Debbie Downer redux

Google Video & Hulu have allowed us to relive some of the finest moments from TV. One of my favorite characters from SNL was Debbie Downer (played by a morbid Rachel Dratch). These two were my favorite clips, mostly because the cast couldn’t stay in character (if you can’t see these below via RSS, visit the corresponding blog post directly):

Are there legitimate reasons for voting against your own economic interests?

Gay married couplesOne thing that has vexed me for years is the fact that poorer, relatively unskilled people across the country tend to vote Republican, even though Republican economic policies tend to favor the rich. I’m not the first to wonder why many relatively poor people vote against their own economic interests. A good friend of mine speculated that some of them imagine that they’ll eventually be rich, so they might as well try to vote in the folks that will serve them well in the future.

I’m skeptical of that. I don’t think most blue-collar conservatives imagine that they’ll ever be millionaires. They seem to be far too interested in illegal immigrants stealing their low-wage menial jobs to have much higher aspirations.

What recently occurred to me, however, is that I myself am guilty of voting against my own economic interests, although in the opposite direction. Let me explain.

I’m fairly well-off (more by measure of my net worth than my income). I make a considerable amount of my income through investments. Republicans would be more likely to push for lower capital gains tax than Democrats, and lower income tax altogether for my tax bracket. And yet I vote Democratic.

Sure, it’s easy to vote Dem when you’re gay and atheist, as I am; it’s hard to imagine casting a vote for the party that has come to be dominated by bible-beating homophobes. But even if Republicans were to come broadly in line with Democrats with respect to issues such as gay marriage and the separation of church and state, I think I’d still vote Democratic.

Why? I see it as a quality of life issue. Republicans are likely to make the lot for poor people much worse. I live in an urban area that seems to be sensitive to economic vicissitudes, with crime and despair reigning the streets I walk every day when hopelessness abounds. I have absolutely no interest in living in a barricaded closed community. I want to be able to enjoy living in a city without feeling like I could be a victim of it, and that fellow residents are able to enjoy life too and not just struggling to scrape by.

To poor conservatives, something similar could be true. Assuming they truly understand what they’re voting for, they could reason that they’d be willing to trade some of their job security and income in favor of a world where they wouldn’t have to see gay couples getting married, recent immigrants speaking Spanish on the street, and where politicians aren’t so educated as to seem way above them. It’s a quality of life issue for them too (although what constitutes a high quality of life to them is obviously very different).

It’s sad to imagine people trading in some of their own welfare in order to maintain a homophobic and culturally-monochromatic neighborhood for themselves, but I suppose I’m willing to do the same thing for the exact opposite.

ADF – proudly protecting the privileges of the majority

The ADF - Protecting Privileges, Defending Unequal RightsAfter reading the rousing words of ADF legal counsel Brian Raum, I felt moved enough to write the ADF and commend them for their efforts:

Thank you for supporting bigotry.
Bigots all around this great country of ours have had a hard time lately making their views the law of the land.
Constantly harangued by equality-obsessed radicals, the proud bigots of this country have had their core beliefs, that some people are truly better than others and deserve greater rights, come into question time and time again.
For thousands of years, human civilization has enjoyed a longstanding tradition of bigotry, as racism, sexism and, yes, homophobia have been universally practiced and often enshrined in law.
As activist politicians, activist judges, and activist activists keep on selectively interpreting the Constitution on behalf of who weren’t born white, male, Christian and heterosexual, it’s high time that the “silent (and selfish) majority” speak out as their rights are eroded to the same level as everyone else’s.
Thank you, ADF, for fighting on behalf of those who already have the most rights.
Thank you, ADF, for working tirelessly to protect the privileges of those born with them.
And thank you, ADF, for knowing that our system of checks and balances can always be railed upon if it turns out a decision not to our liking.
Thank you for circumventing the democratic process for the rights, wishes and whims of American bigots!

Scott McClellan – a whistleblower to the Bush Administration’s crimes

Scott McClellan WhistleblowerI know people will bemoan McClellan’s lack of loyalty to his former employer. But it’s important to keep in mind that when your boss abuses his/her power, to the detriment of the common good (especially when it leads to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, ruins the economy, etc.), then you have an obligation to speak out.

It would have been helpful if he had come out sooner about this, but I suppose he wanted to get his point across in a detail-rich book, and not sound like a Hyde Park ranter.

And, fortunately, he’s done so before the election, one in which one of the candidates has received a warm endorsement from George W. Bush.

You can get the book from Amazon (currently ranked #1).

Auschwitz vs Buchenwald – the GOP gets desperate

Auschwitz and Ohrdruf (Buchenwald camp) - both deadly Nazi concentration campsIs that all they’ve got on Obama? The Republicans are showing how desperate they’ve gotten, reduced to grasping at virtual straws because that’s all they’ve got left.

