June 2008

Dishing Trash With Obama

"Even if you never met him, you know this guy…He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by."  June 23, 2008 quote by Karl Rove on Barack Obama.

I know it’s easy and somewhat the thing to say these days but isn’t Karl Rove about the smarmiest piece of low life going?  I thought when he left the Bush White House that he’d quietly return to living under his overturned rock (think cockroach).  But Nooooooooo!  He’s actually been hired by Fox News—why does that not surprise me?—to offer political commentary.

A funny thing about Rove (to me) is the man’s hypocrisy.  It is my understanding of the man that he is not particularly religious. He has the moral flexibility that would make any relativist proud and really doesn’t believe much of what his puppets espouse (think Bush).  I am unsure why he aligned himself with evangelical, conservative Republicans but that is something I’ve observed for several decades in a certain type of waspish, wimpish, nebbish, pastie-white  frat boy.  (Is this snide enough yet, Karl?)

Karl Rove strikes me as a type of pimple-faced, clinic-burning anti-abortionist except he lacks the conviction(s) of a pro-lifer and isn’t quite the coward of the anonymous bomb thrower (ah, damned by faint praise).  He likes the backroom intrigue, is an inveterate game player and likes to win at any cost.  He’s a sycophant who gets his jollies  by associating with the rich and powerful, none of whom would ever willingly let him marry their daughter.  But he’s smart, ambitious and a climber.  An American in the Sinclair Lewis literary tradition.

What is going on when the number one Republican political strategist describes the 2008 Democrat presidential nominee in such terms as the above quote?  Let’s examine that.

"Even if you never met him, you know this guy…He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by."

First of all, Karl says Obama’s the guy at the country club.  Well, that narrows it down a bit. Hey!  My dad once belonged to the Sioux City Boat Club.   He’s with a beautiful date.  That would be my mother who actually was voted the prettiest girl on campus on two mid-west universities in the 1930s. Dad did drink but he was whiskey guy.  So did mom and they both smoked at that time. And I’ll bet the ranch that mom and dad did, indeed, whisper snide comments about folks.  And laughed, too!

“The only time people dislike gossip is when you gossip about them.” Will Rogers.

The joke here is that Barack Obama couldn’t get into most country clubs in America until recent years.  Heck, he couldn’t have gotten into the downtown Orlando University Club.  Jews either.  And women, of course not. Karl is so funny when he characterizes Obama as the quintessential country club type when something as inconsequential as his skin color would have prohibited his admission.

I am unsure of the beautiful date attribution.  Was that a back-handed suggestion that he might be there without his wife and all that that implies.  That Karl.

Holding a cigarette and drinking a martini.  Hmmm, that sounds just fine to me.  Except the cigarette part. Ick!  Yea, smoking cigarettes is such an elitist activity.  Uh, Karl, cigarette smoking is definitely a “lower” class activity these days.  You might want to brush up on your demographics. (I know.  He’s trying to quit.)

The part I want to directly comment on is the making of snide comments.  I do not know one individual who will not participate in discussing and dissecting the behavior, values, opinions, beliefs or actions of another human being(s). Would we even be human if we didn’t?  Yet, I am sure when Vice President Cheney is off on hunting trips and when he isn’t shooting his buddies in the head, he is definitely not trash-talking anyone either. Ever!  No way would the VP ever denigrate or trash-talk another human being.  He’s much too honorable, too good to gossip. Cheney is no martini-drinking elitist! He’s a solid Republican! He’s a patriot! He would never allow a smear to circulate. (Hmmm? Why does Valerie Plame keep entering my mind?)

“Gossip is the art of saying nothing in a way that leaves practically nothing unsaid.”  Walter Winchell

Let me go on record, I’d willingly stand on the back wall and dish trash with Obama any day of the week. The country club is optional, the martinis are a plus.

“What some invent, the rest enlarge.” Jonathan Swift

What sort of human, what sort of gossip are you?  An inventer or an enlarger?


