Sunday, November 28, 2010

Signpost to Senility No. 4,298

Getting older is not for the faint of heart or the easily frightened, as I'm finding out on an almost daily basis. It pretty much sucks on every level and should be avoided at all costs. Try as we might to press onward and live our lives as we have done for the past 30 or so years, stuff comes up that definitively lets us know that we are no longer in our mid-20s. Time does indeed march on, and we are either along for the ride or destined for the off-ramp.

I had one of those moments last night as I attended the Roger Waters The Wall Live Tour. Formerly a member of Pink Floyd, one of my all-time favorite groups, Waters created this magnum opus thirty years ago. About the alienation and isolation fame can bring, the original live show centered around a huge wall built on stage, separating musician from audience. At the time Waters felt at first a real disconnect from the people who came to see them, which eventually grew into a disdain and then hostility. He transferred these feelings onto his main character, Pink, who lived a hellish rock-star life of great excess but also great pain and sadness. Searching for the sources of this sadness, Waters heaps blame on a smothering, overbearing mother-figure, an unfaithful harpy of a wife, and a brittle, psychotic schoolmaster straight out of a Dickens novel.

Performed by the original Pink Floyd members, it was staged in 4 cities only. In later years the band broke up, and The Wall was never performed that way again. Resurrected in Berlin after the fall of the Berlin wall and in some other venues after, the show grew and changed, but the construction of a giant wall and its subsequent destruction on stage was always the one part that didn't change.

So this latest reincarnation is a high-tech tour-de-force that has to be one of the most elaborate and expensive shows ever. The Wall is still there, and is now used extensively as a screen for a huge amount of high-definition graphics. Gigantic puppets, probably 50 or 60 feet high, loom above the stage as grotesque symbols of all the horrible things that have happened in Pink's life. A model World War II plane glided high above the audience as it crossed the USAirways Center and crashed behind the Wall in a huge ball of flame. A giant inflatable pig floated around the arena, much to everyone's delight. It was total batshit-craziness from beginning to end, and was an amazing concert. Roger Waters was in fine voice and looked like he was having a really good time.

However, I am now officially done with huge concerts like that. No more for me. The crowd there was really obnoxious, loud and inconsiderate. There was an idiot sitting behind me who screamed and hollered throughout the entire show, as if he were carrying on a personal conversation with Roger Waters. This douchebag started shrieking "TEAR DOWN THE WALL!" in the first 20 minutes of the show, something that doesn't happen until the very end, two hours later. I didn't know one person could be so loud, this goon was really giving me a headache. He also did some whistling thing with his fingers that was extremely loud and shrill. But he didn't care who he bothered or annoyed with his actions, he was having a good time and that was it. Also a number of people around me smoked pot during the show. I don't have any problem with marijuana use, but not offering to share? Unforgivable and tacky.

Time was, I loved to go to concerts like that. I attended my first rock concert sometime during the 60's at the now-defunct Civic Arena in Pittsburgh. While I forget who it was that I went to see, I remember having a lot of trouble coming up with the $8 ticket price, a far cry from the $125 ticket price for The Wall. But it was an atmosphere of anything-goes as thousands of crazed music lovers like myself were in one place for the sole purpose of listening to a live performance by a favorite band. It was an awesome and amazing time and I loved every second of it. I went to many, many concerts over the next couple of decades, and it was something I loved almost more than anything else.

Now, not so much. The noise, the sheer volume of the music, and the machine-gun-like barrage of visuals and graphics became almost overwhelming. It was great fun to hear the live versions of the songs from the album that I listened to hundreds of times and to which I knew every single word, but the loud, obnoxious crowd just got to be too much. I know it's impossible for some people to just sit and enjoy a show, but having to ruin the experience of everyone around them due to their selfishness was a real turn-off for me.