Let’s see, whenever you make an accusation of dishonesty, it’s instructive to look at intent. Why would Obama confuse Ohrdruf/Buchenwald with Auschwitz? Are those who liberated Auschwitz somehow nobler than those who liberated Ohrdruf? Did they even get to pick?

Of course not. It’s pretty clear that Obama just confused two similarly miserable Nazi death camps, with no change in its essential meaning – his great-uncle, along with many others, was a hero.

Of course, the Republicans aren’t in a position to bear down on Obama for a mere slip of the tongue (much less outright lying). That would be so hypocritical that even the most diehard Republican loyalists would smell something rotten.

So they have to try to impugn his integrity on the flimsiest piece of evidence.

I’m sure they’re hoping people are as ill-informed and susceptible to brainwashing as they were in 2004. Then that might work.

Something tells me enough people have clued in since then for this to fall flat on its face.

The Bay Area Bubble – And I’m not talking about real estate

The Bay Area is a unique place, and SF in particular is. I think it’s partly due to the fact that the average age seems to be 25 (it’s a popular place to move right after college), and in some ways is much more advanced than the rest of the country in terms of progessiveness and technology.

But there are some other disconnects from reality that I sometimes find amusing.

There’s this old black guy that’s been playing his clarinet in the Montgomery BART station for about a year. He *looks* the part – I mean, it’s not hard to imagine him playing in a blues band for decades. Well, looks can be deceiving, except when it’s the sight of blood dripping out of your own ears.

This guy is horrible. We had to endure a few months of breathy, squeaky scales before he nailed that down. Then “Mary had a little lamb”, and then countless, relentlessly painful weeks of Greensleeves. The only musical great he seems to have drawn on for musical inspiration is Zamfir.

Didn’t hear him for a while. Thought maybe he came to his senses, and sold his damn clarinet for a ticket to Florida and a timeshare.

Well, he was back today. By the time I got off the train around 10am, he was packing up, his case full of money and his CDs (CDs!) sold out. A gushing hipster bemoaned missing him and asked when he’d be performing again.

The irony? A string trio was performing beautifully the day before and had a smattering of bills in their violin case. No CD. No beaming hipsters.

This city never ceases to amuse me. If you can’t find success despite a crippling lack of talent here, you won’t find it anywhere.

Is there something more reliable than

Weather dot com sucksBecause it sucks.

I always, stupidly, check it before dressing in the morning. At least 50% of the time, it’s off by more than 10 degrees during the day.

Today, it said it would reach a high in SF of 73 degrees F. We’re in SOMA, a relatively warm part of the city, so I figured, if anywhere, it’ll hit 73 here. Right now, it couldn’t possibly be above 60 degrees. And the wind is somewhere between gale-force and tornado, with a temperature that suggests an origin slightly to the west of the Bering Strait.

I wore a short-sleeved shirt with an undershirt, which provides very little protection from the subarctic weather system that’s moved into the area. And since my herniated disc requires that I walk around slowly several times a day to avoid excruciating pain, I’m left choosing between staying warm & in pain, or freezing my ass off but not slipping off into pain-induced delusions.

I know this is my fault for relying on what are clearly astrologers (or maybe, if they’ve automated everything, a random-number generator) to come up with the temperature forecast. My question: is there a more reliable online weather service for the San Francisco Bay Area?

Obama: Please (temporarily) remove these words from your vocabulary

Much like Rapunzel, Barack Obama seems to have spent much of his life in an ivory tower. I’m beginning to think Rev Wright is less of a problem for connecting with blue-collar voters than his propensity to use ten-dollar words when anything beyond a $2.50 word is incomprehensible to those without a college education. (That’s not meant to sound obnoxious; vocabulary is tied to your educational level, not your innate intelligence or personal worth)

Obama - drop the intimidating vocabularyAnd Hillary’s 100% right that the GOP’s characterization of Democratic candidates as out-of-touch elitists has led to Dems’ downfall on more than one occasion in recent presidential contest history. And with a strong undercurrent of racism that stuffs black people into an impossible box (too uneducated and they’re worthless n-words, and too educated and they’re uppity), Obama especially has to tread this line very, very carefully. (His cost of arugula and gun- and religion-clinging comments have probably already ensconced him in the latter category in the minds of many voters)

I’ve seen or read a number of statements by Obama that use language that flies over the heads of the less-educated, and probably irritate them. Now, Hillary Clinton, who has almost the same level of education as Obama and is certainly as intelligent, has yet managed to simplify her message consistently into bite-sized linguistic morsels that retired factory workers can digest.

And it’s not just the blue-collar folks. Hispanics, whom for many English is a second language, are generally less likely to understand someone speaking in a more elite register. They might also resent a black man who bucks the social order.

