Friday, October 29, 2010

What If Both Major Candidates Suck?

The two-party system in the United States has become in fact institutionalized.  Now, with all due respect to the Republicans and Democrats, those two parties encompass a broad range of opinions and perspectives in each case.  However, we should remember that political parties are essentially alliances that provide a framework to fund candidates so that they might run for public office.  In other words, there's an element of pragmatism involved primarily, not philosophy.

The philosophy that the parties present in their platforms is basically window dressing; for people that need a reason to vote for a candidate, whether it's because he has a nice name or she is nicely botoxed or she's the member of my civic group or he has attractive kids.

And since we have two major parties, we basically have two shots that one of the parties will produce an acceptable candidate for governance.  Obviously, the ideal is when the Democrats and Republicans both nominate excellent candidates.  Then the choosing, while more effortful, will be with a happy outcome regardless of who wins.  Usually, though, only one of the parties manages to do the job of nominating a suitable person.

But what if both parties manage to nominate dolts?  Well, although there's the consolation that you have your choice of doltishness to choose from, your choices reek and the result is not so good whoever wins. [This has happened more than once: remember 2004, anyone?  Both major parties managed to nominate useless wankers.]

Of course, you could simply refrain from voting; but then you would be seen as apathetic, and as a bad citizen.  Now I know that's unfair; there's a difference between a principled refusal to vote and a lazy failure to do so.  But that's how it gets presented.  Let's say there's only a 52% turnout.  The nonvoting 48% is portrayed as shiftless, uncaring, uninvolved, and so forth.

Remember SGA elections in college?  Those are typically voted in by only a small percentage of possible voting students.  And the SGA hacks and the school administration reflexively declared the nonvoters as 'apathetic.'  I confess to apathy; and  I was proud as punch when more people voted for Miss Campus Chest than for SGA President for my graduate institution.  Now that showed that we understood what was important and what was not!

But getting back to alternative to not voting, what about voting for a third party?  Now, rarely, this might be a starter; but third parties often are populated with cranks and nimrods.  While a vote invested there does not go to either the Democrats or Republicans, effectively punishing those parties, it might be construed as support for the opinions of the nimrods and cranks.  And there's something else:  larger minor parties sometimes have their agendas subsumed by a major party.  Remember the Prohibitionists?  Or the Progressives?  Oh crap!

No, I see only one solution.  Let all ballots for public office offer an option.  All would allow a vote for "none of the above."  Who knows, Mr. None of the Above may be sworn in to state or federal office.  At the very least it would give the Republicans, Democrats, and third or fourth party de jour a definite word:

You suck.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

In Which I Sort of Play the Peacemaker

I've always claimed that I was a lover, not a fighter and I thought back in elementary school that the Beatitude "Blessed are the peacemakers . . .  ." might be the only one that I could pull off with my level of reverence.  Actually, in the early 1960's, despite the alarums and drums of war, we lived pretty violence-free lives.

However, word came to me from a friend that two friends of ours had differences over a girl, yclept Gloria, and that they would fight over her at a particular time and place.  In short, an old-style New Orleans duel, but with fists or bats, rather than swords or pistols.  Now I thought that their fighting would suck in that they would get injured and not be worth shit for running, and there would be discord, and I'd have to choose sides, and there would be a general bad scene.  Besides, truth to tell, they were both lousy fighters.  Also the mutual friend expressed a half-hearted notion that I could stop this altercation, somehow.

Now I know that my 17-year-old leadership quotient was somewhere in the range of Paris Hilton's IQ (room temp), so it was a grand waste of time on my part.  And who was I to stand in the way of True Love? 

However, I ran into one of the future gladiators, and he seemed to be quite unsure of his motivation; but did not want to lose face.  A little further limited reconnaisance indicated that the other friend was also getting second thoughts as well.  Therefore, I proposed a possible bloodless method of solving the problem.

Here was it:  I inquired whether they would consent to arbitration by coin toss.  One of them would call "heads" or "tails," and whoever won got the girl.  Furthermore this duel, while not following the strict rules of the Code Duello, would be done in a secret place under the mututally-agreed rules.  One rule was that there would be strict silence.

So I tossed.  And one called heads or tails.  Whoever lost gracefully accepted the results.