Wombs & Brains

Men have been accused since time immemorial of only thinking with their, uh, oh, let’s speak euphemistically, with their, um, little heads.  Implied was that women, the noble sex acted with the restraint and wisdom, placing them on some higher, more ethereal plane than lowly ol’ men.  I’ll explain what women actually think with later in this essay.

By now you’ve heard of the infamous Gloucester 18.  Eighteen mainly sophomore girls out of the Gloucester, Massachusetts High School pool of 600 women decided to get pregnant and keep the fruit of their wombs.  A typical school year would have four girls becoming pregnant.  So why the incredible increase in fecundity?

The controversy surrounding this story includes fertility pacts between the girls to “all” become pregnant, high fives when some “lucky” girl actually confirmed her pregnancy and alleged breeding with a homeless man.

Boy, I can’t wait to see the fall program on FOX.  Heck, I can see a weekly series:  Steamy Sophomore Sex! See endless, mindless Massachusetts high school sex all presented in glorious HD and brought to you by disgusting Washington Liberals!  All for you on FOX this fall!  Can’t wait.

Getting pregnant in high school and taking the pregnancy to term is, to me, about the most idiotic choice a woman can make. The equivalent idiocy for young men?  Oh, enlisting and dying in an unnecessary, ill-advised, “immoral” war. I would counsel my children to fervently resist both.  I simply do not understand.  Having sex I get.  Having a baby as a youngster I do not get.

My daughter was born in 1970 and from the time she understood language and biology I talked with her about her body, how it works and the concept of anatomy as destiny.  I informed her it was women who got pregnant and in this world, today, the responsibility for family planning fell squarely on her shoulders. No ifs.  No ands.  No buts.  None of, “I didn’t understand.”

I literally gag in movies when I hear some “doofus” saccharinely announce, “We’re pregnant.” Baaaaarffff! If that is the case, I’ve been pregnant three times, had months of morning sickness, watched my body blow-up into something nearly unrecognizable, miraculously passed something the size of a bowling ball out of my body without the benefit of anesthesia and then got up exhausted for days and months to feed the little amoeba. Women get pregnant. Women have babies. Couples become families.

Oh, it is reported, these poor Gloucester dears were bored or lacked “X” at home or needed meaning in their life or required “something” to love them unconditionally.  Their mothers needed to slap such silliness right off their infantile faces.  Infantile minds.  Fertile bodies.  Great combo.

Regarding the need for unconditional love.  Girls, I hate to disabuse you of any notions you have about child rearing but unconditional love is something you give your children not something you necessarily get.  If that is your motivation, unconditional love, get a dog.

I had children in my home for 33 years.  Some may return. How can we so fail as a culture to clearly describe the responsibilities and obligations of parenting?  These little twits needed to be enrolled in an age-appropriate sex-ed class from first grade.  Oh, I can hear the sanctimonious moans of piety now. Teach our children about their sexuality!?!  That’s the family’s sacred responsibility.  Un-huh. The Gloucester families did such a good job on that, huh? Remember Voltaire’s tongue-in-cheek line, “We live in the best of all possible worlds?” Well, we do not.

We live in a hot world of sex. Of evolution, genetics, chemistry and hormones.  Arguably, our only goal in life is to get our genes into the next generation.  And boy, is that an easy thing to do. Mercy! About the easiest.  We’ve evolved to do exactly that! Most humans, I believe, would willingly describe (define) sex as “the” most pleasurable of human experiences. (Reading a distant second.  Ha!) We are hot, hot, hot.  And fertile.

Now you can preach chastity all you want. Recall St. Augustine’s fervent plea, “Lord give me chastity—but not yet.”  And that was from a saint! I didn’t preach chastity to my children.  It is, indeed, an option.  I argued responsibility.  Responsibility and respect for yourself.  Women (and men) do not bring babies into this world that they are not capable of sustaining themselves. Why?  Well, just look around.