So, until the campaign season is over, I would like to recommend Sen Obama to use the following reverse thesaurus – it might help him change that honorific to President by January 2009. The words were taken from recent comments, debates & interviews:

  • accelerate -> speed up
  • amplify -> say louder [sic]
  • anguished -> painful
  • as a consequence of -> because of
  • ascribe -> figure out
  • assessments -> judgments
  • begrudge -> have hard feelings about
  • beneficiary -> receiver
  • candor -> honesty
  • cataloguing -> reminding
  • conceivable -> possible
  • deferred -> put off
  • defines -> clearly shows
  • deplorable -> disgusting
  • deplore -> am disgusted by
  • dismissive -> uninterested, disinterested [sic]
  • essentially -> basically, really
  • forcefully -> really strongly
  • fretful -> worried
  • handily -> pretty well, pretty good [sic]
  • host (as in a whole host of areas) -> lot, bunch
  • in concert -> together
  • increments -> amounts
  • initiate -> make
  • irony -> the funny thing
  • jarring -> beyond the pale
  • made a determination -> figured out
  • measured -> careful
  • mindful -> aware
  • notion -> idea
  • objectionable -> disgusting, horrible, terrible
  • observations -> things you see
  • offer assurances -> make commitments
  • oftentimes -> often
  • oppressed -> treated badly
  • perpetrators of mass violence -> terrorists, mass-murdering Islamofascists
  • premised -> based
  • prophylactic -> vaccine
  • provide context -> explain
  • provision -> something
  • purposeful -> on purpose
  • reflection (fig.) -> picture
  • reflective of -> reminds us of
  • show no inclination -> show no sign
  • skewed -> biased, distorted
  • substantial -> huge
  • tangential -> irrelevant, unimportant
  • temperament -> mood
  • unfortunate -> pathetic, pitiful
  • vernacular -> language
  • vigorously -> strongly
  • well-regarded -> liked a lot

Notice I replaced milder language (“unfortunate”, “substantial”) with stronger words (“disgusting”, “huge”) – Obama has this professorial way of tempering his language that makes it look like he’s studying our country’s problem for an article he’s writing for Foreign Affairs, instead of being incensed by them enough to want to do something about them. He needs to look and act like he’s pissed off every now and then, or people won’t get that gut feel like he’ll really fight for them for things that matter for them.

Momentum? To hell with “momentum”.

The label frontrunner takes the wind out of momentum.Every time one of the Democratic candidates seems to get “the momentum” after a spate of contests, they lose it the next go-around. Could their foibles and scandals really be so precisely timed as to take the wind out of their campaign precisely after it seemed like it was gaining strength?

Philosophically, I’m a Taoist. Taoism believes that everything in the universe is in constant flux. Things ebb and flow, wax and wane, increase and decrease, with regularity. As soon as things seem the most awful, they get better; as soon as things hit a peak, they slip. So it seems like the rising and falling fortunes of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on this neverending campaign for the Democratic nomination don’t have any end in sight.

There is something either about the way campaigns continually fine-tune where concessions to voter groups and concerns each give and take market share towards a 50:50 stalemate. I’ve heard the US electoral system described as similar to a parliamentary system, except coalition building is done before the election rather than after. This would seem to explain candidates constantly courting new groups, and why we all seem to have some reason to get pissed off at a candidate (we gays got pissed off when Obama brought some homophobe on a campaign tour last year, but by doing so, he probably gained enough additional votes among gay-hating black bible-thumpers to offset those gays who defected).

I have another theory, which I feel is equally valid. Americans are stubborn and hate to be told their decision is a foregone conclusion. There is something about a candidate enjoying the lead that makes part of us root for the underdog. No sooner do pundits proclaim a candidate as having “unstoppable momentum” than voters suddenly find renewed interest in the other guy/gal. There is a tipping point at which people do throw their weight behind the front-runner, but that’s only when people really do collectively agree that the contest is over (or they’re bored and want to move on). Before that, though, each surge seems to immediately sap its own strength.

All of this seems to explain why Americans are always split 50-50 on everything; there are a few things going on that reinforce an equilibrium in the political sphere, that always guarantee that half of us are pissed off at the way things are going. I find it somewhat amusing that Hillary and Obama are neck-and-neck, and equal numbers of Obama and Hillary supporters say they’d rather vote for McCain than the other Democratic nominee should the candidate they support not win the nomination (let’s hope they’re bluffing, something entirely plausible considering how childishly pouty a people we are).

The only thing I find reassuring about this is that, at least, an anti-Christ or modern-day Hitler will never drum up enough support in this country. We are never of one mind, and truly resist efforts to comply with conventional wisdom. There is something genuinely, if oddly, reassuring about that, even if the relentless bickering can sometimes wear on your nerves.