Friday, October 24, 2008

Penultimate 2008 Election Thoughts

With a week and a half to go before the election, I realized that there isn't enough political media coverage. So I guess I'll have to put on my pundit hat and make up for the slackers who should be doing their jobs.

Poll Vaults

Nearly every poll shows Obama with a fairly comfortable lead, anywhere from 52%-39% to 49%-45%. And then out of nowhere the AP came out with a poll that showed Obama and McCain in a statistical tie, 44%-43%. I thought this had to be fishy. Sure enough, the number of evangelical Christians included in the poll was double the amount of those who voted in the previous election (46% to 23%). Unless there's been a rash of baptisms down by the river, I think it's safe to ignore that AP poll. But if you're a right-wing radio host, you should breathlessly claim that, unlike what the liberal media wants you to believe, the race is a dead heat.

Joe the Plumber

To hear McCain and his cronies speak of it, Joe the Plumber would benefit under McCain's plan. Have you seen the interview between Barack Obama and Joe the Plumber? Joe the Plumber said he was thinking about buying a business, and if his business is successful enough to earn (and report) more than $250K, why would Obama want to single him out to pay higher taxes? Obama then went on to explain his plan in excruciating detail. Joe the Plumber seemed impressed and deferential. In reality, Joe the Plumber will likely continue to earn less than $250K, in which case he'll be better off financially under Obama's plan. And if he does happen to earn (and report) more than $250K, would his tax increase really have a significant enough to affect his business? Why all the Joe the Plumber fuss?

I would say, "I don't get it," but that's not true. I get it. McCain has nothing. Except Ayers! Obama associated with Ayers! Oh, and Obama's a socialist because he believes in the same progressive tax system that's been in place since Woodrow Wilson was president.

Biased Reporting

The mainstream media has been biased against Republicans. Check out the following AP news release:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Freddie Mac secretly paid a Republican consulting firm $2 million to kill legislation that would have regulated and trimmed the mortgage finance giant and its sister company, Fannie Mae, three years before the government took control to prevent their collapse.

Looks bad for Republicans, right? However, if you keep reading the article, you'll realize that Chuck Hagel and Republicans were on the right side of regulating Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and the Democrats opposed it. The controversy is that the Republican lobbyist firm got involved and convinced a few Republicans to be on the wrong side -- the Democrats' side.

AM Radio

During the last week, as I've been shuttling the boys to various activities, I tune in to the Seattle station that plays right-wing radio. I've gotten to hear what the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Michael Medved have to say about the political landscape.

Limbaugh's not quite as effective as he was when he was addicted to drugs. He's mailing it in. With Hannity, I get a feeling that after the show, he gets on the phone and berates RNC pols for McCain's lame campaign. "I make $20 million a year! I deserve better than this!" With Medved, I feel like I'm listening to an overly sincere impersonation of Ned Flanders.

By the way, did you know that Freddy and Fanny are the primary cause of our economic woes? It's true! Too many black people were allowed to buy houses, and now they're getting foreclosed on, and it's driving the banks into ruin. No mention of bundled loans or the ideology of deregulation in support of the free market.

Throwing Bush under the Bus

I'm surprised McCain's assessment of Bush hasn't gotten more press:

"We just let things get completely out of hand," McCain said of his own party's rule in the past eight years.

"Spending, the conduct of the war in Iraq for years, growth in the size of government, larger than any time since the Great Society, laying a $10 trillion debt on future generations of America, owing $500 billion to China, obviously, failure to both enforce and modernize the [financial] regulatory agencies...failure to address the issue of climate change seriously," McCain told the Washington Times aboard his campaign plane en route from New Hampshire to Ohio.

Yep, that'll rally the base. Now if he can just explain why he bragged about helping Bush get elected and re-elected, and why he bragged about voting with Bush more than 90% of the time, and how his economic plans and foreign policies are fundamentally different from Bush's, he may gain some traction.

And did you know that Barack Obama pals around with terrorists?


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Back to the Future

So I've finally gotten around to watching Mad Men, which presents life in the early 60s from a contemporary point of view. Uncomfortable racist and sexist scenes are predictable, but it's the small touches -- along with genuinely interesting plot lines -- that have sucked me in.