Actress Tuesday Weld said of sex, “When grown-ups do it it’s kind of dirty—that’s because there’s no one to punish them.” That’s simply repressed idiocy speaking.  Punishment for adolescent sex?  Yes, there actually is a punishment and it is America that bears the scars and the results (costs) of so many unplanned, adolescent pregnancies.

I wish it took a modicum, even a smattering of brains to have sex.  Alas.   Although I’ve thought great sex (ironically?) is all between the ears.

I asked what it was that women think with?  Sigh.  It ain’t their brains.  Why should they be any different from men?


The Value of Males

My sister is in town from New Mexico.   We have great conversations about beauty, its relationship to sex and the value of males.  It would take too much print to reconstruct our discussion on that subject but it ended with my sister summing it up by asking a question of herself, “I’ve often wondered about the value of males?”

It was an open-ended, sincere question.  She wasn’t being particularly flip, ironic or sarcastic.  Ask any gathering of females that question and I’ll bet you get a “few” who outwardly smirk (snort) at the question, some will quietly wonder what is the point of asking that and then you’ll hear, “Yea, I’ve asked that myself?

Oh, we men do have our advocates, too. Yet. Aside from sperm donor, what positive qualities that relate to value or over-all worth would you attribute to men? I believe the answers will significantly differ between the sexes.

I cannot imagine women liking men at all in countries where females are required to wear burkas or are prohibited from driving or of ever meeting a man other than her father, brother or husband.  If the shoe were on the other foot, I’d resent such oppression no matter how it was framed in/by the religious, historical or cultural contexts.  A prison by any other name is still a prison.  Please call me a culturally intolerant Philistine in that regard.

But I’m talking about Western women and what they think/feel the value of men to truly be?  This is interesting to me. Do women in third-world, oppressed cultures think more or less positively about men than Western women?  Some countries (whole regions of the world) in my mind’s eye are outright lethal to women.  Think the sub-Saharan nations (Google: eastern Congo) where rape is being aggressively used as a tactic of war. Significant percentages of that sorrowful nation’s females have been raped in staggeringly large numbers.  I unscientifically  assert that those hurt women don’t think much of men as a sex.

Let’s now make the distinction between finding the opposite sex attractive and actually liking them. Kim Cattrall’s character (Samantha Jones) in Sex And The City falls into that category, of finding men attractive but I’m not sure she genuinely likes them.

Which gets back to my sister’s original question, “What is the value of males?”  Posing such a question does not necessarily give it legitimacy.  That is something, however, that is freely attempted everywhere we look.

Yet, I can entertain the idea of it based on our history (as a sex).  If the 20th century is any marker, we men have made an absolute royal botch of it.  Wars, genocides, mayhem, infanticides, wholesale environmental desecration (rape yet again), child abandonment, spousal abuse, employment discrimination and marriage are all avenues where the male point of view has prevailed (is dominant) and the species (and planet) is, I argue, worse off for it.  And that is the “cultured” West.

Blend into the male/female dynamic all the conflicting tensions, expectations and desires and you do wonder, at times, that if sex were not the point of the sexes would we naturally seek each other’s company?  I know my answer.

The value of males?  My tendency is to narrow the question.  Man (as in male) acts abominably.  Is there anyone, anywhere who would argue (suggest) otherwise?

Interestingly enough, every beast has its mother.  This is not a criticism or a shifting of the responsibility but a comment on our (the) human condition.  What we are, we both are.

The value of males?  Today?  To women?

To make her laugh.

Living Our History

Man shall not disclaim his brotherhood even with the guiltiest.  Nathaniel Hawthorne

I’d like to explore George Santayana’s overused phrase, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." We all use it.  In every imaginable context and if Santayana hadn’t coined those exact words, well, it seems to be a concept all sentient humans reflexively embrace.

It makes sense, doesn’t it?  Something happens.  I’ll even throw in, “Enough times.”   Something happens enough times and we humans see “a” pattern and adjust accordingly.    Imagine hitting your finger over and over again with a hammer or a rock.  At some point, in some manner, Santayana’s sentiment registers.  Correct?

