, August and most of September, summer will come and sit on you like a Sumo wrestler with a bad attitude. It rules your life and determines when, where and if you will venture outside. Summer is vegging-out time for us Phoenicians; in other parts of the country, winter is when you stay inside the most because the weather outside is so harsh and outrageous. Here, we spend most of our time indoors during summer.

And it's not like we get a lot of breaks or respites from the searing heat. It took me quite a while to get used to the fact that many times, it can still be above 100 degrees at 10pm at night and surprisingly windy, too. Friends in other parts of the country sometimes ask me what it's like to experience that, and I always tell them the same thing: get a hair dryer, turn it on high, and point it directly at your face. That is EXACTLY how it feels outside, and I'm completely serious about that. There are summer nights when it does not even dip below 90 degrees at any point, and scientists tell us that in about 20 years the nighttime temperatures won't even get below 100 degrees. This is the so-called "heat island" effect, where the buildings and roads and asphalt parking lots of the ever-expanding Phoenix metro area (the 5th largest in the country) will retain and re-radiate so much heat at night it will keep the temps in triple-digits 24 hours a day.

The only breaks we do get from the heat are from the delightful meteorological freak-out called the monsoon, which is the distinguishing feature of summer in Phoenix. It is a seasonal shift in the direction of the prevailing winds which normally come from the west, but during the summer they swing around to come from the east and bring with them a lot of humidity and the possibility of violent thunderstorms and rain. It's quite an amazing process how monsoon storms happen. The blazing sun blasts the desert floor to the south of us with heat and immense, rising columns of water vapor form enormous mountains of moisture-laden clouds, which you can see piling up on southern horizon. As long as the sun is out its heat props up these huge thunderheads, but in the evening when the sun sets all of a sudden the energy is gone and these huge thunderstorms collapse in on themselves. The wind pushes out of the bottom of these clouds in what are called "outflow boundaries" and as they sweep across the desert floor sometimes create an amazing apparition called a "haboob" or a dust storm, It is quite majestic and startling when you see a gigantic orange cloud of dust hugging the surface and pushing up from the southeast. It can envelop the entire valley in minutes and reduce visibility to several dozen feet. These outflow boundaries also trigger the moist, unstable atmosphere to form thunderstorms.

Alternately, the monstrous thunderclouds can form above the Mogollon Rim northeast of the valley, powered by the same solar energy, but when that energy is removed the storms collapse and come roaring down the Rim into the valley like runaway freight trains, bringing sudden, very powerful thunderstorms. I used to think they were fun until last year when an incredibly violent, three-hour thunderstorm took out the ash tree in my back yard, which was nearly a hundred feet tall had been there over 40 years. The only good things the storms bring are some welcome rainfall and a much-too-temporary 20-degree drop in temperature, which we enjoy for as long as we can.

But along with the rainfall the monsoon season also treats us to some amazingly beautiful sunsets, and as the sky fills with dust and all different kinds of clouds at many different levels, the setting sun illuminates and transforms it into an astonishing tapestry of red, yellow, orange and magenta, framed by a royal blue background. Often you can see distant thunderstorms in stark detail low in the sky, laced with bolts of lightning, which will sporadically illuminate portions of the clouds in startlingly beautiful colors. These light shows in the clouds are my favorite aspects of the monsoon season, and they always leave me amazed at their power and beauty. The desert seems to be like that - it can be a very harsh, unforgiving environment, but the dangers and inconveniences it presents are usually offset by scenes of breathtaking beauty which never fail to excite the imagination with wonder, no matter how many times you see them.

So, Hell On Earth weekend is here again. Actually for me this is a marker in the long, hot, dusty slog that is summer in the desert. It's an indication that time is passing, and the cool temperatures of autumn, while still a long way off, are starting to come a little bit closer. The summer solstice was about two weeks ago, and in a little while you will start to notice that it's beginning to get dark in the evening a little bit earlier than it has been. As we continue the arduous, slow crawl toward Halloween - the date that long-time Phoenix residents regard as the true beginning of the cool weather - we realize there are going to be some uncomfortable times to get through. But get through them we will, and when the mornings start cooling off enough for me to take some bunnies outside for fresh air and I can start to open up the windows at night, I hope I will have the presence of mind to stop, look around, and enjoy this amazing desert wonderland I have chosen to make my home.