In one scene, a young child walks into the kitchen covered head to toe in a plastic bag. Of course, I immediately grabbed the couch cushions and expected the mother to yell, "Don't EVER put plastic over your head!" Instead, she bristles and tells the girl to go clean up her room. I'm waiting for the scene when kids pile into a station wagon without seat belts, and maybe the father throws a bag of McDonald's trash out the window.

Watching this retrospective has got me thinking about how our lives might be viewed if our grandchildren put together a similar series fifty years from now. What do we take for granted now that will seem absurd in 2060? Of course, it all depends on what happens between now and then, but I'll make my best guesses anyway.

Treatment of animals

Only a small percentage of people are concerned about how we treat cows and pigs and chickens to mass produce our meat and dairy. I would imagine that future generations will look at our mistreatment of animals in the same way we look back on separate water fountains for colored people.

Treatment of the environment

I imagine a scene where someone buys a new big-screen television and throws the old 36-inch television in the trash bin. Then a mother gets in one car, a father gets in another, and they both drive to the same place, with smoke belching from the exhaust pipes. There's a bumper sticker on one of the cars that says, "ECO FRIENDLY CAR" That's assuming, of course, that globally warmed people of the future still enjoy irony.


"Do you remember when people used to go to different places? You know, before the Holodeck was invented?"

Excessive political correctness

I imagine a scene in which a husband agrees to stay home with the children while his wife goes on a business trip. This will seem very funny to men and women of the future, when men return to spitting and grabbing their crotches and dominating, while women assume the role of domestic underlings. By the way, have fun in Boston, Wendy. Hurry home!

Got any other ideas?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Of Military Brats

I now subscribe to three -- and only three -- podcasts: Bill Simmons' B.S. Report, NPR's This American Life, and the New Yorker fiction podcast. A recent New Yorker podcast is particularly interesting to me, which is why I'm bringing it up. Tobias Wolff reads Stephanie Vaughn’s short story “Dog Heaven.”

This story itself is interesting -- Tobias Wolff has a keen eye for good fiction -- but what most intrigued me is that the author derives so much of her identity from having been raised on military bases. It struck me as odd that I had many of the same experiences in the military subculture, yet I haven't thought much about how military life shaped me. For me, having grown up Mormon seems far more influential than having grown up as a military brat.

So, for the purposes of this web log entry, I'm going to view my upbringing with a different lens.

Moving Around

We moved every three years. Idaho, Sacramento, Riverside, Omaha, Colorado Springs, Upper Peninsula, then Riverside again, where my Dad retired from the military. My parents, brothers, and sisters all still live near Riverside, while I continue the nomadic lifestyle. Provo, Seattle, Indiana, back to Seattle. I'm always restless, planning the next move. That's why this housing bubble is so difficult for me. After living in a place for three years, I at least need the freedom of knowing I can move on when I start feeling restless.

Growing up, we lived both on base and off base. In Colorado Springs, the fact that we were military caused the locals to keep their distance, as if we were renters in an established neighborhood. That's probably for the best, since people in Colorado Springs are assholes. And don't give me any of that I-knew-a-person-from-Colorado-Springs-who-wasn't-an-asshole nonsense. That's just the exception that proves the rule.

In Michigan, the situation was much different. There were basically three groups of kids in our high school. Locals, NCO kids, and officers' kids. The locals were mostly people of Finnish descent whose ancestors worked in ore mines, eh. The NCO kids and the officers' kids took different buses to school. It's not like we wore colors and had gang fights. For the most part, the school was divided in the typical categories of any American school in the late 70s -- jocks, freaks, and nerds. I suppose some of the officers' kids could have been considered preppies.

When I was in high school, I was a good Mormon boy -- I didn't drink or smoke or carry on -- but I probably had my rights read to me five or six times. In nearly every case, we broke curfew and someone in the car mouthed off to the patrol guard at the gate. Now that I think about it, the guards were most likely bored 20-year-old kids looking to bust someone's balls. You have the right to remain silent...