So, Roger Waters, you did good. The genius of your work shined through at every turn, and putting together such an incredible show is nothing short of a miracle. I'm glad the last big concert I will go to see was yours.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Touch My Junk, Please

The newest tempest-in-a-toilet that is gripping the short attention span of the nation is the kerfuffle over the new and improved search procedures at the nation's airports. Boarding passengers are now given a choice of being irradiated by body scanners or felt up by clumsy, unattractive TSA agents with cold fingers. Mind you, this is after they get to the airport two hours before they can even think about leaving, and before they get herded onto a cramped, crowded airplane by a surly, disinterested, underpaid airline employee. That little plastic cup of tepid orange juice is going to taste mighty fine while your butt is tingling from all the anti-neutrinos or whatever the hell the scanning machine doses you with.

This latest development seems to be a concerted effort to get as many people as possible to permanently give up air travel and is due, at least in part, to the infamous underwear bomber from last year. This simpleton, who apparently is not too good when it comes to "thinking things through," tried to get on a plane with explosives in his undies. Now, thanks to this dimwit, the Transportation Safety Agency has spent untold millions developing and deploying some kind of scanner which peeks underneath your clothes to see if you have any explosives hidden in any bodily crevice or orifice. Eww.

Despite all the assurances of enhanced privacy the TSA is making, a number of people are a little bit leery of having their naughty bits digitized and stored on some computer chip somewhere. A while ago they demonstrated a prototype of the scanning machine "live" on one of the morning news shows and the result left little to the imagination. I can't conceive of what a horrible job from hell it would be to look at people's junk all day long. Can you imagine the mood you'd be in after eight hours of that? I would think there would be some strange interest in seeing celebrities' crotch-shots and maybe that would be a revenue stream for the TSA: peddling celebrity-peekaboos plus "enlarging" certain things to more enhance their image.

Some people are understandably not that anxious to have their sticky parts broadcast all over the place so for them the TSA is offering body pat-downs. But these pat-downs are considerably more thorough and explicit than what the American public sees on television cop-shows (which is where a lot of people get their conception of reality). Reportedly there is a lot of upper-thigh action and some people, in typical overreaction mode, have likened it to molestation. Um, not quite that bad, I'm sure, but bad enough to get some people bent out of shape. Americans hate to have their crotches fondled except under very specific circumstances, which usually involve dark, dirty parts of town and cheap liquor.

It will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow, the day before Thanksgiving and one of the busiest travel days. Some are calling for a "National Opt-Out Day" where passengers boycott the scanners and throw the whole system into disarray at airports when they are at their most crowded. As for myself, given the choice of scanner vs. being groped, I would opt to stay home. Back in the day, air travel used to be fun and exciting and pleasant. These days, it's a toxic mixture of frustration, boredom, aggravation and annoyance, topped with a heaping-helping of humiliation.

And if they want to touch my junk they're going to have to do a lot better than that.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

November News Roundup

Here we are, ripping through November like Cher goes through costume changes at her concerts, and I haven't posted in a couple of weeks. It's been a busy month but let's look at what's been happening.

Those ugly midterm elections are history and we've certainly heard way too much about how the new crop of Repugnantans are descending on Washington like dimwitted locusts with bad haircuts. Right off the bat they are thumping their chests and setting their sites on undoing the health care reform bill passed earlier this year. They might find that a little more difficult than they think, because they have the illusory, overblown courage of someone who is putting way too much confidence in their own talents. The Republicans are going to find out all those Tea Party candidates who got swept into office like a gigantic toilet backing up are not going to just kowtow to everything that new Speaker of the House John Boner, I mean Boehner, spits out at them. Same with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who looks like a huge, bulgy-eyed catfish who was yanked out the the water and is gasping for air. Sweet Jesus, those Republicans are some of the most gawd-awful fugly bastards I've ever seen.

But what is shaping up to be a real battle is the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. Set to expire at year's end, it would mean every taxpayer would be on the hook for higher taxes. The Democrats and the Obama administration want to keep the tax cuts for workers who make less than $250,000 a year but eliminate them for those who make more. Naturally the Republicans are apoplectic at the prospect of their wealthy overlords paying a penny more tax than they do now, and have vowed to hold a defense appropriations bill hostage until they get what they want. And just recently, the Republicans killed a bill which would have extended unemployment benefits for the millions of people still out of work.