I must say that the girl in question who was the subject of the duel lorded it over her classmates for many months.  Indeed, she was regarded by the other girls as an early 1960's femme fatale.  The coin toss loser (I refuse to declare him the loser) laid low for  few days, presumably to recover from his loss.

This was one occasion in which three people did keep a secret successfully.  Maybe it's because it was seen as somewhat subversive in the natural order of things, and we were all, in our own ways, co-conspirators.

Incidently, the one who won kept her for a little over five weeks.  Sic transit gloria mundi.  That Gloria was a bitch, too.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

High Diction as a Cultural Marker and Cognitive Influence

Paul Fussell, in his work The Great War and Modern Memory, referred to the high or elevated diction often favored by writers, both professional and lay, at the time of World War I.  A horse was a steed, a friend was a comrade, the dead are the fallen, to conquer is to vanish, bravery is valor, a draft notice is the summons, and so on.  This language survived the Great War, as World War I had been called before an even greater conflict happened over twenty years later. 

In a similar vein, The Great War marked the end of the belief in the inevitability of progress, the superiority of Western Civilization, and general cultural optimism.  The 1920's were the era of the Lost Generation. 

The language of a later time was studiously lower diction:  chipped beef on toast was shit on a shingle, unnecessary harassment was chickenshit, and so forth.  I remember my dad referring to the discharge button issued to all American participants of World War II as "the ruptured duck."  Clearly, this was a generation that took itself less seriously.

Or did they?  They wanted to live and prosper as much as their fathers or grandfathers.  It's just that they had a different cultural ethos than the earlier time.  And this attitude continued to the present time.

Alainis Morrisette did not develop irony in the 1990's.  It antedated her.  She, like us, were influenced by this cultural shift.  Can anyone seriously believe that wars might be fought to make the world safe for democracy?  Screw it.  Nikita Khruschev said, "We will bury you."  He meant it.  Literally, not philosophically.  The Cold War was waged for survival.

In 1940, Benjamin Lee Whorf introduced his linguistic relativity hypothesis.  In its strong version: language influences thought.  High diction championed adopting a view of life as potentially elevated, meaningful, teleological.   Of course, the opposite can hold true as well.  A danger of dysphemisms is that they degrade what is referred to.  And they may make chipped beef taste worse than it really is.

Friday, October 15, 2010

There Must Be a Pony in Here Somewhere!

In one of my more misguided moments, I became a minor degree college administrator.  For a paltry $4000 a year, I was rewarded with massive amounts of paperwork, meetings that go on forever (rough if you have prostate trouble), and command performances.  Actually, Richard Russo in his book Straight Man described the lot of an academic department chair as like being proclaimed the winner in a shit-eating contest.

How to cope with this?  Many strategies have been developed; but mine is to say occasionally, "There must be a pony somewhere!"

This is, of course, the tag line of an old joke, linked to President Reagan, among others:

There are twin boys of five or six. Mom was worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities -- one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist -- their parents took them to a psychiatrist.

First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. "What's the matter?" the psychiatrist asked, baffled. "Don't you want to play with any of the toys?" "Yes," the little boy bawled, "but if I did I'd only break them."

Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his out look, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. "What do you think you're doing?" the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. "With all this manure," the little boy replied, beaming, "there must be a pony in here somewhere"


So remember that.  When you find that life seems to pile on, just say, "There must be a pony in here somewhere!"

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The PITA Syndrome

The PITA syndrome refers to a person consistently being a pain in the ass to other people. This term can be occasionally used by psychologists to refer to a pattern of being consistently annoying or unpleasant.

Look at it this way: just because a person is annoying, does not make him psychotic, psychopathic, neurotic, hysterical, or using recreational drugs.  And, in all likelihood, both heterosexuality or homosexuality can be found in people with the PITA syndrome.
Bill went through life consistently manifesting the PITA syndrome.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

In Which I Was Encouraged to View Things Differently

A damned long time ago, when I was a high school junior, I had encountered another adult-generated annoyance, and I was taking it out on the physical environment: specifically, slamming my locker and kicking it for good measure.

My friend Darryl asked what was wrong, and I (in the role of Captain Obvious) answered, "I'm just pissed off!"

His response was quick and very effective: "It's better to be pissed off than to be pissed on."

That timely little comeback has served me repeatedly in later life.  Certainly, life can give us a ration of shit that causes us to be pissed off; but it's better than to be pissed on.