When I grew up, we shopped primarily at two stores -- the BX and the Commissary. The BX is a cross between a Wall-mart and a Ye Olde General store. The Commissary is a grocery store. At both places, the prices are cheap and there are no taxes. Whenever we had to buy groceries off base, where the rabble tried to make do in their civilian lives, it always seemed like a big rip-off, the equivalent of buying groceries at a 7-11. (Speaking of 7-11, I remember when those stores were open from 7 am to 11 pm. And I remember shopping at an 8-11 store.)

The government coddled us. Living in base housing was cheap, and utilities were included. If a military man wanted his family to live off base, the government provided a stipend for helping with the rent or mortgage. When we needed medical care, we just went to the base hospital at no charge.

After having grown up with all these benefits, I thought it would be crazy to do anything but join the military. So before my freshman year at BYU, I enrolled in ROTC. My plan was to be in the military and let the government take care of me. When I went to the ROTC class early on the morning of the first day of school, something felt wrong. Nearly 30 years later, I still remember what that drab yellow classroom looked like. We were packed into that little white building in the parking lot of the Law school. After about 20 minutes of listening to the ROTC guy, something felt wrong. Military life was at cross-purposes with the university atmosphere. I stood up and walked out of the class.

In that moment, I gave up military life. No BX, no Commissary, no I.D. cards, no government coddling. I was alone in the world. Walking out of that ROTC class was nearly the equivalent of Ben Franklin walking into Philadelphia carrying only a dollar coin and a loaf of bread to make his way in the world. Of course, Ben Franklin and I are different people. For one thing, he is dead, while I, myself, am alive. That's huge.

Family Sacrifices

This thought may or may not have occurred to you, but some military personnel must participate in wars. My father did several tours in Vietnam. He'd be gone for months at a time, leaving my mother to watch us five kids. She got some help from a bitter wretch named Mrs. Storm. If I weren't such a kind-hearted person, I'd hunt her down for having sneered at us. She was a walking caricature, with a long nose and cat rim glasses.

The one benefit of my father's tours was that when he'd come back from Asia, he'd bring cool gifts. I still remember a red phonograph with AM/FM radio. I bought my first album -- Don McClean's American Pie -- and played it on that phonograph over and over. I also played two 45s: George Harrison's "What Is Life" and Vicki Lawrence's "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia": Slapped the sheriff on the back with a smile, said "Supper is waitin' at home, and I gotta get to it."

I loved that little red phonograph.

Some men died. Bobby Alley's father was declared Missing in Action when his B-52 was shot down. I also remember being in the old Buick station wagon with my father when he told us that several of his friends were shot down in B-52s during a two-week stretch, because the Vietnamese acquired Soviet technology that zeroed in on the high-flying bombers. God, I hated the Russians! It was bad enough that we had to duck and cover under their nuclear threats.


An odd thing about military bases is that all the buildings seem intentionally ugly. From the outside, there is little difference between an airplane hangar, the gym, the movie theater, the library, or any of the office buildings. It wasn't even a matter of function over form. It was more like a macho disregard for taste. Or maybe it goes back to the notion that everything was temporary. The building isn't going to be here for long, and neither are we, so why put effort into it?

Friday, October 10, 2008

California Vacation Summary

After writing a compelling title like that, I'm concerned that I can't possibly live up to it. I'll do my best.

Legoland vs. Disneyland

We borrowed my parents' car to drive to Legoland. Their car includes a Garmin GPS system they call Gertrude. It's basically like having someone read MapQuest instructions to you. "In one mile, turn right on Legoland Drive." The only problem is that she doesn't quite pronounce street names right. She told us to turn on "leGOland" drive, not "LEGoland" drive, which isn't a big deal, but "leGOland" sticks in your head. I kept asking the boys if they were having fun at leGOland and asking them which leGO toy they wanted to purchase. It caused confusion.

Legoland isn't as well-maintained as Disneyland, nor does it have the same weighty history. But Legoland does have a little water park. It was 100 degrees on the day we went, so the mini water park was a welcome relief. You can change into your swim suits and run around a big water structure. At Legoland, there are water slides and mounted water guns and spray fountains and huge buckets that fill up with water and then tip over, creating a huge loud splash every few minutes.

Legoland also isn't as crowded as Disneyland. The longest we stood in line at Legoland was ten minutes. Disneyland felt like it was one big line. I still prefer Disneyland. The music is more soothing.