Now let's think about this for a second, shall we? The Republicans want to extend tax breaks to the wealthiest 2% of our population, which would mean the whopping sum of $700 billion over 10 years would not fill the coffers of the Treasury, in this era of soaring deficits and recession-induced tax shortfalls. That is okay to them, but they don't want to extend benefits to all the unemployed people who have to do things like pay mortgages and buy food and pay utilities and send their kids to college. I can't think of anything else that has happened recently which more starkly points out the fact that the Republicans only serve the wealthiest Americans, and couldn't give a rat's ass about the people that actually do meaningful work in this country. After seeing this, it's impossible for me to understand how any middle- or lower-class voter could even think of voting Republican. This is what the Republicans do to people who are not wealthy - they take everything away from the middle class and shower it upon the rich and well-to-do, who already have much more money than they need. Why don't people comprehend this? It's not that difficult - Republicans only care about the rich. It is indeed that simple.

The Obama administration, still smarting from their ass-kicking at the polls, are flip-flopping all over the place and have all but sent up a flare indicating they are in the mood to compromise. The Republicans feel they have the momentum on their side, and they very well might. But if Obama caves to the Republicans and extends the tax breaks for the richest people, I am done with him. He can go directly to hell if he lets the Republicans have their way. It would be political suicide for him to do so, his liberal and progressive base would never forgive him. He would certainly lose my support. Instead of rolling over and playing dead for the Republicans, he needs to spit in their faces and tell them if you want a fight, you're going to get one, and then go to the mat on the tax break extensions, defense appropriations be damned. They need to find out what "party of NO" really means. Bipartisanship is dead, if it ever existed at all, and it's time for Obama and the Democrats to grow a pair and fight the Republicans with their own tactics.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Idiocracy in the Desert

There was a sci fi/fantasy movie a couple of years ago called "Idiocracy," in which a really stupid person went into some kind of hibernation and woke up 500 years later, to find that society had been so thoroughly dumbed-down that he was now the smartest person on the planet. In a really depressing example of life imitating art, one can have a similar experience in Arizona and you don't even have to hibernate for five centuries. Usually five minutes will do it.

The midterm elections are history, and not a moment too soon. While such elections are typically hostile toward the party in power, these were particularly ugly. The American electorate can always be counted on to make a stunning variety of horrible choices at every turn, picking the most batshit-crazy, bigoted and ignorant candidates imaginable. It's almost like the Republicans or the Tea Partiers or whatever the hell they are calling themselves nowadays said, "Hey America! Check out this completely insane, repellent, moronic candidate we dredged up from under a giant pile of manure. Nobody in their right mind would vote for this mess, right?" And America says, "Are you kidding? Of course we'll vote for them! We can't wait to get to the polls to make sure all levels of government are overstuffed with the most incompetent, racist, prejudiced and paranoid-schizophrenic people available!" After all, we are Americans and that's what we do.

The US House of Representatives now has a Republican majority although the Senate still stays under Democratic control, albeit with less of a majority than before. There were a few bright spots on the national level, with the tragically mentally ill Sharron Angle losing to incumbent Senator Harry Reid in Nevada. Thank you so much, Nevada, you have restored my faith in you more than you can know. Thank you, Delaware, for soundly defeating and humiliating witch fetishist and secret masturbation addict (you know she is) Christine O'Donnell. Thank you, California, for electing Jerry Brown and retaining Barbara Boxer. I'm really not that excited about legalizing marijuana although I do support the idea. Thank you, West Virginia, for sending your Democratic governor to the Senate. And thank you, New York, for sending that pasty-faced tub of bacon grease Carl Paladino back to whatever mutant alien breeding farm he came from. I take tremendous satisfaction in all their failures, especially since it is a big slap in the face to the braying, grating Sarah Palin, who strongly backed a lot of the losers. It was a bad night for some other of her so-called "mama grizzlies" as Carly Fiorini, Linda McMahon and Meg Whitman very deservingly went down to defeat despite Palin's endorsements. The words "Sarah Palin" and "loser" go together so very well.