Darryl:  Here's one for you, good buddy.  May your live be prosperous!

In Which I Assist in a Cover-up

When I first started college teaching back in 1969 0r 1970, I had an office in the second floor of a stadium, along with members of another department which shall be unnamed.

It happened that one member of that department, formerly an air force light colonel, provided himself with some means for Dutch courage against office hours and interminable meetings, and he would get neatly tipsy by late afternoon.

One afternoon, he availed himself of liquid consolation more so than usual, and was pretty hors de combat (nothing to do with camp followers, by the way).  Anyway, I was delegated to take him home; and I embarked on one of the less-often cited corporal works of mercy.  Strangely, the Bible failed to cite, "Blessed are those who carry those who had too much to drink home, for their's is an additional fortifying tote."

So, I did, I helped the Colonel to the car with some assistance from one of his colleagues and took him home.  He indicated that he had a pressing engagement.  I didn't know he did laundry.

At this house I rang the bell after assisting him to the door.  His wife answered, and gave me total holy hell for leading him astray!  Yes, like I spent the afternoon getting pied with him!

I only later learned how to handle that sort of eventuality when I first viewed Animal House a few years later:  You leave the person there, ring the doorbell, and run like hell!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Jesuits

One of those pleasures involving a tinge of schadenfreude that some intellectuals indulge in is Blaise Pascal's Provincial Letters, a polemic work in which he takes the Jesuits to task for their real faults and adds quite a few more for good measure.  Actually, the Company of Loyola is perhaps guilty as charged for casuistry -- the splitting of moral hairs so as to allow extra latitude to humans.  However Pascal might have been angelic in his Pense├ęs, the fact was that he was a member of a group of religious cranks that demanded a very harsh moral accounting: the Jansenists.  It was a damned good thing that their cause did not win out in 17th century France.  The Jesuits, with their comparatively easygoing approach to morality was more in line with human psychology.

The Jesuits provided some room for exceptional circumstances that would mollify what would otherwise be overstrictness.  Indeed, St. Ignatius himself was a saint who warned against scrupulosity -- the condition of having an overrefined conscience: being disposed to interprt innocuous actions as being sinful.  By providing a lower moral judgment bar, and offering the prospect of tolerance for individual differences, the Jesuits deserve our thanks.

Ad maiorem Dei gloriam!   

Friday, October 1, 2010

Duckbutt Gets Asked to Support the Missions

So I come home today, tired but not dismayed from the usual daily ration of fecal matter and shinola that is the lot of the sturdy middle class.   Life is good; or at least it's manageable with the possible glorious assistance of Mr. J. Daniel and philosophy (Boethius or Pascal -- I save Descartes for the serious existential crises).

My wife declares that I have received a letter from my chubby nephew, whom I only see at funerals or other occasions that require me to assemble with my kith and kin.   Alas, his mother in heavily into religion, and gotten him to be likewise most committed way.  (My family tended to regard religion as an optional thing, kind of like getting a Ford or Chevrolet at one time, but more lately a Honda or Toyota.)  Anyway, I open his missive, thinking it's some benign family-oriented message.

Dad burn it (and stronger language even)!  The beknighted little tad is asking me, that's moi, to kick in some money so that he can go to Honduras with some suitably chaperoned other adolescent whelps to do the spiritual works of mercy on behalf of his parochial school. I swore in three different languages and swore that there would be some remarkable thermal happenings in Hell before he got a red cent!

A fiendish thought came to mind:  I could send a request for a donation to a birthday party for his Uncle Jim, toiling in vain to teach the unnumbered Mississipians mathematics in a distant county and eating the feral food of the province!  What I had in mind was to do it right: a birthday party for Jim at Hooters', since he did confess that he was Jonesing for some hot wings.  This would cause my sister-in-law to pronounce anathemas on me with her hyperreligious brothers.  But, this could produce fallout of the worst sort. My poor younger brother, a decent but henpecked sort, would never hear the end of it from his megashrew wife, and I would have performed the status of Awful Deed of the Decade, and ever be mentioned whenever family members come together.

No, my wife suggested an alternative: the little sneak might be sending out lots of letters in hopes of making a profit on his 'religious mission.'  Maybe there's hope in nephews yet!  Who knows, maybe he could move someday to Nigeria and be royalty!


The possibility that he might be emerging into a con man gives me comfort.  It goes in the family.