In her glass-half-empty moments, Wendy sometimes refers to ways in which we're not doing our jobs as parents. For one thing, our boys didn't know how to swim. Wendy wanted to keep putting them in swim lessons, but I thought swim lessons were a waste of time until the boys learned how to swim. This made no sense to Wendy, and I'll admit that it doesn't seem logical on the surface, but Wendy didn't take the boys to swim class -- I did. Max was so miserable that he refused to get in the water, despite my best threats and bribes.

Luke was game, but he spent most of the time shivering on the side of the pool. When it was his turn, he kicked his feet or whatever, but it wasn't doing any good. In the final lesson, the instructor -- a useless dope with an upturned nose -- took the kids for a spin around the pool in a boat. I guess she wanted to teach them how to fall out of a boat, only she didn't tell them that. As she turned the boat over, one terrified kid let go, but Luke hung on and got trapped under the boat. Little Miss Pigface then struggled to turn the boat over, and I debated whether to jump in and help Luke get out from under the boat. Luke finally came out terrified and bawling. Ugh.

Fortunately, both my parents and my sister Shari have pools, so the boys learned how to swim. Max was the first one to swim across the pool. Luke wasn't able to make it, so he got discouraged. I tried to buck him up by explaining that different children learn at different rates, etc., but it was all just words to him. He was sad. Then he figured out out how to jump off the side of the hot tub into the deep end and swim across the pool by himself. Then it was Max's turn to be sad. Both boys can dog paddle across the length of a backyard swimming pool and pick up rings on the bottom of the hot tub. Now it's time for swim lessons.


One of the main reasons we went to California again this year was to spend time with Lisa and Hannah, who celebrated her 2nd birthday last week. Lisa's particular form of lymphoma appeared to be life threatening. Fortunately, she's responding really well to chemotherapy. My father and brother and I went over to Lisa's house to plant bushes that she'd bought for her already plush back yard, which she's transformed into a mini wonderland with a tiki hut. My Dad planted one bush, I planted five, and Mark planted none. Now you see what it was like growing up in our house. Sometimes I wonder how my family survives in California without me.

The Great Depression II?

While the family was on vacation, we lost a good chunk of our life savings. The college funds for the boys, our retirement accounts, and any extra money we squirreled away in mutual funds are nearly half gone. I keep thinking we've hit bottom and it's too late to sell, but obviously others disagree and keep selling off.

I know that Democrats and Republicans both encouraged the housing bubble to continue, and that Wall Street lobbyists donate heavily to legislatures of both parties. Given that Republicans are hell-bent on deregulating the financial industry and that the Bush administration was in power during this time, the objective part of me would put 2/3rds of the blame on Republicans. But deep down, I blame it all on George W. Bush. How come no one calls him the Disaster President? I'm starting. He's The Disaster President. Think about it. Bin Laden Determined to Attack in the United States. We'll Be Greeted in Iraq As Liberators. Brownie's Doing a Hell of a Job. The Underlying Strength of Our Economy Is Strong.

Is my venom comparable to that of the Clinton haters? Am I being as irrational? I doubt it. Clinton left the country in good shape, but even moderates were talking about "restoring dignity to the White House." Call me a partisan hack, but I'd rather have a president lying about blow jobs from interns than a president who runs the country so far into debt that we're financing botched wars with money from China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil. We ran a surplus under Clinton for the last two years! Ugh.

Sarah Palin

If Obama wins this election, I'll look back at Sarah Palin with some fondness. If McCain can somehow pull it out, I will become a religious man again -- a deeply religious man -- and I will pray to every God for McCain's health. I will even get elk antlers like the cook in Deadwood and bow before a mounted animal. "Please, please, please, let McCain live." If that doesn't work, I can make a run for the border and pick fruit in Mexico.

Question: What's the rule with referring to a woman as "Ms." instead of "Mrs."? Specifically, I'm thinking of Sarah Palin. She took her husband's last name, so shouldn't she be "Mrs. Palin"? Is "Ms." used for professional women and "Mrs." for homemakers? Can a homemaker who took her husband's last name ask to be called "Ms."? If it's a matter of preference, does calling Sarah Palin "Ms." put off conservative voters?