Let’s delve deeper.  I saw Sex And The City last Saturday.  In case you missed the HBO series entirely, it’s a story of four modern women living in New York City in the 1990s.   They are great friends  (genuinely so) and the TV series and the movie revolve around their unbreakable friendship.  It’s also about clothes (almost fetishly about shoes). But the “tension” running through the entire series is relationships (primarily male/female but homosexual, too).

It’s timeless.  Girl finds boy.  Girl is in heaven.  Girl discovers  boy’s flaws. Girl is in hell.  Girl finds new boy . . . That is one scenario.  Girl finds boy.  Girl loses boy.  Girl refinds boy.  That’s the specific scenario for the recent movie.  That is our human “love” story in a nutshell.   Place the emphasis where you will.  Add whatever nuance and details you want.  It’s a lost and found and lost again story.  Did I mention found again?

You’d think that if Santayana’s idea of recurring events and learning from them had any credence we wouldn’t still be so infantile when it comes to human relationships and our expectations of them.  Here is the inherent problem with Santayana’s aphorism. Each new generation has to relearn it all over again.  Women being stupid about men hasn’t reached our DNA yet.  Same goes with men.  Momma launches us as blank slates and life impresses on us its will.  Sure, there are any number of books and learned people (your grandmother, maybe) who cautioned you (think Santayana) about “those” wild & crazy kind of guys but wild and crazy definitely has its appeal.  Nine months later and alone . . .   Or, recall your experience(s). Every new baby is just that, new, a tabula rasa.

So, if we can’t get something as fundamental, as basic as the male/female thing consistently right, what hope is there for the rest of the human experiment? How do we govern our selves?  How do we construct a just society?  What values do we honor and perpetuate?  What do we do with/for the mentally weak, the physically incapable, the sick, the lazy? Are democracy and capitalism one and the same?  Under what circumstance do we wage war?  For oil?   How important are minority rights? Are minority rights as essential as majority rights?  What constitutes a consensus?  Fifty percent plus one?  Identify what is important to you as a citizen and construct it as a premise.  And then ask Santayana’s question.“

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  I’ve consistently read history for over 40 years. I am trying to determine the relevance of Santayana’s idea with what I see as America’s future.  What exactly does the past (its lessons) say to us today?

The past is replete with over-reaching, tyrannical despots (small men) who wage(d) war endlessly and needlessly.  The past is replete with horrific economic misfortune and mismanagement (think: The Jews kicked out of Spain in 1492).  The past is replete with populations outstripping available resources.   The past is replete with ignorance supplanting reason.  The past is replete with countless examples of organized (structured) stupidity, cruelty and barbarity.

What then do we take from the past?  That we humans, for the most part, have stumble-bummed our way to overpopulating the planet, that we are hooked on carcinogenic, polluting oil (much as any common addict is hooked on heroin) and that our leaders are frequently myopic, small-minded and too often dumber than a Texas box of rocks.  But then so are we for actually electing them.  That parochialism, intolerance and ignorance are the human norm. Oh, excuse me, I’m actually describing the present.

I will tell you one thing that we can take from the past. And this I direct to myself in particular, going forward, it won’t make any difference if you didn’t vote for or support America’s ongoing stupidity—our current national course.  I would like to think otherwise. Yet.

Hawthorne said it, “Man shall not disclaim his brotherhood even with the guiltiest.”  However this experiment called America turns out, we are all citizens (brothers) when it comes to living with the outcome, living with the results.  The innocent as well as the corrupt (and all shades in between) sank with the Titanic. Is this unjust?  Merely sad?  Or, simply, life?

Brother, Can You Spare a Gallon?

It happened. I was in Gainesville last Monday morning filling up my car when a soft looking, middle-aged balding man approached me with a gas can. He immediately identified himself as a painter who hadn’t worked in three weeks. “Did I have some change,” he asked? I was immediately irritated. And said, no.