We were also subjected to the monumentally surreal, stomach-churning spectacle of the presumptive next Speaker of the House John Boner, I mean Boehner, blubbering and slobbering on national television at how he worked so hard overcoming so many obstacles in his life to get to where he is. If he worked one-tenth as hard on his legislative efforts as he does trying to look like a fluorescent carrot with his cheap skin bronzer, he might have something to talk about. His display last night was cringe-worthy to the extreme, and the ick factor was way off the scale. It's going to be really tough having to listen to his maudlin sentimentality and overwrought stupidity for the next two years.

But the really disgusting stuff was reserved for the state of Arizona (big surprise), the worst being that we will have to put up with the decaying, disgusting remains of Jan Brewer in the governor's office for the next four years. How this puckered, haggard, old sarcophagus even walks around by herself is a mystery, since corpses are usually not that ambulatory and she looks like she died a good 20 years ago. There are 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummies in the British museum that look much better than she does.

All this has to do with SB 1070, Arizona's anti-immigrant law. That is the sole basis for Brewer's success, since her blinding stupidity, overwhelming incompetence and all-around repulsiveness would normally scare away most people. SB 1070 was also the centerpiece of all the other Republican campaigns, as they loudly crowed their undying support for that misguided measure, and undoubtedly was a big factor in returning the bill's chief architect, the corpulent, sweaty Russell Pearce of Mesa, to office. Voters have figured out that if previous governor Janet Napolitano (i.e. any Democrat) had still been in office that bill would never have been signed. Brewer, as all Republicans do, found a way to appeal to the basest, most prejudiced and degenerate aspects of human nature and harness them for their benefit. You have to hand it to the Repugnantans, they sure know how to take an enormous pile of shit and build it into an empire.

The only good thing that happened here is that shockingly, Arizona voters were smart enough to reject an NRA-backed initiative, Proposition 109, which would have amended the state constitution to make hunting and fishing a right. I think what frightened most people is the prospect of the state legislature making wildlife management decisions, because it is well known that they can and will screw up absolutely everything they touch. Dear NRA: Eat shit and die. Love, Steve. But in fact Republicans have increased their stranglehold on the government of this wretched, benighted state by sweeping their candidates into most state-level offices.

It's baffling to me why so many middle-class people vote Republican, even though it is directly contrary to their own economic interests. Republicans have and always will be the puppet-party of the ultra-wealthy, seeking huge tax breaks for their rich donors at the expense of the lower classes at every possible turn. They've even taken to hiding behind the facade of "small businesses," seeking to keep Bush-era tax breaks for the upper-class in place because they say a lot of these so-called "upper-class taxpayers" are really small business owners. When in reality, small businesses make up a tiny minority of the over-$250,000 a year taxpayers. Just as they maintain the estate tax is a bad idea because it makes hard-working farm families pay taxes on the family farm when the owner dies, when in fact it just shields the wealthy from paying taxes on their vast accumulated money. They also say rich people should get tax breaks because they will invest that money in other businesses, which is probably true if you own a yacht showroom, ski resort or a Lexus dealership, but mostly this "trickle-down" theory of economics is a cruel, self-serving hoax.

Looking forward, the Republicans are now in charge of the House of Representatives, and they will be shouldering at least part of the responsibility for whatever happens next. They will no longer be able to blame the Democrats for everything that has happened since the dawn of history, because they now have some power. Power comes with accountability - a very painful lesson the Democrats have learned - and the Republicans may not like having to actually answer to voters for the bad stuff that will inevitably come down the pike. Also they may find out that getting in bed with the Tea Party might not be as wonderful an experience as they imagined, since a lot of the T.P.-ers have been just as hostile to Republicans as they are to Democrats. But I'm sure we haven't seen the last of Representative Boner, I mean Boehner, sniveling and blubbering on television about his wonderful life, while the rest of the country suffers. It's painfully obvious that "embarrassment" and "shame" are two concepts completely alien to Republicans.