Which is true. I frequently don’t have any cash on me. “Well, can I have some gas,?” He didn’t miss a beat. He wanted to tell me his story and I didn’t want to hear it. I said no again.

He thanked me and walked to his parked truck which had ladders on top and a painting company sign inscribed on the side. He looked beat but some people just carry that demeanor regardless. We all know such.

I’m now inwardly grumbling to myself and I play the tapes. One of mine is the, “There but for the grace of God go I,” tape. Some people call it luck. Others call it misfortune. Or, I could be the recipient of the total con where one stands around gas stations asking for gas. That’s another tape, too.

Aside: This is one of the reasons I love fiction. If you can imagine it, “it” is now a possibility. Actually, it enters reality.

But fiction is not required here. There are legitimate accounts of sick, down-on-your-luck, jobless Americans. They are on your local TV news every night.

I again look at him, on a slant. I don’t want to stare too long at sadness. Lest it somehow rub off. I feel that (that it’s possibly a contagion), sorrow. Misfortune.

I return to the fueling on my car. And before I get $6.00 worth of gas (remember those Good Old Daze when $6.00 filled half your tank or better), within 45 seconds after telling him no, after playing “all” my tapes, I yell, “Okay, I’ll give you a gallon of gas.”

Let it go on record that Chris Jepson, Liberal, tithed, on June 1, 2008, 10% of his fuel bill. And that within minutes of this generous, generous act severely chastised himself for giving $4.00 to a stranger.

I gave him a gallon of gas for two reasons. First, I detected not one note in his voice of sarcasm, rancor, bitterness or any poor, poor pitiful me. I do not respond positively to such, particularly whiners. I loathe whiners. The other reason was the answer to my frequently asked question, “What would Jepson do?” Some ask what would Jesus do? I think it more important to direct such questions to yourself. God seems to do what he does. Or, doesn’t do. Regardless.

What would Jepson do? (WWJD?) Were there any scenarios, under any conditions that could have Jepson begging for gas at an Exxon Station? You’d like to think not. But I beg to differ. It takes genuine hubris to think “life” cannot happen to you. I could imagine half a dozen scenarios in ten minutes that some readers might say, “Yea, sump’in like that happened to a friend of my Uncle Charley’s.”

But again, there is no need to fictionalize. Our newspapers and media present such “real” sad stories every day of the week. If I am capable, if Jepson is capable of begging for gas and I’m an okay person then perhaps I should give the benefit of the doubt to this human being before me.

More generous liberals than I don’t care (so much) whether the person is worthy or not, they give. I personally have to fight a pronounced reluctance to help those I consider unworthy. I do. Who makes it into my life raft earns the seat. But that is me.

I constantly review why I am a Liberal first, as opposed to conservative or libertarian. There are historical arguments and precedents, too, for anarchy (cleansing, like an enema). I have pronounced streaks of all of them. I believe many of us do.

America has reached a population going on 325 million. There are legitimate, intellectually appealing arguments to the conservative and libertarian positions. But both positions today, however, seem dishonest (to me) when it comes to confronting what challenges the nation. Both want less government as if, “Let’s take government (that’s you and us, kids) out of the equation” is actually a really, really wise goal for the country. Right, let’s not have an American energy policy, as one example, because Exxon and BP will look out for America just fine. Don’t-cha see. Don’t-cha know.

Select every, every issue America confronts and keep multiplying it by a growing population. Tell me what you think is going to be solved by doing nothing? Oh, conservatives will argue, “Just deregulate and everything will be finer than frog’s hair.” Such simplicity seems intellectually bankrupt. Infantile, nearly. Historically illiterate for sure.

Begging for gas? Is it an isolated instance of unique circumstance or is it part of a larger metaphor?

Hey now! Wasn’t President Bush doing just that two weeks ago in Saudi Arabia, begging for gas?